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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Picture

We come to it at last. By now, even the most casual Oscar-watcher should know that the big three bound for the Academy’s top race are Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, and David O. Russell’s American Hustle. The first two have become defining films of the moment for technical and cultural reasons, and the third has bewitched every major awards body, if only for its unabashed bigness and its throng of can’t-look-away performances. With minimal reservation, I’ll also slap the label of “lock” on Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, two films that have been showered with adoration this season, and are poised to surge forward in crucial categories (in addition to multiple acting bids, look for the former to land that all-important Editing nod, and the latter to be recognized for its Original Screenplay). And while The Wolf of Wall Street is spreading audiences apart like the legs of its subject’s demeaned conquests, perhaps no film this year has prompted more impassioned discussion. Being directed by Martin Scorsese helps; being a white-hot, unavoidable, shouting-match-starting phenomenon cements a slot for what was already an insta-contender.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

When the Weinstein Company ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, retracted its decision to have August: Osage County star Meryl Streep campaign in the Supporting Actress category, it proved to be great news for Streep’s co-star Julia Roberts. Indeed, even August writer Tracy Letts claims Roberts’s part is a leading role, but debating category fraud is as futile as hoping Armond White won’t taint a New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, and given the competition, Roberts never would have landed a Best Actress nod anyway. But with Streep bumped into leading contention, Roberts seems to have become a Supporting Actress lock, not only because she steals the show with her bitiest turn since the one that won her an Oscar, but because she’s part of a smaller crowd in which she simply can’t be overlooked by her adoring peers. Some see Roberts as the wild card; I see her as an industry-beloved shoo-in.

Oscar Prospects August: Osage County, Or That Time Julia Roberts Stole Meryl Streep’s Show

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Oscar Prospects: August: Osage County, Or That Time Julia Roberts Stole Meryl Streep’s Show
Oscar Prospects: August: Osage County, Or That Time Julia Roberts Stole Meryl Streep’s Show

A funny thing happens during the course of August: Osage County, a film many would label as this year’s Meryl Streep awards vehicle. Though Streep, who plays the story’s drug-addled matriarch, Violet Weston, has ample moments of alternating grief, delusion, vileness, and humor, all delivered in a swirl of characteristically calculated theatrics, it’s Julia Roberts who walks away with this thing. Playing Barbara, the one of Violet’s three daughters who’s most distanced from, yet most similar to, her warts-and-all, “truth-telling” mom, Roberts is gifted some of the greatest language in this adaptation of the play by Tracy Letts, who won a Pulitzer and Tony Award for his efforts before shaping his work into a screenplay. In the rare role that actually demands she exude more fire than glee or grace, Roberts brings just the right amount of harsh, poetic cynicism to lines like, “Thank God we can’t predict the future; we’d never get out of bed.” The key bit of dialogue, though, comes just after the film’s resentment-baring emotional peak. Gathered around her mother’s table with her sisters, her aunt, her uncle, her cousins, her daughter, and her two-timing husband to commemorate the death of her father, Beverly (Sam Shepard), Barbara finally tackles Violet to the ground, fed up with the woman’s rant-fueling pill abuse, which may well have prompted Beverly’s apparent suicide. “I’m running things now!” Barbara barks at Violet while snatching a bottle of painkillers, and the sentiment couldn’t be truer here in regard to Roberts and Streep.

Poster Lab: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Which Apparently Won’t Be Up for a Makeup Oscar

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Poster Lab: <em>Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom</em>, Which Apparently Won’t Be Up for a Makeup Oscar
Poster Lab: <em>Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom</em>, Which Apparently Won’t Be Up for a Makeup Oscar

So far, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom looks as though it could be the best film yet about Nelson Mandela, not least because Clint Eastwood’s Invictus was such a bland misfire, and the just-released Winnie Mandela is merely a lukewarm, movie-of-the-week affair. Backed by the Weinstein Company and starring an awards-baity Idris Elba, Long Walk to Freedom might be seen as an Invictus prequel, as it charts all of the events prior to Mandela’s release from prison, rather than vice-versa. Such is part of the appeal: This is a revolutionary film, giving you a glimpse of the man when he was more volatile freedom fighter than soft-spoken politico. Until now, the marketing campaign has taken advantage of this angle, releasing posters like this one, which aptly looks like a propaganda piece you’d see pasted on a building, or this one, which scrawls the words “trouble maker” across Mandela’s portrait. The latest poster, however, released in the U.K. (home to to Elba, co-star Naomie Harris, and director Justin Chadwick), looks like it’s touting a terribly unfortunate Invictus wannabe, with Elba in an old-age makeup that certainly shouldn’t be front and center.

Oscar Prospects Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track

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Oscar Prospects: Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track
Oscar Prospects: Fruitvale Station, A Contender on an Uncertain Track

This is the first film year in a long while that’s made me want to applaud Harvey Weinstein. The mega-producer has suddenly become a powerful force in the dissemination of popular, feather-ruffling, discussion-prompting black cinema. The Weinstein Company gave us Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and still to come is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with Idris Elba. These are just three titles in a year that’s uncommonly packed with major black-themed movies, and thanks to Weinstein’s backing, they’re that much more likely to be seen. That said, Weinstein is still the hungriest and savviest awards monger in the biz, and part of his motive for pushing these movies is, without doubt, their clear Oscar potential. At the risk of suggesting that Weinstein is an outright, opportunistic monster, it was admittedly hard—as a film-obsessed person, at least—to think of anyone else who was more pleased with George Zimmerman’s acquittal (apart from Zimmerman himself, that is). Having already serendipitously clinched priceless topicality with Fruitvale’s Trayvon Martin parallels, Weinstein suddenly had skyrocketing cultural rage in his corner, rage that a little film about the similarly, tragically slain Oscar Grant might alleviate. The modest Sundance sensation Weinstein acquired was now inextricably linked to one of the year’s biggest stories, a story that won’t be forgotten come Oscar-nomination time.

Poster Lab: August: Osage County

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Poster Lab: August: Osage County
Poster Lab: August: Osage County

Since the film is so anticipated as both adaptation and buzzy ensemble piece, the poster for August: Osage County would have been an event no matter what it looked like. Directed by TV vet John Wells, who made his feature film debut with The Company Men, this dark comedy marks the first-ever onscreen pairing of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who play Violet and Barbara Watson, the mother and daughter who lead the clan in Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale. All who know the play know the importance of the work’s vast cast, and such is the major selling point here.

Stacked high like an actorly steeple are names both established and up-and-coming: Streep, Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, (the great) Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham, and more. It’s a very tempting mix, and despite the overly genial, all’s-well-that-end’s-well nature of the trailer, it helps to know that Letts has penned the screenplay too, and hopefully hasn’t watered his work down to Hollywoodized dysfunction (lord knows no one needs another The Family Stone). Presumably, Letts’s script also holds the promise of avoiding the trap of multi-character dramedies, which serially fail to develop individual personalities amid the crowd. It’s a grating trend that couldn’t be better visualized here, and let’s hope the packed-house symbolism reflects the film’s ability to overcome it.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Picture

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Picture

As is customary at this stage of the game, Oscar’s top quintet of Best Picture hopefuls are sure to land nominations, so much so that every pundit can pat himself on the back, saying proudly that if the Academy still stuck with a five-wide field, final predictions would be forgone conclusions, like the nudie jokes host Seth MacFarlane will make at Helen Hunt’s expense. You know the big five: Argo, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty, all of which look poised to score multiple nods beyond the top race. Last year, four additional films joined the chief batch of contenders, for a grand, surprising total of nine nominees—more than most expected from the Academy’s first sliding-scale approach to Best Picture. The consensus seems to be that 2012 was a stronger film year than 2011, and if the weaker year can muster a whopping nine candidates, then surely we’ll see a full crop of 10 this time around. The theory holds water, but it doesn’t really make the rest of the guessing any easier, as there are nine more films with bona fide shots at making the cut.