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Independent Spirit Awards (#110 of 13)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Picture

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Picture

Like anyone who’s been covering what’s become, as the party line goes, “the closest Best Picture race in recent memory,” I’ve gone through many mental rewrites of this top-prize breakdown. The one I clung to the longest involved the word “bullshit.” It took shape, of course, after American Hustle, formerly known as American Bullshit, strutted through steam clouds of victory on nomination morning, collecting 10 nods before also claiming the SAG award for Best Ensemble (not to be confused with any costume-design kudos the film enjoyed throughout the season). Was this awfully great, unrepentantly tacky crime caper really the new frontrunner? If so, then the filmic narrative peddled by pop-culture journos since early 2013—that the year’s wealth of black-centric cinema was bound for unprecedented Oscar glory, capped off with a crown for 12 Years a Slave, the most confronting and “important” flick of the bunch—would have to be thrown out. What’s more, Steve McQueen’s insta-contender, a historical indictment many perceive as being as deep as young Patsey’s (Lupita Nyong’o) abyss of despair, would be overtaken by an epic of unadulterated shallowness. American Hustle’s win would insist, with all the fuck-it-all thump of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” that the notion of Oscar wins signifying some sort of sociopolitical responsibility is, indeed, bullshit.

Oscar Prospects: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Oscar Prospects: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Oscar Prospects: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Will the Academy really go for a star-free, Sendak-esque allegory, whose rugged charms are tied to its loose lack of answers? At this point, it certainly seems like it. There will be those who’ll struggle with what’s behind the journey of young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), but the openness of this film’s metaphors (ecological statement? simple coming of age?) grant it a broad accessibility, with oodles of obstacles represented by those encroaching horned hogs. What’s more, the movie is anchored by a powerful father-daughter story, which steadily stops short of piling on mush, and brings gracious warmth to a tough and unforgiving film environment. Beasts of the Southern Wild is this year’s all-bases-covered, Oscar-y indie, boasting worldly subject matter, a standout lead performance, dizzying critical acclaim, and true originality of vision. It ably fills a necessary slot in the Best Picture field, and the refreshing truth is that it’s also arguably the year’s best film thus far. Backlash is inevitable, and already well underway in certain circles, but it’s hard to imagine any major buzz derailment. Films with this much widespread love historically reach the finish line, and thanks to a recent media push from Oprah Winfrey, you could say that any levees restraining the movie’s influence have officially been broken.

Oscar Prospects: Margin Call

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Oscar Prospects: Margin Call
Oscar Prospects: Margin Call

Margin Call is an awards season anomaly, an off-the-radar drama that, even after having performed well at festivals, never seemed to be a serious player, its tacky posters and mishmash cast of (mostly) B-Listers suggesting a gem bound for little more than a cult life on video. But after netting some very good ink from some top Gotham critics, one of whom dubbed it “the best Wall Street movie ever made,” the film became an unlikely buzz gainer, and went on to collect three Independent Spirit Awards citations (two nods and a Robert Altman Award win), a National Board of Review Spotlight Award for first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor, and a Best First Film award for Chandor from the New York Film Critics Circle. The artistic community’s general support of—or, at the very least, deep fascination with—the Occupy Wall Street movement has certainly helped this smart, well-acted, dawn-of-collapse thriller to gain attention beyond a Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. But the perception of certain critics—and wannabe tastemakers who fancy themselves critics—that Margin Call is a bona fide Oscar candidate in multiple categories, including Best Picture, is the stuff of wishful delusion.

Oscar Prospects: Hugo

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Oscar Prospects: Hugo
Oscar Prospects: Hugo

This season presents two Oscar contenders, Hugo and The Artist, that both bask in the dreaminess of cinema’s early days, but from polar opposite ends of the technological spectrum. Whereas the latter is a famously black-and-white, French-made silent picture, Hugo is a mega-budget spectacle and the biggest pairing of heavyweight director and 3D since Avatar (it’s also the most sophisticated movie yet to employ the format). In terms of awards chances, The Artist—which, appropriately enough, bears a key theme of overcoming technology’s relentless propulsion—most certainly has the edge, and did even before yesterday, when it netted five major Independent Spirit Award nominations, earned two wins from the New York Film Critics Circle (including Best Picture), and landed fifth on Sight & Sound’s polled list of the best films of 2011. But no one should assume that the soldiering forward of a powerful, atmospherically similar frontrunner means that Hugo can’t also perform well. Besides, it’s Martin Scorsese.