At Goldderby.com, we “experts” start predicting the Oscar nominations before we’ve even seen some of the films, and that seems logical, since buzz is already out there, and buzz usually leads to awards. This year, the buzz is especially deafening since a whole truckload of auteurs — including Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Jason Reitman, Alfonso Cuaron, and Martin Scorsese — have new films coming out. But already, 12 Years a Slave by maverick British director Steve McQueen has been anointed a lock to win Picture, Director, and Actor (for Chiwetel Ejiofor) as surely as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is guaranteed to go home completely Oscar-less.
It’s a big year for race-related films (with two Mandela flicks, The Butler, and 42), but 12 Years — a historical piece about a free black man who’s forced into slavery — has towered over the competition so far, with its stunning reception at the Toronto International Film Festival. And yet, I feel it can’t be a lock because no matter how good a film is, with Oscar, it’s all in the timing. Last time around, Argo basically won because Ben Affleck had been unexpectedly snubbed for a Best Director nomination. The outcry over his dis was so overwhelming that he was shrouded in mass sympathy and went on to win the DGA and Golden Globe, his film copping the SAG and Globe awards, making it an inevitability for Oscars’ Best Picture. That twist couldn’t have been predicted until a few weeks before the Oscars! And yet, six months before the next Oscars, people think 12 Years is an absolute definite and speeches must have already started being rehearsed. “Well,” said a critic friend of mine who’s seen the film, “it’s not the kind of movie that can be overpowered by anything. It’s that strong.” That’s probably what the Lincoln folks said a year ago.
Chiwetel will be facing off against some old-timers, like Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Robert Redford (All Is Lost), and possibly Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), plus a reinvigorated Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), who should have gotten a supporting nomination for Magic Mike last year. The bigger names might all cancel each other out, cementing Chiwetel’s win, but it’s way too soon to say. Besides, he’s hardly unknown; Chiwetel happens to be the guy from the Kinky Boots movie, which makes me wonder if Harvey Fierstein is currently at work writing a Broadway musical version of 12 Years a Slave!
Moving on to Best Actress, Meryl Streep was a lock for a nomination the second it was announced that she was starring in August: Osage County. It’s that kind of juicy, hateful, scenery-chewing part, and besides, it’s Meryl freakin’ Streep. Judi Dench is also a shoo-in for a nod for Philomena, which has been described as “Oscar bait, but good Oscar bait.” Sandra Bullock might get noticed for floating around without gravity, while Blue Jasmine’s Cate Blanchett has been described as making an unbearable character bearable. (I felt she was channeling Gena Rowlands, which is the highest compliment imaginable.) Meanwhile, two biopics — Diana starring Naomi Watts and Grace of Monaco with Nicole Kidman — are vying for the “My Week With Marilyn real-person” slot, but a lot of pundits aren’t counting on either, especially since Diana just got slaughtered in the UK.
In the Supporting Actor category, Michael Fassbender finally gets a nomination for 12 Years a Slave. (He’s the vicious slave owner — the kind of part that spells “nomination.”) And for Supporting Actress, Oprah Winfrey seemed to have it in the bag with her turn as the title character’s wife in The Butler, until people started raving about 12 Years’ Lupita Nyong’o, who plays a slave clinging to her dignity through all kinds of horrid abuse. Again, it’s all in the timing. I bet Lupita wishes the Oscars were being held tomorrow, not next March!