5 Burning Questions As Oscar Voting Begins

5 Burning Questions As Oscar Voting Begins

“12 Years a Slave” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” are among the intriguing wild cards as voters begin filling out their ballots

With Oscar voting underway on Friday, a number of questions that have been hanging in the air all awards season will finally be answered. Are surprises in store? Are voters paying attention to critics? How can a year full of great actors fit into one little category?

We can't tell you what those answers will be, but let's ask five of the most burning questions one more time.

Also read: Oscar Voting Begins Friday

Will “12 Years a Slave” be as big with Academy voters as it is with critics?
If one were to judge by the results of critics’ awards, Steve McQueen's “12 Years a Slave” is far and away the year's best film. Although it didn't win the top award from the two most high profile groups, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, it has dominated regional critics awards, winning about three-quarters of the time.

Of course, a string of critics’ honors are no guarantee of Oscar success, as David Fincher can tell you. His “The Social Network” swept the critics’ awards three years ago before losing to Tom Hooper's “The King's Speech” at the Oscars.

Also read: 2013 Critics’ Awards Winners: The Complete List – Utah, Nevada, Florida (Updated)

And while “12 Years” seems a lock for a Best Picture nomination, as well as noms for McQueen, writer John Ridley and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender, I have heard repeatedly that it's not exactly being embraced by Academy members the way past winners have been.

It's possible that the film will emerge on nominations morning looking dominant, and it's possible that it will show a few signs of weakness. Realistically, though, this is a question that probably won't fully be answered until the stage of the Dolby Theatre on March 2.

Will any unexpected films crash the Top 10 (or 9, or 8…)?
If you look at the Oscar predictions charts at GoldDerby.com and Movie City News, and the nominations for the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, nine movies lead the race: “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Nebraska,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Her,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Inside Llewyn Davis,” roughly in that order.

“Dallas Buyers Club” seems to have a slight edge over “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” for the tenth spot, while dark-horse possibilities include “Philomena,” “Fruitvale Station,” “August: Osage County,” “Blue Jasmine” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”

But remember, Academy rules only guarantee five nominees, and the system makes it possible but extremely unlikely that 10 films will make the cut.

Also read: Why Oscar May Never Give Us 10 Best Picture Nominees Again

It's easy to imagine a case where one or more of the smaller movies could fall out and “The Butler” or “Philomena” could squeeze in – but in a year widely thought to be strong and deep, there's not a lot of room for surprises.

Who'll be left out of a brutal Best Actor race?
The answer to that question, astonishingly, might be Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and Leonardo Di Caprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and Forest Whitaker in “The Butler,” and Idris Elba in “Mandela” and Joaquin Phoenix in “Her.”

Those five men could make up an impressive slate of nominees all by themselves – but they're all facing an uphill battle to be nominated, because they have to muscle into a field that currently seems to be led by Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave,” Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Robert Redford in “All Is Lost,” Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips.”

Best Actor is often a fiercely competitive category, but in 2013 it is even tougher than usual – and in trimming the field from 10 extraordinarily strong performances to five nominees, terrible things will happen.

What did they really think of “The Wolf of Wall Street?”
Martin Scorsese's extravagant three-hour black comedy has been ignored by some critics’ groups and honored by others; some Academy members stood and applauded its director, writer and actors at a recent AMPAS screening, minutes after another voter encountered Scorsese exiting an elevator and scolded, “Shame on you!”

Also read: ‘Shame on You!’ Says Academy Member to Martin Scorsese at ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Screening

Full of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, the film is wildly divisive – and while David O. Russell's “American Hustle,” to which it bears some resemblance as a late-screening chronicle of American money and misbehavior, seems to have secured a spot near the top of the field, “Wolf” remains a big question mark and the race's most intriguing wild card.

Love-it-or-hate-it movies tend to do well under the preferential system used in Oscar nominations, so the film may well end up a Best Picture nominee. But will its appeal extend to its actors, its director and its below-the-line talent, or will Scorsese's tapestry of excess prove to be too much for Academy voters?

Will the Directors Branch be as weird as it was last year?
Last January, the biggest shock of Oscar nominations morning came when Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone revealed a slate of Best Director nominees that conspicuously omitted Ben Affleck (“Argo”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”). Their movies went on to win more Oscars than the films by the guys who were nominated.

Could they possibly be that perverse again? Should the presumed frontrunners – Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron and David O. Russell – be nervous about landing a spot in the final five?

I'm guessing that McQueen, Cuaron and Russell are probably safe – but the lineup of other directors in the running is so formidable that some major players are all but guaranteed to be left out.

After all, it's a tough situation when you've got two remaining slots and your contenders include Scorsese, Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, Paul Greengrass and Spike Jonze.

Stay tuned,  because Oscar voters may provide a few answers on the morning of Jan. 16 – though they'll probably raise a lot more questions as they do so.

  • TV Viewer

    When, (if ever), will the Academy Awards give statues to stunt people similar to the Screen Actors Guild and the Emmy Awards?
    Is there any chance that Doris Day and/or Maureen O'Hara will get a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy Awards?

    • hupto

      I've been pushing O'Hara and Sir Christopher Lee–both of them in their 90s and the latter still working–for years now. So far, no luck, but I haven't given up. (I've gotten the impression that Day has signaled she's not interested because she's a recluse and does not wish to be seen in public anymore.)

      • TV Viewer

        Thank you very much for answering my questions Hupto.
        That was very kind of you.

        • hupto

          My pleasure. Nice to find someone here who isn't a hater.

  • Anonymous

    Here my perennial Oscar question: Is there any legitimate reason (i.e., a reason other than force of habit or a desire to increase the number of “celebrity” nominees) why the Academy still divides the acting craft into two parts (male acting and female acting)? Isn't all film acting the same craft, regardless of the gender of the particular person doing it? And if, regardless of logic, the Academy continues to insist that there is something inappropriate with male and female actors competing together, why not treat the other categories the same way — best male director, best female director; best male writer, best female writer, etc.? I trust we'd all find it very odd if there were separate Nobel Prizes for physics, medicine, chemistry, etc.

    • Ann

      I've got a possible reason. The roles are different, just as lead roles and supporting roles are different. While directing is directing, regardless of gender, there are certain roles that actually rest heavily on the gender of the character. Very few men can convincingly play a woman's role. They largely lack the necessary acting skill-set.

      More likely reasons are it's a holdover from the days of sexism being far more prevalent, and nobody's thought to change it. And if you feel that sexism is still too prevalent (which I wouldn't argue) then it's not too far a stretch to imagine that in an acting category that pits both genders against each other, fewer women than men would be nominated, and that wouldn't be good. Neither, of course, would be having gender quotas on the nominations.

      Of course there's always a third option: they don't want to reduce the number of shiny trophies they get to hand out. Could even be the difference between one cost level and the next in ordering the statuettes.