This year’s Oscar field is too much of a good thing – or, rather, too much of too many good things.
And that’s a problem for anybody who tries to predict what we might hear when Chris Hemsworth and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announce the Oscar nominations early Thursday morning.
There are at least a dozen films with solid chances of making the Best Picture lineup, and at least 20 that deserve to be in the conversation. Other categories, Best Actor foremost among them, are just as full of deserving contenders.
The Academy’s best-picture process complicates things even more. We know there will be at least five nominees, and there could be as many as 10 – but a year with lots of great movies doesn’t mean a year with lots of nominees, so it’s risky to predict more than the nine spots that Oscar math has produced the last two years.
(If there aren’t nine nominees, I think it’s likelier there will be seven or eight than 10.)
That said, here are my guesses in the 11 categories that will be revealed on the air on Thursday, with my picks arranged roughly in order of probability.
“12 Years a Slave”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“Saving Mr. Banks”
If there are 10 nominees: “Blue Jasmine”
Other contenders: “Philomena,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
The first four seem to be the major players, with “Nebraska” a solid fifth. In a system in which it’s better to be first on 300 ballots than third on 3,000, I think “Her,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” will have enough passionate fans to get in.
From there, things get even trickier. “Saving Mr. Banks” seems right up the Academy’s alley, but is it loved by enough people? Will the East Coast contingent push “Blue Jasmine” to a nomination? Can “Philomena,” with lots of anecdotal evidence of support but no guild victories suggesting it’s a favorite, sneak in? And could the love-it-or-hate-it “Inside Llewyn Davis” use its passion vote to land a nomination the same way the Coen brothers did two movies ago with “A Serious Man?”
The answers: “I think so,” “maybe,” “I’d be slightly surprised” and “I doubt it, but I sure hope so.”
Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Paul Greengrass, “Captain Phillips”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
Other contenders: Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Spike Jonze, “Her”; Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”
Could the Directors Branch possibly be as confounding as they were last year, when they left out Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino? Really, I can’t imagine they’ll ever be that confounding again.
Cuaron, McQueen, Russell, Greengrass and Scorsese landed DGA nominations, and most years that group matches the Academy four out of five. (Last year it was only two out of five.) I think they’ll come close to matching again, but with Payne edging out Scorsese for the last spot.
But I may well be underestimating the clout of the Scorsese brand, and I may be foolish to think that the people who last year nominated Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) won’t honor the job Jonze did with the idiosyncratic but brilliant “Her.”
Other contenders: Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”; Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”; Idris Elba, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”; Forest Whitaker, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”; Christian Bale, “American Hustle”; Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”; Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Brutal. Even if you had 10 nominees, you’d still leave out actors who are richly deserving. It feels as if this year’s Best Actor race is not only the most competitive category this year, but the most competitive category in many years.
At one point, it seemed unimaginable that Redford wouldn’t be nominated for his rich, mostly wordless performance in “All Is Lost”; now he seems to be on the bubble, overtaken by the tireless Dern and overshadowed by the manic energy of DiCaprio in “Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio may not supplant Redford, but the momentum seems to be swinging his way.
As for Phoenix, Elba, Jordan and Isaac… Damn. They picked the wrong year to be great.
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Other contenders: Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”; Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”; Adele Exarchopoulos, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Enough Said”
Could 17-time nominee and three-time winner Streep really be left out of a category after one of her showiest, fieriest performances? Considering the extremely mixed reactions to “August: Osage County” and the heat generated lately by “American Hustle,” she could.
(Or maybe Adams gets in by nudging out Thompson, though I think Streep is the likelier nudgee.)
Larson and Exarchopoulos absolutely deserve to be in the mix, but their movies probably haven’t been seen by enough voters.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Daniel Bruhl, “Rush”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Other contenders: James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”; Tom Hanks, “Saving Mr. Banks”; Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Will Forte, “Nebraska”
The rock star who returned to acting (Leto) and the limo driver who did it on a lark (Abdi) are secure. Fassbender ought to be as well, although he’s been overlooked by the Academy before. Bruhl is in good shape if the Academy’s Actors Branch accepts him as a supporting actor in a movie that’s largely about his character, driver Niki Lauda.
I’m guessing that Cooper will ride the “Hustle” momentum, though his character isn’t the most memorable from that movie. But if he, Fassbender or Bruhl falls short, the gentle Gandolfini, the raucous Hill or the quiet Forte could slip in.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
Oprah Winfrey, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
Other contenders: Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”; Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station”; Sarah Paulson, “12 Years a Slave”; Jennifer Garner, “Dallas Buyers Club”; Carey Mulligan, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
It’s Nyong’o vs. Lawrence for the win and Squibb with the how-great-to-be-a-first-time-nominee-at-84 slot. If the Actors Branch really loves “Blue Jasmine,” Hawkins could actually knock out a contender as formidable as Winfrey or Roberts.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”
Terrence Winter, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, “Before Midnight”
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, “Philomena”
Billy Ray, “Captain Phillips”
Other contenders: “August: Osage County,” “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “Lone Survivor,” “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” “Short Term 12”
The Adapted Screenplay category is often crammed with potential nominees, but this year’s field is lighter than usual. “August: Osage County” could muscle in by virtue of its Pulitzer pedigree and its verbal fireworks, but the others are all longshots.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”
Bob Nelson, “Nebraska”
Spike Jonze, “Her”
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Other contenders: “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Enough Said,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Gravity,” “Mud,” “Frances Ha,” “Rush”
The more competitive of the two writing categories seems to be fairly focused on this top five – but the writers make up one of the most adventurous AMPAS branches, with a penchant for picking little movies that go unnoticed in other categories. That could be good news for “Fruitvale Station,” “Mud” or “Frances Ha.”
By the way – if “Gravity” gets a nomination here, it wins Best Picture.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Wind Rises”
“Ernest and Celestine”
Other contenders: “Despicable Me 2,” “Epic”
The Golden Globes decided that this year’s animated-feature crop only warranted three nominees, and Oscar rules could allow the same: If five contenders don’t score high enough on voters’ ballots, the field could be trimmed to three or four.
But that’s unlikely – and the real question is whether the French-made, hand-drawn “Ernest and Celestine” will charm its way into a spot over a bigger American-studio production like the blockbuster “Despicable Me 2.” Or whether animation voters throw in a real wild card, which they often do in the category.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“The Broken Circle Breakdown”
“The Great Beauty”
“The Missing Picture”
Other contenders: “The Grandmaster,” “The Notebook,” “Two Lives,” “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker”
I’d be surprised if “Iron Picker” is a nominee, and not surprised by anything else. “The Hunt” and “The Great Beauty” are presumed frontrunners and “Broken Circle Breakdown” is the buzz title, but the 30 hand-picked voters who trimmed the nine-film shortlist to five nominees can be an independent bunch. Remember “Dogtooth?”
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“The Act of Killing”
“Stories We Tell”
“20 Feet From Stardom”
Other contenders: “Cutie and the Boxer,” “Tim’s Vermeer,” “The Crash Reel,” “The Armstrong Lie,” “God Loves Uganda,” “Life According to Sam,” “Dirty Wars,” “First Cousin Once Removed,” Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” “Which Way Is the Front Line From Here?”
You’d think the first four films might be relatively secure – but with a small body of about 200 voters watching the 15-film shortlist, surprises are all but inevitable.
Even “20 Feet From Stardom,” by far the most commercially successful film on the shortlist and a movie hoping to follow the “Searching for Sugar Man” path to Oscar gold, has its detractors – and so many of the rivals pack a strong emotional punch that it’s easy to imagine one or two of the frontrunners being left out.