Welcome to Oscar week 2014. The 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, are this Sunday and it’s time to break down and analyze just who or what is going to be walking off the stage with an Oscar. If you follow my website, you will know that I’ve been tabulating all of the minor and lead-up award winners in all of the Oscar categories since last November on my 2014 Awards Tracker. To put it in educational terms to match this website’s theme, those numbers have been by “data analysis” to predicting just what films are going to win. It’s time to make my formal predictions. In this fourth post, we are starting to get to the major award categories. Here are my picks for the two screenplay awards and Best Director. Let’s go! Stick with me and I will win you your Oscar pool.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy for “Before Midnight,” Billy Ray for “Captain Phillips,” Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for “Philomena,” John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave,” Terrance Winter for ‘The Wolf of Wall Street”
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):
18- “12 Years a Slave,” 7- “Before Midnight,” 3- “The Wolf of Wall Street,” 2- “Philomena,” 1 “Captain Phillips,” 1- Destin Cretton for “Short Term 12”
Who was snubbed: In both screenplay categories, mark me down as an Oscar viewer that likes seeing the nominations that embrace a few non-Best Picture nominated films for their solid and imaginative work. The best pictures of the year don’t always have the best scripts. For that reason, I would have liked to have seen a little movie like “Short Term 12” make it into this Oscar race. Sure, it wouldn’t win, but it would have been a fitting honor for independent films.
Happy to be there: The little-movie-that-could this awards season has been “Philomena.” The little British movie from director Stephen Frears has surprised with nominations in several major categories including here. That Oscar love has been a box office boon for the film.
Who should win: If I had a vote in this category, I might find myself siding with the nostalgia from “Before Midnight,” the third entry in a love-gestating love story from director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They have created a pair of timeless characters and the revisits to their lives have been fascinating and exceedingly well done. Compared to the bigger movies, “Before Midnight” counts as maybe more dialogue-driven than moment-driven, but I think that’s the point of a good script. I look forward to seeing what that trio can do again with Jesse and Celine.
Who will win: As much as the little movies involved can surprise, especially “Philomena,” I think this Oscar is going to John Ridley and “12 Years a Slave.” Considering that John Ridley used to be the screenwriter for “Undercover Brother” and “Red Tails,” this is quite a masterpiece. There is something to be said to taking a 150+ year old and forgotten first-person account like Solomon Northup’s novel and turn it into a compelling film that can play on screen. This is, wholeheartedly, an Academy Award that “12 Years a Slave” deserves.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell for “American Hustle,” Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine,” Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack for “Dallas Buyers Club,” Spike Jonze for “Her,” Bob Nelson for “Nebraska”
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category in this category):
21- “Her,” 6- “American Hustle,” 4- Joel and Ethan Coen for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” 1- “Nebraska,” 1- Nicole Holofcener for “Enough Said,” 1- Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright for “The World’s End”
Who was snubbed: If you’re looking at the Awards Tracker data, the biggest snub belongs to Joel and Ethan Coen for “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I will go back to my point about spreading the wealth in this category to non-Best Picture contenders. In past years, we’ve seen films like “The Sixth Sense,” “Memento,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “In Bruges,” and even “Up” make this category more interesting. This year, my outside picks would be Nicole Holofcener’s work for “Enough Said” and the team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for “The Way Way Back.” Both are nice, independent offerings that brought great scripts and characters to the screen. They deserved a spot over some of these Oscar bait shoe-ins.
Happy to be there: Out of this field, I think the two names that are lucky to be included are Bob Nelson and Woody Allen. For Nelson, this is a first-time feature screenwriter who gets his rookie effort, a somewhat good film but not a great film, nominated. That’s his reward. For Woody Allen, he makes this field by name value and resume reputation. He is the Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep of this category. Allen has been nominated 16 times and has won three Oscars. Those are the most wins and nominations in this category. The next closest person (Frederic Fellini) in history has six nominations. This was a token nomination.
Who should win: and who will win: For once on these major categories, my “should” and my “will” match. The best nominee of this field that deserves to win will be the one that does. That’s Spike Jonze for “Her.” Without a doubt, it’s the smartest and most affecting screenplay of this bunch, and even combined with the ones up for Best Adapted Screenplay. When these categories were combined for the Golden Globe, “Her” came out on top. It paints a brilliant future world of love, connection, and technology with an infinite amount of nuance and subtle detail that proliferates the page. A great many people are going to clamor for “American Hustle” and David O. Russell who was nominated and lost for Best Adapted Screenplay last year for “Silver Linings Playbook.” I think he misses again and is third place in this category behind “Her” and a surging “Dallas Buyers Club.”
The nominees: David O. Russell for “American Hustle,” Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.” Alexander Payne for “Nebraska,” Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave,” Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street”
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):
25- Cuaron, 15- McQueen, 1- Joel and Ethan Coen for Inside Llewyn Davis, 1- Spike Jonze for Her, 1- Lee Daniels for Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Who was snubbed: When I look back on the best films of 2013, the glaring omission that matches this category is Spike Jonze and his work for “Her.” I think he’ll be honored in the right place with Best Original Screenplay, but, as a director, he was still able to deliver a difficult piece of filmmaking where a solitary actor has to emote, react, and interact with just an off-screen voice. I find that a lot more challenging than Alexander Payne’s minimalist work in shooting old people sitting around in “Nebraska.” You can make a similar argument for Joel and Ethan Coen for “Inside Llewyn Davis” over Payne as well.
Happy to be there: Speaking of “Nebraska,” Payne is the name that should be happy to be there. His film sneaked some Oscar nominations to be a worthy effort, but “Nebraska” is nowhere close to his past successes of “The Descendants” or “Sideways.” Considering who else and what else made this category, Payne feels like the luckiest one standing around giants.
Who should win: If I had a vote, this would be a slam dunk for Steve McQueen and his balancing act of “12 Years a Slave.” In one moment, he delivers a quiet and introspective film of hope. In the next, the scenes blister with raw emotion, performance, and shocking ferocity. As a film, “12 Years a Slave” is the most complete work of the year and McQueen is a big part of that.
Who will win: Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron have been neck-and-neck on the Awards Tracker, but I think a bone gets thrown “Gravity”‘s way in the major awards and not just the technical ones. I think this is the spot. The Directors Guild of America gave this award to Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” and it think it equals the Oscar too. Old trends used to show that the Best Director and Best Picture winner usually always matched, but more and more since 2000, the Academy has spread the wealth. I think this is “Gravity”‘s half of the equation of spreading the wealth (which tips my hand a little to who I predict will win Best Picture). This category can deliver a shocker. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Just look at last year when the two Awards Tracker front runners, Ben Affleck (“Argo”) and Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”) weren’t even nominated, opening the window for Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”). I don’t think this award teeters out of balance this year like it did last year.