So, it seems we have full-fledged frontrunners in every single acting race: If Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o don’t win in each of their respective categories, it would be a major upset. Not to say that can’t happen — each have slight vulnerabilities here and there. But they remain full-fledged frontrunners, and betting against any of them would be a risky move… which sure does make things a little boring for the many among us that want some real suspense on Oscar night. That said, there are thankfully still are a few categories where two, three or even all the contenders have totally reasonable shots at winning.
Indiewire will offer full on predictions for every category in the coming weeks, but here are five in particular we are having issues feeling confident predicting:
1. Best Picture
It has been a very long time since there was this tight of a race for Oscar’s big prize. I know people say that all the time with respect to various categories, but this is a rare occasion where it’s genuinely true. With recent winners “Argo,” “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” it felt like a done deal weeks before the Oscars were handed out. But with less than a month to go (and only one clue remaining in next week’s BAFTAs — which I suspect will simply confuse things further), there are three bonafide contenders for best picture in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” “Gravity” won with the DGA and the Los Angeles film critics, “12 Years” won the Golden Globe (for drama) and the Critic’s Choice, and “American Hustle” took the SAG ensemble prize, New York critics and Golden Globe (for comedy). Making matters even more complicated, “Gravity” and “12 Years” tied with the PGA, the first time that’s ever happened with a group that has one of the best track records with predicting picture. So that’s three major prizes each, with BAFTA about to break that tie one way or another. The Brits seemed to love all three films rather excessively, with “Gravity” getting 10 nominations and “Hustle” and “12 Years” each getting nine. Any of them could win (we give the narrow edge to “12 Years”), but that wouldn’t really do too much to clear up things with Oscar. It’s going to be anybody’s game up until the last moments of Oscar night, which anybody looking for some drama should be very thankful for.
2. Best Film Editing
For a while there it seemed like Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger had this in the bag for their work on “Gravity,” but “Captain Phillips” editor Christopher Rouse — who won this award back in 2007 for another Paul Greengrass film, “The Bourne Ultimatum” — beat the “Gravity” team at the American Cinema Editors awards (or the ACE Eddies) in the dramatic film category, while another Oscar nominated team — Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten — won the comedy prize for “American Hustle.” Notably, nine of the last 10 ACE Eddie winners have gone on to win the Oscar, which bodes well for “Hustle” and “Phillips.” But “Gravity” is absolutely still in contention (as is, to a lesser degree “12 Years a Slave), meaning basically any editing team save “Dallas Buyers Club” has a shot here.
3. Best Documentary Feature
For the second time, all Academy members are sent screeners of all the docs and can all vote in the category (as opposed to a select group, in previous years), which does suggest that this might go to the populist choice, as it did with Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching For Sugar Man” last year. That choice is surely Morgan Neville’s backup singer film “20 Feet From Stardom,” which is the only box office hit among the five nominees, and definitely the one with the most mainstream appeal. However, the only major doc precursor it won was the Critic’s Choice Award. Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” and Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” won the PGA and WGA, respectively, but they aren’t even nominated here. However, Jehane Noujaim’s nominated “The Square” won the DGA and IDA awards, and Joshua Oppenheimer’s nominated “The Act of Killing” topped the Cinema Eye Honors, Gotham Awards and European Film Awards. Those are some notable hauls, and puts both films — which may feel like more imperative subject matters to Oscar voters — firmly in this sincerely three-way race.
4. Best Original Screenplay
There was a time when Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell’s script seemed like the surest win for “American Hustle,” finally giving Russell his first Oscar. But then it unexpectedly lost to Spike Jonze’s script for “Her” at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and WGA. Which would seem to suggest that it’s actually Jonze — who has also never won an Oscar — who is the frontrunner here. But “American Hustle” has considerably more momentum than “Her,” and the Oscar voters will want to reward it somewhere (though there is a genuine chance that it ends up going home completely empty-handed despite 10 nominations). This all makes for a full-on nail biter, interestingly pitting Jonze and against the man who directed him in “Three Kings.” Or perhaps they’ll split the vote, allowing Bob Nelson to sneak in for “Nebraska”?
5. Best Original Score
Steven Price’s music for “Gravity” seems to be the most popular choice among Oscar pundits to win here, and he indeed won the Critics Choice Award for it — one of the few major precursors that hand out a prize in this category. But Price lost the Golden Globe to the Oscar-snubbed Alex Ebert (for “All Is Lost”). While “Gravity” is all but assured a slew of artistic and technical wins (cinematography, visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing and perhaps production design all look like good bets), this might be a category where voters will feel inspired to spread the love to two best picture nominees they might not check off anywhere else: “Her” and “Philomena.” The latter is scored by Alexandre Desplat, who notably has lost this award five times in the past seven years (for “The Queen,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The King’s Speech” and “Argo”). The former, meanwhile, comes via Oscar newbies Owen Pallett and Will Butler (both involved with Arcade Fire), whose score for “Her” (a personal favorite, FYI) has won them a handful of critics prizes and are the kind of outside-the-industry winner the Academy has recently shown an interest in rewarding (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s win for “The Social Network” comes to mind). Or they’ll go old school. Because there’s also John Williams, who received his whopping 49th Oscar nomination for “The Book Thief.” Yes, he’s won five times. But the last time was 20 years ago for “Schindler’s List.”
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Writer and awards columnist. Check out his Oscar predictions in all the categories here.