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For Your Consideration: How the First Two Weeks of December Changed the Oscar Race

For Your Consideration: How the First Two Weeks of December Changed the Oscar Race

The roughly six month period that we all call awards “season” in large part actually comes down to the first two weeks of December.

And in those two weeks, we’re treated to a nonstop parade of announcements from the Golden Globes, the SAGs, and nearly ever major critics group — all of which yields a general understanding of the season’s direction until it seems crystal clear.

For instance, think about this: Last year, every single Oscar nominee for Best Picture received an equivalent nomination from either the Golden Globes or the Critics Choice Awards. All but one of the 20 Oscar nominated actors, meanwhile — Jonah Hill, in “Wolf of Wall Street” — was nominated at the Globes, SAGs and/or Critics Choice first. The vast majority of them were nominated at all three. So while it’s theoretically possible to break through without support during the first two weeks of December (Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook” is another recent example), the odds are pretty low.

Of course, it would be a lot more exciting if things weren’t this way. Such little variation between all these groups can lead to some pretty boring possibilities. We’re all for the success of “Boyhood,” but seeing it in headline after headline — “‘Boyhood’ Wins [Insert Critics’ Prize Here]” — grows a little tiresome . And this year, per usual, there were simply way too many great performances for 18 people to manage nominations from the Globes, SAGs and Critics Choice combined. It starts to feel like everyone’s voting off the same cheat sheet — the one that predicts the Oscars — and not thinking outside that box.

But that’s how the awards season cookie crumbles. It’s really up to Oscar voters to fill their ballots with the contenders they think deserve the season’s highest honor. While our fingers are certainly crossed for more than one Jonah Hill this year, we’re certainly not putting any money on it.

That rant aside, let’s get back to both reality and this column’s intention: Who are we putting our money on this point? The past two weeks — as repetitive as they might have been — definitely solidified a lot of potential Oscar nominees’ chances. Many of them were unexpected additions, so there’s at least some excitement in that. We’ve broken down the field in terms of the “big eight” categories below, and you can also head here for rundowns of all the other (just as worthy, we might add) categories.

Best Picture

It’s fairly safe to say that if there were just five nominees for Best Picture, they would be made up of the following: “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “The Imitation Game,” “Selma” and “The Theory of Everything.” This quintet received Best Picture nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice, and save for “Selma” (which wasn’t screened early enough to get the votes it likely would have otherwise), all of them received SAG nominations for Best Cast. It’s extremely rare to get that kind of precursor attention and then not receive an Oscar nod for Best Picture.

“Moonrise Kingdom” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” are the only two films in the past four years to receive Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations for Best Picture not make Oscar’s cut, and both received the former in the Comedy/Musical category (which doesn’t have the same kind of Oscar crossover rate as its Drama counterpart). Only one film, meanwhile, has received both of those nominations plus a SAG Best Cast mention since Oscar expanded its list beyond five nominees and then not recieved a Best Picture nomination: 2009’s “Nine.” It seems very unlikely that “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “The Imitation Game” and/or “The Theory of Everything” are about to become the next “Nine.”

But the question of which films might join those five locks is where things get interesting. The Oscars’ Best Picture race can feature anywhere from five to 10 nominations. A quick reminder of how that works: Nominated films must earn either 5% of first-place rankings or 5% after an “abbreviated variation of the single transferable vote.” Basically, a film needs a lot of voters to put it near the top of their ranked ballots. In all three years since this system has been in place, nine films have been nominated. It’s almost impossible to predict whether that will be the case again, so let’s just say there will be nine once more.

One of the most interesting developments in the last two weeks of awards announcements is the film that’s looking pretty solid as the sixth lock:  Thought a dark horse at best not so long ago, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” received support across the board, and actually joins “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “Game” and “Theory” as the fifth film to get that holy trinity: Golden Globe and Critics Choice Best Picture, and SAG Best Cast. If this was still just a five film race, it would arguably be “Budapest Hotel” vs. “Theory of Everything” for that last slot.

After that comes five films that stand reasonable shots at rounding out the rest of the list (if there is a rest of the list, that is): “Gone Girl,” “Foxcatcher,” “Nightcrawler,” “Unbroken” and “Whiplash.” All of them received Best Picture nominations from either Globes or the Critics Choice, seem to have their fair share of passionate supporters. It’s feasible that “Mr. Turner,” “Into The Woods” or “American Sniper” could rally as well. So while the race may have narrowed significantly since November’s end (sorry, “Interstellar”), this is one major race where there are plenty of question marks that will probably remain open-ended right up until the morning of the nominations.
The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
“Gone Girl”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”

The potential spoilers (in order of likelihood):

“Mr. Turner”
“Into The Woods”

“American Sniper”

Best Director

Alejandro González Iñárritu and Richard Linklater are as close to locks in this category as they come. And, really, they should be. “Birdman” and “Boyhood” are each remarkable achievements in their own right, and it’s hard to imagine the director’s branch of the Academy not feeling strongly inclined to reward them. It would mark Iñárritu’s second nomination in the category (he got in for directing “Babel,” though he’s also received four other nominations in other categories), and Linklater’s very first (he has two nominations for writing, but none for directing).

The most likely person to join them — in a quite momentous fashion — is Ava DuVernay for “Selma.” DuVernay got Best Director nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice, and seems poised to become the first woman of color to ever be nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and only the fifth woman ever.

Beyond those three, it’s much more of a guessing game. The director’s branch has historically done a pretty reasonable job at going their own way, as made clear by nominations for Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin in recent years. That means that just because “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” seem like surefire bets for Best Picture doesn’t necessarily guarantee nominations for their directors. A more likely scenario — at this point, at least — sees Wes Anderson getting his very first nomination in this category for “Budapest Hotel,” with “Game” and “Theory” directors Morten Tyldum and James Marsh battling it out with Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), David Fincher (“Gone Girl”), Angelina Jolie (“Unbroken”) and Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”) for that final slot.

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Ava DuVernay, “Selma”

Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

The potential spoilers (in order of likelihood):
David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”

James Marsh, “The Theory of Everything”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Angelina Jolie, “Unbroken”

Best Actor

For a while there, a mighty quartet had been standing in this category: Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”). But the precursors have added four solid spoilers to the race: David Oyelowo (“Selma”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”) and Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”).  Any of them could take the final slot, or even knock one or two of them out. This is by far the most exciting of the acting races, which is unsurprisingly because most of the major contenders this year feature male protagonists. 

So what ends up going down? We’d say Keaton and Redmayne are the only true locks, with everyone else vulnerable to the competition. Like those two, Cumberbatch and Gyllenhaal got nominations from SAG, the Globes and the Critics Choice. But that doesn’t always secure an Oscar spot. Ask Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson and Daniel Bruhl. They all did the same last year and missed the cut at the Oscars.  Oyelowo actually seems like a safer bet than either of those two, given he seemed to only lose that SAG nomination because the voters hadn’t seen “Selma.” Meanwhile, Fiennes is surging as of late for “Budapest Hotel” — and while Carell missed out on a Critics Choice nod, his performance in “Foxcatcher” has many passionate supporters. This one will have Oscar watchers biting their nails to the last minute.

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”

Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
David Oyelowo, “Selma”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

The potential spoilers (in order of likelihood)
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”

Best Actress

Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”), Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”) all seemed to have their nominations locked down since September, and the precursors didn’t do much to change it. People keep complaining about how “weak” this race is, but in reality what’s been “weak” is the performances that have been perceived as the ones in contention. It was actually a great year for female performances: Think Scarlett Johannson (“Under The Skin”) or Essie Davis (“The Babadook”) or TIlda Swinton (“Only Lovers Left Alive”) or Anne Dorval (“Mommy”). The only actual problem with those performances is that no major voting body vouched for them.

So who did they vouch for? Jennifer Aniston. Once a very dark horse in this race, the Globes, SAGs and Critics Choice all went for Aniston’s work in “Cake,” a film that has not exactly been met with much critical acclaim. But now it seems like this race is more or less settled. Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”), Amy Adams (“Big Eyes”) and Hilary Swank (“The Homesman”) are really the only women with reasonable chances to spoil Aniston’s momentum. Still, even if they do, there’s no way Julianne Moore is losing here. The race was settled a few months ago, and it’s even more of a lock now.

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Jennifer Aniston, “Cake”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

The potential spoilers (in order of likelihood)
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”

Hilary Swank, “The Homesman”

Best Supporting Actor

This race has developed into an unexpected snoozefest. Yet it was open to many possibilities not that long ago, with countless sight unseen potential from films like “Selma,” “Unbroken,” “The Gambler,” “Into The Woods” and “A Most Violent Year.” But they all came and went with no one breaking into the race. The result is that the same four men we saw coming since September have firmly planted their feet: Ethan Hawke and J.K. Simmons (with their Sundance premieres “Boyhood” and “Whiplash,” respectively), Mark Ruffalo (Cannes premiere “Foxcatcher”) and Edward Norton (Venice premiere “Birdman”). And if the Globes and SAGs have anything to say about it, the man that’s joining them — by default, apparently — is Robert Duvall for “The Judge.” 

“The Judge” opened the Toronto Film Festival to little acclaim or buzz, and then came and went very quickly from theaters. But Duvall is pretty good in it and is obviously a highly respected actor, so it seems safe to predict he’ll rise above the film’s many shortcomings. But we still just can’t quite picture it, especially with Josh Brolin waiting in the wings with “Inherent Vice.” He’s really the only other possible contender here, and while “Vice” isn’t an easy sell as a whole, Brolin sure is.  He’ll also benefit from the fact that the film is just getting out into theaters now, long after “The Judge” already felt like an afterthought. 

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
JK Simmons, “Whiplash”

The potential spoiler (there really one seems to be one):
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”

Best Supporting Actress

There were a few interesting shakeups in this race over the last little bit.  First, assumed nominee Laura Dern (“Wild”) didn’t get nearly the kind of precursor attention we thought she would. And then two other women we didn’t see coming — Naomi Watts (“St. Vincent”) and Tilda Swinton (“Snowpiercer”) — did, with Watts getting a SAG nomination and Swinton making the Critics’ Choice cut. 

Now it seems that Dern, Swinton and Watts all sit as potential spoilers to a race that — like Best Actress — has five contenders standing strong: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”), Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”), Jessica Chastain (“A Most Violent Year”), Emma Stone (“Birdman”) and Meryl Streep (“Into The Woods”). But only Arquette (who is looking good for the win) isn’t vulnerable to that aforementioned trio on the outside looking in — or to our pick for the “most likely to pull a Jonah Hill this year”: Rene Russo for “Nightcrawler”

The predicted nominees (in alphabetical order):
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Jessica Chastain,
“A Most Violent Year”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Meryl Streep, “Into The Woods”

The potential spoilers (in order of likelihood):
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”
Naomi Watts, “St. Vincent”
Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”

Check out updated Oscar predictions in all the categories here.

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