Off the Carpet: The closest Best Picture Oscar race ever?
It's wonderful when an exemplary year of filmmaking yields an awards season as unpredictable and wide open as this one is. "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" won Globes. They each led guild nominations. "Gravity" and "Hustle" led Oscar nominations, but "12 Years" wasn't far behind. "Gravity" and "12 Years" tied for the PGA Award, but "Hustle" won the SAG ensemble award. And each film was given a Best Picture prize of some sort at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards. (Some of them dubious but that was clearly the point of the BFCA adding those categories: the opportunity to spread wealth.)
Do you know how difficult it is to tie on a preferential ballot? Do you know how even the distribution of votes has to be? It's mind-boggling that that happened. I thought 2000 was a tight year. Three different films won the top guild honors. A Best Picture/Best Director split happened at the Oscars. But three films this evenly dispersed? Call it. This is the most competitive Oscar season I've ever covered.
Last night's Producers Guild of America Awards ceremony was supposed to clear things up. After all, it's the only organization that also uses the preferential ballot on the circuit. Whatever won there, as it has for six straight years, was bound to win Best Picture. No. A tie. A TIE.
So let's look at the nominations themselves. I look at the announcement from Thursday and I see four fairly obvious wins for "Gravity": Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects. But Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and especially Best Director are certainly within reach if not easily chalked up from here. That's seven. Is "Gravity" really "Cabaret?" Is it a film that can rack up that tally and still miss Best Picture? I suppose in a field this tight, it absolutely could be.
What does "12 Years a Slave" seem primed for? Best Adapted Screenplay, probably, though "Philomena" has a shot at that one (it does). Lupita Nyong'o has proven she's the frontrunner in the supporting actress category. And throw in Best Director as a possibility. Those three and Best Picture? Does that compute?
"American Hustle" seems like a good bet for Best Original Screenplay and maybe costumes and/or production design (two races that could also go to "12 Years a Slave" or, frankly, to "The Great Gatsby's" opulence). Strangely enough, though, for all the talk of the actors helping to carry it through and with that SAG ensemble win in the bank, none of the four nominated stars are frontrunners in their races. I suppose if it ends up strong enough to win the big prize then Russell is in play for Best Director. So again, four including Best Picture? Does that compute?
And by the way, does it really matter if Cuarón wins the DGA prize next weekend, as most expect? I'm not sure there is anything that could definitively tip the scales at this point. And the WGA Awards won't do anything to clear up matters; "Gravity" isn't nominated and "12 Years a Slave" isn't eligible. Other than the DGA next weekend, the PGA was the only guild that had all three facing off against each other and it ended in…a TIE. So it's all probably going to come down to certain envelopes on Oscar night, and as ever, I'd have a keen eye on Best Film Editing for the potential answer.
This is all you can hope for this time of year, a little bit of intrigue. The notion that it's not a telegraphed march to Oscar glory through countless precursor ceremonies that all bring the same news. Though ironically enough, it's those various precursors' inability to agree that is making this such an interesting season.
And the best part? Ballots don't even go out for another month. You can almost hear the various gears turning in the offices of campaign strategists across town. Everyone knows they have an angle.
This is fun.