Academy Award prognostication is a tough business. Even if you pay close attention to all the major pre-Oscar awards and nominations like the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes, along with notices from critics’ associations in New York, Los Angeles and other regions, it can be difficult to accurately predict whole Academy Award categories successfully. Let’s take a look at five of this year’s most tricky groups.
Best Actor. There are so many possibilities for nominations here that it’s going to be hard to judge until some major awards are given out in the next couple of months. At the moment it looks like the one definite lock for the Academy Award is Chiwetel Ejiofor for his performance in the Best Picture frontrunner 12 Years a Slave. It’s likely that Matthew McConaughey, who is currently in the throes of a major comeback, will earn his first ever nomination for Dallas Buyers Club. Tom Hanks has gotten SAG and Golden Globe nominations for his work in the crowd-pleasing Captain Phillips, so he’s got a good shot too. It’s unclear to me whether both Bruce Dern and Robert Redford, both 77-year-olds who have never won acting Oscars and who haven’t been nominated for said award since the 1970s, can both garner nods for their work (in Nebraska and All Is Lost respectively). If I had to guess, though, I’d say Dern has the better chance at a nomination. He’s been hitting the campaign trail pretty hard ever since winning the Best Actor award at Cannes last May, while Redford has no interest in lobbying for awards.
Other guys who might sneak into the race: Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), perennial also-ran Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler). Super-long-shots also include Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Christian Bale (American Hustle) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station).
Best Supporting Actress. The three locks for the nomination are newcomer Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), last year’s Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and 84-year-old June Squibb (Nebraska). The fourth and fifth spots are currently up for grabs, though. Julia Roberts, who is a lead in August: Osage County, is being pushed in the supporting category, so she has an opportunity for nominations there (SAG and the Globes have already done so). Oprah Winfrey (yes, the Oprah) has gotten a SAG nom for The Butler, so she has a fighting chance as well. Don’t forget Sally Hawkins either, recognized by the Golden Globes this morning for her work in Blue Jasmine, and Octavia Spencer, who won the National Board of Review award for Fruitvale Station.
Best Director. Right now the men (sadly only men this year) who look like definite nominees are Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity). I have hope that Alexander Payne, who just scored a Golden Globe nomination this morning, will be recognized for his fine work on Nebraska, but he faces stiff competition from Spike Jonze (Her), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) and the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis).
Best Original Score. The unfortunate thing about this category is that a number of this year’s most noteworthy films either have scores which are ineligible (like Nebraska, whose composer used some work from a previous film) or use music which is not all original (I think that’s the case with Inside Llewyn Davis). Some composers who have gotten nominations here and there in recent weeks are Hans Zimmer (12 Years a Slave) and Steven Price (he did really good work on Gravity). I’m not sure if Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett are eligible for their contribution to Her, but if they are, that nomination would provide a nice, modern shake-up for a typically movie-music-sounding set.
Best Foreign Language Film. This is by far the most complicated category because this year’s most talked-about foreign film, Blue Is the Warmest Color, which I think missed the cutoff date for Academy Award eligibility by mere days. Some contenders include The Hunt (Denmark), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Past (Iran), The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Grandmaster (Hong Kong) and Wadjda (Saudi Arabia’s first-ever Oscar submission; also that country’s first feature film directed by a woman), but it’s anyone’s guess which of those films (maybe none of them?) will take the five coveted spots.