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Academy Awards race expected to be competitive

Published: Monday, December 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 09:12

When “12 Years a Slave” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, it was met with resounding praise. Critics hailed the film as one of the year’s best and confidently predicted that it would win Best Picture at the 86th Academy Awards in March. Director Steve McQueen and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o also garnered rave reviews for their work.

The response to “12 Years” was so decisive and thunderous it seemed that the race to the Oscars — still six months away at the time — was already over. But as other Academy Award contenders have stormed into theaters this fall, “12 Years” is looking at some stiff competition, and its frontrunner status is decidedly less clear than it was in September. The road to the Oscars is far from over: here’s a look at how the races for major Academy Awards are shaping up. 


Best Picture

While “12 Years” is still pretty much guaranteed a Best Picture nomination, several other films have stolen the limelight over the past few months. The most formidable of these contenders is Alfonso Cuaron’s space-odyssey “Gravity.” The riveting film is a remarkable cinematic experience that boasts impressive performances and stunning visual effects. “Gravity” was a commercial success as well as a critical one, and has likely been buoyed by its solid showing at the box office. 

But “American Hustle” and “Wolf of Wall Street,” both hitting theaters in December, could shake up the race. Both films — with all-star, Oscar-friendly casts and directors — have the potential to change the conversation significantly. 

Moreover, since Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” should receive some attention in the next few weeks as this year’s showbiz film. In fact, the past two Best Picture winners have been movies about the film industry. Perhaps “Saving Mr. Banks” will follow in the footsteps of 2012’s “Argo” and 2011’s “The Artist.” 

Other films that may receive nominations include “Blue Jasmine,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Nebraska” and “Captain Phillips.” 


Best Director

British director McQueen still has a solid shot at winning Best Director; however, like in the Best Picture race, “Gravity” could triumph over “12 Years.” Cuaron’s film is a technical masterpiece — it is set entirely in outer space — and he executed the difficult work finely. 

Oscar favorites Martin Scorsese and Joel and Ethan Coen are likely to get nods for “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Inside Llewyn Davis,” respectively, and David O. Russell may score a Best Director nomination for the second year in a row. Russell follows up last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook” with “American Hustle,” which is all but guaranteed to bring him further success.

Spike Jonze could also receive a nod for “Her” while Alexander Payne may get recognition for his work on “Nebraska.”


Best Actor

Last year, the Best Actor race was over as soon as “Lincoln” hit theaters; the award belonged to Daniel Day-Lewis months before the actual ceremonies. This year, the race is decidedly different and much more competitive. Ejiofor will certainly receive a nomination for his work in “12 Years” as will Leonardo DiCaprio for his role as a hard-partying stockbroker in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It would be nice to see DiCaprio — who has, somewhat astonishingly, never won an Oscar — take home the award. It would be difficult, however, to ignore Ejiofor’s moving performance.

Tom Hanks received significant praise for “Captain Phillips,” though the buzz has quieted significantly since its initial release. Robert Redford would have a good shot at a nod for “All Is Lost,” but, as he has shown no interest in campaigning for a nomination, it’s increasingly unlikely he’ll score one. Bruce Dern, meanwhile, is the most enthusiastic campaigner of the bunch — and the beloved veteran character actor and star of “Nebraska” is expected to be a nominee this year.

Christian Bale of “American Hustle” and Matthew McConaughey of “Dallas Buyers Club” are also contenders. 


Best Actress

Of the four major categories, Best Actress is the only one for which “12 Years a Slave” will not receive a nomination, so the playing field is somewhat different. Cate Blanchett wowed audiences and critics this summer in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” as a high-society woman forced to move in with her working class sister after her money disappears. (Interestingly, the well-reviewed movie has done little to put Allen himself in contention for any Oscars this year.)

Sandra Bullock, however, delivered a powerhouse performance in “Gravity,” and Emma Thompson’s role in “Saving Mr. Banks” will likely earn her a nomination as well. Amy Adams is also getting critical acclaim for her turn in “American Hustle.” Adams seems to be nominated nearly every year — though she never takes home the prize — and with Blanchett and Bullock’s buzzy performances leading the race, this year should be no different.

The Academy should honor Judi Dench’s heartbreaking and lovely work in “Philomena,” though Meryl Streep may steal the spot for her “August: Osage County” performance. If Streep gets the nod, it will be (astoundingly) her 18th Academy Award nomination. 

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