Oscars 2014: The Gold Rush
Awards season is about to kick off, so Declan Cashin takes a look at the front-runners gearing up to battle for Oscar glory
Christmas, shmistmas: for hardcore movie fans, this time of year is all about Oscar season. The three-month slog to the Academy Awards kicks off big-time next week with the announcement of the nominations for both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.
At this point, the race is unusually open, so here is our guide to the contenders, potential upsets and great unknowns of the key Oscar categories for next year.
The two leading this race right now are Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave) and Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), but the field is in flux enough to allow possibilities for Spike Jonze (Her), Woody Allen, (Blue Jasmine), David O Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips).
Early front-runner: Cuaron, for shepherding the technical marvel, Gravity, on to screens.
Owing to a switch to a preferential voting process, the final Best Picture roster could contain as few as five or as many as ten nominees.
Some movies are already in a great position to be selected. They are 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis and Captain Phillips.
The Butler was a box-office smash in the US, which could help it over the line – ditto the Hugh Jackman/Jake Gyllenhaal-starrer Prisoners – while Nebraska, Philomena, Her or Before Midnight might earn the indie movie slot(s) that often pepper the final Best Picture line-up.
There are two wild cards in this category right now: Martin Scorsese's (above with lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio) The Wolf of Wall Street and David O Russell's American Hustle.
At the time of writing, the former had yet to screen for critics and awards-voters, but if word is positive, both of these could shake-up the race considerably.
Early front-runner: Last week, American Hustle – a starry 1970s-set crime caper – got its very first screening in LA, and the first embargo-defying online reactions were very strong.
This could be bad news for 12 Years A Slave, which should, by rights, be miles ahead of the competition.
The thing is, the Academy often – too often – tends to vote more with its heart than its head, opting for the movie or performance members liked as opposed to "the best".
Already there are murmurs that voters are being put off by the graphic (essential) violence and brutality of 12 Years A Slave.
That doesn't bode well. As one Oscar tea-leaf reader has put it, 12 Years A Slave stands a real chance of "getting Brokeback'd" – referring to the 2005 ceremony when the crowd-pleasing Crash trumped the edgier Brokeback Mountain to the Best Film gong.
Oscar voters might pivot to a more unchallenging consensus nominee, like Ben Affleck's Argo, but something tells us this could be Marty's year.
This year's Best Actor race is as competitive as it has been in many years.
The way the contest is shaping-up right now, there looks to be a few locks: Chiwetel Ejiofor, left, for his wrenching turn in 12 Years A Slave, Matthew McConaughey for his physically – and professionally – transformative performance as a man dying of Aids in Dallas Buyers Club and Tom Hanks, doing his best work in ages, in Captain Phillips.
But those three are relative whippersnappers compared with two other stars, both aged 77, who also seem guaranteed of nominations: Bruce Dern, winner of this year's Best Actor prize at Cannes, for the road movie Nebraska, and Robert Redford for his almost silent one-man survival drama, All Is Lost. That's the five slots gone already, meaning the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Michael B Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Christian Bale (Out Of The Furnace and/or American Hustle), Forest Whitaker (The Butler), Idris Elba (Long Walk To Freedom) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) will have to fight very hard to earn an underdog place in the line-up.
Early front-runner: Redford could snatch it. It will be his first acting nomination in 40 years in a demanding role that has impressed even his harshest critics. Plus, the fact that so many Academy members owe their careers to Redford's Sundance Film Festival might help. Bruce Dern is the underdog, but his compelling performance might just grab the Oscar.
As in the male category, there are four sure-bets for this category, all of them former Oscar winners: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), right, Judi Dench (Philomena), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), bottom, and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks).
That leaves a fifth slot, and God help any creature going into a race against those Titans, right? Not necessarily. In fact, such a high calibre of nominees might actually help a newcomer or perennial Oscar bridesmaid slip through to victory.
Step forward Amy Adams, who will be pushed as a Best Actress nominee for the still largely-unseen American Hustle. Adams has clocked up four Supporting nods in eight years, meaning she's already insanely overdue to win.
If Adams doesn't take off, it leaves a slot open for Kate Winslet (Labor Day), newbie Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County) or Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue Is The Warmest Colour).
Early front-runner: Sight-unseen, it's Adams for now. Otherwise, Oscar rainmaker Harvey Weinstein will be campaigning like a mad thing for Dench. It might be the Dame's year, in the end. Never underestimate a woman who can win an Oscar for an eight-minute cameo (like Dench did for Shakespeare In Love in 1998).
Best Supporting Actor
If you were to conjure up an archetypal role that was precision-tooled to be awards bait, it would be that of a gay, AIDS stricken transsexual hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold.
Well, that's exactly the part that Jared Leto has in Dallas Buyers Club – and, believe it or not, the 41-year-old rocker and former My So-Called Life heartthrob is leading this race right now.
Early word on Bradley Cooper's performance in American Hustle is also strong, while Somali newcomer Barkhad Abdi is a good bet for his riveting performance in Captain Phillips.
German actor Daniel Bruhl was the undisputed star of Rush, but he might be crowded out of the race by starrier names.
Elsewhere, Michael Fassbender, above, is in the running for his divisive portrayal of a sadistic slave owner in 12 Years A Slave, Tom Hanks, below, is practically a shoo-in for playing Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks and the late James Gandolfini might score for his cuddly bear performance in Enough Said. Jonah Hill, too, could land a second career nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street.
Early front-runner: Leto. If he plays the awards circuit game right (cf: last year's Best Actress Jennifer Lawrence), it's his to lose.
Best Supporting Actress
The first reviews say the all-conquering Jennifer Lawrence, left, is a scene-stealing hoot in American Hustle. Her third nomination looks on the cards, even if the movie doesn't fare as well as expected.
Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o is sensational in 12 Years A Slave and thoroughly deserving of a nod. Oprah Winfrey, meanwhile, should be able to bag a spot for her great work in The Butler.
Then there's past winner Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), popular character actresses June Squibb (Nebraska) and Margo Martindale (August: Osage County), as well as Martindale's big-name August co-star Julia Roberts, left.
The most intriguing potential name here, though, is Scarlett Johansson, who is building serious buzz for her purely vocal performance as a smart home-operating system in Her, a role that has already won her Best Actress at the Rome Film festival. This would be an Oscar first.
Early front-runner: We think it's Nyong'o. Not only is it a terrific performance, but she's killing it on the publicity circuit and is fast becoming the year's red carpet style icon. This all helps.