Oscars 2014 Cheat Sheet: Best Picture

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As is traditional now that the Academy Award nominations have been announced, we’re profiling the nominees in each of the main categories and assessing their strengths and weaknesses going into the competition. We already profiled Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Director. Phew! But now it’s time for the big one: what film will win Best Picture and why? We have all the answers as we search out the Oscar film of the year…

12 Years A Slave

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. In some ways this feels like the most Oscar-y candidate of the bunch: a period drama with a heavy emotional impact, great performances and contemporary resonance. And it says something about America. 1. An Oscar pedigree does not a win guarantee, and in fact risks making even the most heartfelt and sincere film (like this one) feel like a cynical award-grabber. 2. The film took home the Producers Guild Of America (PGA) award, traditionally the best indicator of a Best Picture win, the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and the AFI prize, as well as a host of critics’ prizes. It also has a highly respectable nine nominations, including Best Director and Best Editing, both strongly linked to Best Picture winners (every Best Picture winner since 1981 has had an Editing nomination, and most have Director nods too). 2. Gravity actually tied with this for the PGA priz and took Best British Film at the BAFTAs, while American Hustle took the other category at the Globes, and both of those also have Director and Editing nominations. With a relatively small box-office toll of $44m, 12 Years is by no means a complete shoo-in. 3. Oscar has gone for stories of hope over the last few years, something with a happy and uplifting ending. This does fit the bill. 3. The Oscars, wary of typecasting, have moved away from big historical epics in recent years: Argo doesn’t quite fit that bill, nor does The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire or No Country For Old Men. And never forget: Crash beat Brokeback Mountain.
American Hustle

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. It has nominations in ten categories, including the crucial Editing and Director strands, and is – like 12 Years – a Globe winner. It was a PGA nominee, won the Ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild and was up for the BAFTA. 1. Gravity has just as many nominations, while 12 Years is only one nod behind, and both are up in the same major categories. What’s more, they tied for the PGA Award that American Hustle lost. 2. The film is great fun, which is something that cannot be said of, say, 12 Years A Slave. It’s packed with great performances and interesting hair, and tells a story that the voters probably remember being big news – and all in a knockabout and interesting way. It could prove the Argo to 12 Years’ Lincoln. 2. Fun, yes, but surely it’s a little inconsistent in tone, shifting between tragedy and comedy, and domestic drama and political scheming. It could prove the Juno to 12 Years’ No Country For Old Men, to further extend an already-creaking metaphor. 3. If Crash can beat Brokeback Mountain, American Hustle can beat 12 Years A Slave. 3. Surely the Academy is trying to avoid any echo of that much-maligned decision.
Captain Phillips

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. It’s nearly unbearably tense and beautifully constructed, and packs a surprising amount of politics, nuance and human emotion into what could have been a boy’s own tale of piracy on the high seas. 1. Yeah, but there’s still action in there. It’s an action film, isn’t it? You can’t fool the Academy. 2. It was nominated for all the biggies – PGAs, Globes, BAFTAs – and has a further five Oscar nominations, including the Editing category. 2. Yes, but it has lost all the big prizes so far, and missed out on a Director nod which, while not fatal to its chances (eg Argo) isn’t a good sign. 3. Who doesn’t love stories about pirates? 3. Who doesn’t love pirate stories? Ninjas, that’s who. What if the voters prefer ninjas? What if they are ninjas? You just never know.

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. The most literally breathtaking film on the list, Gravity not only set a new benchmark for technical filmmaking but told an engaging and edge-of-your-seat story at the same time. 1. Like Captain Phillips, if you were putting Gravity in a genre it would probably be action. That’s a dangerous place to be come Oscar-time. That still gives it a better chance than it would have if you considered that its premise also involves fiction and science: no sci-fi has ever won Best Picture, so thank goodness Gravity technically isn’t one. 2. It has a promising ten nominations, including Director and Editing; it tied for the PGA award with 12 Years A Slave, and was BAFTA and Globe nominated (it won Best British Film at the BAFTAs). It’s also the highest-grossing nominee; a good sign that voters might have seen it. 2. It lost out at the Globes and BAFTAs to 12 Years, and American Hustle is also jostling for the lead (its SAG Ensemble is a reasonably good sign). We somehow doubt the Oscars will see another tie, too. And hey! Avatar was also the highest-grossing nominee. 3. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this might really have been (as jokers dubbed it) Grabbing For Handles: The Movie. Alfonso Cuarón made it something transcendent. 3. Cuarón killed off Clooney. You can’t possibly expect to get away with that behaviour in Hollywood.
Dallas Buyers Club

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. It’s a film about an important issue, and an inspiring life, that is also hugely entertaining and often very funny as well as moving. That’s some good filmmaking right there. 1. The perception at studios when McConaughey was trying to get the film made was that the issue involved is somehow no longer relevant; if voters feel the same way, it might be overlooked. 2. It has six Oscar nods, including one for Editing, and was nominated for the PGA prize too. 2. So far, the film has won acting plaudits for McConaughey and Leto but no big prizes for the whole. 3. A vote for Dallas Buyers Club is a means for the Academy to show its love and tolerance of people different than themselves. Texans, that is. 3. The Academy will never truly embrace Texans. Never!

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. This may be the most relevant story and character of our time, with everyone at least vaguely aware that our relationship with technology is changing our lives. Jonze’s film takes an all-too-credible look just a little into the future. 1. Relevant? “Theodore Twombly” is a name straight out of Dickens, and some of the tech seems like it’s straight from a luddite’s nightmare. 2. It’s up for five Oscars, including Original Screenplay, and has already taken the WGA and Globe Screenplay prizes, so the story is clearly highly-regarded. That could signal an upset. 2. It’s not nominated for Director, or Editing, or any Acting prizes. Only 11 films in 86 years have won Best Picture without an Acting nomination, and only 4 in the last 50 years; no film’s won Best Picture without an Editing nomination in over 30 years. 3. It’s gorgeous looking, cleverly put together and beautifully acted by both the physical lead, Joaquin Phoenix, and his disembodied counterpart, Scarlett Johansson. 3. It’s gorgeous, but what does it really say? That we sometimes depend too much on technology? Heck, your mum tells you that every other day.

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. In some ways, this is an old-fashioned family drama with a tinge of the Depression-era drama about it. In others, its black comedy and witty avoidance of cliché makes it feel incredibly modern. 1. In the last few years, Oscar has gone for slightly more obvious, more feel-good films than this one, tinged with melancholy as it is. 2. It has six nominations, including Director, Actor and Screenplay, and was in the race for the Globes and BAFTAs too. 2. It isn’t nominated for Best Editing, an ominous sign, and has been missing out to the big threesome of 12 Years, Hustle and Gravity. 3. There’s something to be said for rewarding a small-scale story about ordinary people amid all the flashier characters elsewhere. 3. It’s also the lowest-grossing nominee, with less than five per cent of Gravity’s box-office take. Nebraska made $12m. That’s comparable to The Hurt Locker, but that one was something of an anomaly in recent times.

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. As with the book on which it’s based, this turns what might have been a melodrama straight from your granny’s favourite magazine into a carefully modulated and beautifully told tale of grief and loss and hope and forgiveness. 1. TThe last time a film about a little old lady won Best Picture was all the way back in 1989 with Driving Miss Daisy – and everyone hates that decision in retrospect. 2. It was Globe, BAFTA and SAG nominated, which speaks to how extraordinarily good it is. 2. It hasn’t won any of the big prizes, and missed out on both a PGA nomination and those helpful Director / Editing nominations. This suggests that, in a strong year, it’s simply overmatched. 3. It’s a Judi Dench film. If it doesn’t win, she might frown sternly at the voters, who would immediately shrivel into dust and blow away. Such is the power of Dench. 3. Wait, you just made that up!
The Wolf Of Wall Street

WHY IT WILL WIN WHY IT WON'T WIN 1. It’s vital, it’s epic and it still says something hugely important about the world we live in. It just says it with extra helpings of booze and hookers. 1. It’s a portrait of the very worst that society has to offer, the lowest of the low. Should we really be signing off on this sort of behaviour? There aren’t enough Quaaludes in the world to unbend the moral majority and make them cast that vote. 2. This has five nominations in big categories, with Scorsese, DiCaprio, Hill and screenwriter Terrence Winter all nominated. It was also up for the BAFTAs and saw DiCaprio win a Globe – not a bad haul. 2. IIt’s missing that significant Editing nomination and has generally lost out right, left and centre to American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave or Gravity. 3. It’s so very daring. 3. It’s so very naughty!