The 86th Academy Awards, broadcasting Sunday, March 2, might be called the year of the flawed masterpiece. It is arguably the first time since the adoption of 10 Best Picture nominees that all 10 are worthy of consideration. In fact, there are even films which, while not necessarily better than those nominated, seem overlooked. Doesn’t “Inside Llewyn Davis” deserve to be nominated as much as “Philomena”? (It definitely should have edged out “Captain Phillips.”)
With 10 nominations in a great year for movies, others could make similar arguments. (Where is “All Is Lost”?) But inversely, what’s missing among the 10 – and not just this year -- is a clear winner. Every one of the nominations is arguably as unworthy of winning as it was of being nominated.
For example, “Gravity” is an astounding visual experience and an edge-of-your-seat thriller created by an impressive combination of imagination and technology, but it’s also really corny. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a hilarious send-up of wealth, an absolute blast for two hours with one problem: It’s three hours. “Her,” while perhaps the best written film of the year, just doesn’t feel “big” enough for best picture.
That said, the government will not fall even if a clearly inferior candidate takes home the statuette (I’m again looking at you, “Captain Phillips”). Best Picture is certainly not a referendum on the “best” film of the year. It’s more often the best of the most popular, and it’s not always even that. Consider these best picture winners of the past few decades: “Ordinary People” (1980, over “Raging Bull”); “Forrest Gump” (1994, over “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption”); “Shakespeare in Love” (1998, over “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line”); “Million Dollar Baby” (2004, over “The Aviator” and “Sideways”); “Crash” (2005, over “Brokeback Mountain” and “Capote”); “The Hurt Locker” (2009, over “Avatar,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “A Serious Man”).
And some of the nominations, good gracious: “Heaven Can Wait” (1978); “Fatal Attraction” (1987); “Working Girl” (1988); “Ghost” (1990); “The Full Monty” (1997); “Chocolat” (2000); “The Kids Are Alright” (2010).
This year feels like a glossier version of last year’s Oscars. I didn’t think “Argo” deserved to go down in history as the best film of the year, but I didn’t think it deserved it any less than “Life of Pi,” “Silver Linings Playbook” or “Zero Dark Thirty.” This year, I’m again not sure any of the films nominated deserve to be memorialized, but they are all better than “Argo.” The thing about the Academy Awards is that its very nature does not lend itself to reflection. It’s too summary a process, too unheeding of its own posterity (and for the past few years, thwarted by a paucity of choices). Especially in the era of grouping most of the award-caliber films as close as possible to the end of the year, we end up with a lot of hype and difficulty determining real substance. What we do get is suspense, drama, comedy and a few unsavory characters. Not at the movies always but definitely during the Oscar broadcast.
That said, some people are great at picking the winners. I’m not one of those people, despite having seen the films. So take the following maybe for argument, and maybe to laugh at after the ceremony, but not for help with your office pool.
What Will Win: “Gravity”
What Should Win: “Her”
Outside Chance: “American Hustle”[Ed. note: according to research by IBISWorld analysis, best picture Oscar winners earn about $13.8 million more post-Oscar win than their nominated counterparts, based on box office sales over the past five years . . . in terms of sales, “Gravity” is ahead. The movie not only has the highest total box office sales, but had a 358.3% boost in weekly sales the week after its nomination.]
Who Will Win: David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Who Should Win: Tie: Alfonso Cuarón and David O. Russell
Outside Chance: Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Who Should Win: Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Outside Chance: Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Who Will Win: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Outside Chance: Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Best Supporting Actor
Who Will Win: Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Who Should Win: Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Outside Chance: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Best Supporting Actress
Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Who Should Win: Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Outside Chance: June Squib, “Nebraska”
Best Original Screenplay
What Will Win: “Her”
What Should Win: “Her”
Outside Chance: “Nebraska”
Best Adapted Screenplay
What Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”
What Should Win: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Outside Chance: “Captain Phillips”
The 86th annual Oscars award show airs this year on the ABC network on March 2 at 7 p.m. eastern.