Some of my Facebook friends are currently in the midst of AMC Theaters yearly Best Picture marathon, and they’re braver souls than I am. I really dropped the ball on seeing the nominees this year, but I couldn’t bring myself to spend nearly 24 hours in a movie theater. Especially when about eight of those would be with films I liked but am in no particular hurry to see again. So I go into Oscar night woefully unprepared. Which, of course, will not stop me from weighing in on them anyway.
The Producers Guild ended up giving their top award to both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, which only underlines how the Best Picture race seems to have come down to those two films. Both are a kind of film the Academy loves to recognize: the larger-than-life cinematic experience and the searing morality tale. It’s a battle between what Hollywood wants to be and what it wants to be seen as, commerce vs. art. Not that Gravity is simply money-making spectacle, but “You’ve got to see it in the theater!” was its biggest selling point, something which might lead voters to lump it in with the likes of Star Wars and Avatar. And 12 Years a Slave is about a subject that really can’t be ignored without making the Academy look incredibly insensitive and thick-headed. Which hasn’t always stopped them, but I have a feeling they’ll go with 12 Years here.
Besides, it seems like a lock that Alfonso Cuarón is going to win Best Director, which will give the Academy the chance to recognize the achievement of Gravity without giving it the top prize. There’s precedent — Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan, Ang Lee last year for Life of Pi — and Cuarón winning the Directors Guild award is as close to a guarantee of him winning as you can get. While I wouldn’t be surprised with Gravity taking Best Picture over 12 Years a Slave, I’ll be absolutely stunned if Cuarón doesn’t win here.
Matthew McConaughey has a ton of momentum for Best Actor. I haven’t seen Dallas Buyers Club, but he’s been winning every award in sight for it, and he’s been having a really strong year in general. He’s been on a roll since last year, actually, with Mud and Magic Mike, and this year he had a memorable turn in The Wolf of Wall Street and is very much in people’s minds thanks to True Detective. We could be looking at a year like 1987, when Michael Douglas won for Wall Street, but it could be argued he was rewarded for both that and Fatal Attraction. McConaughey’s been bubbling to the surface for a while now, and this could be when the Academy solidifies his arrival.
The rest of the acting award seem just as set. I don’t know of anyone who is predicting Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto and Jennifer Lawrence to walk away empty-handed tomorrow night. And really, the rest of the categories don’t promise many surprises either. Gravity is going to absolutely swamp the technical awards, and Frozen likely has Animated Feature and Song sewn up. 12 Years a Slave likely takes Adapted Screenplay, and it feels like American Hustle has the momentum for Original Screenplay. So it’ll be one of those Oscar ceremonies where the surprises — hopefully — will come from the presenters and the speeches and the host. Which is always an iffy proposition; last year’s show had the same air of inevitability, and it was a bit of a drag. And I’m sure Ellen DeGeneres is nice and will be funny, but I don’t see her blowing the doors of the joint or turning into a train wreck, the two things that make for a memorable host.
But we’ll all be watching, because, well, it’s the Oscars. It’s big stars and pretty dresses and movies most of us know at least by name. Even if just as many of us haven’t seen half of them.