Awards Season: Where Does Best Picture Stand Now?

Gravity Bullock and Clooney working together 540x360 Awards Season: Where Does Best Picture Stand Now?

This has been one of the most exciting awards seasons of the last several years. Normally by this time, everything is pretty much wrapped up, even before the Oscars air. All the previous awards have usually pointed us directly to what will inevitably win Best Picture, leaving us with no surprise to be had on the big night. However, that’s not how things have gone this year. For once, it isn’t crystal clear what those in the industry find to be the best film of the year. We may have thought we knew earlier, but after the past couple of weeks, we’ve been presented with a number of shifts that have thrown the awards race into a tizzy. How did we get to this point? Well, let’s go back and look at how the whole thing started.

It began all the way back in early December when the New York Film Critics Circle kicked off awards season by declaring David O. Russell’s American Hustle to be the best film of the year. There are many people who place a large amount of emphasis on the first awards out of the gate, so naturally there were several who thought that Hustle was now our frontrunner, but then we had the National Board of Review declaring Spike Jonze’s Her to be the year’s best film, and so began the search for consensus among the critics.

It didn’t take long to find it as immediately after we had the vast majority of groups naming Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave the best film of 2013. Sure, there were a few more naming Her, some naming Gravity, and even a couple naming Inside Llewyn Davis, but it was clear that 12 Years a Slave was the absolute favorite by far.

With this in mind, most people were ready to sit back and relax as McQueen’s film continued to dominate the awards season. It looked like it couldn’t be stopped, so if it wasn’t your favorite, what use was there in complaining? As the bigger awards approached, it was assumed the domination would continue, and in a sense, it did.

On January 12th, it was expected that 12 Years a Slave would do pretty well at the Golden Globes, more than likely taking Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress (it was expected to lose Screenplay to Her and Director to Gravity, both of which did indeed occur). However, what we got was some of the first evidence that the film was not as strong as we originally thought. Supporting Actress, which was thought would easily go to Lupita Nyong’o for her amazing performance, went to Jennifer Lawrence for her forgettable performance in American Hustle. Likewise, it was expected that Chiwetel Ejiofor would easily take Best Actor (Drama) for his incredible portrayal of Solomon Northup, but instead, the award went to Matthew McConaughey for his outstanding performance in Dallas Buyers Club.

It was a bit shocking, but it’s no secret that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association likes to give their awards to big stars, so it was quite possible that we could write off these loses based on their personal preference of doing just that. However, it still left the favorite film of the year at this point with nothing but one Golden Globe. Granted, it was the big one that mattered, but if you look at Golden Globe history, you’ll find that only seven films have won just Best Drama (or Picture), with only one of those going on to win Best Picture at the Oscars (Rocky). Ironically, things were starting to look a little rocky for 12 Years.

Then the big morning came. Bright and early on January 16th, we got the Oscar nominations that we had all been waiting for. Like everyone else, I was expecting 12 Years to easily take the lead with 11 nods, followed by Gravity with ten, and perhaps American Hustle with a good amount of its own. However, what we got were some unexpected results. Gravity got all ten nominations it was expected to get, but due to two unexpected snubs for 12 Years (in Original Score and Cinematography), it was left with only nine, putting it behind the leaders of the pack, Gravity and American Hustle. The snubs may have been for somewhat minor awards, but they were nominations that the film was easily expected to receive, showing us that some support was waning.

That very same night were the Critics’ Choice awards (presented by the Broadcast Film Critics Association), where we still expected 12 Years to clean up pretty well. It made a fair showing, taking Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress, showing that Lawrence’s win at the Globes was more than likely because of the reason I stated earlier. However, the BFCA did agree with them on McConaughey being the Best Actor of the year, catapulting him to the top of his respective category. It’s also worth noting that Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece Gravity took seven awards of its own, including Best Director, an award that Cuaron had been winning the vast majority of throughout awards season. Such an award might not have seemed particularly important at this time, but as we’ll see later on, it could make all the difference.

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%name Awards Season: Where Does Best Picture Stand Now?

Next up, we had the first of the big Guild awards, the Screen Actors Guild, where we would finally get a concrete answer as to who our lead contenders for the four acting awards were. These went entirely as expected, including McConaughey’s win for Best Actor, which seemed inevitable after his hot streak with the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice. We also saw Lupita Nyong’o take Best Supporting Actress, confirming her as the favorite to take the Oscar on the big night.

At the end of the night came their biggest award: Best Ensemble. The main predictions were split between 12 Years and American Hustle. The former had a phenomenal ensemble and was clearly the favorite film of the year, while the latter was a much easier film to swallow that had just received nominations in all four acting categories from the Academy.

The latter film won, leading the less-informed to immediately think it was now the favorite for Best Picture, but as someone who’s been following the awards circuit for a while, I can tell you that Best Ensemble has very little bearing on the Best Picture Oscar. In fact, the winner of the Best Ensemble award has only gone on to win Best Picture half the time, so there’s very little correlation to be found. However, what this does tell us is that support for 12 Years was once again sinking even further.

The very next evening was the night that everyone had been waiting for: the Producers Guild of America awards. The winner of their top prize is always consider a favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar given that the two awards match about 70% of the time, so it was expected that we would have our final answer as to which film would be the favorite heading into Oscar night. However, what we got instead was an unprecedented occurrence.

That night saw Gravity and 12 Years a Slave tying for the PGA’s top honor, meaning that we still didn’t have our answer as to which film the industry liked more, leaving us to fall back on other clues to help determine it. What we did learn that night was that Gravity had a lot more favor within the industry than originally thought. Sure, we knew that everyone was dazzled by its technical aspects, but until that night, we didn’t really know what they thought of it in terms of the Best Film of the Year. That night, we got our answer: Gravity is more than just a technical force to be reckoned with. It has a real chance of going all the way, but again, we have to look at the other clues to help us determine if its chances are as good as all that.

This brings us up to just a few days ago. On the 25th, the Directors Guild of America announced their awards. Most people know that the winner of their top honor immediately becomes the favorite to take the Best Director Oscar given that the awards match about 89% of the time (there have only been seven instances where they haven’t). As was fully expected, Alfonso Cuaron took top honors for his amazing work on Gravity, meaning that the film had now won both the PGA and DGA.

If you know anything about the history of these awards, you’ll know that it’s pretty rare for a film to win both of them and lose the Best Picture Oscar. Granted, it’s happened before, but the last couple of times it occurred (Crash and Shakespeare in Love beating Brokeback Mountain and Saving Private Ryan, respectively) were a big shock. In those instances, the Best Picture Oscar ended up going to the SAG Ensemble winner, but given the unprecedented tie at this year’s PGA awards, we know that American Hustle was in third place at best (possibly fourth behind Her), so that seems like a highly unlikely situation this year.

I told you earlier that Best Director might not have seemed like much before now, but with the support that Cuaron has received from the DGA and the somewhat unexpected win from the PGA, it now seems like Gravity may indeed be the favorite for the Best Picture Oscar. The history of these two groups together support the theory, as do the two by themselves. Looking at the history of the DGA award, it tends to go to the film that eventually wins Best Picture (even when Little Miss Sunshine won the PGA, Martin Scorsese took the DGA for The Departed, with the film eventually winning Best Picture at the Oscars).

Looking back at the Oscar nominations, we can also take a preliminary look at which film is likely to win which award. While I’m not going to get into specifics quite yet (let’s save that for next month), I will say that it looks as though Gravity is going to win at least seven Oscars (eight if it does take Best Picture), while 12 Years a Slave is looking at taking a maximum of three (if it takes Best Picture). As I’ve asked before, how do you honor a film with so many Oscars (including Best Director and Best Film Editing) and NOT give it Best Picture? That would be the equivalent of saying it’s the best made film, but it’s not THE best film. It would be a somewhat awkward ceremony indeed to see one film take so much, only to lose the big one in the end.

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%name Awards Season: Where Does Best Picture Stand Now?

Even after the nominations were announced, it was looking like 12 Years a Slave would only be taking a maximum of four awards, but now that Best Actor has slipped out of Ejiofor’s grasp, it’s left with a maximum of three, and not even those are guaranteed. Besides the chance of Gravity taking Best Picture from it, there’s always the chance that the Academy could do something stupid like giving Best Supporting Actress to Jennifer Lawrence because they may feel the need to award American Hustle a pity Oscar given that it’s in the lead for zero of its ten nominations. However, I’ve also heard disturbing rumblings of the pity Oscar coming to it from the Best Original Screenplay category, sacrificing the far-superior Her. I cringe at the thought.

However, that’s neither here nor there. The point is, it seems like Gravity has much more support, especially from the technical branches (Directors, Cinematography, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Sound), but 12 Years a Slave may have more of the Actors Branch (the largest branch of the Academy) on its side, with the film having received three acting nominations. That being said, American Hustle could do tremendous damage to it there given that it too was a film with lots of acting support. Then, of course, you always have to consider the possibility that the actors enjoyed Gravity much more, but didn’t really have much to nominate it for in that regard. However, they DID nominate Sandra Bullock, who carries the entire film for most of the runtime, so there’s also a pretty big sign right there that they liked it.

We should also take a look at some of the obstacles that Gravity will have to overcome to take the big prize. One of its biggest is the fact that it failed to get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Even if a Best Picture winner doesn’t win for its screenplay, it usually at least gets the nomination (even the silent film The Artist managed a nod here for its 40-page script). Of course, there have been exceptions. Titanic won 11 Oscars including Best Picture without the screenplay nomination and The Sound of Music won five, again including Best Picture, without getting a nod for its screenplay.

The second obstacle is that Gravity didn’t get a nod for Best Ensemble from SAG. As many of you probably already know, there has only been one instance of a Best Picture winner not getting a SAG Ensemble nomination (Braveheart) in all the years they’ve been giving out the award. However, as I’ve pointed out before, Gravity isn’t an ensemble film, so why would SAG nominate it for an award that it isn’t eligible for? It’s a similar predicament to the Actors Branch not having much to nominate from the film, but they too liked Bullock’s performance enough to nominated her for Best Actress, so there’s clearly support there.

Going back to Titanic for a second, I think this is the best precedent for Gravity winning Best Picture. Titanic was an amazing technical achievement that didn’t take any acting awards (it had a pair of nominations) and had no screenplay nomination, but swept through the technical awards, which was enough to catapult it to Best Picture. On top of that, it was a big money-maker, which Gravity has been as well, showing that every once in a while, the Academy does salute films that are popular with the public.

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Gravity 3 480x360 Awards Season: Where Does Best Picture Stand Now?

When it comes right down to it, they are going to vote for what they like. Will it be Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking sci-fi masterpiece or will it be Steve McQueen’s heartfelt tale of the evils of slavery? I think the choice here is pretty clear, but then again, the Academy and I don’t see eye-to-eye too often on Best Picture. In fact, in my opinion, this is the tenth anniversary since they actually chose THE best picture of the year (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King). They came awfully close with The King’s Speech (second only to Inception for 2010), but officially it has been quite a while, so no time like the present for them to get back to it.

As I said, all we can do right now is look at the clues to see where they point, and at the moment they seem to be pointing towards Gravity. Of course, most of this is just speculation based on what we’ve seen before, so it’s still entirely possible that 12 Years a Slave will take top honors on March 2nd, but as I mentioned before, it would be a little weird to see the Best Picture winner take half the number of Oscars that another film gets. A Best Picture winner not winning the most Oscars is already something of a rarity. You may recall that it happened last year when Life of Pi won four, while Argo won only three, but that was just by one award. This year would be more similar to when Cabaret won eight Oscars before losing Best Picture to The Godfather (which, believe it or not, only took three Oscars), an event that happened more than 40 years ago.

The last of the major awards, the BAFTAs (the British Academy Awards), are coming up on February 16th, so perhaps they’ll shed a little more light on things. They’ve already shown a tremendous amount of support for Gravity as well, giving the film the most nominations with 11, including one for Best Original Screenplay. A Best Film win there could solidify its status as the frontrunner, whereas a win for 12 Years a Slave could show that we really are heading for a split year between Best Picture and Best Director. Then again, we could also have 12 Years win Best Film and Gravity win Best British Film, which wouldn’t tell us anything at all. Either way, it’ll be quite an exciting show, as will the Oscars on March 2nd. Which film will end up taking the Best Picture Oscar? For once we’ll just have to wait to find out.

Which film do you think will end up taking Best Picture on Oscar night and why? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • Kim

    Funny how you mention McConaughey’s BFCA win using this as proof that your argument is correct. But when it comes to Lawrence you fail to mention her New York critics win and her other major critic win because that would poke holes in your point-of-view. Instead you state her only reason for winning the Golden Globe is because of her popularity simply because you did not care for her performance. Why can’t authors, bloggers and writers praise one performance without bashing the other? Because when you do that it makes you no better than a hater pushing his preference. I

    • Jeff Beck

      McConaughey’s BFCA win was only part of why the argument was correct. The SAG award was the other half of the argument. I never denied that Lawrence won a few, but Nyong’o has been the clear favorite for Supporting Actress, so Lawrence’s few wins didn’t matter. I didn’t mention McConaughey’s other wins either because, before the Globes and Critics Choice, they were inconsequential as well. Plus, nowhere did I say that I didn’t care for Lawrence’s performance. She was decent. It’s just that it’s far from award-worthy. Don’t even get me started on June Squibb…

    • JC

      There really isn’t a valid argument to make for Lawrence winning awards for this role. I think she is a great actress but in this film, she is not at her best.

  • JC

    Good read Jeff.

    I just don’t see how Gravity wins Best Picture even with the stats you give. I wouldn’t be upset if it did, I just don’t see it.

    I like the Titanic argument though. Makes sense.

  • Kim

    You didn’t do your homework because Nyongo’ was the clear favorite until the release of American Hustle. Heading into the award shows, Lawrence had clearly caught her on all of the sheets and odds. Nyongo’ won 15 awards to Lawrence’ 9 which is more than a “few” as you stated. Lawrence was considered a co-favorite if not the favorite because she has won the more prestigious awards.
    And when you put “forgettable” when describing someone’s performance, lets not pretend that it was not meant in a negative manner. And of course you didn’t mention McConaughey’s other wins, why would you? You clearly liked his performance as noted by your description “outstanding performance.” Hey, just pointing things out in your own blog.

    • Jeff Beck

      If you had bothered doing your homework, you would see that most of Lawrence’s were from smaller groups. Her big ones included the NYFCC, the NSFC, Toronto, and San Francisco. Nyong’o’s included New York Online, LA, DC, Chicago, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Phoenix, St. Louis, SEFCA, and the OFCS. If you total them all up, it’s actually 20-12 (pre-Golden Globes), and again, very few of Lawrence’s were from bigger groups. So when I say “few,” it means few that actually mean something. Lawrence was never considered the favorite (or co-favorite). Of course forgettable is meant negatively, but it still doesn’t mean the performance was bad.

      • Kim

        It’s just amazing how you gloss over Lawrence’s two major critic wins. You clearly are letting your favoritism cloud facts, Lawrence was a favorite and if she wasn’t why did she win the Globe? And please spare me the popularity contest excuse.
        You obviously missed the stats and the odd sheets prior to the televised awards shows. Those stats had Nyongo and Lawrence neck and neck. Since you missed those facts in black and white, maybe you should read Lawrence’s American Hustle reviews which were just as good Nyongo’s.
        And I forgot to mention it on my last post, but I would be interested in what you thought about June Squibb’s performance. Or is it the case that you can only praise your favorite and choose to bash all of the other performances?

        • Jeff Beck

          Two major critics wins and you think Lawrence became a favorite? That’s interesting. I don’t know where you’re getting your faulty odds from, but I would suggest finding a new source since they’re obviously very inaccurate. I never saw any stats that had Lawrence as a favorite, only Nyong’o, and they’ve proven to be right. If my last post didn’t help you see that, then I can’t help you.

          Looking at Best Supporting Actress, Nyong’o and Roberts delivered fantastic, memorable performances. Hawkins even did a damn fine job, but Lawrence and Squibb did nothing that blew me away, making them both forgettable.

          • Kim

            One last time, if Lawrence was not a favorite along with Nyongo, then why did she win the Golden Globe? Why did she receive so many stellar reviews along with Nyongo? Why did some of the SAG voters say, if Lawrence wouldn’t have won last year she would be the clear winner for the Best Supporting Actress gong? Why?
            If you would have put in your blog that Nyongo was “now” the clear favorite, then you would be correct. But you didn’t say that because you clearly aren’t able to look at all sides, only looking at the side you prefer.
            Email me before your next award season blog and I will provide you the link to my site where we follow the award season all year long and post accurate information.
            The only positive that came out of this discussion, you thought my favorite, Julia Roberts gave a memorable performance. Thanks for the discussion.

          • Jeff Beck

            I already tried to explain to you about the Golden Globe, but you dismissed the reason, meaning you’re not that familiar with the HFPA, so I can’t help you there either. Lawrence probably was in second place for SAG, but that doesn’t make her a favorite, not when Nyong’o was clearly the one.

            I’ve already looked at the race from all sides as I always do every year. I’m sorry you don’t see that, but that’s the way it is. I find it very interesting that, just because I don’t acknowledge faulty info, you try to say I’m not looking at it from all sides when I’m presenting solid numbers to prove my point.

            This has been an intriguing discussion, and I too thank you for it, but please try to look at the awards a little closer in the future. The critics awards were more than clear in who they indicated was the favorite.

  • FredinWhiteRock

    Gravity is the only movie I saw this year that made me say WOW that was an awesome experience! Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were the highlights of American Hustle. 12 Years A Slave was emotionally painful to watch but not more so than many of the great dramas from years past.

    • michaeltnla

      I completely agree. “Gravity” was the only film this year that made me say WOW.