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.