Race to the Oscars: A play-by-play

The Academy Awards are this upcoming Sunday, March 2, and this year’s Best Picture race is the tightest in years. Major precursor prizes have been bestowed to “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity” and “American Hustle,” and though “12 Years a Slave” is ostensibly out front, the division among voting bodies this year implies anything could happen.

Below is a rundown of eight major Oscar categories.

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BEST PICTURE

“12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”

The British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) notoriously go their own way, but they are one of the most crucial Oscar barometers for two reasons: they boast a fair amount of crossover with Oscar voters, and they are the last major awards program to hand out their awards. In other words, after the dust settles with Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Golden Globes, Producers Guild of America (PGA), Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Critics’ Choice, we can get at least some indication of how voters may have changed.

BAFTA, perhaps even more importantly, provides indication of what an entire voting body will come up with – not just actors voting for actors, writers voting for screenplays, and so on. They reveal the results of a consensus. That consensus can be British-leaning – a Chiwetel Ejiofor win, say, or a “Philomena” script victory – but, with Oscar crossover and late-date announcements, it is a crucial consensus.

And “12 Years a Slave” has proven that when a large bloc of diverse individuals is voting, it is the consensus choice. The PGA may have favored the technical achievement that was “Gravity” equally, and SAG expectedly went with the very actor-friendly “American Hustle.” But when not restricted to a singular group of people, we have seen “12 Years” come out on top – the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and now BAFTA. BAFTA has been a sterling predictor of the Oscars of late, only deviating with very British films like “Atonement” or “The Queen.” “12 Years a Slave,” despite its British pedigree, feels very much like an American film, and so its victory keeps it out front, even as it keeps losing spotty races from different organizations.

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DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”; Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”; Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”; David O. Russell, “American Hustle”; Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

After writing and directing multiple masterpieces, including “Y Tu Mamá También” and “Children of Men,” Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón will certainly, finally win his first Academy Award for his majestic work on “Gravity.”

LEAD ACTOR 

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”; Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”; Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Early prizes kept this category pretty competitive; to date, Dern, DiCaprio, Ejiofor and McConaughey all have enough hardware where they could technically be considered a factor in this race. Right now, with the trifecta of the Golden Globe, SAG Award and Critics’ Choice Award all on his mantle, McConaughey is the de facto front runner.

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Because he was not nominated by BAFTA, the last major awards group to vote, his buzz faded a bit, and Ejiofor – an Englishman – stole the prize. Yet if anyone can upset McConaughey, it is probably Dern, whose “Nebraska” played very well with the academy and long, distinguished career will play well to the older group of Oscar voters.

LEAD ACTRESS 

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”; Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”; Judi Dench, “Philomena”; Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County.”

With every prize in sight under her belt, the category is Blanchett’s to lose. Her chief competition has long been Amy Adams, who picked up Comedy Best Actress wins at the Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. Still, look for the “Blue Jasmine” star to collect her second Oscar. 

SUPPORTING ACTOR 

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”; Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”; Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”; Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Leto, like Blanchett, has effectively swept the precursor circuit, winning every major award in sight. Like his co-star McConaughey, Leto was set back a bit by a BAFTA snub, but given his utter dominance in this category, his performance as an HIV-infected trans*woman appears unbeatable. If anyone can overtake him, it is Abdi, a first-time actor and now BAFTA winner.

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SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”; Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”; Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”; Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”; June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Despite Lawrence’s early Golden Globe win, it seemed that Nyong’o had built enough steam where she had the Oscar all but wrapped up. Yet despite her consecutive wins from the Critics’ Choice Awards and SAG Awards, Nyong’o lost a critical contest to Lawrence at BAFTA. This could be because BAFTA denied Lawrence an award last year for her Oscar-winning performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Or, more likely, this category is closer than expected. BAFTA has significant crossover membership with the Oscars, which means at the very least Lawrence has a shot at winning this thing. Given the shift in momentum, it looks like she is a tad out front.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY 

“American Hustle,” by David O. Russell and Eric Singer; “Blue Jasmine,” by Woody Allen; “Dallas Buyers Club,” by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack; “Her,” by Spike Jonze; and “Nebraska,” by Bob Nelson.

Jonze has cleaned up so far in this category, winning the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award and WGA Award. “Her” is the type of imaginative, quirky and younger-skewing film often reserved for screenplay victories and nothing else (think “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine”). Yet “American Hustle” has to play a role in this category as well. As one of the principal contenders for Best Picture, and written by someone criminally overdue for an Oscar win, it is the spoiler in this race.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY 

“12 Years a Slave,” by John Ridley; “Before Midnight,” by Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy & Richard Linklater; “Captain Phillips,” by Billy Ray; “Philomena,” by Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope; “The Wolf of Wall Street,” by Terence Winter.

Pundits widely consider “12 Years a Slave” to be the frontrunner despite a real lack of evidence. It has not won a lot – it was deemed ineligible by the WGA because of lasting bad blood between Ridley and the organization – but remains the Best Picture frontrunner.

The one to watch out for here is certainly “Philomena,” a movie that played very well with Oscar voters and recently won BAFTA over “12 Years a Slave.” As of this moment, “12 Years a Slave” is out front, but with this category going in so many diff erent directions a “Philomena” or even “Captain Phillips” victory would not be a shocker.

 

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