Welcome to For Your Consideration, an unapologetically obsessive conversation about the Oscar race. Between now and March 2, 2014, Vanity Fair digital director Michael Hogan and Huffington Post senior entertainment editor Christopher Rosen will survey the landscape in advance of the 86th annual Academy Awards.
Rosen: Hello, Mike! It's been so long since we corresponded that cobwebs have begun to form on our unofficial Oscar prognosticator badges. We last discussed the 86th annual Academy Awards on Jan. 16, the day of the nominations. Since then, a lot has happened, but nothing has happened. "American Hustle" took home the Screen Actors Guild Awards' top honor, "Gravity" and "12 Years A Slave" tied at the Producers Guild Awards, and "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron won at the Directors Guild Awards. Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong'o, meanwhile, all put firm grips on their respective acting categories following wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Only Best Picture feels uncertain at this point, though maybe not: At GoldDerby.com, 20 of 26 experts have "12 Years A Slave" winning Best Picture, with five choosing "Gravity" and just one, our pal Ed Douglas, picking "American Hustle."
"This is a real dogfight now," Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen told Deadline.com's Pete Hammond about this year's awards season following the Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 19. "It's exciting."
But is it? This year's Oscar season has become a slog. It's so boring, even a joke about "The Hobbit" wouldn't do it justice.
Where did things go wrong? Start with the calendar: because of the Winter Olympics, this year's Academy Awards ceremony was pushed one weekend past last year's event. That means Hollywood's biggest 2013 honors will be awarded two months into 2014. Put further into perspective, if "12 Years A Slave" wins Best Picture, the trophy will come more than six months after Steve McQueen's film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival.
There's no drama here. "American Hustle," with its lack of precursor awards and dwindling momentum, seems like a distant third option behind "Gravity" and "12 Years A Slave." (If only the Oscars were held in January, "American Hustle" might have won five or six Academy Awards from its 10 nominations.) There are reasons for and against "Gravity" and "12 Years A Slave" winning Best Picture, but it feels like "12 Years A Slave" is the choice, if only because "12 Years A Slave" has been the choice since September. (Vulture's Kyle Buchanan wrote his now-famous Vulture piece, "Your Best Picture Winner Will Be '12 Years A Slave,'" on Sept. 7, 2013.) But even if "Gravity" does win, will that be a big upset? It's a film with 10 nominations and a Producers Guild Award. Short of "Philomena" stealing Best Picture, this feels about as exciting as ... well, every other awards season besides 2013, when it was still kind of unclear if "Argo" would really buck years of Oscar history and win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination.
Am I crazy? More important, are we having fun yet?
Hogan: Hey Chris, I desperately want to disagree with you here, if only because that would be the less boring thing to do, but I'm afraid my resistance is the International Space Station to your argument's speeding cloud of space junk. On nominations day, I wrote a post for VF.com suggesting that this could be the year that Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins his first Oscar, but ever since we've heard nothing but "all right all right all right" from one podium after another as Matthew McConaughey collects plaudits for his searing lead performance in "Dallas Buyers Club." And the fact that at least some Oscar voters are communing with McConaughey every Sunday night on HBO's "True Detective" only adds to his air of invincibility. (At least DiCaprio will always have that nameplate photo.)
Also on nominations morning, an Oscar insider I trust told me, "Jennifer Lawrence is winning best supporting actress. I don't care what anyone says." But that feels like outdated thinking, given Lupita's awe-inspiring (and lightning-fast) ascent from obscure actress to universally beloved icon. Honestly, thanks to her irresistible personality, radiant smile, and first-rate fashion choices, she might be the only person more popular than J-Law.
Jared Leto's victory has been assured for months, and so has Cate Blanchett's.
Orrrrrr has it? Call me crazy, Chris, but I think that is the one surprise that could still sneak up on us all. To be sure, Blanchett is still the smart-money pick by a long shot, and it feels unfair to Woody Allen's controversial personal history against her. But if anyone other than Blanchett wins the statuette for best actress, these words from Dylan Farrow's open letter, published on Nicholas Kristof's blog on the New York Times' website, will be ringing in everybody's ears: "What if it was your child, Cate Blanchett?"
Beyond that, I agree with your conclusions: Alfonso Cuarón for best director, "12 Years A Slave" for best picture. So what do you make of it all, Chris? Was Kyle right when he said they should cancel Oscar season? Is anything else on TV that night?
Rosen: You bring up a point about Cate Blanchett that has been simmering below the surface ever since the Allen scandal has come to the forefront of the news cycle. Here's Grantland's Mark Harris writing about this in a far more eloquent way than I ever could:
The only reason anyone is still talking about 'Blue Jasmine' in its 28th week of release is an op-ed in the New York Times that essentially challenged several of its cast members by name to repudiate Woody Allen. This is what we're down to --- hashing out whether Cate Blanchett's Best Actress chances will or should be adversely affected by her professional association with a man who has now re-denied doing something he had already denied doing 20 years before she signed on to make the movie for which she's nominated. Oscar voters are, ludicrously, being asked to serve as jurors in a trial by op-ed: Is a vote for Blanchett to be treated as de facto indifference about the nightmare of child molestation, since Dylan Farrow has publicly contended that for a long time, she felt that any awards for Allen's films "were a way to tell me to shut up and go away"? More to the point, is there any conceivable way to ask or answer that question without acknowledging that something horrible is being inappropriately trivialized and something trivial is being inappropriately transformed into a crisis of situational ethics? I've heard people say they think this controversy is useful because it opens up a larger discussion. I hope that who should win Best Actress isn't the discussion they mean.
As for Kyle, he will probably wind up being right, but not right: "12 Years A Slave" won't get McQueen an historic win for Best Director and Chiwetel Ejiofor is running a cool fourth place in the Best Actor race behind McConaughey, Bruce Dern and Leonardo DiCaprio. Other films were better than "12 Years A Slave," too, at least from my vantage point, including Best Picture nominees "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "The Wolf of Wall Street." Yet "12 Years A Slave" is probably the 2014 Best Picture winner because what else is going to win Best Picture? Here's Kyle from September of last year: "Like, what's gonna beat this movie? Freakin' 'Monuments Men'?" Lol at the example in hindsight, but the sentiment is true: What is going to beat "12 Years A Slave" on March 2? At least there's a new episode of "Girls" on that night.
Hogan: My admiration of "12 Years a Slave" outweighs yours, clearly, but I've always believed that its road to the Kodak Theatre was littered with obstacles. In the past week, I've heard from two people who still haven't summoned the nerve to plug the screener into their DVD players! But your point about the lack of competition is well taken. We've talked a lot about how this is an amazing year for movies, but it hasn't been a year of perfect movies. "12 Years" isn't perfect, either, but it's swimming in gravitas, and that makes up for a lot.
As for the Farrow story, of course Mark Harris is right that it's both absurd and grotesque to reduce something as complex and tragic as a family-abuse case to an awards-season plot line. And yet! The reason this story is alive and kicking is that Ronan and Mia Farrow both tweeted about it when Diane Keaton presented that special award to Woody Allen at the Golden Globes. It was those tweets, as well as one from BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur, that sent everyone back to my colleague Maureen Orth's groundbreaking reporting on the topic.
So, yes, the people whispering that Blanchett's competitors are flogging the story in hopes of hurting her chances are (hopefully) nuts, but the trajectory of this story is, alas, inseparable from the awards season that spawned it.