Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 5: Best Director and Best Picture

There is a longstanding Oscar tradition of awarding Best Director and Best Picture to the same movie and that makes a certain amount of sense. If the director is credited with shaping the overall look and feel of a movie, then the best directing will often result in the best movie. Only six times in the past twenty-five years have those awards been split, but never two years in a row. That could easily change this year. Last year Argo was named Best Picture, but Ben Affleck was not honored for directing it. He wasn’t even nominated! There is a strong possibility of a split again this year, even though the Best Picture winner is likely to come from one of the films that are also nominated for Best Director. Let’s look at the specifics.

Best Director Nominations

Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity

Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

David O. Russell for American Hustle

Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

Alexander Payne for Nebraska

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Could Win: Steve McQueen

Alfonso Cuarón is the frontrunner and for good reason. Gravity is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking. It is dazzling, a feast for the eyes. So much so that it is almost impossible to imagine Cuarón not winning. However, if the likely does happen, that will mean that the Best Picture category is still anybody’s to win. There seems to be a perception that while Gravity looks great, it is not a complete movie. The blame for that is placed on the story. Notice that it is not nominated for Best Writing. Personally, I liked the story. I saw the entire film as a splendid metaphor for the grief process. I’m not sure that was Cuarón’s intention, but it worked that way for me. Even though I liked the story, I wouldn’t call it the year’s best movie and I’m fairly certain the Academy won’t grant it that honor. They won’t deny Cuarón his statue for directing, but the movie won’t follow suit, thus causing the split.

Even though I greatly enjoyed the work of both Scorsese and Payne, I don’t think either of them has a chance. I absolutely adore American Hustle, but its power is in the acting (and the writing that the actors get to work with). Indeed, Russell’s strength as a director is in the way that he handles actors (look at the number of acting nominations for his last three films). He’s not one to add lots of unique visual techniques, preferring to let the actors provide the fireworks. It is a strategy that is resulting in great movies, but it is not likely to gain him a directing Oscar. So, that leaves only McQueen as a possibility to pull off the upset. He would be well deserving of that recognition. He provided the steady hand that 12 Years a Slave needed for that difficult story to unfold, but also added just enough flourishes to keep the film from becoming too heavy. Although Cuarón’s work is more incredible in terms of filmmaking, the combination of McQueen’s fine work and the desire to recognize 12 Years as an important film could be enough for the upset to happen. If so, that will take all the mystery out of the Best Picture race. In that case there will most definitely not be a split between the two categories.

gravity12 yearshustle

Best Picture Nominations

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

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle

Could Win: Gravity

The Dark Horse (if the big three equally divide up that block of votes): The Wolf of Wall Street

This slate of films, with its great variety of styles and genres, is a reminder of what a great year it has been at the movies. Each deserves the recognition it has received, but the general consensus is that this is a three horse race. The general consensus is wrong. As I stated above, Gravity doesn’t have what it takes to claim the big prize, so this comes down to two films. The likely winner is 12 Years a Slave and it is well deserving of that honor. However, I think it will win because voters see it as the most important film of the year, not the best movie of the year. I won’t argue against it being an important movie, but I’m not sure that I buy into the main argument for its importance. It is said that it is the first film to dare to give a realistic portrayal of slavery in America. I think it is the first film to present such a portrayal since last year’s Django Unchained. The presentation of slavery was just as harrowing in Django as it is in 12 Years, but that movie gets no recognition for what it achieved because it is a revenge comedy directed by Quentin Tarantino. That it is, but it no less an indictment against horrors of slavery than 12 Years. Indeed, the two movies aren’t as different as many folks wish to believe. For instance, with ever so slight tweaking, both Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) could have been neighbors to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). I had other issues with 12 Years that diffused some of the movies potential power for me. You can read about them on my 2013 Ratings page. Despite those issues, 12 Years still deserves its likely win.

If I had a vote, however, it would go to the nearly perfect American Hustle. This is the kind of movie that reminds me why I love movies. If you took all that is good about movies and put it in a blender, you would come up with a smoothie called American Hustle. This movie is delightful on so many levels. It is an ensemble acting tour de force. It is dismissed as just a comedy, as if that would be a bad thing, but in reality it is so much more than that anyway. It is comedy and tragedy intertwined. It is about survival and our attempts to reinvent our selves. It is about loyalty and love. And it is about scams and lies, too, most importantly the lies we tell ourselves. I’ve read many complaints that the plotline was confusing. Excuse me, this is a con movie. There is supposed to be deception in con movies and that includes deceiving the audience, too. Not everything was as it seemed at first and at times it was hard to tell just who was conning who, but that is part of the fun. Another key element for a con movie is some kind of twist at the end, but the twist has to feel legitimate, not forced or artificial. Check and check. I loved the ending, finding it both surprising and satisfying. The final test is whether knowing the surprise totally deflates the film for future viewing. Test passed. I loved Hustle even more the second time I saw it and I know I’ll be watching it many more times through the years. It is the best picture of 2013!

Finally, my dream scenario for the Oscars: my ultimate dream would be a sweep by American Hustle, but that surely won’t come close to happening. So, my scaled back and more equitable dream is American Hustle sweeping the act, Alfonso Cuarón winning best director, and 12 Years a Slave winning best picture.