Outguess Ethan 2014

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It’s that time of year again. On Friday, the Academy sent out their Valentines to Oscar watchers everywhere – final ballots for their voting members. Sunday night, the BAFTAs – the British equivalent of the Academy Awards – handed out their notices, and if you thought they would be helpful in clearing up the season, you haven’t really been paying attention. A bevy of awards for “Gravity” (six total, including Best Director for Cuarón and the dubiously applicable Best British Film) made it look like the sci-fi thriller was finally going to make a major statement and clear this muddle once and for all – until “12 Years a Slave” swooped in at the last second, as at the Golden Globes, and still took the crowning Best Film award (it managed only one other on the night – a deserved Best Actor statue for Chiwetel Ejiofor, who did not have to go up against Matthew McConaughey this go-round).

So what does that mean? It means it’s time to make some final picks, and all of us are going to be going out on a limb in one way or another this year. No guts, no glory. It’ll be tough, but I never back down from an Oscar-predicting contest – which means it is time for Outguess Ethan 2014. The rules, as always are simple – fill out your ballots HERE, featuring my custom category point-ranking system. Come Oscar night, if you get enough correct predictions and score higher than myself, I will buy you a DVD/Blu-Ray of your choice (~$20 or less, let’s not get greedy here). If multiple entries score higher than my ballot, only the top scoring ballot will claim the prize. Go big or go home!

You can only fill out your ballot once, so choose wisely! Again, follow the link HERE to submit your entry. In the interest of transparency, I offer my final predictions of the year. Think you can do better?

Best Picture

“American Hustle” has SAG. “Gravity” has the DGA and a tie at the PGA. “12 Years a Slave” has the BAFTA and a tie at the PGA. It’s more or less a pick ’em category, though the momentum has definitely swung away from “Hustle” in the month since nominations went out. Beloved though it is, I just can’t quite see “Gravity” eking out a ground-breaking victory when there’s an equally brilliant period drama right there for the taking. I think the “12 Years” campaign has kept just shy of brow-beating the voters with their film’s “importance” – though they have come awfully close to a scolding tone at times, which is a big no-no. But “12 Years” is not the lecture many people have made it out to be, and I think as long as the voters actually saw it, McQueen’s bold, searing film will win out.

Will win – “12 Years a Slave”

Could win – “Gravity”

Should’ve been here – “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Director

I do not feel good at predicting a Picture/Director split, not at all. But even if my gut goes for “12 Years a Slave” in the top race, it’s hard to see a way around Cuarón taking home this prize. He’s got the director’s branch and the British bloc behind him, and the whole narrative around “Gravity” is the years of hard work and vision it took for him to bring it to the screen.

Will win – Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Could win – Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Should’ve been here – Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Actor

This feels like the acting race with the most wiggle room. McConaughey’s the presumptive favorite, but Ejiofor’s surely got strong support as well. And DiCaprio has been hitting the circuit hard the past two months, make no mistake, with a distinct “it’s time” feeling gathering around the star (kind of a dubious narrative, though; DiCaprio’s still only 39, and the Academy often makes its male legends wait) – could he pull off the upset win with McConaughey and Ejiofor splitting, a la Adrien Brody and “The Pianist?”

Will win – Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win – Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave” or Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Should’ve been here – Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Actress

Game, set, match. The resurgent Woody Allen controversy won’t have any effect here.

Will win – Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Could win – Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Should’ve been here – Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”

Best Supporting Actor

Another three-way race, with Michael Fassbender and newcomer Barkhad Abdi looking to play spoilers to favorite Jared Leto (Abdi took the BAFTA over native son Fassbender, if you think that’s a far-fetched possibility). But unlike the dogfight in the lead race, I don’t think the trailing campaigns here have built up enough momentum for a real challenge.

Will win – Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win – Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

Should’ve been here – Matthew McConaughey, “Mud”

Best Supporting Actress

Even Jennifer Lawrence herself has been practically begging the Academy to give this to Nyong’o. Lawrence does electric comedic work in “American Hustle,” but are they really ready to hand her a statue two years in a row? Somewhere a voice is screaming at me that yes, yes they are, but I just can’t swallow it. If I go down on this one, so be it.

Will win – Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Could win – Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Should’ve been here – Lea Seydoux, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Best Original Screenplay

David O. Russell’s film has slipped to the point where we’re considering whether it can actually go home completely empty-handed after leading the nomination field. The best shots for it are Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, and Costume Design – and I’m not predicting either the former or the latter. Spike Jonze’s screenplay has a passionate fan base, but I think “Hustle” will be getting a lot of consolation votes here.

Will win – David O. Russell, Eric Singer, “American Hustle”

Could win – Spike Jonze, ‘Her”

Should’ve been here – Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Adapted Screenplay

The screenplay isn’t the first thing people are quick to praise about “12 Years a Slave,” but there really hasn’t been any buzz coalescing around the other nominees. Desperately trying to stick with formula in a crazy year, I’ll hope that the Picture-Screenplay correlation maintains.

Will win – John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

Could win – Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, “Philomena”

Should’ve been here – Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Best Original Score

First-timers often do great in this category, and that trend looks to continue since none of the vets (Thomas Newman, John Williams, Alexandre Desplat) did really stand-out, career-defining work. That leaves “Gravity” and “Her,” which are more or less on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, in terms of ambition and desired effect. I think the relative bombast and intriguing arrangements of Steven Price’s work will stand out more in voters’ minds.

Will win – Steven Price, “Gravity”

Could win – William Butler, Owen Pallett, “Her”

Should’ve been here – Hans Zimmer, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Cinematography

Another no-brainer category. Even the cinematographer’s guild, who have been far more averse to digital work in the past few years than the Academy, sprung for the man they call Chivo. For the ASC, it was in fact Emmanuel Lubezki’s third victory (the guild being much more savvy in recognizing the man’s brilliant work on “Children of Men” and “The Tree of Life”); for the Oscars, it’ll be an overdue first.

Will win – Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”

Could win – Roger Deakins, “Prisoners” (just because I have to put SOMEthing here)

Should’ve been here – Sean Bobbitt, “12 Years a Slave”

Best Costume Design

Remember, flashy is the name of the game here, regardless of how well the film did overall. Also, the more hoop skirts the better, but fortunately or unfortunately we don’t really have any of those this year.

Will win – “The Great Gatsby”

Could win – “American Hustle”

Should’ve been here – “Her”

Best Production Design

There’s no shortage of quality options in this category – in fact, pretty much every one would be a highly deserving winner in their own way. Personally I’ll be pulling for the subtle futuristic advances of “Her,” but again ostentatious and glamour usually wins out here. To that end, how can one deny anything Baz Luhrmann-related?

Will win – “The Great Gatsby”

Could win – “12 Years a Slave”

Should’ve been here – “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Very tough call. Bizarre as it is for me to say it, “Bad Grandpa” actually probably deserves this one – but will enough Oscar voters be able to see that? I think they’ll end up tossing one the way of a film they already like.

Will win – “Dallas Buyers Club”

Could win – “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”

Should’ve been here – “American Hustle”

Best Film Editing

The overlooked little category that savvy Oscar watchers know often holds the key to everything. “Argo” couldn’t take Best Director last year, but it could take Best Editing; and sure enough that Best Picture victory followed. But you know, this is a weird enough year that I think we’re going to break the pattern. There’s precedence for that as well: at the 2001 ceremony, “Gladiator” prevailed overall despite “Traffic” taking both Best Director and Best Editing (and Adapted Screenplay, in fact – what a bizarre year that was as well, for a film to take all three of those big categories and not the big prize). “Gravity” is just the more striking technical achievement, and I think they’re going to recognize that across most of the craft categories even if they don’t up declaring it Best Picture material.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – “12 Years a Slave”

Should’ve been here – “Upstream Color”

Best Visual Effects

I could waste your time making up an argument for “The Desolation of Smaug,” but really, we’ve already both spent enough of our lives on this post.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – nope

Should’ve been here – “Pacific Rim”

Best Sound Editing

I’m tired of explaining the difference between the two sound categories every year, so just go read this thorough run-down. This is the best shot for “Captain Phillips” to take away some craft thunder from “Gravity,” as Paul Greengrass’ team is highly respected within the industry. Again, though, “Gravity” strikes me as a runaway train in most of these categories.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – “Captain Phillips”

Should’ve been here – “Stoker”

Best Sound Mixing

Meanwhile, musicals tend to fare better when nominated here – does that mean a consolation prize for “Inside Llewyn Davis”? Probably not.

Will win – “Gravity”

Could win – “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Should’ve been here – “The Conjuring”

Best Original Song

Idina Menzel’s classic Disney power ballad seemed like a foregone conclusion from the moment it was sprung on the Internet, but this race has turned remarkably frisky in recent weeks, mostly thanks to the Academy nominating some songs and musicians that people had actually heard of (you know, besides that “Alone Yet Not Alone” incident that we’ve all already agreed never to speak of again). Pharrell Williams is scorching hot in the business right now; with his high-profile performance with Daft Punk at the Grammys (not to mention THAT HAT), “Happy” has rocketed up the charts, incredible considering “Despicable Me 2” came out all the way back in summer. Of course, “Let It Go” is sitting way up there as well, so even in a popularity contest Disney’s still got the inside edge. Meanwhile U2 and Karen O. have been campaigning the hell out of their entries as well (with the former performing “Ordinary Love” on Jimmy Fallon’s debut “Tonight Show” appearance last night, and the latter releasing a new version of “The Moon Song” with Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig). All four will also be performing live at the ceremony (BOY are Zadan and Meron glad that “Alone Yet Not Alone” problem solved itself), a sign of just how high the star wattage really is in this category. Arguments for all entries are possible.

Will win – “Let It Go,” from “Frozen”

Could win – “Ordinary Love,” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

Should’ve been here – “Please Mr. Kennedy,” from “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Foreign Language Film

Another really tough call category, made worse by the fact I haven’t seen any of the entries. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” apparently has a lot of fans but might be a little too bleak for the general voting body; “The Great Beauty” is certainly the most high-profile but I’m not sure it has enough there there. Does that pave the way for respected Danish director Thomas Vinterberg and his morality parable “The Hunt,” anchored by the now well-known Mads Mikkelsen (who, remember, won Best Actor for the film at Cannes all the way back in 2012)? Or could Palestine make history with “Omar?”

Will win – “The Hunt” (Denmark)

Could win – “The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Belgium)

Should’ve been here – (abstains, courteously)

Best Documentary Feature

“The Act of Killing” has all the critics behind it, but rarely does that matter in this category. There’s a lot of arguments going around for the eccentricities of “Cutie and the Boxer” or the activism of “The Square,” but the Academy’s track record here supports an emotional story told well. “20 Feet from Stardom” it is, I think fairly obviously.

Will win – “20 Feet from Stardom”

Could win – “The Square”

Should’ve been here – “Stories We Tell”

Best Animated Feature

GKIDS and Studio Ghibli brought the international-flavored class back to this category with “Ernest & Celestine” and “The Wind Rises,” but Disney finally has a non-Pixar powerhouse to back and they’ve gone all in.

Will win – “Frozen”

Could win – “The Wind Rises”? I guess?

Should’ve been here – Actually they probably got it about right, unless you were really a big “Monsters University” fan. Not a lot of options among the qualifying candidates.

Best Documentary Short: “The Lady in Number 6”

Best Short Film, Animated: “Mr. Hublot”

Best Short Film, Live Action: “Aquel no era yo (That Wasn’t Me)”

…sure?

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