It’s time, movie lover, to break out the tuxedo and root for your favorite film of 2013. The 86th annual Academy Awards are set to air on ABC this Sunday, March 2. There will be a few winners and a lot of losers. Either way it will result in some fine, cinematic drama. Before the red carpet gets unfurled, though, let’s take a look behind the scenes at this year’s snubs, scandals and sure bets.
The Academy Awards got itself involved in an honest-to-goodness (albeit minor) scandal earlier this year when the film Alone Yet Not Alone popped up in the Best Original Song category. For starters no one had ever heard of the film, much less the song it birthed. Turns out the film was a highly controversial Mormon biopic (about some god-fearing pioneer girls kidnapped by “savage” Indians) that only saw the light of day in about a dozen theaters. It pulled in around $125,000. Some (like 2016: Obama’s America producer Gerald Molen) accused the Academy of “faith-based bigotry pure and simple” in questioning the nomination. Not so much. In truth, it was more like “faith-based nepotism.” Turns out the writer of the song, Bruce Broughton, was a former governor and executive committee member of the Music Branch of the AMPAAS. He sent personal emails to “about 70” Academy members (out of 240 total in the Academy’s Music Branch) asking them to vote for his song. They did, but the Academy rescinded the nomination within a week or two. In the end Alone Yet Not Alone got some free publicity, and we missed out on the spectacle of watching evangelical Christian radio host Joni Eareckson Tada sing the movie’s title song on the Oscar telecast. Tada is apparently a quadriplegic, and “her husband had to push her diaphragm to help her reach the high notes.”
As far as the acting categories are concerned, Oscar saw its usual collection of “surprise snubs.” Tom Hanks has been an Oscar darling in the past (racking up back-to-back wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump), but he got the cold shoulder this year. Academy voters failed to recognize him for either Saving Mr. Banks (Supporting Actor) or Captain Phillips (Lead Actor).
Speaking of Saving Mr. Banks, the film seemed like a surefire Oscar contender, but it lost traction quickly thanks to some behind-the-scenes controversy and an uncharacteristic silence from parent company Disney. Whether or not the film was an accurate portrait of either author P.L. Travers or filmmaker Walt Disney is kind of beside the point. Hanks was quite good as the happy-go-lucky Disney, and Emma Thompson was perfect as the thorny Travers. For its part, Disney all but threw the film under the bus, preferring to concentrate on its new blockbuster mandate of Star Wars and Marvel Comics movies. The result was a single nomination (for Original Score).
Hard to believe, but Robert Redford has never won an Oscar. He won’t win one this year either, having been passed over for his bravura performance in the seagoing disaster drama All is Lost. The film made few waves on its release, however, and seems to have slipped under the radar of Oscar voters. This one might be the biggest shame, as Redford’s nearly wordless performance is certainly a career highlight.
The first time Oprah Winfrey ventured out into movies, she got nominated as Best Supporting Actress for 1985’s The Color Purple. Since then most of her time has been spent on TV. She returned to features, though, with a small role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler as the wife of the titular character. Oprah fans were shocked the daytime diva didn’t get an Oscar nomination out of it. But the film was ultimately chalked up as a well-meaning public service announcement/history lesson that walked away with zero Oscar nominations.
On the directing front, the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, have garnered a number of nominations over the years. (Their films have been nominated a total of 13 times by the Academy. They’ve won twice for Original Screenplay, once for Best Directing and once for Best Picture.) But their 2013 offering, the folk music drama Inside Llewyn Davis, proved too much of a downer for Academy voters. It got no Best Picture, Directing or Screenplay honors—just a couple of minor nods in Cinematography and Sound Mixing. Sorry, boys, maybe you’ll have better luck with the “Fargo” TV series.
Look at the films that have already won awards from the various journalistic organizations (go ahead, look—they’re listed on page 20) and you’ll notice a few trends. It comes down to a photo finish between the two heavy-hitters of the evening, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Both have been tearing up awards season. Right now it looks to break down like this: 12 Years a Slave will probably nab Best Picture, but Cuarón will likely walk away with Best Director. It’s not a bad compromise. McQueen’s film is just the sort of epic, historic, terribly important “message” movie Hollywood likes to pat itself on the back for. On the other hand, Cuarón’s deft hand at piloting the effects-heavy groundbreaker Gravity speaks to his skill as a director (as if his eclectic resumé—covering everything from A Little Princess to Y Tu Mamá También to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to Children of Men—didn’t already).
Chiwetel Ejiofor, having snapped up every acting accolade from the British Academy of Film and Television to the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association, will likely take home Oscar gold for his lead role in 12 Years a Slave as free-
Ejiofor’s win as Best Actor will likely edge out Matthew McConaughey for his sympathetic role in Dallas Buyers Club. But the Texas actor is already a winner, capping off one of the best, busiest years of his career (Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club and HBO’s “True Detective”) with a trip to the Big Dance. Other Oscar winners (who may still lose out on the gold) are the indie films Nebraska and Philomena. Both came from the back of the pack to nail six and four nominations (respectively). That exposure will mean a lot to the bottom line of these films in theaters and on DVD. Both have earned well under $30 million and stand to see a nice box office boost, win or lose. Back in 2012, for example, Silver Linings Playbook saw a record-setting $71 million bump in ticket sales after its Best Picture nomination. Now that’s the kind of Oscar gold any Hollywood producer would be happy to take home.