February 10, 2014

OSCARLAND: Does Anyone Have A Map?


Over the past 10 days or so, a multitude of groups have presented awards for 2013’s best, with prizes given to screenwriters, editors, cinematographers, animators, and production designers.  FROZEN solidified its commanding lead for the Best Animated Film Oscar, but that’s about the only conclusion to be found, as the other honors were spread among 5 of the 9 Best Picture nominees.

WRITERS GUILD:  HER (Original Script) and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (Adapted Script)




ART DIRECTORS GUILD:  HER (Contemporary), GRAVITY (Fantasy) and THE GREAT GATSBY (Period)

USC SCRIPTOR (only scripts based on books qualify):  12 YEARS A SLAVE

This all comes, of course, after the more high-profile Guilds gave their awards to Gravity (DGA), 12 Years a Slave and Gravity (PGA) and American Hustle (SAG).

There are various theories about what all of this scattered prizegiving means.  The majority view seems to be that 12 Years a Slave benefits from the chaos, because its support is rock-solid, and it has the most united critical praise and an unquestioned aura of importance that will make the difference in the end.  (The Fox Searchlight ads now simply say “It’s Time,” as though calling for a justice far larger than a mere Academy Award.)  With its British director and star, it’s also very likely to win the final precursor award, this coming weekend’s UK BAFTA honor.

But there are a significant number of pundits who believe that Gravity will emerge the survivor, benefiting from the Academy’s weighted ballot and support from below-the-line technicians, and that in a year where the voters’ #1 choices are likely to be splintered, the real trick is to be the most popular #2.  (Plus since Gravity is considered a “British film” because it was shot in a UK studio, it also has a strong chance of being honored by BAFTA this weekend in the UK-only categories.) Sensing the possibility of blood in the water, Warners has stepped up its “for your consideration” promotion of Gravity lately.

Then there is a view that this is the very rare Oscar year where anything could happen, and a dark horse candidate like Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club or even Philomena could sneak in.  (Philomena hasn’t won much of anything, but the Weinstein Company runs prominent daily ads reminding voters that it’s the year’s feel-good alternative.)

The acting awards, in comparison, seem to have settled in, with Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o now overwhelming favorites, unless the Woody Allen mess somehow derails Blanchett (unlikely), Bruce Dern collects an unofficial lifetime achievement award, or the Academy decides that it can’t nominate every major member of the American Hustle cast without awarding at least one of them.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."