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‘12 Years’ seen year’s best film 5 burning queries as Oscar voting begins

LOS ANGELES, Dec 28, (RTRS): With Oscar voting underway on Friday, a number of questions that have been hanging in the air all awards season will finally be answered. Are surprises in store? Are voters paying attention to critics? How can a year full of great actors fit into one little category? We can’t tell you what those answers will be, but let’s ask five of the most burning questions one more time. Will “12 Years a Slave” be as big with Academy voters as it is with critics? If one were to judge by the results of critics’ awards, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” is far and away the year’s best film. Although it didn’t win the top award from the two most high profile groups, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, it has dominated regional critics awards, winning about three-quarters of the time.

Of course, a string of critics’ honors are no guarantee of Oscar success, as David Fincher can tell you. His “The Social Network” swept the critics’ awards three years ago before losing to Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” at the Oscars. And while “12 Years” seems a lock for a Best Picture nomination, as well as noms for McQueen, writer John Ridley and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender, I have heard repeatedly that it’s not exactly being embraced by Academy members the way past winners have been. It’s possible that the film will emerge on nominations morning looking dominant, and it’s possible that it will show a few signs of weakness. Realistically, though, this is a question that probably won’t fully be answered until the stage of the Dolby Theatre on March 2.

Predictions
Will any unexpected films crash the Top 10 (or 9, or 8)? If you look at the Oscar predictions charts at GoldDerby.com and Movie City News, and the nominations for the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, nine movies lead the race: “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity,” “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Nebraska,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Her,” “Saving Mr Banks” and “Inside Llewyn Davis,” roughly in that order. “Dallas Buyers Club” seems to have a slight edge over “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” for the tenth spot, while dark-horse possibilities include “Philomena,” “Fruitvale Station,” “August: Osage County,” “Blue Jasmine” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” But remember, Academy rules only guarantee five nominees, and the system makes it possible but extremely unlikely that 10 films will make the cut. It’s easy to imagine a case where one or more of the smaller movies could fall out and “The Butler” or “Philomena” could squeeze in — but in a year widely thought to be strong and deep, there’s not a lot of room for surprises.
 

Who’ll be left out of a brutal Best Actor race?
The answer to that question, astonishingly, might be Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and Leonardo Di Caprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and Forest Whitaker in “The Butler,” and Idris Elba in “Mandela” and Joaquin Phoenix in “Her.” Those five men could make up an impressive slate of nominees all by themselves — but they’re all facing an uphill battle to be nominated, because they have to muscle into a field that currently seems to be led by Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave,” Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Robert Redford in “All Is Lost,” Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips.”

Category
Best Actor is often a fiercely competitive category, but in 2013 it is even tougher than usual — and in trimming the field from 10 extraordinarily strong performances to five nominees, terrible things will happen. What did they really think of “The Wolf of Wall Street?” Martin Scorsese’s extravagant three-hour black comedy has been ignored by some critics’ groups and honored by others; some Academy members stood and applauded its director, writer and actors at a recent AMPAS screening, minutes after another voter encountered Scorsese exiting an elevator and scolded, “Shame on you! Full of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, the film is wildly divisive - and while David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” to which it bears some resemblance as a late-screening chronicle of American money and misbehavior, seems to have secured a spot near the top of the field, “Wolf” remains a big question mark and the race’s most intriguing wild card.

Love-it-or-hate-it movies tend to do well under the preferential system used in Oscar nominations, so the film may well end up a Best Picture nominee. But will its appeal extend to its actors, its director and its below-the-line talent, or will Scorsese’s tapestry of excess prove to be too much for Academy voters?
Will the Directors Branch be as weird as it was last year? Last January, the biggest shock of Oscar nominations morning came when Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone revealed a slate of Best Director nominees that conspicuously omitted Ben Affleck (“Argo”), Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”). Their movies went on to win more Oscars than the films by the guys who were nominated.

Could they possibly be that perverse again? Should the presumed frontrunners — Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron and David O. Russell — be nervous about landing a spot in the final five? I’m guessing that McQueen, Cuaron and Russell are probably safe — but the lineup of other directors in the running is so formidable that some major players are all but guaranteed to be left out. After all, it’s a tough situation when you’ve got two remaining slots and your contenders include Scorsese, Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, Paul Greengrass and Spike Jonze. Stay tuned, because Oscar voters may provide a few answers on the morning of Jan 16 — though they’ll probably raise a lot more questions as they do so.

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