The Oscars are coming Sunday and as you look around the web, you can see that all the pundits are getting their final predictions in just under the buzzer. What's fascinating to me is how, really, everyone seems to mostly agree. The degrees of fluctuation in those who might disagree on this or that category is minimal. And where some might diverge in one category or another, there are certainly others there to back them up.
Basically, no one is way out on any limbs alone and we're all more or less expecting the same range of activity. That means we're all, of course, WRONG – at least somewhere. So what will the surprises be? That's the question I keep hearing, even from publicists and strategists who have their ear closer to the ground than us lowly pundits.
Well, it just so happens there are a couple of places worthy of taking a big risk in your predictions that could just pan out. You never can tell – no one predicted a tie for Best Sound Editing last year, obviously – but you can sense things lurking. The last out-and-out shock I had watching the race was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” winning Best Film Editing a few years back, which could be owed to respect for the film and a desire to spread some love its way, or could just as easily have been a case of the top two Best Picture players cannibalizing each others' votes in the category.
This, for lack of a better term, is the logic. And if you can tap into it, you're less a smarty pants than a lucky bastard. So here are a few areas that could make you look like both in your Oscar pools, if you're feeling frisky.
“Nebraska” for Best Supporting Actress or Best Original Screenplay
Everyone seems tied up over the Best Supporting Actress race. Will it be SAG winner and lovely new starlet Lupita Nyong'o? Or will it be Jennifer Lawrence hitting the stage for a second time in as many years (and hopefully without tripping up the stairs this time around)? Frankly, it could be “Nebraska” star June Squibb who gets the last laugh. Just anecdotally, she's getting plenty of votes. She's really the only other viable contender in the race, so there's not a huge dilution of votes across the spread. If Nyong'o and Lawrence are indeed cannibalizing each other, Squibb – who is a delight and worked it in Los Angeles, plus had that great bit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” as voting drew to a close – would be the beneficiary. Meanwhile, there's a lot of love for the film in general. While everyone is trying to decide between “American Hustle” and “Her” for Best Original Screenplay, it could just be Bob Nelson's name called Sunday night, bringing the long journey of his very personal project to a rousing close. These are the two easiest places for voters to honor the movie.
“Philomena” for Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Original Score
It feels a little strange to imagine a film with as passionate a fan base as “Philomena” walking away empty-handed. Most are going with “12 Years a Slave” for Best Adapted Screenplay, and that makes the most sense, but (the admittedly quite British) “Philomena” won that prize at the BAFTA Awards and started its whole journey with a screenplay win at the Venice Film Festival. Plus, Steve Coogan has been hitting the campaign trail hard. Meanwhile, in Best Original Score, there is an opportunity for voters to spread the love a bit and stretch out of any kind of straight ticket scenario. “Saving Mr. Banks” could even be in a position to win there (as where else are the film's fans going to show their love for it?), but Alexandre Desplat – who will hit the Dolby Theatre stage one of these days – could be a viable option for those looking to give the film something amid all those below the line votes for “Gravity.”
“12 Years a Slave” for Best Costume Design or Best Production Design
The design categories have been conceded for some time to “The Great Gatsby,” and indeed, that makes sense. Lavish wins in these arenas (particularly costume design), regardless of perceived quality. But while some are banking on “American Hustle” for one (nothing like that has ever won Best Costume Design) or the other (Best Production Design would be even more of a shock), and a few might even expect craft juggernaut “Gravity” to reign in production design (that seems far too inspired for the Academy), it might be worth it to consider the, um, PERIOD PIECE NOMINATED AND POTENTIALLY SET TO WIN BEST PICTURE. Not that “12 Years a Slave” is eye candy in this regard, but voters don't often read too much into these categories and just go with their gut. The film already won the period honor from the Costume Designers Guild and it has a variety of sets on display (if not intensely ornate on the whole). Just think about it, that's all I'm saying.
“Happy” for Best Original Song
Frankly the Best Original Song race seems generally up for grabs. Most expect Disney's latest ballad, “Let It Go,” to triumph. And yeah, that's likely. But meanwhile, everyone is certainly aware of how the campaign cylinders started firing for U2 and “Ordinary Love” going into the final lap – culminating with that rousing rendition on the first episode of “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon”. But just the latest example of Grammy winner Pharrell Williams' “Happy” being nearly as inescapable as Daft Punk's “Get Luck” (also, funnily enough, featuring Williams)? It was playing at my freakin' dentist's office this afternoon, teasing me: “YOU'LL NEVER GET AWAY FROM MY CATCHY CLUTCHES.” I frankly wouldn't be shocked at all if it pulled off a win and but a big bow on Pharrell's year, and nor should you.
“American Hustle” for Best Picture
This shows up here only because literally no one is picking it. Look, heading into the SAG Awards and certainly throughout most of the following 24 hours, “American Hustle” looked like the one to beat. The logic still holds, even if the wins – PGA/DGA/WGA – aren't necessarily there to back it up: this is a film that is tailor made for the preferential ballot. It will receive tons of #2 votes along the way. Like we kept saying about “Argo” last year, it's simply a “generally agreeable” sort of film that could catch up as the rounds of voting tick by. It's soft enough not to enrage but thematically sound enough to look like a serious player. But, again, the guilds didn't really line up for it after that SAG win, and here we are, with everyone trying to decide between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” If you want to color outside the lines, you'd do a lot worse than picking this one for a huge shocker on Oscar night.
So there are just a handful of things I was pondering while settling on my final predictions. Steady wins the race, you see, so being conservative – if you really want to outguess your buddies – is the way to go. But sometimes the need to pick that thing no one saw coming can be a tough itch to scratch. Figure on some of the logic above and maybe you'll leave a few jaws on the ground.
Or maybe I have NO FREAKIN' CLUE what I'm talking about. Always a possibility.
Check back later tonight to see what Team HitFix is predicting in all 24 Oscar categories!