The polls are closed. The votes are being tabulated. Six months after “Gravity” and “12 Years A Slave” premiered within a few days of each other we still don't know for sure which film will win the most coveted film prize in the world, the Academy Award for Best Picture. After 86 editions of Oscar, this race will go down as one of the top 10 closest ever.
Pretty amazing, isn't it?
Back in September, Alfonso Cuarón and Steve McQueen's films were critical darlings, but with the holiday movie season on the way, so were the expected real contenders. Or so we, er, everyone thought.
“Saving Mr. Banks” faltered as it's clear the years of the Academy embracing that type of film are over for now.
“Inside Llewyn Davis” sadly just wasn't liked enough (nothing more painful than that).
“The Wolf of Wall Street” may have arrived a month too late to be a true contender (although Paramount certainly gave it the old college try over the past few weeks).
“Nebraska's” nod was its win and proof of how respected Alexander Payne is in the Academy (even if he couldn't care less about the whole shebang these days).
Let's not even think what would have happened if “Blue Jasmine” made the field. The past month has been a disheartening, confusing and embarrassing mess to everyone but Dylan Farrow. It may have been excrutiatingly worse with a Best Picture nod.
“Dallas Buyers Club” became the surprise party crasher after months of competing studios trying to diminish its impact.
In what may be the most remarkable story of the season, “Her” cracked the field. It might not have made it when the category expanded just four years ago (the glorious benefit of the Academy's attempts to recruit a younger and more diverse membership).
“Captain Phillips” is hands down the survival story of the season.
“Philomena” could have taken the Best Picture race by the throat a decade ago, but now it's just a respected nominee.
And then, of course, there is “American Hustle.” The box office hit that just couldn't seem to pass “Gravity” and “12 Years.”
Unless “Hustle” makes a miraculous comeback on Sunday, many on Sony's Culver City lot will wonder “What went wrong?” Well, guess what? Maybe nothing did. Maybe “12 Years” and “Gravity” are just two of the more spectacular nominees the Academy have had to consider voting for this century. If “Hustle” does indeed lose, Sony, David O. Russell and his producers may just have to come to grips with the fact that sometimes timing sucks. And in this case, “Hustle” will enjoy a strong fanbase that will sing its praises for years (just wait until it starts airing on pay cable).
Now, you might have wondered why there hasn't been a Contender Countdown over the past a few weeks. It's not just because my responsibilities at HitFix have pulled me away at one time or another. Frankly, not much in the race has changed. After the nominations were announced back in January, the smart bet was to let the guild honors show the path like they have done so many times previously. And yet, every time one film took a step forward, another film would pull up to match it. After snagging the SAG ensemble honor, “American Hustle” was this close to being a contender, but it couldn't even tie for the PGA. That's not a perception of being in second, that's clearly third place. From then it's been “Gravity” vs. “12 Years,” just as it was that first weekend in Telluride.
Now, there would be nothing more fitting for both films to repeat their PGA tie on Oscar Sunday. It would be amazing, historic and a truly fitting end to this ride, but it's pretty much impossible. Especially with almost 6,000 members voting and with a preferential ballot. It's just not gonna happen, but boy I wish it would.
One of the more under-appreciated aspects of this year's race is that the studios at the front of the pack most of the time were Warner Bros. and Fox Searchlight. No disrespect to their competitors, but they are arguably the classiest two outfits in the game. I know people at Warner Bros. who love “12 Years.” I know people at Searchlight who love “Gravity.” And, make no mistake, both sides want to win, but does anyone think that as an artist Steve McQueen doesn't truly respect Alfonso Cuarón's accomplishment? Does anyone think Cuarón doesn't respect McQueen's? There is no animosity. Each film has left its mark.
If only they could leave it together.
Look for complete coverage of the 86th Academy Awards all day Sunday on HitFix and In Contention.