Hollywood Braced for Closest Race in Years
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Academy members’ eagerly awaited choices for best picture suggest a tight Oscar race rivaling the suspense of the 1999 derby, when “Shakespeare in Love” enjoyed a shock triumph over “Saving Private Ryan.”
Tuesday’s picks — “The Aviator,” “Sideways,” “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby,” and “Ray” — turned out to be right in line with nominations and awards from a number of Oscar bellwethers, including the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards and the Producers Guild of America Awards.
Miramax and Warner Bros.’ “The Aviator” had landed the Golden Globe for best picture (drama), was a Critics’ Choice best picture nominee, won the PGA’s best picture award, and will compete for a the best ensemble cast prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Feb. 5.
Fox Searchlight Pictures’ “Sideways” went home from the Globes with a best picture (musical/comedy) win, was the Critics’ Choice best picture winner and received a SAG best ensemble nomination.
Miramax’s “Finding Neverland,” Warner Bros.’ “Million Dollar Baby,” and Universal’s “Ray” each received best picture nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. They will also compete for SAG’s ensemble cast prize.
The films come into the race with certain advantages, but also face some specific problems. The critically acclaimed “Sideways,” for instance, must confront the Academy’s historic tendency not to take comedy seriously. Since 1934, only nine films that can be described as comedies or dark comedies have won the best picture Oscar, including “American Beauty” (1999), “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) and “Forrest Gump” (1994).
“The Aviator” has an advantage in that it’s the only epic film in this year’s best picture race. Epics have been one of the Academy’s favorite genres over the years. At the same time, there’s speculation that this could be the year the Academy finally acknowledges director Martin Scorsese with a best director win.
Scorsese’s record of having been overlooked by the Academy, by the way, can be documented all the way back to 1974 when “Mean Streets” received no Oscar nominations. In 1976, “Taxi Driver” was nominated for best picture, but lost to “Rocky.” In 1980, “Raging Bull” received best picture and director nominations, but Scorsese lost to Robert Redford, whose “Ordinary People” also won best picture. In 1988 Scorsese was nominated for directing “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but lost to Barry Levinson for “Rain Man.” In 1990, “Goodfellas” received best picture and director nods. Scorsese lost to Kevin Costner, whose “Dances With Wolves” also won best picture. And in 2003, “Gangs of New York” was a best picture and director nominee. Roman Polanski won best director for “The Pianist” and “Chicago” captured best picture.
Immediately after the nominations were revealed, London odds makers Ladbrokes Limited cited “Aviator” as its favorite to win best picture with odds of 4-5 and Scorsese as the favorite to win best director with odds of 4-6.
Excitement over best actor or actress prospects can also create momentum for a best picture contender. In the case of “Aviator,” there’s Leonardo DiCaprio in the best actor race. “Baby” has Clint Eastwood. “Neverland” has Johnny Depp. “Ray” has Jamie Foxx, the favorite according to Ladbrokes with odds of 1-4.
“Sideways,” however, isn’t in the best actor race. That slot went to Don Cheadle for MGM/United Artists’ “Hotel Rwanda.” Paul Giamatti’s not being nominated for “Sideways” stands as one of this year’s major surprises given the critical acclaim he received throughout the awards season to date.
On the best actress front, there’s only one match-up with the best picture nominations, and that’s Hilary Swank for “Baby.” Ladbrokes is quoting 1-1 odds for Swank and 2-1 odds for Annette Bening for Sony Pictures Classics’ “Being Julia.”
Swank won the Globe for best actress-drama and Bening won the best actress-musical or comedy Globe. They were competing head to head in the Critics Choice Awards, where Swank was victorious. The last time these two actresses slugged it out was in 2000 when Swank won the best actress Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry” and Bening lost for “American Beauty.”
There’s also a strong best actress candidate in Fine Line Features’ “Vera Drake” star Imelda Staunton, who has done well with critics groups all season. The odds are longer for Catalina Sandino Moreno for Fine Line’s “Maria Full of Grace” and Kate Winslet for Focus Features’ “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
The predictability of the best picture Oscar nominations carried through to a large extent in other key categories, too, although there were a few surprises. In the best director race, for instance, Mike Leigh’s nomination for “Vera Drake” came straight out of left field since none of the critics groups and other awards organizations had recognized him. But Academy members showed they understand the role a director plays in obtaining an awards worthy performance from his actors. Leigh was previously nominated in 1997 for writing and directing “Secrets & Lies” and in 2000 for writing “Topsy-Turvy.”
There was, on the other hand, no directing nomination for Marc Forster for “Neverland.” Although critics groups didn’t embrace Forster, he did score key nominations in the Globes, Critics’ Choice and Directors Guild of America races.
The Academy’s final ballots go into the mail Feb. 3 and are due back by 5 p.m. Feb. 22. The 77th annual Academy Awards will take place Feb. 27.
Hollywood Braced for Closest Race in Years