All along we’ve been saying there was only ever one frontrunner for Best Picture. Steve McQueen’s slavery drama 12 Years a Slave is a stunning piece of work, a drama both brutal and uplifting – right in the Academy’s wheelhouse. It won Best Picture (Drama) at the Golden Globes, as well as a slew of critics’ awards. No one could deny that it’s an important film, and a beautifully made one.
But sneaking up on the inside comes precisely the kind of feisty, unchallenging, gorgeously mounted fluff that the Oscars just love to give surprise awards to (remember Chicago?). David O Russell's American Hustle sports terrific performances, stunning costume design and a handful of whip-smart lines, and it's already proven its awards-worthiness by capturing a number of top prizes.
The question is: will the Academy go for substance or style? We have a horrible feeling they’ll take the easy option. It’s hard to imagine the old-timers at the Academy relishing the idea of being lectured on their nation's historical crimes by a foreigner – especially a Brit. And American Hustle is the perfect antidote: it’s fizzy, pretty, and has just enough political undercurrent to make it seem like it almost – almost – has something to say.
Who else is nominated?
Current Academy rules allow for a ten film Best Picture shortlist, but this year they’ve only opted to nominate nine. There’s still an outside chance the Academy will finally give it to a sci-fi flick. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity has been a massive commercial hit and has the critics swooning. The performances are great, the special effects even better. If the Academy decides to court the multiplex vote, this is the one they'll pick.
Further down the list, the chances get slimmer than Matthew McConaughey’s waistband. His drama Dallas Buyers Club may sport strong performances and powerful subject matter, but the film itself just isn’t strong enough. Nebraska, Her and British hope Philomena are the kind of spry, indie-ish character pieces that always pick up nominations but rarely grab the big prize (bearing in mind, we said the same thing about The King’s Speech a couple of years back). The Wolf of Wall Street is probably too brash for Oscar tastes – too much excess, not enough lesson-learning. And the lack of a Best Actor nod for Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips means that film is clearly not uppermost in the Academy’s hearts and minds.
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