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And the Oscar race begins…

Damn, we’re in mid-November already? The Oscar race is in full swing, and we have all the familiar parties present and accounted for, and in just two months we’ll know for certain who’ll be running the final lap to the Oscars, and wasn’t it just last week that I had seen Before Midnight, and was telling everyone it was a shoe-in for best picture…well, at least my best picture. As astounding in craft as that film was, it just looks too European and arty to fit the Academy’s definition of prestigious, plus it came out way back in May. As much as I’d like to tell you that the whole theory about awards season is a myth, it’s just irrefutable that the Academy pays select attention to films that come out during the October-December period, and no matter how great a summer release is, it’s integrity it likely to diminish in the eyes of Acadamy members when it comes time to cast their votes. A shame indeed, but all is not lost, as it looks like this year might see quite a few people taking home a little golden guy for the very first time, and be every bit deserving the honor for their hard work as well. Here are my thoughts on how surprising and not so surprising some of the categories for the 86th Academy Awards will be.

Best Foreign Film

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Blue is the Warmest Color will definitely be nominated, and there’s little doubt that it will win also. It was the first film at Cannes to win the Palm d’Or for both directing and acting, and it’s reception has been overwhelmingly positive. What’s more, the film has been doing very well for an NC-17 rated French film that is only being played in a handful of theaters throughout America, and this is something the Academy is certain to notice. However, the Iranian The Past does have a shot, as director Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 film A Separation won for this category two years ago, and it’s possible that Academy voters will find more merit in a film that focuses on characters in an older age group.

Best Director

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Noah Baumbach, Destin Daniel Cretton, James Ponsoldt, and Richard Linklater should all be nominated in this category…but they all almost definitely will not. It’s the same thing every year, as we tend to see quite a few great indie/arthouse filmmakers get snubbed in this category just cause there films don’t tend to fit the frame work that the Academy prefers (it also doesn’t help that they all released their films during the summer months). Instead you can expect the usual suspects to be nominated here. The likes of Martin Scorsese, David O. Russel, and the Coen Brothers are likely to take up 3 of the five slots, but maybe we can expect two irregulars as well. Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron both have equal chances of getting a nomination this year, and it’s rather likely that they both will as well.

Best Actor

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Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Forest Whitacker are the easy guesses, but there are other likely candidates as well. It would seem criminal not to at least consider Chiwetel Ejiofor for a nomination, after his harrowing portrayal as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave. Matthew McCoanaughey is very likely to receive his first best actor nomination this year (about damn time!), but his characher in Dallas Buyers Club is a little too grimy and diseased to win him the award. Also, it would be satisfying to see Joaquin Phoenix receive another nomination this year, as critics have been saying that in Her he finally plays the sweet and loving character that so many of his previous roles suggested he was so sublimely capable of.

Best Actress

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I very much would like to see Brie Larson receive a nomination in this category, as she delivered such a complex and emotional performance in Short Term 12, but sadly I don’t think it’s likely that the Academy will acknowledge a little-seen indie film starring a 24-year old actress previously best known for comedies.  Instead though, we’ll have to look at a veteran actress who starred in an internationally successful film directed by one of Hollywood’s most beloved directors. Those that have seen Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine must understand that Cate Blanchett is a lock for a nomination (if not a straight up win). Don’t be surpised to see her competing against the likes of Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep also.

Best Picture

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I’m not a fan of The Academy’s decision to allow more than 5 films to be nominated for best picture. I feel that by including up to 10 entrees in this category, it’s just a desperate ploy for the Academy to try to appeal to all different demographics, and give summer blockbusters (albeit better than average ones) some spotlight come the big day. So you can expect the regular prestige flicks (Saving Mr. Banks, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Wolf of Wall Street), along with the slightly more offbeat fare (Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Nebraska), along with one or two films that are more in the realm of genre (Gravity, The Hobbit ). I feel it’s still too early for me to pin-point on who is likely to win or not, but I can tell you one thing: It won’t have Before or Midnight in the title.