“American Hustle” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year.

“American Hustle” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards this year.

By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Well, here we are.

With just over one week left until the year’s most important night in the film industry, we’re in a prime position to talk about what we really came here to discuss: the big awards. And by that I mean the two screenplay awards, Best Director, and, of course, Best Picture.

Where do I begin? As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, 2013 was a strong year. Maybe this past year wasn’t as crammed with quality as 2012 was, but this was certainly an improvement over 2011. When each of the nine nominees in a given year could feasibly win out over 2011’s Oscar-winning film “The Artist,” you know you’re dealing with some great movies.

While I know that the Golden Globe wins for “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle” are slightly concerning for fans of, well, any other movie, keep in mind that all hope is not lost. While the odds aren’t incredibly high, any movie could potentially grab the Oscar.

With that being said, I wanted to reference some stats I calculated in one of my columns from last year regarding the discrepancy between the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.

To quote myself from last November: “In the 70-year history of the Golden Globes, the Oscar winner for Best Picture has been selected for Best Film—–in either the Drama or Comedy/Musical categories——45 times.”

Why did I just quote myself? Because I have a point.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association isn’t always “right.” Just in the past 10 years, there have been six cases in which neither Best Motion Picture at the Globes won Best Picture at the Oscars.

We even saw this misalignment four years in a row starting with 2004’s “The Aviator” lost out on Oscar glory to “Million Dollar Baby.” Then “Brokeback Mountain” lost. And “Babel.” And “Atonement.”

While most Best Picture winners are often, in my opinion, superior films to their Golden Globe-winning competitors, what should we make of this? Will the strength of this year’s field factor into a possible difference of opinion from the Academy? After all, a strong pool equals split votes and close margins of victory.

Now, spending all of this time talking about one award would be ridiculous, so let’s take a look at another extremely important pair of categories: the two Best Writing awards.

The distinction between the two screenplay accolades is simple: Original Screenplay goes to a wholly original piece of work written for the screen while Adapted Screenplay goes to a script based on published material, as well as to remakes and sequels.

And yes, sequels have been represented nicely here in the past. Even this year has one with “Before Midnight,” the widely acclaimed second sequel to “Before Sunrise.” Even “Toy Story 3” was represented in the Adapted Screenplay category just three years ago.

There aren’t any sequels this year, however. Both “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “12 Years” were based on memoirs while “Captain Phillips” and “Philomena” were based on books.

“American Hustle,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her” and “Nebraska” were among the Best Picture candidates nominated for their original scripts, with Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” snagging a nod as well.

Despite a pleasantly surprising win for “Her” at the Golden Globes, part of me can’t shake the feeling that the Academy won’t show the same love for my favorite movie of the year. I expect “Hustle” to pull out a win in the original category.

The adapted category is more of a toss-up. I suppose “12 Years” will probably pull this one out, and rightfully so. But I’m sort of hoping that Terence Winter’s lightning-fast, hilarious and full-throttle script for “Wolf” gets a win here.

Understandably, the screenplay contenders often align with the Best Picture nominees. After all, the script is essentially only a director’s interpretation away from embodying the vast majority of the movie itself, so of course this is reflected across both ballots.

Let’s crunch some numbers. In the 10 years prior to the upcoming ceremony, 34 out of the 50 total Adapted Screenplay nominees were also in the running for Best Picture, compared to 24 of the Original Screenplay ones. Ten out of the 10 winners of the former were Best Picture nominees, with five of the 10 winning this grand prize. Nine out of the 10—–with the sole exception being 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”—–of the latter were Best Picture nominees, with only three of the 10 winning this.

What can we make of this? Essentially, at least for the past decade, the major Oscar contenders tend to be adapted works more often than not, while original scripts that aren’t really in consideration have more of a chance to shine through to voters.

But do Best Picture winners really lose their respective Best Screenplay award? Sometimes. Two years ago, Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” beat “The Artist,” which was, you know, mostly silent.

Exceptions aside, the categories undoubtedly correlate. But wait, have any Best Picture winners been completely shut out of screenwriting consideration?

I don’t really want to quote myself twice in the same article, so I’ll paraphrase what I said four weeks ago—-ever since 1997’s “Titanic” was ignored for screenwriting, every Best Picture winner has been nominated. What about before “Titanic”? 1965’s “The Sound of Music.”

Did you deduce what the only Best Picture nominee omitted from this year’s screenplay ballots is? That’s right. “Gravity.”

Much like “The Artist,” which did garner a nod for its screenplay, “Gravity” barely relies on dialogue.  Who cares if Best Picture winners have historically had robust scripts? “Gravity” transcends the limitations of the written word through a vision unique to Alfonso Cuaron, the director behind the visual masterpiece.

Will “Gravity” become the third film in nearly 50 years to win Best Picture without garnering any screenplay recognition? We’ll see.

Speaking of Cuaron, the Mexican filmmaker was one of five directors cherry-picked for a chance at the Best Director Oscar. Not to discredit the talent or work of any of the other four men, but I personally feel that Cuaron contributed the most to his film.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, “Hustle” director David O. Russell has accomplished an amazing feat. Not only was he nominated just last year for my favorite 2012 film, “Silver Linings Playbook,” but also he managed to helm two consecutive movies that earned all of the “Big Five” nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and one of the Best Screenplay categories.

If that rare achievement isn’t impressive enough, both “Playbook” and “Hustle” earned nods in each of the supporting acting categories too, completing the “Big Seven”—a term I literally just invented.

Russell’s emphasis on the actors and characters they portray has made him one of my favorite directors in recent years. “Hustle” has no shortage of stellar, star-studded performances that effortlessly facilitate in making the film’s atmosphere feel genuine.

“Nebraska” director Alexander Payne, who also worked on 2004’s “Sideways” and 2011’s “The Descendents,” has a knack for creating sharply humorous depictions of Americans on journeys both physical and deeply personal. Whereas “Sideways” had depression and divorce across California and “The Descendents” had infidelity and a coma across Hawaii,  “Nebraska” tackles pains of the past across the Great Plains.

Don’t overlook Steve McQueen either. While the Brit behind “12 Years” has only directed two prior feature films, “Hunger” and “Shame,” his works’ artistic values and mature applications of heavy themes have earned rightful acclaim. And how you can go wrong as a director when all three of your movies star Michael Fassbender?

Last but obviously not least is Martin Scorsese, the director we all know and love—or at least respect. By far the most experienced and decorated filmmaker in the bunch, Scorsese refused to hold back while orchestrating his Wall Street debauchery explosion.

“Wolf” was swift and bold, but I’m not too sure Marty stands out enough this year. Voters may compare his latest film with some of his classics like 1980’s “Raging Bull” or 1990’s “Goodfellas.” With eight directing nominations and one win for “The Departed,” he surely has the talent but this is likely not his year.

I would have loved to see Spike Jonze get recognition for his work on “Her,” though. Who would have expected someone to make a movie about an introvert who falls in love with an operating system feel so heartwarming and sweet?

His delicate directorial touch turned what could’ve been a campy, creepy sci-fi romcom into a sincerely beautiful film that quite honestly paints—in a great color palette—a pretty accurate picture of love in today’s digital age.

But in all honesty, Cuaron deserves this one. If “Gravity” isn’t the best picture, its director is the best this year. He’s got this.

Of course, this leads me to the grand finale: the Best Picture category. As bittersweet as this is, I suppose by now we’ve learned more than enough about these movies to forgo excessive in-depth analysis.

After all, the components we’ve discussed essentially add up to the full picture. What elevates one of these movies from the directing, writing, acting or visuals, however, is an X factor that manifests itself when each of the aforementioned components work together in nearly flawless synchrony.

Before we get started, I wanted to say how disappointed I am that “Inside Llewyn Davis” got snubbed here. I expected “Prisoners,” another film I loved, to slip away from view by the time the end of the year rolled around.  But I was slightly more optimistic about the latest Coen brothers flick, easily their best since 2007’s Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men.”

From the excellent acting, character development and music to the satisfying circular narrative and the relatable themes, “Llewyn” easily found a place in my top five of the year. I loved the tone, the pacing and the humor—elements that would’ve helped the film stand out in nearly any other year.

Due to a glaring lack of the equivalent Golden Globe nomination,  “Dallas” looms over the acting awards but likely stands little to chance as the night’s big winner. Regardless, I’m looking forward to seeing Matthew McConaughey continue his astonishing career transformation.

Likewise, I don’t see “Philomena” faring too well in any of its four categories. Everything simply outperforms this above average drama. Despite the Academy’s love for Judi Dench, she probably didn’t do enough here.

The same goes for “Nebraska.” Black-and-white may have sold the Academy on “The Artist,” but Payne’s latest effort may come across as too minimalistic. Simplicity in both this aspect as well as in the road trip narrative may be the film’s downfall, despite acting quality.

“Captain Phillips” and “Wolf” might just be a little too high-energy to emerge as winners this year. “Her,” despite charm and poignancy, just won’t have any luck.

Yes, “Hustle,” “12 Years” and “Gravity” are widely considered to be the trio of frontrunners this year. But script criticisms and claims of scientific inaccuracies seem to be holding Cuaron’s space drama back a little. But “Gravity” did tie “12 Years” for the respective Producers Guild of America Award, a first since the PGA’s inception in 1990.

“Hustle” just has so much momentum, though. Tied with “Gravity” as the most nominated film of 2013, Russell’s ’70s con artist dramedy has the acclaim and poise of a Best Picture winner. “12 Years” might have the importance factor, but “Hustle” has the smooth force and star-studded stature to be reckoned with come March.

This year appears to be yet another year in which the Golden Globes will have been “wrong” about the big winner. “12 Years” could and should win. But the same could be said for “Hustle.” And “Gravity.” Even “Her.”

The point is, we don’t know. And we won’t know for just over a week. Until then, all we can do is look forward to 2014 and hope that we get to see movies of just half the caliber as we did in 2013.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to wait until December to see any of the awards show contenders. But hey, that’s how the Oscars work.


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