ZAMM.COM: Oscar Overview

By Martin Grove,

Oscar overview  Of all the star-studded parties Hollywood throws each year, the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon probably boasts the most A-List names.

Mostly everyone who's up for an Oscar in any category turns out for the luncheon festivities, where stars and filmmakers mingle for a few hours of no-jitters celebration. The setting for this year's luncheon is the Beverly Hilton Hotel at noon on Feb.10 with about 150 nominees expected (as I'm writing this) to attend.

The Academy makes a point of saying the nice thing about the nominees luncheon is that since no awards are being bestowed, no one is on edge about winning or making acceptance speeches. For lower profile acting nominees or behind-the-camera talent, it's also a great opportunity to do some very up-close star gazing.

Despite the emphasis on just relaxing and enjoying their moment in the Oscar sun, it's also an occasion for nominees to reflect on their own and others' chances of winning. That is likely to be the case with guests considering how the Best Picture nominees--especially frontrunners American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave--and the 20 actors competing in the lead and supporting races are likely to do.

Among the lead acting nominees the Academy expected to see at this year's luncheon were (alphabetically): Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Meryl Streep. Also, supporting acting nominees (alphabetically): Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong'o, Julia Roberts and June Squibb.

Missing from those lists: Judy Dench, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Sally Hawkins and Jennifer Lawrence.

On the other hand, all five directing nominees were expected to be there, including (alphabetically): Alfonso Cuarón, Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese.

Here's a quick look at how the four acting races look as of Nominees Luncheon day.

For many months, the Best Actress race was thought to be a lock for Cate Blanchett for her much applauded performance in Sony Pictures Classics' Blue Jasmine. Her mid-January lead actress win in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards was thought to have positioned her perfectly to win Oscar night.

Blanchett's closest Oscar competitors were seen as being Sandra Bullock for Warner Bros.' Gravity and Meryl Streep for The Weinstein Company's August: Osage County. Also in the race but trailing the frontrunners were: Amy Adams for Columbia Pictures' American Hustle and Judy Dench for The Weinstein Company's Philomena.

Blanchett beat Bullock, Dench and Streep in the SAG contest and Adams wasn't a SAG nominee. Since actors make up the Academy's largest voting branch, much weight was given to Blanchett's SAG victory.

But the seemingly calm lead actress waters were unexpectedly muddied in early February when Dylan Farrow brought up accusations she'd made 22 years earlier that her adoptive father, writer-director Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), had molested her when she was 7. There was an extensive police investigation at the time and no charges were ever filed against Allen, who was then involved in an ultra-bitter break-up battle with his ex-significant other, actress Mia Farrow.

Dylan resumed her public battle against Allen after the Golden Globes gave him a high profile lifetime achievement award in January. In keeping with Allen's longtime avoidance of awards ceremonies, he didn't turn up to accept, but instead sent Diane Keaton to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on his behalf.

But with Farrow back in the headlines, some Academy watchers are concerned there could be a Blanchett backlash simply because she's nominated for starring in an Allen film.

A recent New York Post article summed it up in the headline: Will Woody Allen Scandal Cost Cate Blanchett an Oscar? 

Post film critic Lou Lumenick noted that Farrow, whose open letter was published online by the New York Times, was asking, What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Assessing her intent, Lumenick wrote, it's hard not to believe she's speaking directly to Oscar voters, who are scheduled to receive their ballots on Valentine's Day.

No one knows if Farrow's words will persuade Academy members to vote against Blanchett. Allen, himself, is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but even before this mess he wasn't seen as a likely winner.

Allen lost in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) vote to Her writer-director Spike Jonze. Allen, who's always said he doesn't care about winning awards, has Oscar race competition from Hustle, Focus Features' Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Paramount's Nebraska. These are the same four films Jasmine faced in the WGA vote.

As for Blanchett, the question is who will Academy members applaud if they decide to punish Cate? The nominee insiders are focusing on right now is Amy Adams, whose sexy, showy performance in Hustle is being buzzed about as Oscar-worthy although it didn't seem to be on the voters' radar earlier.

Hustle's Best Picture prospects were boosted by winning SAG's ensemble cast award, the Guild's equivalent of best picture. If Farrow turns the tide against Blanchett, Adams looks like the nominee who could benefit most.

There's no drama going on here to match what's happening on the Best Actress side of the fence. The nominees are Christian Bale (Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (Paramount's The Wolf of Wall Street) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas).

McConaughey won SAG's lead actor award and is widely regarded as the most likely name to wind up in Oscar's sealed envelope. The well liked Dern is, at 77, a sentimental favorite, but Oscar voters generally aren't very sentimental. Ejiofor's performance was applauded by the critics, but he's not a big high profile movie star and that's a disadvantage with Oscar voters. Bale or DiCaprio could emerge as surprise winners, but the buzz doesn't suggest that it's likely.

Lower profile names have a better chance of succeeding in supporting races than in lead categories. That could work in favor of Lupita Nyong'o for her critically acclaimed performance in Fox Searchlight Pictures' 12 Years a Slave.

Nyong'o lost to Jennifer Lawrence for Hustle in the SAG supporting actress vote, but Academy members could be more serious minded and vote for Nyong'o, especially if they're marking their best picture ballots for Hustle and want to recognize Slave where they can.

It's interesting that Lawrence is reportedly not attending the luncheon, reducing her visibility as a nominee since the media spotlight is always focused on this event. Having won the 2013 Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, it could be challenging for Lawrence to win again so soon, albeit for a supporting performance.

Also in the supporting race: Sally Hawkins (Jasmine), Julia Roberts (Osage) and June Squibb (Nebraska). Anything's possible, but there's no real buzz suggesting they'll win. Dench and Hawkins also reportedly aren't attending the luncheon.

Here, too, Academy watchers are pretty united in terms of what they anticipate. Jared Leto's SAG victory catapulted him to frontrunner status, elevating his chances of hearing his name announced Oscar night.

Leto's competition includes: Barkhad Abdi (Columbia's Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (Hustle), Michael Fassbender (Slave) and Jonah Hill (Wolf). Surprises are always possible, but these probably aren't the safest bets to win that you could make.

Bottom line: No one will be paying much attention to what's on their plates at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon.

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