By Martin Grove, ZAMM.com
Oscar outcome: Even an Oscar race with three frontrunners must ultimately produce a winner, as we saw Sunday with 12 Years a Slave's Best Picture victory.
After an evening that had already brought seven Oscar wins for Gravity (Warner Bros.) and just two for Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures), it certainly looked like Gravity would prevail given its much broader support within the Academy.
Gravity, which had 10 nominations to Slave's nine, was considered a technical achievement. It was the frontrunner for best directing since the Directors Guild of America (DGA) gave its feature directing award to Alfonso Cuaron. His Oscar win late in the evening was totally expected.
Moreover, Gravity was the first choice for the Academy's tech branches. Earlier in the show it won for cinematography, film editing, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects. On top of that, it also won for original score. With all that love, how could it not go on to win best picture?
American Hustle (Columbia) went into the evening with great support from actors, who voted it best ensemble cast at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. But even though actors make up the Academy's largest branch--around 1,100 of the approximately 6,000 members--that wasn't enough to translate into an Oscar win for anything! Hustle had 10 noms, but no wins.
Gravity tied with Slave in the Producers Guild of America's (PGA) best picture vote, but that was only a half-victory for Gravity. Throughout the long awards season Slave was certainly the first choice of critics and bloggers. They may not vote for Oscars, but it certainly looks like they influence Academy members' nominations and final ballots.
Slave's Best Picture Oscar victory after losing in most of its races all night echoed its BAFTA win a few weeks earlier. When the Best Picture envelope was opened, Gravity had already won six BAFTA's--including best director for Cuaron -- and Slave had only won for supporting actress. Suddenly, the words Slave and Best Picture were being used in the same sentence. History repeated itself at the Oscars.
Oscar's six other best picture contenders were: Captain Phillips (Columbia) with six noms, Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features) with six, Her (Warner Bros.) with five, Nebraska (Paramount) with six, Philomena (The Weinstein Company) with four and The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) with five. A best picture win for any of these would have been a real long shot since they didn't have all three key noms--picture, directing and film editing--that continue to be necessary to win Best Picture.
Aside from Slave's surprising best picture win, the 86th annual Academy Awards were quite predictable, especially in the directing and acting races. Here's a quick recap of those results.
This was the easiest race to call since Alfonso Cuaron's DGA and BAFTA victories for Gravity made him a very safe bet to take home best directing. The other nominees were: Steve McQueen (Slave), David O. Russell (Hustle), Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (Wolf).
BEST LEAD ACTOR
This was another no-brainer to predict. Matthew McConaughey's SAG victory for Dallas made him Oscar's likely best actor winner.
The other nominees were: Christian Bale (Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Slave).
While Ejiofor won the BAFTA, he didn't face competition in that race from McConaughey. The 77-year-old Dern had sentimental potential considering the Academy's graying membership, but as is usually the case, they didn't let sentiment dictate their voting.
BEST LEAD ACTRESS
Predicting a win by Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (Sony Pictures Classics) wasn't difficult since she'd been a lock to win Best Actress ever since Jasmine opened last August, bringing her rave reviews. Blanchett's SAG and BAFTA wins made her Oscar victory virtually inevitable.
The only potential hiccup might have come from the media ruckus stirred up by Dylan Farrow's renewed efforts to tarnish writer-director Woody Allen's image and punish Blanchett for working with him. To their credit, Oscar voters didn't let that keep them from applauding Blanchett's performance.
The other nominees were: Amy Adams (Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judy Dench (Philomena) and Meryl Streep (The Weinstein Company's August: Osage County).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Here, too, the SAG results translated into Oscar gold. Jared Leto's SAG win for Dallas had put him solidly on track to win supporting actor.
The other nominees were: Barkhad Abdi (Phillips), Bradley Cooper (Hustle) and Michael Fassbender (Slave) and Jonah Hill (Wolf).
Abdi was Leto's strongest competition after winning the BAFTA. But that wasn't a defining victory since Leto wasn't a nominee in the British Academy race.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This was the only acting race where it was a bit of a coin toss going down to the wire. Lupita Nyong'o had won the SAG supporting actress award for Slave, making her Oscar's likely winner.
However, the combination of Jennifer Lawrence's high media profile, her best actress Oscar win last year for Hustle director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook and her Feb. 16 BAFTA win for Hustle just as Academy final balloting got underway boosted her Oscar potential considerably. Nyong'o's win is another good reason to pay close attention to how SAG votes. The three other nominees were: Julia Roberts (Osage), Sally Hawkins (Jasmine) and June Squibb (Nebraska).
Bottom line: The Academy played it safe this year and that paid off. Ellen DeGeneres wasn't wildly funny, but she scored with enough jokes and funny bits--especially the selfie and pizza moments--to make the show work nicely. Nothing controversial or distasteful happened on Ellen's watch, a nice change of pace from last year's "We Saw Your Boobs" musical debacle.
As I cautioned here last week, surprises are always possible with the Oscars. Right down to the moment when Will Smith was opening the best picture envelope, I was thinking there weren't any real surprises this year. Well, suddenly we had one very big surprise to talk about. And that's worth keeping in mind when we start handicapping the 87th annual Academy Awards in mid-May at the Cannes Film Festival.