The 86th Academy Awards: Surveying the damage

I had my best year ever as prediction percentage goes: 20/24, an astounding .833 batting average. Hall of fame, here I come!

Well, hold up, the Keepers of Clutch Picks say. Did he get the picks that mattered? Did he come through when the pressure was on? Well, let’s see the four I missed.

1. Best Short Film (Live Action)

My pick: Avant que de tout perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)

The winner: Helium

Come on, who doesn’t guess this category? I guarantee you that half the Oscar voters voting in the category don’t really give a damn. It’s not like they’re ignorant about this stuff.

2. Best Documentary Feature

My pick: The Square

The winner: 20 Feet From Stardom

All right, I should have thought about this category more. As I said when I made the predictions, the ceremony was two hours away and I was hungry and wanted to get some dinner. So I rushed this pick and ate some delicious homemade chicken noodle soup. It was really damn good, and worth the tradeoff for not thinking about this category long enough to realize that a movie about backup singers for legendary performers is the stuff Best Picture winners are made of, never mind Best Documentary winners.

3. Best Original Screenplay

My pick: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle

The winner: Spike Jonze, Her

No more excuses: I thought this one over and made the wrong pick. Her was on stable ground with wins at the Golden Globes and Writer’s Guild Awards.  American Hustle did win the BAFTA, and David O. Russell has been very present at the Oscars in recent years without taking any hardware of his own. He’s worked with pretty much the entire Academy, right? So they’d vote for him this time, right?

On the other hand, he’s the same guy once got into a fistfight with George Clooney over his, Russell’s, treatment of the crew of Three Kings. In that case, perhaps the surprise would be if he ever did win.

4. Best Picture

My pick: Gravity

The winner: 12 Years a Slave

I… just… oy.

How did I screw this one up? Everything was going so well. Yeah, I’d missed a couple, but they were understandable. I had gotten every single Gravity pick right to this point. I’d navigated the uncertain waters of Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay, calling their wins for 12 Years a Slave.

Short answer: I tried to make the bold prediction.

Never, ever try to make the bold prediction and expect it to pay off.

Granted, Gravity winning wouldn’t have been an upset at all. It won seven Oscars, including Best Director. But the consensus leading up to the Oscars was that this category would split with Best Director. It was obvious. With the Oscars, the obvious tends to happen. ‘

And more than that, this was an obvious result I was rooting for! 12 Years a Slave was my favorite film of 2013, with Gravity not far behind. A split would serve both films well, rewarding both Alfonso Cuaron and Steve McQueen for their remarkable achievements.

It was the easy pick.

And yet I scoffed. Picture/Director splits are never this easy to predict, right? Remember when everyone and their grandmas picked The King’s Speech to win Best Picture and The Social Network to win for direction? Remember when the thisclose race for Best Picture between The Departed, Babel, and Little Miss Sunshine ended up being a pretty unsuspenseful win for Best Director winner The Departed?

But I was wrong. This one was that easy to predict. On an Oscar night devoid of surprises, I tried to inject some suspense with this pick. It backfired.

And thus, I will always look at my .833 batting average wondering why it wasn’t .875. I didn’t come through in the clutch, when it mattered most, with the biggest award of them all.

Ah well. There’s always next year.

Other thoughts:

– Alfonso Cuaron is the first Latin American director to win best director, and 12 Years a Slave is the first film by a black director to win Best Picture. Yes, the response to these facts should be “good lord, about damn time Academy”, but seriously: representation in media is important. Hollywood should not pat itself on the back for finally acknowledging non-white filmmakers for once, but breakthroughs are breakthroughs and deserve to be celebrated when they happen.

– Pinoy pride: “Let it Go” co-writer Robert Lopez is Filipino-American, making him the first Pinoy Oscar winner. As a prior recipient of Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards, he also became just the twelfth member of EGOT. Here’s a Filipino fist bump, Robert.

Gravity won seven Oscars while losing out on Best Picture. That’s the most for a Best Picture loser since Star Wars won seven, but lost Best Picture of 1977 to Annie Hall. The record for wins while losing Best Picture belongs to Cabaret, which won 8 Oscars in 1972 but lost Best Picture to The Godfather.

Gravity is also the second straight film to win the most Oscars while falling short for Best Picture. Last year, Life of Pi topped all winners with four Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee. However, it lost Best Picture to Argo.

– This is the second straight year that Best Picture and Best Director have split. The last time this happened in back to back years was 1948 and 1949. In 1948, John Huston won best Director for directing Treasure of the Sierra Madre, while Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet won Best Picture. In 1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the first of his two straight Best Director Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives, while All the Kings Men took Best Picture.

American Hustle went 0 for 10, joining True Grit, Gangs of New York, The Color Purple and The Turning Point as films to earn double-digit nominations only to leave the Oscars empty handed.

That’s all the trivia I can muster. Good Oscars, everyone. Good night.


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About johnmichaelmaximilian

Freelance writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Movies are my favorite thing.

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