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oscars 2014

How to Explain Each of the Nominees Winning Best Picture

Some are calling it the most wide-open race for Best Picture in years, and no matter how the Oscars shake out this Sunday for the ceremony’s top prize, there will be no end of postshow discussion of how our winner won — and how our losers lost. But why wait until Sunday night to start figuring it out? I have already gone through all nine of the Best Picture nominees to predict exactly what people will be saying if each one should win (as well as who they’ll be crediting for it). Take a look and you’ll already be armed with talking points the moment the Oscar telecast wraps up, no matter who is hugging on that stage.

If Philomena wins, people will say ...
“Harvey Weinstein pulled it out after all! It’s the power of the preferential ballot: I doubt that Philomena won a ton of No. 1 votes, but it probably got a ton of No. 2s, especially from older voters who wanted a heart-warming alternative to some of the intense fare in this category. It didn’t hurt, too, that Harvey subtly negged 12 Years a Slave a few weeks back on Deadline — did you see that interview, where he compared it to Django Unchained and said, 'I liked 12 Years A Slave, but Quentin covered a lot of that ground first'? Yikes! But you know who his secret weapon was? The real Philomena Lee, who came out to L.A. and stayed here way past her intended two-week press tour, subbing in at Q&As and parties for Judi Dench, who’s been away filming and didn’t want to engage in an intense awards season gauntlet. The real Philomena is so charming that Harvey even got her an audience with the Pope. How can you beat that?”

If Dallas Buyers Club wins, people will say ...
“It’s the little movie that could! Everyone was underrating Dallas Buyers Club’s chances when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, but we should have known something was up when it scored a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble — meaning that actors loved the movie even beyond those two big performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto — and especially when it got an Oscar nod for Best Editing, which is usually a good indicator of Best Picture support. If Jean-Marc Vallee, the director, had been here in town instead of shooting Reese Witherspoon’s new movie Wild, he probably would have gotten a nomination, too. Hey, do you think True Detective had something to do with it? People are so in love with McConaughey right now ... maybe they decided to pop in their Dallas Buyers Club screener while waiting for the next episode.”

If Her wins, people will say ...
“What the hell? That was the least likely to win of all the nominees, and somehow it came out on top! Maybe we should have known — based on those nominations in Best Production Design, Score, and Original Song — that Her had more support than we’ve given it credit for. The thing about the Academy is that it’s mostly male and moneyed, and Her plays into that: Who among these men wouldn’t want a lovely, loyal, breathy-voiced Scarlett Johannson type as his assistant? (Yes, the lack of a body is sort of a debit, but at least she’s willing to bring in another girl for an ersatz threesome.) But the really encouraging thing about this win is that it means the Academy is willing to think younger than we normally give it credit for. The only downside here is how many of us won’t be able to resist an Arrested Development ‘Her?’ joke on Twitter.”

If American Hustle wins, people will say ...
“David O. Russell was due! He’s the director every actor wants to work with, and he’s got such an incredible track record right now — three Best Picture nominees in a row, with nearly all of his cast nominated (or winning) every year — that he couldn’t be denied. When it comes down to it, maybe the Academy just wanted something fun in a year where 12 Years a Slave was once the front-runner. But does that mean that American Hustle only won because so many voters outright refused to watch 12 Years? Will history judge the Academy harshly for picking the entertaining option over the historically resonant one? I almost wonder if American Hustle would have been better off as the runner-up, because now that it’s beaten 12 Years a Slave, there’s bound to be a backlash.”

If Nebraska wins, people will say ...
“Listen, I know you’re shocked, but here’s what you need to understand: Nebraska has been on the campaign trail the longest. Ever since it screened at Cannes in May, Paramount has been running a very under-the-radar, very comprehensive screening system, and they’ve gotten almost everyone in town to see their movie. Trust me: There are lists of who has and who hasn’t seen it — that’s how much Paramount has micro-managed this race! It helped, of course, that Nebraska is the movie most targeted to the Academy’s older demographic — even more so than Philomena. But more than anything, you’ve got to lay this victory at the feet of Bruce Dern. The 77-year-old star has been pressing the flesh for the last eight months, shaking hands and bending elbows to get all his friends to see the movie and vote for him. Apparently, there were more than enough of those pals.”

If The Wolf of Wall Street wins, people will say ...
“Yeah, the movie didn’t get off on the best foot — there was that whole ‘How dare you!’ thing, where an older female voter accused Martin Scorsese of moral indecency for directing it — but Wolf picked up a lot of steam as it went on, moving from early awards season shutouts to a Golden Globe win for Leo and a healthy nomination total with the Oscars. We should have known when Scorsese got into that tough Best Director category that the Academy was more Wolf-friendly than people had guessed. If they’d gotten it out a little earlier, instead of just barely squeaking into 2013, it might have had the juice to pick up even more nominations — or even wins.”

If Gravity wins, people will say ...
“Talk about a comeback! In early January, everyone thought this race was between 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle, but then Gravity pulled off that astonishing tie at the Producers Guild Awards, and they haven’t looked back. Even BAFTA found new ways to honor Gravity, wedging it into the unlikely Best British Film category just so they could hand it some sort of major trophy. Ultimately, though, Gravity benefitted from several factors: First of all, it was by far the most widely seen of the nominees, and because it’s in 3-D, a lot more Academy members caught this in the theater than the other films, which they probably watched on screeners. It also had some serious below-the-line support, and after voters have checked off their boxes handing Gravity wins for Sound, Special Effects, Score, Cinematography, and Director, what’s one more win? You couldn’t say that about the other nominees — all of which were projected to top out at three wins, if any — and so it created the feeling of Gravity as a juggernaut. Still, the movie is always going to get dinged a bit by people who feel like the Academy was just too reluctant to reward 12 Years a Slave. Only opposite a movie like that would the unconventional choice of Gravity — a sci-fi, effects-heavy movie — seem safe.”

If Captain Phillips wins, people will say ...
“Wow, first Argo, then this: Two back-to-back movies winning Best Picture without even a Best Director nomination! The normal Oscar rules don’t apply anymore ... although you have to wonder if that’s a good thing, because now the Academy’s consensus pick has become a movie that’s both unobjectionable and unremarkable. But maybe the problem is with the directors’ branch, since Captain Phillips picked up plenty of support elsewhere, winning the top prizes from the Writers Guild and the American Cinema Editors. Should we launch a probe into that tight-knit group to figure out why they keep stubbornly refusing to honor the director of the year’s Best Picture winner?”

If 12 Years a Slave wins, people will say ...
“All season, we’ve been talking about how unpredictable the Best Picture race is ... but was it really? 12 Years was considered the front-runner since September, and it’s taken home the lion’s share of top prizes from BAFTA, the PGA, the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and now Oscar — and here we thought we might actually have an invigorating surprise winner! Still, you can see why the Academy voted for it: They want a choice that will reflect well on them in the long run, and this was the historically resonant pick (as well as the one that’s least likely to produce a backlash or claims that the Academy is out of touch). It may not have gotten quite as many No. 2 consensus picks as Gravity or American Hustle, but surely it had a decisive number of No. 1 votes. Fox Searchlight ran a campaign telling voters ‘It’s Time,’ and do you really want to feel like the Stone Age voter who begs to differ?”

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson