Lupita up, Chiwetel down, ’12 Years a Slave’ out?: Oscar race update

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When Oscar nominations were first announced, the three most buzzed-about races were arguably best actor, supporting actress, director and picture.

A little over a week later, those categories remain the most competitive, albeit with new faces and films emerging as the frontrunners.

We have over a month to go before the Academy Awards are actually handed out and so movie fans and industry watchers will have a lot of intrigue between now and the big night.

Best Supporting Actress

After A-list superstar Jennifer Lawrence took home the Golden Globe, some people began to predict that she had the Oscar locked up too.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Academy Awards. Arguably her closest competition, 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o, has jumped ahead winning both the Critic’s Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild award for her acclaimed debut performance.

Although Lawrence is on an incredible hot streak — she anchored the most successful movie of the year, (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and just won the Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook — she may be feeling some push back for being a little overexposed.

Also, Hollywood rarely gives out back-to-back Academy Awards. While Lawrence is very popular in town, there may be a desire to not give her too much too soon.

Nyong’o may also benefit from her glamorous appearances on the red carpet coupled with her incredibly heartfelt and moving acceptance speeches. She seems like the nominee everyone would be happy for if they won, which should not be easily discounted. Right now she is poised to win a narrow victory.

Best Actor

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking so good for her co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor. Despite near universal praise for his powerful lead role in 12 Years a Slave, he has been dwarfed in the competition lately by none other than Matthew McConaughey. The laid-back leading man has been picking up award after award for his transformational performance in Dallas Buyers Club, leading some prognosticators to presume he may be impossible to defeat.

In fact, the only other best actor contender that pundits think is a real threat to McConaughey is Leonardo DiCaprio. The Wolf of Wall Street star has now been nominated four times, has never won and many believe he’s been unjustly overlooked for nominations for films like Django Unchained and The Departed. DiCaprio also could be benefiting from the “he’s due” factor and it doesn’t hurt that his film, while controversial, is a big hit and he’s fantastic in it.

Being a Brit and hardly a household name (yet), Ejiofor seems to be getting lost a bit in the conversation. Still, he could pull off a surprise come Oscar night, especially if 12 Years a Slave sweeps. But right now, the way the race stands, it’s McConaughey by a couple car lengths.

Best Picture

On nomination day American Hustle and Gravity led all films with 10 and 12 Years a Slave was close behind with 9. This makes for the closest best picture race since 2000 when Gladiator, Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon all duked it out to take home the film industry’s biggest prize.

Each film has a compelling case for it: Gravity was one of the biggest blockbusters of the year and a technical marvel, American Hustle is also a big hit and a showcase for Hollywood’s new crop of A-listers and 12 Years a Slave has been widely praised as the most compelling depiction of slavery ever captured on film.

The Producer’s Guild of America, which has a very strong track record of predicting best picture, complicated the race this year even further by awarding a tie to Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.

Right now it seems like the actor’s branch of the academy is bullish on American Hustle and the tech folks are flocking to Gravity, leaving the 12 Years a Slave, with its primarily black cast, on the outside looking in.

The film seems to be suffering because the general consensus is that it should win best picture, if for no other reason because of its historical significance, but academy members sometimes seem to overly reject films that pushed that way — Brokeback Mountain, anyone?

It’s still a wide open race, and 12 Years a Slave has a very strong shot, but it feels like a film like Gravity, which was an audacious audience favorite that seems to point to the future of movie-making, could emerge victorious because it’s a safer, less polarizing pick.

Best Director

The academy usually tries to avoid splitting the best picture and director awards because it’s inherently awkward — how can you argue the director of the best picture doesn’t deserve to win? But there are exceptions.

For instance, last year Ben Affleck was not even nominated for best picture winner Argo, an oversight that some think helped win his film that award.

In fact 22 times out the 85 Academy Awards, a director has won whose film didn’t win best picture. So it happens a lot more often that people think.

Both Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cauron would make history if they won. McQueen would be the first African-American to win best director and Cauron would be the first Latino. Both men are incredibly accomplished and well-respected in the industry. And don’t forget David O. Russell (American Hustle), a beloved actor’s director who’s been close to winning numerous times.

Right now, as the race stands, Cauron has the advantage because his film, moreso than McQueen’s and Russell’s, is viewed as more of a directorial statement than a film powered by its performance. And while Sandra Bullock is an Oscar nominee for the film, and her co-star, George Clooney, is practically Hollywood royalty, the consensus among insiders is that it’s more Cauron’s movie than anyone else’s.

McQueen may have to wait to win recognition for his outstanding work.

The final results will be announced when the Academy Awards air Sunday, March 2nd.