Ever since the Oscars expanded the Best Picture field to include up to 10 nominees, they've been taking advantage of that extra space, and this year was no exception. While the original chatter was about the possibility of including more crowd-pleasers (there was much discussion of whether the expanded field would have helped The Dark Knight), what's consistently happened is that the "extra" nominations have gone to films that might have been too small to be nominated, not too "pop" to be nominated. But it gives you a big field to mess around with, figuring out where it does and doesn't intersect with the other awards.
This year's nine Best Picture nominees: American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Wolf Of Wall Street, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and Philomena. The usual calculus for figuring out which five would have been nominated in the old-school five-film group has been to look at nominated directors. That means the nominees would have been American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, and Wolf Of Wall Street. That makes the "extras" Her, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, and Captain Phillips. Not exactly your popcorn blockbusters.
As for what might actually win, Hustle's multiple acting nominations for Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale — they hit the same grand slam in the acting categories that director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook did last year — make it seem like a frontrunner, but 12 Years A Slave has three acting nominations also, for lead Chiwetel Ejiofor (who will battle Matthew McConaughey from Dallas Buyers Club and DiCaprio for Wolf Of Wall Street, among others) and supporting cast members Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o. And Hustle, like Gravity, has a total of 10 nominations, though more of Gravity's are technical.
While the Academy has certainly shown some willingness to reward very difficult films to watch — The Hurt Locker, for instance — it's veered toward somewhat more upbeat films in the last couple of years, when Argo and The Artist beat out some movies that were widely considered to be more accomplished. That might suggest a tough road for 12 Years A Slave, which has been praised precisely for its unsparing, often devastating emotion.
In addition to being much easier to watch than some of the others, Gravity is easily the top earner of the nine Best Picture contenders. But hang on — it's also the only one to have its screenplay not nominated. (There are ten screenplay nominations total, between adapted and original — the two screenplays that were nominated for pictures that weren't: Before Midnight and Blue Jasmine. It's worth noting that both came out earlier in the year than any of the ultimate Best Picture nominees did.)
But ultimately, the nominees come down, as they always do, to a few neat stories about what got in and what didn't. No Robert Redford! Practically no Inside Llewyn Davis! Nothing for August: Osage County except the acting nominations it was sort of demanding throughout! A nifty and welcome supporting nomination for Barkhad Abdi, who provided the critical counterpoint to Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips!
And, of course, it continues to be the Age Of Matthew McConaughey. All right, all right, all right.
There weren't a lot of surprise nominations this year, and a lot of the surprising non-nominations were in less publicized categories (for me, the omission of Sarah Polley's documentary Stories We Tell is a heartbreaker). These fields are strong, and folks knew they would be.