Oscar balloting ended Tuesday, which means two things: (1) Academy members no longer have to feel guilty about not watching that "12 Years a Slave" screener, and (2) it's time to gather The Envelope's Buzzmeter panelists together for one last powwow before the show Sunday.
Here, in the first of two installments, Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican, Fandango's Dave Karger, Anne Thompson from Thompson on Hollywood, the Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey and Glenn Whipp, and Gold Derby's Tom O'Neil call the close best-picture race, debate whether an "American Hustle" shutout is in the cards and offer their choices for the season's most overhyped story.
Best picture: What movie is winning, and do you think the race is as close as many believe?
Breznican: "Gravity" is winning, and I'm increasingly thinking the race isn't as tight as it first seemed. Many voters have said they think it will be tight, but I find not nearly as many rank "12 Years a Slave" as their No. 1 choice as "Gravity." And "Gravity" seldom falls below No. 3 for most voters, which favors it under the preferential voting system of the academy, while "Slave" is more challenging and polarizing, which means it ranks lower for some.
Thompson: The reason that "12 Years a Slave" may prevail over all countervailing trends is that the academy thinks about how they want to be represented to the world. It's not just what movie they like best. It's what movie they want to like best.
Karger: I can’t recall such a tight three-way race. What makes it tougher to predict is that all three movies are so different. My head is telling me "Gravity" will take it, but my heart is still going with "12 Years a Slave." (So, naturally, that means "American Hustle" will win!)
O'Neil: Flip ("Slave")/ flop ("Gravity")/ flip ("Slave"). I'm sick of (and dizzy from) changing my mind. "Slave" it is. I'm officially changing my prediction in this home stretch because "Slave" has the gravitas and a social message still urgent 160 years after its story occurred.
Sharkey: Though I still believe "12 Years a Slave" will take home the prize, the academy just might surprise by giving the win to "Gravity," which seems to be quietly picking up support. It has all the key components of a best picture winner: performances are outstanding, technology amazing, story compelling, directing exceptional. And unlike "12 Years a Slave," "Gravity" is easy to love.
Whipp: If you go by the amount of time I've spent second-guessing my resolve to stick with "12 Years a Slave," then, yes, it is an extremely close race. "Gravity" does feel like more of a consensus pick, a movie everyone at least likes, which plays into the academy's preferential voting system. But I think "12 Years" will pick up more first-place votes and have enough second- and third-place love to put it over the top.
“American Hustle" won 10 nominations, leading the field (with “Gravity”). It’s not going to get shut out, is it? Is it?
O'Neil: "Hustle" will win at least one: maybe Jennifer Lawrence, screenplay or costume design. I'm not predicting any of them, but I do predict I'm going to be wrong with one of my predictions. Confused yet?
Whipp: Ten nominations indicates a broad level of support, particularly among the actors branch, the academy's largest voting bloc. I'm picking it for original screenplay — a win would be David O. Russell's first Oscar — and wouldn't be shocked if it landed another win or two.
Karger: I don’t think so. It’s got a great shot for original screenplay, supporting actress and costumes. It’s bound to win at least one.
Thompson: While "American Hustle" is strong with the academy's dominant actors branch, it's a comedy and the academy tends to go for gravitas. For the second year in a row, a David O. Russell film pulled off the rare feat of landing nominations in all four acting categories. But it may win none of them, because the races are so competitive and Jennifer Lawrence won for "Silver Linings Playbook" last year. The inevitable backlash — she boasts both an Oscar and a blockbuster franchise at the tender age of 23 — has already set in. So the film's best shots are a win for original screenplay or costume design.
Breznican: It might. It has a strong chance for costume design, if "The Great Gatsby" doesn't take it … and, um ... Well, in this case, Jennifer Lawrence has a shot at supporting actress, but a lot of voters are hesitant because she just won last year. And they really love Lupita Nyong'o. And, screenplay — maybe, but "Her" seems to be the top choice of most AMPAS members. There's a lot of hemming and hawing here. Again, all I can say is: It might.
What awards-season story was overhyped?
Breznican: The idea that the academy was recoiling from the debauched shenanigans of "The Wolf of Wall Street." Please … despite a few fussbudget members who griped, the voters largely enjoyed this movie and did not find Martin Scorsese worthy of "shame."
Thompson: The Woody Allen/Mia Farrow family feud took on a viral media life far beyond any valid consideration of the contributions made by Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen to Oscar-nominated "Blue Jasmine."
O'Neil: Some sources claimed that this was one of the nastiest years ever for whisper campaigns. Ridiculous. It was tame and relatively silent on that front.
Whipp: Musing whether Cate Blanchett would be affected by the fallout from the back-and-forth between Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow was not worth 140 characters (or less).