Here we are again after the Golden Globes, Mike Fleming and Anita Busch taking on the task of play by play during the most wide-open Oscar race we can remember. Even on the party circuit, industry insiders who usually have a grasp of who’ll walk away with Oscars were evenly torn between Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D masterpiece Gravity and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. Then again, there were so many terrific films that got Best Picture nominations, and all of them have at least a puncher’s chance at an upset.
That includes American Hustle, where David O Russell co-wrote the Best Original Script nominee with Eric Warren Singer and got tour de force performances and nominations for Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Perfs so strong there was no room on the nomination roster for perennial Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner. The film is up for 10 awards, and has grossed over $240 million on a $40 million budget.
Then there is The Wolf Of Wall Street, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving the most emphatic and complete performance of a great career, and Jonah Hill right there with him as his crazy con man sidekick. The film is up for five nominations, including Martin Scorsese for directing a terrific adaptation from The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire vet Terence Winter.
Anna Lisa Raya, Diane Haithman, and Anthony D’Alessandro are contributing to Deadline’s Oscar coverage.
Related: OSCARS: Deadline’s Live Blog
So did the 12 Years A Slave team contemplate a potential best pic loss tonight? According to producer and co-star Brad Pitt — it didn’t matter if they won or lost. 12 Years A Slave in and of itself is a benchmark in cinematic history, unlike many films being made today. Asserted Pitt, “I love this story. It’s a historical story of man in an inhumane situation finding freedom. It’s an important film because it deals with our history that hasn’t been shown on screen. It’s important that we understand this era as it explains who we were, so we can better understand who we are now. The film is a gentle reminder that we’re all equal and want dignity for ourselves and for our families.” Fielding a question about how 12 Years A Slave has evolved cinema about African-Americans in the south since Gone With The Wind 75 years ago, McQueen exclaimed, “It’s obviously a progression. The background characters are now in the foreground and now they’re being recognized. It’s indicative of what’s going on; how people are ready for this narrative and how they want to look at this history. It’s like Brad said, ‘If you don’t know your past, we don’t know our future.’” Speaking about 12 Years‘ momentum around the world, producer Dede Gardner pointed out how Solomon Northup’s book is now available in high school libraries throughout the country after being out of print, while producer Jeremy Kleiner said, “the universality of the film’s story has broken down ideological concepts of what is a domestic and what is an international story.”
Related: OSCARS: The Complete Winners List
The 86th Academy Awards are underway at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood (follow Deadline’s live-blog here). Take a peek at the stars who hit the red carpet and awards show tonight in our gallery, updated throughout the night.
Before tonight’s Academy Awards, catch up on the top stories you missed this week on Deadline:
Oscars Finally Here – Record Voting Turnout According To Academy But What Does It All Mean?
By Pete Hammond – The robocalls and emails apparently did the trick as Academy CEO Dawn Hudson reports the 86th Oscar contest is responsible another significant high mark in the Academy’s efforts to turn out the vote.
OSCARS: Pete Hammond’s Absolute FINAL Predictions In Every Category In One Of The Most Competitive Races Ever
By Pete Hammond – With no real clarity from the usually reliable guild contests and critics awards, the best picture race is one of the most unpredictable in years. Considering the preferential Oscar voting system, it is not probable there will be a winner on the first ballot because it’s unlikely any film in this great year for films will be able to muster more than 50% of the first-place votes required. The second choice on those best picture ballots could end up being the most important.
The robocalls and emails apparently did the trick. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson reports the 86th Oscar contest is responsible for another significant high mark in the Academy’s efforts to turn out the vote.”As we head toward Oscar Sunday, I am thrilled to report how engaged our members have been this voting season. Your efforts resulted in another record turnout. And we are so happy to see that members have embraced our online voting system, and are voting from all over the world easily and securely. Thank you for participating in this historic year – when all members were able to vote in all categories – and for honoring the brilliant artists in our community,” she wrote in an internal Friday memo. The Academy doesn’t reveal actual numbers but I was told by reliable sources that the turnout for the nominating phase was over 90%, and with a huge last-minute surge (and that effort to get members engaged in the process) the total for the final voting phase which ended last Tuesday may have exceeded that number. But what does it all mean? It’s been said before, but I will say it again, this is one of the tightest and most unpredictable Best Picture races I can remember and I am not sure what the massive turnout of the Acad’s 6028 eligible voters says other than there was obviously a lot of interest within Oscar’s ranks. I have talked to numerous members over the past few days at various Oscar-related events, and while the results vary, it is clear this has all finally turned into a real seesaw race between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity. It appears to be a divide so sharp between those two that Sony’s American Hustle has a fighting chance to be the real beneficiary in what has been widely acknowledged the past few weeks to be a three-way contest.
OSCARS: Broadcaster ABC Unveils Nate Silver’s Number-Crunch Data Hours Before Awards Ceremony: Video
This morning, in the walk-up to its broadcast of the 86th Annual Academy Awards, ABC brought out ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chiefNate Silver and its general editor Walter Hickey to share results of their controversial number crunching about Best Picture Oscar winners through the ages on the network’s Sunday Beltway show This Week. Here are their six big takeaways:
1. It’s All About Adaptation
Silver and Hickey calculated that nearly 40% of best picture nominees originate from books, while about 18% originate from plays.
2. Oscar Hearts NYC
The Big Apple is an Oscars favorite, with about 20% of nominees taking place there. Next in popularity are London and Paris, while Washington D.C. and Los Angeles just barely make the top five.
3. 1930s or Bust
The 1930s turned out to be the most common decade to have a film set. “Since 1939, about one in seven best picture nominees have involved World War II in some way, shape, or form,” Hickey told ABC News’s Lara Spencer, best known as Good Morning America‘s lifestyle anchor. Overall, time periods filled with dramatic events are more likely to be seen in best picture nominees. “Decades that were more tumultuous – the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’60s probably – create more ground for really fertile, rich topics than happy decades like the ’90s, or the ’50s,” Silver said.
The unrest in Ukraine and Crimea is trumping the Best Picture battle, at least on major broadcaster. Channel One Russia said Sunday that won’t be showing tonight’s Academy Awards live as planned so it can follow the news …
The best holds going into the Oscar weekend in the Top 20 at the box office are, as expected, those films nominated for Best Picture. There are two things that traditionally happen at the box office right before the …
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look at the many implications of Netflix’s big, big deal with Comcast to ensure better video quality of its shows streamed by their mutual customers. The deal could affect the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, net neutrality issues, the business of online video and much more, and likely will serve as a template for other content-quality deals to come. They also take a peek at a multimillion-dollar production-incentive package that persuaded Disney to shoot a Netflix-only Marvel series in New York City and preview another interesting Disney online-content venture, this one involving live streaming online of this weekend’s Oscar telecast on ABC.
EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Broughton speaks. The composer and former Academy Music Branch governor, whose title song from Alone Yet Not Alone received an Oscar nom but later was disqualified because of improper campaigning following an expose written by our Awards Columnist Pete Hammond, has written a letter for Deadline. In it he explains his side and calls for reforms in a current system he feels makes it impossible for smaller films to compete with the star-studded songs that now fill studio Oscar-season movies. Broughton was said to have used his position and familiarity with voters to give a listen to a song from an obscure movie and it shocked everyone when it got a nom over much higher-profile tunes in movies people actually heard of. We were pretty tough on Broughton — this was the most significant blemish on the Academy during a relatively clean, wide-open race that ends Sunday — but he has asked to speak his piece and so we are allowing him to do so. To Broughton, there are flaws in the system that need to be addressed. Deadline readers can decide whether his explanation charts or not.
The recent rescinding of the Oscar® nomination for Best Song in this year’s Academy Awards contest draws attention to a major problem in the Academy’s campaign methodology. The nomination was rescinded by the Motion Picture Academy’s board of governors because it was felt that I, the composer (Dennis Spiegel was the lyricist of the song), had abused my position as a former Academy governor and present member of the Music Branch Executive Board by writing an email to about 70 persons drawing their attention to the song that was included on a DVD that contained all of the 75 eligible songs in three-minute clips from their films. The song list was anonymous; no songwriter names were included. It was alleged by the press that I had “played the system” by using my position to somehow get people to vote for my song. The Academy, in a statement about the board’s action, said that my emails, by identifying the song, had “called into question whether the process was ‘fair and equitable,’” and said it was dedicated to insuring a “level playing field for all Oscar® contenders.”
Although I admitted to writing the emails and pointing out the song, I did not ask anyone to vote for the song, nor did I promote the film. Neither did I make any phone calls. These are forbidden by Academy rules: an email “may not extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual.” But there are no restrictions on writing the email. None. There is nothing in the rules to discourage an erstwhile governor or any member from indulging in some promotion. The major studios and many independents send out DVD screeners of their films which list all of the eligible contestants on the jacket – including the songwriters – and follow up with invitations to screenings, meet-‘n-greets, sometimes including a fully produced, non-film version CD of the song, something that is disallowed by Academy rules. When major studios “campaign,” there’s no way a small independent can adequately compete. And there’s nothing anonymous about any of it.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond and host David Bloom do their annual Oscar preview ahead of the weekend’s festivities, to help you fill out that Oscar ballot with Pete’s choices and dark-horse candidates in all the major categories. David and Pete also preview Hollywood’s favorite beach party, the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday. This year, nominees for the Spirit Awards don’t feel that independent with all the familiar names also up for Sunday’s kudos. Finally, David and Pete discuss the weekend’s notable movie debuts, led by the airplane thriller Non-Stop and the very Russian war movie Stalingrad.
You have to hand it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Just as it is in the heat of putting on a little TV awards show over at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday night, the group still found time to stage the first-ever “Oscar Concert” on Thursday night at UCLA’s Royce Hall — and turn out in force. This ambitious show, which featured suites conducted by all the nominated composers for Best Original Music Score as well as performances of the four Oscar-nominated songs, was put into the works and approved by the Board of Governors last year, according to former president Hawk Koch, one of last night’s attendees. But as Academy Music Branch governors Arthur Hamilton and Charles Fox put it, most of this was cobbled together in the six weeks since the nominees were named. All the top Academy brass were there humming along, including president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson along with numerous members, particularly from the music branch.
It was quite a logistical challenge pulling the event off, which I am told by reliable sources cost in the neighborhood of half a million dollars to produce. And it may be sparking a trend: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plans to do its own concert at Royce Hall on May 21st featuring composers of new and classic TV scores. But I’m afraid Oscar has set this bar pretty high with a program that ranks as one of the highlights of the entire awards season, a classy event that saw tickets going to the general public for up to $100 each and discounted tickets for Academy members at $75 for orchestra seats. Box office was sweet as the place was packed.
ABC says this is the first year when it will stream the full Oscar telecast, pre-show, and Jimmy Kimmel Live: After the Oscars — though they’re just for pay-TV customers in certain markets. But anyone will be able to check out programming designed for tablets and smartphones to complement the TV broadcast, something that the network began offering in 2011. As for the telecast itself: It’ll be available live and, for three days beginning Monday, on demand online at Oscar.com, ABC.com, and WatchABC.com – and mobile users can tune in through the Watch ABC app. The streams will only go to markets where ABC owns the local station (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham, and Fresno), and they’ll only be accessible to those who subscribe to pay TV services that support the app (Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, Charter, Midcontinent, Verizon FiOS, Google Fiber, and AT&T U-verse).