The Hollywood awards season reaches its glittering crescendo on Sunday 2 March, when the 86th Academy Awards take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Anticipation is building over who will win big on the night, with Steve McQueen's drama 12 Years a Slave hotly tipped to receive the top gong, the best picture prize. But there's a real chance it won't win much else, and when you take a cursory glance at the other nominees for best film, you have to ask if this is the strongest Oscar race in years?
Whilst there's no objective way of assessing this, a look at film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes does provide a consensus of how highly professionals and the public have rated a film.
The average score between the nine films nominated for best picture this year – American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street, shows a healthy 92% approval. In fact all bar one of the films hold a 92% rating, with controversial comedy The Wolf of Wall Street bringing the numbers down with its much lower 77% approval.
The overall score for this year is so impressive in fact that the average has only been higher once in the last ten years, the 93% average between nine films nominees at the 2011 Academy Awards. The combined average between all films nominated for best picture in the last ten years is 88%.
Obviously a percentage based score is no sure sign of quality (The Queen holds a 97% score, Brokeback Mountain, only 87%), but it does help to explain perhaps why this year the major prizes will most likely be shared between multiple films, rather than see a clean sweep.
Sharing the Love
12 Years a Slave is favourite for the top prize, but little else, and in recent years other best picture winners have not dominated. Last year's winner Argo scooped just three awards, The Artist in 2012 won five, and in 2011 The King's Speech garnered only four gongs.
The last film to rule them all (sorry) was Peter Jackson's final instalment in The Lords of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, which won in all 11 of the categories it was nominated for at the 2004 awards, including best picture.
Even then, there was not an acting prize for Jackson's film to be found. Jean Dujardin might have won best actor for The Artist in 2012, but the last time the best actress and best film prizes correlated was when Hillary Swank boxed her way to victory for Million Dollar Baby in 2005. With Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett the favourites for Dallas Buyers Club and Blue Jasmine, this year promises to be no different.
The same goes for director, with Gravity-helmer Alfonso Cuarón expected to scoop the directing prize over the maker of 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen. With the same happening last year when Argo triumphed despite Ang Lee winning best director for Life of Pi, it would make it the first time since 1951/1952 that for two years running the best director has not seen his film awarded top prize.
But what does it all mean exactly? Are more quality movies being recognised, or can academy voters no longer reach a consensus over what is the best picture?
In recent years the academy of arts and sciences has been caught between exactly those two sides, art and science; whether to reward a film for its technical excellence or its artistic achievement. These battles, be it The Hurt Locker vs Avatar in 2009, The Artist vs Hugo in 2012 and Argo vs Life of Pi in 2013, have all seen the smaller movie triumph over the big budget spectacle. So don't be surprised if this year space spectacular Gravity takes away the most awards on the night, but the more serious, more important 12 Years a Slave wins the top prize.
Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave
Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Best Actress – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actor – Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Best Original Screenplay – Her
Best Adapted Screenplay – 12 Years a Slave
Best Documentary – The Act of Killing
Best Animated Film - Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film – The Great Beauty
IBTimes UK will be bringing you all the Oscars news as it happens, from the red carpet to the ceremony itself, which we'll be live blogging this Sunday, 2 March from 1am.