We are only two short days away from the proverbial Oscar night, an evening of glorified trade awards that may surely be forgotten by this time next year. By now, it is clear that the best thing about the Academy Awards is that coronating the year’s finest and most important films. In fact, we know that often this is not the case. The test of time tell us that very often the Academy simply gets it wrong. Was How Green was My Valley really better than Citizen Kane or The King’s Speech better than The Social Network? No, of course not. What the Academy accomplishes on a yearly basis is marking a time stamp. Almost three-quarters of a century later, we know the power of William Randolph Hearst because he was able to dismantle Welles’s film with a slanderous marketing campaign. In another 75 years, people will look back on the time in which the United States had collective Anglophilia, when Royal weddings and babies dominated headlines on this side of the pond, as evidenced by the success of The King’s Speech. Lastly, we care about the Oscars because we care about movies, and the magic they can all bring. “We are all here tonight or watching at home because something came off a movie screen; a little bit of magic touched our hearts,” Tom Cruise famously stated prior to the show in 2002. Last year, the Academy decided to theme their show, dedicating it to great music in film, complete with an ensemble performance by the cast of Les Miserables. This year, they are going to pay homage to one of the greatest, most-beloved films ever not to earn the top prize, The Wizard of Oz. That is only one reason that I will tune in for a show that really means nothing and is often utterly predictable. Others include the gradeur of the event. The movies, I often say, are our greatest and most complete art form, and they deserve a night to be celebrated. Everyone is Irish on St. Patty’s day, and everyone is a cinephile on Oscar Night.
Over the next few days, I will blog about the year in movies, from least to most important: beginning today with my Academy Award Predictions in significant categories, following tomorrow with my own “awards” of sorts, and concluding with my list of the 25 best films we were graced with in 2013. Enjoy.
Often forgotten in a world obsessed with effects, both visual and audio, is that film is a medium that offers much and relies even more on sound, especially music, and that someone has to write that music. This year’s nominees feature a mix of artists, both from inside and new to the industry. Most notable is probably Steven Price, who scored the relatively dialogue-free Gravity, which is a film that seems poised to walk away from the Dolby Theater with its hands full on Sunday. Long time favorites like Thomas Newman is nominated again for his Disney movie about Disney, Saving Mr. Banks, which is only nominated in this category (and rightfully so). A wrench could get thrown into the mix by outsiders William Butler and Owen Pallet for Her, who could ride the wave began by The Social Network of pop stars taking this award.
Will Win: Steven Price, Gravity
Might Upset:William Butler and Owen Pallet, Her
Should Win: John Williams, The Book Thief
Should have been there: Alex Ebert, All is Lost
In one of the closest races, this category has given a shot to a variety of films nominated for very different reasons, making it hard to predict which direction the Academy will go with their selection. 12 Years a Slave is the obligatory historical drama in the genre, which sought to replicate its long past, but not forgotten time period as closely as possible on screen. It succeeds to this end admirably, accomplishing the most difficult thing about production and art design – you don’t notice it while you’re watching, you just think it is real. The Great Gatsby is the favorite of many pundits for its over-the-top glamour that creates a flawless atmosphere for a very interestingly plotted film, and American Hustle seems to be a combination of those two ideas. Most likely to win this award is probably, again, Gravity. Upon the film’s release, it was frequently noted how impressed reallife astronauts were with the props and sets used in the film, as they bear an overwhelming resemblance to real life. Her is filled with brilliantly subtle art on a different side of the spectrum entirely. Its near future setting is tricky for a set designer, but Spike Jonze’s film adequately builds of a feeling of reverse nostalgia, tying interesting city-scapes in with traditional furniture designs, a futuristic computer held up by a safety pin, and so on.
Will Win: Gravity
Might Upset: The Great Gatsby
Should Win: Her
Should have been there: Mud
The category of Best Film Editing is without peer in terms of predicting the Best Picture winner, so it is always the one to watch for come Oscar Night. This year the odds on favorites are, of course, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. The fast-past, never halting action of Gravity accomplishes the very trying task of keeping an audience in their seats while staring up at a single character talking to no one. Along with Emmanuel Lubezksi’s brilliant camera work, the editing of this film truly demonstrates the irony of space as both endless and claustrophobic. 12 Years a Slave, on the other hand, forces you to look at the screen rather than simply keep you from looking away. Shots drag longer than you might have expected as looks linger and feelings emerge. It is a movie that cuts no corners and will make you feel even if it has to reach into your heart physically to make that happen.
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Might Upset: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity
Should have been there: Frances Ha or Blue is the Warmest Color
Judging a director, generally the foremost voice in the making of a film and who’s mark is most left on the final project, a lot must be considered. Into Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron poured his heart and soul. He and his brother, who co-wrote the screenplay, made this the epitome of a passion project, seeking to tell a familiar story in a bold and highly innovative way. With Clooney and Bullock, Cuaron is gentile but effective, and this movie strikes awe into the audience with every frame. For 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen earns his most acclaim to date (no matter how much I loved Shame). Here, he deserves recognition for his careful handling of extremely touchy subject matter, balancing a desire for authenticity with the poser of his extremely talented cast. Also in the race is Alexander Payne, who is on his way to an excellent career six films in, but will almost certainly have to watch someone else take this award. David O. Russell of American Hustle is on top of the world with his third major hit in a row and clearly is the best in the business at pulling great performances from stars. This is the second year in a row he has had an actor nominated in all four categories, which previously hadn’t happened for decades. The fifth and most interesting nominee is the legendary Martin Scorsese, whose The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the year’s few true masterworks. He builds on his iconic resume and lifts collaborator Leo DiCaprio to a career topping performance… again. Unfortunately, unless the Academy opts to award him yet another life-achievement honor, he too will leave empty-handed.
Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Might Upset: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should have been there: Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color
Whether it is dialogue or thematic vision, crafting a screenplay based on previous works and crafting one from your own intuition pose unique challenges. Spike Jonze penned, in my mind, one of the great original screenplays of the short decade in Her, rife with extremely believable dialogue, prophecy about the not to distance future and moral conundrums that protagonist Theodore and the audience must wrestle. The early favorite in this category was David O. Russel, seeking his first Academy Award for his cavernous rip-off of the FBI ABSCAM episode in American Hustle, which leaves just the right amount of space for constructive improvisation by the gifted cast. It is a shame that this appears to be a two horse race, with Her and Hustle splitting precursor awards such as Writer’s Guild and NYFCC respectively. The chase pack includes Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska, for whom the nomination will likely be the award, and Blue Jasmine, who was probably eliminated by recent controversies involving Woody Allen.
Will Win: Her
Might Upset: American Hustle
Should Win: Her
Should have been there: The Wind Rises
Due to Academy rules dictating that any sequel’s screenplay be considered adapted, because the world of the story and the characters are preconceived, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is looking for a win that would likely be the Academy honoring the trilogy as a whole. With fantastic writing by the director and stars Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke, the finale to the Before Trilogy would be a welcome upset for movie lovers. The favorite, though, is without a doubt 12 Years a Slave. Ineligible for the WGA Award, Slave has quietly built momentum and can be the only early win for the historical expose. Also in contention is Philomena, a crowd favorite that might earn this as a consolation prize from the Academy, Captain Phillips, a Navy thriller that might also see success just to make up for other snubs, and my personal favorite in Terrence Winter’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a hilariously serious film that begs for comparison to iconic films like Goodfellas.
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Might Upset: Before Midnight
Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street
Should have been there: Blue is the Warmest Color
Acting is the largest and most visible wing of the Academy membership, but is also its most predictable one. For a turn that all critics seems to agree was decidedly mediocre, but voters will love for the character’s sympathy and the risks involved, Jared Leto will almost definitely earn an Oscar for playing the transsexual Ray in Dallas Buyers Club. Leto is an endlessly likable fellowand the bold and showy character had Oscar written all over it before the casting process was even an afterthought. Congratualtions on a giftwrapped award, Mr. Leto, we admire your vision and boldness in taking the character, but just don’t believe that that is what great performances are limited to. Also nominated is the brilliant Michael Fassbender, who may have put off some voters by refusing to market during the awards season, but who was at his best as a vindictive plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave. A debut from Barkhad Abdi as a Somali pirate in Captain Phillips has won some critics over and taken a handful of precursor awards, but on Sunday it is more likely than not that Leto will be able to turn to him and say, “I’m dee capten now.”
Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Might Upset: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Should Win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Should have been there: James Franco, Spring Breakers
Veteran June Squib of Nebraska, icon Julia Roberts of August:Osage County, and fresh face Sally Hawkins of Blue Jasmine will, at best, be remembered as the “also rans” when this epic race is looked back upon. Right now, it is a draw, a shootout, and will end in a photo finish. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’O of 12 Years a Slave is a scene stealer, dominating her subplot as a slave that Fassbender’s villain is suspiciously comfortable with. She was all the rage out of the Toronto Film Festival in the Fall, and it quite the revelation to be watched as time goes on. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, was exactly that a few years ago when she earned a lead nomination at the age of 21 for Winter’s Bone. Now, she goes for two straight years of victory for her role as a discontented mob wife that is the most interesting and entertaining thing about American Hustle. At the end of the day, preference of the voters will decide this, and everyone’s favorite person and the most charming human alive will likely take the stage.
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Might Upset: Lupita Nyong’O, 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Should have been there: Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street
The year has finally come. The iconic photographer Emmanuel Lubezki, known for his work on Terrence Malick films such as Days of Heaven and The Tree of Life, will almost certainly win his Oscar, now for Gravity. A mainstay throughout the decades, it is a mystery that Lubezki has an empty mantle still, as his influence and aesthetic appeal are unparalleled in this age in cinema. The runners-up this year include more veterans, most notably Roger Deakins, who like Lubezki has been very important to the medium but is yet unrewarded. This year he made Prisoners, a story with a dark plot and even darker pallet. Bruno DeBonnel of Inside Llewyn Davis would likely have taken home the statuette in any other year but competing with Gravity in the visual and technical categories is not a good place to be.
Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Might Upset: Bruno Debonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Should have been there: Emmanuel Lubezki (yes, you read that right, same guy), To The Wonder
This year’s Best Actor Oscar will be a final coronation for a superstar that has long been chasing one. The likely victor is an actor who is having an unparalleled run, starring in everything from last year’s The Paperboy and Bernie to a tour-de-force turn in Mud and a highly memorable appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street and blowing critics away weekly on “True Detective” named Matthew McConaughey. You’ve heard of him? Good. He takes over Dallas Buyers Club with a performance that was perhaps too showy for some tastes but in a role that the Academy is known to favor. Also, and this is as great of a compliment as I can give a superstar like McConaughey, he makes it possible to watch the highly entertaining Dallas Buyers Club and forget that you are watching him. He immersed himself in the character. Before discussing his closest competitor, quick shout outs to the other nominees. There’s Christian Bale because the Academy cannot seem to say ‘no’ to David O. Russell. There’s the veteran Bruce Dern who may be due for a life achievement gift Oscar; after all, he was the big early favorite. Lastly is Chitewel Ejiofer of 12 Years a Slave, who was inspiring as Solomon Northrup and has the “lead in the best picture movie” advantage. BUT, I think we can agree that Leonardo DiCaprio is as deserving as anyone for his inspired turn as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. He truly comes into his own as the stocks mogul and unleashes a performance that truly has marked him coming into his own as a complete actor. As noted by some, DiCaprio takes roles in movies that matter, and his collaborations with Martin Scorsese have rewarded us with another gem.
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Might Upset: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should have been there: Oscar Isaac of Inside Llewyn Davis or Robert Redford of All is Lost
Of the awards mentioned here, this is the most sure-thing. The Oscar goes to… Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. It was not always clear that this would be Blanchett’s to lose, but when the nominations were announced, complete with snubs to indie and festival favorites like Greta Gerwig and Brie Larson or even the French actress Adele Exarchopoulos in the flawless Blue is the Warmest Color, Blanchett took a commanding lead in the race that shows no signs of slowing. We must remember that this is, in fact, “The Meryl Streep Award,” and the heiress is in the race. Amy Adams is the Russell candidate and Bullock has an off-chance for the “lead in the best picture movie” advantage, but I think that Dame Judi Dench is the only one on Blanchett’s heels.
Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Might Upset: Judi Dench, Philomena
Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Should have been there: Brie Larson, Short Term 12
If you’ve read previous posts on this site and if you at the very least skimmed the above comments, you know what I think of these movies. This is going to be yet another year won by a historic drama over a spectacle of a feature. The Producer’s Guild has had a very good record in recent years of predicting Best Picture, and this year they ruled it an unprecedented tie between the favored 12 Years a Slave and chaser Gravity. Here are all nine films by likelihood of taking home the top honor.
- 12 Years a Slave
- American Hustle
- The Wolf of Wall Street
- Dallas Buyers Club
- Captain Phillips
Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street
Should have been there: Inside Llewyn Davis
That’s that. Let me know where you think I’m wrong or, more importantly, where you hope I’m wrong, and check back on Sunday to see just how right I am.