Friday, February 28, 2014
Final Oscar Predictions (Including "Analysis" and Personal Choices!)
Nominees: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave; Alexander Payne, Nebraska; David O. Russell, American Hustle; Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
The inclusion of Payne and Scorsese are exceptional choices and outside of J.C. Chandor (All is Lost), I cannot complain too loudly about omissions as this ballot would not look too much differently from mine. Scorsese is a living legend behind a film that many are calling his best in decades, but Wolf of Wall Street has been greatly polarizing and the strong force behind this movie's success in awards season comes from enthusiasm for its main star (more on that later) and less to do with Scorsese's filmmaking. Payne's films are always phenomenally crafted and Nebraska is one of his best, but the film still holds the dubious title of being the "lowest grossing Best Picture nominee" - I think he's happy just to be around. Which leads to the three directors behind the three most-nominated films. David O. Russell is beloved by the actor's branch and has been riding a lot of awards traction with his last three films - but his style is defined by controlled messiness and his notorious reputation make him seem like a rabid filmmaking personality which puts him just behind the next two nominees, I think. Cuaron and McQueen are both nominated for work that is awards-worthy, and both made films that are top-to-bottom illustrations of their pointed visions. Yet, their visual styles could not be any more different, with Cuaron exploring the limits of visual stylization and McQueen rubbing up against you with his aggressive formalism. Either choice would be correct, but I think Cuaron's style is easier to notice which gives him an edge.
Prediction: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Personal Pick: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Click Here to See The Rest of the Predix
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine; Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club; Spike Jonze, Her; Bob Nelson, Nebraska; Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell, American Hustle
A much more impressive line-up than it's brother in the Adapted category with a loaded list of talented writers creating equally fascinating material, and only one omission (again, Chandor's script for All is Lost) that feels particularly egregious. Occasionally, this category tends to prefer the most original screenplay as opposed to the best. In this regard, Spike Jonze's tender script for Her - which presents a setting and plot that are pulsing with originality - has garnered surprising support, winning the Golden Globe and the WGA award in this category. The other major contender is Russell's script for American Hustle, which is filled with fantastic dialogue and an assortment of brilliantly nuanced characters. A win for Hustle here would also be a good way to finally award Russell for something after his last three years of being a bridesmaid. And they'd be able to do it without bestowing him with the almighty Best Director statue. The other three nominees seem to have fallen behind contender status for various reasons including controversy (enough has been said about Woody Allen lately; the script for Dallas Buyers Club has been bashed for suppressing its gay characters) and apathy (Nebraska seems to be a film a lot of people liked a lot without really loving). It seems like a choice between Hustle and Her - between a screenplay that truly innovates and a film that was beloved. I think voters want to give Hustle something, and I think this category gives them a good shot.
Prediction: Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell, American Hustle
Personal Pick: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope, Philomena; Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight; Billy Ray, Captain Phillips; John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave; Terrence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
The idea of the script for Before Midnight being adapted is pretty comical (Oscar has ruled that all sequels will get slotted here since they're "based on characters from a previous film"), but at the same time, with the Original category being so loaded this year, it's very possible that this is the only category where it could have gotten the recognition that it so definitely deserves. But this seems like John Ridley's award to lose. Like Hustle in Original, this seems like an easy way to get 12 Years a Slave at least one award on Oscar night. And Ridley's script is an extraordinarily brilliant adaptation of the Solomon Northup book, that's definitely awards worthy material from a veteran professional; his damaged reputation aside (he spoke out disparagingly during the last Writer's Strike - which is the reason the script was ineligible for the WGA award; that went to Captain Phillips). The closest thing to a competitor is Philomena's script by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, a much lighter film which also deals with societal issues. As for Wolf of Wall Street, it's interesting that the great Winter got the recognition here despite all the stories of essentially complete improvisation by the actors on the set.
Prediction: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Personal Pick: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, & Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
This is a welcome line-up after last year's nominees of all past winners. This year, there are no former winners and only two performers who are previous nominees (Hill and Cooper). These are all performances of varied scene-stealing bravado, including one performer (Abdi) who's working in his very first role with a terrific narrative behind him - he was working as a limo driver, got the part on a cold call audition, and ends up working alongside Tom Hanks. Cooper's second nomination rewards his late career renaissance alongside David O. Russell who has allowed Cooper to fully embody his greatest comedic gifts. Hill's work in Wolf is manic, equipped with prosthetic teeth and penis, and coming from an actor who's graduating from the Judd Apatow clan of comedic performers into more serious material. That leaves Leto and Fassbender; one performance (Leto) has a physical transformation of both weight and sexual orientation, and another (Fassbender) that contains such a exhausting psychological commitment that we worry for the performer's actual health. Fassbender is an actor of Day-Lewis-like intensity, and this performance exemplifies that - but he didn't campaign for the award (he claims the process exhausted him when he did it for Shame; where he didn't even get the nomination), and it might seem fishy that two years in a row this award goes to a white actor in a film dealing with American slavery. Leto's work - and the film that it's in - are a lot easier to swallow, and shitty Golden Globes speech aside, I think people were taken with Leto's work which is strong enough to rise above the caricature-esque quality that the character has.
Prediction: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Personal Pick: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County; June Squibb, Nebraska
Had last year's Best Actress Oscar not gone to Lawrence, this category would probably be a no-brainer. She is at her peak of stardom right now, and in American Hustle, we see the extent to which Russell loves playing with her cinematic persona (while most of her roles like to cast her young, giving off a maturity level beyond her years, Russell loves to cast her in roles that are much older but are plagued by childish tempers). But she just won last year, and seeing her face on every blog post and entertainment magazine has given people enough Jennifer Lawrence fatigue to make me think that she will not win two years in a row. But even at age 24, it seems like her winning is always a viable option. Alongside her is Julia Roberts, the last great beloved female movie star, who is a lead in August: Osage County, but cannot seem to be bothered with squeezing in with Meryl Streep in the lead category. There's also Sally Hawkins' solid work in Blue Jasmine which feels a little more like a make-up call for the unholy snub she got for Happy Go Lucky. And June Squibb, who's work in Nebraska is so sublimely hilarious and a perfect alternative to the film's perpetual melancholia. But the front-runner here is the newcomer Nyong'o, who's winning would be both a wonderful boon to 12 Years's chances early in the ceremony but also a wonderful coronation of an incredibly talented and beautiful young actress.
Prediction: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Personal Pick: June Squibb, Nebraska
Nominees: Christian Bale, American Hustle; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street; Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
This is one of the deepest years for lead acting performances I've ever seen. Here are the worthy performers that were not nominated: Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix in Her, Robert Redford in All is Lost, Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station and Oscar Isaac's brilliant performance in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. I can't help but feel like this category could have been much more interesting had a few of the nominees been swapped out for the snubs. But this is still a very strong line-up. Bale's work in American Hustle is such a stubbornly subtle piece of comedic acting that I'm surprised enough people noticed it to get it a nomination. Bruce Dern is a much-loved veteran character actor who finally got the lead role he deserved and delivered an incredible portrayal of self-imposed emotional isolation. Among the three main contenders, Ejiofor stands behind the most award-worthy movie, yet his lead performance is without the louder fireworks that his costars, Fassbender and Nyong'o, are given. It's obvious that Ejiofor's performance is more submissive to its director than the other five performances, which is what makes it so great, but it's hard to award a performance with so few "Oscar clip scenes". That leaves two movie stars in DiCaprio and McConaughey, who both use their stardom to morph these performances into something fascinating. DiCaprio sheds his usual self-seriousness for a crazed comedic role - he stopped waiting for Scorsese to lead him to an Oscar and led himself to this nomination. But we are in the middle of the McConaissance, and it doesn't hurt that McConaughey is currently the star of the country's hottest television series, True Detective. His performance in Dallas Buyers Club is a committed piece of acting, equipped with physical transformation and several other tropes of the common Oscar bait tackle box. I've been a fan of McConaughey's recent work in his career resurgence, but this performance feels like the least interesting of all the ones in the field. But I don't mean to discount what is inarguably strong acting here, and I think the Academy is ready to accept his Southern drawl with open arms.
Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Personal Pick: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Nominees: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Judi Dench, Philomena; Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
A lot of people thought that this would finally be the year that Streep would not get her obligatory every-other-year nomination, which would have been funny considering that it's her very best work since 2006's The Devil Wears Prada and among some of the best of her illustrious career. Instead, the Emma Thompson performance in Saving Mr. Banks, which was assumed to be a shoe-in, was ousted to make room for her - and thank God, cause Banks is a garbage fire of a movie. Yet, in rare tradition, Streep has no shot at the win. The same could be said about Bullock, who may be the only person rivaling Jennifer Lawrence for 'Biggest Movie Star on the Planet'. Her performance in Gravity deserved its nomination and it is tremendous movie star work that takes up nearly every single frame of an incredibly immersive film. But she won just a few years ago for The Blind Side which was a VERY generous awarding of an actress who's been very successful for a lot of people in Hollywood and I don't think they're in a hurry to give her a second award. In Philomena, Judi Dench stretches her usual stiff upper lip persona to play the flighty title character within a movie that is probably too light for its own good but is beloved by many, and a lot of that has to do with Dench's terrific work. Then there's Amy Adams, who was seen as the surprise nomination when Thompson was left off, yet now she seems like a solid contender for a performance in American Hustle that is the best of her career and an obvious acting MVP in a movie filled with great performances. Of course, this is all a moot point, because this is the most pre-ordained category of Oscar night. Woody controversy aside, Blanchett's second Oscar (though her first as a lead) seems all but a guarantee and it will come for a performance that is such an incredible display of grandstanding self-delusion - as the great Mark Harris stated, you may think Blanchett is overacting, but it's her character, Jasmine, that's the real hyperbolic performer. It's the kind of performance that has put her into the realm of our very best film actors, alongside the ranks of Streep, Day-Lewis and the recently deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman. Her second Oscar will be the culmination of her placement among the greats.
Prediction: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Personal Pick: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Nominations: 12 Years a Slave; American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club; Gravity; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; The Wolf of Wall Street
This has been a three-movie race for most of the season with American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave having traded spots as the clear front-runner at various points of the season. At the beginning, during the festival circuit, 12 Years a Slave was declared the obvious choice, some speaking with near unreasonable enthusiasm. It's complete evisceration of sentimentality in documenting the horrors of American slavery was unlike anything seen before in the movies, and mixed with Steve McQueen's strict, unflinching storytelling style, it seemed to be an instant classic. All this while Gravity was declared the people's choice, stacking up big box office while showcasing a combination of thrilling escapism and visual wonder that great cinema was always meant to amount to. American Hustle arrived much later, right before the end of the year, and didn't really pick up steam until the beginning of 2014 when it won the SAG award for Best Ensemble and tied with Gravity for the most Oscar nominations (ten). 12 Years a Slave is the best film of the three (to me, anyway), but what makes it so profound - it does not try to coddle white audiences through its story the way most slavery films have done by supplying white saviors - is exactly what lessens its chances of winning. A lot of people may just ignore 12 Years completely as too violent, too many long takes, too ready to force you to accept responsibility. American Hustle has the support of the acting branch, which gave it a nomination in each available category (the same happened last year with Silver Linings Playbook, another film from Russell), while Gravity has the edge with technical craft voters. And Cuaron seems like an easy choice for Best Director which usually goes hand in hand with the main prize. But I suspect that a good deal of Academy members are still weary of a 2005 Crash scenario and want to award what is generally considered to be the foremost cinematic achievement of the year. But I wouldn't be shocked if any of the three ends up taking home the prize.
Prediction: 12 Years a Slave
Personal Choice: Nebraska (**Despite enthusiasm for this film waning by the day, this is still my favorite film of all the nominees and my favorite narrative film that I saw in 2013. It will likely go home empty-handed, which is fine; there are other films which hold higher social clout that can probably make a better case for winning awards. But when we look back at 2013 as a movie year, we should not forget Payne's Nebraska which is a masterwork of American ennui filled with tremendous performances.**)
So there are the major predictions. I find myself incredibly excited now for Sunday night and expect many surprises. I'll probably be very wrong on a lot of these as I usually am, but scroll down if you want to see my predictions in the other 17 categories, with much briefer notes.
Best Foreign Language Film
Prediction: The Great Beauty
Personal Pick: The Hunt
These are, sadly, the only two films that I got a chance to see. The Great Beauty won the Golden Globe and is made by a filmmaker who has worked in America. I think it wins here. But The Hunt definitely has a chance to pull the upset.
Best Animated Feature
This movie has made a bajillion dollars. Also, it's pretty great. Surprisingly, Frozen would actually be the first Disney Animation film to win the Animated Feature Oscar.
Best Documentary Feature
Prediction: The Square
Personal Pick: The Act of Killing
An absolutely loaded category this year, which has an eerily similar narrative to the Best Picture race. One film, The Act of Killing, which is seen as a masterpiece, with two other films, 20 Feet From Stardom and The Square building up a much heavier audience support. Aside from Dirty Wars, I'd be fine with any of these winning. Great line-up.
Prediction/Personal Pick: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
A special shout-out to Bruno Delbonnel's great work in Inside Llewyn Davis and Roger Deakins who, with the recognition for his work on Prisoners, now has 11 nominations without a win. But this is Lubezki's award to lose.
Prediction: Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Personal Pick: Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
I love 12 Years a Slave's LACK of editing, its stubborn hold on specific images and its long takes. But Phillips has some exceptional work as well, and it's a good chance for the Academy to give it something where they couldn't elsewhere. But don't be shocked if Gravity picks this up while stealing all of the tech awards.
Best Production Design
Pediction: Adam Stockhausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Personal Pick: K. K. Barrett & Gene Serdena, Her
Would not be surprised to see The Great Gatsby, the only non-Best Picture nominee here, to pick this up, but I see the strong work in 12 Years a Slave winning. With Gravity and American Hustle also nominated, this category could be an early bellwether sign to see where Academy affections lie.
Best Costume Design
Prediction: Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Personal Pick: Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Martin has won before with a Baz Luhrman collaboration, and I feel like it could happen again for her work in Gatsby. But this is another stacked category. What about the great game of dress-up in American Hustle? Or the astonishing, lived-in pieces in 12 Years a Slave?
Best Original Score
Prediction: Steven Price, Gravity
Personal Pick: William Butler & Andy Koyama, Her
Where is Alex Ebert's beautifully haunting, Golden Globe-winning score for All is Lost? Or Mark Orton's amazing music in Nebraska? A pretty blah line-up here - with the exception of the wonderful Her score - that includes a FORTY NINTH nomination for John Williams (The Book Thief).
Best Original Song
Prediction/Personal Pick: "Let it Go" (Frozen)
U2's anthemic "Ordinary Love" for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom stands a chance, as does Pharrell's "Happy" from Despicable Me 2, which is currently the Billboard #1 song in America right now. But "Let it Go" is a monster that can't be stopped, inspiring enough YouTube covers to fill the entire movie of Frozen, opening to closing credits.
Prediction/Personal Pick: Dallas Buyers Club (only one I saw)
On the surface, Dallas Buyers Club's make-up seems unspectacular, except when you consider that the budget on it was only $250 - and that the Academy doesn't want to give an Oscar to The Lone Ranger or Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.
Best Sound Mixing
Personal Pick: Lone Survivor
Best Sound Editing
Personal Pick: All is Lost
I'll admit that my understanding of these sound categories doesn't stray much further from surface appreciation. I'm not very sophisticated when it comes to this kinda stuff, but I feel strongly about my personal endorsement of Lone Survivor's incredible blend of bullets and carnage and All is Lost's selective use of sound within the silence. I also feel strongly that Gravity will win both.
Best Visual Effects
Prediction/Personal Pick: Gravity
The nominations here feel a lot to me like Hollywood saying "Hey guys, remember those awesome Summer movies? Like 'Iron Man 3' and 'Star Trek Into Darkness'?". I'm glad they got their representation and their chance to lose to Gravity.
Best Short Film, Animated
Prediction: Get a Horse!
Personal Pick: Mr Hublot
**I actually got around to seeing the Animated Shorts this year and was not exactly overwhelmed by the films I saw, outside of Mr. Hublot which I thought was sweet and clever. I think Get a Horse! gets a bump from opening for all those screens showing Frozen.
These last two are prediction only since I didn't get a chance to see any of these:
Best Short Film, Documentary
Prediction: The Lady in Number 6
Best Short Film, Live Action
Prediction: The Voorman Problem