Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oscar Predictions 2014

It's that time of year again, folks!

This year, I set out to top my previous Oscar warm up by seeing every nominee before the ceremonies. Spoiler alert, it doesn't look like that's going to happen, but not for my lack of trying. Still, I have gotten a chance to see more of the nominees this year than ever before - only missing out on the Documentary Shorts, and one or two of the Best Foreign Film nominees - which largely makes up for the somewhat lackluster feeling overall I have at this year's pool of nominees.

I know we're all supposed to be over the Oscar snubs by now, but having now seen the films occupying nearly all of the major category spots I have to admit I'm still a bit steamed. I mean, Tom Hanks basically spoiled me for the real Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks...I was profoundly moved by almost every minute of Blackfish...why is Frozen not nominated for Best EVERYTHING!? get the picture.

Don't get me wrong, this year's list is still chock full of fantastic films and fantastic performances, I'm just not as enthusiastic about them as I've been for year's previous. SO. As with my previous Oscar predictions post, I'll be choosing Predictions and Favorites in some of the major categories. But enough about me, let's get down to business...(♫ to defeat...the Huns! ♪)


PREDICTION: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyer's Club)

Aaaand we come to the first of my lackluster predictions. I'm making this one purely on the fact that McConaughey took the Golden Globe and the SAG Award for it. Had he also landed the BAFTA (which went to Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave), it would practically be a foregone conclusion. But even without the BAFTA, it seems a win for McConaughey is still pretty solid. Don't get me wrong, his performance was fantastic and the movie overall was quite strong. But McConaughey still kinda played McConaughey, as he usually does, and I think there are other nominees more deserving of the award this year. Who? You might ask...

FAVORITE: Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

I'm still pulling for Leo to win one of these days, and I almost put his name here in the hopes of maybe sending a wish out into the universe on his behalf. Honestly, all of the other nominees in this category turned in superlative performances - in my opinion, better than McConaughey's to a man. But Bruce Dern's performance in Nebraska is so completely disarming and genuine that it would be a crime to let it go unsung. As the increasingly senile but good-natured father figure, Dern allows you to sympathize with a character who would otherwise be reduced to a cartoonish cliche in a film of lesser quality. It's one of my favorite performances from the entire year, and undeniably the heart of what makes this film so great.


PREDICTION: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

She's swept the Golden Globes, the SAG awards, and the BAFTAs; that's an accomplishment in itself. But if you've seen Blue Jasmine, you're well aware that the real accomplishment is her performance. I haven't seen all of Cate Blanchett's filmography, but after watching Blue Jasmine I'm confident it's a singular entry in her career. Throughout the entire film, the titular character is essentially a collection of shattered pieces held together by only the barest threads of alcoholism and a pill addiction. She's thoroughly neurotic and occasionally even psychotic, but strangely vulnerable at the same time, and Cate completely disappears beneath layers of denial and delusion. Off the top of my head I can't think of a performance or a character in recent memory that comes off as so wholly repulsive yet completely compelling - Blanchett deserves every inch of that statue.

FAVORITE: Galadriel - Lady of the Light


PREDICTION: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyer's Club)

Whereas with McConaughey's prediction for this film I was unenthusiastic, Leto's nomination (and hopeful win) here comes with my eager approval. His performance was truly the best in this category, and that's not to demean any of his fellow nominees. In fact, Barkhad Abdi's BAFTA win in this category gives me a little pause. But Leto did win the SAG award (and the Golden Globe), and his turn as Rayon was the best performance in the entire film. Without straying into caricature, Rayon's presence provided the movie with some minimalistic comic relief and not only rounded the narrative as a whole, but brought a level of authenticity to Dallas Buyer's Club that I don't think it could have achieved any other way.

FAVORITE: The 30 Seconds to Mars guy


PREDICTION: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of J-Law, mainly because it's no secret that basically everyone is. Incidentally, I'm not a big fan of something that everyone else happens to love, and that something is American Hustle. I honestly do not understand why that film is getting all the attention it's currently receiving. I didn't hate it, I don't think it's a bad film by any stretch, but if I had seen it without context - just pulled it out of Redbox at random - I wouldn't have thought "This film should be nominated in all the major cateogories!" Having said that, Jennifer Lawrence's performance in that film was basically my favorite thing about it - and a bit of a departure for her. She's always a joy to watch because she's just so good at what she does, but in American Hustle she really shines opposite her co-stars as the vapid and vindictive wife of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale). Plus she took the Golden Globe and the BAFTA in this category, so she's got a pretty strong lead.

FAVORITE: Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)

I'm going to be honest, this is a bit of a cover-my-ass move. That's not to take away from Lupita's devastating performance as Patsey, which was as powerful as it was basically everything else about 12 Years a Slave, come to think of it. Lupita won the SAG award in this category, and historically that can be a stronger indicator of a future Oscar win than a Golden Globe or BAFTA win taken by themselves. Plus, the Academy enjoys bestowing its blessing on the talented up-and-comer from time to time. Lupita is every bit as deserving of the critical acclaim she's received for her performance, which is why I'm putting her here, and it wouldn't really surprise me to see her take the win despite Lawrence's statistically stronger lead. So I'm confident the award will go to one of these two actresses - and while I think that J-Law's going to get it in the end, Lupita would be just as deserving.



Big surprise here. This movie should have been nominated for Best Picture in my opinion (there's an open slot, after all!) but that's beside the point. You can read my full brain-thoughts on Frozen here if you'd like, so I won't belabor my point much further. The long and short of it is that even if the other nominees in this category were iron-clad, Frozen deserves this win. It's fun, it's fresh, it's forward-thinking, and frankly it just makes me happy to think about it. And while I'm not posting my predictions for Best Original Song in this post, it should go without saying that "Let It Go" deserves to take home the gold on Oscar night.

FAVORITE: *insert favorite lyrics from favorite Frozen song*


PREDICTION: La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty)

Italy's nomination in this category (courtesy of Paolo Sorrentino) is a real tour-de-force, on a couple of levels. The first thing you'll notice about this film is how kinetic it is; the camera is rarely still - instead swooping and panning around scenes and vistas with a fluid ease and aplomb. And of all the cities in which to set a cinematic style like that, Rome has to be near the top of the list - so the aesthetic is an ideal one. Following writer Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) after his 65th birthday, the film - right along with its protagonist - muses on love and loss, romance and regret, life and death, while in and among iconic monuments of the city to which all roads lead. The film is lush and grand in its presentation, while still maintaining a keen sense of romanticism even in its most cynical moments. With a title like that, you have to wonder...well, what is "the great beauty," after all? Is it Rome itself? Or love? Or life? Or chocolate? The film never fully answers this question, leaving the audience to sift through its many glimmering moments for their own meaning. So yeah, it's that kind of foreign film - but for what it's worth, I didn't feel like it was too overbearing in its drive to be philosophical. Having said that, there were one or two ambiguous moments in the film that had me Googling around for a moment after the movie was over to get a better idea of what exactly had happened. The Great Beauty is elegant, beautiful, and abstract, and a bit morose - which makes for ideal Best Foreign Language Film bait. And the fact that it's won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA in this category gives it next to a guarantee. But for all that, my loyalties in this category still remain elsewhere...

FAVORITE: The Broken Circle Breakdown 

I have a confession to make, and it's a bit of a doozy: I did not really care for Inside Llewyn Davis. Believe me, that came as a shock to me too. It's not a bad film, and I generally love the Coen Brothers films; off the top of my head I can't think of one I didn't really enjoy apart from the aforementioned. So maybe that's part of why I loved The Broken Circle Breakdown so much. While their stories are worlds apart (Inside Llewyn Davis follows a folk musician in the 60s, The Broken Circle Breakdown chronicles the lives and love of a bluegrass musician and his tattoo-artist lady love), they both feature a healthy dose of American folk music - though Broken Circle Breakdown is more geared towards gospel and bluegrass. It was really interesting to see a group of European musicians playing music that I've grown up hearing my whole life, and it gave me a new appreciation for it - almost as if I was hearing it for the first time. Moreover the actual story of the two main characters is tragic and beautiful, even haunting in a way. This is one foreign film I fully intend to purchase for repeat viewings - and I've been revisiting the soundtrack for the better part of the past two days. If you see any of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees, this is the one I'd recommend.


PREDICTION: The Act of Killing

A few weeks before the nominees were announced, I had already banked on predicting Blackfish for a win in this category. So when Blackfish got completely snubbed, I had to go back to the drawing board. The Act of Killing was the next one up in my mental ranking, and it has a pretty decent amount of momentum behind it. Namely, it took the BAFTA for Best Documentary, and in a category where public awareness/popularity actually does seem to affect the outcome, The Act of Killing has enjoyed a pretty decent spot in the public eye over the past few months. And in order to avoid sounding completely mechanical with this decision, the film itself is really powerful and moving to watch and sheds light on an issue (the violent slaughters of suspected communists in Indonesia during the 60s) that's gone completely unnoticed by the West. Having said that...

FAVORITE: The Square

The Square is a strong contender for its own set of reasons. To begin with, Jehane Noujaim took the DGA award for his work on this film. Historically, the Director's Guild has been a fairly strong indicator of a win - but it's usually coupled with a bit more exposure and peripheral momentum that The Square has only gotten thanks to its nomination, as opposed to the other way around. But I think The Square is more deserving of the award here, because it deals with something a bit more historically and politically relevant than its primary competition. Like several other entries in this list, I could see it go either way without it being an upset. It's the first nomination for Netflix (who distributed the film) though, so frankly I would love to see an Oscar get thrown their way this year.


PREDICTION: John Ridley - 12 Years a Slave

This category is probably the toughest to call. Looking at the usual metrics, there's no consensus: the WGA award went to Captain Phillips, the Golden Globes don't have an "Adapted Screenplay" category ("Best Screeplay" went to Spike Jonze for Her), and the BAFTA went to Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope for Philomena. So much buzz surrounded 12 Years a Slave, and particularly Ridley's script, that I'm hoping to see a win here. I don't think 12 Years a Slave is going to take home very many awards come Oscar night, so this would be a good way to spread some of the love around, and certainly not without good reason. Ridley's script was measured and powerful, and made room for some intriguing character development - which is no small feat considering its ensemble cast.

FAVORITE: Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope - Philomena

Winning the BAFTA was a bit of an upset for this movie, but not an undeserved one in the slightest. I absolutely adored this film, and unlike 12 Years a Slave, this category seems to be just about the only one where a win is remotely likely for Philomena. I could see this one going either way and I don't feel an overwhelming amount of loyalty to one over the other. Having said all that, I have an instinctive desire to root for the "underdog" on this one. But to complicate things a little further, a win for 12 Years a Slave in this category would be a first for Ridley - so he's a bit of an underdog too, hence my hesitance to pick a clear frontrunner.


PREDICTION: Spike Jonze - Her


Back to an entry that's much easier to call, for a couple of reasons. First off, Spike took the Golden Globe and the WGA award for Best Original Screenplay; taken together, those are a very strong indicators of his chances for success. On top of that, Her is a film that is truly brimming with originality - on top of its wealth of solid writing. The story is intriguing, the characters are well-defined, the dialogue is crisp and authentic; it's just thoroughly well-written on every level. So not only do I think the movie is deserving because of how well-written it is, but also because of how uniquely original it is. The category is filled with worthy contenders this year, undoubtedly. But Her is one of the best films of the past several years, my second-favorite film of 2013, and an upset in this category would make me...well...upset.

FAVORITE: Spike Jonze - Her


PREDICTION: Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity

Even without the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, and the DGA award for this film he's already locked down, Cuarón would unequivocally deserve this Oscar. Gravity - apart from being easily one of the greatest films of the past decade and my favorite for the year - was an incredible achievement in directing. Some films require a director to act like an conductor - orchestrating the various pieces so they come together correctly, but not necessarily the creative heart of the work. Other films require an extra helping of directorial aplomb to be added to the usual list of cinematic ingredients, and Gravity is without a doubt one of those films. Without Cuarón, this film simply does not exist - and that should be the ultimate criterion for this category. In the hands of anyone with a less potent vision, Gravity might have been an alright film, at best. But it's Cuarón's direction, his singular vision, that takes Gravity into the stratosphere (pun gratuitously intended).

FAVORITE: Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity


PREDICTION: 12 Years a Slave

Full disclosure, I hope I'm wrong about this. Not because I begrudge 12 Years a Slave at all - it is an exceptional film. It's the kind of movie I think everyone should see at least once. But if you're anything like me, one viewing is probably just about as much as you would care for. 12 Years a Slave is really more education than entertainment. That's not to demean the movie or Steve McQueen's accomplishments therein - I had a profoundly visceral experience watching it. But I think the Best Picture of the Year should go to a movie with a little bit more longevity as a piece of entertainment and art. 12 Years a Slave is an artful masterpiece; but because of its subject matter - and the honesty with which it approaches that subject matter - the film is decidedly not entertaining. But I think it will win for a few reasons: if it manages to take Best Adapted Screenplay, that could be a small "consolation prize" of sorts for being a Best Picture win without a Best Director win - a historically anomalous occurrence. Secondly, it has plenty of momentum; it took Best Picture at the BAFTAs and Best Drama at the Golden Globes. Thirdly, it's classic "Oscar-bait" material. I can't stress this enough, that I don't say any of that to deride the film or call it out for some kind of aesthetic nepotism. But 12 Years a Slave is the kind of movie that wins Best Picture, in a way that several of the other nominees this year simply are not. It will certainly be deserving of the honor if my prediction holds up, but it's just not the film that I would personally have elected if they left everything up to me. Speaking of...


Genre prejudice: it's a real thing, and it keeps perfectly astounding sci-fi films from winning Best Picture of the Year time and time again just because. Do you know what won Best Picture at the Academy Awards for 1977? Annie Hall. Guess what other film came out in 1977? STAR WARS, freaking STAR WARS. Without a doubt, Annie Hall is a great film, but a greater film than Star Wars? What, you don't think the first installment was that big of a deal? Fine - even non sci-fi fans agree that the Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time. It wasn't even nominated for Best Picture.

Even the very best science fiction has to offer, and I consider Gravity unquestionably among the best, simply does not stand an actual chance for Best Picture at the Oscars - statistically speaking. A sci-fi film even getting nominated for that award is a rare enough occasion on its own, despite the fact that the genre contains some of the most iconic, well-remembered and best-loved films of all time. So even with a win for Best Director practically a foregone conclusion, it seems an equally foregone conclusion that Gravity won't take Best Picture. Making predictions based solely on what has actually happened, a sci-fi movie taking home that award is less likely than me having a chat with Mark Wahlberg over the phone.

But. Having said all that...I really, really hope I'm wrong.

Thanks for reading! See you March 2nd!