The 2014 Academy Awards

I have seen so few of this year’s nominees, I don’t feel qualified to write a blog post about the 2014 Academy Awards. But, lucky you, I’m doing one anyway.

The narrative around this year’s Academy Awards is that the races are wide open. I think that’s true in theory, but the vast majority of the Oscar prognosticators are buying stock in the same group of likely winners, and I won’t be the one to rock the boat. I think some pop culture arbiters are hungry for a night of surprises, and since this year feels like more of a powder keg than any other year (what with the controversies surrounding Woody Allen, The Wolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years a Slave), the media feel like there’s more open races than there really are. We don’t really know anything, but we kind of know everything.

I would love for there to be some surprises. If Leo wins Best Actor, I’ll be ecstatic. If Amy Adams bests Blanchett for Best Actress, I’ll applaud. If Barkhad Abdi upsets Jared Leto, I’ll be overjoyed. But I expect none of those things to happen. Last year was far less decided before the awards were announced, so I really hope Ellen DeGeneres is a good host, because there won’t be much entertainment coming from who wins what.

What I’m honestly most looking forward to in this year’s Oscar broadcast is how they’ll handle Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s tribute. Will they just include him in the “In Memoriam” segment with all the other film figures that passed away this past year? That seems respectful toward all the other people, but dishonest about the level of grief that Hollywood (and movie lovers in general) feel about losing Hoffman. It was so recent and so sudden and so tragic, and it seems as if the Oscars would be the perfect place to pay tribute to him and to provide some level of catharsis. I’m hoping they do something special.

* denotes a movie I haven’t seen

oscars1Best Picture

Nominees: 12 Years a Slave*
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club*
Gravity
Her*
Nebraska*
Philomena*
The Wolf of Wall Street*

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave. There’s been talk of American Hustle coming in from behind and unseating 12 Years and Gravity as the obvious frontrunners, but that has slowed down. No, this is a two film race. Gravity has a lot of love in the industry, for good reason, but I can’t help thinking that a vote for Gravity is a vote against 12 Years a Slave, and I don’t think the Academy wants to look back on this year like 1999, when Shakespeare in Love bested Saving Private Ryan. Both were great movies, but one was obviously the more important movie, and the Oscars would benefit from having Ryan as a feather in its cap. That seems to be the case this year. I think the Academy wants to be on the right side of history.

Should Have Been Nominated: Before Midnight. Richard Linklater’s Before series has been severely underappreciated by the Academy. Before Midnight was one of the best written, best acted, and best directed movies of the year. I’d say it’s just not flashy enough for an Oscar, but is Nebraska flashy? Is Philomena flashy? Before Midnight deserves more attention.

oscars2Best Directing

Nominees: 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen*
American Hustle, David O. Russell
Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón
Nebraska, Alexander Payne*
The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese*

Will Win: Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón isn’t the first director to make space look beautiful, majestic, and terrifying; but he’s the first to truly make you experience its beauty, majesty, and terror. It’s inarguably a remarkable technical achievement, but it works well as a piece of art too. The combination of the two and the degree of difficulty should be more than enough to secure this award for Cuarón.

Should Have Been Nominated: Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass. After United 93, we were all impressed with Greengrass’s ability to make a real-life situation gripping and intense while respecting his subjects. He does the same here. Characters like Barkhad Abdi’s Muse are so often poorly drawn stereotypes of the African savage, but Greengrass treats the Somali pirates with delicacy, never requiring the audience to choose one side over the other but to root for peace and morality.

A disheveled Matthew McConaughey gets arrested in scenes for 'The Dallas Buyers Club' in New OrleansBest Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale, American Hustle
Bruce Dern, Nebraska*
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street*
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club*

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club. Haven’t seen this one, but seeing how “McConaissance” is all but officially canonized in the next edition of Webster’s, I think it’s save to say he’s got this one wrapped up.

Should Have Been Nominated: Tom Hanks Tom Hanks Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips. I can believe he got left off the list, because this was such a strong year for actors, but I’m still aghast. It’s not his most iconic performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it might be his best.

oscars4Best Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine*
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena*
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County*

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. The Woody Allen controversy is terrible and sad, and I hate it. No doubt many Academy members agree. But Cate Blanchett is not Woody Allen, and giving her the award, especially since it appears there’s no love lost between the two, is not the equivalent of giving him the award. She’s a lock.

Should Have Been Nominated: Julie Delpy, Before Midnight. I’ve already praised the movie, so I won’t rehash that. Delpy, however, would alone be worth the price of admission. With a role like this, as a wife coming to terms with her husband’s imperfections, the risk is that people would interpret your character as shrewish or as an “angry woman”, two terrible stereotypes of women that are unfortunately still common today. But Delpy easily keeps them out of the conversation and presents a woman so real and funny and hurting, she stands out in a movie that is superb on all levels.

oscars5Best 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*

Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. I haven’t seen this movie, but everyone keeps calling this a brave performance. I mean, what did he have to lose? I don’t know; sort of seems like a brave performance would have been by an actual transgender person, openly sharing their struggles with the audience. Well, hopefully he’s given this award for the right reasons and not just because he “bravely” bends gender expectations.

Should Have Been Nominated: There’s honestly no one I can think of that I would put here. Maybe Tom Hiddleston as Loki? It’s certainly a performance that deserves awards attention and will never receive it.

oscars6Best 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*

Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave. Haven’t seen this movie…which is beginning to be a theme…but her only competitor here is Jennifer Lawrence, who won last year.

Should Have Been Nominated: Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Seriously one of the best, most humble performances of the year by one of the most powerful people in America, and it’s overlooked. The Oscars don’t make any sense.

oscars1Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: 12 Years a Slave*
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena*
The Wolf of Wall Street*

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave. This award will be a part of the 12 Years haul I’m predicting.

Should Have Been Nominated: Nothing to add here.

oscars7Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: American Hustle
Blue Jasmine*
Dallas Buyers Club*
Her*
Nebraska*

Will Win: American Hustle. Others are saying Her, but since Hustle isn’t likely to win anything else, I think they’ll give it this award to compensate.

Should Have Been Nominated: The Bling Ring. This movie was roundly ignored during awards season, but I thought its script in particular was incisive and damning toward American culture, exposing us to our modern sins.

oscars8Best Cinematography

Nominees: The Grandmaster*
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis*
Nebraska*
Prisoners

Will Win: Gravity. How do you deny one of the greatest technical achievements in film that also happens to be beautiful?

Should Have Been Nominated: American Hustle. The camera says so much about the characters in this movie. I guess I’m fuzzy on what this category is supposed to reward? Cinematography to me is less about how beautiful the movie looks and more how the pictures are composed. American Hustle is a master class in shot composition.

oscars9Best Animated Feature

Nominees: The Croods*
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine*
Frozen
The Wind Rises*

Will Win: Frozen. It’s a good movie, better than most cartoons, I’d wager. And it’s incredibly popular right now.

Should Have Been Nominated: Monsters University. This, to me, was the best animated movie of the year. I thought it was a really creative take on the Animal House narrative with an admirable, moral twist. Frozen has been overrated, in my opinion. Tangled has stronger characters and a better plot.

oscars10Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: 20 Feet from Stardom*
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer*
Dirty Wars*
The Square*

Will Win: 20 Feet from Stardom. Docs about showbiz don’t always win, but this one is apparently really crowd-pleasing.

Should Have Been Nominated: I saw zero documentaries this year, with the exception of the exceptional The Act of Killing.

oscars11Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium*
The Great Beauty, Italy*
The Hunt, Denmark*
The Missing Picture, Cambodia*
Omar, Palestine*

Will Win: The Great Beauty, Italy.

Should Have Been Nominated: The only foreign movies I saw this year were nominated for this award last year, No and War Witch, both great.

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