The 2017 Academy Awards

The 2017 Academy Awards

I say to my wife almost every year (she probably doesn’t even notice I say it anymore) that the Oscars are my Super Bowl. I’m well aware that the actual show is usually kind of boring. But I’m nonetheless fascinated by what upsets will take place, what winners will say onstage, and who the last tribute will be in the In Memoriam montage. I find a lot of joy in the movies, and I appreciate the Oscars as a celebration of that.

This year, they feel like the Super Bowl in more ways than one. For one, they feel unnecessarily politicized. During the Super Bowl, I fell into the trap of rooting against the Patriots because of Tom Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s ties to President Trump- as if there aren’t myriad other reasons to root against New England. That almost ruined my enjoyment of what ended up being the Pats’ historic comeback.

The Oscar layperson won’t think about this, but anyone following the pre-ceremony hype will have seen thinkpieces aplenty about the supposed La La Land vs. Moonlight rivalry. The two movies are being pitted together much like New England and Atlanta- white vs. black, Trump’s America vs. the Resistance, evil vs. good.

That’s stupid, and frustrating. Both are great movies. Both have zero to do with the politics of our time, at least directly. It would be a stretch to make an argument that either is attempting to participate in current polemics one way or the other.

Moonlight‘s very existence and the attention it is receiving is a political statement within the industry, but that’s about it. Moonlight‘s director, Barry Jenkins, has spoken about the La La Land backlash and clearly respects the art that Damien Chazelle and his team created. The movies exist apart from any faction or political ideology. They are both moving, complex, life-affirming works of art that deserve more than easy narratives.

Narratives aren’t necessarily bad, but in this case they are unnecessary. They make cultural events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl more accessible, and they often add stakes to the proceedings. But tomorrow, forget the political narrative, and just appreciate that whatever wins Best Picture this year will likely be worthy of the distinction.

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Best Picture

Arrival*
Fences*
Hacksaw Ridge*
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion*
Manchester by the Sea*
Moonlight

Will win: La La LandMoonlight or Hidden Figures could upset, but movies don’t get 14 Oscar nominations without winning. First time for everything though…

Should have been nominated: Zootopia. Animated movies never get enough respect, but Zootopia deserved a place in the sun.

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Best Directing

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve*
Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson*
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan*
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Will win: La La Land, Damien Chazelle. If the La La Land backlash has retained its full force, Jenkins could upset.

Should have been nominated: Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight. Again, animated movies don’t get their due. The degree of difficulty on a stop-motion movie like Kubo is so high, how is the industry not better about rewarding directors of such movies?

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Best Actor in a Leading Role

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea*
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge*
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic*
Denzel Washington, Fences*

Will win: Denzel Washington, Fences. Affleck’s sexual assault will linger in too many minds, and Denzel is too much of a force of nature. He’s given voters enough of an alternative to Affleck to ease their consciences.

Should have been nominated: Colin Farrell, The Lobster. It’s an awkwardly earnest and selfish character that anchors one of the year’s most overlooked movies.

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Best Actress in a Leading Role

Isabelle Huppert, Elle*
Ruth Negga, Loving*
Natalie Portman, Jackie*
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins*

Will win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle. Where there’s an easy way not to vote for La La Land, I think people who believe in the backlash will take it. Huppert is a legend, and many will think it is her last chance to win.

Should have been nominated: Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch. Horror movie acting is probably supposed to be easy, but existential dread isn’t. She did both beautifully in 2016’s breakout horror film.

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea*
Dev Patel, Lion*
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals*

Will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: Anton Yelchin, Green Room. This isn’t just a reaction to his tragic death. His performance in Green Room is visceral and a career best.

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis, Fences*
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion*
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea*

Will win: Viola Davis, Fences.

Should have been nominated: Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures or Moonlight, take your pick.

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Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Arrival*
Fences*
Hidden Figures
Lion*
Moonlight

Will win: Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: I dunno…Sully, I guess?

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Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea*
20th Century Women*

Will win: Manchester by the Sea.

Should have been nominated: Hail, Caesar!

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Best Cinematography

Arrival*
La La Land
Lion*
Moonlight
Silence*

Will win: La La Land.

Should have been nominated: The Witch.

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Best Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana*
My Life as a Zucchini*
The Red Turtle*
Zootopia

Will win: Zootopia.

Should have been nominated: Eh, nothing I saw.

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Best Documentary (Feature)

13th
Fire at Sea*
I Am Not Your Negro*
Life, Animated*
O.J.: Made in America*

Will win: O.J.: Made in America.

Should have been nominated: Under the Sun.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine (Denmark)*
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)*
The Salesman (Iran)*
Tanna (Australia)*
Toni Erdmann (Germany)*

Will win: The Salesman.

Should have been nominated: Microbe & Gasoline (France).

The 2016 Academy Awards

Soooo last year I wrote this:

“The big story this year with the Oscars is the lack of white nominees. Wait, no, that can’t be right. Oh, scratch that- um, I’m hearing we’re not supposed to talk about race. Okay. Okay, let’s, uh…hm. What to talk about instead. Huh.

Welp.”

So we’re just gonna go ahead and run that back, huh?

Welp.

*denotes a movie I haven’t seen

Best Picture

Nominees: The Big Short*
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn*
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room*
Spotlight

Will win: The Big Short. Now I don’t think this is the safest bet, or even the second safest bet. The Revenant is the favorite, and it certainly fits with the Academy’s tendency to vote for movies that flatter them. That’s the current frontrunner, and it should surprise no one if it ends up dominating in all of its categories come Oscar night. Spotlight also wouldn’t be a surprise; it’s a well-loved, unassailable movie. If your viewing party has a pool, place your bets on one of those two.

But I kind of think the Oscar narrative will shake out differently this year. This is the most wide open Best Picture race in a long time. The Big Short had late momentum going into nomination morning, and it picked up all the major nominations (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing) that point to widespread support. The only major pre-Oscar award that it’s won was the Producers’ Guild Award, but there’s cracks in the other frontrunners’ veneers as well: The Revenant didn’t receive a Screenplay nomination, and Spotlight has only received pre-Oscars support from the acting branch of the industry.

I haven’t seen The Big Short, but all the buzz suggests that it’s truly innovative filmmaking, taking unique approaches to storytelling and combining them with director Adam McKay’s flair for comedy. If Short is actually as impressive as it sounds, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it rides Iñárritu fatigue all the way to the big award.

Should have been nominated: Inside Out. It reflects the large number of strong contenders that Inside Out didn’t make the cut. Past Pixar films have benefited from the expanded field (UpToy Story 3), and I’d argue Inside Out is on those movies’ level, if not a tier above.

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Best Directing

Nominees: The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
The Big Short, Adam McKay*
Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller
Spotlight, Tom McCarthy
Room, Lenny Abrahamson*

Will win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road. Let’s all take a second to appreciate that Adam McKay (director of AnchormanTalladega Nights, and Step Brothers) has been nominated for an Oscar- and that he might actually win. It’s not outside the realm of possibility. But the favorite is Iñárritu to repeat, since he won the Directors’ Guild award. I picked Miller here largely because I’ve deluded myself into thinking the Academy will want to recognize the incredible achievement that is Mad Max: Fury Road with more than just technical awards, but, in all honesty, I’m expecting to be completely wrong.

Should have been nominated: Ridley Scott, The Martian. It was a surprise when his name wasn’t on this list, and now that I’ve seen The Martian (Surprise! It’s really good!), I’m still surprised. It’s hard to make a thrilling, crowd-pleasing movie out of a story that has little to no action.

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Best Actor

Nominees: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo*
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs*
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl*

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant. I’m kind of annoyed that he’s going to win for this performance, since I don’t think I’d put this even in his top ten. But he undeniably deserves an Oscar, so I won’t complain.

Should have been nominated: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation. I know he was only 13, and it’s hard to know how much skill is really involved when they’re that young versus how much the director coaxes out of them. But still! He carries that movie to great heights.

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Best Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Carol*
Brie Larson, Room*
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy*
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years*
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn*

Will win: Brie Larson, Room. I’ve honestly heard better things about her 8-year-old co-star, Jacob Tremblay, but this one appears to be a lock.

Should have been nominated: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road. Action heroes and heroines rarely get nominated for Oscars, but if Ripley was nominated, Furiosa surely deserves a nod.

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Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale, The Big Short*
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed*

Will win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed. I’d be pretty pumped if Hardy was recognized for his brilliant turn in The Revenant, but the narrative of Stallone winning for an iconic role is hard to ignore.

Should have been nominated: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation. Having seen at least clips of all of these performances, it’s hard to argue that none of them belonged. But Elba is a force of nature in Beasts– I’d slot him in over Rylance or Ruffalo in a heartbeat.

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Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight*
Rooney Mara, Carol*
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl*
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs*

Will win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl.

Should have been nominated: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina. I’m glad she was nominated for something, but it was the wrong movie. She is riveting to watch as a mysterious android in Ex Machina.

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Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton*

Will win: Spotlight. This will be the only award Spotlight wins on Sunday. That’s a shame, because, after peaking early, it has somehow taken on a reputation as a movie that should have been on HBO. I don’t agree (no offense to HBO). It’s far more artfully considered than that TV-movie designation suggests.

Should have been nominated: Sicario. It’s received attention more for its look than its script, and that’s not a bad thing, considering how it looks. But it’s also a very subtly executed exercise in foreshadowing while withholding information until the very end, and that’s a screenplay strength more than anything else.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Big Short*
Brooklyn*
Carol*
The Martian
Room*

Will win: The Big Short. HOLY CRAP ADAM MCKAY IS GOING TO HAVE AN OSCAR. THIS IS AMAZING.

Should have been nominated: Paddington. I named one of my dogs after this movie largely because its screenplay was so impressive.

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Best Cinematography

Nominees: Carol*
The Hateful Eight*
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

Will win: The Revenant. I’d personally give it to Sicario, and that would mean Roger Deakins would win for the first time in his illustrious career (The Shawshank RedemptionFargoA Beautiful MindNo Country for Old MenSkyfallPrisoners) after THIRTEEN NOMINATIONS. Give this guy a freaking Oscar! …But Emmanuel Lubezki is going to win for The Revenant (and deservedly so). It will be his third win in a row, after winning the past two years for Gravity and Birdman, which has never happened before.

Should have been nominated: Bridge of Spies. Bridge of Spies might have actually been forgettable if it weren’t for the immortal Janusz Kaminski. But don’t feel bad, he already has 2 Oscars (for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

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Best Animated Feature

Nominees: Anomalisa*
Boy and the World*
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie*
When Marnie Was There*

Will win: Inside Out. This one’s pretty locked up.

Should have been nominated: The only other animated movie I saw this year was Minions, and no one in their right mind would think that movie should have been nominated.

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Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?*
Winter on Fire

Will win: Amy. It tells the story of Amy Winehouse really well, but as a movie, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. I’d be much happier if The Look of Silence or Cartel Land won.

Should have been nominated: Going Clear. I wouldn’t necessarily put the Scientology doc in over any of the current nominees, but it would have been deserving.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Embrace of the Serpent*
Mustang*
Son of Saul*
Theeb*
A War*

Will win: Son of Saul. I’ve heard amazing things about this movie.

Should have been nominated: Foreign language movies are funny, because they are submitted the year they’re released in their home country, not the U.S., so some of these were only recently released here or have yet to be. At any rate, I haven’t seen any of the foreign language films eligible for this year.

Academy Award Nomination Predictions

I don’t usually do this, because it’s a fool’s game to predict what the Academy is going to do. But I guess I decided it’s time to stop pretending I’m not a fool. Predictions are fun, and I like fun.

It feels like they say this every year, but this year’s Oscars genuinely feel like the most open race in years. No movie is ahead of the pack; no movie feels like a clear and obvious choice. Also, if it shakes out the way I predict, this may be the most diverse group of plots, genres, and target audiences among the nominees in a while. And variety makes everything better.

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Creed
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Spotlight

Before Christmas, I didn’t really expect Bridge of SpiesMad Max: Fury Road, or The Martian to make the cut. I thought more awards-bait fare would keep them out, like RoomBrooklyn, or The Hateful Eight. But those movies have received less attention from critics and guilds alike, and the former three movies have gotten much more love. The outlier in this group, the movie that no one saw forcing its way into the conversation, is CreedCreed may not receive much attention in other categories, but the 5-to-10-nominee structure in this category means the most-loved movies make it in, and Creed is very well-loved. The favorites here are still Spotlight and Carol, though The Big Short has shown itself to have a surprising number of supporters in the industry.

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For your consideration: Inside Out. Before Creed was the critical and box-office darling it became, I assumed Inside Out would get its slot as the well-loved crowdpleaser. Animated movies almost never get nominated for Best Picture- only Beauty and the BeastUp, and Toy Story 3 have managed the feat. But Inside Out was one of the most imaginative movies of the year, and it packed an emotional punch. It deserves to be in this group.

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

This one’s almost written in stone. Michael B. Jordan or Johnny Depp could squeak through in Damon’s or Cranston’s place, but it’s unlikely.

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For your consideration: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation. This group of performances is generally pretty weak. If the Academy was a little more adventurous with this category (as it has been in the past with Best Actress), they might have looked outside the awards bait for some independent gems. One such performance is Attah’s. He’s only a teenager, but he ages decades as a child soldier in Beasts.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

This is the most stacked Best Actress pool in a while. I’m most confident in Blanchett and Larson, but Jennifer Lawrence, Maggie Smith, and Helen Mirren from JoyThe Lady in the Van, and Woman in Gold could easily supplant the other three.

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For your consideration: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road. The star of the most surprisingly feminist movie of 2015 deserves some love.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

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For your consideration: Benicio del Toro, Sicario. He achieved a new level of menace as a Colombian assassin with a hidden agenda.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

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For your consideration: Mya Taylor, Tangerine. For Tangerine, a movie filmed on an iPhone and made for far less money than the next cheapest movie mentioned in this post, Taylor stands out the most as the likeliest candidate to get a nomination. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez won me over eventually in the lead role, but Taylor is magnetic from the very start.

Best Directing

Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott, The Martian

McCarthy is the only unsure thing in this bunch, since Spotlight is much more notable for its cast and its screenplay than any visual style. Maybe Spielberg takes his spot for Bridge of Spies, or Ryan Coogler pulls off the coup of all coups for Creed.

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For your consideration: Denis Villenueve, Sicario. It takes supreme control to maintain the modulated dread that permeates every frame of this movie.

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies
Inside Out
Sicario
Spotlight
Trainwreck

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For your consideration: Ex Machina. Alex Garland’s twisted screenplay is both thought-provoking and engrossing.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short
Carol
The Martian
Room
Steve Jobs

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For your consideration: Paddington. This a hill I’m willing to die on.

Cinematography

Bridge of Spies
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

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For your consideration: It Follows. David Robert Mitchell and his cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, do things with symmetry and panning that make you forget you’re watching a low-budget horror movie.

The Last Five Years (of the Oscars)

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If you asked me why I care so much about the Oscars, why I watch every minute of the overlong broadcasts, why I spend so much time writing about them beforehand on a blog that few people follow, why I know so much about their history that I’ve won both the Oscar trivia game and the awards predictions game at the last two Oscar parties I went to (You could say I’m bragging, but is that really something to brag about? [YES IT’S COOL I PROMISE]), my answer probably wouldn’t satisfy you. I’d tell you the Academy Awards are the truest system of awarding the arts and sciences of making movies, because it’s the people in the industry awarding who they think was the best that year among their peers. But you’d know that’s not entirely how it works.

Every year, there are complaints about snubs and smear campaigns. There are people like Harvey Weinstein, who run “Honor this man” campaigns for their movies about historical figures (because of course a dead Alan Turing will be honored by Benedict Cumberbatch’s winning the Best Actor Oscar), or like Melissa Leo, who paid for full-page “For Your Consideration” ads out of her own pocket to campaign for her Supporting Actress turn in The Fighter, which she eventually won.

What’s funny about the Oscars, though, is that all the extraneous noise surrounding the ceremony is lost to history once the awards are handed out. Looking back at the history of the movies, everyday people will really just see who won, and they’ll draw their conclusions from the winners.

The Dark Knight

In this way, the Oscars function as a way for the filmmaking industry to tell its story to the future. When I first got into movies and started looking back at who won which award to see what movies I should watch, I learned (either directly or indirectly) what Hollywood valued about its own history.

The story the Academy has been trying to tell so far this decade is one of inclusivity. For the 2010 ceremony, the Academy changed their voting rules for their premiere statuette, the Best Picture award. Now, members could nominate more than five movies and up to ten, expanding the field above the previously sufficient five. The idea was to allow in more populist movies, like 2008’s snubbed The Dark Knight. The Academy was concerned about its image, since they had awarded more and more Oscars to movies that the wider population had never seen or, worse, heard of.

The rule change was an intriguing idea, but it hasn’t exactly worked. Sure, more populist movies have since been nominated for Best Picture, like Up, Inception, The Help, and American Sniper. But when people tune in to the ceremony, the movies they’ve heard of are still being passed over for the under-the-radar films. Mainstream movies are being nominated, but they’re not winning.

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In fact, the average domestic box office of the Best Picture winners this decade is $82.7 million. The average domestic box office for the Best Picture winners in the 2000s was $142.6 million. That’s a huge drop. Just for funsies, the number for the ‘90s was $185.8 million- so it’s been a steady drop. Those numbers include post-Oscars grosses, but they also include inflation, so the decrease in popularity might be even more precipitous than the numbers suggest.

All that is to say that history is going to look back on these last five years as faux-inclusive. The effort will be apparent, but the payoff won’t be. On top of the lack of popular Best Pictures, history will surely see the commonalities between the Best Picture winners, similarities that have garnered backlash from movie critics. Three of the five (The Artist, Argo, and Birdman) are movies about the movie industry, which is a trend that seems especially auspicious in light of there being zero in the Academy’s entire history before 2010. It may be a crude comparison to draw between the three movies, but the similarity is there, and the navel-gazing only adds to the Academy’s failed inclusivity.

Worse still, this year brought complaints of an overwhelmingly white nominee pool for the four performing Oscars. No people of color were nominated, which sounds damning, but is actually pretty rare for the Academy. People who aren’t white are generally represented among the performing nominees. But history will really just look at the winners, and only 10% of the winners this decade have been black. That’s not a terrible percentage, relative to the Academy’s larger history, but it’s not great either, and it looks a lot worse when you consider the awards were given to performances of a maid and a slave (Octavia Spencer for The Help at the 2012 ceremony and Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave at the 2014 ceremony).

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I’m not arguing with the quality of who the Academy has chosen as its image-bearers for the first half of the 2010s. I love all the Best Picture winners (the only one I haven’t seen is Birdman, and I’m really excited to see it), and most of the acting and directing winners have been well-deserved*. The problem is that the Academy, with the Best Picture rule change, has clearly given off the notion that they want to be more inclusive. But every award they’ve given out has painted a faux-inclusive picture. I still love following and watching the Oscars, but the story is getting harder to listen to.

*Interesting sidebar: Only three black directors have ever been nominated for directing (John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood, Lee Daniels for Precious, and Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave), but three of the five directing winners this decade have not been white. Ang Lee (for Life of Pi) is Taiwanese, and Alfonso Cuarón (for Gravity) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (for Birdman) are Mexican. The other two are from England and France, so no Americans have won Best Directing in the 2010s. It’s a nice counterpoint for a rough five year sample from the Academy.

The 2015 Academy Awards

My wife and I tried to see all the Best Picture nominees before this year’s Oscars. Considering I had only seen The Grand Budapest Hotel before 2015 started, it’s an accomplishment that we got through as many as we did. Still, I haven’t seen Birdman or Whiplash. So, at the most basic level, I’m a failure.

The big story this year with the Oscars is the lack of white nominees. Wait, no, that can’t be right. Oh, scratch that- um, I’m hearing we’re not supposed to talk about race. Okay. Okay, let’s, uh…hm. What to talk about instead. Huh.

Welp.

*denotes a movie I haven’t seen

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Best Picture

Nominees: American Sniper
Birdman
*
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash
*

Will Win: Boyhood. The pundits would have you believe this is a two movie race between Boyhood and Birdman. Don’t let me convince you otherwise or anything, but I can see two other possible scenarios. American Sniper has been such a huge hit, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a swell of support for it success result in wins in all the categories in which it’s nominated. Unlikely, but it wouldn’t be surprising. The other potential scenario is that Selma‘s lack of nominations drummed up supporters in the Academy so that even the members that didn’t love it end up voting for it anyway as a statement, sort of like what happened to Argo a couple of years ago when Ben Affleck didn’t receive a Directing nomination. HotelImitation GameTheory, and Whiplash are virtual locks to lose. But Birdman seems to be well-loved in the industry, which makes sense given the movie’s storyline about a former star who’s trying to make real art, not to mention its stylistic embellishments. But Boyhood is going to win. It’s heartwarming on top of being a unique feat of filmmaking. It’s the kind of accomplishment that the Academy won’t be able to resist rewarding.

Should Have Been Nominated: Dawn of the Planet of the ApesDawn had literally no chance of being nominated. But at the end of 2014, before I saw Selma or Boyhood, it was my favorite movie of the year. Dawn had the kind of storytelling usually found only in high drama. The characters, the allegories, the production design- they were all so rich. The Oscars would have been so lucky to have included a movie so good.

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Best Directing

Nominees: Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu*
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum

Will Win: Richard Linklater. Again, this is a two-man race between Linklater and Iñárritu, though you can make a case for the whimsical artistry of Wes Anderson. Since I haven’t seen Birdman, I can’t make a case against Iñárritu, per se. But what Linklater did has never been done and will probably never be done again. Not only did he commit to telling a story over twelve years, but he made the transitions seamless as if we were truly seeing a life pass before our lives.

Should Have Been Nominated: Ava DuVernay, Selma. If Selma had been made by a white man, he would have been nominated. No question, no conversation to be had about it. This is fact, and it’s so frustrating, and even more unsurprising.

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Best Actor

Nominees: Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman*
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Will Win: Michael Keaton, Birdman. Redmayne is good enough to convince you that the Academy could give it to him, since he has to maintain that spark of humanity while contorting his body to match Stephen Hawking’s disability.  And Cooper has dark horse potential following Sniper‘s success. But the industry isn’t going to miss its chance to honor Keaton both for his career and for, by all accounts, a great performance.

Should Have Been Nominated: David Oyelowo, Selma. The Selma snubs run deep and wide. Oyelowo doesn’t look like Martin Luther King, Jr., but you forget that during Selma. It’s important in biopics to make the audience forget they’re watching a reenactment. Oyelowo reaches a point in Selma that none of the nominated actors come close to reaching- transcendant embodiment. I know those are lofty words I’ve chosen, and I don’t care.

la_ca_1202_still_alice

Best Actress

Nominees: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night*
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice*
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild*

Will Win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice. I haven’t seen this one yet, but no one is expecting anything different. It was nice of the rest of the actresses to play, but Julianne would like her prize now. You all can go home.

Should Have Been Nominated: Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin. Johansson has yet to be nominated, even though she has a more interesting career than half of this list (though, to be fair, we could easily credit that to the lack of good roles for women rather than their own choices). In Under the Skin, Johansson plays what we’re supposed to think is an alien, I guess, seducing men to come back to her house so she can…consume them? I don’t know, but she’s fascinating in the role as she goes from an unfeeling puppet, pretending to relate to human beings, to a being that feels like a person does, surprising herself. Few actresses could pull off either of those settings, let alone both.

oscars05

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Robert Duvall, The Judge*
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman*
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash*

Will Win: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash. His ferocity in this role has carried him to almost every other possible award, it’d be a shame not to fill the whole mantle.

Should Have Been Nominated: Zac Efron, Neighbors. By the time Efron is respected enough to be nominated by the Academy, he’ll be dead and the Oscars will be broadcasting straight into our brains. But for my money, there wasn’t a better comedic performance in a movie this year.

oscars06

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild*
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman*
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Will Win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood. We can’t write about Arquette’s performance in Boyhood without saying something about how brave she was to let them film her body aging and changing, so don’t mind me while I make a fart noise in your general direction. No one, of course, is making the same claims about Ethan Hawke. It’s no use protesting, though- in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream.

Should Have Been Nominated: Carmen Ejogo, Selma. ANOTHER SELMA SNUB IT’S A CONSPIRACY CALL THE FEDS. I swear, if Coretta King had just been white, damnit, Ejogo would have been nominated.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice*
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash*

Will Win: Whiplash. A lot of experts have The Imitation Game winning here, but I refuse to allow for the possibility that Imitation will win any awards. Whiplash is unique enough to stand out from the rest of the pack, so it gets the (slightly unconfident) nod here over anything else.

Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl. I don’t understand how they overlooked Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own book from a pop culture phenomenon in one medium to a pop culture phenomenon in another medium. I would have gone with Guardians of the Galaxy, but I wasn’t sure it qualified. Besides, Gone Girl is such a better choice than Imitation and Theory, it’s worth spending the plug on a movie I don’t like quite as much as Guardians.

birdman

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Birdman*
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler*

Will Win: Birdman. Since they’re all going to vote for Boyhood in Best Picture and Directing, they’ll throw Birdman a bone here. Again, I haven’t seen Birdman, but I would have gone with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Should Have Been Nominated: Love Is StrangeLove received enough attention for its acting that I don’t think it was out of the realm of possibility that it could have received a nomination for something. The movie proves ultimately very insightful about how relationships change with time and within different contexts. It deserved something.

_AF_6405.CR2

Best Cinematography

Nominees: Birdman*
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
*
Unbroken*

Will Win: Birdman. You can tell just from the trailer that Birdman is visually stunning. But man, what I wouldn’t give to see Ida win this.

Should Have Been Nominated: Interstellar. Frozen out of all the main categories, this seemed like the one place Interstellar could sneak in. It is one of the more beautiful movies of the year, and a nomination for Cinematography would have been an award for the movie’s sumptuous visuals en toto.

oscars09

Best Animated Feature

Nominees: Big Hero 6*
The Boxtrolls*
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea*
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya*

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2. This one kind of comes down to whichever was the most popular in general; Dragon is for sure the most widely seen. But Guardians of the Galaxy uses a lot of effects, so it’s basically animated, let’s nominated that one.

oscars10

Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: CitizenFour*
Finding Vivian Maier*
Last Days in Vietnam*
The Salt of the Earth*
Virunga

Will Win: CitizenFourVirunga, the first Netflix film to be nominated for an Oscar, has come on strong since its nomination, but Laura Poitras’s document of Edward Snowden’s “file sharing” is historic.

Should Have Been Nominated: Did they make documentaries last year? I didn’t see any. But Guardians of the Galaxy uses some cinema veritas techniques, I hear, let’s nominate that one.

oscars11

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Ida, Poland
Leviathan, Russia*
Tangerines, Estonia*
Timbuktu, Mauritania*
Wild Tales, Argentina*

Will Win: Ida. This category is up in the air, but Ida has been out longer and has gotten more attention. Plus, it’s a masterpiece.

Should Have Been Nominated: Ida was the only foreign-language movie I saw from last year. But Guardians of the Galaxy had some different languages in it I think, let’s nominated that one.

Smearing the Smears

It’s Oscar season, so naturally that means all the smear campaigns are in full swing. Some of the smear campaigns are at their peak, some have run their course, and some are just now beginning. If you’re unfamiliar with this aspect of the Academy Awards, here’s a primer: human beings are terrible, but studios are worse, so they actively campaign against other movies competing for Oscars, usually pretty transparently. This happens to be a year in which I don’t agree with a single negative campaign, so I’m going to run my own smear campaigns against all the smear campaigns. I cordially invite you to join me on the campaign trail.

smear01

First up, the toughest stop: American Sniper

The smear: Sniper’s critics have complained that the movie doesn’t address the accusations of slander made against Chris Kyle’s book, in which he makes claims that were ruled false in court (none of the disputed claims involved the war- they instead involved Jesse Ventura); and they have complained that it’s jingoistic, right-wing propaganda for the war in Iraq.

Smearing the smear: I tend not to read much about movies I know I want to see, so I knew none of this when I saw the movie. Maybe this gave my first impression a boost, but regardless, I thought Clint Eastwood’s Sniper was a thoughtful exploration of a specific kind of person. While Kyle makes a lot of bold claims within the movie about why he decided to enlist, the plainly shot movie treats his patriotism objectively and never seems to take a stance on America’s place in the war. Sniper does treat Kyle like an American hero, which I suppose is arguable, though it’s inarguable that he saved many American soldiers’ lives. If you know anything at all about the way Eastwood directs (he shoots rehearsals, doesn’t do many takes, and is generally about efficiency in storytelling), then you can see how he may not have thought much about this story being a political firestorm or about including anything involving Jesse Ventura. Instead, he seems to have told a simple, effective story about an elite American soldier’s struggles both in the war and as a veteran here at home.

You may have also heard about the robot baby. Again, I didn’t know about it before the movie. Therefore, I didn’t even noticed how fake it looks- and it does look fake. Why didn’t they use a real baby? I don’t know. But who cares?

FOXCATCHER

Next stop on the trail: Foxcatcher

The smear: One of the movie’s subjects, Mark Schultz, after supporting the film at first, went on social media to decry the implied homosexual relationship between him and his benefactor, John Du Pont, as “sickening” and “a lie”; he also called, Bennett Miller, the director, a “punk”, “pussy”, and “liar”.

Smearing the smear (spoilers ahead): I can only imagine how hard it must be to watch a movie about your brother’s murder, so we’ll give Schultz some grace here. It would be hard to argue that Miller didn’t construct a specific scene to imply a homosexual relationship between Schultz and Du Pont (’cause he definitely did), and I’m not actually sure about the ethics of that decision. Is it okay to make assumptions about someone’s biography within a movie presented as an adaptation of a true story? I don’t know. I do know that Foxcatcher is an eerily effective look at psychosis and male relationships with three astounding performances. I’m sure I’d be pissed if I was Mark Schultz, since the movie depicts him falling apart at the seams; but I’m not Mark Schultz, so the best I can do is give an honest evaluation of the movie, and it gets full marks from me.

smear03

The easiest stop: The Theory of Everything

The smear: The movie presents a soft, romantic version of Stephen Hawking’s life without really devoting any time to explaining his theories, which are the real contribution he’s made to this world.

Smearing the smear: The Theory of Everything doesn’t do much with Hawking’s theories, but that’s fine. Director James Marsh and the filmmakers made the conscious decision to focus on his condition (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and his relationship with his first wife. I understand the argument that they perhaps made too many easy parallels between his studies of time and the idea that he thought he didn’t have much time left, but I think the artistry of the rest of the movie movie lends that decision legitimacy. By choosing to focus mainly on Hawking’s debilitating disease and his first marriage, the filmmakers were able to highlight two wonderful performances more fully (Eddie Redmayne as Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane) and to present fascinating moral tensions between the two of them as they navigate their differences in faith, their efforts to maintain a relationship in the face of overwhelming odds, and the eventual, sensible dissolution of their marriage.

SELMA

The stop most likely to derail this campaign: Selma

The smear: Multiple people have bashed Selma for portraying LBJ as a villain rather than MLK’s accomplice (or even the man who had the idea to march in Selma in the first place).

Smearing the smear: Moving past the fact that these critics have made a movie about MLK into a movie about LBJ, the thing that everyone is overlooking about Selma’s depiction of LBJ is that the worst thing about it is the performance itself. Tom Wilkinson is generally a very good actor, but he’s horribly miscast as Johnson; he’s literally the worst part of the movie. A better performance arguably would have served the screenplay better, and we could have avoided all this chaos.

Beyond the bad performance, I think the only way you come out of Selma seeing LBJ as the villain is if you only watch the parts of the movie with LBJ in them and completely disregard the rest of the movie, which clearly presents other people (some of them black) as bigger obstacles than LBJ. If you’re so worried about a former president’s reputation being sullied, take comfort in the fact that our public school education includes quite a bit on LBJ and will paint its own picture of him while virtually ignoring the march in Selma.

Here were my initial thoughts on Selma.

smear05

The final stop: Boyhood

The smear: Some have accused Boyhood of racism on the same level as The Birth of a Nation, widely recognized as the first feature film (it was released in 1915), which depicts the KU KLUX KLAN AS AMERICA’S SAVIORS.

Smearing the smear: Blahhhhhdsfoscxmlvclmvlmflmw *throws computer, rips out hair, kicks couch, smashes window*

Look, the fact that there are only a couple Latino characters in the movie (and the fact that they’re construction workers) could be problematic, and we don’t need to let Richard Linklater, the director, off the hook for it. But can we please avoid comparisons to the most racist film of all time? I’ll be among the first to remind everyone that racism is still a major (MAJOR) problem and it sucks and it’s everywhere and I hate it, but can we at least all admit that we’ve come far enough that our movies aren’t as racist as a movie that shows lynching as a viable solution to America’s problems?

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.