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Oscars Preview & Cliff Notes 2014
February 27, 2014 - By JP Spence
Ellen DeGeneres, Oscar and nominees going for gold.
How do you fit the highlights of 2013s Best in American Cinema in one piece? Apparently in 2250 or so words.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES
Leonard DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. The film, directed by
Martin Scorsese, is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jonah Hill), Best Director, Best Actor and Best Picture
With the March 2 awards show looming, its time to catch up on the nominees, the storylines and Hollywood buzz surrounding each film. If you dont have time to see every nominated film (which I cant fathom) here are some cliff notes to impress your friends for the real Super Sunday
Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
BreakdownWonderful is the best way to describe having Linklater, Hawke and Delpy take us on this journey of a couples evolution as the audience sees Before Midnight unfold in real time. It isnt the strongest contender of the lot but its certainly nice to see them nominated. The same applies to Captain Phillips. A film done well always deserves some merit but theres a lack of grit to make it a standout. A win here would be like the Rutherford B. Hayes of winners. Terence Winters take on The Wolf of Wall Street is a brilliant twist as it takes Belforts bragging manifesto into an allegory for Americas greed.
Who Should WinOdd as it may sound, its about time there was a movie that captured the bleakness and depravity that was 12 Years a Slave. Jon Ridleys screenplay lacks the piousness of Roots, the epic appeal of Amistad and the smirking revenge of Django Unchained by opting for brutally honest objectivity that seems devoid of any bullish fecal matter.
Who Will Win12 Years a Slave. Moving forward .
Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
BreakdownAmerican Hustle is good but not great and that problem starts with the
PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS
Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombley in Spike Jonze's Her.
story. Russell and Singer have some great scenes and explosive dialogue but opportunities are wasted to build off them into something more cohesive. Simply put, the problem with the story is the story.
Dallas Buyers Club has a similar predicament in being a film built for the actors to shine. Writers Borten and Wallack are selfless in just giving enough character to the film while allowing Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto to create iconic performances.
Woody Allen seems to be always contending with himself, or his past, when it comes to the category.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES
I wouldnt say that Blue Jasmine has the same punch as Vicky Cristina Barcelona or as good a character study as Owen Wilsons performance in Midnight in Paris. Allen obviously knows how to create and write female characters so it almost seems requisite that he be nominated here and Cate Blanchett for Best Actress. Its those unjust comparisons to his prior work that will do him in for a current nomination. Fortunately, there is stronger competition this year.
Who Should WinJonze is able to make commentary on love, isolation, and technology while simultaneously making you feel his point with Her. There isnt a scene that doesnt feel sincere with a brutal honesty that leaves you tending to new or reopened scars. If this is Jonzes first stab at writing his own work, I wonder what dagger he has next.
Who Will WinSpike Jonze. Its not even funny.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
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
BreakdownThis is the strongest category in this years Oscar nominations. There is a particular favorite but if any nominee won, there wouldnt be any controversy. Abdi was the best part of Captain Phillips as the pirate leader, Abduwali Muse. Cooper is also a great choice and when he works with David O. Russell, he seems to have an extra gear. The knock working against Cooper is that Hustle is an ensemble piece that is notoriously hard to win, not to mention that when it comes to stealing scenes, its more about Lawrence and Adams instead of Bale and Cooper.
Tough break for Jonah Hill. He was lights out as Donnie Azoff. Just like in Moneyball, Hill is able to make an impression next to A-list talent by completely diving into character. Brad Pitt was more or less playing Brad Pitt as a general manager or DiCaprio was more or less playing a stockbroker, but Hill shines because he plays Donnie Azoff. Hes the best second banana in the game.
Who Should WinAny time director Steve McQueen and Fassbender get together, sparks will fly. However, in this collaboration, McQueen is nothing short of fireworks. Credit to Fassbender for committing so devoutly to character. Its no easy task to portray a plantation owner, let alone one truer to scale as this one was, couched as it were in Fassbenders objective look at how ignorance along with moral and religious misinterpretation could lead to such cataclysmic events. While not necessarily a modern-day parable, its proof that humans have hardly learned from their mistakes.
Who Will WinUnfortunately, this is Letos trophy to lose. His transformation in Dallas Buyers Club is the only thing people can talk about, and that physical transformation is huge. So the debate is between physical acting versus dedication to story.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
BreakdownThis seems to be a category of haves and have-nots. There is no reason why Julia Roberts should be nominated other than the fact that she is Julia Roberts.
Scarlett Johansson, without even a minute of screen time, made a bigger impact on Her than Roberts did with August: Osage County. June Squibbs performance in Nebraska is reminiscent of Viola Davis role in 2008s Doubta few minutes and one great scene can get you a long way but not necessarily the hardware. The dark horse in this category would have to be Jennifer Lawrence. She and Squibb are similar in making the most out of their screen time but Lawrence flat out steals every scene shes in especially against heavy hitters like Christian Bale and Amy Adams. American Hustle is a heist movie at its bare bones and Lawrence is the live wire that sets everything in motion. The Academy and just about everyone else is in love with her and while it wouldnt be right, it also wouldnt be surprising if she took home gold.
Who Should WinLupita Nyongos performance in 12 Years a Slave is nothing short of heartbreaking. It speaks on so many levels that an entire essay could be written on that performance. Chiwetel Ejiofors role started with distance and slowly reeled the viewer in. With Nyongo, it was all visceral intensity all the time.
Who Will WinNyongo or Lawrence. It really is a toss-up. If the winner is based purely on performance, then it belongs to Nyongo.
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
BreakdownHow do you pick this category? Each director has a signature style that fits each
PHOTO COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES
Alexander Payne, seen here with actor Bruce Dern,is nominated for Best Director for his film Nebraska.
film perfectly. What Im most happy to see is that each film is a strong character film and not nominated purely on name recognition. Payne is a master at capturing the family dynamic; he keeps taking the viewer in different directions and Nebraska is no exception.
While it seems that Scorsese is going back to his old stomping grounds with The Wolf of Wall Street as a redux of Goodfellas, nothing can be further from the truth. Scorsese makes a hyperkinetic speedball of a film loaded with commentary that shows the director is getting better with age.
Despite previous reports, David O. Russell has truly revealed himself to be an actors director. Russell assembled great scenes with even better actors but the films lack of cohesion cannot be overstated. Cuarón, much like Jonah Hill, has the unfortunate predicament of running into a buzz saw with regard to competition.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS.
Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Grant in Gravity. The film, directed by Alfonso
Cuarón, is nominated for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Picture.
Gravity would win any other year. Cuarón still might win this year, but this is a battle with McQueen over artistic fare versus technical wizardry for which there is a technical award.
Who Should WinSteve McQueen has used a masterstroke in telling a deeply moving story. 12 Years a Slave is just as much about human depravity as it is about slavery. If that sounds like a no-brainer, then its amazing that no one has done it as artistically as McQueen
Who Will WinMcQueen. There is really nothing clever to say here. 12 Years a Slave is a deeply moving, provocative and transcendent film.
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
BreakdownAmy Adams is great in American Hustle but I dont know why she is being nominated; its not her story. Shes definitely playing against type even though the intentional cleavage becomes exhausting. It feels like an its-just-nice-to- be-nominated pick. The same feeling applies to Judi Dench as well. There is no one who could play the role in Philomena other than Dench and she just hits every mark. The story, however, isnt strong enough to take it over the top. Its understandable why Adams and Dench received nominations, even if theyre not going to win. Its perplexing as to why Meryl Streep is here other than name recognition. I guess logic applies that if Adams receives a nod for playing against type then so should Streep. Then again, the actress is known for being a chameleon with roles, so the logic of playing against type shouldnt apply. Its not a bylaw that she be nominated every year and I think this is one of those years.
Who Should WinA Bullock win would seem like a legitimate win for the actress after a controversial win in 2009 for The Blind Side. Forget George Clooney, this was Bullocks film the whole way. Her performance stands out even more considering that Gravity, being the technical effects giant that it is, Bullock was the realest thing about it.
Who Will WinWoody Allen script plus Cate Blanchett in a role custom built for her? Cmon people, thats just plain science.
PHOTO COURTESY PHOTO COURTESY OF FOX SEARCHLIGHT
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
BreakdownBale had the best performance of the four nominees in American Hustle, in that the performances screamed out at you while Bale slowly reeled you in. Subtle complexity always works but its always hard to win an individual award in an ensemble film.
Ive been saying it the whole time so I wont stop now. Bruce Dern also has a super muted performance and in most years he would be a lock for receiving the Oscar that really serves as make-up for previous slights. There is tougher competition this year so thats out.
Who Should WinChiwetel Ejiofor for his workmanlike contribution to 12 Years a Slave. Director Steve McQueens emotional footing is a story about a man losing his dignity and despite all the hellish obstacles, has no choice but to endure and maintain grace.
His performance stands out compared to other antebellum films in that viewers dont just view Northups lashings, they viscerally experience his tension, confusion, fear and catharsis.
Who Will WinMcConaughey in a good but not great performance. Dallas Buyers Club is a great media story about its rise from development hell and McConaughey is on a great acting streak after so many years of ridicule for just being a face. I wouldnt feel bad if he wins but I just dont think it was the strongest performance this year.
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
BreakdownIts been mentioned enough times in this piece about what will keep American Hustle from winning, so well just move on. Her is a great film but it appeals to such a niche audience that it doesnt have enough groundswell to make any noise. It fits right where it belongswinning Best Original Screenplay.
Dallas Buyers Club has to be the dark horse in this category. After sweeping both male actor awards at the Golden Globes, the film elevated its profile in popularity. McConaughey and Leto are great stories this Oscar season and AIDS is a topic the Academy likes to discuss. While its win would be a completely political pick, the reason I think it wont win is because its a political pick.
The real victim this year would have to be Cuaróns Gravity. Had it been any other year but this year, it wouldve won. It simply ran into a buzz saw. Director Alfonso Cuaróns story about being lost in space is easily the most visually beautiful of the season. Its coronation is at the Sci-Tech Awards, the Technical Oscars, not the Oscars that everyone watches.
Who Should WinWhats immediately compelling about 12 Years a Slave is Americas empirical uneasiness about the subject of race relations and the period of slavery in general. In order to successfully lean into the curve and embrace all taboos of the era, an outside voice (meaning English like, from England) was needed to properly tell the story, warts and all.
Who Will Win12 Years a Slave. The film immediately vaults itself into the realm of the best, if not the greatest American slavery movie made.