OSCAR RANT 2014
(Honoring the films of 2013)
Rant by Paul Preston
2013 was a deceiving year that might make someone categorize it as “not so great” or underwhelming. But take a second look at the variety of films nominated for Best Picture, running the gamut from the simplicity of “Nebraska” and “Philomena” to sweeping nail-biters like “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips”. The best part? They Academy hasn’t used its newly-minted Up-to-Ten-Nominees method to reward an undeserved big box office film or, just the opposite, a film no one’s seen that really isn’t good, but a film The Academy can use to pat itself on the back an feel really smart about nominating.
Basically, no “District 9”, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” or “Amour” here, but instead a quality swath of the best Hollywood offered this year. In fact, my top ten of 2013 reflects a lot of what the Academy nominated as well, so let’s get to it.
10. HER – Spike Jonze is probably on his way to a Best Screenplay win on Oscar night with this story of a lonely man in the not-too-distant future who spends his days writing love letters for a living, and all his free time falling in love with the artificial intelligence who runs his computerized world. Jonze also directs and finds a wonderful balance between outrageous scenes of humor and deep scenes of affection, anchored by a tricky lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix, who spends half the film talking to no one, with Scarlett Johansson as the disembodied voice you’d swear (and wish) was in the room. Jonze has a remarkable gift for picking projects that are wildly different and yet they all live in a sort of similar, dreamy, Spike Jonze World he successfully creates in film after film.
9. RUSH – Where’s the love for Ron Howard’s great return to form after the mediocre “Angels & Demons” and downright awful “The Dilemma”? “Rush” chronicles the tense rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, seeing the welcome return of Daniel Bruhl to the world’s stage (so great in “Inglourious Basterds”) and the welcome arrival of Chris Hemsworth’s acting chops. Hemsworth is more than serviceable as Thor, getting more comfortable in every film, but as the arrogant Hunt, Hemsworth proves to be a rich leading man. The danger Formula One drivers faced in the 1970s is all on display as Howard’s camera and editing team take the viewer right into the greasy roads, unsafe conditions and win-or-die-trying attitude of its competitors, “Rush” is a high-pedigree, sexy, thrilling movie with loads of a humor. It’s a crowd-pleaser that should’ve seen a bigger audience.
8. GRAVITY – Speaking of a crowd-pleaser, “Gravity” has grossed about $270 million domestically. That probably won’t sound too unusual if you’re told that it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, who have starred in their share of blockbusters, but what if there wasn’t a lot of Clooney? Or if Bullock played victim and didn’t get to show her “Miss Congeniality”-type humor? Or if there wasn’t much dialogue at all? Somehow, it’s become the biggest hit of both of their careers, and that’s good to see in an outer space adventure that doesn’t involve fighting aliens. Director Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity” is not his biggest hit, as he has a Harry Potter film on his resume) has pulled off quite a feat in the non-stop tension of this story of astronauts on a satellite mission that goes awry. He has the never-ending reaches of space at his beck and call, but he keeps the story personal, with Bullock’s character fighting not only space debris but inner demons to get back to Earth. This is a true MOVIE, to be seen in the theater, and if you haven’t yet, all this Oscar talk around it has kept it in the cinema longer than usual, so do yourself a favor and dive into this one at your local cineplex in 3D. Even your 50-inch LCD at home won’t give you the ride Cuaron has in mind for you.
7. 12 YEARS A SLAVE – Good news! This year’s entry into the “serious” movie contest is actually exciting and engrossing as well! “12 Years a Slave” tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and sold into over a decade of slavery at various plantations all over the pre-Civil War south. The let’s-follow-one-man approach to telling the story of American slavery hasn’t been done to my knowledge, and instead of important speeches that plagued movies like “Amistad”, we get a series of fascinating vignettes, each filled with tension and unpredictability, and all told by the same style director Steve McQueen has brought to other projects, thus turning this into a serious movie that is also artful. Chiwetel Ejiofor rockets to leading man status with his performance as Solomon, coupled with equally good performances by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, and somehow the film loads up with celebrity cameos, yet avoids the stunt casting gimmick that didn’t work in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”. All this leads to a powerfully underplayed ending that’s expertly acted. If this is going to be the Academy’s choice (it’s the front-runner), then at least it’s one you can get behind (isn’t that right, “The English Patient”?)
6. BLUE JASMINE – I’ve had two long-standing theories about Woody Allen. The first is that he’s like the original “Star Trek” franchise, where every other movie is good. Luckily, he has incredible productivity, even at 78 years old, to where he puts out a film a year, so you get good films out of Woody quite often. The second ties into Michael Jackson. When MJ’s music was of high quality, he was “The King of Pop who had problems with reports of getting too intimate with children”. When the music went south, he was “a child molester”. Woody Allen married his step-daughter and is now accused of years ago molesting his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow. It’s in Woody’s best interest to keep the movies good. During the upswings of “Midnight in Paris” and the excellent “Blue Jasmine”, all we talk about is “Woody Allen: brilliant filmmaker”. But if his next film goes south, look for him being described as “a child molester”. My theories aside, Cate Blanchett is fiercely good as a New York socialite trying to re-invent her life in San Francisco, bringing loads of baggage with her. One of the best nominations in any category this year is Sally Hawkins’ supporting performance as Blanchett’s sister. She’s authentic and so is her husband, played surprisingly well by Andrew “Dice” Clay. The whole cast is full of the smart picks Allen usually makes, including Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K. and Bobby Cannavale. In his best work, Woody either must let his cast improvise, or they deliver his dialogue in a natural way that makes the conversations genuine. And here he ups the stakes to a powerful ending. “Blue Jasmine” has made twice its budget in ticket sales, so unless you want to be considered a child molester, Woody, I’d make sure “Magic in the Moonlight”, due later in 2014, is reeeeeeaaaally good.
5. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY – They stacked the deck and it worked. “August: Osage County” has a cast that’s just unfair to other films. There are about eight Oscars floating around that talent and they all bring the goods to this drama of a very, very dysfunctional family gathering in the wake of the disappearance of their matriarch. The best thing director John Wells did in this film was just step aside. He doesn’t bring any flair to the proceedings, and they’re not needed. We just wanna watch Meryl Streep own it, Julia Roberts go toe to toe with her, and Benedict Cumberbatch do anything. The script does roll out a lot like a play (which it’s based on), in that a LOT happens in this couple of days in one family’s life, but there’s never a dull moment. I saw it twice.
4. PHILOMENA – Who knew Steve Coogan had it in him? Here in the states, we’ve only gotten Coogan in small portions – “Tropic Thunder”, “Night at the Museum” and “The Other Guys”, but in England, he has a massive resume with over twenty years of solid work, including the indelible talk show host Alan Partridge. So, I suppose The UK knew Coogan had it in him to write, produce and star in a film as absorbing as “Philomena”, but it was great new news to me. “Philomena” is based on the true story of Martin Sixsmith, a BBC reporter who aids in a woman’s desperate search for her son, after she had given him up in a convent. Not just any convent, but the Magdalene laundries, where “fallen women” endure harsh working conditions and insurmountable guilt (an earlier film visit to this era yielded another top ten film from 2002, “The Magdalene Sisters” – highly recommended). Judi Dench is the perfect foil for Coogan as they set out to discover the man her son would become. And there are numerous surprises in that trail. In the end, “Philomena” is a cry for humanity – Sixsmith argues for and demands it from others, as a determined journalist might do, and Philomena Lee embodies it. It’s ultimately a moving and unforgettable tale of forgiveness that was more involving than I imagined it would be.
3. NEBRASKA – It wouldn’t be a top five films of the year without Alexander Payne in there somewhere. The best part about being a fan of Payne is that I’ve never had to defend my devotion to his films. They’re all good. They’re not divisive or so risky that they give up being liked by all demographics. If you’ve got the time for “Nebraska”, Payne and writer Bob Nelson have a great story to tell. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an octogenarian who has come across a sweepstakes entry telling him of his millions of dollars of winnings. Unfortunately for him, word gets out of his potential winnings, and greed takes over his family and friends who want in. Payne’s stroke of genius here is to keep it simple every single chance he gets. The black-and-white photography sets up that tone, and it’s continued through the pared-down score and the performances of the supporting cast – authentic to the core, exemplifying the laid-back and simple ways of the Midwesterner. Leading the pack is Bruce Dern, who has said in interviews that he’s never had the opportunity to be so relaxed in a film before (he’s used to being a supporting character who doesn’t have as much on-screen time to develop a character. At 77 years old, Woody Grant is Dern’s first lead!). Every moment is earned, as there is no heart without making room for a laugh, and no laugh without warming the heart, leading to another in a long string of excellent final scenes in the 2013 nominees.
2. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – Are you ready for some “Holy shit!”? ‘Cause I said that a number of times during Martin Scorsese’s ode to ‘80s and ‘90s mega-super-excess. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a balls-out performance as Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker whose first day on the job was one of the 1980s worst stock market drops, and whose last day on the job put him in jail. The in-between is some of the craziest debauchery ever put to screen. I liken this film to “Natural Born Killers”. In that film, Oliver Stone had to pull out all the stops to portray the media as the enablers that they are, and in “Wolf”, Scorsese had to pull out all the stops to show the outrageous behavior of the rich, privileged and really, really dumb who came up in the stock trade business. Notable moments include Matthew McConaughey in another role from the “I’m sorry I did romantic comedies for ten years” apology tour as a seasoned trader who teaches Belfort the ropes. Also Margot Robbie as the hottest thing walking acting her ass off, holding her own with an on-fire DiCaprio. Plus, something I’ll just call “The Quaalude Scene” – a scene for the AGES. There’s a mock outrage going on over this film that I can no longer abide. People are claiming the moral high ground by condemning “The Wolf of Wall Street” as glamorizing the irresponsibility of these stock traders. True, their exploits are dangerous, but they LOOK dangerous. Anyone who thinks the reckless behavior of these numbskulls who get arrested for doing it is glamorized is watching a different film than I am… And not for nothing, this is the funniest movie of the year.
1. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS – Paul Greengrass is now officially one of my top five directors, and certainly one of the most remarkable, with a string of ferocious films, all vibrating with impressive authenticity. Whether it’s the birth of the IRA, The Iraq War or a hijacked airplane on 9/11, Greengrass is the most successful you-are-there filmmaker working today, and “there” in his films is really nowhere you ever want to be. “Captain Phillips” takes viewers to the Maersk Alabama shipping vessel off the coast of Africa as it encounters Somali pirates. Tom Hanks gives one of his best performances ever (saying a lot) as the titular captain, who attempts to outmaneuver and eventually out-think the pirates at every turn. Much has been made of the last fifteen minutes or so of the film and Hanks’ heartfelt acting in it, and much SHOULD be made of it. I had NO DOUBT that Hanks had truly experienced everything that we just witnessed, not that he was acting like he did, but that he really was there. It’s a stunning piece of believability that every actor should watch. And as Phillips “comes down” off of having to be smart, brave and locked in a dangerous place for two hours, we get to share that with him as an audience and kind of snap out of it as well. Greengrass is transitioning us from this horrifying situation to our regular lives just as Phillips is encountering the same thing. It’s played out masterfully. Also very real are the unknown actors who play the Somali pirates, including unknown non-actor Barkhad Abdi. He certainly looks the part, and somehow, as a novice actor, never thought he had to “play up” his role as a villain. He’s helped by a script by Billy Ray that delicately balances the pirates’ roles as desperate people urged on by warlords in their country to steal and doing that without tugging heartstrings like a lesser film would brazenly do. And the Navy SEALS…holy damn, the Navy SEALS. All I’ll say is that they are so badass, they don’t just take a boat out to the Alabama to attempt a rescue of Captain Phillips from the pirates, they JUMP OUT OF A PLANE to get there. Because they are badass. All the tech elements here are fantastic, cinematography and editing work to guide the eye through treacherous spaces and the production design seamlessly switches between on-location shoots aboard a ship and claustrophobic sets inside a lifeboat. One miracle the film pulls off (with the help of a driving score) is building genuine suspense out of a situation where we know the outcome. It’s an adult film that brilliantly steers clear of gimmicks and clichés. There is NO bullshit in this movie.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB – Any man-vs.-bureaucracy story I can get behind, especially when the acting is this good. I really could’ve watched a whole film about McConaughey’s character in the time before he contracted HIV.
THE WORLD’S END – Edgar Wright + Simon Pegg + Nick Frost = always funny. The sci-fi element of this film is just an added bonus as the guys-reliving-their-youth plot yields enough laughs already! The finale where Pegg and Frost try and outwit the aliens at their most inebriated is brilliant.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY – More great work from Pixar that had some script problems, but manages to be one funny “Revenge of the Nerds” movie.
THIS IS THE END – A great response to the phrase, “I’d watch Seth Rogen and company do anything”. Franco is hilarious here, and all the actors have fun blowing up their personas and killing celebrities.
OBLIVION – Outside of “Gravity”, this was the must-see IMAX film of the year, a twisty head trip of a film that built a real original tone and was anchored by another great Tom Cruise performance. We may not have Cruise entirely back from crazy, but his latest string of lead performances have been some of his best.
IRON MAN 3 – As ever, Robert Downey, Jr. remains the most interesting actor to watch as a super hero, and here Tony Stark is asked to employ his wits as much as his suit of armor.
47 RONIN – DULL treatment of a Japanese legend, and there’s way, way, WAY too much CGI nonsense. It’s OK for the samurai to be outcast and fight evil warlords, but then witches who can turn into giant dragons show up?
THE HOST – Remember the lifeless acting that plagued many of the roles of the “Twilight” franchise? Imagine that in a plot you don’t care about.
SALINGER – I don’t think I’ve ever put a documentary on my worst list, but I think I’ve also had enough of docs that show legendary artists to be huge assholes. Salinger is portrayed as SUCH an asshole, why are we even spending movie time on him?
RIDDICK – Apparently there’s going to be yet another one of these? Despite some clever sci-fi tropes getting tossed around here, all the bullshit that “Captain Phillips” is not, is on display in this film that’s far too aware it’s a movie.
AFTER EARTH – Will Smith’s character, Cypher Raige, is interesting in that he has no fear. Sadly, they’ve sucked all the other characteristics out of him as well, including charisma, leaving the film on the shoulders of Jaden Smith – BAD IDEA.
Glaring Omission: They didn’t think there was a film worthy of a tenth spot, so The Academy kept it vacant. But based on pre-Oscar awards, there were certainly films in competition for that spot. I thought “Blue Jasmine” or “Inside Llewyn Davis” might’ve snuck in.
Runners-up: As you can tell from my top ten, I’d find space for “August: Osage County” and “Rush”
Great Inclusion: “Philomena”. I really thought only Dench would be recognized for this film, but a Best Picture nomination for this little movie (and four more nominations!) is the mark of a good eye on The Academy’s part.
Will Win: This is the toughest call in a long time, as the guild awards have been pretty spread out. “American Hustle” is making a steady run, and “Gravity” has always been in the mix, but I predict “Gravity” wins the most awards of the night, but The Academy awards “12 Years a Slave” the prize. But don’t be surprised if there’s a “Shakespeare in Love”-y type upset.
Should Win: “Captain Phillips”. I can spot bullshit in “American Hustle” and “Gravity”. But “12 Years a Slave”, less so, so I’m rooting for that. But if you want NO bullshit, go “Captain Phillips”.
Glaring Omission: Not to beat a dead horse, as I say this every year, but four more nominees. So it seems the Best Picture nominees that directed themselves are “Philomena”, “Her”, “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Captain Phillips”. Greengrass has been nominated before (for “United 93”, even when the film was not nominated), so I thought his work might be rewarded here. Also, I thought Spike Jonze might be nominated for “Her”, but Payne seems to have gotten the created-a-unique-atmosphere nod.
Runners-up: Jonze, Greengrass.
Great inclusion: Alexander Payne. What a surprise! Given that “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Her” won more awards leading up to the Oscars, they were more in the mix, but I’m all about throwing Alexander Payne love wherever possible, he directs damn near mistake-less films.
Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, your DGA winner, and the creator of amazing things out of nothing in “Gravity”.
Should Win: I don’t even know how you make a movie like “The Wolf of Wall Street”. To corral all that madness into a coherent film is pretty damn impressive, but not out of Marty’s wheelhouse (see “Goodfellas” and “Gangs of New York”). But you can also look to “Goodfellas” to see what David O. Russell has put together, which is NOT in Russell’s wheelhouse, so that’s impressive. But to take the ordeal of American slavery and come away with a film that’s not in the stuffy vein of grand Hollywood epics, but is a more palatable, personal movie is why I’d give it to Steve McQueen. Again, perhaps not the most impressive feat when compared to Cuaron and Scorsese, but a rock-solid film.
Glaring Omission: Tom Hanks! I really don’t know what to do with this category this year, because I would GIVE Hanks the Oscar, let alone nominate him for it. So I really am just otherwise saddled with all these nominees I don’t know what to do with. You HAVE to nominate Tom Hanks here, his omission from Best Actor this year is really a mystery. Outside of that, I thought Redford had a chance here for “All is Lost”, but despite his screen time in that picture, no real intensity was ever asked of him as he seemed to perform all his duties with routine precision, even in extreme situations. Lastly, I don’t know who you leave out to make room for Idris Elba, but there’s an argument to be made for his time-traversing performance as Nelson Mandela, although he spends the second half of that film saddled with bad makeup. Oscar Isaac carries “Inside Llewyn Davis” and he won some awards, but Llewyn ultimately isn’t likeable.
Runners-up: Joaquin Phoenix in “Her”. Much is often made of great performances like Bob Hoskins in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” where the actors act alongside nothing, but Phoenix took that to a soulful level, interacting with a computer voice with such longing, I imagine we wouldn’t even need to hear the voice on the other end of the conversation and we’d still buy that she’s real. If you absolutely, positively can’t have Hanks in this category, you definitely make room for Theodore Twombly. And although it’s not Oscar-worthy, Hugh Jackman broke my heart a number of times in “Prisoners”.
Great Inclusion: Leonardo DiCaprio. It seems like a sure thing now, but with “The Wolf of Wall Street”’s late release and it’s non-availability to screen in advance for the SAG and other Awards, the buzz on his performance came late, but I’m glad to see it represented here.
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, wrapping up a dominant run of awards season. Plus, they love the body transformation roles. Buuuuuuuuuuuut, ever since Adrien Brody and Alan Arkin came along, predicting’s gotten tougher. So I imagine Dern and DiCaprio will be waiting in the wings just in case…
Should Win: What a tough call this is, but I think I’m going to go Leonardo DiCaprio just because I liked the film so much. Sure, he didn’t transform his body, but he certainly contorted it, bulged out his eyes and popped blood vessels to play Jordan Belfort.
Glaring Omission: Emma Thompson! This one’s damn near as Hanksian as the Best Actor omission. As you may be able to tell by now, I am not on the “American Hustle” bandwagon. It just never connected with me. The conniving and double-crossery was never played out by and won over by people who I was rooting for. So despite the great work by one of my favorite actresses, Amy Adams, I’d swap her out for Thompson. And Thompson’s final scene in “Saving Mr. Banks” was the deal-closer, I thought.
Runners-up: Um…..I don’t have anybody here. Tell me, ladies, was it a bad year for female roles? MAYBE Kate Winslet in “Labor Day”? I bought her loneliness and desperation, although I was luke-warm on the film.
Great Inclusion: Judi Dench in “Philomena”. Again, any recognition for this film is a good thing.
Will Win: Cate Blanchett, also rounding up an awards season of dominance. But never, ever, ever count out Meryl Streep at The Oscars.
Should Win: Cate Blanchett, I remember coming out of that film wanting to send a message to the actors of the world – GIVE UP.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi — “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper — “American Hustle”
Jonah Hill — “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto — “Dallas Buyers Club”
Michael Fassbender — “12 Years a Slave”
Glaring Omission: Always and over-crowded category, a couple of names kicked around during the guild and pre-Oscar awards included Jake Gyllenhaal for “Prisoners” and Daniel Bruhl for “Rush”, both good, and outside chances for James Franco in “Spring Breakers” and James Gandolfini in “Enough Said”, but they obviously went for the prestige project performances, as all the nominees are in this year’s Best Picture contenders.
Runners-up: No love for Jackson Nicoll in “Bad Grandpa”? And the Academy missed another opportunity to nominate Hanks (for “Saving Mr. Banks”). Harrison Ford in “42”, anyone? Anyone? Again, this is always an over-crowded category, I might’ve swapped out Cooper for Bruhl, but other than that, it’s a tough call ‘cause you could nominate ten actors every year.
Great Inclusion: Jonah Hill, who eats shit every time he’s nominated, but the jokes on those who aren’t paying attention. When you’re good, you’re good, and Hill’s character was consistent and unique, give him a nod.
Will Win: Jared Leto, as I don’t think anyone else has won a supporting actor award this season except maybe Fassbender once!
Should Win: Barkhad Abdi, not just because I want to hear his acceptance speech where he apologizes to his regular job for taking off of work to attend The Oscars, but because he did everything right. Never a false moment in his performance. I’m dying to see if he’s got a whole career in him. I hope so.
Glaring Omission: Oprah Winfrey, not that she’s anything special in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”, but you’d think Hollywood wouldn’t miss an opportunity to kiss her ass. I mean, she already has an Oscar FOR NO REASON.
Runners-up: Margo Martindale for “August: Osage County”. Apparently, she’s been doing great work for years, but to me, Martindale seemingly came out of nowhere to leave a huge mark on this film as Meryl Streep’s sister. She runs the gamut from blustery to heartbreaking and deserves a nomination just as much as Julia Roberts. And the Scarlett Johansson argument for “Her” could go on for days. Does she get in if she’s not SEEN? I don’t know about you, but her vocal performance was so good, I saw her.
Great Inclusion: Sally Hawkins. Speaking of heartbreakers, Hawkins’ character, trying to make the best of a situation her sister is hell-bent on ruining, provides a lot of heart to “Blue Jasmine”
Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o, although America is still in a fiery, angry-sex relationship with America’s Sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence, I think the more emotional piece will win out.
Should Win: TIE – June Squibb & Sally Hawkins. What the hell, I’ve never had a tie before. As much as I liked Nyong’o, and this is tough to even word without sounding like a dick, her character was kind of one note. She was victim a lot and we never got the other parts of her character like we did with Solomon Northup. Probably because she was a supporting role, but I would like to have seen more of Patsey to see what more Nyong’o could’ve done with it (Please, no letters about how I thought someone portraying a slave on screen was too much of a victim…!). So this one just comes down to the character, all these performances were good, but Hawkins & Squibb had the best arcs, in my opinion.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“American Hustle” — David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
“Blue Jasmine” — Woody Allen
“Her” — Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” — Bob Nelson
“Dallas Buyers Club” — Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Glaring Omission: I can’t think of anything glaring here. “Inside Llewyn Davis”?
Runners-up: Is this a good place to start requesting more comedies? How about “In a World…”, the great romantic comedy with heart from Lake Bell, or “This is the End”, which has to be crammed with more jokes than “Dalls Buyers Club” has lines that are serious.
Great Inclusion: “Nebraska”, a wonderful, ECONOMIC script.
Will Win: “Her”. Among other things, I think they want to reward Jonze, and this award usually goes to a riskier project than what will win Best Picture. That being said, I could say the same sentence and switch Jonze to Russell and it’d still be accurate, but it’s Jonze who has won a lot of awards this season.
Should Win: “Blue Jasmine” is based slightly on “A Streetcar Named Desire”, so maybe the MOST original is “Her”, BARELY beating out “Nebraska”.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“12 Years a Slave” — John Ridley
“Before Midnight” — Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
“The Wolf of Wall Street” — Terence Winter
“Captain Phillips” — Billy Ray
“Philomena” — Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Glaring Omission: “The Book Thief”. How can a period piece about illiteracy and Nazis not get more Oscar nominations?! Did it need someone handicapped in it, too? And “August: Osage County” is a little glaring, too, ‘cause it had to be WORK to cram that three hour show into something digestible for film. Plus, the dialogue was fantastic and evenly divided among the multitude of characters. You cared about them all.
Runners-up: Any room for animation here? “Frozen”?
Great Inclusion: “Captain Phillips”, for reasons I mentioned earlier – its portrayal of the Somalis and those awesome Navy SEALS. A lot of authentic dialogue floating around that movie.
Will Win: “12 Years a Slave”
Should Win: “The Wolf of Wall Street”, if for nothing else, then the round table those rich douchebags have about hiring midgets to throw at their party.
Glaring Omission: “Monsters University”. What? No Pixar? Even “Brave” WON the Oscar, and there’s no room for MU?
Runners-up: “Turbo” – here’s a movie I was ready have suck that didn’t. “The Croods” looked amazing, but didn’t have as much heart as “Turbo”. Mind you, neither of these films had the heart of other DreamWorks projects like “How to Train Your Dragon”, but “Turbo” surprised me, and the sound design, re-creating the car races, was really good.
Great Inclusion: “Frozen”. But really, was there any way this was left out?
Will Win: “Frozen”
Should Win: “Frozen”, despite some inconsistencies, it’s the classic Disney formula – princess, sidekicks, Broadway tunes – coupled with NO PRINCES coming to save the day, and that’s welcome.
BEST FOREIGN FEATURE
“The Hunt” (Denmark)
“The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Belgium)
“The Great Beauty” (Italy)
“Omar” (Palestinian territories)
“The Missing Picture” (Cambodia)
Let’s just skip this category, ‘cause I didn’t see ANY of these movies. That’s not like me, I usually see a few, even if it’s that piece of shit “Amour”. I think “The Great Beauty” will win, but I want to see “The Hunt” the most.
BEST MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
“Frozen”: “Let it Go” — Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”: “Ordinary Love” — U2, Paul Hewson
“Her”: “The Moon Song” — Karen O, Spike Jonze
“Despicable Me 2”: “Happy” — Pharrell Williams
Glaring Omission: Anything from “Inside Llewyn Davis”. There are a number of traditional folk tunes on the soundtrack, but a handful are original, in this movie that is so in love with music we get whole numbers delivered without very few cuts. I thought something from that film would show up here, maybe even late, after “Alone Yet Not Alone” got disqualified.
Runners-up: Not to mention “Turbo” too much in an Oscar rant, but “That Snail is Fast” from that film is hilarious. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a great riff on YouTube music culture gone nuts.
Great Inclusion: Every nominee! This is going to be one of the best live music sections of the Oscar telecast in a long time. These are great songs, sung by great performers.
Will Win: “Let it Go”. I don’t think anything gets in the way of this juggernaut of a film.
Should Win: “Let it Go”, just beating out “The Moon Song”. I’m always partial to songs that have real meaning in the film, not just the end credits add-on song. These two songs fit that bill, with Elsa’s proclamation to the world that she’s proud of her powers and tired of hiding winning.
Glaring Omission: Themes. They don’t get the love they used to. Where are the big, expansive theme-fueled action scores? “Skyfall” got a nod last year, but lately there’s no love for films like “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, which has a score by one of the best in the biz, Michael Giacchino. I also thought I’d see “Frozen” here, as the score and song nominations have often gone hand in hand for Disney films.
Runners-up: “Nebraska”! This is my choice for favorite score of the year, and it’s not nominated. It’s the only one I left whistling, with the wandering trumpet over a jazzy beat. It was perfect road trip music.
Great Inclusion: “Philomena”. Desplat finds the perfect stability between being a supportive score for a light comedy and punctuating drama, subtly, when necessary.
Will Win: “Gravity”, because it’s won a lot up to now, and I heard that The Academy’s live music presentation of the nominated scores had a powerful rendition of the “Gravity” score that wowed the audience. But honestly, outside of the end of the film, where I thought the score was overbearing, I didn’t even notice the score. It was either not there or WAY too there. With recent wins like “Atonement” and “Brokeback Mountain”, I haven’t been in line with the winners in this category in a long time anyway.
Should Win: “Philomena”
Glaring Omission: How about room here for something like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”? Ben Stiller is so in love with making this film look like a BIG. MOVIE, he went all-in on locations, cinematography and visual effects, and it paid off, the film looked fantastic. Otherwise, these are all great nominees.
Runners-up: “Her”, another great-looking film from Spike Jonze, with photography that finds ways often to give the viewer a different angle than we’re used to.
Great Inclusion: “The Grandmaster”. Man, I hated this movie. BUT, it looks great! As many of these John Woo-inspired Hong Kong action films do.
Will Win: “Gravity”, for the “How’d they do that?” factor.
Should Win: “Prisoners”, ‘cause Roger Deakins is nominated. That should be enough now. What is he up to, ten nominations? He’s the best there is, “Prisoners” looked better than it deserved to be – WIN.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
“The Great Gatsby” — Catherine Martin
“12 Years a Slave” — Patricia Norris
“The Grandmaster” — William Chang Suk Ping
“American Hustle” — Michael Wilkinson
“The Invisible Woman” — Michael O’Connor
Glaring Omission: Comedies? “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” had outrageous ‘70s outfits that make that movie half of what it is. Those jokes in modern dress don’t land as well. Fantasies? “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” had to clothe about a million people from a world that we have no idea how it looks (well, maybe by five movies in, we do…).
Runners-up: “The Wolf of Wall Street”. The ‘70s in “American Hustle” is as close as we seem to be getting to modern day (the era always overlooked by this category). I’d throw in the ‘80s and ‘90s of “Wolf”, too. And if the makeup is nominated from “The Lone Ranger”, why not the outfits? It was a combination of the two that made the characters.
Great Inclusion: “The Great Gatsby”. Say what you want about Baz Luhrmann films (and I often do), they look amazing.
Will Win: …and they’re winning a lot. “The Great Gatsby”
Should Win: “The Great Gatsby”, just edging out “American Hustle”, whose costumes and hair were impressive, but nearly put the film over the top (not in the good way)
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“The Act of Killing”
“20 Feet From Stardom”
“Cutie and the Boxer”
Haven’t seen ‘em. BAD Movie Guy.
BEST FILM EDITING
“Gravity” — Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave”– Joe Walker
“Captain Phillips” — Christopher Rouse
“American Hustle” — Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Dallas Buyers Club” — John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
Glaring Omission: “The Wolf of Wall Street”. I really don’t know how you make a Martin Scorsese. I mean, he has to overshoot, no? There are so many shots in this film, it’s gotta be on the editor to put it together into a thing, right? I mean, right? If the shot list is the film we saw, I’d be shocked. I know that films that are three hours probably shouldn’t win editing awards, but this thing CLICKS.
Runners-up: “Rush”, for the pulse-pounding (great movie review word) action of dangerous car races.
Great Inclusion: “12 Years a Slave”, if for no other reason than the minute and twenty-second shot of Solomon where Joe Walker decided a cut was NOT needed.
Will Win: “Captain Phillips”, probably, and sadly, the film’s only win, but a deserved one.
Should Win: “Captain Phillips”
Glaring Omission: “American Hustle”! That movie is all about hair and makeup. Sadly, I remember that more than the plot and characters (wait – maybe that’s why they WEREN’T nominated…). And again, fantasy & sci-fi could stand to show up here – “The Hobbit” or “Star Trek: Into Darkness”
Runners-up: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”, for Ron Burgundy’s hair and moustache.
Great Inclusion: “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”, because it had the two-fold job of looking like good makeup on camera, but also having to look like good makeup up close to the strangers involved in Johnny Knoxville’s pranks. Pulling that off wins.
Will Win: “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”
Should Win: “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“12 Years a Slave” — Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker
“The Great Gatsby” — Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn
“American Hustle” — Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler
“Gravity” — Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
“Her” — K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena
Glaring Omission: This category often falls into the same trap that Best Costume Design does, it excludes modern day design. If they thought outside the box and thought, “What works in it’s authenticity and simplicity?”, I think they’d see you could nominate “Nebraska” here. Those places looked just like midwest homes I’ve been in. I could smell them, and it smelled like people never left those rooms. Ditto “August: Osage County”
Runners-up: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for meeting the needs of a wide variety of locations from bland workplace to exotic locales.
Great Inclusion: “Her”, the Los Angeles of the not-so-distant future was well represented in that it looked like the not-so-distant future, and not “the future”, know what I mean?
Will Win: “The Great Gatsby”, sweeping the design categories.
Should Win: “12 Years a Slave”, much like in “Django Unchained”, these plantation homes look ominous.
Glaring Omission: Again, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. The fantasy sequences of that film are outstanding.
Runners-up: “World War Z”, maybe? With it’s zombie horde moving like none we’ve seen on screen yet? Something new with zombies is always rewardable.
Great Inclusion: “The Lone Ranger”. That movie’s bad, but not for lack of trying, and I’m glad to see that here, where you search for the CGI, as opposed to “Oz, The Great and Powerful”, where the film looks like GreenScreenLand.
Will Win: “Gravity” – your lock of the night.
Should Win: “Gravity”, that whole movie takes place in a place that isn’t a place where you can shoot a movie.
Glaring Omission: Animation, your “Despicable Me 2”, “Frozen” or “Epic” – especially “Epic”, ‘cause it’s full of action scenes. Mixing sounds together that come from nothing real shot AT ALL – always impressive.
Runners-up: “Her”. I’m told there were re-shoots of Scarlett Johansson’s voice, covering another actor’s voice. Looked seamless to me.
Great Inclusion: “Captain Phillips”. The more nominations for this film, the better.
Will Win: “Gravity”, it’s practically animated.
Should Win: “Gravity”
Glaring Omission: How’s about something like “Rush”, which has car sounds from another century to drum up.
Runners-up: Let’s go to scenes where silence impresses – “12 Years a Slave”
Great Inclusion: “Captain Phillips”
Will Win: “Gravity”, continuing it’s tech award dominance
Should Win: “Gravity”, ‘cause you take what you’re seeing and hearing in that film for granted.
BEST SHORT FILMS
Sadly, I out of all of them, I have only seen “Get a Horse!”. Good news, if you’re going to see any short film out there, SEE “GET A HORSE!” , it’s great! It’s the Mickey Mouse short that played before “Frozen”. It wins for being incredibly inventive and playing with Mickey’s Steamboat Willie persona and the character types of those old black and white animated shorts. But it wins biggest for doing something awesome with Disney’s biggest property. Think about the last time Mickey Mouse was in something awesome. “Get a Horse!” is awesome.
That’s it (and that’s plenty). Watch the awards March 2nd at 8PM EST/5PM PST!