The 86th Academy Awards: Predictions and thoughts

February 26, 2014

I have done it.  I’ve watched every single Oscar-nominated movie for the 86th Academy Awards, and I think 2013 might have just been one of the best years cinema has seen in quite some time.  At times, making an article on “what will win” and “what should win” doesn’t even feel right, because even the films that I didn’t like as much still impressed me, in either style or poise.  I still did it, of course, because I’ve been watching the Oscar’s for years now, and it’s very clearly formulaic.  Let’s look at the past years: movies such as “True Grit” and “Gangs of New York” had 10 nominations, yet won a total of zero awards.  Similarly, it’s very possible for frontrunners like “American Hustle” and “Gravity” to not win anything (although Jennifer Lawrence has pretty much won awards with her name alone before.)  I digress.  Here are my predictions and thoughts about the 86th Academy Awards, and keep in mind, I only covered the more significant categories.  And don’t forget to watch the award ceremony on March 2nd.

Best+actress

Best actress

Who will win: Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine” Who should win: Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine”

In a year of high competition for nearly every category, Cate Blanchett is the closest thing to a lock there is.  The single greatest thing about “Blue Jasmine” is Cate Blanchett.  Her performance as Jasmine in the film is breathtaking, and the way she portrays a proud and proper woman that breaks down and rises back up again is mesmerizing.  She flows from her lies and shells to a puddle with ease within one scene.  It was a real masterful performance.

Honorable mentions: Judi Dench for “Philomena”, Sandra Bullock for “Gravity”

Best+supporting+actress

Best supporting actress

Who will win: Jennifer Lawrence for “American hustle” Who should win: Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave”

Lupita Nyong’o, a newcomer to cinema, has certainly made her mark with “12 Years a Slave”, and she has already secured a role in the 2014 film “Non-Stop.”  In her role, Nyong’o perfectly portrays the psychological effects of what she went through.  She is both dignified yet distraught in her role as Patsey in the film, and compared to the static and underwhelming performance from Jennifer Lawrence, Nyong’o absolutely deserves the win.

Honorable Mentions: Sally Hawkins for “Blue Jasmine”, June Squibb for “Nebraska”

Best+original+screenplay

Best original screenplay

Who will win: Spike Jonze for “Her” Who should win: Spike Jonze for “Her”

I was extremely skeptical going into “Her.”  Spike Jonze’s two best films (“Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”) were both written by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman, and Jonze’s last screenplay (“Where the Wild Things are”) was decent, but not good enough to stand by itself as a well-written piece.  We all saw the trailer, and I knew that the line he would have to toe between sincerity and cheese was razor thin.  But man he delivered.   “Her” examines the way love changes (or doesn’t) in the face of a changing world.  It examines the dimensions of love, whether or not it is truly possible to love someone for their mind and the problem of technology as being a catalyst for social cocooning and isolation– it really is a marvelous film in themes and subtext.  In terms of the plot of the film, Jonze doesn’t choose to highlight the oddity of the relationship, but treats it very normally and reserves judgement, and this decision allows the characters to interact realistically and display genuine emotion.

Honorable Mentions: The Coen Brothers for “Inside Llewyn Davis”, Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine”

Best+costume+design

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Best costume design

Who will win: Michael Wilkinson for “American Hustle” Who should win: Catherine Martin for “The Great Gatsby”

While most of “The Great Gatsby” was a glorified student project with sloppy editing and confusing directing (it WAS Baz Luhrmann, after all) , there were some good aspects.  The role of Jay Gatsby seems almost like it was made for Leonardo DiCaprio, and some of the other actors displayed enough raw skill to carry an entire scene (namely Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.)  Far and away the best part of the film, however, was the costume design.  Catherine Martin was tasked with creating a timeless yet time-accurate representation of the lavish lifestyle these characters had, and she hit it out of the park.

Best+animated+feature

Best animated feature

What will win: “Frozen” What should win: “Frozen”

Let’s be frank: this award might as well be renamed “Best Pixar/Disney film.”

Best+cinematography

Christopher Hooton

Best cinematography

Who will win: Emmanuel Lubezki for “Gravity” Who should win: Emmanuel Lubezki for “Gravity”

There have been few films that have actively prevented me from breathing the way “Gravity” did, and that is all thanks to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

Honorable mentions: Roger A. Deakins for “Prisoners”, Bruno Delbonnel for “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best+supporting+actor

Best supporting actor

Who will win: Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club” Who should win: Michael Fassbender for “12 Years a Slave”

With his role as Edwin Epps in “12 Years a Slave,” Michael Fassbender gives a ferocious, outsized yet highly believable performance as a Nietzschean superman of the bayous, from whom money, power, lust and whiskey have stripped all morality. While I’m not remotely suggesting that we should feel pity for this monstrous character, Edwin Epps puts me in mind of Robert E. Lee’s revealing (if profoundly racist) remark that slavery, in his judgment, was ultimately more damaging to whites than to blacks. Debased and demoralized as he is – and even forced to perform unspeakable cruelties — Solomon retains some human dignity, some aspirations for a better future. In the end, it is Fassbender’s character, rather than Solomon, whom the institution of slavery has reduced to the level of an animal.  Attempting to portray this morally ambiguous character looks hard on paper, and it is even harder in real life.  However, because of Fassbender’s performance, we are able to see this dynamic yet disgusting character pour his morals and psyche onto the table.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Pratt for “Her”, Paul Dano for “Prisoners”, Will Forte for “Nebraska”

Best actor

Who will win: Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club” Who should win: Joaquin Phoenix for “Her”

Best+actor

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

A very hard choice, but, for my money, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Theodore in the melancholic Sci-fi flick “Her” is the best acting performance of the year.  It is really shame, for this is the second year in a row that Joaquin Pheonix hasn’t even been nominated for best actor– last year, it was “The Master.”  Few actors have the ability to speak to themselves for roughly an entire movie the way Phoenix does in this film, and I honestly could have just had a movie of him doing future stuff for two hours.  Theodore is a classic romantic, so it is especially ironic that his most heavy-handed and cheesy love scenes are with an operating system.  After walking out of the theatre, I could only think about the versatility of Joaquin Phoenix’s acting abilities.

Honorable Mentions: Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club”, Jake Gyllenhal for “Prisoners”, Bruce Dern for “Nebraska”, Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave”, Leonardo DiCaprio for “Wolf of Wall Street”, Matthew McConaughey for “Mud”

Best+director

STEFANO PALTERA

Best director

Who will win: Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity” Who should win: The Coen Brothers for “Inside Llewyn Davis”/ Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave”

This small-scale, unassuming tale of an NYC folk musician in the early 60s is, for my money, one of the Coen brothers’ very best films ever. The Coens have done a lot of different kinds of films over the years, from tense thrillers to broad comedies, but they’re at their best when they do something a little harder to define, something like this delicate blend of gorgeous music, mundane heartbreak, painful comedy, and enigmatic lyricism. From its muted palette of steel blues and murky grays to its cryptic, seemingly circular chronology, “Inside Llewyn Davis” isn’t a film designed for bombast, but rather a film of rich, human details which are at the same time elusive and evocative, and while the Coen brothers are not used to this style of directing, they have absolutely outdone themselves with this film.

mcqueen

And boy, it was hard to choose between the Coen brothers and Steve McQueen, so I didn’t.  “12 Years a Slave” is McQueen’s third film, and with it, he has shown that he is ready to take on larger projects.  His framing, his apathy regarding sentiment, and his ability to display significant brutality are all unique characteristics that make him a director to watch out for.  McQueen is not interested in a heroic telling of how someone triumphs versus adversity.  He’s interested in the normal man, how easily he is broken and how quickly he reverts to the basics of instincts.  Solomon relinquishes his name, becoming the slave his captors insist he is to spare himself from further punishment. His talent and pleasure, music, is taken out of his control, twisted and distorted into a grotesque minstrelsy for the pleasure of his masters. And in the final indignation, the two most impactful moments of a film that never stops hitting you in the gut, Solomon becomes complicit in his own enslavement and that of those around him, first whipping Patsy then leaving her crying to her fate when he wins his freedom.  I hugely respect McQueen’s ability to present humanity in its darkest and possibly most open form.

Honorable Mentions: Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Spike Jonze for “Her”  

Best+picture

Jaap Buitendijk

Best picture

What will win: “12 Years a Slave” What should win: “12 Years a Slave”/ “Her”

Despite the claims of many, “12 Years a Slave” is not just a History lecture– it is a powerful portrayal of the subjugation of the human spirit. Without mincing any words, the film is a masterfully acted, beautifully directed and stomach-clenchingly honest film portrayal of antebellum slavery. This film doesn’t show the plight of hundreds of slaves. It narrows our focus onto two very different slaves and lets us watch from a safe distance as horror after horror befall them. With slavery, it’s very easy to fall into histrionics and go for a hollywood exploitation angle and let the brutality of slavery rise to the pitch where it doesn’t register as real anymore, but instead as holywood slavery. This can still register, but adding in the painfully small details of things like Patsey weaving corn husk dolls in the field, or Northrup playing fiddle at a kinder man’s plantation gives the audience a microscopically detailed view of the living, breathing society that this took place in. This is the kind of film that makes a mark on those who see it, whether good or bad.  It leaves a lingering taste in your mouth and a sense of hesitation in your footsteps as you leave the theater. And though the term is trotted out to the point of absurdity, “12 Years a Slave” is a masterpiece.

her

I have never seen a movie quite like “Her.”  Amidst all of the “1984”s and the “Brave New World”s is “Her”, a film that both accepts and looks forward to the inevitable progress of technology.  Spike Jonze’s view of the future is one that is grounded in realism and simultaneously explores the optimism in which our Science Fiction stories are based on.  Ultimately, I think what impressed me the most about “Her” was its subtlety.  The way the future was realized, the wardrobe, the way that old, physical things existed next  to new technology, the way the colors made it feel somewhat hopeful in contrast the usual dystopian society we’re so used to seeing.  I can only awe at how Jonze masterfully enfolds all of these rich concepts into modest speculations, and then marries them with such relatable emotions and context, and pulls it all off with subtlety and restraint.  There is nothing about “Her” I would ever dream of changing.

Honorable Mentions: “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

 

Best+film+not+nominated

Michael Muller

Best film not nominated

“Spring Breakers”

Harmony Korine has never been one of my favorite filmmakers, but I absolutely love “Spring Breakers”.  I was always interested in why spring break was displayed the way it commonly is in film: with hilarity, unforgettable memories and friendship.  “Spring Breakers” breaks this mold, and just did everything I could have asked for.  An almost surreal, psychedelic look at the world of spring break and the significance of an escapist mentality, piloted by James Franco.  In general, the casting seemed to be extremely well done, and I loved the use of the (former) Disney stars.  It was a very controversial picture, but one that I think deserves mention nonetheless.

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