Here we are, again…the Big Kahuna. And, as usual, I’m pretty tapped out by this time of year from all of the reviewing, analyzing and pontificating. So much so, that I skipped a bunch of awards show breakdowns and editorials in 2013, and simply waited for tonight. I’ve watched 76 films that were 2013 releases in preparation for tonight’s Oscars—10 in the one month since posting my yearly Ten Best ranking. My weakest category this year(as it is most years)will be Best Foreign Language Film, as I’ve only seen one(“The Hunt” from Denmark). Two have not even received a general release in the United States yet(“The Missing Picture” from Cambodia and “Omar” from Palestine)and the other two have just recently been made available via PPV On Demand(Italy’s “The Great Beauty” and Belgium’s “The Broken Circle Breakdown”). At the very least, I hope to be bringing you reviews of the latter two later this month. One other thing I want to make clear. Although I, along with just about every other film enthusiast on the planet, considers the Academy Awards broadcast the true culmination of the movie season, I do NOT consider it the barometer for film quality or success. Neither is it box office. In a way, it’s sort of intangible. The true “Best Picture” of the year(as if choosing just ONE is even a feasible thing)rarely takes home the prize…in most instances it isn’t even nominated. “Citizen Kane” didn’t win. “Vertigo” didn’t win. “2001: A Space Odyssey” didn’t win(are you listening “Gravity”!). And “Taxi Driver” didn’t win(especially palpable during a decade where Martin Scorsese gets nominations he doesn’t deserve). This year the finest motion picture of 2013 WAS nominated(“Her”), and until recently I thought it would be completely shut out of a victory amongst its 5 total nominations. Now, I’m not so sure—a bunch of races are superclose this year. Even Best Picture—which is usually a lock by this time. It makes it interesting, I’ll give it that. And it’s the major reason to tune in tonight—there may actually be some upsets. The other reason is, if you are a true cinema lover like me, that you HAVE to suffer through this annually. Let’s just get it all out-of-the-way now: the show was overlong…it was boring…my favorites were ignored…this one made a kooky speech…that one made a wonderful speech…I hated that dress…I loved THAT dress…Meryl Streep LOST(yes she did, and thankfully she’s not even considered a true contender this year for that ham bone performance in “August: Osage County”)? But it’s OSCAR. We have to do it. So, don’t tell me that you glanced at the winners the following morning. Refrain from informing me how you went to bed before all the biggies were announced. No fair to record it and fast forward the next day. Excuses, excuses. This is the one you are supposed to watch live and suffer with the rest of us. This is our Super Football Spectacular(I don’t think I’m legally supposed to use its real name)folks, and it’s finally here. Now, let’s get on with it:
Best Picture: the winner will be “12 Years a Slave”, and I’m sort of okay with that, even though I don’t think it’s deserving. This is a three film race this year. Of those three, I like “Gravity” the best(or I should clarify—the “Gravity” 3D IMAX experience the best)and the lightweight “American Hustle” the least. But all three are still in the running, and I like them all just fine. But “12 years a Slave” has that feeling of importance that the Academy loves, although I believe the director’s first two films were vastly superior. However, “12 Years a Slave” has that “Schindler’s List” factor—it simply can’t lose because of what it’s about. It also makes white people feel good about themselves for supporting it, I just wish they had that feeling in 1989 when Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” should have taken it all. “Her” is my favorite film of 2013, but I’m no fool. I’m quite fond of “Nebraska”, and even “Captain Phillips”, but forget about it. And I don’t believe that “Dallas Buyers Club”, “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Philomena” should even be being considered. So, “Slave” should edge “Gravity”, while “Hustle” buzz dies.
Best Director: the winner will be Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity”, and he pretty much locked it up as soon as he garnered the DGA. True, you can’t possibly count out Steve McQueen for “12 years a Slave”, especially if it ends up taking Best Picture. But, not unlike Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” in 2012, all the talk has been about how incredible the overall achievement of “Gravity” was(plastic glasses and mega-screens have changed the landscape, readers). I’m not crazy about “Gravity”‘s screenplay, but it is quite a visual and aural experience. I imagine David O. Russell garners a few sympathy votes, but Alexander Payne hasn’t a prayer for the fine “Nebraska”, and Marty is in for “The Wolf of Wall Street” based on prior reputation alone. Cuaron nails this.
Best Actor: the winner will be Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club”, even though the film itself is kind of tepid. I’ll say this however, it contains two of the year’s best performances(more on the other one coming up soon). Oh, how I adore Chiwetel Ejiofor’s titanic turn in “12 Years a Slave”. And what a thrill it would be to witness 77-year-old Bruce Dern cradling the gold for “Nebraska”. And I enjoyed Christian Bale and his comb-over in “American Hustle”, but everyone realizes that his nomination belonged to Tom Hanks’ career-best work in “Captain Phillips”. One thing though: Leo DiCaprio has been gaining steady support for “The Wolf of Wall Street”. While Matthew M’s attention derives from what’s been perceived as a “comeback”, of sorts, Leo C’s burgeoning contendership is a matter of “never gone anywhere”. Leo has been consistently strong in a number of acclaimed films for a bunch of years. That would be enough a lot of the time…but I still believe Matthew M. has got this wrapped up. Need more? McConaughey lost a load of weight for the role, plus he plays an AIDS victim. Need I say anything else?
Best Actress: the winner will be Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine”, and even the recent reemergence of the Woody Allen-Farrow Family battle hasn’t seemed to dent her status. Yes, Cate has a supporting actress award for “The Aviator” almost a decade ago(for those who care, Scorsese’s most recent GREAT film, as far as this critic is concerned), plus no one has ever forgotten how she should’ve topped Gwyneth Paltrow way back at the end of the last century. And Blanchett is head-and-shoulders above every other single nominee in this category, which helps immensely. But Amy Adams has a prayer. Remember last year, when I said she was always the bridesmaid(5 total nominations now)? She’s eclectic(major roles this past year in “American Hustle”, “Her” and “Man of Steel”), she’s beautiful and she’s likable. One of these days she might even win. But Blanchett is so damn good that Adams will have to wait again. Bullock was impressive against the green screens of “Gravity”, but she’s won too recently. Dench is a superb actress coasting through the very calculated and dishonest “Philomena”(although it’s claimed that the older Academy voters love the movie), and Meryl Streep is once again being considered simply for being who she is(it must stop!). So, I’m going with Cate.
Best Supporting Actor: the winner will be Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club”, and I’m totally cool with that. He’s riveting and nuanced in a very flamboyant role. His dying drag queen is the perfect counterpart to Matthew McConaughey’s dying homophobic cowboy, and they play off of each other wonderfully. It’s the reason to see the mediocre movie. Amateur Barkhad Abdi is super in “Captain Phillips”, but his nomination is his prize. Bradley Cooper for “American Hustle” and Jonah Hill for “The Wolf of Wall Street” are just happy to be here, plus both were far better in their previously nominated roles(Coop for “Silver Linings Playbook” last year, and Hill for “Moneyball” from 2011). Michael Fassbender still has a shot, especially if the night shapes up as a “12 Years a Slave” love fest. But Leto appears to have this in the drag…er, bag.
Best Supporting Actress: the winner will be Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave”…I think. Is there a closer race? Remember, how last year I was rooting for 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva to win Best Actress(for “Amour”)over the admittedly unforgettable 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence(the winner, for “Silver Linings Playbook”), if only because, even if you liked them equally, Riva would never get another chance? Well, here we are, the other chance(Riva must be pissed). And Lawrence remained the favorite for weeks after “American Hustle” hit screens. But lately the tides have been turning. And while Chiwtel Ejifor watched his stock steadily decline, Lupita’s rapidly rose. This is the coin flip, folks. And the feeling here is that another award for Lawrence will be viewed as too much too soon, while Nyong’o taking an award for her first major film—and for a very serious one of a historical nature—is the one that feels right to the Academy. We will see, because neither will be considered an upset. Oh, how I ADORE the marvelous June Squibb and her sly turn in “Nebraska”(even more so than Bruce Dern—plus, at 84, she’s even more ancient!). And I’ve been a huge fan of Sally Hawkins ever since she was robbed for 2008’s “Happy-Go-Lucky”(wins the Golden Globe, but no Oscar nom). Ho-hum to Julia Roberts, and I think that is the general consensus. Lupita by half a hair.
Best Adapted Screenplay: the winner will be John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave”, although there is lots of late money on Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for the Academy-friendly & admired “Philomena”. I hope “Philomena” doesn’t win, because I found its screenplay obvious and cloying—but Oscar eats that stuff up. Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight”, one of my favorite films of the year(and perhaps my favorite film series)will lose handily, as will Terence Winter for “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Billy Ray for “Captain Phillips”. Ridley has majesty on his side though, and that should be enough. No one will ever let you forget this year, that “12 years a Slave” is important(thankfully, that preaching will be over soon).
Best Original Screenplay: the winner will be “American Hustle” and writers David O. Russell & Eric Warren Singer, but I’m nervous and excited about the rocketing prospects for “Her” and creator Spike Jonze. It’s been a groundswell…and the younger, hipper Academy crowd loves “Her” and Jonze. But will it be enough? It’s razorclose at this point. But the screenplay award is typically given to films that come up short elsewhere, and it could be “American Hustle”‘s only major victory. Also, will the Academy really honor the quirky “Her”? It’s another difficult one to pinpoint, and it means I’m picking against my favorite film of 2013, but I think Oscar will finally deem David O. Russell due. But many think he’s a jerk, so hold onto hope Jonze supporters! Woody Allen has had loads of bad press lately, so “Blue Jasmine” is out(plus, he just won 2 years ago in this category and anyone should see that “Blue Jasmine” is an adaptation of “A Streetcar Named Desire”). Bob Nelson does a nice job with “Nebraska”, but he’s got zero buzz and he’s not going to win. Nice job writing stellar roles for McConaughey and Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack—but that’s as close to victory as you are getting. It’s “Hustle” by a microbe…and the one where I actually prefer to be wrong.
Best Animated Feature: the winner will be “Frozen”, and it’s the only category I’m predicting in which I haven’t seen all of the nominations. I’m pretty much guaranteeing, that when I finally view Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”, it’ll be my favorite 2013 animated release. But it didn’t receive wide distribution until just this past week, and in most theaters with a dub of recognizable English-speaking stars. And that’s a no-no for me. I’ll experience it with English subtitles in the original Japanese when the DVD is finally released. Plus, swansong or not, Miyazaki took home this award in 2003 for the brilliant “Spirited Away”. He’s not beating the Disney machine this time around. And France’s “Ernest & Celestine” hasn’t been anywhere near a local theater, plus it’s absolutely not on anyone’s radar. Which leaves the lightweight “The Croods” and “Despicable Me 2”, both of which I’ve seen and neither of which is in serious contention. If you are holding on for a Miyazaki win fans, you can just “let it go”(sorry). It’s “Frozen”, and its billion dollar box office, all the way.
Some loose ramblings: expect “Gravity” to rack up a slew of tech awards—and it deserves them, it’s the whole show. Foreign Film is usually way too difficult to pinpoint, but I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz for Italy’s “The Great Beauty”. It’s anyone’s guess though, plus I’m annoyed by my yearly dearth in this important category. Also, I’ve been reading a hell of a lot of press about Harvey Weinstein’s gargantuan push for “20 Feet from Stardom”—which is very good, but my least favorite of the nominees. In a just world, “The Act of Killing” walks away with it, and on a truly perfect planet Sarah Polley’s astonishing “Stories We Tell” picks up a nomination. Anyway, I was 10 out of 12 last year and 8 for 9 my first year on the blog. Can I go nine out of nine this time? Or will all of my close calls go the other way? Tune in tonight, and feel free to comment tomorrow. This should be an interesting and frustrating ride!