Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 Oscars: Predictions, Thoughts, and Gripes

Well Chuck Berry said it best when he intoned "it goes to show you never can tell" and that is especially true about this morning's Oscar nominations. In a year that was as lacking as any I could remember since I began regularly attending the movies, I was generally pleased with the Academy's choices. Of course I have some bones to pick, the overachieving American Hustle outdid itself again scoring nods in every major category, and Dallas Buyers Club, much like it's indomitable protagonist, brought itself back from the dead (one of the biggest jokes of the day is it's procurance of a screenwriting nod for a movie that resembled little more than an Illness of the Week flick). There were omissions for Tom Hanks, who was strong in two pictures, and in what I perceive as the biggest robbery of the day, Inside Llewyn Davis was virtually unrecognized with only Bruno Delbonnel getting an expected cinematography nod in addition to another minor one. I was very happy with the many accolades for Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street, two excellent pictures that looked like they might be overlooked and it was nice to see The Butler being completely shut out. So, click here for a complete list of nominees, and without further adieu, here is a brief breakdown of the major categories:
Best Picture
Nine pictures, no major surprises or complaints. I couldn't stand American Hustle or Her, but they were acclaimed, popular movies made by trendy people and you can't really argue when critics and audiences have their minds made up before seeing the movie. Dallas Buyers Club is the only unexpected disappointment: it's a movie that doesn't fulfill its promise and winds up being run of the mill, the one thing you thought it wouldn't be. I loved how Philomena received a nomination but I'm curious as to whether its anti-Catholic material was used to sell it to voters. I also liked how Captain Phillips wasn't forgotten (an October release, eons ago for the short term memories of the Academy). The race seems to be between 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle (unfortunately I'd give the edge to David O. Russell's unfairly praised picture) but Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street are the best of the lot, both funny and relevant to our times.
Should Win: Nebraska
Will Win: American Hustle
Best Director
The strongest of the categories, only David O. Russell doesn't belong, even though his chances of winning are strong. I won't complain if any of the others do take home the trophy but I think Scorsese had the greatest achievement and most memorable, impressive set pieces (yes, even over Alfonso Cuaraon's mesmeric long takes in space). However, even if Marty doesn't win and hears Russell's name being called, he should go up and accept anyway since his technique was completely ripped off for American Hustle.
Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor
So Christian Bale dons a pot belly and a combover while affecting his worst Fonzie impersonation and squeezes out one of at least five great(er) performances (Idris Elba, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Michael B. Jordan, Oscar Isaac) when the Academy bafflingly gives him a nod in an incredibly packed race. That being said I loved the praise for Leo and Bruce Dern, who both did career work and appeared to be on the outside looking in. Someone in Hollywood finally wised up and gave Chiwetel Ejiofor the lead role he deserved and he responded with a remarkable performance and Matthew McConaughey deserves the attention, if not for his great turn, then for his recent acting blitz.
Should Win: Bruce Dern, Nebraska (I always root for the old guys and he was great)
Will Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actress
This category is weak sauce and they could have done so much better. I love how Meryl Streep bemoans award season but always winds up at the big dance, often for unworthy movies. I secretly suspect that she works these nominations (her 18th) into her contract (full disclosure: I have yet to see August, Osage County). Amy Adams and Cate Blanchett don't belong here and I couldn't figure out exactly what either was doing in their respective roles. I loved Sandra Bullock and Judi Dench, I just wish they could have been joined by Adele Exarchopoulous (Blue is the Warmest Color) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said).
Should Win: Judi Dench, Philomena
Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor
In all the years I can recall this is the first time I'd refer to this category as fairly lackluster. I wasn't as taken with Michael Fassbender as most. He was good but I prefer to think of this as a makeup nomination for when he was unfairly overlooked for his unprecedented year in 2011. Jonah Hill was deserving and non-actor Barkhad Abdi's nomination for Captain Phillips may be my favorite of the year. On the other end of the spectrum is Bradley Cooper. The guy is on fire right now but if you have to nominate him can't you put him up for something like The Place Beyond the Pines where his work was the only stellar part in an otherwise unworthy picture. Geez, I'd imagine even his work in The Hangover III was more restrained than in American Hustle. This is Jared Leto's year but I wonder if it was really that much of a stretch for him to play a woman. This was also a missed opportunity to tribute James Gandolfini for his fine work in Enough Said.
Should Win: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress
Sing to the heavens, no Oprah! I was dreading the talk show queen's nomination for her all too easy work in the Oscar bait The Butler, which I believe would have surely turned in to a win. Unfortunately we have to settle for Julia Roberts which (again I haven't seen her movie) has to be the result of star power and campaigning. Lupita Nyong'o is being nominated for her 12 Years a Slave work more so for the material than the performance and Jennifer Lawrence is up because she's Jennifer Lawrence. That being said, I really liked the work of Sally Hawkins and June Squibb.
Should Win: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle