2014 Oscars Preview.

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GUEST POST.  Woods’ wife did a write-up on the Oscars and I asked if she would let me post it and she said yes.  I don’t have anything knowledgable to add on the Oscars; I’m irrationally biased toward anything featuring Mary Poppins’ songs; so I’m ruling myself out.  But thought you all might enjoy a preview on different sort of competitive spectacle.  So here is:

Oscar Surprise – 2014 Edition

UPDATE 3/3:  Maria hit all six predictions.

2013 was an incredible year at the movies and for the film industry in general.  Sequels were the box office winners, with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3 and Despicable Me 2 leading the way.  New advancements in filmmaking technology delivered big screen wows, thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, best seen in IMAX 3D.  It was also a good year for movies based on real people and actual events. Only three of the nine nominated films are pure fictional creations.

In celebration of this year’s Academy Award nominees, I’ve altered my annual musings to better reflect my love of film.  Gone are the “who should win” and “who got snubbed” sections.  With so much negative energy in the world today, I elected to focus on the positive. I’ll share my favorite performances, suggest a few films to seek out for your viewing pleasure, and finish with my predictions on who will end up at the podium on Oscar night.

Actor – Leading

Favorites: What an incredible year for the men. Every single nominee delivered a performance worthy of Oscar gold. I adored Christian Bale’s lovable con man in American Hustle, but felt his role was more a part of a great ensemble than a true leading man. There’s a reason the SAG voters gave their top award to this movie.

Of the rest, I keep coming back to two performances.  Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey.  Bruce Dern was excellent in Nebraska, and Leonardo DiCaprio mesmerized as the hyper-kinetic, quaalude-addled Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, I could make a fairly strong case for DiCaprio to win. But it’s hard to surmount the grand character arcs of a kidnapped free man sold into slavery and a homophobe dying of AIDS. Ejiofor, as Solomon Northup, brings the audience with him on his horrific journey and allows you see the story through his eyes.  McConaughey continues his career reinvention with a searing portrayal of a man desperate to find a way to stay alive.i.2.matthew-mcconaughey-dallas-buyers-club

For your consideration:  I wish there was room at the table for Oscar Isaac and Joaquin Phoenix.  Isaac owns the screen in the Coen brothers’ musical fable Inside Llewyn Davis. Phoenix had the unenviable task of making the audience believe he was falling in love with his computer’s operating system in Her. That he was able to convincingly do so is worthy of recognition.

Prediction: Early odds favored Ejiofor, but the momentum for McConaughey has been steadily building. McConaughey delivered outstanding performances in three movies this year – Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, and The Wolf of Wall Street – and the Academy loves a success story.  I’m hoping for a tie, but I believe the late groundswell of support for Dallas Buyers Club will give the edge to McConaughey.

Winner:  McConaughey.

Actor – Supporting

Favorites: I loved them all. Like the nominees for actor in a leading role, each and every performance is strong. Topping the list for me is Michael Fassbender, for his harrowing turn as a vicious, alcoholic slave owner. 12 Years A Slave is Fassbender’s third film with Steve McQueen, and it shows. He’s riveting; I couldn’t take my eyes off him when he was on screen.jared-leto-drag-dallas-buyers-club

I’ll come back to Bradley Cooper in American Hustle time and again; David O. Russell really knows how to get the most from his actors.

Fun Fact:  American Hustle is the 15th film to score nominations in all acting categories, and David O. Russell is the first director to do it consecutively.  In 2012, he achieved the same feat with Silver Linings Playbook.

For your consideration:  Need more McConaughey? Check out Mud, a lovely little indie also featuring an excellent Reese Witherspoon. Another fine movie to put on your to-watch list: The Place Beyond the Pines.  Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Rosario Dawson, it’s a story of fathers and sons, and the sacrifices they make. Gosling is brilliant – and beautiful – in this underrated gem.

Prediction:  Jared Leto has won many early awards, and he’s virtually unrecognizable in the film. He showed up on set in character as Rayon, so many of his costars didn’t actually meet Jared Leto until filming wrapped.  Barkhad Abdi could pull off an upset victory if the Academy wants to honor Captain Phillips, but I think Leto will get the call.

Winner:  Leto.

Actress – Leading

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Favorites: When I saw Blue Jasmine last summer, I left the theater certain Cate Blanchett would win the Oscar for her devastating portrayal of a deeply disturbed New York socialite seeking refuge at her sister’s home in San Francisco. I’m a huge Amy Adams fan, and she is every bit as good as her cast mates in American Hustle.  But Blanchett had the meatier role, and she was perfectly cast in Woody Allen’s film.

For your consideration:  A couple of independent films worth checking out are Before Midnight (Julie Delpy) and Frances Ha (Greta Gerwig).  At least Julie Delpy can take solace in the fact she’s part of the writing team nominated for best Adapted Screenplay along with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke.

Prediction:  The easiest call of the evening. Cate Blanchett will win her second Oscar.

Winner:  Blanchett.

Actress – Supporting

Favorites:  Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is a breath of fresh air; she’s heartbreaking in 12 Years A Slave. And as much as I loved Jennifer Lawrence’s brash and bawdy housewife in American Hustle, June Squibb stole every scene from her accomplished co-stars in Nebraska.

Fun fact:  Squibb was a guest star on my favorite soap opera, The Young & the Restless, playing a friendly diner waitress opposite the late, great Jeanne Cooper.1915593

For your consideration:  Julia Roberts may have had the juiciest role as eldest sister Barbara in August: Osage County, but her costars were equally good with less showy material. Julieanne Nicholson delivered a quietly beautiful performance as middle sister Ivy, and Juliette Lewis returned to fine form as Karen, the youngest of the Weston girls.

Prediction:  If tradition holds, this will be the wild card of the evening. Lawrence and Nyong’o have split the awards so far, and it’s likely one of them will win. I’m betting Academy voters will honor Nyong’o for her amazing performance.

Winner:  Nyong’o.

Directing

Favorites: David O. Russell has three directing nominations for his last three movies – American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Fighter. I love his movies. They make me happy.

I didn’t expect to like The Wolf of Wall Street as much as I did, and that’s largely due to Martin Scorsese’s talent. I think this film is much better than The Departed, which won Scorsese his first and only Academy Award.MOV_Gravity_AlfonsoCuaron2_2390

For your consideration:  With nine best picture nominees and only five best director slots, someone is sure to be left out. Even though I knew all the details of Captain Phillips before seeing the film, Paul Greengrass expertly paced the action and kept me on the edge of my seat. Spike Jonze created a magnificent rendering of a not-too-distant future world in Her, and managed to sell a romance with only one physical actor.

Prediction: Another close race, if early awards are any indication. Will the Academy reward technological innovation or heartfelt, emotional storytelling? My thinking is they’ll go with the former, and give Alfonso Cuarón a little gold statue. His opening 17-minute tracking shot was pure genius.

Winner:  Cuarón.

Best Picture

Favorites:  This one is tough. I enjoyed all nine films. Some more than others. So here’s my “forced” ranking, although there’s not much separation between 4-6.

  1. American Hustle
  2. 12 Years A Slave
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Dallas Buyers Club
  5. Nebraska
  6. Her
  7. Philomena
  8. Captain Phillips
  9. Gravity

twelve_years_a_slave_xlgFor your consideration:  The Academy could have awarded ten films with nominations.  For me, two bona fide contenders are Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.  Neither movie is mainstream, but Blue Jasmine is one of Allen’s finest films, and the best he’s done lately.  (And I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris.)  The film captures New York and San Francisco as only Allen can, and he elicits bravura performances from his entire cast – even Andrew Dice Clay.

Inside Llewyn Davis was on many critics’ top ten lists, but I left the theater scratching my head over what it was all about.  Maybe that’s the point. Forget the plot. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy Joel and Ethan Coen’s twisted take on the American folk scene, right before Bob Dylan crashed the party.

Prediction:  In what may be the tightest race in recent history, the top three nominated films – Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave – all have a winning chance.  Gravity for its technological prowess, American Hustle for its sheer wealth of talent and propulsive storytelling, and 12 Years A Slave for its powerful emotional impact. American Hustle may be the lightweight here, and the Academy rarely rewards a comedy over a drama, Shakespeare in Love notwithstanding.

12 Years A Slave may be the most important film of 2013, and it should be required viewing for every American wanting to better understand what it meant to be a person of color in the antebellum South. 12 Years A Slave for the win.

Winner:  12 Years A Slave.

More fun facts

  1. There are over 500 uses of the F-word in The Wolf of Wall Street, the most for any Oscar nominated movie. The previous record was also held by Scorsese. Goodfellas had around 300.
  2. If he wins for best original song, Frozen composer Bobby Lopez achieves the EGOT. (That’s an acronym for “Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony” in reference to persons who have won all four awards.)
  3. At 23, Jennifer Lawrence is the youngest actress to earn three Oscar nominations.
  4. At 84 and 77 respectively, June Squibb and Bruce Dern would be the oldest Oscar winners should their names be called on Oscar night.
  5. Meryl Streep breaks her own record, scoring an 18th Oscar nomination for her role as Violet Weston in August: Osage County.

woods aka Holden beach1

Born and raised in Cleveland Heights. Attended Cathedral Latin until Bishop Hickey sold it to the Cleveland Clinic where it is now a parking lot. Graduated from St. Ignatius. Graduated from University of Dayton. Long suffering Browns, Indians and Cavs fan. Currently live in Atlanta and Holden Beach.

  • Woods

    6 for 6

    Why bet when you deal in certainty?

  • Petefranklin

    Fucking Wolf of Fucking Wall Street should win every fucking award for fucking Scorsese! I never got to try a fucking lude, but I’m sure I would have fucking liked them if I was 5 fucking years older! American Hustle mehhh. Captain Phillips was great! And fight songs…KSU gets rockin when they play that Wabash Cannonball song. I’m still pumped from watching them come through yet again at home and hearing the band, $$$$! That song alone should have gotten an honorable mention.

    • ok i gotta get to that one.

      i just burned thru hustle, dallas, and gravity. revising my bale comment below and going all in on mcconaughy and agreeing with maria’s take on cuaron.

  • Haven’t seen the others (so should probably stay quiet) but Christian Bale is going to be tough to beat. Even though it’s an ensemble cast he owns the screen when he’s on it.

  • bupalos

    12 years a slave is a great story, and a great conduit to explore what would have been the realities of slavery, but is it a great film? Its depiction of the extreme violence and metastasizing cultural depravity of slavery is extremely valuable. Everyone should see it for that, and maybe in a weak field is the best film just for that. But as a complete film, it has serious flaws. The biggest is the simple flatness of the characters. It’s odd that the mad, depraved Fassbender seems to have the most compelling interior life. The characters were are all too emotionally simplified to keep me involved–in fact through the movie all the slaves are flattened out to near nothingness except for the two. And the Pitt cameo scene nearly destroyed the whole movie for me, I honestly think it would be a better movie if it just went to a black screen and ended right before that. Starting with the Pitt scene there is simply no there there. The reunion scene? Practically meaningless. It’s so charged and…there’s just nothing. Maybe a better actor could have conveyed more emotion in all the silence, but really the Solomon character was too flat from the start to ever have that turn into much.

    I’ll agree it’s a movie everyone should see–it’s amazing there really are practically no movies actually trying to depict what slavery was like and how far it’s emotional and psychological implications must have gone both for slave and master and everyone involved. The slave market scene alone is better than anything I’ve read or seen pretty much ever on the subject. But I don’t think this is a movie that will hold up as a movie outside of it’s social accomplishment. I haven’t seen most of the others. I hope one of them is a better candidate overall as a film than 12 years.

  • Woods

    Well, obviously I am biased in my appreciation of/for this guest post. Props to Kanicki for adding the pretty pictures.

    The Oscar red carpet and telecast is Maria’s version of the NFL combine and draft all in one night.

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