Pre-Oscars: 2013

Late as usual, everyone, but still in time for the awards.

Last year I had seen a personal record number of nominees prior to the actual award ceremony. This year I didn’t do nearly as well. Unfortunately, because I’ve seen so few nominees, and because of the time crunch, I won’t be able to go nearly as deep with my picks and analysis. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’ll probably wind up writing another 4000 words.

[Please note that this was written up in about 60 minutes and not edited very well at all. I just wanted to get it out there and then I may try to clean it up a bit when I have the time.]

Odds and Ends

(these are categories where I haven’t seen most of the nominees, or just don’t know how to pick)

  • The sound categories: strangely, I’ve missed 3 of the 6 nominees that show up in these categories (All is Lost, Lone Survivor and Inside Llewyn Davis). I usually wind up seeing all of them even before Oscar season. It’s going to be hard for me to argue against Gravity in the technical categories this year. Showing my ignorance of the categories, I’ll pick Gravity to sweep based solely on that movie knocking me on my ass in 3D IMAX.
  • Original Score: I think I’ll just copy my disclaimer from last year’s piece with a slight numerical modification. Again, I may just be a poor film listener, but I don’t often leave the theater raving about a score. I remember watching this episode of Columbo with my mother when it first aired and I distinctly recall Billy Connolly’s murderous composer saying something along the lines of “audiences only notice a film’s score when it is bad.” While I hesitate to take Columbo as gospel, I think maybe there’s something to that. Also, I’ve only seen 2 nominees, so I’m not going to pick anyone.
  • Original Song: I’ve only heard one and haven’t even listened to the others on their own. I hear this Frozen song is pretty good though.
  • Makeup and Hairstyling: You know what? I haven’t seen Bad Grandpa, but I’m going to throw my hat in the ring for The Lone Ranger. Say what you will, I think there’s a Little Big Man-level good movie somewhere in that 150-minute mess. I don’t know if something was lost or compromised by the overlords at Disney, or what, but there are some genuinely fun moments and some more somber ones as well that the movie can’t quite nail. The tonal incongruity throughout is what kills the film, but if it isn’t undeserving of a nomination, why not consider giving it the award? Dallas Buyers Club will probably win though.
  • Costumes: I genuinely enjoyed the typical Luhrmann flash in The Great Gatsby. That would be my pick out of the three I’ve seen.
  • Docs, Shorts, Foreign Films and Animated Features: In all of these categories, I’ve only seen The Croods. It was actually WAY better than the marketing for the film made me expect. That’s all I can really say.

Best Production Design
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: The Great Gatsby
Why: 12 Years because I think it’s the frontrunner for a lot of awards. Gatsby because, just like costumes, I was entranced by the world the film created. The movie itself isn’t really great, but it pops. Honestly, I think Gatsby is probably last on the list for the Academy.

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity
Why: Nothing compares, in my mind. If you don’t agree, you probably haven’t seen the film.

Best Film Editing
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Gravity
Why: This is a really tough one, mostly because this category is so closely tied to whatever film usually wins Best Picture. It’s also tough because I think the best thing about Captain Phillips is the editing, though I also think it drags in the second half. I’ll go with Gravity just because I’m on the bandwagon for that film, but I expect 12 Years might run off with it.

Best Cinematography
Will Win: Gravity
Should Win: Gravity
Why: This is my favorite category every year, and it’s often one that’s announced early in the night. I’ve been pushing Lubezki for the last two years and I think it’s finally his time (again, however, he should’ve won for Children of Men, Tree of Life and perhaps The New World). Perennial bridesmaid Roger Deakins is here too, and deservedly so as his work was the best part about Prisoners. Full disclosure, the only other nominee I’ve actually seen is Nebraska, which I also love. I just can’t see anyone toppling Lubezki, who’s work will finally get recognized because the movie was actually popular.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave
Why: Unfortunately, I’ve only seen 3 nominees, 12 Years, Captain Phillips and The Wolf of Wall Street. I’m a big Terence Winter fan for what he’s done on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, but I’m not sure that Wolf is as nuanced as even those TV projects. Does that mean 12 Years is better? I don’t know, but I’ll pick it.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: American Hustle
Should Win: Nebraska
Why: The only nominee I haven’t seen is Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which could well take it because, well, Woody Allen. I’ve chosen American Hustle as a “Will Win” because it’s a screenplay that resulted (indirectly, to be sure) in 4 acting nominations. Of course, that’s a shaky foundation on which to base a prediction, but like I said, I’m doing this quick and dirty. That said, Nebraska really resonated with me (probably as a Midwesterner). I also really liked Her for it’s vision of a not-too-distant, possibly-parallel future. It also raises a lot of interesting and sometimes troubling questions.

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Jared Leto
Should Win: Michael Fassbender
Why: Both roles have an “Oscar Bait” feel to them, to varying degrees. I don’t really like the term “Oscar Bait,” as a lot of films are made in hopes of winning attention, recognition and awards, but I like every stereotype, there’s some kernel of truth behind it. I personally like Fassbender better as an actor than Leto, but both men own their roles. I hesitate to say the race is between these two, because I think Leto is the clear frontrunner and I don’t think Fassbender is really that far removed from the rest of the pack, buzz-wise.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o
Why: Again, I come up short, as the only other nominee I’ve seen is June Squibb, whom I really wasn’t overly impressed by. Lawrence is a golden girl and everyone’s best friend after last year’s win. Not that she isn’t deserving, but I think Nyong’o should get it for a less flashy, more understated performance

Best Actor
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Why: I’ve actually seen all of the nominees in this category, which might be the toughest this year. I think McConaughey might be unstoppable at this point, but if anyone could catch him, it’s Ejiofor. I really liked both performances, and it’s hard to decide if one seems more flashy than the other. Just like Best Supporting Actor, I’ll go with Ejiofor’s more subdued work in 12 Years. That said, I’d slap Bruce Dern up there too. I think DiCaprio gave one of his best performances in a role that seemed a stretch for him (in a film I wasn’t crazy about). And Bale? This is the most human and sympathetic I’ve seen him in some time. I bought him almost the whole way through American Hustle.

Best Actress
Will Win: Amy Adams
Should Win: Amy Adams
Why: I really liked Amy Adams, but I can’t really offer any more evidence or comparison as Bullock is the only other nominee I’ve seen. Worth thinking about: I wonder how many female acting nominees, compared to male nominees, come from films that are not in the Best Picture race.

[Post-Oscars Note: When writing this post initially, I accidentally skipped over the category of Best Actress. In my haste to add it in, and and to finish this entire post, I completely forgot that Cate Blanchett was all but a lock for this category. Was I doing this over again, Blanchett would be my “Will Win.” Excuses, excuses, I know.]

Best Director
Will Win: Steve McQueen
Should Win: Alexander Payne
Why: As much as I love Cuaron and Gravity, I don’t think the “rest” of the movie holds up to the technical brilliance (which is a tall order to be sure). I feel like 12 Years is in for a lot of top awards, and I feel that McQueen will win Best Director to go along with a Best Picture award. Not having revisited his work in a while, I’m going to say that Nebraska is my favorite Alexander Payne film since Election. He gets real feeling out of his characters, whether trained actors or people off the street…er, farm.

Best Picture
Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Nebraska
Why: 12 Years ticks off some boxes without feeling like it’s trying too hard. McQueen brings an artist’s sensibility to the film, which sets it apart from a run-of-the-mill prestige film. I’d enjoy seeing Gravity pick this one up too, just because it is sheer escapist spectacle. Again “the rest” is going to drag Gravity down (no pun intended), but when the film is such a marvel, I kind of want to root for it. Still, it’s Nebraska that probably affected me the most out of all the nominees (except Philomena, which I didn’t have time to see). Having grown up in the Midwest, I was seeing the places and people I knew on screen. I wasn’t a small town or farm kid, but I traveled enough and met enough people that I feel like I’ve seen most of these characters at one point or another. The film is gorgeous in black and white (thank goodness Payne got permission for that, though it was shot in color). Also, the film carefully and beautifully hits the perfect pitch when dealing with the way it treats it’s main character. A decline into dementia could’ve been at the forefront of other awards-hungry picture, but that would ring so false here. I don’t have time or space to say much more, but having seen 8 of 9 nominees, Nebraska is my personal pick.

Leaving Philomena off the list for now, here is my ranking of the Best Picture nominees (with the bare minimum of commentary):

8. The Wolf of Wall Street – I need time to process this one. There were certain moments or scenes that soared, but it’s also a very troubling film overall. I’m far from a prude, but I’m kind of mixed on this one.

7. Captain Phillips – I described this one to a friend as “Greengrass does it again.”

6. American Hustle – It didn’t live up the craziness I saw in the trailer, and seemed kind of unfocused, but the performances were mostly great and the period setting was a lot of fun.

5. Dallas Buyers Club – Great performance and in interesting story. I think it might make a decent companion piece to last year’s Documentary nominee How to Survive a Plague.

4. 12 Years a Slave – the cast is superb (Paul Dano excepted, perhaps) and I think it avoids a lot of the prestige trappings that it might have had if someone like Spielberg directed it.

3. Gravity – an amazing leap forward in what a film can do visually. It’s a marvel. I just hate that I can’t always watch it on an IMAX screen.

2. Her – there’s more I should say about this (like where is Phoenix’s nomination?), but, as troubling as some of its implications are, I think it’s the most discussion-worthy film in the bunch.

1. Nebraska – because I loved most of it and my Midwestern roots allow me to forgive a lot of what might not work on the big screen.

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