Thursday, January 16, 2014
Oscar 2014: Nomination and Predictions
I’ve stopped trying to make predictions about what films the Academy will nominate. Mostly because I’m really bad at it. Sure, some things are easy to guess. Looking at 2013’s slate of films, and considering the Academy’s taste, anyone could have guessed “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “American Hustle” leading the nominations. However, did anyone predict “Inside Llewyn Davis” being relegated to a sole nomination in the technical categories? That “Lee Daniel's The Butler” would be totally locked out? Best Actor snubs for Tom Hanks / “Captain Philips” and Robert Redford / “All is Lost?” That Meryl Streep would get nominated again? Okay, we probably saw that one coming.
My point is that the AMPAS are finicky in their taste. I am not well-read enough in the world of modern Hollywood political bullshit to perfectly guess their decisions. I’ll try. And fail. These days I don’t even bother to see most of the potentially award-worthy films until after the nominations are announced. Let the Academy decide what is worth seeing. My own taste will direct me to what I like. Oscar’s taste can do the same for them. The difference is my opinions don’t dictate what the best and brightest the cinema world had to offer in 2013 was. This is my heavy-handed and long-winded way of saying that the Academy is frequently wrong, nobody cares but movie nerds like me, and we reserve the right to bitch and obsess over it.
As with the last few years, I’ll run down the important categories, offering my misguided, doubtlessly incorrect opinions and predictions on films I haven’t seen. It’s fun, right? Well, I think it’s fun anyway.
A few years back, the Academy made the public statement that there would be anywhere between five and ten Best Picture nominations. For some reason, this has evened out to nine nominations for the last few years. The Academy settled on nine this year seemingly just to exclude “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a film they inexplicably hated, from the top race.
“12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” consistently top many critics' list and their inclusion here is no surprise at all. Despite its extreme content, downbeat tone, and indie-driven talent, “Slave” is exactly the kind of historical drama Oscar loves. “Gravity,” meanwhile, is a single-woman sci-fi thriller show, not the kind of thing the Academy usually goes for. It’s a testament to that film’s quality, critical praise, and massive box office success that it’s running nearly head-to-head with the socially relevant, performance-packed, historical drama.
Considering the Academy long-stated love of David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese, it’s also no surprise that “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “American Hustle” placed high in the race. I mean, after all, both films were tailor-made to get little gold statues. More surprising where some of the other Best Picture nominations. “Her” was beloved by many critics but might have proved too idiosyncratic (Translation: insightful and relevant) for the Academy’s taste. Even if the film failed to place in many other categories, at least Oscar had the decency to nominate it. “Nebraska,” similarly, might have been too low-key. Both are a pleasant addition to the race even if both have zero chance of actually winning.
What about the genuine surprises? “Captain Philips” was well-liked but hardly unanimously loved. Its nomination isn’t hugely unexpected but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it phased out in favor of something else. “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” like-wise, was well-liked without being widely praised. Given the Academy’s love of mediocrity, maybe that helped the film, as it showed up in several other categories. The biggest surprise of the best picture race is “Philomena,” one of those British pics that appeal most to old ladies. Either there are a lot of old ladies in the Academy’s voting pool or the Weinsteins made a big, fat push for their chatty, likable elderly-chick-flick. Probably both. Either way, that was a title I really didn’t expect to see on the list Thursday morning.
Even with nine films nominated, the clear leaders are obvious. It’s coming down to “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.” The space thriller might still win but the Academy is all about safe choices. And the historical drama is the safe choice. “12 Years a Slave” will take the gold.
The only surprises the leading man category yielded were who didn’t get nominated. Bruce Dern’s turn in “Nebraska” is exactly the kind of older-actor / late-career-resurgence that Oscar loves. By all accounts, it’s a good, personal performance. I’m rooting for him even if he’s unlikely to be the Academy’s top pick.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination were very expected. DiCaprio has long been an Academy favorite and his turn in “Wolf” was soundly praised. Ejiofor, whose name is destined to be mispronounced repeatedly over the next six weeks, was an early contender for the statue. Sometimes Oscar rewards unknown names over recognized stars. This year looks to be a battle of that sort as these two lead the race, in my opinion.
At least until the Shirtless One wander in and took home a Golden Globe. Not that the Globes matter but they sometimes point you in Oscar’s direction. Matthew McConaughey, after a career of shitty movies, broke out last year with an amazing performance in “Killer Joe.” Oscar didn’t recognize him for that movie but “Dallas Buyers Club,” a gay movie that’s not too gay, seems more their taste. McConaughey’s Southern charm and possibly brave pick of material might be the mix necessary to win him an Oscar.
So it’s a tight race. But you know who’s most defiantly not going to win? Christian Bale randomly scooped up a nomination that probably should have gone to Oscar Isaac, Phoenix, Hanks, or Redford. By all accounts, Bale dialed back his notorious intensity in “American Hustle” which makes his nod even more surprising. Considering he already has an Oscar and it’s a performance nobody has been talking about, Batman won’t win. I mean, probably. You shouldn’t take my word for it.
My heart is rooting for Dern. My gut tells me this might finally be Leo’s year. While my brain says Chiwetel and the Artist Formally Known as the Shirtless One are the most likely winners. I honestly can’t make a clear prediction. 50/50 split between Ejiofor or McConaughey.
Nothing about the Best Actress Nominations is surprising or interesting. The Academy continues to shower Meryl Streep with nominations even though she’s the last person in the world who needs them. Will the AMPAS just say “Fuck it!” again this year and throw the Award Streep's way? It could always happen but I deeply, sincerely hope it doesn’t. Mostly because I don’t want to punch multiple holes in my wall.
You could say much the same about Judi Dench, another widely beloved actress who doesn’t have to do much to get nominated. “Philomena” seems to be considered a stronger role from her. Uninspired competition and the Academy’s obvious love of the film means she too might win on the “Fuck it!” factor.
Sandra Bullock is a spawn from a demon-gut-uterus and was also just an audience surrogate in “Gravity.” Granted, it was probably the best performance from an actress who has never tested herself on any level before. America’s Sweetheart, my ass. “Gravity” is certain to take home some awards on March 2nd but I don’t think Sandy will be packing any of them.
So the race really comes down to two names. Cate Blanchett previously won for her turn as Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator” but that was in the Supporting Category so it might as well not matter. Working with Woody Allen has brought actresses the gold before and “Blue Jasmine” seems to be an intense, strong performance for her.
However, my money’s on the Oscar-less woman. And it’s for all the wrong reasons. Amy Adams has been nominated repeatedly over the years without winning. Her turn in “American Hustle” is, by most accounts, nothing special. Adams will win strictly because it’s her time. Oscar likes her, she’s never won, competition is weak this year, and Amy has the most hype. These are the factors that decide winners, not talent.
Amy Adams for “American Hustle.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Best Supporting Actor is one of the strongest categories this year. With one exception anyway. Why the fuck does Jonah Hill keep getting nominated? I mean, he’s not a bad guy. He seems personable enough and has given likable performances in past films. But why this fat pudgy guy? Shit, if Oscar wanted to recognize one of Seth Rogan’s friends, why not James Franco in “Spring Breakers?” That performance was at least memorable.
Michael Fassbender probably isn’t bad in “12 Years a Slave.” Yet I suspect his nod here is to make up for his snub last year, for “Shame,” his previous collaboration with director Steve McQueen. Will the “make-up” factor be enough to win him the statue? Probably not. I have no doubt Fassbender will win an Oscar eventually but I don’t think it’ll be this year.
I keep saying this. The winner will be one of two people this year. Barkhad Abdi might be the best thing about “Captain Philips” and already has a few awards to his credit. While the film was not as well received by Oscar as expected, that sort of thing doesn’t always matter when it comes to the Supporting category.
Abdi might still get it but Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” seems the likelier choice. He plays a trans-person dying of HIV. Gee whiz, that’s some serious Oscar-bait there. Leto too is riding a strong wave of buzz into the ceremony. His career full of uninspired and forgettable movies is the strongest detriment in his favor. But then again, that didn’t hurt Monique and even “Chapter 27” wasn’t as shitty as “Phat Girlz.” Leto seems the prime choice in this category.
Also, Bradley Cooper was nominated. Nobody gives a shit.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
I’ve probably made it clear that, in my opinion, awards are won mostly because of hype, not talent. Best Supporting Actress is a surprisingly hypeless category this year. Sally Hawkins and Lupita Nyong’o have never received nods before and their names weren’t mentioned much in the run-up to the announcements. I’m a fan of Hawkins from her turn in “Happy-Go-Lucky” and I wish her all the luck. However, her winning would be a major surprise.
June Squibb is a character actress who has kicked around for years. Her brassy performance in “Nebraska” might be the most Academy-friendly of this lot. In another year, I'd say she’s the strongest contender. However, she has next-to-zero buzz behind her, making a potential win also very surprising.
For that matter, the only nominee here with any hype is America’s New Sweetheart. No, not Julia Roberts. Jesus Christ, I hope she doesn’t win. No, I’m talking about Jennifer Lawrence. I was an early supporter of Lawrence because of her incredible performance in “Winter’s Bone.” She has, subsequently, disappoint me with middling turns in populist shit like “The Hunger Games” series. Her performance in “American Hustle” is Big with a Capital B and you know Oscar loves that shit. Does she deserve to win? Probably not but America and the Academy voters love her. Will Lawrence join Luise Rainer and Katherine Hepburn in the club of actress to take home wins two years in a row? My gut is telling me yes. (My gut is sometimes wrong.)
The Academy fucking loves David O. Russell, more-so then is perhaps healthy. The guy has been on a nomination streak over his last three films. However, Russell is not Martin Scorsese, a universally beloved cinematic auteur. The Academy didn’t even start liking Russell until he ditched personal, weirdly independent projects in favor of things adapted and crowd-pleasing. He’ll win some year, probably for something big and historically significant. But not this year.
The same goes for Scorsese who is unlikely to win for something as rowdy and ballsy as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The Academy likes Alexander Payne too but “Nebraska” isn’t the kind of movie that wins best director awards.
Here we go again. Two names are vying for Best Director. “12 Years a Slave” is the Best Picture front-runner and Best Picture usually wins Best Director. In any other year, I’d say McQueen has this one in the bag. But this year brought “Gravity,” an astounding technical achievement. The real star of “Gravity” wasn’t Sandra Bullock but instead Alfonso Cuaron’s incredible composition. I guess Oscar might still wimp out and decide they’re afraid of even a moderately sci-fi story at the last minute. But if their heads aren’t completely up their asses, Cuaron will win. And their heads might be completely up their asses.
“Her” definitely deserves to win something and its best luck is in the writing categories. Sadly, Spike Jonze’s sweepingly romantic and mature movie is probably too heady for the Academy. Woody Allen just won a few years ago, and many times before, so I don’t think his Oscar is entirely plausible here. Bob Nelson’s screenplay for “Nebraska” might be the dark horse here, a suitably indie project unlikely to take home any other award. Nobody is betting on “Dallas Buyers Club” as its odds are much better in the acting categories.
Sadly, that’s not always how the Academy works. “American Hustle” winning Best Picture is unlikely and the voters are clearly in love with that movie. So they’ll probably throw Russell a bone for his co-written screenplay here.
As for the Adapted category… A lot of people really loved “Before Midnight” but I don’t see it winning. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the most “adapted” of the works, in the sense that it’s based off a best-selling book. That hype might lead it to a win. “Philomena’s” sudden push might do the same, especially since it won't pick up other awards. But the movie with the most hype is “12 Years a Slave.” A Best Picture juggernaut sometimes winds up plowing through the writing categories too. This is what I predict will happen. Both writing awards will go to movies that really aren’t that conceptually interesting. As is the way.
I’m rooting for “Her” and “Before Midnight.” But “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave” will probably get it instead.
I liked “Gravity” too. Yet the love that has greeted its score baffles me. It’s not really a score in the traditional sense but rather a collection of tension-raising sound effects. If a good score’s purpose is to power the film, then perhaps it is a great score. If a good score is meant to be listenable isolated from its source movie, I’d say it isn’t.
A score that is listenable is William Butler and Andy Koyama’s music for “Her.” It’s a score as swooning and evocative as the film that surrounds it. Sadly, I don’t see it winning just because the Academy is lame. John Williams’ work on “The Book Thief” is more personal and understated then you’d expect. Though I haven’t seen the movie yet, I suspect Alexander Dusplat’s personality filled score reflects "Philomena" quite well. Thomas Newman’s score for “Saving Mr. Banks” is bouncy, likable, and very commercial. Weirdly, that last factor might wind up robbing it. Since the Academy really doesn’t understand good music, “Gravity’s” cacophony of noise will likely take it. Pretty much any other choice would be preferable.
The most unexpected nomination of the day was the title song from “Alone Yet Not Alone,” a film that was on exactly zero radars. It’s a tiny, faith-based historical drama that got a qualifying run somewhere in the country last year. No, I haven’t heard of it. I have heard the song which is pretty but unexceptional, the female singer thankfully not going too over the top with the vocals. I don’t know why it got nominated. (UPDATE: It got nominated because the writer called everyone up and told them to vote for it.)
“The Moon Song” from “Her” is lovely, a rather perfect, low-key love song that I would gladly dance to at a wedding. Low-key isn’t the kind of thing that wins Best Song though. It’s also not a word you would use to describe “Ordinary Love,” U2’s typically bombastic contribution to the otherwise un-nominated “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” I don’t know why people keep falling for Bono’s whining vocals and overwrought lyrics.
The Academy passed over Pharrell Williams’ contributions to the first “Despicable Me” but did single out “Happy,” an upbeat number from the sequel. It’s a fun song with a chorus you can’t help but sing along too. It won’t win though because this is the season of “Frozen.” The stand-out number “Let It Go” has been tearing up the pop charts, not to mention spawning countless YouTube covers. The music in “Frozen” was overly goofy and disposable but “Let It Go” was clearly the strongest number, a powerful song bound to play at a few high school graduations. Disney knows that and has been pushing it like crazy these past two months. It’ll win. Hopefully Idina Menzel will perform at the ceremony instead of Demo Lovato.
OTHER FILM CATEGORIES:
Oscar continues to show little patience for Pixar’s sequels, save a “Toy Story 3” here and there. “Monsters University” was surprisingly snubbed, making room for a small film like “Ernest & Celestine” and “The Croods,” a film that very few people seem passionate about. “Despicable Me 2” made a lot of money but, seeing as how its obviously weaker then its predecessor, I don’t foresee a win. If “The Wind Rises” is indeed Miyazaki’s final film, the Academy might give it the award just based on that. Yet the film has proved divisive and somewhat difficult. Even if “Frozen” wasn’t as good as “Tangled” or “Wreck-It Ralph,” it’s overwhelming popularity and mass appeal looks to bringing it gold.
“The Act of Killing” was a documentary beloved by many this year, even outranking some fictional films on a few list. It appears to be the top choice here, even if “Cutie and the Boxer” and “The Square” have dug up some solid buzz. Mutual snubs for “Blackfish” and “Leviathan” proves that the Academy doesn’t care about ocean people.
I’ll admit to being totally ignorant about the foreign film selection. “The Hunt” earned some okay hype earlier in the year, so I guess that’s might pick? At first, I was surprised “Blue is the Warmest Color,” the most buzz-about foreign film of the year, didn’t get nominated. In retrospect though, it isn’t shocking that France chose not to submit such a controversial film as their pick.
I fully expect “Gravity” to tear through the technical categories. I would say Editing, the Sounds: Mixing and Editing, and Special Effects are in the bag. Maybe Cinematography too, even if a film widely shot on green screen probably shouldn’t be the winner in that category. (“Nebraska” is my other choice.) Production Design will probably go to “12 Years a Slave,” Costume Design too.
Finally, what the fuck, Oscar? Would it kill you to nominate some friggin’ genre movies in the Best Make-Up category? Oh, I’m sure “Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa” features some fine make-up effects. But, shit, wasn’t there some movie where people were turned into aliens or monsters or something? Jesus. Really? “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Lone Ranger” were your picks for best Make-up of the year? Christ.
January has proven a surprisingly busy month, which is why updates have been a bit slow around here. My Quentin Tarantino Director Report Card will resume tomorrow and play out throughout the rest of the month. Two Bangers n’ Mash episodes should be coming within the next weeks as well.
But after that? Oscar season rolls out in earnest, kiddos. I’ve got a pile of movies I plan on watching in February. By the time of the actual award show on March 2nd, I will be much more informed about the films nominated. On that night, my annual Oscar Live-Blog will commence where I will drunkenly yell over Ellen DeGeneres’ good nature jokes and whatever technical gaffs and controversies spring up that night. Catch you on the flip-side, film fans.