Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reid's 2014 Oscar Preview

Last year, I began writing an article similar to one in the Boston Globe in which critics preview the Academy Awards, using 4 categories:  “Will Win,” “Should Win,” “Shouldn’t Be Here,” and “Was Robbed.”  They follow each with a paragraph about the races.   I will use the same format this year to preview eight categories of the 2014 Academy Awards (movies from 2013).

Now, I should mention in advance that I usually give the Academy voters more credit than they deserve in picking the best picture.  I mistakenly assume that they watch the movies, like I do, and vote for the film that had the best script, direction, acting, filming, etc., when actually, they often vote for a director they like or want to work with, or for the movie that hired them or most of their friends.  As a result, you have results like “Argo” beating “Lincoln,” “The Hurt Locker” over “Avatar,” “The Departed” over “Letters from Iwo Jima,” and “Crash” over all of the other more worthy nominees.  But, just as often, they do end up picking a Best Picture that is at least one of the top three, so they deserve some credit.

So, here is my preview:

Best Picture

The Nominees: “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Will Win: “Gravity”
Should Win: “Gravity”
Shouldn’t Be Here: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Was Robbed:  “Saving Mr. Banks” 

A month ago, I would have said that “American Hustle” will win, but the trend seems to be moving away from that movie, which is mostly actor-driven, to the more worthy “Gravity,” which contains all of the elements of a great film.  “12 Years a Slave” has an outside chance, but because it is an American story with a British director and star, it is less likely to win.  DiCaprio’s performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is Oscar-worthy, but the movie itself is not. And I can’t understand how the voters passed up the beautiful “Saving Mr. Banks,” especially in a field where up to ten films can be nominated; maybe it’s some anti-Disney sentiment.

Best Actor

The Nominees:
  • Christian Bale in “American Hustle”
  • Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
  • Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Shouldn’t Be Here: none
Was Robbed:  Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips”

This is a tough category because all five actors deserve to be in it, but so does Tom Hanks for his riveting performance in “Captain Phillips.”  McConaughey’s performance was excellent, and he seems to have the voters on his side, but it’s a shame if DiCaprio misses winning the award for his amazing portrayal of real-life Wall Street entrepreneur Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is the only reason to see the movie.

Best Actress

The Nominees:
  • Amy Adams in “American Hustle”
  • Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
  • Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”
  • Judi Dench in “Philomena”
  • Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”
Will Win: Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
Should Win: Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
Shouldn’t Be Here: none
Was Robbed:  Brie Larson in “Short Term 12”

The Academy went big on this one, nominating five of its A-list actresses, all of whom submitted outstanding performances.  Cate Blanchett will likely win for her outstanding portrait of a once-wealthy woman who has lost everything, including her mind.  However, I wouldn’t be upset if they gave it to Judi Dench for her simultaneously forceful and subdued performance in “Philomena.”  And while Brie Larson deserves to be here because of her incredibly nuanced performance in “Short Term 12,” I have a feeling she’ll be getting plenty more opportunities as her career progresses.

Best Director

The Nominees:
  • David O. Russell for “American Hustle”
  • Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity”
  • Alexander Payne for “Nebraska”
  • Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave”
  • Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity”
Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón for “Gravity”
Shouldn’t Be Here: Martin Scorsese for “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Was Robbed:  Lee Daniels for “The Butler”

Last year, the Academy inexplicably bypassed Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) in favor of Ang Lee (Life of Pi), so you never know what they are going to do, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the most clear-cut choice of the awards.  Cuarón created a drama that envelopes you in a three-dimensional vision of space while making you feel the way you might in zero gravity, and in doing so, he advanced the art of filmmaking.  And while I know it’s sacrilege to leave Scorsese out of a discussion of Best Director, this film didn’t deserve it, especially when you had Lee Daniels (The Butler) effectively chronicling the Civil Rights movement and its effect on the American presidency.

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:
  • Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
  • Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
  • Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
  • Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
  • Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Will Win: Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Should Win: Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Shouldn’t Be Here: Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Was Robbed:  Will Forte in “Nebraska”

First, let me say that Jared Leto’s performance as a transgendering AIDS patient was brilliant, and he deserves to win the Oscar he almost certainly will receive.  I’d also like to say that I usually like Bradley Cooper, but this performance was awful and is in no way comparable to the other actors in this category.  Finally, although Bruce Dern is getting much-deserved praise for his role in “Nebraska,” the Academy should have also recognized Will Forte, who plays off Dern perfectly in a more nuanced role.  It reminds me of Tom Cruise in “Rain Man,” who deserved a nomination in support of Best Actor winner Dustin Hoffman.

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:
  • Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”
  • Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
  • Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
  • Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
  • June Squibb in “Nebraska”
Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
Shouldn’t Be Here: Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
Was Robbed:  Julianne Moore in “Don Jon”

Lupita Nyong’o definitely earned and will likely receive this award for her performance as a slave in an awful situation in the excellent “12 Years a Slave.”  And while I really like Jennifer Lawrence as an actress, I felt that this performance was completely over the top, especially when compared to the beautifully subtle performance of Julianne Moore in “Don Jon.”

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:
  • Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke for “Before Midnight”
  • Billy Ray for “Captain Phillips”
  • Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for “Philomena”
  • John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave”
  • Terence Winter for “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Will Win: John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave”
Should Win: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope for “Philomena”
Shouldn’t Be Here: Billy Ray for “Captain Phillips”
Was Robbed:  Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith for “Saving Mr. Banks”

John Ridley’s script for “12 Years a Slave” is excellent, but it was mostly written by Solomon Northup in his memoir of 1853, which recalled his own experiences.  Ridley himself has stated as much.  On the other hand, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope wrote a beautiful and heartwarming script around the book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith.  And while Billy Ray’s script for “Captain Phillips” was very straightforward, it lacked the depth and sensitivity of Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith’s script for “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees:
  • Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell for “American Hustle”
  • Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine”
  • Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack for “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
  • Spike Jonze for “Her”
  • Bob Nelson for “Nebraska”
Will Win: Spike Jonze for “Her”
Should Win: Spike Jonze for “Her”
Shouldn’t Be Here: Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine”
Was Robbed:  Destin Daniel Cretton for “Short Term 12”
The category is Best Original Screenplay, and there was little more original this year than Spike Jonze’s unsettlingly offbeat film, “Her,” about a man in love with an operating system.  While the script bogged down at times, it generally kept you thinking in a way most comparable to George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” which was as applicable to its time (1912) as this film is to the not-too-distant future.  And while “Blue Jasmine” is an interesting character study, it lacks the sparkle of Allen’s best scripts.   However, it would be remiss to not mention Cretton’s outstanding script for “Short Term 12,” which, from the opening scene, draws you into a world of at-risk teens and takes you realistically, and at times poetically, through the obstacles they face.