After much procrastination and just plain laziness, I’ve gotten my predictions for and thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominations in just under the wire. If you’re wondering why I’m bothering at this late hour, let’s just say my OCD won’t let me let an awards season go by without sharing my opinions with the world…whether they like it or not.
Just a warning, to paraphrase Davis Guggenheim, this might get long.
I’ve decided that this post will encompass the Academy Award nominations, my “best of 2013” list and my thoughts on the Coen Brothers’ stylish urban folktale, Inside Llewyn Davis. While that sounds like an ambitious undertaking, given the snail-like pace at which I get these things finished, one post seemed to make more sense, especially since the three topics overlap like a cinematic Venn diagram.
With a pitch-perfect cast and the Coens at the top of their game, weaving the whole narrative with an absolutely breathtaking soundtrack produced by T-Bone Burnett, Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t need to be flashy to be fascinating and powerful. However, its deceptively simple and subtle storytelling was snubbed by the Academy Awards. If the nomination itself is an honor, then no film has been more snubbed than this one. For every category that I predict who will win, who should win etc., just know that there is an unwritten SHOULD BE IN THE RACE: Inside Llewyn Davis.
The Coens’ black comedy was inspired by the life of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, and stars Oscar Isaac as a skilled, but self-destructive singer, who has the bad luck to be merely a decent folk singer in a Greenwich Village scene that is about to explode with the arrival of Bob Dylan. He makes a mess of his life except when he’s onstage singing old folk and blues tunes. Isaac carries the movie. Typically for the Coens, the film is dark and occasionally mean, but it also has heart. All it earned were Sound Mixing and a Cinematography nominations. While well earned, this thoughtful little film deserved more.
And yet I really shouldn’t have been surprised that it was excluded from the big categories like Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture. The Academy, while they are fans of the Coen Brothers in general, (7 of 14 directorial efforts have landed major nominations in the last couple of decades), they also prefer flashier fare. And since they’d already recognized Philomena and Nebraska, there really wasn’t room on their plate for Inside Llewyn Davis. Just my humble opinion.
Of course that’s the down side of having such a great year at the movies: the inevitable
disappointments in terms of any awards nominations and particularly Oscar nominations. There wasn’t enough room for everybody. (Especially since they still haven’t changed the other categories to match the “up to” ten Best Picture slots.)
American Hustle, which is not on my “best of” list, earned nominations for four of its “stars”, including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. (What, no Jeremy Renner? For my money Renner’s pol with a heart of gold deserved a nod much more than Cooper’s aggressively eager Jr G-man. It also earned nominations for original screenplay, direction and Best Picture. I loved The Fighter. I loved Silver Linings Playbook. I did not love American Hustle. I liked it. But there were a lot of movies that I liked in 2013, none of which deserved awards attention.
For the record, my favorite movies of 2013 – in no particular order (some of which I may revisit if they aren’t yet on DVD) – 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Olympus Has Fallen, Labor Day, Now You See Me, Rush, The World’s End, The Place Beyond the Pines, Mud, Trance, Welcome to the Punch, Fruitvale Station and Bullet to the Head (don’t judge).
As for David O. Russell’s dramedy (it’s a comedy only in the Greek sense – all is not lost at the end. Or in the Adam Sandler you’re only laughing because it’s sad-sense), simply saying “aaaaand GO!” is not directing, it’s letting your actors run amok. Standing back to watch the fireworks is not directing either. Knowing which takes to keep in order to assemble a semi-cohesive movie is the task of the editor, but we all know that’s ½ of a director’s job as well. Okay, so we’ll give him that. That Russell has managed for the third time to corral as talented and versatile a group, yet again, is his true talent. As Bradley Cooper said from the stage while accepting the Best Ensemble SAG award, “he’s an actor’s director”. Seriously, if he’s back in awards contention a year after Silver Linings Playbook, that means he had to sign Lawrence and Cooper before SLP hit it big. So he does know talent.
But when did we start to think of him as being in the same league with Martin Scorsese? “It’s a David O. Russell movie…it MUST be good. Let’s nominate it.”
His peers are still skeptical. Despite the love heaped on Silver Linings Playbook last year – a much more worthy film than American Hustle – the Directors Guild recognized Ben Affleck for Argo. The Academy, though they’d snubbed Affleck, chose Ang Lee.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Russell’s films. I’m just against anyone being nominated in any category just because it’s customary.
Pundits and prognosticators complain when one film or actor/actress etc is a shoe-in, so far out front of the pack that the opening of the envelope is a mere formality. They also complain when the preliminary awards shows (sort of like the semi-finals or the playoffs) are all over the map and we go into the Oscars without knowing exactly what’s going to happen. That’s the case with this year’s crop of nominees. There are a few races that have what would seem to be a “front runner”, but in each instance, a case can be made for why another film or actor/actress etc will go home with the gold.
A lot of the hubbub following the nominations announcements had to do with the names not read. The Coen Brothers Inside Llewyn Davis and it’s star Oscar Isaac were not the only big surprises.
No Oprah Winfrey for The Butler? She hasn’t been nominated since 1985’s The Color Purple. Winfrey was at one point seen as a frontrunner for best supporting actress. But there’s a reason everything considered to have awards potential is released at the end of the year: the Academy has a notoriously short memory and probably forgot about The Butler. The film and its star Forest Whitaker were also left off, despite a strong showing at the Screen Actors Guild nominations.
No Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks? Everyone loves Emma Thompson! She’s
the only person to have ever won Oscars for both writing (1995’s Sense and Sensibility) and acting (1992’s Howards End.) Considering that Saving Mr. Banks was obvious Oscar-bait about the man himself that’s a bit of a black eye for Disney (ABC’s parent company – the network which airs the Oscars) Oh well.
No Robert Redford in All Is Lost?! Back in September, Redford was a frontrunner for a nomination and was even predicted to win by quite a few critics. It would have been his first ever acting Oscar (he’s only
been nominated once for 1973’s The Sting.) and this movie is a one man show. Apparently it didn’t do so well in the translation to DVD which is how most Academy voters saw it. (Imagine if that were true of Gravity? We’d be looking at a very different race.)
No Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips?! What the what? Yes, he’s won twice, but he hasn’t even been nominated in 13 years and most people expected him to be nominated for Saving Mr. Banks if not Captain Phillips. He was certainly deserving for the latter.
And no posthumous nomination for James Gandolfini . Now that is really odd.
Daniel Bruhl was recognized by both the Golden Globes and the SAGs for Rush. If that film had done better box office, the Academy might have made room for him. Joaquin Phoenix carried Her, but sorry, the best actor race was too crowded.
Michael B. Jordan and Fruitvale Station were the indie breakouts of the year with backing from the Harvey Weinstein, but all I can think is that its summer release date probably hurt its chances.
Some of the above I’m not convinced should have been nominated any more than most of those that were. We’re merely surprised that the above bold-faced names weren’t nominated because we expect that they will be. They are considered “Academy voter friendly”. Or rather they had been. “The Academy” is trying to change its image, to become younger and hipper. At least Leonardo DiCaprio, who is long overdue, was recognized for his gutsy performance in The Wolf of Wall Street (but he’s knocking on 40’s door, no matter how boyish he looks.)
The nominations, with my prediction for who WILL win and my choice for who SHOULD ** win
David O. Russell
Steve McQueen ** (because Best Pictures don’t direct themselves) who assembled a truly amazing cast who gave truly astonishing performances. A lot has been made of the fact that David O’Russell directed four of his actors to nominations, when to my mind he was, for the most part, rewarded for gathering the same pretty people together yet again. If there had been a leading actress in 12 Years a Slave, I have no doubt McQueen would have equaled Russell’s feat. Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender were (rightly) recognized, but from Benedict Cumberbatch to Paul Dano to Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and Sarah Paulson, everyone gave brilliant performances. That SAG gave it’s Ensemble Award to American Hustle over 12 Years is a travesty. JMHO.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins- I would be “okay” with it, if she squeaked out a win.
Jennifer Lawrence – I won’t say I’m “over” JLaw, but she’s already beginning to achieve Judi Dench status at the ripe old age of 23 and this is not the role for which she wants to become ubiquitous
Lupita Nyong’o ** – the best performance in this category. That is all.
Julia Roberts – see Judi Dench
June Squibb – can we stop giving nominations just for longevity?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi – his first movie! The nomination is the honor
Bradley Cooper – like Lawrence, it’s the 2nd year in a row BCoop has been nominated for a David O. Russell film. But hair does not a performance make. Take a stand.
Michael Fassbender ** – best performance in this category. That is all
Jonah Hill – I have to admit I enjoyed him in Wolf of Wall Street and for the first time did not “see” Jonah Hill.
Jared Leto - It does not take anything away from Leto for me to say that I thought Fassbender was better. Leto’s Rayon was more than just the weight loss and the wig. It was a beautiful performance. And let’s face it, beautiful goes down better . Being the delicate, perfectly made-up face of the AIDS crisis goes down a lot better than the face of pure, institutional evil. Even if that face belongs to Fassbender.
Amy Adams – nominated for American Hustle (as Best Actress, though given GG for Supporting) but also appears in another flick nom for Best Pic – Her. If she won, I would perfectly okay with it. This is her fifth
nomination and she’s the only non-winner in the category , but if Adams manages to upset Blanchett, however, it will be because of Woody Allen.
Cate Blanchett **
Sandra Bullock – she’s better in Gravity than she was in the film for which she actually won her Oscar. That’s what happens when you get it for the wrong reasons.
Judi Dench – made a movie – automatic nomination (Although that’s too simplistic. She was wonderful in Philomena)
Meryl Streep – see Judi Dench
Christian Bale (see Judi Dench) – I’m a huge Bale fan and I think he’s another actor that is very easy to take for granted. His in American Hustle was indelible, but his nomination was a surprise and it’s not his year. He can’t win for gaining weight when they’re going to give it to Matthew McConaughey for losing weight.
Bruce Dern- The venerable Bruce Dern was wonderful in Nebraska. He’s a great actor whose career has largely been unsung because he’s such a great actor. But this is supposed to be about a particular performance in a particular film. (I’m going to keep saying that.)
Leonardo DiCaprio – I respect Leo. He is a brilliant actor, he’s intelligent and he uses his fame for good. He also, despite appearances to the contrary, tries to keep his private life private. Being one of the biggest movie stars on the planet makes this difficult, of course. While he’s obviously a serial model-dater and his current girlfriend is not even old enough to legally get into the clubs she and the rest of the supermodel herd frequent, I don’t find him nearly as distasteful as I do Bradley Cooper. He and DiCaprio are about the same age and so are their girlfriends. The difference is that Leo never went on record as saying that someone of Jennifer Lawrence’s age (with whom he’s made three movies – Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and the soon to be released Serena – which actually filmed before American Hustle) was too young for him. Lawrence is two years older than “Suki” Waterhouse- but I digress. Leo deserves this nomination and a lot of people are saying he may upset. He was in 2 movies this year that he carried. He is very deserving of a win. This is his fourth nomination, but he’s been snubbed more often. (Titanic, Catch Me if You Can, The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception, J. Edgar and Django Unchained – you can’t watch any of them to this day and not believe he was worthy of recognition.) How’d he manage one this year? He actually campaigned a little. Or did you think there was another reason he showed up on Saturday Night Live when Jonah Hill was host?
Matthew McConaughey - I love Matty. I think I’ve made that clear. He was in about 6 movies in the last 18 months and was phenomenal in all of them. We are in the midst of “the McConaisance” – a term that became trite the instant it was picked up by People magazine. It didn’t take an Oscar nomination for a lot of us to notice that McConaughey is having a hell of a much-deserved ride. He carved this career resurgence out with his bare hands. Dallas Buyers Club is the capper on an incredible string of performances. But if the Oscar is supposed to recognize one single achievement in one single film, then hands down it must go to Chiwetel Ejiofor. No other single performance by a male actor in any film that I saw in the past year even comes close.
Chiwetel Ejiofor **- My reactions to his performance as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave have already been documented. Best performance. That is all. No, that’s not all. I have to rant about this one for what is possibly the final time. Ejiofor didn’t just fall out of the sky, he’s got a long list of credits to his name as well, so even if we were celebrating “body of work”… He just never had to overcome anything like Fools Gold or Failure to Launch. But if we’re giving awards for career achievement, take a look at Kinky Boots, Red Belt or Dirty Pretty Things. Hell, his first movie was Amistad, the star of which was Matthew McConaughey.
Months ago, I mentioned the possibility that this year could see more than one black Best Actor nominee. I knew it was a long shot, but in a year where there were at least five performances by black actors that were worthy of recognition, only one has managed to actually make it to the playoffs. Where are Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Isaiah Washington (Blue Caprice) or even Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniel’s The Butler)? Chiwetel Ejiofor is apparently carrying the flag for his race. That he truly did give the best performance of the year, makes it all the more insulting that they keep giving the prizes to the middle-aged white guy.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American Hustle – does not deserve a nomination for original screenplay when the four nominated actors have gone on record as saying that Russell allowed them to ad lib most of their scenes/lines.
Blue Jasmine – not a snowball’s chance in hell
Dallas Buyers Club
Her** – Call this the Quentin Tarantino Award. Her is a truly original film and one that the Academy will want to recognize in some way.
Nebraska- could spoil
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Before Midnight – could squeak out a win if the Academy wants to recognize the beautiful trilogy of which this film is the third and final part.
Philomena – could also squeak out a win. Steve Coogan won the BAFTA and they Academy may want to recognize the movie.
12 Years a Slave ** the film is driven by John Ridley’s strong, powerful script (culled from Solomon Northup’s moving memoir). JMHO, but a win in this category will signal the Best Picture win.
Wolf of Wall Street – too many fucks
BEST FOREIGN FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium) – could upset
The Grand Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark) ** - and no, it’s not just because of Mads Mikkelsen. It’s a well-written, wonderfully acted film about perception, truth, lies and loneliness
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises **
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Grandmaster – Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity ** – Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis – Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska - Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners – Roger A. Deakins (A travesty that Deakins – the MOST nominated cinematographer still working – has never won. He won’t this year either.)
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN
American Hustle – Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
Gravity – Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
The Great Gatsby **- Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn
Her – Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
12 Years a Slave - Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN
American Hustle - Michael Wilkinson
The Grandmaster – William Chang Suk Ping
The Great Gatsby **- Catherine Martin
The Invisible Woman – Michael O’Connor
12 Years a Slave – Patricia Norris
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
20 Feet From Stardom** Since Sarah Polley’s The Stories We Tell didn’t get a nomination
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life **
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING
American Hustle ** Because Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten took a bunch of disjointed scenes and turned them into a movie
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity – conventional wisdom used to hold that one didn’t win Best Picture without winning Best Editing. I think that will not be the case this year. And actually, I’m okay with giving Gravity all of the technical awards.
12 Years a Slave
ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP
Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger
Only three nominees and no 12 Years a Slave ** (If you’ve seen it, you’d know why but maybe those stripes are considered a special effect and not makeup.)
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Book Thief - John Williams
Gravity **- Steven Price (Apparently the score blew everyone away at the Academy Awards Nominees Concert) I’d have preferred Hans Zimmer win for 12 Years a Slave but, oddly, it’s not on this list.
Her – William Butler and Owen Pallett
Philomena – Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Alone, Yet Not Alone
Let It Go
The Moon Song **
Ordinary Love **
I’m conflicted. But it’s obvious I prefer most of them over what will most likely win. I’m still pissed that ‘Please Mr Kennedy’ from Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t qualify (since it wasn’t original to the film. Pfft)
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Get a Horse!
Room on the Broom **
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
The Voorman Problem **
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING
All Is Lost
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis ** – would be lovely if a movie about music won a sound award, but it won’t
ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
American Hustle- if voters are too squeamish or timid to reward a very intense film, they may opt for the cartoon-like antics of the pretty people cavorting in fashions that were hip when most of the voting body was too.
Captain Phillips – fully deserves the nod. You can read why I think so, here.
Dallas Buyers Club – despite two wonderful performances at its core, it’s only a so-so movie. Yes it will jerk the tears and it’s a story worth telling, but why is the first important AIDS movie since Philadelphia all about the (screamingly) straight white dude?
Philomena – a perfect little gem of a movie. Loved every second of it. Its nomination was a happy surprise and The Weinstein Company’s only horse in the race. But no one should ever count out Harvey. Ever.
The Wolf of Wall Street – not Scorsese’s best, but that’s still head and shoulders above most. It’s a movie that took some rumination to fully appreciate and merits a second viewing. Just don’t see it with your parents.
Gravity – though technically brilliant is nearly as cold, in my opinion, as the space in which it takes place. Oscar voters will need an emotional hook on which to hang their votes.
12 Years a Slave ** - Great films don’t have to be enjoyable to watch, and 12 Years A Slave is probably the best example of this that I can think of. It was my favorite film of 2013 not because it was fun or I had a good time watching it, but because it is, pure and simply, outstanding. Yes, it is a brutal film. It realistically and unflinchingly depicts the lynching, whipping and rape that was emblematic of American institutional slavery, but it is the psychological toll, so clearly visible in Chiwitel Ejiofor’s eyes that is the core of the film. I’ve delved into my thoughts on the movie much more deeply here, but in a year with almost an embarrassment of riches in terms of awards-worthy fare, if we’re leaving politics of all sorts aside, it was the best of the best.