2014 Oscars: Matt’s Predictions

There are a lot of worthy contenders at this year’s Oscars, and even more oversights (Also, water is wet).  Few of the best nominees are front-runners or sure-fire bets, so during Hollywood’s annual night of back-patting I’ll mostly be tuning in for potential upsets and also pretty excited that Seth MacFarlane isn’t hosting.

Christian Bale;Jeremy Renner;Bradley Cooper

Best Picture: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Will Win: American Hustle.  Like last year’s winner, Argo, this is an un-upsetting ’70s period drama that plays at prestige and doesn’t feel the need to really deliver it.  To its credit, it is much less self-serious. Of the nominees, though, this one and Dallas Buyers Club are probably the least deserving. I’m holding out for an upset from 12 Years a Slave.
  • Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street.  The year’s best movie was nominated for Best Picture, but has little to no chance of winning.  My second favorite in the category, 12 Years a Slave, actually does and I’d be more than happy with that.  
  • Left out: Where do I even start? Spring Breakers never had a chance but I think I would have respected the Academy forever if they’d had the nerve to give it some recognition either here or for Best Cinematography or Editing.  I’d also throw in Frances Ha, The Bling Ring, Inside Llewyn Davis, Computer Chess and Rush.  That’s just sticking with the Academy’s English-language fixation.  Foreign language picks: A Touch of Sin, Blue is the Warmest Color and Like Someone In Love.

Alfonso Cuaron

Best Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón pulled off a lot of impressive tricks with a skilled crew in Gravity, and the Academy will give him the directing trophy even as it hands away Best Picture to Hustle.
  • Should Win: It’s only natural that if I picked Wolf for Best Picture, Scorsese should take home Best Director.  However, I think Steve McQueen would be just as deserving a winner.
  • Left out: Harmony Korine for Spring Breakers, Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin, Sofia Coppola for The Bling Ring, Shane Carruth for Upstream Color, Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha, James Wan for The Conjuring.  I could go on and on.

TORONTO

Best Actor: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

  • Will Win: The McConaissance will culminate with an Oscar win in this category.  He was good in Dallas Buyers Club, but everyone else, even Bale, is more deserving of the trophy.
  • Should Win: DiCaprio gave the performance of the year and of his career (so far) in The Wolf of Wall Street.  I’m starting to feel like a broken record giving it top honors in every category.  Ejiofor’s performance was so crucial to anchoring 12 Years a Slave in humanity, and if he somehow pulls off an upset in this category you won’t hear any complaints from me.  Same goes for Bruce Dern.
  • Left out: Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight, Joaquin Phoenix in Her and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station.

Blue-Jasmine

Best Actress: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

  • Will Win: Cate Blanchett is pretty much a lock in this category.
  • Should Win: Blue Jasmine is the last Woody Allen film I plan on watching. That being said, when it came out, I praised Blanchett’s performance and even listed it in the top 5 performances of the year, and I still stand by that praise.
  • Left out: The biggest omissions in the acting categories this year are here. Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha and Adele Exachopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color both deserved slots over pretty much all of these people.  I’d also throw in Julie Delpy for Before Midnight.

Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

  • Will Win: Jared Leto. Sigh.
  • Should Win: Jonah Hill. Sigh.
  • Left out: James Franco in Spring Breakers. Simon Pegg in The World’s End. James Gandolfini in Enough Said. Sigh.

12 Years a Slave Lupita Nyong'o

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)

  • Will Win: I’m going to call this one for Lupita Nyong’o. I still have hope that the Academy won’t throw another trophy at Lawrence just because she yelled “SCIENCE OVEN!” with conviction.
  • Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o gave the most heart-wrenching performance of 2013. Overall this is a fairly weak category, though I’m also not going to deny how much June Squibb’s turn in Nebraska grew on me the second time through.
  • Left out: Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street, Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color andJulianne Moore in Don Jon.

Her-Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay: American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen), Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack), Her (Spike Jonze), Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

  • Will Win: Spike Jonze, unless Hustle ends up pulling a sweep.
  • Should Win: Of these nominees, Bob Nelson for Nebraska.
  • Left out: Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay for The Counselor is far and away the most original and misunderstood work from last year. I’d also nominate Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for their collaborative effort on Frances Ha.

12 Years a Slave script

Best Adapted Screenplay: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), Philomena (Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope), 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley), The Wolf of Wall Street (Terrence Winter)

  • Will Win: John Ridley.
  • Should Win: Ridley is a fine choice, but so is Terrence Winter and the collaborative team from Before Midnight (although how the hell is that adapted? Adapted from two previous movies by the same people? The Oscars are dumb).
  • Left out: Sofia Coppola for The Bling Ring.

Gravity_SBullock

My predictions in the remaining categories (Will Win, Should Win):

Cinematography: Gravity, The Grandmaster

Animated Feature:  (I didn’t see any of these)

Costume Design: American Hustle,The Grandmaster

Production Design: Her, Her

Editing: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

Foreign Language Film: (I only saw The Hunt and I didn’t like it. They need to change the rules for this dumb category).

Documentary: The Act of Killing, The Act of Killing

Makeup: Bad Grandpa, Bad Grandpa

Original Score: Gravity, Her

Original Song: “Ordinary Love”- Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, “The Moon Song”- Her

Visual Effects: Gravity, Gravity

Sound Editing: Gravity, Gravity

Sound Mixing: Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Gravity

gravity

Gravity
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a supreme technical achievement and a standard, if mostly engaging, story.  When I saw it for the first time, in IMAX and in 3D, I was astounded at the craftsmanship of some scenes but had an underlying “meh” about everything else.  After returning to the movie in theaters again, this time in a standard theater with the standard two dimensions, the flaws only became larger.

As Richard Brody aptly put it in The New Yorker:

Cuarón has done a formidable job of piecing together a plausibly coherent material world of space, of conveying the appearance of that setting and the sensations of the characters who inhabit it. But he has created those sensations generically, with no difference between the subjectivity of his characters and the ostensible appearance to a camera of those phenomena. He offers point-of-view images that are imbued with no actual point of view.

The movie works as well as it does because of the audience’s built-in history with Sandra Bullock, who plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a woman who is having a really bad day trying to get back to Earth after a space station accident.  Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.

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REVIEW: Gravity

gravity movie

Gravity
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Behold the technical majesty of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  Watch as debris from a Russian satellite smashes into a repair operation led by an American astronaut team, sending them whizzing, floating and spinning in the beautiful, terrifying abyss.  Watch it and take it in, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

I thought I did everything I was supposed to do with Gravity.  I saw it in 3D, I saw it in Imax and I saw it with a virtually sold-out crowd.  Why then, was it underwhelming?  There is an answer to that question, and it may be hard to hear for the many who have lauded praise on the film since its triumphant festival circuit.

This is a movie that was made solely for its own tech savvy.  It exists because of its technical mastery, not for any tangible idea.  Cuarón uses every cinematic element at his disposal to sustain uninterrupted awe, and it is one of the few movie-going experiences in recent memory that is truly exhausting.   By the time Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) hops from space station to space station and then back to (spoiler) Earth, her weariness is not just her own, but the audience’s as well.

Gravity_SBullock

Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.  For long stretches, though, it’s just her dealing with whatever zero gravity obstacle Cuarón can throw at her.  There is a hefty bit of 3D gimmickry, more than there should be in a prestigious project like this, but for the most part it is effective as a grand aesthetic spectacle.  More troubling than screws and tears floating toward the camera, though, are the number of unnecessary tracking shots of Sandra Bullock’s ass.  The movie even ends on a close up of her heaving, wet-t-shirt-covered breasts.

Why?  Because Gravity is Cuarón’s playground.  The director of such rigorous works as Y tu mamá también and Children of Men has aimed his sights solely on the machinations of pleasure and terror, not as it applies to the characters, but to the audience.  This is movie as roller coaster, and the spectacle is undeniable.  It’s hard to put into words the awe of seeing a space station crumble and explode as the camera stays pinned to a twirling, panicked astronaut.   She then drifts hopelessly into space, as alone as any human could ever be.

The close-up of Stone’s face that follows that sequence reflects Earth and space while her helmet fogs up.  Even here, the effects do not relent.  There are quiet moments in Gravity that are as visually stunning as the relentless action sequences, but even in those moments the movie felt defined by its technology rather than enhanced by it.

Many have and will likely continue to compare this to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that would be extremely misguided.  Gravity attempts to justify its technological means with a human element, and who better to do this than two of Hollywood’s most charming stars?  It is not a cold, calculated examination of a technological takeover, though.  It is a technological takeover, and a beautiful one at that.

Grade: C

BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by: Eric Roth (screenplay), Jonathan Safran Foer (book)
Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Max von Sydow

The opening image of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is of a man falling to his death, with papers behind him that fade into the title; its closing image is of a boy swinging upward on a swing, triumphant.  It freezes on this image, asking the audience to pause and share in that triumph.  This is hard to do for many reasons, but mostly because that man who was falling to his death wasn’t doing so because he wanted to.  He is falling from the Twin Towers, and it is Septermber 11th, as the movie and its director, Stephen Daldry, will remind you of several times.

Oskar (Thomas Horn), the troubled boy at the film’s center, torments himself endlessly with the messages his father (Tom Hanks) left on their answering machine while he was trapped in the World Trade Center on what Oskar calls “The Worst Day.”  After finally working up the courage to enter his father’s room, he searches the top shelf, knocking over a blue vase in the process.  Inside that vase is a key whose mysteries occupy the remainder of the narrative.

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Oscar Acting Up Close: Quite a bit Country, not enough Rock ‘N Roll

Image courtesy of Alt. Film Guide

As it stands now, it looks like the four winners for for acting Oscars this weekend will be Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz, and Mo’Nique.  One washed-up country singer, one modern country belle, one Jew Hunter, and one mom from Hell- see any similarities?

The acting categories usually go to four very distinct roles from very different styles of acting.  Not so this year.

If you were to look at the supporting categories this year, you’d see that.  Waltz gives his tour de force in four languages layered with charm and menace, while Mo’Nique gives hers in one language, amps up the menace, takes away charm, and adds insanity.   Different styles of acting?  Yes.  But, both of these roles are antagonists.

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And the Winner Should Be… 2010 Oscar Predictions

The Academy Awards, whether I like it or not, are the biggest thing that happens to movies during the year. Though profit often blind sides quality, good decisions occasionally shine through all the sappy bull shit. Here are my picks for the office Oscar pool, who should win, and who should’ve been allowed a chance to swim.

Best Picture

Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up In the Air

Will Win: Avatar. Highest grossing movie of all time, revolutionary special effects, James Cameron- though none of these factors qualify it in my book, the Academy went with Titanic, and it will go with this one to get a ratings boost.

Should Win: Up In the Air. Jason Reitman’s film is a movie that perfectly captures and analyzes the point we are at in this country’s history. With a pitch-perfect screenplay, cast, and production team, you can’t go wrong.

Left Out: Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Kids movie my ass, this movie deserved recognition. Not only does it speak the truth, something watered down in The Blind Side, it looks and sounds great thanks to revolutionary production design and some of the best voice work ever recorded.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: The Blind Side

Image courtesy of Jack FM

The Blind Side
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Written by: John Lee Hancock (screenplay), Michael Lewis (novel)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, and Kathy Bates

Good wholesome Southerners have their movie to cheer for this year at the Academy Awards.  John Lee Hancock’s bombastic, preachy and watered down The Blind Side is the one movie nominated for Best Picture this year that didn’t deserve its slot.

This is the crowd-pleasing, melodramatic sports movie that moved both the Monday Night Football crowd and Sarah Palin wannabes to tears.  It also moved serious film critics to tears, but not for the same reasons. Hancock directs this film with a style right out of the sports film playbook, taking no chances and milking every crowd-pleasing scenario for maximum fluff.

Sandra Bullock in a football movie,” is a great selling point for studio executives.  In order to sabotage and exploit an audience’s emotions, you need a marketable lead.  In the year 2009, there was no one more marketable (or undeserving of their profits) than her.  Her Oscar nomination (and likely win) for playing Leigh Ann Tuohy is the result of a frivolous, cooly calculated business decision.  Though her performance is the reluctant highlight of this film, it is by no means anything more than her spouting off clever one liners with a Southern accent.  Bullock plays emotional-yet-controlled in almost all of her films, and never that greatly.  She does the same thing here, but with a drawl so it’s Oscar worthy.

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