Jan 17, 2014

Nomination Nation

In toto, they are quite expected. With the usual major snubs and undeserving celebration of overrated acting (Streep and Roberts, I'm looking at you). 
Here's an alternative, in order of my preference.

Key: snubs / • expected wins / Okay, but there are better choices

Best Picture
American Hustle
The Wolf of Wall Street
• 12 Years a Slave 
Inside Llewyn Davis
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
 Dallas Buyers Club         

How do extremely conventional movies like Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club, which are decent, but no great shakes, get a nomination in lieu of original, ballsy, beautifullly crafted pieces like All Is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis is anybody's sorry guess. 12 Years A Slave is a smart, important movie that deserves to be there, but it is not that great a movie. Gravity is a spectacular movie with a disappointing script, but it deserves to be there, and Captain Phillips is a well crafted spectacle with an interesting topic that deserves more balls than it got in the film (Americans are not the hot shit they used to be). The Wolf Of Wall Street is a big ass Scorsese movie, epic in its manic energy. American Hustle and Nebraska are the most realized and interesting ones, but I think the winner lies between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity, because of what they mean in the business. One for historic reasons, and the other one for pushing the envelope of cinematic possibilities, like Avatar, but much better.

Best Actor
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Christian Bale, American Hustle
• Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street  
Forest Whitaker, The Butler                
Christian Bale, Out Of The Furnace     
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis        
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave         

I know it is controversial to deny Ejiofor his due. He does a very good job, but the Solomon Northup character has little dimension. It is a portrait of almost passive, unremitting suffering, and thus, not as interesting as some of the more volatile characters in the list. Meanwhile, Forest Whitaker does a spectacular turn as a man whose vocation is to serve, proudly and blindly, and no one notices because it is too subtle. And Oscar Isaac does a mean feat of singing and playing guitar and being ornery and somehow lovable, but also too subtle for the more histrionic tastes of Academy voters. I'm just grateful they recognized the enormity of Bruce Dern's turn in Nebraska, to me, the undisputed winner.
The winner is a toss up between Dern (old Hollywood), McConaughey (losing 50 pounds always helps, but he is truly excellent) and Leo, who at this point deserves the love that has been denied him for so long.
Best Actress
• Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench, Philomena
Sandra Bullock, Gravity  
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”  

A lot of people like to dismiss Sandra Bullock as a lightweight. She is excellent in Gravity, considering she was trapped in a box for months and basically acts only with her face. It's not her fault she was given corny dialogue. She gave it her all. Cate Blanchett's unhinged Jasmine deserves every accolade, in contrast to Meryl Streep's, unhinged hamming. Blanchett understands and respects the movie she is in and the actors playing alongside her. She stops one inch short of camp and caricature. It is scary to behold. Judi Dench is God, Amy Adams is very good, but I thought not as good as her costar Jennifer Lawrence, and so if I could get rid of Streep, whom I normally admire, I would remind people of Greta Gerwig's funny, breezy, touching performance in the title role.

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
• Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, The Wolf Of Wall Street  
Paul Giamatti, 12 Years A Slave

Leto's is the showiest role and he was fantastic and will probably win, because actors with dramatic physical transformations always do, but Fassbender's character is a study in abject weakness. I found him to be psychologically credible, a messy horror of a human being; a drunk, a bully, a coward, a child, someone you could actually know. It is brave of an actor to inhabit such a character without fear and without redemption. Barkhad Abdi's nomination may seem like a gimmick, but he is so charismatic, self-assured and convincing that he steals the movie from under Tom Hanks' feet.  Bradley Cooper is the best he's ever been and so is Jonah Hill. McConaughey steals the show in The Wolf of Wall Street, even if it's only for minutes, and I thought Paul Giamatti was the very soul of uncaring market forces in 12 Years A Slave. Not evil, just doing business. He rocked.

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine               
 Julia Roberts, August: Osage County             
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County  
Margot Robbie, The Wolf Of Wall Street     
Scarlett Johansson, Her   

Jennifer Lawrence is the best thing in a movie that has a lot of very good things. She is fierce, funny, lost, touching, out of her depth, and utterly fantastic in American Hustle. She somehow manages to rise above at least three other spectacular performances. It's not her fault that she won last year. She deserves to win again. Instead of Sally Hawkins, who is perfectly good, and Julia Roberts who has moments but wears one multipurpose scowl, I wish the Academy voters appreciated the truth in Margo Martindale's performance in August: Osage County, or the incredible big screen debut of Margot Robbie in WOWS, or even the excellent voice acting of ScarJo in Her. She's the best thing in the film.                            

Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
• Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave 
J.C Chandor, All Is Lost 
Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

This is a tough one, and everyone here is very deserving. To me, the one to me that did a less coherent job is Steve McQueen. The masters of tone are Russell, Payne (in particular) and Scorsese, but I think it's going to be between Cuarón and McQueen.
I find the snubbing of All Is Lost particularly galling in all the major categories. As for the Coens, the movie is too gloomy a love poem to artistic failure to be appreciated.

Adapted screenplay
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter
Before Midnight,
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke  
• 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
Captain Phillips, Billy Ray
Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pierce

Say what you will about The Great Gatsby, despite Luhrmann's tackiness, the script is extremely faithful to the novel, and very well done. I fail to understand why the lovely Before Midnight is considered an adaptation. Anybody? Terence Winter's profane, vicious and funny script is probably far more interesting than the base material. I found Philomena oddly maladroit in tone, like it wants to be all things to all people.
I bet it's gonna be 12 Years A Slave, a solid adaptation of a challenging book.

Original screenplay
• American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Nebraska, Bob Nelson
Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen   
Her, Spike Jonze
Dallas Buyers Club, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack 
Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen
All Is Lost, J.C. Chandor        

The script for American Hustle is extremely ambitious and complex and it is a testament to David O. Russell that he delivered it with flair and clarity. It is a spectacular piece of writing, and so is the more subtle and understated Nebraska, my two favorites in this category. The rest of the nominees flummox me. Blue Jasmine is the best thing Woody Allen has done in years, but it is not as polished as some of its competitors. I have a real aversion to Her. I find the script lazy and the conceptual and dramatic possibilities unexplored. And Dallas Buyers Club is like a perfectly decent Movie of The Week. Then more original, evocative, imaginative work like Inside Lllewyn Davis and All Is Lost was excluded.                 

• Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki              
Inside Llewyn Davis, Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska, Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners, Roger A. Deakins
The Grandmaster, Philippe Le Sourd  
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Stuart Dryburgh  
American Hustle, Linus Sandgren                           
All Is Lost, Frank G. DeMarco, Peter Zuccarini     

Now is the time for Lubezki to win, but incredibly, he may not if people consider that most of the movie was done in CGI. Still, he designed the lighting and you can see his sensitive touch on the breathtaking gorgeousness that is Gravity. If he doesn't win this time, all I can say is yikes. I was happy to see Roger Deakins' work on Prisoners, a movie that without his moody lighting would not be as good. I found the work in The Grandmaster uneven, the CGI sloppy and I pined for the arresting beauty of Christopher Doyle's work. 

Foreign language film
The Hunt, Denmark
• The Great Beauty, Italy
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Missing Picture, Cambodia
Omar, Palestine      
The Past, France/Iran    

The Hunt is one of the best movies of the year in any language. The Great Beauty is a great treat. I haven't seen the Belgian nor the Cambodian films. Omar is a perfectly good movie, and its nomination is a welcome political statement, but it is not among the greatest foreign films of the year. A much better movie is Ashgar Farhadi's The Past.

Makeup and Hairstyling
American Hustle: biggest snub of all time

Actors who were not snubbed, despite protestations to the contrary:
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler. She was all over the place.
Robert Redford, All Is Lost. Best thing he's ever done, but that's not saying much.
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips. Best 3 minutes of his career at the end of the film, but only 3 minutes, if not less.

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