oscarBest Picture:

Jesse Cataldo:The expansion to potentially 10 films has made this category a bit more interesting, but harder to judge and harder to care as much about, since instead of being forced to side with the least cruddy of a mediocre five-film pack, you get two or three movies of an undoubtedly higher quality level, but with little chance of winning; I almost miss the days of being forced to root for Benjamin Button. That said, while my personal pick would be Wolf of Wall Street, it would be hard to begrudge 12 Years a Slave a well-earned victory.

Jake Cole: The BP slate this year seems like the endpoint of the pointless decision to swell the number of nominees to placate the outcries of man-children who protested The Dark Knight’s lack of nomination back in ’08. Damn near all of those are crowd-pleasers, the notable exception being the atrocity exhibition of 12 Years a Slave, and most of them have the same aura that of a number of 2007 films did: a sense that the effusive praise heaped on them, the erection of pedestals to 2013’s greatness for American film, will fade almost instantly, to be trapped in a soft bubble of short-term nostalgia by those who will remember this year as a fine one for American films without ever actually revisiting the movies on which they stake that claim.

12years1Stacia Kissick-Jones: A significant number of Best Picture noms this year are of the good-not-great variety, which is usually in a film’s favor — the Academy rarely embraces the cutting edge. But with a crowd-pleaser like Gravity and a historical epic in 12 Years a Slave, the other films don’t stand a chance. You’d think 12 Years a Slave would be a shoo-in, but many were put off by its brutality, and Steve McQueen, through no fault of his own, had the misfortune of being caught up in controversy generated by a certain film critic, and 12 Years a Slave could very well lose to Gravity.

Robert Rubsam: Looking over the nominees, this may well be the year when big, broad entertainment made its way into critical respectability, with American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street trading in huge laughs and exaggerated characterizations of the denizens of lower New York/New Jersey. But I’d pick the film with the most pure spectacle of them all: Gravity, the only movie I’ve willingly and purposefully seen in 3D. Though it is well known by now that the Coen Brothers were roundly snubbed, I’d have preferred to see Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s first film in years, represented somewhere. It is as much about pure sensation as Gravity with more than just the power to amaze.

Josh Goller: As far as Oscar is concerned, we’re in the year of the con. The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle made sleazily bilking rubes out of their hard-earned coin look hella badass and cool; 12 Years a Slave involved deceptively luring a free man into slavery; and a haggard Bruce Dern believed he won a $1 million sweepstakes scam in Nebraska. Meanwhile, Dallas Buyers Club featured skirting FDA regulations (onerous as they may be) with Matthew McConaughey disguised as a priest, Captain Phillips revolved around tricking machinegun-toting Somali pirates, Philomena featured odiously deceptive nuns and Joaquin Phoenix purchased a computer operating system in Her that both stole his heart and abandoned his computer altogether (I would’ve demanded a refund). Does this mean the con-less visual spectacle Gravity pulls one over of all of us and wins out? No chance, the statue is 12 Years a Slave’s, as Oscar falls all over itself for beautifully shot salvos of human misery.

David Harris: I’m sure my colleagues here have already bemoaned the expansion of this category. Did anyone even see Philomena? It is criminal, but expected, that Before Midnight got the snub here. And while I loved Her and Captain Philips, I think The Wolf of Wall Street is the most audacious pick. But the real race is down between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, so Leo, Marty, Tom and Spike really have no chance at all.

Best Actor:

Jesse Cataldo: McConaughey has done better work before and since Dallas Buyers Club, while DiCaprio may have never turned in a better performance than he did in The Wolf of Wall Street. Dern’s turn inNebraska was entirely solid in an otherwise uneven movie and he may not get another chance. Bale inAmerican Hustle was a ridiculous bundle of tics and overblown gestures that should not be in any way classified as a great acting performance. None of these really touch Chiwetel Ejiofor’s complex portrayal of a man struggling to retain his dignity under the most dehumanizing of experiences in 12 Years a Slave, nor do they have much of a chance of beating him.

dicaprioJake Cole: Never would I have imagined I’d find myself presented with a face off between Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio and hoping desperately that DiCaprio comes out on top. Leo’s Oscar-y roles have been by far his worst: over-serious and moralizing, like a boy putting on a lower voice to sound like his dad. But the last year has given us a string of killer performances that suggest DiCaprio has finally gotten comfortable enough with his heartthrob status to play a bit of a kid. He brought an impishness to Django Unchained’s Calvin Candie that made him all the more frightening; a virginal insecurity under Jay Gatsby’s bluster that was almost enough to elevate Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation; and, best of all, an eternal indulgence of id to Jordan Belfort, proving that wealth traps youth by permitting the young who have it to never grow up and accept any manner of responsibility. It’s a damn showy role, to be sure, but not in the sense that it clamors for praise (like, say, his work in Blood Diamond) but in its simple energy, its old-school, swing-for-the-fences lack of inhibition.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: It’s not Leonardo DiCaprio’s fault that he’s become a punchline as the actor who never quite gets that Oscar he probably deserves. Well, maybe it’s a little his fault; he has a history of uneven performances, but over the last few years, his talent has increased exponentially. Nominated for a solid turn in The Wolf of Wall Street, in truth, he gives a better performance in the flawed The Great Gatsby. But once again he’s up against some terrific competition, including Hollywood vet Bruce Dern, fave Matthew McConaughey and the stellar Chiwetel Ejiofor. Best Actor is going to be one of the tightest races of the night, more so than the current odds suggest, and though McConaughey will more than likely get the nod — and deserve it — this could finally be DiCaprio’s year.

Robert Rubsam: To give this award to anyone but Bruce Dern would be a crime. Dern so perfectly, achingly presents a man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, presenting not only the routine inattention and periods of blankness, but also the small tics familiar to anyone who has interacted or will interact with the disease, the small phrases meant to shut down conversation that begin early in the process but extend far past the ability to explain them. This need not be a legacy award, as Dern has never performed something so painfully real in his entire career.

Josh Goller: Ridiculous as it is that DiCaprio still doesn’t have an Oscar, I’d hate to see him win it for playing thieving douchebag Jordan Belfort. Though DiCaprio’s in the running, McConaughey will likely eke out a win over Chiwetel Ejiofor here, and deservedly so for a striking performance that clearly took a physical toll (as an emaciated AIDS sufferer, he did not look all right, all right, all right). Personally, I’d vote for Dern. His grizzled alcoholic who naively grasps at one last chance for glory is humorous, sad, and heartwarming all at once. And though neither deserve a statue, Joaquin Phoenix should’ve gotten the nod over a fat Christian Bale.

David Harris: Sure, Bruce Dern was good in Nebraska, but wouldn’t this more a Lifetime Achievement Award than an Oscar if he wins? Matthew McConaughey could also win it now that he’s decided to stop making Kate Hudson movies. For my money, Leo DiCaprio was so good in Wolf that he should get it. Mr. Mopey can actually do physical comedy! It’s his best performance since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Best Actress:

Jesse Cataldo: With American Hustle, Blue Jasmine and Philomena you can appreciably demonstrate how much worse these mediocre movies would have been without solid female lead performances holding things down, but I’m not sure that’s the best rubric for determining who deserves the trophy. Still, we can rule out Meryl Streep for doing little to change or elevate the screeching, desperate tone of August Osage County, and especially Bullock for barely keeping afloat in a demanding role that was clearly beyond her abilities. This is a long-winded way of saying that I have no idea who to pick.

Blue-JasmineJake Cole: I’ve still not gotten around to Blue Jasmine, Allen skeptic that I am, so I have no thoughts on the presumptive frontrunner. Otherwise I can’t say I’m bowled over by the choices given: Amy Adams valiantly pushes back against the vacuousness of her role as American Hustle’s Danny Ocean but is ultimately hemmed in by the material’s simultaneous lack of force and rigid allegiance to narrative motion. Sandra Bullock commits equally to Gravity but has to spend most of her lines reinforcing that she is the most incompetent person ever let into space, too insufficiently prepared and mentally off center to even be cannon fodder on Star Trek. Meryl Streep continues her whirlwind accent tour in August: Osage County, but she gives what feels like her fuirst truly multivalent, unpredictable work in years, more authoritarian and terrifying as the pill-popping matriarch of an imploding family than she was as Margaret Thatcher.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: It’s possible that Cate Blanchett could lose for her performance in Blue Jasmine. It’s not that she didn’t give an excellent turn, but Woody Allen’s directorial game isn’t what it used to be and the film as a whole just doesn’t live up to the individual performances. Still, unless Hollywood fave Sandra Bullock pulls off an upset, Cate will walk home the winner.

Josh Goller: Mia and Ronan Farrow are already planning their tweets for when Cate Blanchett wins. Blanchett’s Blanche Dubois-esque turn in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine was clearly the best performance of the year. Judi Dench deserves runner-up for her enchantingly earnest Philomena that could’ve easily won out if Blanchett hadn’t put down a performance so strong that it almost excuses her involvement in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

David Harris: I wonder if Mia Farrow will ruin Cate Blanchett’s chances of winning Best Actress. I certainly hope not, as she was fantastic in Blue Jasmine. Wake me up after they finish reading off Meryl Streep and Judi Dench. I really hope Sandra Bullock doesn’t win for gasping her way through Gravity. Amy Adams could be the dark horse here. Although American Hustle was kind of boring, Adams was luminous in all of her scenes.

Directing:

Jesse Cataldo: Again, while Martin Scorsese directed the hell out of The Wolf of Wall Street, Steve McQueen made huge strides toward maturing his style with 12 Years a Slave, and actually produced a prestige product that feels both politically and artistically honest. David O. Russell, Alfonso Cuaron and Alexander Payne do not need any more encouragement; if people stopped paying attention they might be forced to go back to making smaller, more interesting movies.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: By all accounts, Alfonso Cuaron is the frontrunner in this category, and Gravity is a fine film, no question. Steve McQueen’s work on 12 Years a Slave, however, was masterful. Alternately subtle and daring, McQueen’s direction is a revelation, though he has won only a few of the many directorial awards he has been nominated for, losing out almost exclusively to Cuaron. Both directors are deserving, and it’s possible McQueen might pull an upset, but Cuaron is most likely to win.

Josh Goller: Hard to imagine anyone but Alfonso Cuarón taking home the Oscar for Gravity, especially if Ang Lee’s win for the emotionally-lacking visual marvel Life of Pi is any precedent. Steve McQueen is the only real competition here, but it’d be great to see Alexander Payne win it for dark horse Nebraska. Something tells me that, even without the Oscar, Russell and Scorsese will continue to do just fine.

David Harris: I bet you think I’m going to say Martin Scorsese. Yes, he deserves, but since Wolf is getting Best Picture and Best Actor in my parallel universe, give the trophy to Alfonso Cuarón. He made an absolutely stunning picture in Gravity. Too bad the script sucks.

Best Supporting Actor:

Jesse Cataldo: I was pretty shocked at how not terrible Jared Leto was in the Rayon role, but his subsequent trans-phobic acceptance speeches and general douchiness have served as general reminders that he should not be allowed to win anything. The Wolf of Wall Street seems too uncouth to capture prizes in any of the main categories, but Jonah Hill’s demented Igor-like broker may be able to pick up something as a consolation price.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: If Oscar history is any indication, Jared Leto’s stunning perf in Dallas Buyers Club can’t possibly lose. But there’s been quite a bit of buzz around newcomer Barkhad Abdi’s turn in Captain Phillips, and with good reason, and let’s not forget the amazing performance Michael Fassbender gave in 12 Years a Slave. Still, this award is such a lock that it’s almost not worth speculating on; Leto will win, and handily.

Josh Goller: Jared Leto so completely lost himself in the role of the drag queen Rayon that I forgot I don’t like Jared Leto. His back and forth with McConaughey carried an otherwise only above-average movie, and there’s virtually no chance he doesn’t take home some new hardware on Oscar night. And that’s no slight on the other nominees: a resolute Barkhad Abdi, a barbaric and intensely conflicted Michael Fassbender and a hilariously creepy Jonah Hill all deserve recognition (Bradley Cooper in curlers did OK too). But Leto simply killed.

Best Supporting Actress:

Stacia Kissick-Jones: Jennifer Lawrence could win this, I suppose, because everyone loves Jennifer Lawrence. But we’ve all been through this before; it wasn’t that long ago that everyone loved Anne Hathaway, too. Sally Hawkins has a lot of good will built up as well, and it would be nice if she won, after managing to elevate the character she was given, and turn in a delightful, compelling performance. All that said, Lupita Nyong’o was phenomenal in 12 Years a Slave, giving a performance for the ages, and by all rights, the Best Supporting Actress award is hers.

Josh Goller: Can we all agree that, as good as Nebraska was, a wisecracking June Squibb has no business even being in this discussion? I would’ve much rather seen Scarlett Johansson get the nod for her yearning artificial intelligence voiceover work in Her. Sally Hawkins was her usual happy-go-lucky self (even when getting shit on by pretty much everybody in Blue Jasmine) and Jennifer Lawrence showcased once again that she’s as captivating when working for David O. Russell as she is listless in the wildly overrated adaptations of Suzanne Collins novels. But the Oscar goes to Lupita Nyong’o on the merits of her pre-lashing soap speech to Michael Fassbender alone.

Robert Rubsam: “Don’t put metal in the science oven.” Thank you, Jennifer Lawrence.

David Harris: Hopefully, Lupita Nyong’o gets it. Julia Roberts gets the popular vote. June Squibb was too shrill for my taste, Sally Hawkins too grotesque and I’m not in the mood to see Jennifer Lawrence fall down again.

Cinematography:

Jesse Cataldo: Roger Deakins did amazing work in making a turd like Prisoners interesting, but it would be really nice to see The Grandmaster get some kind of honor, even if that would ultimately reflect positively on the Weinsteins’ merciless butchery.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: It’s a shame that Inside Llewyn Davis has to compete with Gravity in this category. DP Bruno Delbonnel’s work on Inside Llewyn Davis is brilliant, the subdued color palette and his ability to portray a New York City that has all but disappeared five decades on is incredible. But have you seen Gravity? That is not a film that can lose in the Best Cinematography category, nor should it, despite the mutters heard in the Peanut Gallery that it contains “too much CGI.” To the complainers, I have only one thing to say: Welcome to 2014, folks.

Josh Goller: Gravity wins, obviously. But Nebraska definitely holds its own with those gorgeous long shots and crisp black and white.

David Harris: Gravity. It looked amazing. In space, everyone can hear you gasp.

Film Editing:

Jake Cole: “Most Editing” always win this category, sometimes deservedly (I still maintain the assembly of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not only thrilling but a definitive early digital show of possibility. But 12 Years a Slave is about as upfront as example as you could ask for of the way that editing operates on a subtler level to construct and define a film’s parameters. In fact, it doesn’t even feel right to refer to the film’s cutting without looping in talk of its equally powerful sound editing. If editing in general is a reminder of unseen hands shaping a story in the direction they wish it to go, here it reinforces how slaves have no escape, even among and within themselves.

Adapted Screenplay:

Stacia Kissick-Jones: If 12 Years a Slave doesn’t win, something is very, very wrong. There are some excellent films in the running, and no one could argue that The Wolf of Wall Street or Philomena don’t deserve accolades. That said, Solomon Northup’s memoir is a difficult adaptation, and making the dated language, as well as the unimaginable capacity for forgiveness that Northup possessed, resonate with modern audiences was no easy task, but John Ridley nailed it. Ridley’s screenplay is how adaptations should be done.

David Harris: Finally, Before Midnight gets some love. God, what a wonderful script. I would read this movie. Give it to Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, please. Such a fantastic movie.

Original Screenplay:

Stacia Kissick-Jones: It’s incomprehensible that Woody Allen was nominated in this category. Before you start yelling: no, this is not about controversy, but rather about Allen having lost his ability to adapt and restructure classic cinematic themes into his own unique style. The screenplay for Blue Jasmine is A Streetcar Named Desire, the Blanche character made into a disgraced 1%er — a demographic that might appeal to Academy voters, but hardly anyone else — while the Stanley-Stella relationship has had all the sexual vibrancy and sociocultural context stripped away. It’s Streetcar as presented by a Midwestern high school, toned down so as not to offend the parents, and it stinks.

Meanwhile, Spike Jonze has proven himself capable of writing delightful, intelligent screenplays, and Jonze’s Her has won a host of awards, and with good reason. But if the buzz is any indication, voters are determined to give American Hustle something, which means it may very well win Best Original Screenplay, though I doubt many people would consider it the best amongst the crowd. Well, it’s better than Blue Jasmine, but so was Bad Grandpa.

David Harris: Spike Jonze deserves this one. What a poignant, gentle story, one where I almost believed a man could fall in love with a machine. And if he does, so what?

Best Foreign Language Film:

Jesse Cataldo: I already feel bad enough for not really liking Rithy Pahn’s The Missing Picture, a non-fiction tale of genocide and survival that I found too dramatically inert. Still, pitted against a ridiculously scattered mess of a movie (Broken Circle Breakdown), a sporadically transcendent screed (The Great Beauty), and the art-film equivalent of an inverted Lifetime movie (The Hunt), Panh’s movie is looking better than ever.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: The race here is really between The Great Beauty and The Hunt, both fine films, though the subject matter of The Hunt delves into a moral grey area that the Academy tends to avoid. The Broken Circle Breakdown should be in the running, too, but the politics of the film certainly prevented it from ever being a real contender. Meanwhile, The Great Beauty does surrealism in a joyful way, is an absolute delight, and is almost certainly going to take home the statuette this year.

Music – Original Song:

Stacia Kissick-Jones: Are we all still politely forgetting the “Alone Yet Not Alone” fiasco? The fact that “Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby didn’t get a nomination? Still pretending that the Academy’s decision that “Please Mr. Kennedy” from Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t qualify made sense? Yes? Okay then. Now, as much as I love “Happy” from Despicable Me 2, “Let It Go” from Frozen is pure Academy gold. It’s a pop triumph that fits seamlessly into the film, the kind of song kids, parents and grandparents all love. There is no way “Let It Go” can lose.

Best Documentary:

Jesse Cataldo: The Act of Killing will likely win, and while I still feel some reservations about this skin-crawling, eye-opening movie, a victory for it would probably be a positive for inspiring more creatively constructed docs in the future. The same could also be said for the unequivocally awesome The Square, however.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: This should be The Act of Killing’s award, without question. Act of Killing is less a film than it is a force of nature, astonishing and brutal, the kind of documentary we’re lucky to see even once in a lifetime. But voters in the Best Documentary category are notoriously tetchy — what else could explain the complete omission of the superlative Stories We Tell, or the terrific Blackfish? — and there has been a lot of push for 20 Feet From Stardom to win. It’s nice and pleasant, only barely touches on the inherent sociocultural issues in the subject matter… oh, and Harvey Weinstein would really like another Oscar, please. It remains to be seen if the Academy will do the right thing, because so often, in the Best Documentary category, they do not.

Best Animated Feature:

Jesse Cataldo: The Croods beating out Miyazaki’s gorgeous final movie would probably be a worst case scenario for this entire evening. Frozen splitting the difference would at least be a bearable alternative, but The Wind Rises really deserves this award more than any other nominee in recent memory.

Stacia Kissick-Jones: It’s tempting to just say Frozen will win and move on with our lives. It’s that rare film that’s a game-changer, one that shows Hollywood can, in fact, keep up with the times, and create interesting characters with motivations that don’t come from a decades-old Disney template. On the merit of pure technical achievement, it would have been nice had Despicable Me 2 been a contender, as the final third of the film is frankly astonishing. Still, one should not underestimate either the appeal or importance of Frozen; the award is theirs.

Josh Goller: I’d love to see Hayao Miyazaki take home an Oscar for his (somewhat controversial) swan song, The Wind Rises. Not gonna happen, though, against all that high-grossing CGI.

Costume Design:

Josh Goller: Might as well throw American Hustle a bone (it won’t win much else). Though The Great Gatsby will have something to say about that.

Production Design:

Jesse Cataldo: I feel like the exact recreation of past settings isn’t as impressive as the creation of entirely new ones from pure imagination, and am thus hoping for a win for Her over the faithful period recreations of 12 Years, the gaudy earth-tones of Hustle and the admittedly impressive roaring twenties insanity of Gatsby. Still a bit puzzled how a movie that took place 98% in a computer simulation and 2% on clunky space shuttle sets managed to earn a nomination in this category.

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