Oscar Picks 2014

By on January 26, 2014
82nd Annual Academy Awards - "Meet The Oscars" New York

The Oscar nominees are out, and with the unpredictability of the other awards shows to date, who stands to win is actually anyone’s guess. On the one hand, “American Hustle” has been racking up the wins lately but on the other, it certainly seems as if the other awards shows with more elaborate categories have tried to pass it off as a “comedy/musical” solely for the sheer star power involved rather than it actually, you know, being a comedy or musical.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m actually all for Oscar embracing the designation of making comedies and musicals their own separate categories. There were any number of fun comedies last year that were worth at least an award nod where they wouldn’t normally have gotten any at all, such as “The Heat” or even “The Way Way Back,” which was more of a drama with comedic elements- but still qualifies more as one than “American Hustle,” where the only funny things were the hairstyles and clothes.

It just seems a bit of a way to cheat and bend the rules a bit, for the sole purpose of awarding a more high-profile film, and that’s where I cry foul. If you’re going to do it, at least pick something that’s, you know, funny. (One could make a much better case for “The Wolf of Wall Street” on the other hand, as being a comedy- especially if “American Hustle” qualifies.)

However, because the Oscars don’t split up the comedies from the dramas, that’s where things become a lot more interesting. Will they go their traditional route and award the movies based on true-life events about people who beat the odds or lived through something particularly harrowing, i.e. “Captain Philips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Philomena” or “12 Years a Slave”? Or will they also go for the star power value, i.e. “Gravity,” “Her,” “Blue Jasmine,” or “American Hustle” ? (Yes, “Hustle” was partially inspired by a true story, but that’s got little to nothing to do with whether or not it will win in this case.) It’s an undeniably tough call, making Oscar picks a tough prospect, indeed.

Here’s my take on the major categories, along with a short explanation of why I think they will- or won’t- win!

Best Picture12 years

My personal favorite of the year has to be “Gravity,” for the reasons I detailed in my “best of the Year” article, which can be found here. But do I think it will actually win for Best Picture? Um, no. It’s a challenging, ambitious movie that did very well for such an experimental film at the box office, but the winner tends to be a bit more conventional, so my guess would be that it will reap more of the technical benefits, at best. That also rules out such forward thinking films as “Her” and the excellent but very adult “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which also has the fact that it was inspired by the life of a real dirt bag going against it.

I thought “Nebraska” was wonderful, but it and “Philomena” may be a bit too low-key for their own good. That leaves four more selections, all of which were at least partially inspired by real-life events. “Captain Phillips” is an excellent and very solid film, from an acclaimed filmmaker (Paul Greengrass), but without a nomination for either lead actor Tom Hanks or the director, it seems unlikely to win. “Dallas Buyers Club” is precisely the sort of little movie that could that the Academy likes to award, but my thinking is that they will choose to award it elsewhere, namely in the acting categories it’s up for.

That makes this a showdown between the big winners in the Best Picture field thus far: “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave.” No one will hate it if “Hustle” wins, but should it, really? It’s solidly entertaining, but it’s a bit like popcorn: good while it lasts, but doesn’t really fill you up. I just think it’s ever-so-slight a film to warrant the big prize, which is precisely why many relegated it to “Comedy” status- to still award it, while acknowledging it was a bit on the fluffy side. Oh, that may not stop it from winning some awards for acting, but I just don’t see it winning the biggie. That makes it “12 Years a Slave” by default- it’s based on a true story about a dark time in our history and it paints an unflinching portrait of that time that pulls no punches. In other words: primo Oscar bait.

Matthew

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Best Actor

From a purely acting ability stand-point, this and the Best Actress category are near-unimpeachable, from top to bottom. I can’t imagine anyone having trouble with any of these actors winning. Bruce Dern is exactly the sort of Hollywood survivor voters like to award, but the film may be a bit slight and not showy enough to win any major awards, which puts it into the “honor to be nominated” area. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic in “Wolf,” but the unsavory notion of his winning for playing such a raging d-bag may put some voters off, as is it were a vote for the guy the film was based on himself, so I think that will split voters. He’s still relatively young, so his time will come.

Christian Bale has won before, and his hairpiece did most of the acting for him in “Hustle,” so I think we can safely rule him out. That leaves Chiwetel Ejiofor for “Slave” and Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas,” and that is some stiff competition. On the one hand, McConaughey had a banner year, featuring arguably his finest work to date, and not just in the movie he’s up for, either. If the Academy chooses to award him for his work on the whole as it is sometime wont to do, it’s his to lose.

If they choose to go for substance over overall style (and a personality that most everyone thinks is alright, alright, alright), then they may well go with Ejiofor. He’s been a well-respected actor for years now and he deserves for people to know how to pronounce his name properly, and this would certainly go a long way towards rectifying that. Remember, Oscar isn’t above throwing in a wild card: witness Jean Dujardin’s unexpected win for “The Artist.” Though some weren’t happy about it, that doesn’t mean they won’t do it again, and knock people for a loop. Still, McConaughey is on an undeniable roll (if you haven’t seen it, he’s currently killing it on HBO’s “True Detective”), and this would be a nice cherry on top of a first-rate year for him, so I’m going to give it to him by the slightest of margins.

American Hustle

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Best Actress

This is only slightly harder to call than Best Actor, and it’s mostly by default. Meryl Streep and Judi Dench both have a truckload of awards to their name, so I doubt they’ll win, as wonderful as their performances might be. Sandra Bullock is “Gravity” to a large extent, and would normally be a shoe-in for that alone- if she hadn’t won fairly recently, for “The Blind Side.” That leaves Cate Blanchett, who’s won once, for Best Supporting Actor (“The Aviator”), and Amy Adams, who’s never won, but has been nominated five times. That’s a tough call, because is there anyone who doesn’t think that Blanchett should have more than one Best Actress statues on her mantle already? On the other hand, was there anyone not charmed by Adams in “Hustle”? Her and Lawrence made the film for me, personally.

As such, as much as I’d love to see Galadriel take one home, I’m going to give it to Adams, because she deserves it, and unlike Blanchett, she hasn’t won before. Besides, who wouldn’t like to see a bona fide Disney Princess win one? That’s my kind of fairy tale, and I think it will be true of the voters as well. Is there anyone who doesn’t like either one, though? Either way, it’s a win.

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Best Director

If ever there was a tricky category, it’s this one. Martin Scorsese is a national treasure, and a filmmaking god to many, including, no doubt, many in this category: definitely looking at David O. Russell. Who else could make a three-hour film about a raging a-hole so watchable? Still, as good as it was, I don’t think Scorsese’s going to win here. As for Russell, he may be beloved by actors, but a lot of people think he’s a raging a-hole his own self, and there’s actually evidence of that online- and not just that Lily Tomlin incident you’re probably thinking of. That might well hurt him in the voting process, though I don’t doubt he’ll eventually win one someday, maybe after he mellows out a little.

Alexander Payne probably should have one, for consistency alone. But his film’s are more cherished for their writing than directing, which he’s already won for, twice. Until he does something a bit showier, I don’t see that changing this year. Steve McQueen is certainly well-respected, and liked by critics and voters alike, but is he too new on the scene to actually win? Possibly so.

Therefore, I’m going with Alfonso Cuardon. He took Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and a green screen and created a world that transfixed and wowed viewers all over the world. He took special effects and immersive 3D to a whole new level. If that doesn’t deserve a win, I’m not sure what does. Besides, with Bullock unlikely to win, this is the Academy’s big chance to award a director of real and true vision, and isn’t that really what this category should be about? He’s been nominated many times, but never won, and his oeuvre is among the most consistent of anyone in this category, even Scorsese. The guy’s a visionary genius, and wholly deserves to win.

Steve Coogan

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Another tough one, on both ends. On the one hand, was there a more original- or word-based- screenplay than “Her” this year? On the other hand, some were put off by the overall concept, and aside from a directing nod for “Being John Malkovich,” it’s his first major nomination- as a writer. Still, will they really give it to perpetual no-show Woody Allen? “Hustle” was more style than substance, so I can’t really see it winning for writing. I haven’t seen “Dallas” yet, but it seems more about the acting than the writing, and it’s more likely to win there, I think.

That leaves “Nebraska,” and Payne’s work is nothing without a solid script, which it always, unfailingly has going for it. (Well, that and some fine cinematography, which it might well win for as well.) Writer Bob Nelson did some fine character work here, and gave Payne precisely the blueprint he needed to paint his typically indelible portrait of men struggling with stuff. If “Her” doesn’t pull an upset, and it just might, then count on “Nebraska” to bag this one.

Meanwhile, in adapted screenplay territory, it’s a really interesting group of folks. I adore Richard Linklater, and his collaborative work with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is one of the greatest ongoing pleasures for people who don’t normally care for romantic comedies to argue for the medium. Plus, there would be a neat symmetry for him and McConaughey to win, as he discovered the actor- and helped inspire two of his favorite catchphrases- perhaps you’ve heard them? If not, you really need to start L-I-V-I-N’ people (and reading between the lines).

However, I’m not sure a film that’s largely improvised entirely counts for this award, so I’m going to go with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s work on “Philomena,” which would be the Academy’s chance to award the film at least once, and is precisely the sort of thing they like to give it to, subject matter-wise. Also, Coogan was in one of my all-time favorite films, “24 Hour Party People,” so that would be cool to see him win something this high-brow. If not this, then count on “12 Years a Slave” writer John Ridley to take the prize.

Jared Leto

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Let’s be honest. I never thought in a million years I’d be saying erstwhile Jordan Catalano and Emo singer Jared Leto would be nominated for, much less be a near shoe-in for any sort of acting award, and yet, here it is. This award is his to lose, period, because there’s nothing the Academy loves more than an actor who goes the extra distance for his work, and Leto both lost a lot of weight and played a transgender, so that’s like Oscar gold for the taking.

Sure, Bradley Cooper should win someday, as should Michael Fassbender, but I don’t think this is their year. I’m not sure the world is ready for Jonah Hill, Oscar winner, either, but give it a few years, and you never know. I think he’ll need to stretch a bit more as an actor before he actually wins, though. Typically, the newcomer (in this case, Barkhad Abdi, for “Captain Phillips”) falls under the “honor to be nominated” category, so Leto all but has this in the bag. On the bright side, at least it might get him to stop making terrible whiny music for a while, so there’s that.

Lupita

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Another tricky one. Lawrence won last year, much to my delight, as I genuinely didn’t think the Academy would be cool enough to do that, but I doubt she’ll win twice in a row, even though she steals what little part of “Hustle” she’s in wholesale. I haven’t seen “August,” but Roberts has won before, too, so we’ll take her out of the mix as well. I adored Sally Hawkins in “Happy Go-Lucky,” but I think this is a dead heat between Lupita Nyong’o for “Slave” and June Squibb for “Nebraska.” Squibb, like Lawrence, steals every scene she’s in, but Nyong’o does more heavier lifting, acting-wise, so I think the red carpet darling will go home a winner, and no doubt look fabulous doing it, if her recent style is any indication!

Well, that about does it for the major nominations. I expect “Frozen” will handily win Best Animated Feature, and it would be awesome if Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O. won for Best Original Song for “Her” (and would be in keeping with the Trent Reznor hipster vote slot), but I’m guessing “Frozen” will bag that one, too. The rest is for more informed people than I to decide, though I should think “Gravity” should win some technical stuff somewhere over the night’s proceedings.

Be sure to weigh in with your own predictions below, in the comments section, and I’ll see you at the Oscars!

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
 
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