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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The 2014 Academy Awards- My Picks

            Once again, apologies for the lateness of this, but such is life.  It’s finally time for me to go through each individual category of this year’s Academy Awards and offer you my personal pick for each one (excepting the categories for which I did not see anything nominated, and thus cannot fairly choose one).  This year, 56 movies and documentaries (both short and feature-length) were nominated for a total of 24 awards. 

            As with last year, remember that these are not my predictions.  Trying to predict what the Academy will do has proven toxic to my physical well-being.  These are the films that I personally would vote for, were I a member of the voting pool. 

            I won’t do a specific run-down of who really does deserve to be here and who should be here- others have already covered that pretty darn good.  There will, however, be sporadic rants as merited by the category. 

            Alright, that’s it for an intro, since this too will be a long, long post.  Let us begin! 

Writing, Original Screenplay

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

My Vote:  Her (Spike Jonze)

            Nothing on the other films here (American Hustle excepted of course), but the story and dialogue of Her blew me away, so for me, this one should be no competition, especially since it’s one of only two categories where Her (for now at least) stands even a remote chance of winning. 

Writing, Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter), 12 Years A Slave (John Ridley), Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)

My Vote:  12 Years A Slave (John Ridley)

            12 Years is not without its flaws, but it very effectively adapts a book in a way that captures its essential tone and theme and story, but without romanticizing it to the degree that this movie would have been in lesser hands.  Wolf of Wall Street is also a possible winner, but I’m not picking it here because I feel the movie’s strengths lie more in its editing, cinematography, and acting, and not so much in the writing department. 


Best Visual Effects

Nominees: Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds), Ironman 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick), The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier), Star Trek: Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

My Vote:  Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould)

            Really, no contest.  At all.  Smaug was a wondrous visual achievement, easily the coolest-looking dragon yet put to film, but Gravity was a powerful reminder that effects are about far more than just action. 

Best Sound Mixing

Nominees: Captain Phillips (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro), Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Bernstead, Chris Munro), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanik, Tony Johnson), Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland), Lone Survivor (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow)

My Vote:  Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Bernstead, Chris Munro)

            There are cases to be made for each of these movies, but they will not win, and honestly, the use of sound was one of Gravity’s biggest strengths, more important (I’d argue) that its use to special effects.   

Best Sound Editing

Nominees: Lone Survivor (Wylie Stateman), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Brent Burge, Chris Ward), Gravity (Glenn Freemantle), Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney), All Is Lost (Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns)

My Vote:  Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)

            And Gravity gets this one too.  Really, the technical awards will be the least-surprising of the night.    

Short Film, Live Action

Nominees: Aquel No Era Yo (Esteban Crespo), Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Xavier Legrand, Alexandre Gravas), Helium (Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson), Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything? (Selma Vilhunen, Kirsikka Saari), The Voorman Problem (Mark Gill, Baldwin Li)

My Vote:  N/A

            Sadly, I was not able to see a single one of the films on this list, so I cannot cast a vote for it. 

Short Film, Animated

Nominees: Feral (Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden), Get A Horse! (Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim), Mr. Hublot (Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espirages), Possessions (Shuhei Morita), Room On The Broom (Max Lang, Jan Lachaur)

My Vote:  N/A

            Get A Horse! is the only film on this list I was able to see (as it was shown before Frozen), and as such, I can’t in good faith pick a winner here, having nothing to compare it to. 

Best Original Song

Nominees: “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 (Pharrell Williams), “Let It Go” from Frozen (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez), “The Moon Song” from Her (Karen O and Spike Jonze), “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (U2)

My Vote:  “Let It Go” from Frozen

            I wouldn’t mind seeing “The Moon Song” take this one, but there’s no getting around just how great a powerhouse piece “Let It Go” is, the first not-villain Disney song in years to stay with me for, quite literally, a whole month after first hearing it. 

Best Production Design

Nominees: American Hustle (Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler), Gravity (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, and Joanne Woollard), The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin and Beverly Dunn), Her (K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena), 12 Years A Slave (Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker)

My Vote:  Her

            This is a hard pick, because with the obvious exception of American Hustle, I see no reason for any of these nominees to not win.  I’ll go with Her in my ballot though, because it’s unlikely to win anything else, and it deserves to be a multiple winner. 

Best Original Score

Nominees: The Book Thief (John Williams), Gravity (Steven Price), Her (William Butler and Owen Pallet), Philomena (Alexandre Desplat), Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

My Vote: Gravity

            Again, no contest, although Her would not be unworthy of winning this one as well.  The swells of Gravity still haunt me, and is one of only two soundtracks from this year I felt compelled to buy. 

Makeup and Hairstyling

Nominees: Dallas Buyer’s Club (Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews), Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty), The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

My Vote:  Dallas Buyer’s Club

            Amazing.  After last year’s terrible exclusion of Cloud Atlas from this category, I thought this award couldn’t become any more of a joke.  Unfortunately, it seems the academy was determined to prove me dead wrong.  I look at this list, and the only thought that runs screaming through my head is an endless, “WHAT THE HELL????”  Bad Grandpa?  You HAVE to be kidding me.  No Hobbit?  No Gatsby?  Hell, no American Hustle?  Critics have been gorging themselves on Bale’s toupee, I’d actually prefer to see that win all on its own that to have to type two of these titles into an Oscar post. 

            And speaking of Lone Ranger, I have not seen it.  I will never see it.  More importantly, I do not need to ever see it, because it is offensive on a level that boggles the imagination, thus rendering any need for anyone to ever see this movie a moot point. 

            But how can I be that harsh on a movie I’ve never seen, you may ask?  Simple.  Johnny Depp as Tonto.  That is the only reason I need.  And no, that is not unfair, for the exact same reason that Depp playing Solomon Northrup in backface would be wretchedly disgusting and offensive on every conceivable level.  Native Americans have been dealt an even worse historical hand than African-American slaves were, and have been treated by whites just as poorly.  The least we can do- the VERY least we can do- is, when there is a major blockbuster film with a Native American character in it, YOU CAST A F***ING NATIVE AMERICAN FOR THE ROLE.  PERIOD, END OF SENTENCE. 

            So, obviously, there is one- and ONLY one- choice for this award. 

Foreign Language Film

Nominees: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), The Missing Picture (Cambodia), Omar (Palestine)

My Vote:  Omar

            I still find The Hunt unbearably boring.  Sadly, it’s the only film on this list I’ve actually seen thus far.  However, Omar sounds like my kind of film, so even if I can’t squeeze it in before Oscar Night, I feel confident enough in giving it my vote. 

Film Editing

Nominees: American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten), Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse), Dallas Buyer’s Club (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger), 12 Years A Slave (Joe Walker)

My Vote:  Gravity

            For me, this one’s a toss-up between Gravity and 12 Years, and both are worthy winners.  Gravity will almost certainly take it though.  It's a shame that Wolf isn't nominated here, because otherwise that would be my pick.  

Documentary, Short Subject

Nominees: Cave Digger (Jeffrey Karkoff), Facing Fear (Jason Cohen), Karama Has No Walls (Sara Ishaq), The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (Malcolm Clarke, Nicholas Reed), Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (Edgar Barens)

My Vote:  N/A

            See Short Films above. 

Documentary Feature

Nominees: The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sorensen), Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher), Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley, Jeremy Scahill), The Square (Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer), 20 Feet from Stardom (Morgan Neville, Gil Frieson, Caitrin Rogers)

My Vote:  N/A

            And again, see above.  It would be cool to see The Act of Killing win though. 

Directing

Nominees: American Hustle (David O. Russell), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron), Nebraska (Alexander Payne), 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

My Vote:  Gravity

            This is actually the hardest category for me this year.  Even without the Coen Brothers in the running, it’s tight.  Scorsese, Cuaron, and McQueen are all powerhouse cases for this award.  Alexander Payne did excellent work with Nebraska, but his time to win will come soon enough.  Scorsese has only won once, and has absolutely deserved more Oscar Gold, plus Wolf is his best film in years, so a powerful argument can be made for him to win.  However, he HAS won, and since equally strong cases can be made for Cuaron and McQueen, I’m inclined to vote for one of the younger artists who have not yet gotten the trophy, and Cuaron is a little more established than McQueen.  Like with Payne, I’m confident McQueen, too, will have his Directing Oscar day. 

Costume Design

Nominees: 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)

My Vote:  12 Years A Slave

            The outlandishness of Hustle and Gatsby may make the films flashier, but there’s an added strength given to a film when the costumes and set designs effectively recreate the world and time period in which they’re set, and 12 Years fully immerses the viewer in the Antebellum South. 

Cinematography

Nominees: The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd), Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki), Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel), Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael), Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

My Vote:  Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)

            Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, Gravity is going to skip away with this one, but I don’t care, because damnit, Inside Llewyn Davis needs to win something, since it fell just shy of being this year’s Cloud Atlas.  Its complete lack of love still stings though especially since I suspect it was knocked out of most categories by the Academy’s heroin-related addiction to David O. Russell’s breakfast plates. 

Animated Feature Film

Nominees: The Croods (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson), Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho), Despicable Me 2 (Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin, Chris Meledandri), The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki), Ernest & Celestine (Benjamin Renner, Didier Brunner)

My Vote:  The Wind Rises

            I am loathe to extend any recognition to the dismal output from American animation studios this year.  Yes, Frozen was good, but it was not great.  There are timing and pacing issues that make what should be an epic journey feel rather shortchanged, and the soundtrack is only slightly better than Tangled’s terrible, terrible sequence of pop ballads, the effectiveness of “Let It Go” and “Do You Want To Build A Snowman” notwithstanding. 

            I firmly suspect that a not insignificant portion of the praise heaped upon it was influenced by how every other animated movie release in the States last year added up to a big, empty ball of nothing, which made people all the more receptive to Frozen’s genuine charms and far more willing to overlook its glaring flaws.  I don’t agree with those who argue that it’s emotionally damaging to kids (it’s far tamer than most classic Disney fare), and I also disagree with those who argue that it’s an insidious step back for Disney in terms of how it portrays females, but I can’t help but wonder how big it would have been had it been released a year ago, where it would have been in competition with Wreck-It-Ralph and ParaNorman (by the way, OH MY GOD LAIKA HAS A NEW MOVIE COMING OUT THIS YEAR HOLY CRAAAAAAP okay I’m done). 

            Look, Wind Rises is, in all likelihood, Miyazaki’s last film, and he should have gotten an Oscar for Mononoke, which came out before the Best Animated Film Category existed, and since the Academy is often big on “apology” Oscars (see Iron Lady and Jennifer Lawrence’s win last year), why not give Miyazaki one?  He’s earned it in a way few others ever will. 

Best Supporting Actress

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

My Vote:  12 Years A Slave

            I have refrained from going after American Hustle for the most part, because I plan to tackle it in an entirely separate post.  For now, however, because it cannot be stressed enough, let me be clear; Jennifer Lawrence is a wonderfully talented actress, and her humble demeanor and sense of humor about herself make her an excellent role-model-in-the-making.  And she has absolutely no business being nominated for this award.  She had no business being nominated last year, and even less winning the actual award.  She is immensely skilled, but in Hustle, she was desperately and viscerally miscast.  More on this later.  

            Nyong’o is far and away the most deserving nominee for this award.  I can accept Jennifer’s win last year as an apology for passing her over in Winter’s Bone, but this year, she should be able to graciously take back stage for a change.  And hopefully disappear for a year or two once production of the last Hunger Games movies is over, because the girl is dangerously close to over-exposure at the moment. 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Captain Phillips (Barkhad Abdi), American Hustle (Bradley Cooper), 12 Years A Slave (Michael Fassbender), The Wolf of Wall Street (Jonah Hill), Dallas Buyer’s Club (Jared Leto)

My Vote:  Captain Phillips

            Barkhad was a powerful presence as the Somali pirate captain without even trying.  What a great debut performance for the guy.  I sincerely look forward to his next appearance, whenever that happens to be. 

Best Actress

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

My Vote:  Blue Jasmine

            Sandra Bullock would definitely earn winning this as well, but Blanchett really is in a class all her own this time around.  Addiction is a hard thing to really, truly capture, since only those who’ve fought it can fully understand it, and her ability to bring it to life, in all its complexity, was the glue that bound together Blue Jasmine’s disparate parts.           

Best Actor

Nominees: American Hustle (Christian Bale), Nebraska (Bruce Dern), The Wolf of Wall Street (Leonardo DiCaprio), 12 Years A Slave (Chiwetel Eijiofor), Dallas Buyer’s Club (Matthew McConaughey)

My Vote:  12 Years A Slave

            This is also a hard one, especially since (as a great many have pointed out), DiCaprio is still Oscar-less, despite the formidable filmography he’s put together over the years.  I suspect this role will be the primary inspiration for his eventual “apology” Oscar a decade or so down the line.  And as much as he would be win-worthy in any other year, however, I’d still rather see Eijiofor take this one, mostly because he’s almost as universally unknown outside really dedicated film circles as DiCaprio is known, and this would be a great boost to his career. 

Best Picture

Nominees: Captain Phillips (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca), American Hustle (Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, Jonathan Gordon), Nebraska (Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa), Philomena (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward), 12 Years A Slave (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Anthony Katagas), Dallas Buyer’s Club (Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, David Heyman), Her (Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay)

My Vote:  12 Years A Slave

            My pick for Best Picture this year, like my pick of Lincoln last year, is by no means a perfect film.  It fiddles with the historical record a bit to suit its needs, the editing has its odd moments, and Brad Pitt’s Canadian accent is still terrible.  That’s not why it should (or shouldn’t) win.  It should win because it is the most consequential and important film to come out this year.  Gravity was a new technical revolution.  Wolf was a bitter and powerful rebuke of modern financial systems.  Nebraska, Phillips, and Her were emotionally engaging mood pieces.  American Hustle set the bar for the Academy lower than ever before.  None of them are as necessary as 12 Years A Slave, because it is the first movie in….well, ever, really, to tackle the nature of American slavery head-on and without restraint.  It is the Schindler’s List of American history- brutal, terrifying, hard-to-watch, but needed, because without reminders like this to keep our awareness of the evil in humanity intact, we merely condemn ourselves to repeating the same mistakes over and over again. 


            And that’s it!  All my picks for the 2014 Academy Awards.  To sum up, here are the films I think should win, along with the number of awards I think they merit:

Gravity- 6
12 Years A Slave- 5
Her- 2
Blue Jasmine- 1
Captain Phillips- 1
The Wind Rises- 1
Frozen- 1
Inside Llewyn Davis- 1
Dallas Buyer’s Club- 1
Omar- 1

            The Oscar telecast will take place Sunday night, March 2nd, with Ellen Degeneres hosting.  Tune in to hear my screams of agony rippling through the airwaves. 

            Until next time. 


-Noah Franc 

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