Clap Along If You Feel Like A Pharrell With a Nom: Oscar Nominations 2014

Right. Let’s do this. Then again, after David Edelstein’s bit on CBS’ The Sunday Morning ShowI’m not sure I’m even in the mood anymore. “To those of you placing large bets based on which movies you like, play cards with me,” he says. “Please! There’s a world of hidden Oscar campaigning that determines these things.”

And then it really hurts: “You could, of course, listen to hundreds of online experts, some calling themselves, ‘Oscarologists.’ Where do they get this sacred knowledge? A place where the sun don’t shine. But they have something you haven’t got: a diploma. I can get you one for ten bucks.” Hey, buddy. I’ve got a film minor, journalism diploma and way too much time on my hands.

Pictured here: the dashser of my dreams.
Let’s face it — that’s what about all you’ve got, too, Mr. New York Magazine. Psh.

OK, so let’s admit it right now that the Oscars are fixed, they have as much meaning as the plot of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (one of this year’s makeup noms), and tomorrow there will still be a war in Ukraine and starving in Africa.

But it’s just so much fun to speculate. And really, these are all speculations.*

*Except for this first one.

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto. The end. Despite his rather inane acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards, I feel like he really understood the character of Rayon for her complexities and ways of dealing with the world around her. Physical transformation aside, whenever he came on screen during Dallas Buyers Club, I watched only him. That’s something that I didn’t really feel about any of the other nominees, even from one of my favorites, Michael Fassbender, in 12 Years a Slave (though to be fair, the role of Epps was definitely not an attractive guy). 

Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. Next time "City of Angels" comes on the radio, think of this.
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress

It’s a battle royale between Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave and Jennifer Lawrence of American Hustle. While I want Nyong’o to win (and think she’s got a very good chance), I’m also aware that Lawrence has the entire country wrapped around her Dior-clad finger. Both were spectacular in their roles, but in my opinion the part of slave Patsey — which included being whipped, raped and pushed to the point of asking another to take her life — was a far tougher one to master than that of the microwave-destructing, nail-polish-sniffing Roselyn. Now if there was an Oscar for Best Singing and Angry Cleaning…

Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor in a Leading Role

If only this could go to all five nominees. Christian Bale was a chameleon in American Hustle, in which he donned polyester head-to-toe and an “elaborate” combover as the hustler that was attractive and disgusting all in one. Chiwetel Ejiofor was just — wow. Look at the photo of Lupita Nyong’o above to see the emotion he stocked into the role of Solomon Northup. Leo DiCaprio, as I wrote in my Wolf of Wall Street review, morphed with his character. The performance wasn’t as good as some of his others (specifically the supporting role in Django Unchained that would have won my Oscar vote last year had he been nominated), but someone give Leo an Oscar, please. Or don’t, so I can write another recap from his perspective.

But the winner, in my opinion, should be either Matthew McConaughey or Bruce Dern. The latter, who has been a driving force of an actor his entire career but never recognized for it, stood out from the four other emotional performances with his portrayal of Woody Grant in Nebraska (Quills and Typewriters review to come — I just saw it last night). He wasn’t an actor playing a role — he was Woody, trying to get to Lincoln, Neb. to claim his million dollars from a clearinghouse come-on. But more about that in my full review.

As much as I’d like to see Dern win, I think everything points to McConaughey. Talk about a transformation: only a year after being the male stripper dance captain in Magic Mike, the rom-com king transfigured into the AIDS-afflicted Ron Woodroof, who not only decides to live the last days of his life proactively but also to help others do the same. He’s got my vote this year.

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Best Leading Actress

And here’s where it gets tricky again. Everyone expects Cate Blanchett to win for her performance in Blue Jasmine, Streetcar Named Desired retelling directed by the controversial-again Woody Allen. Having not seen the movie, I can’t really speak to her worthiness of it, but it seems like the cine-world has made its mind up pretty thoroughly, so sure. Cate Blanchett it is.

Cate Blanchett (left) in Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett (left) in Blue Jasmine

If she wasn’t in the running, however, I would be all over Amy Adams for American Hustle. She mastered the role of multiple-persona hustler Sydney Prosser.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Ugh. So many good choices. Wolf on Wall Street had great voiceovers and quips, but the story itself was pretty meh. 12 Years a Slave turned a hard-to-read novel into an equally hard-to-watch film, but did so flawlessly. The three other contenders, Captain Phillips, Philomena and Before Midnight are all attractive (though I haven’t seen them), but I’ll have to call this one in favor of 12 Years, even though I think we’d all like to see Steve “Hamlet 2” Coogan’s acceptance speech for Philomena.

Best Original Screenplay

This one I can speak to a bit better because I’ve seen more of the nominees. American Hustle was able to compound a complex story and equally complex characters into essentially a heist film that smacked of 1973’s The Stingwhich won the Best Original Screenplay award. Then again, Blue Jasmine was penned by Academy favorite Allen, but they may try to distance themselves from him in light of recent events. I would like to see Nebraska win because of its simplicity and realism — again, my review will be coming soon on how loud such a simple film is among the white noise of bigger releases this year. But I think that Her will be picking up this award, if only because of Spike Jonze and his grip on the “progressive” Academy.

Best Animated Feature Film

Despicable Me 2 was saved by the minions, but is that enough to make it the best? In a second Pixar-free year, this one’s up in the air. Frozen was the favorite at the Golden Globes — and the box office — but another contender has jumped into the ring for the Oscars. Hayao Miyazaki, the renowned Japanese animation director who’s been churning out fantastic films since the 1960s, announced his retirement on the heels of releasing The Wind Rises, about a man who loves designing airplanes right around the time WWII hits. It might not be a children’s film like DM2 or Frozen, but it echoes the deeper meanings held by Pixar’s greats and has some spectacular visuals (hand-drawn in the world of computerized animation), two aspects that make me think it will pick up the award.

The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises

Best Original Score

Oh, my. What a category. My vote is firmly placed at Steven Price’s piano bench. The relatively unknown composer wrote the score for Gravity and is the only composer this year to get both Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. Why? Because the score is just so darn good. In a film that features explosions, panicked breathing and rocket blasts (all while in space, where “no one can hear you scream”), the score stood out. In fact, and I’m going to shock everyone here, the final song of the soundtrack (and film), called “Gravity,” matches Hans Zimmer’s “Time” from Inception in the way it evokes emotion just before the screen goes black to rolling credits.

Oh, but if that doesn’t win (which I think it will), I hope John Williams gets it for The Book Thief. Perfection.

Best Original Song

Yeah, yeah. It’ll probably go to U2 for “Ordinary Love,” a very good song from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. And it would have my vote, too, if not for a man named Pharrell Williams, his song “Happy” and his ability to make me dance in the shower, car, kitchen, train, streets of downtown Chicago, Glenbard North High School parking lot, and the list goes on. So while I predict “Ordinary Love” will win because of its Bono-ness, I want Pharrell — who actually produced the music for the award show a few years ago — to pick up the little gold man. And if he just so happens to have a tiny brown ranger hat to pop on the statue, even better.

Best Technicals…

Does anyone not think Gravity is going to get it?

Costuming should go to the polyester planet of American Hustle, but The Great Gatsby is more glitzy and historical, therefore more Academy-approved. As for makeup, here’s to the crew of Dallas Buyers Club, who were able to create Rayon and Ron out of $250 of makeup. Really, anything but Jackass.

A note about “Best Documentary”

Four of the five nominees were at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Mo. last year. I saw Dirty Wars and sold a t-shirt to one of its producers while working the merch table. So there. I’m hipster and I know it.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaròn has been the favorite, and I can see why — his direction of Gravity was green-screen-free and kept us on the edge of our seats. Second favorite is Alexander Payne, whose Nebraska used black and white to stand out from the rest of the contenders and featured simplistic but enthralling characters in very real settings. But then there’s Steve McQueen (who, if he wins, will be the first Black director to win the award) made 12 Years a Slave, a film that throws audiences of every color and background into the slave-era south with no effects and all emotion. I think Cuaròn’s got this, though, and good for him. I’ve felt he deserved something for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the franchise’s third film that set the tone for all the rest to come.

Best Picture

Last year I waffled between Argo and Lincoln. This year, my vote is solidly in place for 12 Years a Slave. Personally, I think Gravity was my favorite film of the nominees, but that doesn’t mean it was the Best Film (and as David Edelstein says, just because the Academy says so, the winner isn’t necessarily the best film of the year*).

*Personally, I think he’s just sore at how Her will probably get snubbed.

I think, however, that the Academy — whose last few choices have been a historical biopic, throw-back comedy and historical thriller — wants to acknowledge a more important film this year. Nebraska is too small. Her is too weird. 12 Years a Slave is not a film anyone can say they enjoyed watching, but it is one that will probably go down as one of the most honest and intense features documenting a very evil part of America’s past. And that will make it the Best Picture winner.

12-years-a-slave-poster-2

How wrong am I? We’ll find out tonight. For a full list of nominees (and details on the show), check out the official Academy Awards page.

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