Last year we were blessed with a significant amount of quality amongst the Academy Award nominees. It certainly was a special year at the movies, but the commotion surrounding the Oscars always infuriates me. Yes, it’s Hollywood’s night of nights, a few hours of self-congratulatory back-patting that shouldn’t matter as much as it does. The Academy have shown, year after year, that they are incapable of making surprising, daring choices in their winners, exemplified by last year’s unimaginative and artless Best Picture win for Argo. In fact, for the last three years, the Best Picture winner has been an audience-friendly hit set in the past (The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo). This trend of predictability and sentimentality shuts out ambitious and innovative films, the most notable loser being The Social Network in 2010.
Despite my cynicism, the Oscars can be a lot of fun when the nominees are this good. This year, the exceptional quality of the nominated films and the Academy’s decision to nominate some really great work from around the world has given the Oscar race some meaning that it’s been missing so dearly in the last decade. Remember though, the Oscar is an exclusive institution set up to reward Hollywood films for their excellence. I refuse to believe that Stories We Tell, Upstream Colour, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Stranger by the Lake, Gloria or Inside Llewyn Davis are any lesser achievements because of their failure to rake up Oscar nominations (mostly due to ineligibility). Oscar season also presents distribution issues. How does an industry continue to engage with its audience all year round when its best work is reserved for release in December and January. February through November can be fairly stark, but go to the movies and pick almost anything mid-January and you’ve probably picked a winner.
This year, there are nine Best Picture nominees, and several other films nominated in various categories (including animation, documentary and foreign-language film). I have decided to watch almost all of them and give you the scoop on who should win, and who will win.
What was a three horse race between Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle was narrowed down to just two when the PGA (Producers Guild of America), one of the most trustworthy precursors to the Oscars, awarded its top prize to both Gravity and 12 Years in a historic tie, knocking Hustle out of the race. If the Academy were to award Best Picture to 12 Years a Slave, it would break a decade-long drought of unworthy winners and would settle any question as to whether they are progressive enough to make an artful and controversial film like 12 Years its winner. It sure would make me happy. I think it has the edge on Gravity, which should be happy with it’s Best Director consolation prize.
Should win: 12 Years a Slave
Will win: 12 Years a Slave
By most accounts, Gravity‘s achievements are in part due to the ambition and drive of its helmer, Alfonso Cuaron, who was reportedly quite the control-freak on set, and who deserves the prize for the wildly innovative space thriller. Although there are several hundred others who had a part of making Gravity, the prize will probably just go to Cuaron. Whilst McQueen’s restrained and powerful work on 12 Years has the edge, the fact that Gravity will be missing out on the top prize merely solidifies this win.
Should win: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Will win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
The McConaissanse is here. McConaughey is almost a sure bet, taking out the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG awards earlier this year for Dallas Buyers Club. The Academy is a sucker for physical transformations too, making McConaughey and co-star Jaret Leto shoe-ins for the male acting statuettes. McConnaughey has had a great year, and if the Oscar is any encouragement for him to keep taking less lucrative but more meaty roles, I’m all for it. However, DiCaprio absolutely carried all three hours of The Wolf of Wall Street with some of the finest acting of his career. It might have been a big, bold and showy performance, but you don’t have to look hard to see the intricacies.
Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Will win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Maybe the surest bet of the night. Blanchett is electrifying in Blue Jasmine, guiding us through Jasmine’s emotional roller-coaster at fever-pitch, switching from exuberance to fragility at the flick of a switch. One of the finest performances in any Woody Allen film, which is saying something, too. Allen is famous for getting Oscar-winning performances out of his actresses—just ask Mira Sorvino, Diane Keaton, Penelope Cruz and Dianne Weist, who won twice. Blanchett will soon join this list.
Should win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Will win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor
Leto is almost certain to win Best Supporting Actress for his work on Dallas Buyers Club, and he gives a fine performance. Perhaps the weight loss, makeup and costuming helped his cause a little, but there’s still some great acting going on there. You’ll also find that the Academy will often vote for the cause associated with a film or a character instead of the skills on show, which no doubt gives Leto the lead (despite his character being completely fictionalised for this film). But what about Jonah Hill!? Has anyone else been more surprising than him. His turn in The Wolf of Wall Street sees him playing the perfect sidekick to DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort with masterful results. An absolute firecracker of a performance that probably won’t be rewarded.
Should win: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Will win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress
For the love of god, Academy, pull yourself together. The internet/world is Jennifer Lawrence crazy, and the fact that she is even a contender in this race proves that you may be a little infected. Lawrence is fine in American Hustle, and she’s pretty funny too, but she’s also playing a showy bit-part that doesn’t hold up against Lupita in 12 Years or Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine. She’s twenty-two and won last year, chill the fuck out. I’m hoping/praying that most of the Academy also used this rationale when they voted, so Lupita will probably take home this award for her outstanding acting debut. I know, right. These kids.
Should win: Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Will win: Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay
Historically, the Academy will give this award to a quirky independent film as a consolation for being too weird to win Best Picture. Pulp Fiction won it, and so did Fargo, Almost Famous, Gosford Park, Talk to Her, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno and Midnight in Paris. It’s an important award, too, because it rewards originality more than most other categories would. Her would fit nicely into this group, and deservedly so. Spike Jonze’s imaginative script paints our future more realistically than any other film has, and also shows us a love story that seems more bizarre and unbelievable than it actually is. Dystopia never felt so joyous and melancholic.
Should win: Her, Spike Jonze
Will win: Her, Spike Jonze
Best Adapted Screenplay
In a perfect world, Before Midnight would win this award. It would also garner a nomination for Julie Delpy’s acting and maybe for Best Picture, but that was never going to happen, and nor will this. Despite being the third film of one of the most critically acclaimed trilogy of all time, it’s also the third film of the lowest-grossing trilogy of all time. Before Midnight is way too abstract for most Academy members to vote for, and so John Ridley’s literary adaptation of Solomon Northup’s harrowing non-fiction account will take this out instead. Sigh. In a perfect world…
Should win: Before Midnight, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Will win: 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
Best Documentary Feature
Again, here the Academy has the chance to reward one of the most daring and original works of documentary the world has ever seen, but it probably won’t. The two films mentioned below could not be more different, and maybe the fact that The Act of Killing is a gut-wrenching exploration of the ultimate sin is perhaps enough to swing most voters down the light-hearted music doco path, just like last year when Searching for Sugar Man won. This is one award I hope I am surprised about, because the Academy shouldn’t be scared of rewarding challenging films, especially in the documentary sector.
Should win: The Act of Killing
Will win: 20 Feet From Stardom
The Act of Killing
Best Foreign Language Film
Ah, Rome. I’m surprised this film didn’t get a cinematography nod as well, because the great beauty itself (Rome) has never looked better on film. This sumptuous inside look into the lives of Rome’s elite class was wonderful, and to see it win would not be unlike seeing a spiritual incarnation of La Dolce Vita take out the prize. The Hunt stands a chance at spoiling, but I think The Great Beauty will hold out. A true masterpiece of world cinema, and very deserving.
Should win: The Great Beauty
Will win: The Great Beauty
Best Animated Feature
Sorry, Mr. Miyazaki, but The Wind Rises was just too boring. Frozen sees Disney in its best form, retelling classic fairytales with well-paced narratives, post-modern humour and beautiful animation. And I cannot get ‘Let It Go’ out of my head. A sensation world-wide, and a welcome addition to the Disney canon, which is so often filled with tired attempts at modernising it’s brand, Frozen takes the cake here.
Should win: Frozen
Will win: Frozen
Best Original Score
This was a tricky decision, because the score for Her was transformative in the way it subtly guided you through the story emotionally. Gravity‘s score, on the other hand, is marvellously innovative considering that there’s no sound in space. Steven Price really had to work hard to keep Gravity suspended, and his score is amazing.
Should win: Owen Pallet, Will Butler, Her
Will win: Steven Price, Gravity
Best Original Song
I want to see Karen O win an Oscar for her wonderful little ditty that she wrote for Her. It stays with you long after the film and pretty perfectly captures the melancholia of modern romance that is at once so immediate and yet so far away. A million miles away, indeed Karen. But ‘Let It Go’ will win this. It’s rare for Disney to have a musical with such catchy songs, and ‘Let It Go’ is so criminally catchy that I’m humming it right this second.
Should win: ‘The Moon Song’ from Her
Will win: ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen
People so often mistake cinematography as the entire look of the film. In truth, it only really means what the director of photography shoots. Gravity should and might win for production design, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects, but the cinematography is almost completely limited to just Sandra Bullock’s face. Literally everything else, from spacesuits to the expanses of space, are CGI. If there was controversy last year when Life of Pi won, all hell’d break loose over Gravity. Bruno Delbonno took over from Coen Bros. regular Roger Deakins (also nominated for Prisoners) for Inside Llewyn Davis and completely nails it. He creates this dusty, foggy atmosphere that really adds so much to the film’s nostalgic appeals and down-trodden tone. It’s a long shot, and it won’t happen, but perhaps the Academy could make up for snubbing the film almost everywhere else by rewarding it here? Probably not. Have fun, Chivo.
Should win: Bruno Delbonno, Inside Llewyn Davis
Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
In a matter of hours, it’ll all be over for another year. But the movies keep coming out, and the opportunity to talk about them presents itself all year round. Let’s remember that the Oscar, no matter how venerated it is, is not the crux of the industry, nor the reliable indicator of quality or success. It’s just an award, let’s keep it that way.