One critic’s pick for the Academy Awards
Posted: February 21, 2014 at 6 a.m.
I’m aware there are people who want me to talk and
write more about the Academy Awards. The annual
ceremony is the kind of cultural moment one disregards at one’s own peril. While some people might think it admirable if you tell them you’ve never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty or The Real Housewives of New Jersey, if you tell them you’re not interested in the Oscars, they tend to look at you a little funny. Particularly if you’re a film critic.
I get this - I really do. People who see only a couple of movies a year care about the Oscars. In a way the Oscars are like the Olympics, a television event that pulls in a large audience of the curious and the mildly interested. (And this year, the Oscars telecast has been pushed back a week in deference to the ongoing games in Sochi.) My mother, who may or may not have seen a movie in a theater this year, will likely watch the Academy Awards telecast.
It’s also something to have an opinion about. But even though having opinions is my business, that’s something I sometimes have a hard time doing.
I don’t have anything against the movies that were nominated for Best Picture - it was a good year for movies, and I can think of 40 films that I’d consider awards-worthy (whatever that means) - but my personal Top 10 includes only four of the nine Best Picture nominees.
I think Inside Llewyn Davis was last year’s most indelible movie, Spring Breakers was remarkable cinema and Short Term 12 and Blue Is the Warmest Color are as good as any of the nominated films. To look at it from a slightly different perspective, Jeff Nichols’ Mud feels like the kind of movie that ought to get Oscar consideration - it’s the best sort of American fable in that it evokes an Old Hollywood aesthetic. It’s like George Stevens’ Shane or Martin Ritt’s Hud, and had it been released in late September it would likely have garnered several nominations.
But that’s just what I think right now. In the world I live in, hierarchical rankings don’t really mean anything at all; they’re just something to argue about. Such discussions are fine for drive-time radio shows, but it’s obvious to anyone who pays attention to the movies that the Oscars have nothing to do with rewarding quality moviemaking and everything to do with Hollywood’s self-congratulatory hype machine.
It is not anything that a movie critic need be too concerned about - a critic’s job is to make observations (we hope interesting observations) about movies. We shouldn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about the way Hollywood markets them. I don’t feel terrifically invested in who wins what Oscar - it’s not like it’s going to change my mind. I’ve seen all the movies, I’ve thought about them, I understand the subjective nature of art and that no one ever sees the same movie as anyone else. I like what I like and you aren’t stupid because you like 12Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street more than American Hustle.
Next week in this space, we’re going to present the Oscar picks of a few notable movie watchers, all of whom have a better handle on what will win which Oscar (and why) than I do. Some of these folks have picked winners at a better than 90 percent clip over a number of years. If you’re looking to win an Oscar pool, you should pay attention to them, not to me.
That said, I’m sitting out next week’s game. I’m not good at forecasting Oscar winners and honestly don’t think I add anything to our little game. But, for what it’s worth, I will tell which of this year’s nominees ought to win. Best Picture - Of the nominated films, I like Spike Jonze’s Her the most. It offers the sort of transport most of us are looking for at the movies. 12 Years a Slave is an admirable film, a tough history lesson, but I’m not sure I’ll ever care to see it again.
Best Actor - It might be sentimentality that makes me prefer Bruce Dern in Nebraska; I recognize that the other nominees, Christian Bale (American Hustle), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) are all outstanding.
Best Actress - I’m leaning toward Amy Adams in American Hustle. I’ve discussed Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine before (she works furiously to overcome some problematic writing). I also really liked Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Meryl Streep in the last 90 minutes of August: Osage County. Judi Dench glides effortlessly through Philomena (or at least seems to), so maybe I’m not giving her enough credit. Best Supporting Actor - I like Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street. But I could make a case for any of the nominees. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) would make the best story.
Best Supporting Actress - Here I’m torn between Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) and June Squibb (Nebraska). To a certain extent Lawrence’s casting seemed purposefully audacious, so I’m going with Squibb.
Best Animated Feature - The clearest choice I’ll make today: The Wind Rises is the best of this lamentably weak field.
Best Cinematography - I’d give it to Roger Deakins (for Prisoners and his extraordinary career) or to Bruno Delbonnel for Inside LlewynDavis. But Phedon Papamichael’s work on Nebraska is also stunning, and there are a few sequences in The Grandmaster that argue for Philippe Le Sourd. All that said, I won’t be upset when Emmanuel Lubezki wins for Gravity.
Best Director - I think the Best Director award ought to go to the director of the Best Picture. So, it’s Jonze. In reality, he’s probably the least likely to win.
Best Documentary Feature - It was a remarkable year for docs. That said, The Act of Killing is the clear choice among the nominated films.
Best Foreign Language Film - This has been a weird year; usually I’ve seen all the foreign language nominees by now, but I’ve only seen The Hunt. So I’m going with it.
Best Visual Effects - Gravity. Best Adapted Screenplay - I really don’t like the category this year, but if I have to pick, it’s John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave by a few microns over Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena).
Best Original Screenplay - Jonze, Her Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Best Picture - Her
Best Actor - Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Best Actress - Amy Adams, American Hustle
Best Supporting Actor - Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Supporting Actress - June Squibb, Nebraska
Best Animated Feature - The Wind Rises
Best Cinematography - Roger Deakins, Prisoners
Best Director -Spike Jonze, Her
Best Documentary Feature - The Act of Killing
Best Foreign Language Film - The Hunt
Best Visual Effects- Gravity
Best Adapted Screenplay - John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay - Spike Jonze, Her
MovieStyle, Pages 34 on 02/21/2014