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86th Annual Academy Awards Poster

86th Annual Academy Awards - Oscar Picks by Reviews by Matthew

Man have I had a great time on “Oscar Watch” with 2013’s nominated films. I got started a bit early because some nominees were obvious, you know. Then I took a vacation, came back and watched a few movies each week, contemplated them and wrote reviews. I kept going to school, worked a day job, remembered I had a family; man I just really got to take my time. Why? Well a schedule of six weeks from nomination to ceremony; breathing room Yo! This block of time has really given the Academy and its pundits time to release, re-release, sort through that stack of Screeners, and/or view anything on this year’s roster. There’s no excuse for having missed a screening this year. It’s also managed to give the Academy the space and perspective it wants to make its own statements and surprises about 2013. Notwithstanding, that time kept the viewing audience from sacrificing much, if any, of the 2014 material; Yea LEGO! Regardless of how the other awards shows have played out, don’t be surprised if the Academy shakes up expectations. After all this is their party. So, are you ready? C’mon let’s take a look.

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Oscars at a glance How many will I get Correct ? Totals - 17 out of 19 picked
Category -m-'s Picks The Oscar goes to
Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
Best Director – Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron
Best Actor – Dallas Buyers Club - Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club - Matthew McConaughey
Best Actress – Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor – Dallas Buyers Club - Jared Leto Luptia Nyong’o
Best Supporting Actress – American Hustle - Jennifer Lawrence American Hustle - Jennifer Lawrence
Best Animated Picture - Frozen Frozen
Best Screenplany (Original) – Her – Spike Jonze Her – Spike Jonze
Best Screenplay (Adapted) – 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
Best Cinematography – Gravity Gravity
Best Art Direction – Best Production Design The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby
Best Costume Design – The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby
Best Makeup – Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club
Best Film Editing – American Hustle Gravity
Best Original Score – Gravity - Steven Price Gravity - Steven Price
Best Original Song – Frozen – Let It Go Frozen – Let It Go
Best Sound Mixing– Gravity Gravity
Best Sound Effects Editing – Gravity Gravity
Best Visual Effects – Gravity Gravity
Best Foreign Language Film - No pick  
Best Documentary (Feature) - No pick  
Best Documentary (Short Subject) – No pick  
Best Short Film (Animation) – No pick  
Best Short Film (Live Action) – No pick  

PICTURE – This year’s category is comprised of Oscar Season and 4th quarter releases; there’re really no surprises here, not even this year’s winner. Here are the easy outs: “Philomena”, “Nebraska”, “Captain Phillips”, and “Her”. “The Wolf of Wall Street” a surefire stand-out has enough people up in arms to keep it down. “Dallas Buyers Club” and “American Hustle” duke it out for 3rd Place and create enough of a split to oust them both. The only sign of a race this year is between “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave”. “Gravity” has all the hallmarks of an Oscar winning film: a small but award friendly cast, exemplary direction, a great script, good music and editing, and most of all a happy Academy-friendly ending. It’s smooth and concise. In my opinion better than “Argo” but nobody’s asking me. “12 Years a Slave” is more than just “Important” it’s devastatingly brutal and its supporting cast is phenomenal. The film’s script, editing, and direction may leave something to be desired but unlike the brutality of “Saving Private Ryan” this one is far more personal and individual in its struggle. I find the Academy hard pressed to overlook it. For all of its efforts “12 Years a Slave” walks with Oscar gold.

DIRECTOR – This is not exactly what I would call a “Slam Dunk” but…Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) are completely out of the running. Martin’s film has had enough critical backlash to oust it from contention and “Nebraska” simply can’t keep up w/ David O’ Russell’s (American Hustle) 3rd Nomination in as many films. Sadly, he’ll not be rewarded this year either, though he’ll get his Oscar gold soon, you can bet on it. The question really comes down to the Academy’s desire to accommodate Steve McQueen’s subtle and powerful work in “12 Years a Slave”. He stands a chance of winning here because he deserves the acknowledgement. Yet the fact of the matter is “12 Years a Slave” will be recognized as Best picture and the masterful work of Alfonso Cuaron in “Gravity” will be honored here; and just about everywhere else.

ACTOR – Why bother with a category recap here. If you saw “Dallas Buyers Club” then you know this is Matthew McConaughey’s award through and through.

ACTRESS – This category could be written out as fast, sealing the deal for Cate Blanchett’s work in “Blue Jasmine”. She will win, but let the following sink in for a minute. Blanchett is a slam dunk in a group that boasts Oscar Gold work from Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, and Meryl Streep. This category hosts the best collection of acting work this year; that’s how good Blanchett’s performance is.

SUPPORTING ACTOR – Why Bradley Cooper? He was “American Hustle’s” weakest link. This nomination belongs to Robert DeNiro or Jeremy Renner before the Coop. Not hatin’, just saying that better work is being displaced by these types of profile nominations. My hope is that these honors will fade until such time as work by the actor, befitting the category, is produced. Moving on, Jonah Hill…? (see above nomination criticism) Okay look, I’ll grant that he was far better in “The Wolf of Wall Street” than in “Moneyball” but c’mon this should be his first nomination, and in this year’s race it’s still a loss. Barkhad Abdi? I love this nomination and acknowledge that he’s the category’s striking newcomer / resident dark horse. I hope we see him again, if not at an awards ceremony than at least in another movie. Too many actors and actresses in this position are never heard from again; does anyone else remember Keisha Castle Hughes? The contenders in this year’s race didn’t even seem to get into the ring together. What am I missing here? Jared Leto, an unarguable talent, has won practically every award in this category this year. And not to play Leto’s performance down, literally he embodies his character. I mean, Jared does not exist on the screen. Yet I was little moved by his character or the film’s display of his relationship with McConaughey. So I’m a little mystified and wonder who else actually saw “12 Years a Slave”? Michael Fassbender’s performance was the strongest of the film, of the year; and in my opinion is literally the stuff of nightmares. I just don’t get it. You’d all tell me if I was getting stupider, right?
Note - with this win Leto and McConaughey will become the 4th ever Actor/Supp. Actor pair to win these awards in Academy history; Nice.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS – True difficulty begins here. Both Sally Hawkins and Julia Roberts can’t compare to the 3-way vote-fest ahead. June Squibb is a joy to watch and laugh at in “Nebraska”. It’s her Betty White type of performance that helps propel this film, and the Academy could easily dote on her accordingly. What’s staying my hand is the fact that she’s got no other wins of note. Lupita Nyong’o is just behind Jennifer Lawrence in win totals and provided a harrowing performance in “12 Years a Slave”. She is considered the “Favorite” to win, but something’s not sitting right with me... Ultimately it’s that “American Hustle” is nominated in all four acting categories; losing the other three outright because the competition is too stiff. Lawrence turned in arguably the 3rd best performance in “American Hustle”, which is not to slight her, this was a supporting role and with it she dominated the 2nd half of the film. The issue is in regards to 2 Oscars in as many years. Kevin Spacey did it last, Supporting Actor for “The Usual Suspects” followed by Best Actor for “American Beauty”. While Tom Hanks won back-to-back Best Actor awards for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump”. Is Jennifer welcome in this company and is her performance impossible to ignore? I’m gonna say “Yes”. Honestly, she’s good enough to nominate and contend with, like Spacey and Hanks, every year. This is her 3rd Oscar bid and if it keeps up, which is fitting (as the opposite example of my Supporting Actor criticism), she’s likely to take the “Nomination Mantle” from Meryl Streep. Kudos to you Ms. Lawrence on a long career and your 2nd Academy Award, you’ve earned them both.

ANIMATED FEATURE - Seriously, can anyone really bet against Frozen?

SCREENPLAY ORIGINAL – Traditionally the most liberal category of the event and this year Spike Jonze’s “Her” seems like the likeliest and most fun winner. Both “American Hustle” and “Blue Jasmine” are far more interesting because of their acting and are summarily, though begrudgingly, done away with. Though this category offers “American Hustle” its best chance of an upset victory, don’t be surprised if it should do so. Moving on we see that Bob Nelson’s “Nebraska” wasn’t written by Alexander Payne nor does it have the impact of “Dallas Buyers Club”. I’m wondering which of the two endears themselves more to the Academy; and I’m left thinking, neither. So I’m going with “Her”, because it feels best.

SCREENPLAY ADAPTED – There’s really no hope for “Philomena”, keep at it Mr. Coogan. The issues previously sited for “The Wolf of Wall Street” keep it from winning anything and “Captain Phillips” continues its 6 Oscar losing streak. “Before Sunset” has a chance as this entry, the third in a series of independent films from Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, proves a strong, welcome and unexpected addition. But the winner, miles ahead of the pack is “12 Years a Slave”, this is the one category that it absolutely cannot lose.

PRODUCTION DESIGN / ART DIRECTION – This year it’s all about timeframes. The 1800’s are represented by “12 Years a Slave”. There’s certainly potential for the well-crafted décor and backdrops. The film’s silent and sparse spaces seem to bear a quiet witness to the atrocities and triumphs of persecution. The 1920’s and “The Great Gatsby” offer a luxurious indulgence that’s as captivating as it is busy. Holy smokes, there’s a lot going on here and the audience wants a piece of it all. The 1970’s show up in “American Hustle”, I don’t think we’re impressed. Remember the 2000’s when we still had a space shuttle or two? “Gravity” does, and here the impressive production design includes a whole planet as its backdrop; one as quiet and watchful, though arguably more impassive, than “12 Years’”. Now it’s the 2010’s and I missed “Her”, but I imagine that if this movie skips out on anything, it’s the showing off, so let’s move on. The safer bet is arguably “Gravity”, it’s a hedge for sure. What I can’t escape is the tantalizing wonder of Gatsby’s audacious world. I’m rolling the dice here and hoping to avoid the obvious crash of ’29.

CINEMATOGRAPHY – What I don’t see are awards for the otherwise ignored “Prisoners” (Roger Deakins) and “Inside Llewyn Davis”. “The Grandmaster” must be great to look at, it’s been nominated for Costumes also, but I’m not feeling it. It’s simply not as popular as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”, which both won this award. I feel that “Nebraska” is too small and its black & white is really not that moving to look at. Leaving the Academy Award comfortably in the hands of Emmanuel Lubezki and the night’s overwhelming effects of “Gravity”.

FILM EDITING – I can’t in any good conscious give this award to “12 Years a Slave”. Personally, I never felt the passage of time and I kinda consider this critical considering the film’s title. “Captain Phillips” has potential but really only due to the quick shaky style editing produced better and subsequently awarded in the “Bourne” films. “Dallas Buyers Club” is our 2nd runner up as the degenerative physical transformation is followed over time. “Gravity” is the wild card here. The film and edits all take place in the blackness of space; it could be praised or it could be ignored. There’s been a running joke that “American Hustle” is the best Scorsese film of 2013. You can laugh or lament, cry “homage” or “rip-off”, but dollars to diamonds no other film this year feels as smooth as “American Hustle” moves.

COSTUME –Typically the award goes to the period piece. Seems that’ll be the case this year too just not the normal bodice pronounced piece. The closest films to that era this year are “The Invisible Woman” and “12 Years a Slave”. Frankly, their timeframes are to new, setting themselves somewhere in the mid 1800’s and both looking just as drab. “The Grandmaster” looks gorgeous but unlike “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” it doesn’t have the visibility or support to pull in Oscar gold. The 1970’s set “American Hustle”, on the other hand, has Oscar support and, OMGYG, those dresses!! Yet the “Schwing Factor” simply won’t be enough to beat the extravagance of “The Great Gatsby”. The roaring 20’s pulls in the Oscar vote this year.

MAKEUP – There’s an interesting race here this year and it does not involve “The Lone Ranger”. Rather our contestants are the effectual transformation of Johnny Knoxville into the aged Irving from “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” and the emaciating effects of the AIDS virus in “Dallas Buyers Club”. While neither weight loss, as experienced by Matthew McConaughey, nor the absolute zero body fat on Jared Leto qualify as make up, making these two wisps of men look good throughout it all does. Really I just can’t see the Academy rewarding Irving’s balls, as effectively frightening as they are.

ORIGINAL SCORE – Composer John Williams receives his 49th nomination for “The Book Thief”, the 1st of two films nominated for Original Score that have no other Academy consideration. For Williams, whose last win was 20 years ago (Schindler’s List), there’s always the possibility of Oscar Gold. This year, his chances are awfully small. “Saving Mr. Banks” is the other singly nominated film. As such Thomas Newman’s wonderfully light and airy score, proves to be a tough sell. Alexandre Desplat (my historically voting favorite) has the best chance of pulling out a surprise win for “Philomena”, he’s overdue and the Academy may be inclined to spread the wealth around. However, historically, Alexandre is bad bet. William Butler and Owen Pallett from Arcade Fire bring the indie scene to the screen and the Academy has honored this break from classic tradition as recently as Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network). Though I don’t think that’ll be this case this year. Nor do I feel that any of the other nominees stack to the 72 minute opus that is “Gravity’s” backbone. Steven Price has produced a score that covers almost all of the 90minute film and succeeds at moving the audience in tandem with the images Cuaron has put on the screen. With 6 major awards garnered for Price and a loss to the non-nominated “All Is Lost” at the Golden Globes, “Gravity” slides into Home with the win.

ORIGINAL SONG – I took a listen to all the tracks this year and each one has merit but during each song I kept singing, “Let It Go, Let It Go! I am one with the, dunh nuh-nuh-nuh”. You know what I mean? I just can’t wait to watch Idina Menzel perform it live; it’s gonna be Rad!

SOUND MIXING – I’ve no clever words for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” in the mixing category and Oscar, likewise, has no gold. “Captain Phillips” sounds like it looks. I didn’t get to see “Inside Llewyn Davis” though I had hoped to before the nominations were announced. Then they were, and “Davis” wasn’t recognized; It subsequently disappeared from theaters, most likely w/ its Oscar chances. Look, the reality here is that only “Lone Survivor” has a snowball’s chance of receiving a technical Oscar over “Gravity”. I’m hedging my bets, perhaps to my detriment but “Gravity” is far too slick, too smooth and bottom line, too richly textured to vote against.

SOUND EDITING – “The Hobbit” films will continue to be nominated in these technical categories but it’ll take a miracle for them to ever win an Academy Award; “The Lord of the Rings” took all the Oscar gold these films are going to get. “Captain Phillips” is paltry compared to the depth of field created for “All Is Lost”, whose sound is literally 90% of the film’s “dialogue”. It’s impressive, but so was “Wall-E” which was a better film and won exactly nothing in this category also. “Lone Survivor” is full of bone crunching sound and other easily awarded military fare. But this year’s biggest boom comes from the quietest place; “Gravity” takes “Shock & Awe” to a whole new level and commands the gold.

VISUAL EFFECTS – Not “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, ‘Iron Man 3”, “The Lone Ranger”, nor “Star Trek: Into Darkness” have the emotional impact to accompany the visual dexterity of “Gravity”. This award takes the “Fantastic” out of the fantasy and drives it straight home to the Academy’s heart.

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Turn Down The Lights, Turn Up The Sound.

Matthew Gilbert © 1999-2017 All Rights Reserved

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