When they announced the nominations, I was very pleased. I had already seen every nominated film in the categories I traditionally choose except for one: Animated Feature. There are two films in this category that have not been in wide release yet. One of them–Ernest and Celestine–will not make it here to Durham until after the ceremony. Other methods of seeing them, which I won’t elaborate on, haven’t panned out. Now I try to be a good geek and I love animated films but if the Academy is going to nominate European productions that don’t get wide releases in the year in which they are nominated, I don’t know what I can do short of moving to New York or Los Angeles, which I’m not in a position to do.
OK, I’ve whined enough. Let’s get to my picks. Keep in mind that these are not predictions. These are the films that I would vote for if I were a member of the Academy. If you want help with your office pool, as always go to goldderby.com. Looking over the nominations, I have to say that it has been a very good year for movies. There are lots of great performances and films to pick from. In some cases the choices will be hard.
The only nominee who doesn’t belong here is Sally Hawkins. Her performance in Blue Jasmine isn’t bad, but it isn’t in the top five either.
Lupita Nyong’o is, as I understand it, the favorite. Frankly I don’t see why. In a film filled with terrific performances, hers doesn’t really stand out. She may very well ride the 12 Years a Slave coattails to victory, however.
June Squibb is the big surprise in Nebraska. She takes pot shots at everybody in the movie and generally turns in a terrific performance. Since she doesn’t really have any kind of emotional arc it’s not really a complete performance, but I wouldn’t complain if she won.
I think that Julia Roberts’ character in August Osage County is actually the lead since she’s the one with character arc, but that’s not how the Academy sees it. In any case she turns in a terrific performance as grown daughter facing tough decisions and realizations. If she wins she will deserve it.
I’d give it to Jennifer Lawrence. In American Hustle gives us a portrayal of a character who is way out there and she makes it believable. It’s an amazing performance.
Michael Fassbender turns in a flashy performance as a sociopathic slave owner in 12 Years a Slave. But he’s really not given much of an opportunity to get inside his character’s head.
Bradley Cooper’s approach to his FBI agent character in American Hustle is a little too similar to his character in Silver Linings Playbook, at least in terms of mannerisms and the delivery of his lines.
Jonah Hill delivers a knock-out performance as a sleaze ball stock broker and Leonardo DiCaprio’s enabler in The Wolf of Wall Street. He could win and I wouldn’t mind.
Barkhad Abdi is an amateur actor who, in Captain Phillips, turns in a riveting performance as desperate man turning to a dangerous and illegal profession in order to make a living. He makes you sympathize with the pirates.
But let’s face it, the statue has had Jared Leto’s named engraved on it for some time now and he deserves to win. His performance as a drag queen in Dallas Buyers Club is outrageous and touching at the same time.
Judi Dench really isn’t stretching in Philomena. She belongs in this group but I’d be surprised and upset if she won.
In August Osage County, Meryl Streep breathes fire as the difficult matriarch of her family. But she is playing a character that is unable to change and therefore has no arc. It isn’t a lead role anyway.
Sandra Bullock’s performance as an astronaut struggling to survive in Gravity is riveting and fun, but Gravity isn’t really an actor’s movie. She’s not given the space to develop her character.
Amy Adams gives a tremendous performance as a smart woman doing what she has to do to get by in American Hustle.
Cate Blanchett turns in a performance for the ages in Blue Jasmine. She delivers Woody Allen’s often stilted and formal dialog naturally. You sympathize with and understand her often difficult character. She’s the favorite by a long distance and should win.
This is probably the toughest of the acting categories. Any of these guys could win and I’d be happy.
How cool is Bruce Dern? In Nebraska he gives a workshop in minimalist acting. He’s great at making you think you know what he’s thinking but when he opens his mouth it’s something else entirely.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t really a stretch for him but he is enjoyable to watch.
Christian Bale turns in his usual immersive performance as street level con man forced to work with the FBI in American Hustle. It’s another performance that is totally unlike anything else he’s ever done. The man is amazing.
Matthew McConaughey lost a lot of weight to play a working class AIDS patient in the early days of the epidemic in Dallas Buyers Club. His performance is wonderful too. And he’s the favorite. Great acting is one thing but dieting is hard.
I’d give it to Chiwetel Ejiofor who uses the formal 19th century dialog in 12 Years a Slave and shows us the devastating emotions of a person going through what has to be one of the worst things a person can suffer.
If Tom Hanks had been nominated for Captain Phillips he would have gotten my vote.
As much as I admired American Hustle, there are several structural problems with the script that I lay at David O. Russell’s door. He’s really good with actors though.
Nebraska is a great film but not too ambitious. In a few years Alexander Payne will make an innovative important film that will get him another nomination and a better chance of winning.
The Wolf of Wall Street is another one of Martin Scorcese’s looks at the dark underbelly of American culture. It’s an admirable film in many ways and I wouldn’t mind if Marty won but I don’t think it’s very far out of his comfort zone.
Gravity is a technical triumph and an innovative film. Alfonso Cuaron is the favorite to win and I wouldn’t mind if he did.
But I would vote for Steve McQueen and 12 Years a Slave. This is a well-acted and more importantly a courageous film on an important subject.
I felt that Her failed to fully explore the implications of its premise.
Philomena is a perfectly fine drama but really not special enough to win.
Nebraska is an enjoyable effort but a little too lightweight.
American Hustle is a good film but has a flawed structure.
I wouldn’t mind if Dallas Buyers Club won. It’s important and has good performances.
The Wolf of Wall Street could also win without much griping from me.
It would be cool if a space adventure like Gravity won.
12 Years a Slave is the favorite and I wouldn’t argue if it won.
But the film I enjoyed most this past year was Captain Phillips. Not only does it deal with a serious issue, the horrible conditions in Somalia that force people into piracy to survive, but it is also a taught action movie with great performances.
So that’s it. If I happen to see those last two animated features, I’ll make my pick in a separate post.
The ceremony will be held on March 2. Make some popcorn, don’t take it too seriously and enjoy.