This year, as some of you may know, I took a new job and relocated from my home state of Texas to the East Bay of California. It’s certainly been an adjustment for me. I’ve lived in Texas my entire life and Cali is about as different an environment from the Lone Star state as you can get. Being separated from friends and family has been challenging and loneliness has taken a toll from time to time. Now, I’m not here to pander for your sympathy. I mean, manning up and growing a pair of stones is part of becoming an adult. I’m 25 years old for christ’s sake, getting out of your comfort zone is important for your intellectual and spiritual growth right? Anyways, as is often the case when a great change has occurred for me, I’ve taken solace in the comfy confines of the local movie theater more than ever. Lucky for me it’s been an absolute embarrassment of riches this year movie wise and I’ve had the chance to see all of the prestige pictures in the theater for the first time in awhile. I find myself being in a unique position to discuss the Oscar race. So, this being exactly one week until the 86th Academy Awards, I’d like to break down the big categories for my faithful readers and offer my analysis on who’s going to walk home with the coveted gold statues on Hollywood’s biggest night. Please read on dear readers and enjoy.
The Best Picture Race: (12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street)
2013 features one of the strongest groups of films nominated for Best Picture in years. I’ve seen 7, only Nebraska and Philomena remain to be watched, and they all made my top 10 best films of the year list. It was common thought amongst the illuminati of the industry that Steve McQueen’s staggering adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir, 12 Years a Slave, was the movie to beat this year for the big prize. Receiving rapturous buzz after its first screening at the Toronto Film Festival, many believed it would coast through awards season to easily capture the gold. It’s been labeled the “Big, Important movie,” providing a harrowing portrait of the slave experience in Ante-Bellum America. Many of you know that oscar voting is a highly political endeavor. Members of the academy would love to honor a challenging film that holds up a mirror to the grave sins of our country’s history. However, I hesitate to call this race quite yet. Alfonso Cuaron’s game changing space odyssey Gravity should not be overlooked. The film event of 2013, Gravity was THE movie to experience at the theater. A stunning achievement of state of the art special effects and technology, this picture was also a gripping survival story. Universally acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, Gravity could be the film that swipes the brass ring this year. Finally, if there is a dark horse candidate this year, don’t forget about David O. Russell’s American Hustle. Based on the Abscam scandal that took place in the 1970’s, this comedy/drama featured the best ensemble cast and was also one of the most flat out entertaining times at the movies this year.
What will win: 12 Years a Slave. The academy will make the big political statement by honoring Steve McQueen’s slavery epic. However, in my opinion, its not the best film of this bunch. Surprisingly it hasn’t stuck with me and wasn’t the emotional gut-punch I was expecting.
What should win: The Wolf of Wall Street. My personal favorite of this crop of films, Scorsese’s portrait of notorious stock broker Jordan Belfort was the wildest, most viciously entertaining movie of the year. Highly controversial, and perhaps misunderstood, Wolf asked tough questions and offered no easy answers.
The Best Director Race: (Alfonso Cuaron, Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese)
Alfonso Cuaron owns this category and should be brushing up on his acceptance speech as I type these words. Even though it’s typical for the Academy to honor the director of the film that ultimately goes on to win Best Picture, I foresee a Picture/Director split this year between 12 Years and Gravity. Cuaron undertook a massive challenge with Gravity. Much of the technology needed for the making of the film hadn’t even been developed when it began shooting. The voters love to honor Directors who push the boundaries of film making and Cuaron’s achievement has been hailed as one of the greatest technological feats since 2001: A Space Odyssey. I wouldn’t bet against him.
Who will win: Cuaron. He already should have a Best Director trophy for his masterful work on Children of Men, this will provide vindication from the Academy.
Who should win: Cuaron. However, if I were to chose an alternate, Scorsese did some of his finest, funniest work in years on Wolf of Wall Street. The 71 year old master filmmaker still loves to push the boundaries of decency and court controversy.
The Best Actor Race: (Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey)
Matthew McConaughey is clearly an actor who understands his history. Looking back over the years, there are 3 things that voters love regarding Academy Award winning performances: 1) An actor who portrays a real life person. 2) Playing someone with a debilitating/life threatening illness. 3) Undergoing a shocking real life physical transformation for the role. Check, check, and check. McConaughey’s performance as Ron Woodroof, a cowboy diagnosed HIV positive in the 80’s who became one of the most vocal crusaders against government approved AIDs treatment, was certainly a revelation. On a big time resurgence as of late, McConaughey reaches the pinnacle of his career with this role. It would be a shock if he went home empty handed next week. Hoping to play the spoiler, former front-runner Chiwetel Ejiofor may surprise if it turns out to be 12 Years a Slave’s night. Ejiofor’s performance as true life freemen turned slave Solomon Northup is a haunting and deeply moving portrayal. Tightly controlled, his eyes big pools of sorrow, Ejiofor makes you feel every second of his horrific plight onscreen. Don’t count him out.
Who will win: McConaughey. He delivers the best work of his career, both multi-faceted and deeply moving. I don’t see an upset in this category. Bring home the gold for Texas Matt. Hook em.
Who should win: McConaughey. If not him, then DiCaprio, who gives the most complex performance of his career as the aforementioned Jordan Belfort. Charming, funny, and sometimes viciously terrifying, Leo nails every wrinkle of his character. Working with Scorsese always brings out the best in DiCaprio and this may be the crown jewel of their frequent collaborations.
The Best Actress Race: (Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Steep)
Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as the title character in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine has been winning raves and collecting accolades since it was released last summer. Making a clean sweep of all the precursor awards, Blanchett is a lock for her second Oscar. I finally got a chance to see Blue Jasmine after I blind bought it the other day at Best Buy and I was stunned by Blanchett’s work. Playing a housewife in the midst of a full blown mental breakdown following the arrest of her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, Blanchett is in a class of her own this year. If anything can derail her hopes, the recent scandal that developed regarding Woody Allen’s alleged rape of his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was a child could be the straw that broke the camels back. I hope and pray the Academy isn’t foolish enough to punish Blanchett because of these allegations.
Who will win: Blanchett. No one else is even close in this category.
Who should win: Blanchett. If by some miracle she loses, than Amy Adams’ sexy portrayal as con woman Sydney Prosser in American Hustle is next on the list. Adams has been doing award caliber work for years and she is an Academy favorite, her time will come very soon.
The Best Supporting Actor Race: (Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto)
After close to a 5 year hiatus from acting, Jared Leto returned with a bang in Dallas Buyer’s Club. Leto plays Rayon, a drug addicted, transgender woman with AIDS who becomes an unlikely friend to McConaughey’s character in the film. A heartbreaking portrayal, Leto should be another surefire winner next Sunday. If anyone could pull off the upset, watch out for Michael Fassbender, whose ferocious performance as slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave stole the show from a supremely talented cast.
Who will win: Leto. He gave a sympathetic, moving performance completely holding his own with the equally magnetic performance from McConaughey. Leto also swept all of the precursor acting awards and should be clearing some space on his mantle for his Oscar trophy come Sunday.
Who should win: Fassbender. He gave the most three-dimensional portrayal of a truly evil character since Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List. Unfairly snubbed in the Best Actor category two years ago for his riveting performance in Steve Mcqueen’s Shame, he should be recognized for his brilliant work here.
The Best Supporting Actress Race: (Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Julia Roberts, June Squibb)
This years Best Supporting Actress race has quickly evolved into a two-horse race between Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence. The former portrays Patsey, a slave girl who lives a tormented existence on the plantation of Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. In her film debut, Nyong’o is a breathtaking talent. Beginning the race as the sure frontrunner, her momentum has been stalled recently by Lawrence. Her role as Christian Bale’s wife Rosalyn in American Hustle is pure comedic gold. Stealing every scene she’s in, Lawrence is dynamite. You miss her every time she’s offscreen. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you, I wasn’t the biggest fan of her Oscar winning performance in last years Silver Linings Playbook. I thought she was overrated and undeserving of the praise she received for that film. However, I think she nailed it here. It may be too close to call but my head tells me Nyong’o takes the trophy this year though my heart is with Lawrence.
Who will win: Lean Nyong’o, though its very close. She was an absolute revelation in 12 Years a Slave.
Who should win: Lawrence. I wasn’t on board with her talent at first but she won me over with her hilarious work in Hustle. I loved this performance. Two Oscars in as many years, all by the age of 24, would be quite the feat.
Other Random Predictions:
. Despite the best efforts of the host and the producers, this years show will still drag over 3 and half hours in length.
. Of the winners, Cate Blanchett will give the classiest speech of the bunch.
. Whomever wins Best Supporting Actress will cry. Mark my words.
. At least one winner will give a shout out to recently deceased actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
. The camera will pan to George Clooney more than any other actor throughout the broadcast.
. There will be one too many montages and/or unnecessary musical numbers.
. After Seth Macfarlane’s controversial stint as host last year, Ellen DeGeneres will generally play it safe with her commentary.
Well, thats it folks. Enjoy the show and I look forward to discussing the aftermath next week. Until next time.