Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Look at the Oscar Nominees of 2014 and the Many, Many Surprises

This morning, the Oscar nominations were announced and there was more than a fair share of surprises. With plenty of snubs to go around, the final cut is an impressive mix that much like the Golden Globes, shows that there isn't a definitive front runner as initially predicted all the way back in September. However, there's a strange emergence of competition that seemed unlikely as well. Here is a look at the Oscar nominations for 2014 and brief thoughts on every category. To say the least, my Oscar predictions were far from perfect.

Best Picture

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

PRO: All of the big heavy hitters are here. This is essentially going to be a race between American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave. However, the supporting nominees here are interesting, especially with welcomed surprise appearances by Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and Philomena. Due to them appearing to be more niche films, I worried that these three specifically would have trouble getting into the race.

CON: Those placing money on Saving Mr. Banks and The Butler are heavily let down. I am fine with their absence, though I felt that with its mainstream appeal that it would stand more of a chance when it came to earning a Best Picture nomination. However, my real peeve is that this is the third year in a row in which this category has had nine nominees. Can we just reinstate the 10 instead of acting like we don't want it?

SHOULD WIN: 12 Years a Slave. The only guaranteed win for the film at this point.
WILL WIN: 12 Years a Slave

Best Director

David O. Russell - American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity
Alexander Payne - Nebraska
Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street

PRO: On the bright side, the shaky camera work of Captain Phillips was not enough to persuade Paul Greengrass into a nomination. It is also a welcome surprise that Alexander Payne got into the race instead with one of his best films to date. 

CON: Despite a really strong line-up, we know who it is going to be. We have known since November.

SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity. A technical achievement so great that if it gets ignored, something is seriously wrong with the voters.
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity

Best Actor

Christian Bale - American Hustle
Bruce Dern - Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club

PRO: This category is a toss-up at this point. While it is predicted that Chiwetel Ejiofor was the front runner, things have been spiced up since Matthew McConaughey has begun to steal some thunder. With Dallas Buyers Club also receiving a surprise Best Picture nomination, it is quite possible that the film is going to play better than expected. Even the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio is a welcomed sign. It is a tough year, though that only makes the competition all the more exciting. Also, it helps that the other nominees, Christian Bale and Bruce Dern, turned in some of their best performances, making this an impenetrable category to predict.

CON: Anyone putting money on Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips will be devastated to notice his absence. 

SHOULD WIN: Bruce Dern - Nebraska
WILL WIN: Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave

Best Actress

Amy Adams - American Hustle
Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock - Gravity
Judi Dench - Philomena
Meryl Streep - August: Osage County

PRO: We have Cate Blanchett leading the pack and is probably one of the only definitive winners from this year's nomination process. It is also great to see Amy Adams and Sandra Bullock in the race still with their great performances. 

CON: Unfortunately, Meryl Streep is in there and if her win for Best Actress last time for The Iron Lady can suggest anything, it is that the Oscar bias is potentially going to give her another undeserved trophy yet again. However, Blanchett's power and hype is too much to make that seem like a definitive statement.

SHOULD WIN: Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
WILL WIN: Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper - American Hustle
Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club

PRO: In a strange twist of fate, seeing Barkhad Abdi be the only Captain Phillips star on here is a welcomed surprise and a much deserved one. However, the most welcomed surprise is Jonah Hill, who was comedic perversion in The Wolf of Wall Street and gave a performance that felt like it would have been ignored and understated by the Academy. Still, the interesting note is whether Michael Fassbender is still the front runner, or if Jared Leto's recent Golden Globe win is going to pose a threat. Here's hoping that Fassbender's brash, racist portrayal of a slave owner works its magic.

CON: Another cop-out for Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks). It is another close race, though less impenetrable than the lead category. 

SHOULD WIN: Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
WILL WIN: Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave

Best Supporting Actress

Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
June Squibb - Nebraska

PRO: Can we take a moment to celebrate the ultimate, positive surprise in the nominations with Sally Hawkins getting recognized for her brilliant Blue Jasmine performance? In a sense, she has already won by being nominated. I am also glad that Nebraska continues to be recognized with a nomination for the secret weapon that was June Squibb. 

CON: Can we just accept that the Academy is trying to break its own records now? As great as American Hustle was, Jennifer Lawrence was the weakest part with a wandering accent and a role that gave her nothing to work with. Also, it means that David O. Russell has turned in yet another movie that has gotten nominated in all of the major categories. While I am fine with most of the other American Hustle nominations, it does leave me a little annoyed. Also, I just hope she doesn't win to break that record of youngest person to win back-to-back trophies.

SHOULD WIN: Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
WILL WIN: Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave

Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club

PRO: I am loving the surprise amount of recognition that Her is receiving in the Oscar race. I felt it would be too niche of a nomination. Also, it is going to be a tough year with American Hustle probably going to be a favorite in the wins. It even makes it difficult to predict if Blue Jasmine is going to win, even though this is a category notorious for giving awards to Woody Allen. 

CON: This may be one of few categories that I don't find issue with. All of the selections are strong and at best, the ones that are left off (such as Frances Ha) probably were because they are too small and unrecognizable to Academy voters.

SHOULD WIN: Blue Jasmine
WILL WIN: American Hustle

Best Adapted Screenplay

Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

PRO: Another great category that features a lot of stiff competition. Before Midnight is not so much a surprise, but a nice addition to the nominees. Even then, it would be interesting to see which way the Academy goes with this one, as 12 Years a Slave was more character driven and somber while The Wolf of Wall Street was the most boombastic, aggressive, memorable screenplay that came out. It feels like it will be between those two. Even if the Academy goes the route of giving 12 Years a Slave all of the prizes, its a noble win against solid competition.

CON: With exception to some notable lines, was Captain Phillips really that great of a screenplay? It felt too clinical and had pacing issues to be nearly as great as these other nominees. It is also strange to see it nominated in a field like this after being ignored in the bigger ones.

SHOULD WIN: Before Midnight
WILL WIN: The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Animated Feature

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest and Celestine
The Wind Rises

PRO: The Wind Rises makes the cut in a year of lackluster competition. It is also nice to see a lesser known film like Ernest and Celestine getting recognition.

CON: Was Despicable Me 2 all that great? Why did the Academy choose it over Monsters University? Given, both were not spectacular films, but it does feel like the reign of Pixar is coming to an end abruptly and being replaced by Dreamworks Animation full-on.  Sadly, it also seems like with the recent success of Frozen, the much acclaimed The Wind Rises may miss out on the top prize.

SHOULD WIN: The Wind Rises
WILL WIN: Frozen

Best Foreign Film

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The  Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Missing Picture

PRO: Having seen The Broken Circle Breakdown, I am glad to see the film on this list. It is an emotional roller coaster mixed with European people singing great country songs. From what I have heard, The Great Beauty is also excellent and after winning the Golden Globe, looks stronger than ever to take the top prize.

CON: I cannot tell you too much about the other films. However, I am saddened to notice that The Past is missing. Also, with the annexing of Blue is the Warmest Color, it almost feels like it opened the field greatly. Even if I only recognize two tiles, I cannot figure out who should win.

SHOULD WIN: The Broken Circle Breakdown
WILL WIN: The Great Beauty

Best Documentary

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

PRO: The much acclaimed The Act of Killing made the cut and is now probably going to take the top prize. The competition is also pretty strong, especially since Cutie and the Boxer and 20 Feet from Stardom have both remained prominent in film discussion since their respective releases. 

CON: No love for Blackfish. Maybe it was the controversy or the fact that it got flack for being a talking heads documentary, but after being more popular than ever title here, it missed the cut. This isn't a bad thing, especially since it feels like the other titles are a lot stronger.

SHOULD WIN: The Act of Killing
WILL WIN: The Act of Killing

Best Production Design

American Hustle
The Great Gatsby
12 Years a Slave

PRO: I am kind of stoked to see all of the love for The Great Gatsby, as it was a lush, visually pleasing film. I still need to see Her, otherwise I am baffled by its nomination. However, it is a tough year, especially as the almost cliche 70's design of American Hustle can win because of the film's popularity. 12 Years a Slave had a hellish look, but it wasn't that showy by comparison. 

CON: I cannot really predict this category too well. However, I do feel like it was a field that could have included The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug somewhere in there, though I don't know who would be annexed.

SHOULD WIN: The Great Gatsby
WILL WIN: American  Hustle

Best Cinematography

The Grandmaster
Inside Llewyn Davis

PRO: It is nice to see The Grandmaster make the cut. It is such a visually pleasing film. I am also psyched to see that Inside Llewyn Davis got some  nominations, though not in the fields that I would have preferred. Even Nebraska's appearance is a welcomed surprise. Of course, the question is if the Academy will follow in last year's winner (Life of Pi) and give this award to the most technically complex film on the list (Gravity) as opposed to real settings.

CON: While I haven't seen Prisoners, it does seem like an odd selection to make this list.

SHOULD WIN: Nebraska
WILL WIN: Gravity

Best Costume Design

American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

PRO: A nice, diverse line-up with a lot of different period pieces. From the almost cliche 70's design of American Hustle to the slave outfits of 12 Years a Slave, it feels like a nice variety. Even then, I still believe that The Great Gatsby is far and away the best looking film out this year and deserves to win. The only issue is that American Hustle feels too similar and more popular to lose to it.

CON: It isn't quite as much in conversation as the others, but period piece The Invisible Woman could pull an upset largely because it is a period piece from a time that has generally won this category.

SHOULD WIN: The Great Gatsby
WILL WIN: American Hustle

Best Editing

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave

PRO: If there is one area that I feel like Gravity is going to rack up a lot of wins, it is in the technical fields. It looks like a strong front runner in this field. However, Captain Phillips is a nice competition with its shaky camera work and feeling of nausea. Even then, American Hustle is more popular and may prove to be Gravity's bigger competition.

CON: 12 Years a Slave is a great achievement, but the editing is suspect in this film. In fact, the most notorious scenes involve little to no camera cuts at all. It doesn't stand much of a chance here. Also, is Dallas Buyers Club trying to prove something with this nomination? Even if it is divisive, The Wolf of Wall Street's editing is far more renegade and strange than everything except Gravity.

WILL WIN: Gravity

Best Make-Up and Hair

Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

PRO: Such an unexpected category with films that I wasn't expecting to get any nominations at all. Most of all, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa made the cut. That is bizarre though a nice change of pace from more classic selections. It is also just nice to not see American Hustle take all of the costuming categories.

CON: The Great Gatsby was quite an attractive film worthy of some recognition here. I also cannot tell which film will win largely because none of these feel like the front runner in any significant way.

SHOULD WIN: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
WILL WIN: Dallas Buyers Club

Best Original Score

John Williams - The Book Thief
Steven Price - Gravity
William Butler and Owen Pallett - Her
Alexandre Desplat - Philomena
Thomas Newman - Saving Mr. Banks

PRO: I am especially glad to see Her have some recognition in the music fields. I eagerly await the soundtrack's release so I can judge for myself. Even if I am not keen on Gravity's score, that is another solid entry into this category and likely will be the front runner because of its emotional impact on the film. Also, hooray on not getting Hans Zimmer's 12 Years a Slave a spot on this list.

CON: I won't even get started on my disapproval of Thomas Newman's nomination. Instead, I will choose to point out my disappointment in the absence of Henry Jackman's Captain Phillips score, which was the best Hans Zimmer score of the year.

SHOULD WIN: William Butler and Owen Pallett - Her
WILL WIN: Steven Price - Gravity

Best Original Song

"Alone Yet Not Alone" - Alone Yet Not Alone
"Happy" - Despicable Me 2
"Let It Go" - Frozen
"The Moon Song" - Her
"Ordinary Love" - Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

PRO: I am glad to see more love for Her and especially excited to call Karen O an Oscar nominee. Also, while I have opposing viewpoints to Despicable Me 2, I felt that "Happy" was a really good song. 

CON: I am not familiar with "Alone Yet Not Alone" and cannot really comment on it. Also, the absence of "Young and Beautiful" from The Great Gatsby is one of my biggest peeves from this year's nominees. 

SHOULD WIN: "The Moon Song" - Her
WILL WIN: "Let it Go"  - Frozen

Best Sound Editing

All is Lost
Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

PRO: These are the fields where Captain Phillips was most deserving of nominations. However, Gravity is looking to be an easy lock-in this year. Also, while getting shut out of most other fields, it is nice to see All is Lost get some recognition in this year's race.

CON: I cannot comment on Lone Survivor, but it is another selection that does seem randomly thrown into the race because a nominee was needed.

WILL WIN: Gravity

Best Sound Mixing

Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

PRO: It is almost an exact replica of Best Sound Editing. The only real difference is a nomination for Inside Llewyn Davis, which feels very ironic considering it being left out of every other category in the field. 

CON: Maybe the sound mixing on Lone Survivor is great, but for the time being, the nomination just seems ridiculous. 

SHOULD WIN: Inside Llewyn Davis
WILL WIN: Gravity

Best Visual Effects

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness

PRO: As usual, this is a category filled with blockbusters. A lot of deserving choices here as well if you are just considering visual effects. However, none are likely to beat Gravity just because of the hype it has been building.

CON: There isn't much to complain about if we know that it is a one pony race.

WILL WIN: Gravity

NOTE: I am opting out of predicting the rest until further notice

Best Documentary Short

Facing Feaer
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Best Short Film (Animated)

Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Room on the Broom

Best Short Film (Live Action)

That Wasn't Me
Just Before Losing Everything
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
The Voorman Problem


I am happily surprised by how interesting this year's nominations turned out. Hooray for  Sally Hawkins on her nomination and hooray to Her on being a surprise heavyweight. There are some notable missing names, but for the most part, the Academy has done it again in making a surprising mix of nominees. While Gravity is likely to win the most,  it is a battle for the other categories. Is American Hustle going to trump 12 Years a Slave in the acting fields? It is going to be a close one, but with Dallas Buyers Club proving to be the ultimate threat, it is up in the air at this point.

What do you think of this year's nominations? Who do you feel got ignored? What are your big surprises?

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