Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscars Preview - Part Five!

And welcome to our final preview for the Academy Awards!  We will be releasing our 2013 Top Ten Lists on Sunday, but below are our predictions for the two biggest awards - Best Director and Best Picture.  We are so excited for the ceremony Sunday evening - we can't wait to see the gowns, the musical numbers, the tributes, and the winners.  

Best Director

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


Should Win: Martin Scorsese
This was a tough one for me, as each nominee is an auteur working at the top of their form with strong vision and a unique aesthetic bent.  In this way, it is probably stupid to say one is better than the other, but heck, it’s the Oscars and that is what we are here for, so I decided to go with the filmmaker who displayed the most overall stylistic ambition.  That would be our old friend Marty, whose visual flair encapsulates Wolf’s audacious plot movements and is a voice equal to that of screenwriter Terence Winter.  Indeed, what makes this film most interesting is that Scorsese comments on the script by way of sharp visual cues, camera movement, and soundtrack.  To put it another way, Scorsese’s voice is as strong as that of Winters or Jordan Belfort in the film, and this makes the film all the more engrossing and interesting.  A close second here for me is McQueen, whose voice as a filmmaker is perceptive, compassionate, and patient – a far cry from Scorsese’s brashness, but equally as distinctive and impressive. 

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the year we see the first directing Oscar for a Hispanic filmmaker.  It seems that all the momentum is in Cuaron’s favor, and that understandable with the popularity of his film.  It is also not undeserved – Gravity is a technical marvel that represents what is likely the most complex directorial undertaking of the bunch.  The camera essentially never stops moving and Cuaron knows exactly when and how to insert close-ups – the only reason I don’t put it at the top of my list is that the film does not seem to present as strong an authorial voice.  Indeed, the only other filmmaker in the bunch that doesn’t is…

Weakest Nominee: David O. Russell
… Who essentially rips off his fellow nominee Scorsese.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are comic touches and a sense of spontaneity that are clearly Russellian, but these feel like riffs on ground Scorsese has already treaded.  In a field with filmmakers who have all created distinctive works that emphasize their unique strengths as filmmakers, the fact that Russell’s work seems derivative makes him stand out.

Best Non-Nominee: Joel and Ethan Coen for Inside Llewyn Davis
There are no more assured and meticulous filmmakers working today than the Coen brothers. With Davis, every word, angle, and glance builds upon each other to communicate deeper meaning than what is on paper, and in this, the inimitable genius of their filmmaking is found.  While some would argue a more improvised aesthetic would fit the story of a hurting and drifting musician best, this film proves that by exploring aimlessness seriously and carefully, one can gain great insight into a universal human desire for connection and meaning. The film is void of sentimentality, but nevertheless elicits strong emotion and compassion – a cinematic feat only achieved by the true artists of cinema.  What impacted me most was that there is a sense that the Coens not only wished to communicate with their audience, but that they also ached to comfort the protagonist they had created.  To do this without being stylistically intrusive or saccharine shows just how great their talents are.


Should Win: Steve McQueen
Over and over, it sounds as though you are going to tune in Sunday and discover this was my favorite film of the year.  Spoilers: it’s not, and there are quite a few films ahead of it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see how meticulously crafted and beautifully directed it is.  McQueen has really proven that he has a strong vision and is a true auteur, and it would be nice to see that rewarded in Hollywood.  Other director I had a hard time choosing McQueen over: Alexander Payne, whose personal vision is always deeply resonant for me.

Will Win: Alfonso Cuaron
And good for him, seriously.  It is a very well-directed film that required enormous effort on his part. 

Weakest Nominee: David O. Russell
David already said it well above, I see no need to repeat the obvious!  However, I do want to point out that Russell does manage to get fantastic performances from his actors, of course that’s probably pretty easy when you cast some of the best actors working today.  I would be happy for each director except Russell.

Best Non-Nominee: Spike Jonze for Her
Spike Jonze just manages to pull everything together to have one fantastic, unified picture of the future.  It’s a phenomenal film and absolutely everything works, from the score, to the production design, to the cinematography, to the performances.  And it was Jonze who was able to pull each of these elements into one great film.  Kudos.

Best Picture


The Nominees:
American Hustle: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
Captain Phillips: Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
Dallas Buyers Club: Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
Her: Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
Nebraska: Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
Philomena: Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
12 Years a Slave: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

Should Win: Her
This is the most insightful and important film of the year, and honestly, the fact that it is nominated at all is encouraging.  This film is impeccably crafted and deeply convicting, but also captures the uncomfortable reality of increasing discord in contemporary social life as a result of technology.  What makes this film so great is that while it displays a real cultural problem we must address, it never feels preachy and always maintains a deep connection with the passions and motivations of its lonely protagonist.  It is a heartbreaking work, and one that poignantly points its audience to the importance of true, sincere human relationships.

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
The other possibility here is Gravity, which has the popularity vote in its favor.  Yet, the Academygenerally loves historical films and this film has won many other awards to date, so I think it pulls out a victory here as well.  And it would be well-deserved if it did.

Weakest Nominee: Dallas Buyers Club
When the nominees were announced, I had to do a double take on this one.  Not a bad film, just a middling one that is mostly out of place with the bunch.  The film’s only true strength is in its performances, but with the script and visuals being noticeably weaker, it shouldn’t be here.

Best Non-Nominee: Inside Llewyn Davis
See above for more on why I love this film, but I should mention that I was shocked with the lack
of Oscar love for this masterwork.  Not only are the Coens generally very well received with the Academy, but this represents what could be their best film yet.


The Academy missed out on this nomination for Song.
Reading through the nominees, it really has been a strong year, and overall, the Academy has done a fine job of recognizing many of the excellent films on offer.  David, I agree with you on every single thing you said above.  And although Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t at the top of my list of favorite non-nominees, it is probably the most perfect film that wasn’t nominated for Oscar, and the biggest surprise – the Academy usually loves the Coens!  It really is extraordinarily well done, and extremely tight.  For personal favorite non-nominee, that would be Short Term 12, which captured my heart this year.  For a debut feature, it’s pretty impressive stuff, and approaches a messy subject with an honest, humble heart.

Also, let me point out that the Best Picture race is really tight, the tightest in a few years.  And Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, or American Hustle could all very well walk away with the prize.  Of those three, I definitely want to see a 12 Years a Slave win.

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