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The Oscar Race :: Oooh, That’s Tight!

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Friday Feb 28, 2014

The Oscars are easily the biggest hyped, most intensely watched, then instantly forgotten media event of the year. Do you even remember who won Best Supporting Actress last year? (Sorry, Anne Hathaway.) No matter. The hook is speculation on just whom Hollywood will bestow its higher accolades and it has been addictive for generations. How do you know if you have the Oscar virus? Frantically watching all nominated films and performances, as well as short subjects? Actually rehearsing how to pronounce the names of nominees so as not too look out-of-it at the Oscar party you're attending? Or looking forward to "The Wizard of Oz" tribute that will feature Judy's children? (If only to see Liza.) Any of these symptoms makes you positive.

This year's line about the Awards is oddly ambivalent. On one hand 2013 is touted as being one of the best movie years in decades with more than enough quality movies to fill the nine slots. Worthy but ignored titles include "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Fruitvale Station," "All Is Lost" and "Blue Jasmine;" even showy box office hits like "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" were passed over.

But enthusiasm has quickly slipped into both malaise and a kind-of ugliness. The issues over allegations over Woody Allen’s abuse of his adopted daughter Dylan in 1992 resurfaced with some questioning the ethics of those actors (such as front-runner Best Actress nom Cate Blanchett) to work with him. In other words should the behavior of a celebrity be reason to vote against the film or nominees from that film? Some say, and how convincing they may be could effect one of the major acting races. The final nail in the coffin came when a Reuters poll revealed that some 67% of the American public hadn’t seen any of the nominated films. The most-seen was "Captain Phillips," followed by "Gravity" (Strange since "Gravity" had three times the box office than "Captain Phillips.")

Still, the Oscars are so much of the nominees themselves, but what they represent: the quality product that Hollywood dispenses to compensate for the Adam Sandler vehicles it hoists on an eager public. Oscars have long given prestige, help reboot careers, make stars and, in the end, increase revenue. The San Francisco Chronicle surveyed the 68% of the Best Picture nominations over the past ten years and concluded that "films made an average of 22.2 percent of their total income during the honeymoon period between the nominations announcement and the Oscar ceremony, usually about a month. Only 5.9 percent came after winners were announced (which we shall call the "afterglow"), but that is still significant, considering their theatrical decrepitude." Box Office Mojo reports that this year’s boost (at least initially) was lower: $8.3 million per title from the day the Oscars were announced to end of January. Making matters worse, those that benefited ("Wolf of Wall Street," "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave," "Captain Phillips" and "Gravity") were already hits. The boost for those that really needed it - "Dallas Buyers Club," "Philomena," "Her" and "Nebraska" - didn’t happen (at least in theaters.)

That feel of malaise has also seeped into the big race itself, which is tight this year; but almost by default. This talk of this being a tight Oscar race comes not so much the strong performance of any given title, but a less than stellar one from the film long assumed the front runner, "12 Years a Slave." When the award season started in December, the film had momentum; but the critics’ groups gave it a blow when two of the major ones (New York and LA) went with "American Hustle and "Her." It won the Golden Globe for Best Drama - its only win out of 8 nominations. The Producers Guild did give it the Best Theatrical Motion Picture award (usually a key win in the Oscar race), but tied with "Gravity." Nor did it win the big one with the Screen Actors Guild (Best Ensemble). That went to "American Hustle." Still, it is the most honored of the nominated film according to aggregates of the awards given out this season.

So it might be more of a squeaker this year with a variety of films splitting on major awards. There’s always hope for an upset or two - would it be so bad in Leonardo DiCaprio were to win (Sorry, Matthew McConaughey)? Or Amy Adams? And what if a true dark horse, say "Dallas Buyers Club" or "Her," should sneak in and take the big prize. Anything is possible. "Crash" won.

Handicapping the Oscars (at least in the major categories) allows a moment to consider many factors (from buzz to award performance); personal taste should enter, but it does. So in considering this year’s nominees, there are three categories: who will win; who should win; and who was ignored.

Best Picture

The Nominees: "American Hustle," ’’Captain Phillips," ’’Dallas Buyers Club," ’’Gravity," ’’Her," ’’Nebraska," ’’Philomena," ’’12 Years a Slave," ’’The Wolf of Wall Street."

Will Win: "12 Years a Slave"

It’s cynical to say that Steve McQueen’s fine adaptation of Solomon Northup’s harrowing personal history will win because it is the kind of picture that makes Hollywood feel good about itself; but this may be the edge that puts it over the top.

Should Win: "Her"

A movie for the Zeitgeist? Spike Jonze’s elegant futuristic vision comments on our culture’s relationship with technology with equal parts humor and pathos.

Ignored: "Inside Llewyn Davis"

For some strange reason the Coen Brothers (usually Oscar darlings) were passed over for this bittersweet account of a talented, if self-defeating folk singer living in New York in the days before Dylan.

Best Actor

The Nominees: 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."

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey’s career track over the past few years leads to his moment on the podium this Sunday for his fearless take on a homophobic victim of AIDS in the early days of the epidemic.

Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio

DiCaprio career track has also led him to his superb work in the Martin Scorsese movie everyone appears to hate for its unapologetic crudeness. It is his best work yet, but (again) that may still not be enough.

Ignored: Oscar Isaac, "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Isaac has a smoldering charisma that makes him endlessly fascinating to watch; that he’s in every frame of the Coen’s portrait of an artist as a dickhead only adds immeasurably to the film’s quiet, magical pull.

Best Actress

The Nominees: Amy Adams, "American Hustle"; Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"; Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"; Judi Dench, "Philomena"; Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County."

Will Win: Cate Blanchett

It’s next to impossible to deny Blanchett for her riveting portrayal of a Park Avenue matron whose life comes crashing around her. With its shades of Tennessee Williams’ tragic Blanche DuBois, she crowns what just might be Woody Allen’s finest work.

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Ignored: Adèle Exarchopoulos, "Blue Is The Warmest Color"

The only performance close to Blanchett in emotional dimension came from this Greek actress as a young woman coming out and coming of age in Abdellatif Kechiche’s frank adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel.

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees: 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."

Will Win: Jared Leto

What makes Leto performance as a doomed trans falling victim to AIDS so memorable is that you want to see more of him. A perfect balance of toughness, tenderness and pain.

Should Win: Jared Leto

Ignored: James Franco, "Spring Breakers"

As Alien, the pimp/drug dealer who forms a deadly alliance with a quartet of spring breaking college co-eds, Franco showed his amazing range in Harmony Korine’s visionary epic "Spring Breakers."

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees: Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"; Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"; Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave"; Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"; June Squibb, "Nebraska."

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence

Lawrence’s crazy, funny, over-the-top New Jersey housewife singed in the memory far longer than any of her peers, which is why she will win.

Should win: June Squibb

Why? For her tart, expert rendering of a long-suffering matriach of an oddly functioning Midwestern family in the midst of crisis.

Ignored: Scarlett Johansson, "Her"

What’s in a voice? Everything when it’s ScarJo who brings such resonance to her spoken role as the Operating System whom Joaquin Phoenix falls for in "Her." Her performance of Samantha may be the key to the film’s wondrous appeal.

Best Director

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

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

The mix of technical mastery, intimacy and intense suspense will bring this visionary Mexican director his first Oscar. Interestingly he follows in the step of Ang Lee, who won last year for a similar feat for "Life of Pi."

Should Win: Martin Scorcese

When film historians look back at 2013, two films will stand out: "Her" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," and much of the punch of this rude and scorchingly funny Wall Street satire comes from Scorcese’s bravura direction, which recalls the best of Billy Wilder in its blunt commentary.

Ignored: Spike Jonze, "Her"

A film that gets every detail right - both a social critique and bittersweet romance. This beautifully detailed vision of the future shows why Jonze remains one of Hollywood’s truly original contemporary talents.

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees: "American Hustle," Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell; "Blue Jasmine," Woody Allen; "Dallas Buyers Club," Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack; "Her," Spike Jonze; "Nebraska," Bob Nelson

Will Win: "American Hustle"

"American Hustle" told such a wild and crazy story (most of it true) with such brio that it was like getting a hit of laughing gas.

Should Win: "Her"

Spike Jonze’s unique vision offers a perfect conjunction of word and image. If he has a chance at an Oscar, it will be for his script.

Ignored: "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Many have put the Coen Brother’s latest as a movie without much of a plot, but as a character study it is matchless.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees: "Before Midnight," Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke; "Captain Phillips," Billy Ray; "Philomena," Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope; "12 Years a Slave," John Ridley; "The Wolf of Wall Street," Terence Winter

Will Win: "Philomena"

A genuine, heartfelt script that covers the emotional bases with discretion and humor. It is the safe bet, but a deserving one.

Should Win: "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Terence Winter takes the brusque style that made his "The Sopranos" scripts so satisfying and applies it to the rough-and-tumble world of Wall Street. The result is a roller-coaster of audacity.

Ignored: "Much Ado About Nothing"

Joss Whedon’s modern, casual update of the Shakespeare classic remains the most unique adaptation of the year.

Best Animated Feature

The Nominees: "The Croods;" "Despicable Me 2;" "Ernest & Celestine;" "Frozen;" "The Wind Rises"

Will Win: "Frozen"

And why not? It already has sing-alongs.

Should Win: "Frozen"

Best Foreign Language Film

The Nominees: "The Broken Circle Breakdown" (Belgium); "The Great Beauty" (Italy); "The Hunt" (Denmark); "The Missing Picture" (Cambodia); "Omar" (Palestine) in Arabic

Will Win: "The Great Beauty

Fellini evoked and made modern in Paolo Sorrentino’s haunting portrait of an aging journalist working in today’s Rome. Gorgeous, touching and wonderfully resonant.

Should Win: "The Great Beauty"

Ignored: "Blue Is The Warmest Color"

A rough-edged portrait of a lust and love as seen in the relationship of two French women. Searing performances, candid sex and piercing insights leaves one wondering why the film wasn’t submitted by the French.

Best Documentary

The Nominees: "The Act of Killing," - "20 Feet from Stardom," "Cutie and the Boxer," "Dirty Wars," "The Square"

Will Win: "20 Feet from Stardom"

An audience-pleasing look at the lives of those that work behind the scenes in the music industry. A feel-good doc.

Should Win: "The Act of Killing"

Much harder to peg, but also disturbing, funny, surreal - a work of great imagination. The video of "Born Free" is one of the great moments in movies this year.

Ignored: "I Am Divine"

Okay, it may not have been eligible, but Jeffrey Schwarz’s heartfelt look at the career of Harris Glenn Milstead (aka Divine) remains a model of hagiographic celebrity biography and a delightful film.

Robert Nesti can be reached at


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