The Oscars

Going for gold

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Generally speaking, I use this opportunity to speak about the many ways in which Hollywood has let me down during the year prior.

I’m not going to do that this year.

The reason is simple: Although Hollywood offered up its usual subpar roster of sequels, superhero movies and remakes, it was also able to balance out the unceasing onslaught of lowest-common-denominator dreck with some undeniably fine films.

Now it is time for the Oscars, ostensibly the place to honor all this fine filmmaking. With 10 nominations each, Gravity and American Hustle are the films to beat. But don’t discount critical darling 12 Years a Slave, which nabbed nine nods of its own. Per usual, the winners in some categories seem pretty clear-cut, while others are a mystery.

Before the curtain rises March 2 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and the winners are divulged, predictions must be made. And while I’m no cinematic prognosticator, I have amassed a decent record when it comes to parsing who will end their evening with Tinseltown’s most coveted date: the little gold guy who goes by the name of Oscar.

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

Who Will Win: With nine films out of a possible 10 nominated, this category is rich with possibility. That said, conventional wisdom has it that this race comes down to two films: Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. One is a $100 million special-effects sci-fi spectacular, the other a small-budget story of slavery that’s as raw and gritty as it gets. The two movies could not be more different. With the margin between them perceived as being razor-thin, this is a tough category to call, but given the proclivities of the Academy, 12 Years a Slave seems like the more likely bet. Of course, with its 10 nominations, American Hustle can’t be counted out either, which only makes this Best Picture race that much more interesting.

Who Should Win: Gravity was the best film I saw in 2013. The Academy doesn’t always love a blockbuster, however, this movie was both totally visionary and utterly gripping.

Who Was Snubbed: Where do I begin? It’s mind-boggling that with 10 spots available to them and so many excellent films to choose from, the Academy chose to honor only nine of them with nominations. That final slot easily could’ve gone to the Coen Brothers’ critically acclaimed Inside Llewyn Davis (criminally overlooked by the Academy in many categories), Her, or The Butler (another overlooked film).

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

Who Will Win: As Best Picture goes, so does Best Director—or at least that’s always been the trend. The categories split between two films last year, and I think it could happen again this time around, which would surely make some kind of Oscar history if it happened. Although Steve McQueen is building a career that has Oscar written all over it, I believe Alfonso Cuaron to be the man to beat in this category, and other awards-season results bear this hunch out.

Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuaron. Every single terrifying moment of Gravity was also exquisitely directed. I now feel like I know what it is like to go to space. Possibly related: I now never want to go to space.

Who Was Snubbed: The most obvious slight in this category is Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips. Not everyone is in love with his herky-jerky camera style, but it was a good fit for this hostage story, and he should’ve at least earned a nod. Because they are my favorite filmmakers and Inside Llewyn Davis was an excellent movie, I feel as though Joel and Ethan Coen were ignored as well.

Best Actor
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)

Who Will Win: Long thought to have a lock on this category, 12 Years a Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor now has a monster performance by Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club to contend with. Indeed, I think the awards-season momentum McConaughey has gathered will be too great to be denied come Oscar night. He may have made a career out of throwaway rom-coms, but McConaughey is in the middle of a second-act reinvention of himself as a stunningly skilled indie actor. More power to him.

Who Should Win: I’m pretty on board with McConaughey nabbing on Oscar—with one caveat. Here’s the thing: I’m not a huge fan of Leonardo DiCaprio. I am, however, forced to acknowledge he’s a hugely accomplished actor who is amassing an impressive body of work with his director-in-crime, Martin Scorsese. A five-time nominee with no previous wins, someone should give this guy and Oscar, and they should do it pretty soon, lest he end up as this generation’s Robert Redford (see below).

Who Was Snubbed: I cannot remember the last time the field was so deep in this category. As Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks turned in the most obviously overlooked performance of the year. A commanding turn in All Is Lost wasn’t enough to earn Robert Redford a nod—a shame since he’s never won an acting Oscar, and only been nominated in this category once before (in 1974, for The Sting). The case could be made that Oscar Isaac’s breakout performance in Inside Llewyn Davis deserved to be honored as well.

Best Actress
Nominees: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Who Will Win: I have not seen Blue Jasmine because Woody Allen joins Roman Polanski on the list of directors whose movies I won’t watch for moral and ethical reasons. Child-abuse allegations aside, this is the easiest category of the night to call, with all pundits and prognosticators (including me) predicting the Oscar will be awarded to five-time nominee Cate Blanchett.

Who Should Win: I don’t really have a dog in this fight except to say that Philomena was 2013’s Little Movie that Could (and Did), and that is due primarily to the excellent onscreen work of Dame Judi Dench.

Who Was Snubbed: Emma Thompson is widely regarded as the person who suffered the biggest snub in this category, with many feeling as though her turn as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks was worth a nomination. I’m going to lodge a more out-of-left-field complaint and say that Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color was responsible for the most revelatory performance of the year, one that more than holds its own among this category’s contenders.

Best Supporting Actor
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)

Who Will Win: Jared Leto has cleaned up nearly every accolade he was nominated for during this year’s awards season, with good reason. There’s no reason to think things will go any differently come Oscar night. I think the narrative in which Jordan Catalano dons a dress and wins an Academy Award might just come true. The world is a weird place.

Who Should Win: Because I love to champion an underdog, I’d like to see newcomer Barkhad Abdi stage an upset in this category. However, I have a feeling that, for him, the nomination was the award.

Who Was Snubbed: Dear Academy, how the hell did Jonah Hill emerge with an Oscar nomination and yet somehow you didn’t see fit to reward James Gandolfini with the same honor for his stellar showing in Enough Said? The mind reels.

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)

Who Will Win: It seems pretty clear (at least to me) that this category belongs to either Jennifer Lawrence or Lupita Nyong’o. I’m as in love with Lawrence as everyone else, but even so, last year’s Oscar for Silver Lining’s Playbook might ace the actress out this time around. Which leaves us with Lupita Nyong’o, whose 12 Years a Slave performance was not only gritty and graceful, but is also the kind the Academy loves to reward.

Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o. She’s what Oscar dreams are made of.

Who Was Snubbed: Oprah Winfrey unforgettably boozed her way through The Butler, yet could earn no love from the Academy. What’s Oprah gotta do to get a little action from the gold guy?

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