Who Should Win the Oscars This Year

A few thoughts before we get started.

First of all, I’m not supporting any films by Woody Allen. I’ve never really been a fan of the man’s movies, and the allegations he’s faced recently only further that opinion. Even if you’re inclined to buy the “but he’s good at his job” argument for other professions, artists are different. Directors, in particular, are asking us to see the world through their eyes when we go to a movie. That’s the entire reason they make the films they make: to show us something. If I think the worldview of that person is depraved — and I believe Dylan Farrow — then I’m not going to support a work of art based on that worldview.

Second, I do not understand all the love that American Hustle has received. It was a good movie, sure, but only that. It’s too long, the plot structure is a mess and entire film at times seems to lack energy (even as some of the actors seem to come unhinged in certain scenes). I wonder if it’s not a generational thing: Those who lived through the 1970s and enjoyed seeing that era recreated on scene love the movie because it’s fun nostalgia. Perhaps. But the rave reviews that have greeted an average (by Oscar standards) movie really puzzled me.

Snubs? There were a few. I think Tom Hanks should have gotten a nomination for at least one of the movies he starred in, and Tobey Maguire was actually really good in The Great Gatsby. I’m torn on whether Kate Winslet should have gotten a nod for the otherwise mediocre Labor Day; her performance was about the only thing that made the movie interesting on a personal level. (Last I heard, it had planned to do a short run in 2013 to qualify for the awards.)

Finally, with one exception, I’m not voting for a nominee in a category when I haven’t seen at least two of the films. You can’t make a decision without at least having something to compare it to. I am a bit of a disadvantage because I didn’t see some of the most decorated films this year (12 Years a Slave, in particular, comes to mind). And there are the nominees I think should win, not the ones I think will win.

Best Picture: Captain Phillips
I’ve gone back and forth between Captain Phillips and Gravity. (I love Philomena, but I don’t think it was the best picture made in 2013.) But Captain Phillips seems to just have more going on under the surface than Gravity, which in the end is a simple survival story that happens to be a technical masterpiece. I’m not sure that’s deserving of an Oscar. So I’ll go with this film, which was powerfully made and delved into the collision course between two men who were both trying to make a living.

Actor: Bruce Dern
This is part process-of-elimination, and part because I think Dern was exceptional. Process of elimination: The only other nominee I saw was Christian Bale, and I wasn’t blown away by American Hustle. (In fact, I think it was disappointing.) Dern, meanwhile, used an economy of words and a nuanced performance to convey both the crackpot old man he played and the tragic theme at the center of Nebraska: the death of a way of life. At the same time, I kind of hope they give the award to Matthew McConaughey, because he spent most of 2013 on a desperate quest to take any role that might get him an Oscar. If they don’t give him one, I’m afraid we’ll hear that his next role is the title character in a remake of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Actress: Sandra Bullock
I’m tempted to go with Judi Dench here, because Philomena would have been a sappy flop if a less talented actress had taken the title role. But Bullock has to carry Gravity because, aside from a few wise-cracking lines from George Clooney, she’s basically all there is. Her almost entirely green-screen performance was convincing and even powerful at times. Bullock probably won’t get it given all the critical love for American Hustle, in particular, but she should.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Barkhad Abdi
Yes, Jonah Hill will win this one in a walk. (Which is fine, as long the normally-solid Bradley Cooper’s manic performance in Hustle doesn’t.) But Abdi was also outstanding, turning a Somali pirate into a human being that you could almost understand and even relate to, even as you deplored some of the actions he was taking. Abdi made the emotional complexity of Captain Phillips work, and that’s no small task.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Lawrence
For the second year in a row, I find myself underwhelmed by the nominees in this category, at least among the films I’ve seen. I’ll go with Lawrence because June Squibb was one of the least impressive performances in Nebraska to me. (She was still pretty good.)

Animated Feature Film: Frozen
This is the one time that I’ll break my seen-more-than-one-nominee rule, simply because I thought Frozen was one of the best films of the year, animated or otherwise. (If there’s a rule that the best animated film can’t be nominated for best picture, it’s dumb, because there’s no such rule for foreign films. And if there is no such rule, than it’s hard to imagine how this one got overlooked.) A great movie.

Cinematography: Gravity
This was a close call. The film shots were an instrumental part of Gravity, though, so I’ll give it the nod over Nebraska, which had some great still-life shots in addition to framing the story well.

Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Yes, American Hustle will win it. I’m protesting the American Hustle love on principle. And also because I think Gatsby was one of the most visually mesmerizing movies of the year.

Directing: Alfonso Cuaron
He made one of the most technically challenging movies of the year and conveyed a wonderful (if maybe slightly overlong) story. Alexander Payne did a great job with Nebraska, but I don’t think it was as difficult as what Cuaron did with Gravity.

Film Editing: Gravity
Basically, most of the technical visual awards this year should go to Gravity. It was an amazing spectacle.

Music — Original Score: ?
I don’t recall scores all that well to begin with, so even though I saw four of the five movies up for awards in this category, I’ll pass. I certainly don’t remember any of them sticking with me.

Music — Original Song: Let it Go
I have it on my iPod. It’s a great song.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby
One of the impressive things about Gatsby was being able to bring the world of privilege (and the world of poverty) in the 1920s to life, while mixing it with the imagery in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book. The movie was simply stunningly and beautifully conceived.

Sound Editing / Sound Mixing: Lone Survivor
The film brought the war in Afghanistan to life, at least in part through the hyperkinetic and loud battle. This part of the movie was vital to Survivor’s success, and it worked.

Visual Effects: Gravity
Not even close.

Writing — Adapted Screenplay: Captain Phillips
Process of elimination. I wasn’t really wowed by the adapted screenplays I saw.

Writing — Original Screenplay: Nebraska
I was impressed by this one. There were a few false notes, but fewer than in most films. It’s a worthy winner.

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