Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Oscars 2014 - Predictions & Desires

Here we go again.  The 86th Academy Awards.  This is the point where I normally talk about how we all know the Oscars are a bunch of bullspit, but it's sill fun to revel in the pomp & circumstance.  But you know what?  I'm not too cool for school anymore.  I love the Oscars.  Never in a million years would I agree that these are the Best Pictures, and I can think of only one occasion in which the eventual Best Picture matched my own personal pick (1992's Unforgiven).  So what?  It doesn't matter.  I love movies.  You love movies.  Any excuse to talk movies is wonderful, and a big damn overblown award show celebrating movies is just dandy.  As much as people scoff at the film selections, the weepy acceptance speeches, the awkward comedy bits, and the never-ending musical numbers, the Oscars still manage to cause conversation amongst co-workers & friends.  "That's a terrible movie!  How come such-and-such got snubbed?  Idiots!"  Fun, I say.  No more making excuses.  Never again will I start one of this columns with "We All Know It's Bull-blah-blah-blah."  My name is Brad Gullickson and I love the Academy Awards.  Always have, always will.  And this year I've really gone out of my way to transform the Oscars into my Super Bowl.

Not much of a challenge really.  The fact that you only needed to see 11 films to have witnessed the major award nominations (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, & Supporting Actress) is a bit of a bummer.  No nods to performances that outshine their films, or the unexpected genre selection.  Variety is not your friend this year.  Of course, that meant after the nominations were announced, I only needed to check off August - Osage County.  I patted myself on the back.  What a dedicated cineaste, I am.  So I started knocking out the documentaries and the foreign films.  Not content, I went a little crazy.  So much so that I currently find myself watching the Hallmark Holocaust Adventure, The Book Thief because The Academy deemed John Williams's score worthy.  Before the show airs tonight, I will have seen every nominated film with the exception of The Missing Picture, Ernest & Celestine, Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom, and the Documentary Shorts.  This is the closest I've come to total Oscar domination.  Feels good.  And a challenge to beat next year.

However, the absolute niftiest aspect to this year's ceremony is that the Best Picture nominations range from pretty damn good to really damn good.  Two of my own Top Ten Films of 2013 actually found their way into the top category.  No Everything is Illuminated trauma schmaltz to scratch your head over this year.  Solid choices, all worthy of at least one watch.  Still, the races I find myself the most excited over are in the Documentary & Foreign Film categories.  The Act of Killing is easily one of the most (prepare for hyperbolic cliche labeling...3...2...1...) emotionally devastating films I have ever experienced, and the single most important film to find it's way into the awards ceremony.  There is not a stronger set of films than those found in Foreign Film.  I ranked The Great Beauty as my 8th favorite film of last year, but having now seen the others (again, except for The Missing Picture), I could easily sing them all with equal praise.  This year certainly has its oddities - Bad Grampa for makeup, Inside Llewyn Davis snubbing, the token John Williams nominee, and my usual contempt for all of the Original Song nominations.  But hey, it's alright cuz The Lone Ranger got some respect in the technical awards.  Fingers Crossed!

Moving into my actual Predictions....I got no idea.  I've read the Entertainment Weeklies.  I've studied the Vegas odds.  I've listened to all the podcasts.  It's a real crapshoot this year.  There are at least three films that have been predicted for the Best Picture since the nominations were announced over a month ago, and they have been seesawing one way or another the entire time.  Cate Blanchett & Matthew McConaughey seem like the only locks for Best Actor & Actress respectively.  However, there is always that heavy amount of pressing the Hollywood flesh, and the last 30 days of L.A. politics could win some folks a few upsets.  That always makes for a good show, and the 86th Academy Awards are gearing up to be the closest race we've had in years.



Like I said above, I like all these films in some way or another.  Gravity is easily my least favorite.  I never bought into the narrative of scardy cat astronaut Sandra Bullock.  As a work of spectacle, the film is astounding, and it is one of the rare occasions where I thought 3D technology added to the experience of the characters.  Bravo for Alfonso Cuaron - enjoy your inevitable Best Director Oscar.  But I don't think the Academy wants to go down in history having chosen this technical achievement when there is an "important" film like 12 Years A Slave standing nearby.  This is the legacy award.  And it should be.  No other fictional film this year left me in such a puddle.  Solomon Northrup is witness to our own shameful history, and it's a perspective we rarely encounter in cinema - Roots...Beloved...Django Unchained...  It bothers me when I hear critics bemoan, "We get it already."  No you don't.  Shut up.  Watch.  I'm betting you'll be surprised by how entertained you are.  12 Years A Slave is not the film you necessarily"like" (this is America's awful mirror), but it's an unforgettable experience that you'll revisit time & again unlike those "important message movies" you've already condemned it as.

Of course, let's not forget about Shakespeare in Love.  An inordinate amount of votes for Gravity & 12 Years A Slave could pave the way for American Hustle, a movie-movie that is a whole lotta fun to watch.  Fun performances.  Fun music.  Fun costumes.  Fun crime.  But for all that Disco Inferno it's still just a Scorsese pretender.  Been there, done that.

If I had my way, I'd drop that gold statue on The Wolf of Wall Street.  Possibly the year's most divisive film, I was enthralled by its three hours of hateful excess.  I abhor these people.  I am deeply disturbed by the mocking tone, the reverence for exploitation, and the scott-free climax.  I hate my own laughter at the monstrosity on display.  At times it feels like the party version of The Social Network, and at other moments (especially after that final middle finger shot) I see it as the greatest condemnation of a lifestyle since Brian DePalma's Scarface (another film doomed to misinterpretation).  It's ugly.  And I like ugly.

Captain Phillips, Her, Nebraska, Phillomena, Dallas Buyers Club.  Decent movies.  But in ten years we will not be talking about them at all.

Prediction:  12 Years A Slave

Desire: The Wolf of Wall Street


STEVE MCQUEEN (12 Years A Slave)
DAVID O RUSSELL (American Hustle)
MARTIN SCORSESE (The Wolf of Wall Street)

The tone of Nebraska never set well with me.  The midwest...hardy-har-har-har, what a bunch of yokels.  Alexander Payne sure knows how to set his sights on people.  Sometimes it's a blistering pinpoint assault (Election), other times it simply seems mean spirited (Nebraska).  David O Russell loves to move his camera in crazy, unexpected ways and it's obvious that he knows how to eek a performance out of an actor.  Isn't it mind boggling that no other director has helmed two films to win nominations in all five major categories two years in a row?  Steve McQueen is almost an unseen hand in 12 Years A Slave.  He's performance based, but he also concocts shots with painfully pristine precision.  I dig his art.  However, it's looking like we're going to get a repeat of last year with a fun little split.  12 Years gets Picture, and Alfonso Cuaron gets Director for the astonishing amount of filmmaking trickery on display in Gravity.  You're going to see his film early on in the show sweep the technical awards, and it will climax right here, but go no further.

Me?  Again, Wolf Of Wall Street.  It's a power chord movie.  Slamming it's theme of American Excess home with the largest nail and the largest hammer.  Scorsese is 71 years old, but he attacks his films like a young man.  Some of his greatest visual flourishes have occurred in his last three films.  I am in awe.  Is Wolf of Wall Street comedy, satire, or porno?  People will be fighting this war for some time.  As they do with nearly every one of his big pictures (no one talks After Hours or Kundun, but perhaps they should).  The man's excitement for cinema is contagious, and yes, he's as much of a fanboy director as Quentin Tarantino.  His films always demand examination, and they're a delight to pick at.  He won for The Departed, but I wish the Academy had waited for this moral quandary.  People who miss 70s cinema look no further.

Prediction:  Alfonso Cuaron

Desire:  Martin Scorsese


CHRISTIAN BALE (American Hustle)
BRUCE DERN (Nebraska)
LEONARDO DICAPRIO (The Wolf of Wall Street)

This is just a tough, tough category.  I'd be perfectly happy with any one of these gents taking home Oscar.  Christian Bale brings an unexpected warmth to his conman, and manages to emote past his potbelly & hairpiece.  Bruce Dern is Bruce Dern.  He's old man awesome.  It's a character he could have done in his sleep.  Matthew McConaughey is certainly the favored, but is he the lock we think him to be?  Apparently, Leo has been beating the streets of Hollywood, and if we're going to get an upset this evening it's in the Best Actor category.  I really dig McConaughey and his McConaaissance.  But this is not my favorite recent role, nor do I really like Dallas Buyers Club.  It's fine.  But if I want to revisit this American Horror Story then I'll probably rewatch How To Survive A Plague rather than this obvious soap opera.  For me, it's Chiwetel Ejofor.  It's a performance properly filled with anguish and terror, but the movie owns our heart because Ejofor is a master of silent cinema.  The small gestures that lead to great triumph.

Prediction:  Matthew McConaughey

Desire: Chiwetel Ejiofor


AMY ADAMS (American Hustle):
CATE BLANCHETT (Blue Jasmine):
JUDI DENCH (Philomena):
MERYL STREEP (August - Osage County):

Forget Meryl Streep.  I am done with her acting-acting.  Judi Dench, like Bruce Dern, can't turn in a bad performance these days to save her life.  Sandra Bullock is just fine, but she suffers from ham-fisted scriptwriting.  I do really love Amy Adams in American Hustle.  Her bizarre-o triple performance had me rooting for her whackjob romance.  This is her fifth nomination, and she's the only one of the group who has yet to win a statue.  But that doesn't matter.  If we're talking locks, there is only one this year, and that's Cate Blanchett.  No matter where this never-ending Woody Allen controversy goes, nothing is changing the fact that she's walking home a winner tonight.  And it's totally deserved.  Blue Jasmine might not be my cup of tea, but this super hero origin of a bag lady was a masterful depiction of despair.  I may never watch it again, but I cannot deny her the gold.  And neither will The Academy.

Prediction:  Cate Blanchett

Desire:  Cate Blanchett


BARKHAD ABDI (Captain Phillips)
BRADLEY COOPER (American Hustle)
JONAH HILL (The Wolf of Wall Street)
JARED LETO (Dallas Buyers Club)

Possibly my least favorite category this year.  Some solid work here, but not a one of these actors would have made my shortlist (where's James Franco's shit??).  Barkhad Abdi does some good stuff with a character that could have easily been a one dimensional villain, but I think Paul Greengrass probably deserves the most for that performance.  Michael Fassbender is utterly terrifying in 12 Years A Slave.  It's a flashy, big-bad role.  Jonah Hill sneaks in with a Moneyball repeat.  He's a funny dumbass monster, sure, but...really?  Jared Leto - I'm still working him out.  He's there in Dallas Buyers Club to transform McConaughey's bigoted redneck into a drug dealing hero figure.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  He'll most likely take Oscar, but Fassbender may sneak it away if 12 Years sweeps the show, and wouldn't it be cool if Abdi snagged it?  Still, being a comic nerd I've got to go with Rocket Raccoon.  He just plays the scumbag tool so well, and I really enjoyed watching his villain nature ratchet to extremes in the film's final moments.

Prediction:  Jared Leto

Desire: Bradley Cooper


SALLY HAWKINS (Blue Jasmine)
LUPITA NYONG'O (12 Years A Slave)
JULIA ROBERTS (August - Osage County)
JUNE SQUIBB (Nebraska)

Julia Roberts looses because she tried to make Steep - "EAT THE FUCKING FISH!"  People who refer to June Squibb as "adorable" creep me out.  Sally Hawkins is perfectly fine in Blue Jasmine, but she looses shine next to Cate Blanchett.  This race comes down to Jennifer Lawrence's Science-Oven enthusiast & Lupita Nyong'o's systematic victim.  Tough call.  Both do great work.  Lawrence is a brilliant shrew, but Nyong'o wins because she's the perfect piece in a powerhouse story.  She has the shortest amount of screen time (18 minutes) of the nominees, but she makes everyone of them count.  From the flashy tearjerker confession, the Fassbender brutalization, and Alfrie Woodard's story hour.

Prediction:  Lupita Nyong'o

Desire: Lupita Nyong'o


THE HUNT (Denmark)
OMAR (Palestine)

Jeez, I don't know here.  I haven't seen The Missing Picture, but I loved all of the other nominees.  Omar is a gripping crime tragedy set against the West Bank.  The Broken Circle Breakdown is a wallop of melodrama that really puts similar miserable concepts like August - Osage County to shame.  The Hunt contains my second favorite lead performance of last year (the 2nd being the equally snubbed Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis), as Mads Mikkelsen battles his town after a wrongful accusation of pedophilia.  The favorite looks to be Italy's Great Beauty, a Fellini obsessed tour through the wreckage of one-time novelist Toni Servillo.  The Great Beauty is a gorgeously somber film for the lost souls in all of us.  Criterion snagged the blu ray rights.  That's good enough for the snob in me, and I'm sure The Academy agrees.

Prediction:  The Great Beauty

Desire:  The Great Beauty



I spent most of this past week scarfing down these nominees, but was unable to locate Ernest & Celestine.  None of them particularly grabbed me on their initial theatrical run, and I don't think most of them will stick with me much longer.  The Croods was shockingly fun.  The nonsensical animal design won me over in the same vein as Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.  I love the Despicable Me minions, but I could not care less about the Gru storyline.  I appreciate Disney's attempt to play in the Princess genre, but was left cold by much of Frozen.  I'm going to sound a little bit like an ignoramus here, but I've never really enjoyed anime or the films of Miyazaki.  Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away were fun enough, but meh.  That being said, I was really taken by The Wind Rises.  The story of Jiro Horikoshi's cursed dream to build the ultimate flying machine is a complicated narrative for an American to engage, but Miyazaki excels in tackling the juxtaposition between art & war.  At the very least, The Wind Rises carries with it some of the most beautiful apocalyptic imagery I've encountered in an animated film, and it's rather bothersome to me that American Animation still finds itself caught in childhood.  Pixar has come close to telling adult stories, but I'm still waiting for the USA to mature.

Prediction:  Frozen

Desire:  The Wind Rises



20 Feet To Stardom is a solid episode of VH1's Behind The Music.  Cutie and the Boxer is a sad little look into failure.  Dirty Wars puts American foreign policy on trial, but fails to back up its claims with hard evidence.  The Square is a fascinating look into Egypt's ongoing political strife, and it's possibly the only film here that could stir serious global change if experienced by the right people.  But The Act of Killing?  God damn.  I've never seen anything like it.  And if we're going to talk about "important" films like 12 Years A Slave then we have to discuss Joshua Oppenheimer's weird-ass expose into the crimes of Anwar Congo.  Responsible for thousands of executions during Indonesia's Communist Revolt in 1965, Oppenheimer records Congo's reenactment of his proud duties as he plops them into cinematic genres like the musical and the film noir.  What is man capable of?  What are you capable of?  Dark questions and darker answers await us in The Act of Killing.  I'll be ok if The Square wins.  But if any of the other nominations set foot on stage, I'll be pretty peeved at The Academy's ability to shove their head in the sand.

Prediction:  The Act of Killing

Desire: The Act of Killing


BRUNO DELBONNEL (Inside Llewyn Davis)
PHILIPPE LE SOURD (The Grandmaster)

Will someone just give Roger Deakins an Oscar already!?!?!  Well, unfortunately, he didn't partner with The Coen Brothers this year and instead brought great beauty to an obviously mediocre tale of Law & Order.  Prisoners is junk.  Bruno Delbonnel blanketed Inside Llewyn Davis in snowy gloom, and it would be nice to see this film take some sort of gold home tonight.  Phedon Papamichael matched the starkness of the land with the starkness of the relationships in Nebraska.   Who doesn't love black & white photography?  Emmanuel Lubezki will probably take it during Gravity's early show dominance.  But I want Phillipe Le Sourd to go home happy due to his sumptuous and varied display of Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster.  Not a chance in hell, but...

Prediction:  Emmanuel Lubezki

Desire:  Philippe Le Sourd


AMERICAN HUSTLE (Eric Warren Singer & David O Russell)
BLUE JASMINE (Woody Allen)
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack)
HER (Spike Jonze)
NEBRASKA (Bob Nelson)

This is the only chance to award Spike Jonze as writer & director of Her.  Personally, I found the conclusion rather unsatisfying, but it's a clever deconstruction of our modern idea of human interaction. Dallas Buyers Club is...obvious.  You saw the trailer, and you immediately knew not only how the movie was going to end, but what the ride would be like as well.  It's an actor's film.  That's it.  Nebraska is sorta similar, but like I said above, I never felt a love for the characters from the filmmakers involved.  American Hustle, "BASED ON TRUE EVENTS", is a plot you've seen over and over again.  Fun characters, sure.  I'm going with Woody Allen.  Yep.  I'm as surprised as you are.  I've never been much of a fan, but ever since Midnight in Paris, I've been warming up to the creep.  I really enjoy the story's mindless jabber framing device. I like the flashbacking information dumps.  I like the odd revelations of the minor characters.  I may never watch it again, but I surly respect its script.

Prediction:  Her

Desire:  Blue Jasmine


12 YEARS A SLAVE (John Ridley)
BEFORE MIDNIGHT (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, & Ethan Hawke)
PHILOMENA (Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope)

Prediction:  12 Years A Slave

Desire:  The Wolf of Wall Street

I loved 12 Years A Slave.  But there are a couple problems that I had with the script.  Brad Pitt's white savior being the biggest one.  Before Midnight is a fascinating watch, but I'm still bitter about where the writers took these characters after Before Sunrise.  Captain Phillips falls apart once the Navy shows up. Philomena is perfectly fine.  The Wolf of Wall Street takes a despicably proud biography and turns it against its creator.  F - U Jordan Belfort.  For that alone, Terrence Winter gets my vote.


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