Sunday, March 2, 2014

Best Picture

Well this is it, the last major article before the Oscars are presented tonight. I've already talked at length about these films as even the least nominated film Philomena snagged three other nominations. At the other end of the spectrum I've gone on about American Hustle and Gravity a whole mess of nine times already. To note, there are only eighteen categories possible (seventeen for American films), so ten nominations is pretty hefty. Only two films have ever pulled in fourteen: Titanic and All About Eve. Ten isn't terribly uncommon as thirty-two other films have reached that mark with poor, poor Gangs of New York not winning a single one of them. That's not the record, though! Both The Turning Point and The Color Purple put up goose eggs with their eleven tries.

Now, I know I said I'd stop saying this, but since I've talked about these all ad nauseum, maybe I can get through them pretty quickly*. Later today I'll be putting up a total list of my hopes and predictions.

On to the nominees!
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

Remember when the best picture field was increased from five to ten nominees? Then remember how they changed the rules to reflect voting percentage and allow anywhere from five to ten nominees, and we've thus seen nine every year since? What else could or should take that tenth spot, or even supplant some nominees here? The Act of Killing, August: Osage CountyBefore Midnight, Blue Jasmine, The Broken Circle Breakdown, La grande bellezzaJackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Invisible WomanKaze TachinuOmar, Saving Mr. Banks, La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, Yi dai zong shi.

There's one in there just to make sure you weren't sleeping, and you might note I listed Kaze Tachinu but not my animation favorite Ernest et Célestine. I'm so torn on those two, but Kaze Tachinu is clearly more mature and better fitted to Best Picture success. You'll also note I listed three films nominated for foreign film (of the four I saw) and three other foreign films. They're always really good and always underrepresented in nominations. La Vie d'Adèle was probably purposely not submitted because then it would be ineligible for the more likely win of foreign film next year**. Do I think all of those eleven films deserve a shot? Of course not, but I think any one of them would be a respectable addition to a field that has room. I don't think it's a stretch, either, to say that they're all better than at least one of the films that was nominated.

As I said, I've talked about American Hustle kind of a lot. No, I take that back. That's not fair to my opinions. I've ragged on American Hustle a lot. The bright points in the film were Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence. There were a good moments to be sure, but there was simply a lot I didn't like. In the end, the movie just never congealed into something particularly worthwhile. "Were voters blinded by the sight of Adams’ breasts, so prominently on show for the entire film?" I'm glad I'm not the only one wondering thatAmerican Hustle reminds me of all the things I didn't like about Argo which, if you didn't notice, won last year. I tried not to notice, and now I try to forget that neither Amour*** or Les Misérables won.

Captain Phillips is the very definition of a film that's all flash and no substance. It tried a couple times to poke at motive and purpose and propriety and morality but only tangentially and never convincingly. I honestly don't even know why this is nominated. It can legitimately lay claim to deserved nominations for film editing, sound editing, and sound mixing. If you ask me though, the supporting actor and screenplay nods are a joke, and so is best picture. Look up three paragraphs. There are eleven films that are better than this. Do you want some more? How much time do we have?

I do love me some McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, and I understand why rich, cisgender people think Leto did a fine turn as Rayon. They're stupid, but I at least understand that. That Rayon problem also ruins the makeup and hairstyling and screenplay nominations leaving it with a middling film editing nomination. Does Dallas Buyers Club succeed where Brokeback Mountain and Milk failed? Ugh, I hope not, but people love it. It's the sort of story that should be up for a best picture nomination, but they fucked it all up.

Ahh, Gravity. You share the same number of nominations as American Hustle, but you actually deserve them. The only one I really question is Bullock in the lead actress seat, as I think she owes more to Gravity than the film to her. Well, and to whoever helped her ink her contract. This is going to take home a boatload of technical awards. It shouldn't take home an acting award, and I thought that might be problematic for its best picture chances, but 42% of best picture winners haven't also had an acting win (and two of four under the new rules). You know what is a problem though? The plot. It's tame; it's not even close to being nominated for screenplay. Oh, and sci-fi films never win best picture.

You know what else won't win? Her. And not because it's not great. It is. It's phenomenal. It's sci-fi, though. Part of me wants to pick apart which is more likely to break that awards embargo, Her or Gravity, but what's the point? They're both great in different ways - Gravity with the style and Her with the substance -, but it won't take home the statue.

When Nebraska opened up, I wasn't quite sure what to think with a quiet, resolute Dern opposing a tired, cranky June Squibb, and Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk playing less-than-perfect roles seemingly out of their element over a slow paced, black and white suburban landscape. But it just keeps going. Dern silently ignores the masterpiece unfolding around him and just... looks. His sluggish attention and unhurried disposition created the perfect Woody Grant. The long, determined looks from the camera were played up perfectly. I wouldn't trust many actors to express so much so quietly as Dern did here. Nebraska patiently makes it's case as one of the best films of the year as Dern plays out on screen with the sort of slow ignorance of a mountain. Unlike his quip about Mt. Rushmore, though, he finishes his role in exquisite fashion. It's a long, brooding slog through middle america. It's worth every moment and no one should leave grumbling, "Okay, we've seen it."

I liked Philomena well enough when it came out. But best picture? Really? Dench was atypically cast and a real treat, and the story is the sort of heartwreching/warming tale the academy voters like. But best picture? Really?

12 Years a Slave is complete and total Oscar bait. And you know what? It works. On every level it works. By no means do I think it's going to sweep, but there is a lot of good there. The acting is all on point, and even the awards I don't like it to win I think it deserves recognition for. It's a beautiful story of loss and redemption, and who doesn't like that? The voters are going to eat it up.

That fun string of good movies ended abruptly. Like Dallas Buyers Club, I understand why The Wolf of Wall Street is here. Is it also gross and irresponsible? Yes. But is it a Scorsese film? Sigh, yes. It's a pretty film, there's no doubt about that. The glitz of Scorsese is on full display here, and Leo nails it as Jordan Belfort. That's probably not enough to take home the ultimate prize, though. Probably.

I like to pare these things back to five contenders, because, really, there are usually four or five that don't really need or deserve to be here. Those five? Gravity, Her, Nebraska, and 12 Years a Slave. Oh, and uhhh, any of the foreign films I mentioned (including Kaze Tachinu), because the other movies uh, no, they don't get to win. I like 12 Years a Slave the best here. It simply has the most gripping story and it has superb acting and technicals to back it up. The other three are fine, fine, films, but none quite put it all together in the way 12 Years a Slave does. Gravity and Her will continue the sci-fi embargo, and justifiably so. They're magnificent films, but they don't match up.

I have to rewrite that list for the films I think actually have chances to win: American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Nebraska12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street. I get an extra one since I didn't have five for my personal list. I don't actually think Gravity or Nebraska have that strong of a shot here, but there is a tiny outside chance. Mostly, I included them because I don't want to look dumb tomorrow. There haven't been this many solid films nominated since perhaps 2010. Funnily, the feelings I had about The King's Speech that year are pretty similar to the feelings I have about 12 Years a Slave this year. Please let it win, because the other films I think have a real strong shot to overtake it are awful.

**La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 was released too late to be considered for foreign film this year, but best picture has a later entry date it made. Few foreign films even have a chance at best picture consideration, so excluding it from best picture and hoping for next years best foreign film was surely a safer gamble for exposure and a statuette.
***a shining example of why French film and I are frenemies

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