Handicapping The Oscars

January, 2014, Commentary


Predicting Oscar winners is always something of a crapshoot, especially in a year like 2013, which was loaded with a gaggle of truly fine films which combined wonderful performances, brilliant screenwriting imaginative plots and superior technical effects. So instead of choosing single winners in various categories, how about a bit of running commentary on each statuette?

 Best Picture  There are 9 nominated films, 7 of which I’ve had to opportunity to see: (only Her & The Wolf of Wall St. remain on my “to do list). Every other film is good, but very high all-around quality will be required to win. On that standard, I think you can safely eliminate Philomena, Captain Phillips and Nebraska, leaving a quartet of superb competitors: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club & Gravity. Since Hollywood loves both dazzling technical effects and Sandra Bullock, Gravity will draw lots of support. On the basis of stunning theme and flawless acting, 12 Years is the standout and it should also appeal to those who hope the Oscars  make a statement about the high artistic standards to which Hollywood rarely adheres. But while that movie is especially easy to admire, it’s also challenging to take…and its box-office results haven’t been very strong.  If your criteria is all-inclusive, then American Hustle should be your choice: it has everything – ensemble acting, brilliant writing, a “hot” director and huge ticket sales going for it. My choice? The very first Oscar trifecta: 12 Years, Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club.

 Best Director –it’s hard to argue with Steve McQueen’s genius in getting 12 Years made…and with such a combination of brilliant performances. And isn’t it both interesting and a bit troubling that such a quintessential American story required an English director who used foreign-born actors (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender & Lupita Nyongo) in the film’s dominant roles - - all of whom are nominated in their respective categories?

Best Actor - Bruce Dern will be The Academy’s sentimental favorite, but Ejiofor will bask in the reflected glory of his film while McConaughey will draw support for his “breakout” from the beefcake roles he’s heretofore been associated with. (Those who saw him in Mud earlier in the year could be forgiven for believing he should have been nominated for that role.) Bale delivered the performance of his career in a wonderful role, but he’ll not likely survive the opposition of this three rivals.

Best Actress – The easiest pick of the evening; Cate Blanchett.

 Best Supporting Actor – Absolutely impossible to choose, although Fassbender’s frightening performance will probably carry the day. But I wouldn’t rule out Jared Leto’s heartbreaking role in DallasBuyers Club; it might just get the nod.

Best Supporting Actress  - The toughest choice of the evening; June Squibb was outstanding in Nebraska and Jennifer Lawrence turned in a hilarious performance in  American Hustle, but I think this one belongs to Lupita Nyong’o, the Mexican born, Kenya-raised graduate of Yale University’s Drama School who broke viewer’s hearts in 12 Years.

 As for the various other awards-you’re on your own!

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