The Oscars 2014

Today is the day! The 2014 Academy Awards and I know you all have been excitedly awaiting my 2nd Annual Oscar Blog.  That’s cool if you weren’t because here it is anyway.  I had a lot of fun seeing the nominated films this year as well as the acting performances and I hope you did as well.  I have a love/hate relationship with the Academy Awards.  I love watching the Academy Awards and some of my favorite films of all time have been past winners but too often I hear the name of my least favorite movie.  I’m still shaking my head from “Argo” last year.   The main reason my head still shakes is because it was one of the worst critically acclaimed films I have ever seen and booya it won.   People I love and respect still tell me they loved that movie but for the life of me I can’t figure out why.  I did figure out why it won though.  Because it was a movie about Hollywood saving the day and ending the hostage crisis in Iran.  They had to vote for themselves.  Okay, okay, enough with my bitterness. It’s time to turn the page. It’s 2014! A new year! A whole new crop of films. The Academy can still save face with me.  There is still a chance that sometime after midnight, in the early hours of March 3rd, the envelope will be opened and I will hear the words….”American Hustle”  Nooo!!!!!!!

Best Picture Nominees:

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

12 Years a Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street

Here is how it goes.  I will rank my favorite movies from least favorite to most favorite.  This year I will include my predictions on who will win but also include who I think should win in the acting categories.

#9 American Hustle 

This film is based on true events about a hustle that involved the FBI, New Jersey politicians, and small time hustlers who got in way over their head.  My least favorite nominated movie of the year is American Hustle.  I’m afraid that it will be two years in a row that my least favorite movie wins the Oscar.  I know, I know, maybe it’s me.  🙂  Forty-five minutes into this movie I was waiting for it to start.  The plot had already started and characters were introduced but I was waiting for a good movie to start.  It took forever for me to finally be interested and care about any of these characters. These characters were intended to be sort of bumbling, way over their head people for the most part.  But they still have to be interesting to make it a good movie.  I eventually got interested in Christian Bale and Amy Adams and found myself being really curious how they were going to figure out this dilemma they were caught in.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand were boring.  Poorly written characters, poorly executed, too one dimensional, and I swear Jennifer Lawrence’s accent changed a few times.

#8 Philomena

I wasn’t able to see Philomena this year but it still comes in at #8.  There is no way it was worse that American Hustle.

#7 Captain Phillips

This is the true story about the captain who was kidnapped by Somali pirates and then rescued by navy seals.  I remember being fascinated with this story when it happened and mainly how navy seal snipers could shoot people who are in a boat rolling in the ocean while the snipers are in a boat rolling on the ocean.  Not to steal UPS’s tagline but that’s logistics right there.  The movie was intense and I liked it but it is far from Best Picture Quality.  I still haven’t decided how I feel about turning true stories into movies.  I feel like the fact that they are true fascinates us more than how good the movie actually is.  The category is still “Best Motion Picture” not “Best True Story made into a Movie.”  I’ll talk more about this later.  One of the things I loved about Gravity and All is Lost is how the movie started right where the characters were at and didn’t start with a lame backstory to attempt to give the characters depth.  Captain Phillips starts with Tom Hanks packing and he and his wife driving to the airport and there is some tension about their son.  It’s the same thing Argo did and a lot of movies do.  I just want to say that as a viewer it is sometimes what I don’t know about the person that draws me into their character.  It would be more powerful to hear Tom Hanks screaming out the name of his wife when he fears he is going to die if I’m left to fill in who and what that means to him.  I’ll sum up by saying “Captain Phillips” is “Castaway” except Wilson the volleyball has been replaced by Somali Pirates.

#6 Dallas Buyers Club

Another true story(See a trend here?). Texas bull rider Ron Woodruff  contracted HIV/AIDS in the early 80’s and started smuggling and selling non-FDA drug treatments to AIDS patients.  Hmm, I’m not sure what I’d like to say about this movie.  It falls in that same category of perhaps a better story than movie.  Many people predict Matthew McConaughey will win the Best Actor.  I don’t know man but it didn’t seem like that complex of a character to play.  It’s an emotional and gut-wrenching character but sometimes I think those are easier to dive into to than those characters who have all the intensity of that emotion but it’s just under the surface.

#5 The Wolf of Wall Street

Yowza!  This dark comedy was definitely a roller coaster ride of sex, drugs and money.  Lots and lots of sex, drugs, and money.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese teamed up again to tell the story of Jordan Belfort, who set up Stratton Oakmont brokerage and a penny stock “boiler room” in Long Island, NY and then served almost 2 years in prison for securities fraud.  The main reason I was looking forward to seeing this movie was to see Jonah Hill.  I love him and it was cool to see him doing something different though he didn’t really seem that different.  The film was very funny but I definitely had several moments of “Am I bad person for laughing at this?”  The film has received criticism for glorifying the lifestyle of excess.  I can see that but I feel that anyone who has hit bottom in their life and lived to see better days would not find anything glorifying about the selfish, out of control lives depicted on screen.  I can see, however, some 19 year old males watching that movie and thinking “That’s what I want to do when I graduate”  That’s a scary thought.

#4 12 Years a Slave

I have to admit that I was hesitant to see this movie because I care about racial justice but feel like too many movies are made about slavery and not enough about current issues of racial inequality.  White audiences can handle the racial injustice(and triumph over it) if it is hundreds of years ago.  Whatever emotion you are left with you can always say “it was a long time ago” to soothe yourself.  If you want to see a more current problem with racial inequality, I suggest seeing Fruitvale Station, a great movie that came out in 2013. Fruitvale Station leaves you with an emotional urgency, that you must do something now, today.  That creates quite an impact or dilemma.  All this being said, I think 12 Years a Slave is one of the best movies I have seen about slavery and it is also a true story.  The film really took time to explore the different relationships in the system of slavery and what those relationships felt like.  The relationships between slaves and owner, slaves amongst themselves, slave owners and their wives, overseers and owners, and on and on.  It did a graceful job of this.  The film also had a powerful technique of lingering in a particularly painful scene way longer than the viewer is accustomed to(but way shorter than what real slaves were accustomed to).  I really liked this movie and thought it might be my favorite of the year but then something began to gnaw at me which caused me to put this movie #4 on my list.  Solomon Northup was a free-born African American when he was kidnapped as an adult and sold into slavery for 12 years.  He was eventually freed with the help of a white Canadian abolitionist(played by Brad Pitt) and returned home to his wife and children.  Critically acclaimed movies about race usually always have a “white hero” who saves the day at the end.  It is true that white people were involved in the abolitionist movement and did help in many instances.  My problem with movies being made like this is that they ignore the fact that there were no “white heros” for the overwhelming majority of slaves.  These “white heros” feel like they are being used to 1) make the movie palatable for white audiences and 2) help to assuage feeling of white guilt.  The last several nominated films dealing with race were Lincoln(the White Hero of all White Heros). Django Unchained(In which the white character shot the bad guy in the end and gave up his own life to save the slaves and Christoph Waltz won the Oscar for this role). Even Captain Phillips ends with the white captain being saved by the white navy seal commander by shooting black somali pirates. All “white heros” in movies dealing with race.  I go back to Fruitvale Station, there were no “white heros” for Oscar Grant that night in the subway station when he was shot in the back by white police.  If there were, he would be alive and that movie would be nominated for Best Picture.  The irony of Brad Pitt’s character in 12 Years a Slave(He is only in the movie for 10 minutes) is that him coming on aboard to produce and be part of the film is a big reason it was made.

Talk about a “white hero.”  And check out these posters from the film in Italy.  12-years-a-slave-white-black-620x4001-620x400 Michael Fassbender on the left is the slave owner by the way.  The posters in America had only the black main character Solomon Northup on them.  So, at least we got that going for us.  Look, I’m glad Brad Pitt did what he did and helped get this movie made but the narrative becomes about what a great thing he did(“white hero”) and not about the racial politics of why this movie couldn’t get made without him.  For me, that is the more important conversation to have.  My h0pe for the future is that more African American films can be made and we can enjoy the art and story without a “white hero.”

#3 Nebraska

Now we have arrived at my three favorite nominated movies of the year.  I didn’t realize this until writing this blog that my three favorite films are not based on true stories.  I think this is really telling.  I know that when a movie starts and I see those lines “based on a true story”, I start to get interested.  I wonder if that is used as a crutch for creativity by filmmakers.  You don’t have to create it from scratch.  You “recreate” it.   I don’t think it is coincidence that the most beautiful films of the year for me are not based on true stories but are original screenplays.  Nebraska is directed by Alexander Payne(The Descendants, Sideways).  Payne has a really truthful way of portraying family relationships, funny and heartbreaking. Nebraska is about an elderly man(excellently played by Bruce Dern) who gets a letter in the mail that he won a million dollars.  It is a marketing letter to get you to sign up for magazine subscriptions but he thinks it is real.  He no longer drives so he starts walking to Omaha Nebraska to claim his prize.   His son helps in the journey after he can’t convince his Dad it is not real.  This was a great film.  It was shot in black and white.  It worked perfectly.  It is interesting to me how you don’t need color to make a great movie.  Life is full of color but perhaps the real color to our lives is human emotion and spirit (the sentimental line of this blog).  I loved the family dynamics in this movie.  They had that closeness and love with years of anger, pain and frustration constantly bubbling up.  All the characters were really excellent in this movie.  I felt a kinship with this film since some of my family is from the midwest.  It had an amazing true feel to it and perfect midwestern humor.  I loved how the seriousness and the pain of the situation came in and out but was always there even during the “lighter” moments.  The ending is really sweet and touching as well.

#2 Gravity

I’ve heard mixed reviews on this film winning Best Picture from friends and family.  Is it really Best Picture worthy? I debated between Gravity and Her as my favorite movie of the year.  I got to be real, I thought Gravity was freakin’ amazing! Sitting in that theater I felt like what I imagined people watching 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars for the first time might have felt like.  Gravity is a complete game changer in cinematography. The score was ridiculous in a good way.  I loved how the movie did not start with a lame back story and Sandra Bullock packing for her trip to space.  Rather, we are instantly transported to space and feel like we are really there and within minutes shit hits the fan, literally.  It wasn’t just a movie, it was an experience.  My stomach was so tight from the tension it took hours for it to relax.  I felt weird walking on solid ground afterward.  The only thing I didn’t like about the movie was George Clooney but what’s new?  Nah, he was cool but I think it is still technically workplace sexual harassment even if you are outside the earth’s atmosphere.  The movie is a heck of a ride but it fell just short to my favorite movie of the year

#1 Her

The man who gets the new artificially intelligent computer operating system and falls in love with her.  Joaquin Phoenix played Theodore but the star of the movie was Scarlett Johansson as the voice of the operating system.  I think she would have been an amazing “out of the box” nomination for best actress even thought it was only her voice.  The other star of this movie was the “feel” of it.  The world and feeling created by Spike Jonze(Director and Writer) was amazing.  In was set in the near future which in intself is such a cool concept.  It is one thing to create a far off future world but to create something that seems just like ours but…just beyond our imaginative reach. Maybe sooner than we think.  I don’t know, it was just awesome.  The way they dressed seemed like I will totally being wearing that soon.  Alot of people talked about the theme of this movie being the technology of having a computer system that it would be possible to fall in love with.  While that technological advance was trippy that heart of the story was relationship.  The driving force of the story was relationship.  It was one of the best movies exploring the nuances and power struggles and enjoyments of being in love.  It was all so real and somehow made even more real despite the fact that one of them wasn’t real at all.  Like he was willing to risk his heart a little more.  It really made me think and feel. What a work of art.

That’s my list.  I hope you enjoyed reading and please feel free to comment and disagree with everything I said.  Ha.  I really want Her to win but my gut is telling me 12 Years a Slave. As long as it’s not American Hustle. 🙂

I’ll quickly list the acting nominations and some other awards and maybe include a few words

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Amy Adams(American Hustle)

Cate Blanchett(Blue Jasmine) Should Win and Will Win

Sandra Bullock(Gravity)

Judi Dench(Philomena)

Meryl Streep(August: Osage County)

If you want to feel uncomfortable in your skin for two hours watch Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. So amazing. When I saw Meryl Streep on this list I was like “not again.” But then I saw her and dang she is crazy good again.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Christian Bale(American Hustle)

Bruce Dern(Nebraska) Should Win

Leonardo Dicaprio(The Wolf of Wall Street)

Chiwetel Ejiofor(12 Years a Slave)

Matthew McConaughey(Dallas Buyer’s Club) Will Win

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Sally Hawkins(Blue Jasmine) Should Win

Jennifer Lawrence(American Hustle)

Lupita Nyong’o(12 Years a Slave) Will Win

Julia Roberts(August:Osage County)

June Squibb(Nebraska)

This was hard to decide because outside of Jennifer Lawrence they were all really good but nobody seemed better than they other.  I have a feeling Nyong’o will get it which is cool with me.  I’d say my favorite performance was Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Barkhad Abdi(Captain Phillips)

Bradley Cooper(American Hustle)

Michael Fassbender(12 Years a Slave)

Jonah Hill(The Wolf of Wall Street)

Jared Leto(Dallas Buyer’s Club) Will Win

Do I have to pick one of these? They were all good but none seemed award worthy. I’ll root for Jonah Hill because I like him.

Lots of other great categories and awards to be handed out. I’ll be rooting for Alfonso Cuaron(Gravity) for Best Director, and Spike Jonze(Her) for original screenplay.  Enjoy the Academy Awards and thanks for reading my Oscar Blog 2014.  Please comment below.

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2 thoughts on “The Oscars 2014

  1. Enjoyed the write up! Out of all the nominees, I saw only Grativity (which I didn’t care for). I went to see Inside LLewyn Davis instead of Her, which I kind of regretted then, and completely regret now. Thanks for the post!

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  2. Tim!
    I’m so proud of you for writing such a thoughtful assessment of the Oscar landscape from this past year. I’ll keep my comments simple:
    I have also grown weary of the “based on a true story” film genre, particularly when its commercial appeal is based on nostalgic period piece historicizing (a la American Hustle and its 70’s “chic” or Dallas Buyers Club and its plumbing of the collective guilt we all feel about the AIDS crisis in the 80s). Call me a snob, but if the basis of a film is not a screenwriter’s imagination, I’m not interested. That is why I actually skipped all the Best Picture nominees save the three you listed as your Top 3 (and I concur with the order you’ve placed them in). Nebraska had wonderful moments (particularly the scene when the two sons steal an air compressor from the wrong home and the audience gets to see the real stars of the film: the humble couple whose air compressor it was – I’ve never seen the beauty of grace represented more sublimely than this couple, and they give me all the more impetus to “fight the good fight” on their behalf. However, Alexander Payne and Bruce Nelson (the screenwriter) used this as an opportunity to passive aggressively ridicule the context in which both of them were raised, and while it is funny at times, I found it to be mean-spirited more often than not. Gravity, to me, feels like the ultimate missed opportunity – I’ve never been more captivated in a strictly audiovisual sense, but less inspired intellectually. I wonder how much Cuaron (who is otherwise a master of weaving in political themes into his work) felt he had to heed to his co-screenwriter son in making a film that ostensibly becomes an amusement park ride rather than a film with real narrative credentials. In short, and I know this will sound crass, but I would have loved that film even more if it was a silent film. Which brings me to Her – the best film I’ve seen in a couple of years at least. This is such a painstakingly crafted film, and I’m very upset that Jonze was honored for screenplay but not for his delicate directorial handling of a subject that could’ve easily been botched in so many ways. As you point out, this is indeed a film about love and romance, not technology, and that is why it is so powerful and effective – the audience doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the end of the film because of the prospects for a near future with artificially intelligent OSs, but rather by how much the film resonates with our own lived experiences today of falling in love & heartbreak. The only other film I can compare it too is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which continues to be my favorite film of all time). Last, but not least, mazel tov to Cate Blanchett – in the words of the best Oscar host ever Billy Crystal – you were “maaarvelous”!!!

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