12 Years A Slave
When something affects you deeply, a common response is speechlessness. On other occasions, what affects you also offers the terms to describe it perfectly. Steven McQueen’s third feature is profound, distressing, powerful and deeply moving. It is a sublime film, in that it expresses its meaning exquisitely and unflinchingly through the cinematic medium. At no point does it preach nor sensationalise or sentimentalise its subject matter, choosing subtlety and intimacy over spectacle and scale. Its characters are recognisably human, from the enslaved Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to the moderate Mr Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the loathsome Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). McQueen uses flashbacks and flash forwards, extreme close-ups and his signature long takes to present his subject matter with an extraordinary nous about how much to show and how much to omit. It is the second film to ever make me cry (the first being Captain Phillips), but the first to make me cry twice, with anguish, sorrow and profound empathy. It could be flippantly compared to Django Unchained, but the film it reminds me of most is, perhaps surprisingly, The Shawshank Redemption, one of the best loved films of all time. I hope 12 Years A Slave acquires a similar legacy. See it.
And the nominees are…
On 16 January 2014, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards. I’m sure there will be criticisms and complaints in the coming weeks that nominee X should not have been honoured in favour of snub Y, but as always, the nominees provide an insight into what the Academy like to reward, what are dubbed worthy and who has been able to garner the attention. There were some surprises, both among the inclusions and the omissions, but overall the usual suspects are well represented.There are several remarkable aspects among the nominees, most startlingly the multiple nominations for a David O. Russell film, as for the second consecutive year, his film is nominated in every major category. Just like Silver Linings Playbook last year, American Hustle is nominated for Picture, Achievement in Directing, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, and Screenplay (Original rather than Adapted, as Playbook was). Silver Linings Playbook’s success can be credited at least partially to Harvey Weinstein, but American Hustle was not distributed by The Weinstein Company, whereas one of Weinstein’s major awards hopeful, Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom, only managed a nod for Best Original Song. Perhaps more effort was put into August: Osage County.
Anyway, here are my impressions of the nominees, and my initial predictions. These may change, depending on how other awards go.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
12 Years A Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf Of Wall Street
I wish the Academy members would pick ten nominees as they’ve been able to do since 2009. Surely there was something else that warranted attention (for my money, Saving Mr. Banks is the major omission). Dallas Buyers Club would have been a surprise before the Golden Globes, but now its star has risen. American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf Of Wall Street were all expected, and Nebraska isn’t that surprising, coming from Oscar darling Alexander Payne, but I’m impressed that Her and Philomena got in. Her is science fiction, which hardly ever gets a look in, and Philomena has stirred up controversy with its depiction of the Catholic Church. None are likely to win, however, as the obvious nominees are also the likely winners. With few nominations, Captain Phillips seems unlikely, and the provocative subject matter of The Wolf Of Wall Street is likely to put voters off. It looks like a three horse race at the moment, between American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. I’d love Gravity to pick up Best Picture because it is such an exquisitely cinematic film, but the historical subject matter of the other two contenders is likely to carry more weight (geddit?) than the space thriller. American Hustle, however, is rather flimsy, which works against it, so by process of elimination, and by virtue of it having won the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Award, 12 Years A Slave emerges as the most likely winner.
Prediction: 12 Years A Slave
Best Achievement in Directing
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf Of Wall Street
No surprises here, although I’m disappointed that Paul Greengrass was overlooked. I would like Alfonso Cuarón to pick up an award, as Gravity is a cinematic experience like none other, probably the closest the average cinema-goer is ever likely to get to being in space. With his second consecutive nomination (and third overall, as he was also nominated for The Fighter), David O. Russell might be in with a chance, but I don’t think he is any more likely than Steve McQueen (first nomination) or Martin Scorsese, who previously won for The Departed. Alexander Payne is the outside runner, and I think it will come down to between McQueen and Cuaron. I dare to predict the Academy will agree with me, as Directing can reward superb technical accomplishments even when the film as a whole is not honoured with Best Picture (see Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain, The Pianist, Saving Private Ryan, Traffic), plus Cuarón has already received the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Award.
Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf Of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
There is a host of grand performers here, all of whom have elements working in their favour. Bruce Dern might be a favourite due to his age – at 77 there may not be many nominations ahead for him and he has only once been nominated previously, for Coming Home in 1978. Christian Bale is the only previous winner here, having picked up Supporting Actor win for The Fighter in 2010 (also directed by David O. Russell). While this might work in his favour, his performance is rather unflashy, and the Academy tends to honour more showy performances, especially if the character has to overcome something. Chiwetel Ejiofor is playing a historical figure in an “important” historical film, and white guilt could work in his favour. That said, it is his first nomination which can sometimes work against you. The same is true of Matthew McConaughey, but having won a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice Award and a SAG award he is a front runner, plus he is playing someone suffering from an illness – AIDS no less, which twenty years ago won Tom Hanks his first Oscar for Philadelphia (it’s surprising that Hanks isn’t up for either Captain Phillips or Saving Mr. Banks, but there we go). Leonardo DiCaprio also won a Golden Globe this year, but he is in a comedy, a genre that is rarely honoured with major awards (this is also a mark against Bale). But of all the nominees, he has had the most nominations, this being his third for Best Actor (previously for The Aviator and Blood Diamond) and fourth overall (Supporting Actor for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). Oscars can sometimes be cumulative, and maybe it is DiCaprio’s time. But his role and film are not the type beloved by the Academy, so expect the McConaissance to culminate (but not end) with a golden baldie.
Prediction: Matthew McConaughey
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
This is another very strong group, and a good set of roles for older women. All too often, Hollywood (and beyond) only pays attention to women under forty, but Amy Adams is the only performer of that age (and at 38, she’s getting close). This is Adams’ fifth nomination, but her first for Actress in a Leading Role, having previously been nominated for Supporting Actress in Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter and The Master. She is the only performer here to have not previously won an Oscar, so maybe it is her time. She did get the Golden Globe, but like DiCaprio and Bale, may be hampered by her film being a comedy. A very strong contender is Cate Blanchett, who also got the Golden Globe and was getting Oscar-tipped as soon as Blue Jasmine was released, plus she won the Critics Choice and SAG awards. Blanchett previously won Supporting Actress for The Aviator, a category in which she was also nominated for Notes on a Scandal and I’m Not There, while this is her third nomination for Leading Actress after Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. This could well be her year. The other three have all won, Bullock and Streep very recently, for The Blind Side and The Iron Lady, respectively. Streep has more nominations, seemingly, than anyone, but conversely a very poor success rate. Her role as a crotchety matriarch in August: Osage County may be a little low key for the voters, while Gravity’s technical accomplishments are likely to overshadow Bullock’s performance. Dench has been nominated a few times, including Leading Actress for Mrs Brown, Notes on a Scandal, Iris and Mrs. Henderson Presents, as well as Supporting Actress for Chocolat and a win for her EIGHT MINUTES in Shakespeare In Love. It would be lovely to see her win, but the strong contender at this stage is Blanchett, whose has had the momentum for months.
Prediction: Cate Blanchett
Best Performance by an 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 Buyers Club
Once again, having won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG awards, Jared Leto is a front runner, despite this being his first nomination. Leto as well as Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill are slightly surprising actors to see in Oscar territory as they are not always known for awards films. That said, Hill was previously nominated for Moneyball, while Cooper was up for Best Actor in a Leading Role last year for Silver Linings Playbook. These second nominations make these two actors more nominated than other, more obvious performers, such as Gary Oldman and, indeed, Michael Fassbender. This is actually Fassbender’s first nomination, despite his dominating performances in such films as Shame, Prometheus and Inglourious Basterds. He’s playing the sort of vile villain that sometimes attracts Oscar attention, while newcomer Barkhad Abdi is a very welcome presence. A year ago, no one had heard of this guy, and now he’s going to the Oscars, what a thrill! Captain Phillips has relatively few nominations, so this is probably its best chance for a win, but on the night, I think the Academy is more likely to go the same way as the Globes and the Critics.
Prediction: Jared Leto
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska
This is an interesting bunch, with previous winners of the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar, Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts, up against newcomers Lupita Nyong’o and June Squibb. Sally Hawkins is an established presence, but this is also her first nomination. Sometimes, first timers can do well, such as Octavia Spencer in The Help, but big stars in supporting roles often do well, so this is likely to come down to Roberts and Lawrence. Lawrence got the Globe, but Nyong’o got the Critics Choice Award as well as the SAG award, and the members of SAG will also be members of AMPAS, so the newcomer may surpass the established.
Prediction: Lupita Nyong’o
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
American Hustle – Eric Singer, David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen
Her – Spike Jonze
Nebraska – Bob Nelson
Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Writing awards as often go to films that don’t win anything else to those that do, so it’s fairly open. I think David O. Russell is more likely to pick up this award than Directing, and never count Woody Allen out. Alexander Payne has picked up screenplay awards for Sideways and The Descendants, respectively, so could be in with a good chance here. Hard to say.
Prediction: American Hustle
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Before Midnight – Richard Linklater
Captain Phillips – Billy Ray
12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
Philomena – Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Adapted Screenplay and Picture often go together (see Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country For Old Men, The Departed), so Before Midnight is unlikely here. The other four are all true stories, making them strong contenders in this category as well as Best Picture. While Steve McQueen is not a sure thing for Directing, the historical significance of a true story of survival and courage gives him a very good chance of winning here, whereas the controversy around Philomena may make voters anxious. The hedonism and debauchery of The Wolf of Wall Street might offend conservative sensibilities, but Captain Phillips is a tale of true life heroism, which makes it a strong contender. Come the night, expect this to go to one of the tales of courage.
Prediction: 12 Years A Slave
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
Frozen has been almost universally praised and already picked up the Golden Globe as well as the Critics Choice Award. I see no reason for it not to continue its winning ways.
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
The only one of these I have heard of is The Hunt, so go Denmark!
Prediction: The Hunt
Best Documentary, Feature
The Act Of Killing
Cutie And The Boxer
20 Feet From Stardom
People sometimes deride the Academy for being very conservative and not rewarding films that are willing to take risks. While there is justification for this criticism, to see The Act of Killing included in this list of nominees is very positive. By all accounts, the film is harrowing beyond belief, and while that might negate its chances of winning, the genre of documentary arguably exists to challenge and, when necessary, provoke. I hope it does well.
Prediction: The Act of Killing
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
The Book Thief – John Williams
Gravity – Steven Price
Her – William Butler and Owen Pallet
Philomena – Alexadre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
Scores are a difficult business because at their best, they neither overpower the drama nor are unnoticeable, synchronising perfectly with the mood of the images. John Williams has more awards than you can shake a conductor’s baton at, and Alexandre Desplat has done nicely as well. There’s a nice spread among these nominees which makes it hard to pick one, but since this is the only nomination for Saving Mr. Banks, I’d like to see some love that way.
Prediction: Saving Mr. Banks
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
“Alone Yet Not Alone” – Alone Yet Not Alone
“Happy” – Despicable Me 2 (Pharrell Williams)
“Let It Go” – Frozen (Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
“The Moon Song” – Her (Karen O. and Spike Jonze)
“Ordinary Love” – Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (U2)
Tough call, as the criteria for song are less obvious than other categories. I fondly remember U2 performing “Hands That Built America” back in 2003, and it’d be great for them to pick up an award (they did not previously). Then again, there was a time when Disney was unbeatable in the music stakes, and Frozen by many accounts is a return to form. Why not let it continue?
Prediction: “Let It Go”
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
All Is Lost
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
It’s disappointing not to see Rush in here, as that had some of the most exhilarating sound I’ve heard in ages. But the sound of the sea, storms, boats and man was a great feature of All Is Lost, so that is good to see here. Similarly, a great cacophony is heard in Captain Phillips, while Gravity makes great use of sound and also silence. I think Gravity is going to be the big winner in technical categories rather than “artistic”, so expect this award to gravitate towards the space tale.
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Apparently, the voice of Smaug was created through multiple layers of Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. If that’s not impressive sound mixing, I don’t know what is. Any film involving music is a good bet in the sound categories (see Les Miserables from last year), so that speaks well of Inside Llewyn Davis. As in Sound Editing, Captain Phillips and Gravity are strong contenders, so it really is hard to pick one. But since it isn’t likely to win much else, and it’s a fascinating fusion of human talent and technological wizardy, let’s go for the hobbity-tosh.
Prediction: The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
The Great Gatsby
12 Years A Slave
Historical dramas are often a good bet in this category, so that bodes well for American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave and The Great Gatsby, the last of which has the added bonus of being hugely concerned with design, sets and production. But it was a while ago – when I saw it nominated my first thought was “Wasn’t that up last year?” Her is an interesting choice, but not a likely winner. The production design of Gravity treads that fine line between sets and special effects, as it is often not clear whether the surroundings are physical are not. However, the very fact that it is in the category means that the production design has impressed the Academy members, so that impression may well lead to winning votes.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Grandmaster – Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity – Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis – Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska – Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners – Roger Deakins
Please, let this be the year that Roger Deakins wins an Oscar! The man is an absolute genius with a camera and cinematography is the one thing that cannot be faulted in the otherwise deeply flawed Prisoners. This is Deakins’ 11th nomination and he has never won, and he really should just for staying power. But I highly doubt it, because cinematography has become the province of 3D. From Avatar to Hugo to Life of Pi, 3D is what impresses the cinematographers of AMPAS, and I see no reason for this trend to not continue.
Best Achievement in Makeup And Hair
Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger
It is quite baffling that American Hustle has been left out of this category, since the hair is one of the most overt features in the film. In its absence, and with the rather weird appearances of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger, this seems a winner by default. Healthy men are turned into AIDS victims in Dallas Buyers Club; that has to be worth something.
Prediction: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Achievement in Costume Design
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years A Slave
Better to see American Hustle here, as the costumes are almost as important as the hair. Costume dramas, unsurprisingly, tend to dominate this category, but once again I think the time since The Great Gatsby was released will work against it. 12 Years A Slave is a decent contender here, but bear in mind that most of its costumes look (which does not mean they are) simple: shifts and dresses, shirts and breeches. The Invisible Woman is the epitome of costume drama, not only Dickensian but actually features Dickens himself, so I think it has a very good chance of winning.
Prediction: The Invisible Woman
Best Achievement in Film Editing
12 Years a Slave – Joe Walker
American Hustle – Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
Captain Phillips – Christopher Rouse
Dallas Buyers Club – Martin Pensa, John Mac McMurphy
Editing is the silver bullet that often leads to Best Picture, but not always. This is because the dominant filmmaking practice in Hollywood is that films are made in the editing room, so no matter how much work is done on location or on soundstages, the editing room is where the film is truly assembled, and then reassembled and trimmed and reconsidered and tweaked and adjusted before finally being released. Therefore, it is no surprise that all the nominees for Editing are also Best Picture nominees. One of the complaints about The Wolf of Wall Street is that it is too long, and to see Thelma Schoonmaker omitted from this category perhaps indicates a similar feeling among the Academy members. Therefore, I think the tussle for Editing will come down to those jockeying for Picture and Directing, leaving Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club out. While American Hustle and Gravity both demonstrate accomplished editing, on the night the combined force of Editing and Adapted Screenplay will be key to 12 Years A Slave’s victory.
Prediction: 12 Years A Slave
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
Ah yes, the blockbuster award. Every film in this category is a blockbuster, with only one also being a prestige film. That’s Gravity, in case you’ve dozed off by now. Iron Man 3 does a lot of good work in combining purely digital creations with integrating the human and the digital, while The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug creates fantastic creatures including but not limited to the titular dragon. Star Trek Into Darkness often looks completely digital, but does a decent amount of practical effects as well, which still have bearing and merit, it must be said. But I see this one going to the technical triumph of this year, which is going to win plenty, though not everything. OK, you can go back to sleep now.
Best Documentary – Short Subject
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days Of Private Jack Hall
Best Live Action Short Film
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything?)
The Voorman Problem
Best Animated Short Film
Get A Horse!
Room On The Broom
I know nothing about any of these, so have no opinion.
My Views of 2013 at the Movies
On the twelfth day of Christmas
The movies gave to me
Twelve Enders gaming
Ten victor tributes
Nine iron men
Eight men of steel
Seven rushing racers
Six piney places
And Osama Bin Laden.
That was my top twelve of 2013, but I’m just getting started, as my post for Twelfth Night is my review of 2013, from my limited viewing record. I thought it would be fun to rank and rate every theatrical release of 2013 that I saw, with divisions within them.
A known story that nonetheless pulls you in, taught direction that turns a cold gaze on shadowy events, and a final hour that had my shoulders clenched throughout.
Gripping, frightening, believable and moving. The first film to move me to tears!
Political history comes to life through measured direction that allows stunning performances to dazzle and delight.
The experience of cinema has rarely been so terrifying, gut-clenching and astounding.
Saving Mr. Banks
Touching, moving, charming, funny and a wonderful companion piece to Mary Poppins.
The blue-collar equivalent of gangster epics like Heat and The Departed, fresh and surprising in its narrative structure.
Fabulous charisma meets steely calculation in visceral, terrifying races.
One of the best representations of super powers I’ve seen, combining the fear, exhilaration and plausibility of extraordinary abilities and the choices of those who possess them.
A brilliant portrayal of PTSD as part of a new exploration of heroism.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
From children’s games to a growing rebellion, things get darker, deadlier and better.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
A further development of Middle Earth with possibly the greatest dragon ever committed to film.
Wonderfully realised science fiction that convincingly goes to strange dark places.
Abrams repackages The Wrath of Khan for a new audience, delighting them while seriously hacking off the original fans. Must have done something right.
A hypnotic, mesmerising vision of a mad, bad world.
Fast, smart and with more twists than a corkscrew, Danny Boyle puts the fractured mind on screen.
Gorgeous, lyrical, sober and moving. Malick does it again.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller makes himself and the world around him beautiful and mysterious all at once.
Thor: The Dark World
One of the year’s funniest films, which balances its laughs with thrills and spills aplenty.
Guillermo Del Toro demonstrates again why he is a master of the fantastic.
Could have been better
Atmospheric, gruelling, thought-provoking. A disappointing final act detracts but does not completely negate two hours of superb intensity.
Majestic, sprawling, grand, indulgent. When Tarantino reins it in he delivers genius. If only he would do that more often.
The music was great! The film, wasn’t. So many great elements, but perhaps too much reverence for the source material.
Jack the Giant Slayer
A furiously fun fairy tale.
A touching if twee tale of time travel.
Sleek and bleak sci-fi.
Much Ado About Nothing
A decent comedy of misunderstandings. What else has the writer done?
Hopelessly cheesy but in an enjoyable way.
The World’s End
A rather damp squib ending to an uproarious trilogy.
When the best part of the film is the foreshadowing of the next one, you know something’s gone badly wrong.
A reminder that sometimes you really don’t need a sequel.
Lives fall apart! And no one gets excited. Mental health is a serious issue! And we’re going to cheapen it. Drug companies and medical ethics are really complicated! But more importantly, lesbians are really dangerous to patriarchy! Oh, go away.
Not focused, not funny, not worth it.
Turkey of the Year
So many interesting ideas; a complete lack of exploration. An unconvincing future world and no discernible tension.