Its time for the big reveal: my picks for the Oscars! Send me your comments if you don't agree! And I will use the tradition adopted by my more famous peers (well, maybe ‘peer’ is a bit of a stretch) and present who will win, and who should win.
Let’s start with Best Documentary Feature – since I have at least seen more than one of these. This category is a personal, sentimental choice. While ‘The Act of Killing’, which I saw at Telluride in 2012 is a chilling, extraordinary piece of film making, I have to vote for ’20 Feet from Stardom’. This film is about the (primarily black women) background singers who have given us the ‘hooks’ of our lives – those memorable bits of famous songs that stick in our minds. ‘Gimme Shelter’ is my favorite Stones song (and don’t get me started talking about its origin) and Merry Clayton, who is featured in the film, matches Mick lick for lick. OK, not very analytical, but everyone is allowed an emotional favorite. Will win: “The Act of Killing”; should win: “20 Feet from Stardom”.
I telegraphed in my first post that, with two grandchildren, I see many of the films in the Best Animated Feature category: this year all but “Ernest and Celestine’. ‘The Wind Rises’ is a fantastic piece of elegiac, lyrical filmmaking in animate form and is the most creative and beautiful of the films in this category. But ‘Frozen’, with its beautiful music and great Disney animation and storytelling, is the odds on favorite. I won’t be disappointed if ‘Frozen’ wins, but ‘The Wind Rises’ is the better film. Will win: ‘Frozen’; should win: ‘The Wind Rises’.
Now let’s move into the acting categories, and I’ll start with one of the two slam dunks of the year: Best Actor in a Supporting Role. There three truly outstanding performances in this category: Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender and Jered Leto. But, at the end of the day, Leto soars above the others in a haunting, provoking and endearing performance as the transvestite drug addict who becomes the partner and ‘market channel’ in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. Leto is by turns hard and soft, in complete control and completely out of control, the protagonist and the antagonist. You can say that it is easy to dress in drag and create a character – but look at his scenes OUT of drag for the revelation. This one is no contest. Will win: Jered Leto; should win: Jered Leto.
On the other hand, the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category is completely up for grabs. One could say that it is a two-person race between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o – and you would probably be right. But to do so would be to overlook two extraordinary performances that were overshadowed by the leading actors. Sally Hawkins is what MAKES Cate Blanchet work in ‘Blue Jasmine’ – but because Cate has gotten the whole ‘performance of the century’ buzz, Hawkins is overlooked. And June Squibb is pitch perfect, but in a very unlikeable role opposite the real performance of a lifetime by Bruce Dern in ‘Nebraska’. Can we call it a four-way tie and give out more than one Oscar? I guess not, and so the performance by Lupita Nyong’o – more complete, nuanced, significant and deep than Jennifer Lawrence’s -- is worth the one statuette. Will win: Lupita Nyong’o; should win: Jane Squibb for lifetime achievement.
Moving on to Best Actor, I would call this the most difficult category of all, because there are so many outstanding performances – and unlike Best Picture, I think you could easily add two or three more (Redford, Hanks, Hanks, Phoenix). If I stay true to the term ‘best performance’, then I would choose Bruce Dern. His performance in ‘Nebraska’ is truly brilliant, and he owns the screen for two hours. If we focus on ‘best actor’, then I move more to Matthew McConaughey, for he has incorporated body, mind and soul in the creation of an unforgettable character. But how can one ignore what Chiwetel Ejiofor endured to show the dignity under the pain and despair in ’12 Years a Slave’. I could go on at length about all of these, but there has to be one winner. Will win: Matthew McConaughey; should win: Bruce Dern.
In the Best Actress category, both Amy Adams and Sandra Bullock give the best performances of their careers in a year in which Cate Blanchett gave the aforementioned performance of the century. And let’s face it: century tops life. Yes, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep give wonderful performances as well – but we’ve been there/done that with them. I actually think I have to agree with the prevailing wisdom here. Will win: Cate Blanchett; should win: Cate Blanchett.
Now we get to the point of ‘optimizing’. How do you honor more than one extraordinary film, when you can only award one Oscar? You split the vote, of course. The two best films of the year are ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Gravity’. The Academy will want to honor both, and will do so via the time-honored tradition of splitting the vote between Best Director and Best Picture. SO, given the extraordinary technical rigor, creativity, persistence and versatility of his work as a director, Alfonso Cuaron will win the Oscar for Best Director. Will win: Alfonso Cuaron; should win: Alfonso Cuaron.
Which brings us to the big prize: Best Picture. As I just noted, in my mind this is a battle between the grand, industry evolving, thrilling, edge-of-your-seat adventure of ‘Gravity’; and the daring, important, historically significant, beautifully made, acted and directed ’12 Years a Slave’. If considered as the sum of its parts, '12 Years' is truly the best movie of the year – outstanding ensemble performances, compelling storytelling, beautiful cinematography in the service of a brutal story, and a smack you in the face cinematic experience. What is the definition of Best Picture? The one that brings together ALL of the parts of the filmmaking art. And that is what you get in ’12 Years a Slave’, even as it makes you damn uncomfortable. Will win: ’12 Years a Slave’; should win: ’12 Years a Slave’.
OK, there you have it! I welcome your comments and debate – let the games begin. And enjoy Oscar night.