The Academy Awards are bigger than the Super Bowl, Christmas, New Years Eve, A Royal Wedding, a Royal Funeral, Election Night, the actual Big Bang (and most definitely The Big Bang Theory) and the birth of your own or anyone else's child. The only thing more important than the Academy Awards is…my opinion of the Academy Awards.
Okay, that last paragraph contained some hyperbole, but 'tis the season. So, let me re-phrase the previous paragraph and inject a wee bit more honesty into it.
No one really cares about the Academy Awards unless they are nominated for one, and even fewer people than that care about my opinion of the Academy Awards. But will that stop me from pontificating about the Oscars? No way!! it is every American's right…nay…RESPONSIBILITY…to take an interest in and have an opinion about the Oscars. What follows is my duty as an upstanding citizen of the great People's Republic of Hollywood.
Click on the film titles for my in depth reviews of the films.
BEST ACTOR NOMINEES
Christian Bale - American Hustle. I think American Hustle is a pretty bad movie. I also think Christian Bale has been much better in other things. He is a very good actor, but I felt his performance, along with the film, wasn't particularly strong.
Bruce Dern - Nebraska. I thought Bruce Dern was pivotal in keeping 'Nebraska' from veering off into the land of self-adoring quirkiness. His acting work here is stellar and saves the film from itself.
Leonardo DiCaprio- The Wolf of Wall Street. I have always found Leonardo DiCaprio to be a bit disappointing as an actor. He always seems to be pushing so hard in every film he makes. You see it on his face, he presses and pushes so hard that his brow is in a permanent furrow. That said, he has been great before. His performance in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" was really remarkable. He was also very good in "Catch Me If You Can". The key to his performance in that film was the script called for him to play at 'acting grown-up', which is what I felt he had been doing in his other films. For me, his performances always had the whiff of 'kids playing dress-up and doing a show in the basement' type of feel to them. With all that said, Leo is truly awesome in "Wolf of Wall Street". Besides "Gilbert Grape", it is by far the best performance of his career. His high energy performance style, which rings so hollow to me elsewhere, fits perfectly with the coked up wall street hustler character that he plays in this film.
Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave. "12 years a Slave" is a brilliant film and Chiwetel Ejiofor is brilliant in it. Without him the film may not have succeeded artistically. His work avoids all the pitfalls that could have easily trapped a lesser talent. He never succumbs to sentimentality, or defiant nobility, which so many might have done, instead, he simply shows a man's struggle to survive. It is a work of great craft and skill.
Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club. I know everyone is enamored with Matthew McConaughey and his recent renaissance, but consider me unconvinced. I find it hard to buy into an actor when he spends the last fifteen years churning out some of the worst, absolute horseshit films and performances imaginable. And then he simply does his job in an actual real film and everyone trips over themselves to say how amazing he is. Yes, he lost weight to play the part. But hasn't McConaughey always been a "body" actor? Isn't this just more of the same? Instead of showing off his abs, now he's showing off his skinny. Instead of changing physically, how about he does some actual, you know, acting work. And while we're at it…think of this…could McConaughey have played this part if it was the New York buyers club? Or the San Francisco buyers club? Isn't this performance just one more charming-quirky-Texan-takes-on-the-world type roles that he usually plays? I think his performance in the film "Mud", also out this year, was significantly better than his "Dallas Buyers Club" performance. I would have been more impressed if he had played the Jared Leto role in "Dallas Buyers Club", that would have taken some courage. I do hope he continues to choose more challenging roles and films, but his performance here is all smoke and mirrors, and I prefer meat and potatoes when it comes to a leading actor.
WHO WINS: I hate to say it but it seems like this is McConaughey's year.
WHO SHOULD WIN: DiCaprio and Dern both give Oscar caliber performances, but Chiwetel Ojiofor is who should really win.
BEST ACTRESS NOMINEES
Amy Adams - American Hustle. Amy Adams is great in "American Hustle", which is saying something considering how much I disliked the film. She shows a genuine vulnerability and desperation that she has never shown in a film before. It is the best she has ever been.
Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine. "Blue Jasmine" is not a good movie. But Cate Blanchett is absolutely astounding in the lead role. She takes what could have been a cartoon character and fills her with a profound humanity. She also grounds her 'mental illness' in a reality, which makes it all the more heart breaking. A stunning performance.
Sandra Bullock - Gravity. Sandra Bullock does a very good job in "Gravity". I can only imagine how difficult it was to work while shooting this film. She does as well as you can expect. The film isn't really about her though, it is more about the stuff around her.
Judi Dench - Philomena. This is one of the few nominated films I haven't seen. That said, Judi Dench is one of the wonders of the world. She is always so good, no matter how big or small the part, or how good or bad the film. She is a master craftswoman without a doubt.
Meryl Streep - August: Osage County. Ok. Meryl Streep is….Meryl Streep. She is amazing. I could watch her do anything…well almost anything. This movie is a steaming pile of excrement. Streep's performance may have been great, but she has no director to help her bring it out. I cannot believe I am saying this, but Meryl Streep has no business being nominated for an Oscar for this film. Yuck.
WHO WINS? I think Cate Blanchett wins. Woody Allen actresses have always faired pretty well on Oscar night. Amy Adams has an outside shot, you never know.
WHO SHOULD WIN? I would give it to Cate Blanchett. I really found her performance to be substantially better than everyone else.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR NOMINEES
Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips. Captain Phillips is a well made film. Abdi is very good in it. Without him the film would be in deep trouble.
Bradley Cooper - American Hustle. Again, my dislike of this film is deep. I am again, baffled as to why Cooper is nominated. A lot of things baffle me. Like, why didn't he have a New York accent? Is that asking too much?
Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender is spectacular in this film. He takes a difficult role, and brings it to life with a sense of perverted humanity. He is in love with one of his slaves. So, his brutality is his distorted way of expressing his love. It is a fantastic performance which could have been a disaster in lesser hands.
Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street. Jonah Hill is pretty great in "Wolf of Wall Street". He perfectly captured the essence of so many guys that I used to work with while I was on Wall Street back in the day. It was so good it was more than a little creepy.
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club. I find this filmed terribly flawed, but Leto is easily the best part of it. He jumps into the part, full throttle and gives a semblance of depth to a rather two dimensionally written character.
WHO WINS? It looks like Jared Leto. Hollywood loves to reward these types of films and these types of performances.
WHO SHOULD WIN? Michael Fassbender should most definitely win. His work is stellar in a very difficult and complex part.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINEES
Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine. I thought "Blue Jasmine" was not great, but that Cate Blanchett was great in it. I wasn't very impressed with Sally Hawkins performance. It's not her fault, the character felt poorly written and incomplete.
Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle. Just to be clear…I didn't like this movie…at all. Jennifer Lawrence is an incredibly beautiful, charming and appealing presence in all of her films, and in life for that matter. But I found her to be not very good in this part. It feels like she is getting by on her beauty and charm, as opposed to doing the work. Again, her accent is all over the place, at least when she tries to do one. And she seems completely detached from the time period of the film. Her work in "Winters Bone" was jaw dropping, her work here is paint by numbers.
Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave. Again…I loved this film. A true work of genius. And the film doesn't work without Nyong'o's performance. She is vital to film. Her work is so good that it feels foolish comparing it to the other nominated performances.
Julia Roberts - August: Osage County. Why is Julia Roberts nominated? The film is atrociously awful. Her performance is entirely forgettable. The entire film is just a tremendous waste of a great casts talents and efforts.
June Squibb - Nebraska. June Squibb is the sassy old lady in "Nebraska". I actually thought she almost ruined the movie. I don't blame her, she didn't write it. But her over the top performance nearly derails the entire picture.
WHO WINS? I actually think Jennifer Lawrence wins. There is an outside shot Lupita Nyong'o wins. But everyone loves J-Law. And why shouldn't they? It feels like she's the most popular girl in school right now. She may be due for a backlash (Hollywood is a real bitch!!), but it's not happening any time soon.
WHO SHOULD WIN? Lupita Nyong'o. Easily. She is fantastic.
BEST DIRECTOR NOMINEES
David O. Russell - American Hustle. Okay…once again…I do not like this film. Have I told you that yet? I think Russell is the one to blame. He has a great cast, a great idea and yet he creates nothing more than a cheap, shallow, lazy piece of work. Russell's current run of three directing Oscar nominations is one of the great mysteries of my life time. To quote Spinal Tap, this mystery is "best left unsolved really".
Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity. This film is a technical masterpiece. While I found it oddly forgettable afterwards, I was totally riveted while watching it. Cuaron is a master craftsmen, and he shows off his skill with this picture.
Alexander Payne - Nebraska. Payne can be hit or miss at times. He hit with "About Schmidt" and missed with "The Descendants". While "Nebraska" isn't his greatest work, he is closer to hitting here than missing.
Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave. I love Steve McQueen as a filmmaker. I loved his first two films, "Hunger" and "Shame" and I love "12 Years a Slave". He is uncompromising towards his audience. He never, ever lets his films slip into the abyss of sentimentality.
Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street. Martin Scorsese is a true genius. His filmography is as great as any director who has ever lived. "The Wolf of Wall Street" doesn't come close to comparing to his earlier work like "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas", but it is without a doubt the best film he has made in the last twenty years.
WHO WINS? I think it is either Cuaron or McQueen. I give the edge to Cuaron. Hollywood loves those types of films, and I think they don't really love McQueen. God help me if David O. Russell wins. I think his middle initial "O" may stand for the "Oh No!!!!" I scream when he wins.
WHO SHOULD WIN? Steve McQueen. Without question.
BEST PICTURE NOMINEES
American Hustle. Okay..I absolutely adored this film!! Wait, no I didn't. I really didn't like this film at all. Have I told you that before? Everytime I type that I dislike the film more and more. Did I tell you I watched the film twice? I did. Twice. I had to make sure that it was as awful as I thought it was. Mission accomplished.
Captain Phillips. Paul Greengrass directed one of my favorite films, "Bloody Sunday", back in the late 90's , early 2000's. I highly recommend you see it. It is a master work. It stayed with me for weeks after I watched it. I found his newest work, "Captain Phillips" to be a well made yet pretty empty film. Much like "Zero Dark Thrity", it felt more like an exercise in propaganda for American Exceptionalism than it did a piece of dramatic storytelling. It is interesting if for no other reason than Tom Hanks is both awful and fantastic in it. His 'accent' is distractingly terrible and unneeded, that's the awful part. The great part? Well…there is one scene in the film which is the best scene Tom Hanks has ever done in front of a camera. That is saying something considering he has two Best Actor Oscars on his mantle.
Dallas Buyers Club. I was really excited for the first forty minutes of "Dallas Buyers Club". It was a very intense and intimate film, and Matthew McConaughey was really great in it. Then the film quickly shifted gears and became little more than a Movie of the Week for the next hour and a half. Very disappointing, if for no other reason than the first forty minutes are so tantalizingly good and gave us a glimpse of what might have been.
Gravity. A well crafted and entertaining film that I found totally forgettable the second I walked out of the theater. That doesn't mean it isn't any good. It just means…it is what it is.
Her. I really liked "Her". I thought it was an original and challenging film. I thought Joaquin Phoenix proved once again that he is so good that he is actually redefining what acting is. I realize not many people share these opinions with me. But I still loved the film.
Nebraska. A very good movie. Dern is fantastic. The black and white looks beautiful and helps tell the story. Worth watching, but not a Best Picture type of movie.
Philomena. I am sad to report that I have not seen "Philomena". I am a bad person.
12 Years a Slave. The best film of the year.
The Wolf of Wall Street. The best film of the second half of Scorsese's career. Interesting and dynamic. Also has Leonardo DiCaprio giving one of the best performances of his career. The critics who argue it is a tribute to greed and decadence don't get it, and probably never will.
WHO WINS? This is tough…I think it is a three man race between "American Hustle", "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave". God help us if "American Hustle" wins. I may go on a rampage…HULK SMASH!!
WHO SHOULD WIN? "12 years a Slave" is the best film of the year to me. I think in ten years it will also be the only film besides "The Wolf of Wall Street" that anyone will watch or talk about.
And, please, no betting or wagering on the Academy Awards!! This is the holiest of holies and should not be sullied by the baser instincts of man.
Thus concludes my duties. Go in peace and enjoy the 2014 Academy Awards!!
Oh, and for the first time ever, we have comments here on the blog. So feel free to comment below.