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My Analysis of the 2013 Oscar nominees

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All right. Let’s get down to brass tacks. I’ve already said what’s getting nominated. Now the question is…what’s winning, who SHOULD (in my unhumble opinion) win, and who got left out? So here we go.

Best Picture:
– American Hustle
– Captain Phillips
– Dallas Buyers Club
– Gravity
– Her
– Nebraska
– Philomena
– 12 Years a Slave
– The Wolf of Wall Street

What Will Win: Given that, traditionally, nominations for Director, Screenplay, and Editing are all required to win, this comes down to American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. Gravity tied with Hustle for the most nominations (10), so you can argue it’s a three-way race–but more on that later. American Hustle has won just two Best Picture awards so far (the Musical/Comedy Golden Globe and the New York Film Critics Circle), while 12 Years and Gravity have both won multiple Best Picture awards–12 Years has won more, for what it’s worth. There are several major awards left before the Oscars, so let’s not call it over just yet, but my guess is 12 Years a Slave wins. (UPDATE: Since the Producer’s Guild tied between Gravity and 12 Years, and the Director’s Guild went for Gravity, I think this is now a Gravity-12 Years race. I give 12 Years the edge in this category. American Hustle won the SAG Ensemble Award, but I don’t think it’s going to go all the way here.)
What Should Win: 12 Years a Slave. It’s an amazing film–not perfect, but a passion project in the best sense of the word, an unflinching depiction of the horrors of slavery, a showcase for some superb acting, and an example of how an important, prestigious film can also be vital and compelling. Much as I love some of the films here (it’s a strong lineup), it’s a perfect choice.
What Should Have Been: Most people will immediately say Inside Llewyn Davis got screwed over, but since I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, I’ll instead root for Prisoners, one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a while, a film that tackles the issues of vigilante justice and justice vs. the law in a dramatically compelling fashion, and one of the most overwhelmingly bleak big studio films out there. It never really had a chance, which is a damn shame. It would be so much better than Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Director:
– Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
– Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
– Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
– David O. Russell (American Hustle)
– Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Who Will Win: Cuarón. The acclaim for the film, its level of technical ambition, and the strength of his career–including Children of Men, which he didn’t get a Best Director nomination for, yet which was hugely acclaimed itself–I would be truly shocked if he didn’t pull it off. Maybe Russell could take it, or McQueen could as part of a 12 Years sweep, but I think both are longshots. (UPDATE: Cuaron won the Director’s Guild Award. That puts a lid on it.)
Who Should Win: McQueen. When I saw the film for the first time, and the attempted hanging scene happened, with that agonizingly long shot of Solomon standing on his toes, while the other slaves go about their business, trying not to notice, I thought “Game over. Give him the Oscar.” And I still think that. What McQueen does so well here is mix brutality with banality–in the foreground of one shot, a group of women are handling cotton and humming, to drown out the sounds of the whipping taking place in the background. And when the brutality is brought front and center–Patsey’s climactic whipping–McQueen doesn’t flinch. He may not always show, but the impact of the moment is not dulled.
Who Should Have Been Here: I love Nebraska, but Payne’s direction isn’t really nomination-worthy. And while he does a solid job here, I don’t think Russell really deserved it either. Spike Jonze for Her, Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips–those would have been much stronger picks.

Best Actor:
– 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)

Who Will Win: Honestly, we still have the SAG awards to come. I think that’ll help us a great deal. Until then…Bale has already won, and a lot of people seem to be down on his performance (I don’t know why; he was easily the best part of the film for me), so I think he’s out, barring a massive Hustle sweep. Dern is the veteran, but he’s only won a couple of awards (and Cannes, to be fair). I think he’s a longshot as well. DiCaprio has the Globe, and this is his 4th nomination in 20 years, and then liked the film more than I expected them to…I’m not sold on him winning, but it could definitely happen. Ejiofor and McConaughey have both won a ton. McConaughey has the Hollywood veteran advantage, but Ejiofor has the bigger film behind him. So…I’m thinking they’ll go McConaughey, but until SAG weighs in, I’m not committing to it. (UPDATE: Obviously, McConaughey won SAG. He’s probably winning this.)
Who Should Win: I go Ejiofor. Bale is great, but he’s won and I’m not a fan of the film. Dern is great–he doesn’t need it. DiCaprio is really good–but I honestly think he’s been better. Maybe a second viewing would change my opinion, but for now, no. And McConaughey was better in Mud and Wolf. He’s okay here, but I said and stand by my argument that his performance is mostly weight loss. Beyond that, it’s just a decent performance, nothing more. Ejiofor, though, has to run a massive emotional gamut, from confusion and terror, to despair, to resourcefulness…and he does it brilliantly. Maybe the performance is more reactive than I’d like, but I feel better about him as a winner than any of the others.
Who Should Have Been Here: Joaquin Phoenix. Not even a question. I think his performance was better than DiCaprio’s, I thought he got shafted last year, I think his film got shafted in Directing and Acting…he should’ve been here. I like Oscar Isaac, and though his Llewyn Davis performance didn’t stun me, I’d rather see him here than McConaughey. Tom Hanks from Captain Phillips–Hanks has already won twice, but he was really good there. Tye Sheridan was brilliant in Mud, but that film, unfortunately, was largely forgotten by the awards groups.

Best Actress:
– Amy Adams (American Hustle)
– Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
– Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
– Judi Dench (Philomena)
– Meryl Streep (August Osage County)

Who Will Win: Blanchett. Bullock would if she hadn’t won in 2009 (a win which I think annoyed quite a few people). Adams might, but most of her awards have been ensemble awards or comedy-specific awards. Dench is great, but…I’m not sure it works as a winner. Streep’s last win upset quite a few (which she herself acknowledged), plus August Osage County‘s reviews are quite mixed. Everything points to Blanchett. (UPDATE: She won SAG, too. So there you go.)
Who Should Win: Having not seen Blue Jasmine or Philomena, I’m going with Bullock. When you think about the rollercoaster the character goes through (and some of it strains credulity), and you think about how much she had to sell to make the film work at all, and that it does work as well as it does…I think she earns it.
Who Should Have Been Here: Brie Larson was incredible in Short Term 12. I guess the film was too small to really stand a chance, but tell me she didn’t deserve her first nomination more than Meryl deserved her 18th. I would have loved for Greta Gerwig to get on here for Frances Ha, but let’s not pretend the Globe nomination wasn’t a major achievement in of itself.

Best Supporting Actor:
– 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)

Who Will Win: Leto. He’s won a shit-ton thus far, the role is baity as hell, they liked the film…much as I would love anyone but him to win, I think he’s got it in the bag. But really…in 2013, a straight cisgender male performer playing a gay trans character…I feel like more people should have a problem with that. For me, it’s just an extra reason not to vote for him–the main reason being, he’s not that great in the film. (UPDATE: Leto won SAG. So it goes.)
Who Should Win: Fassbender. Amazing performance here, amazing body of work, and he was snubbed in 2011. I wish I liked the Abdi performance more (he’s good, but kind of one-note), Cooper–no, and Hill is really fun (I’m glad he’s in), but not as good as Fassbender.

Who Should Have Been Here: I don’t know, I heard James Franco was good in Spring Breakers.

Best Supporting Actress:
– Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
– Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
– Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
– Julia Roberts (August Osage County)
– June Squibb (Nebraska)

Who Will Win: Lawrence, with Nyong’o as a significant threat. Lawrence is, if you didn’t know, pretty big right now, is coming off a win, and is in a film with 10 nominations, but Nyong’o has a TON of critics’ awards and other awards from smaller groups. I think they’ll end up taking Lawrence, but Nyong’o could still do it. (UPDATE: Nyong’o won the Screen Actors Guild award. Consider this a near dead heat.)
Who Should Win: Nyong’o, though I hear Roberts is incredible. Admittedly, Nyong’o’s screentime is actually pretty limited, and for my own awards I’ll probably pick someone else, but she would be a better choice than anyone else here: Hawkins is just happy to be there, Lawrence’s performance is MASSIVELY overrated, Roberts has already won, and Squibb…it’s a fun performance, not an award-winning performance. At least Nyong’o is really good when she is in the film.
Who Should Have Been Here: Kaitlyn Dever was insanely good in Short Term 12. Damn shame she didn’t really get any traction. I wouldn’t say Scarlett Johansson needed to be here, but she would’be been a more interesting choice than, say, Hawkins (though she’s apparently good and was passed over in 2008 for Happy-Go-Lucky).

Best Original Screenplay:
– American Hustle
– Blue Jasmine
– Dallas Buyers Club
– Her
– Nebraska

Who Will Win: I’m thinking Her. It got the Globe (and just now, the Critics Choice), it’s been widely acclaimed, it deals with a pretty timely subject in a touching manner…maybe a Hustle sweep could happen, but there was apparently a ton of improvisation going on there. They gave Woody his 16th nomination, but no way is he winning.
Who Should Win: Her. It’s a lovely film, and while I would rather cite the direction, I don’t have that option here. And it’s a really strong script. So is Nebraska, but there’s just a little too much lol-look-at-these-bumpkins material for me to give it the vote. Dallas Buyers Clubbeing here is ridiculous. Hustle and Jasmine…I don’t think so.
What Should Have Been Here: If you wanted to just fill a slot with a veteran nomination, why not the Coens? A Touch of Sin won Best Screenplay at Cannes, and that film is outstanding, but it barely got seen here. Prisoners had a really strong script, too. Certainly more deserving than Buyers Club. I think it’s telling that no one will make a case for Gravity.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
– Before Midnight
– Captain Phillips
– Philomena
– 12 Years a Slave
– The Wolf of Wall Street

Who Will Win: 12 Years. Wolf also apparently had some improv going on (though it’s not that noticeable), and nothing else really stands out as a winner, per se…combine that with the film’s standing as a Best Picture contender and I think it’s the frontrunner.
Who Should Win: I lean more towards Wolf myself, just because I thought the writing stood out more there–12 Years has a fine script, but I think some of the supporting characters are thinly written and we don’t always get a sense of 12 years passing (the film feels more like 5 or 6)–nitpicking, I know, but between two great films with two excellent scripts, I had to pick one or the other. I go Wolf, but 12 Years is a fine choice.
What Should Have Been Here: Since I haven’t seen Before Midnight, I substitute From Up on Poppy Hill on my list, but the other four all make my list. They got this one pretty much right. Some might say Short Term 12, but I think that was an okay script boosted by amazing acting.

Best Cinematography:
– The Grandmaster
– Gravity
– Inside Llewyn Davis
– Nebraska
– Prisoners

Who Will Win: Gravity. They’ve given it to the big 3D film three of the last four years.
Who Should Win: Prisoners. Roger Deakins has been horribly snubbed over the last 20 years (this is his ELEVENTH nomination without a win), the film looks pretty good, AND it’s a great film that was otherwise totally overlooked by the Academy. To be fair, I still haven’t seen The Grandmaster, which might be the best film here in purely visual terms, but I’m sticking with Prisoners unless it blows me away.
What Should Have Been Here12 Years a Slave. It’s more deserving than Nebraska (which is all about the B&W. Compositionally, it’s nothing special). A nod for Her would’ve been nice, but it wasn’t necessary. 

Best Production Design:
– American Hustle
– Gravity
– The Great Gatsby
– Her
– 12 Years a Slave

Who Will Win: The Great Gatsby. The recreation of 20s Manhattan and Long Island should be irresistible.
Who Should Win: This is a pretty weak category. I’ll honestly say, based purely on what’s up on the screen, The Great Gatsby is the best work on here. I love that they nominated Her, but I can’t say it should WIN. Gravity…eh. 12 Years…I’m pretty sure they filmed most of that on existing locations. American Hustle…what production design?
What Should Have Been Here: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The last film was here, the Laketown set alone is win-worthy…I really don’t get how they went with Hustle over this.

Best Costume Design:
– American Hustle
– The Grandmaster
– The Great Gatsby
– The Invisible Woman
– 12 Years a Slave

Who Will Win: Gatsby. 20s costumes, and lots of them. Maybe Hustle sweeps, but I’m not banking on that.
Who Should Win: I…I don’t know. This hasn’t been an especially good costume year, either. 12 Years went realistic, and pulled it off, Gatsby went stylized historical, and…it looked fine. To hell with it. I’ll say 12 Years. The 1974 Gatsby already won this.
What Should Have Been Here: The Hunger Games? 47 Ronin? Saving Mr. Banks? It doesn’t really matter. The Invisible Woman being here makes me think they didn’t really know, either.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
– Dallas Buyers Club
– Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
– The Lone Ranger

Who Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club. Best Picture nominee, and the other two choices are awful.
Who Should Win: Bad Grandpa. Because I want to be able to call a Jackass film an Oscar winner.
What Should Have Been Here: From the longlist…American Hustle, The Hunger Games, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. From anything…12 Years, Rush, Lone Survivor, Prisoners, The Hobbit..

Best Score:
– The Book Thief
– Gravity
– Her
– Philomena
– Saving Mr. Banks

Who Will Win: Gravity. Wall-to-wall music.
Who Should Win: Her. It’s a fine score, and it isn’t intrusive like the Gravity score is.
What Should Have Been Here: All Is Lost. Won the Globe, and I’m sure it’s more worthy than John Williams’ 49th nomination. Plus, Hans Zimmer had one hell of a year, with 12 Years a Slave, Man of Steel, Rush, and even The Lone Ranger. Leaving him off this list is ridiculous. Nebraska apparently wasn’t eligible, which is a damn shame.

Best Song:
“Alone, Yet Not Alone” (Alone Yet Not Alone)
“Happy” (Despicable Me 2)
“The Moon Song” (Her)
“Let It Go” (Frozen)
“Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Who Will Win: This is a tricky category. I want to say “Let It Go” is the frontrunner, but “The Moon Song” is from a Best Picture nominee, and “Ordinary Love” is by U2. So really, this could go to any of those and I wouldn’t be shocked. (Oh, and “Alone, Yet Alone”…yeah, I don’t really know why they nominated it.)
Who Should Win: “The Moon Song” is a good song on its own, but when Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson sing it in the film, it’s a really beautiful moment. “Let It Go” is good, too, but “The Moon Song” is my vote.
What Should Have Been Here: The longlist was pretty dire, aside from the incredible “So You Know What It’s Like” from Short Term 12 and “The Muslims Are Coming!” (from the film of the same name, a documentary about Muslim standup comics in America), which is at least fun. “Please Mr. Kennedy” from Inside Llewyn Davis was up for a Globe; it would’ve been a decent choice, too.

Best Film Editing:
– American Hustle
– Captain Phillips
– Dallas Buyers Club
– Gravity
– 12 Years a Slave

Who Will Win: Most likely Gravity, since it’s short and keeps up the tension throughout.
Who Should Win: 12 Years a Slave clips along really well. But Captain Phillips, especially in the second half, beautifully creates the hellish tension of a hostage negotiation, as tensions and tempers flare up, and even though we know what ultimately happens, the question of just how matters will resolve themselves wracks your nerves until the last second. So it’s my vote.
What Should Have Been Here: Dallas Buyers Club being here is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Thelma Schoonmaker is a living legend, and she helped The Wolf of Wall Street fly by, even at three hours. How she wasn’t nominated is beyond me. And Her had some very nicely blending of past and present, far more interesting than anything American Hustle attempts.

Best Sound Mixing:
– Captain Phillips
– Gravity
– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
– Inside Llewyn Davis

– Lone Survivor

Who Will Win: Gravity will probably sweep the tech categories. If it doesn’t…I don’t know what that would really portend, but it would be a surprise.
Who Should Win: Had I been more enamored of Llewyn Davis I probably would just vote for it here to give it something. But…nah. I’ll say Lone Survivor, since that had a pretty good soundscape.
What Should Have Been Here: All Is Lost. See next category.

Best Sound Editing:
– All Is Lost
– Captain Phillips
– Gravity
– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

– Lone Survivor

Who Will Win: We’ve been over this.
Who Should Win: All Is Lost sounded incredible. At the moment, I don’t recall specifics (other than the sounds of storms and such), I just remember thinking “Damn, this sounds good”. Now, if they’d nominated it in both categories, I could vote for it in Sound Mixing and vote for Lone Survivor here, but they fucked it up.
What Should Have Been HereRush. It’s a Formula One film, which should tell you all you need to know.

Best Visual Effects:
– Gravity
– The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
– Iron Man 3
– The Lone Ranger
– Star Trek Into Darkness

Who Will Win: Gravity.
Who Should Win: Gravity. I’ll give credit where credit is due.
What Should Have Been Here: Pacific Rim. Or Elysium. Anything but The Lone Ranger.

Best Animated Feature:
– The Croods
– Despicable Me 2
– Ernest & Celestine
– Frozen
– The Wind Rises

Who Will Win: I think Frozen is the most likely winner, but consider The Wind Rises a major threat. It’s Miyazaki, after all.

Who Should Win: I’ve only seen Frozen, but in the abstract, I root for The Wind Rises. And Ernest & Celestine sounds interesting. I can’t imagine The Croods or Despicable Me 2 are win-worthy.
What Should Have Been Here: Kind of a weak year for animated films. From the shortlist, Rio: 2096 A Story of Love & Fury sounds quite fascinating. And Monsters University, while not great, is probably better than Despicable Me 2 (I’m biased, though. I got so, so sick of those ads).

Best Foreign Film:
– The Broken Circle Breakdown
– The Great Beauty
– The Hunt
– The Missing Picture
– Omar

Who Will Win: Mads Mikkelsen has some cachet in Hollywood, which might help The HuntThe Great Beauty won the Globe, which might help it. I don’t know, though. This category, unless there’s a really obvious frontrunner, tends to be unpredictable.
Who Should Win: I’ve only seen The Great Beautyand I wasn’t the biggest fan. The Hunt sounds pretty good, though. Broken Circle sounds kind of blah. The Missing Picture is a documentary. Omar also sounds okay. I’ll say The Hunt, but I’m just guessing.
What Should Have Been Here: Unfortunately, China didn’t submit A Touch of Sin. But from the submissions…Neighboring Sounds, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, and Borgman all at least sound good on paper.

To recap:


Picture: 12 Years a Slave

Director: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)

Actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Supporting Actress: Either Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) or Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Original Screenplay: Her

Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave

Cinematography: Gravity

Production Design: The Great Gatsby

Costume Design: The Great Gatsby

Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club

Score: Gravity

Song: “Let It Go” (Frozen)

Film Editing: Gravity

Sound Mixing: Gravity

Sound Editing: Gravity

Visual Effects: Gravity

Animated Feature: Frozen

Foreign Film: The Hunt or The Great Beauty


My Choices:

Picture: 12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

Actress: Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Original Screenplay: Her

Adapted Screenplay: The Wolf of Wall Street

Cinematography: Prisoners

Production Design: The Great Gatsby

Costume Design: 12 Years a Slave

Makeup and Hairstyling: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Score: Her

Song: “The Moon Song” (Her)

Film Editing: Captain Phillips

Sound Mixing: Lone Survivor

Sound Editing: All Is Lost

Visual Effects: Gravity

Animated Feature: The Wind Rises

Foreign Film: The Hunt


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