Friday, February 28, 2014

Mel’s Oscar Crystal Ball

By Melissa Agar

It’s finally here – the night I’ve been anxiously awaiting for weeks. Oscar Night is my Super Bowl/World Series/Olympics all rolled up into one bloated, borderline smug ceremony. I’ll spend Sunday curled up on my couch with my ballot, waiting to see how many obscure categories I was able to call and how many times I miss the mark. I’ll giggle along with Ellen, miss the pre-show Barbra Walters special, and get to bed much later than I probably should, but it’s worth it to spend the evening celebrating something I love – movies.

And so here are my predictions for the top categories this year. I’ve listed both who/what I think will win and also who/what I would vote for if I were a member of the Academy (if only!). Perhaps this will give you a leg-up in your own Oscar pool, but I accept no responsibility if I sink you completely! (Full disclosure: my record is pretty decent, although this is a particularly tough year.)


The Wolf of Wall Street
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
12 Years a Slave

WHO WILL WINMy gut tells me that 12 Years a Slave has it in the bag and probably has since its release last fall. It is a solid film, to be sure, and will lend a little bit of gravitas to the evening.

WHO SHOULD WINConfession time: I wasn’t that crazy about 12 Years a Slave. While the film has some very solid performances, it also had tremendous pacing issues that dampened the overall emotional heft of the film. Of course, I still wept like a baby when Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was reunited with his family after 12 years, but the movie did such a poor job of handling the passage of time that it sort of felt like 12 days rather than 12 years. (Thank goodness for a little grey hairspray to make Northup look older!) If I were voting for best film, then, I would cast my ballot for American Hustle. It’s a smart, funny, energetic film that kept me engaged from start to finish. It manages to be both a throwback to Hollywood’s golden era of the 1970s and yet still totally fresh and modern. 


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 WINThis seems to be a two-man race between Ejiofor and McConaughey with DiCapario as a possible spoiler based largely on the groundswell of social media support clamoring for Leo to finally win an Oscar. Ultimately, though, my gut tells me that Ejiofor will walk away with the trophy Sunday night. He gives a powerful, understated performance that drives 12 Years a Slave

WHO SHOULD WINAs much as I liked Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years a Slave (my issues with the film had nothing to do with his performance whatsoever, and his performance actually made me like the film more than I maybe would have), I would cast my vote for McConaughey. This has nothing to do with my nearly 20-year adoration of the normally handsome actor but rather a total appreciation for the risk he took to break from that rom-com stoner vibe he allowed his career to fall into and to prove that he can actually act. His performance in Dallas Buyers Club is staggering to behold – painful, conflicted, and tremendous. He finds the many shades in Ron Woodroof – both sympathetic and unlikable. It’s a masterful performance.


Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

WHO WILL WINThis seems like one of the more wide-open categories this season, although Blanchett has won many of the pre-Oscar awards, including the Golden Globe last month. The question becomes whether or not the renewal of the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow feud/accusations will result in Blanchett becoming collateral damage. Will a Blanchett win become a tacit Hollywood endorsement of Allen?  Or am I overthinking this whole thing? I’m putting my money on Blanchett largely because I also think that she SHOULD WIN as well. Her brittle, damaged Jasmine was a thing of beauty on screen and doesn’t deserve to be mixed up in a decades old scandal. If the backlash affects Blanchett, though, I suspect Bullock will get her second Oscar for her work in Gravity. Her work there is lovely, particularly when you consider how much of it is spent alone.


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 WINLeto has largely swept the pre-Oscar awards, and he’ll conclude the season with another win. His performance provides Dallas Buyers Club with large amounts of its heart, and his sensitive, drug addicted Rayon is a masterful performance worthy of all the accolades.

WHO SHOULD WINI’d cast my vote for Leto, too, although I really loved Hill’s work in Wolf. I have a feeling that guy’s time is coming eventually.


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 WINWhile this may seem like a two-woman race between Lawrence and Nyong’o, I have a feeling the Academy will go with the newcomer, particularly since Lawrence just won last year. Nyong’o is a newcomer, and the Academy loves to reward that, too. Her performance helps underscore the brutality of 12 Years a Slave and is the one you cannot forget after seeing the film. Even if the Academy doesn’t reward the film in the other major categories, I suspect this is the place where they can’t ignore the film.

WHO SHOULD WINAs much as I admired Nyong’o’s work in 12 Years a Slave, I have to say that I would cast my vote for Lawrence. Her work in American Hustle was exhilarating and haunting and something I’m still talking about months later.


David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorcese, The Wolf of Wall Street

WHO WILL WINThere are some pretty impressive names and some pretty impressive films on this list this year. I suspect that many will go down as some of the best films of this decade. The work that Cuaron did in Gravity, though, is something in a class by itself. He brought outer space to life in a way that has never really been done before.  The film is largely a directorial feat. He will win because he SHOULD WIN


American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club

WHO WILL WINThis is where American Hustle has the best shot at a big ticket Oscar. Screenplay is often where the Academy rewards films that may be too “edgy” to take home Best Picture. This is the bone that was tossed to Pulp Fiction, Fargo, The Usual Suspects, Almost Famous, Little Miss Sunshine – all films that should have been stronger contenders for Best Picture but were too indy or niche for the wider Academy demographic. It’s a decent consolation prize for Russell as he bides his time for greater Oscar glory.

WHO SHOULD WINAs much as I love American Hustle (and I do – I stand by my assertion that it was the best film of 2013), I would cast my vote for Her. Spike Jonze is a visionary, creative voice in contemporary American cinema, and it’s time for the Academy to recognize that. Her is a truly creative script – the very definition of “original.” 


Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

WHO WILL WINWith 12 Years a Slave being a frontrunner for best picture, you have to think it is the frontrunner here, too. I don’t know how much my pacing complaints have to do with the script (and I may be the only one who has them), and there were some flashback elements that I found a little disconcerting, but this is a way for the Academy to recognize an important film.

WHO SHOULD WINI would not cast my vote for 12 Years. I do think that a lot of my issues with the film are largely rooted in the script – the pacing, the flashback, the muddy exposition, characters who appear with little explanation and then disappear with a sense that we should care but can’t because we’re still trying to figure out who they are. (Wow – the longer I write this article, the less I like 12 Years a Slave.) This year was a much stronger year for original screenplays, although there are some strong films on this list. I was amongst the group of critics who liked and admired The Wolf of Wall Street and a lot of that affection lies with the script that was sardonic, ironic, and flat out funny. That’s where I would cast my vote, although there would be something beautiful about Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy finally getting some recognition for their lovely Before trilogy.

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