Thoughts on the Oscar nominations

Surely you didn’t think I could go without talking about the Oscar nominations, did you?

So the list contains few surprises for me.  I’m more surprised by a couple of inclusions than any snubs.  Specifically, I’m a little bit surprised to see Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts nominated in the Lead and Supporting actress categories respectively for “August: Osage County.”  For every review of that film I’ve read that liked it, I’ve read two that thought it was a mess, and that the acting was over the top and obvious award bait.  Which I guess the Academy has swallowed.  Oh, well.  You may as well draw a line through both names on your Oscar ballots, though.

Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford and both leads from “Saving Mr. Banks” are considered surprising snubs, but I’m not really raising an eyebrow.  Ms. Winfrey’s momentum has passed, I don’t think Redford generated enough buzz, and both Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson have two Oscars each already.  While those last are (rightly) beloved in Hollywood and beyond, I don’t think either delivered the kind of knock-out performance (based on what I’ve heard) necessary to edge out anyone on the list.  Except Streep, who shouldn’t be there at all.

In the spirit of last year’s predictions, which I made based entirely on factors having nothing to do with my opinions of the performances, I will again make guesses having seen precisely zero of the nominated films.  (My rationale will be the same as last year, so if you want to know my rules of thumb you can find them there.)  As with last year, I’m posting before the SAG Awards, which I consider the most accurate predictor of Oscar winners.  Because I’m just that brave.

Let’s start with Best Actor.  I’m going go out on a limb a bit and guess it’s finally DiCaprio’s year.  He’s Due.  The only competition I see would be from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who won raves for “12 Years a Slave.”  Bale already has an Oscar, old actors like Dern tend to get Supporting Oscars, and McConaughey’s nomination is his reward, a signal that he is being taken seriously as an actor having graduated from crappy rom-com fare.

Best Actress is as close to a sure thing as we’ve got this year, with Cate Blanchett the clear favorite for her universally-praised turn in “Blue Jasmine.”  (She is such a class act, and I adore her.)  Her only competition is from Amy Adams, who is also Due.  The other three have already won Oscars, and all have some further handicap that Blanchett (another past winner) lacks — “Philomena” didn’t attract much attention, and Bullock’s performance has gotten mixed reviews (though not as mixed as Streep’s).

Before last Sunday, I would have said Jared Leto was a lock for Supporting Actor, and I still think he’s the favorite.  But he did his chances a lit bit of damage with a witless, squirm-inducing Golden Globes acceptance speech.  (Protip — if your nomination is for playing an AIDS-afflicted transsexual, best to evince empathy for your character rather than offering bro-dude laffs about not having to wax.)  Barkhad Abdi is a total Hollywood unknown, too big a hurdle for a film with relatively little awards buzz.  Of the remaining three, I’d put Cooper ahead given the momentum “American Hustle.”

On that note, I’m giving Jennifer Lawrence the edge for Supporting Actress, because everyone loves Jennifer Lawrence, and because she apparently steals every scene she’s in.  I think that will be enough to get her over the major hurdle of having won Best Actress just last year.  If she loses, my bet would be to Lupita Nyong’o, for (like her costar above) turning in a powerful performance in a powerful film.  Two of the remaining three lack star wattage and I’ve already said my piece about Julia.

Best Picture is a total crapshoot for now, but I’m narrowly giving the edge to “American Hustle” because actors comprise the biggest voting bloc in the Academy and it’s an ensemble piece with nominees in every acting category.  Plus, I think this is David O. Russell’s year for Best Director.  But we’ll have a better sense of the frontrunner after the SAG and DGA Awards.

Anyhow, that’s my first take on the list.  I’d love to hear thoughts from people who’ve seen any of these films/performances — who do you think will win?  Who should win but won’t?  And whose snub seems most unjust?

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61 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Oscar nominations

  1. 1.) Seriously, who’s Meryl Streep?
    2.) O/T, but I saw that “American Hustle” (which I saw) and “Wolf of Wall Street” (which I didn’t) were both nominated in comedic categories at the GG. What the hell is that about?
    3.) Zazzy and I had exactly two opportunities to see movies since Mayo’s birth: one while her parents were visiting for a wedding and one when we were staying with my mom for Christmas. We ended up bailing on the former, unable to agree on a film. “12 Years…” risked being too intense for Zazzy, “Captain Philips” didn’t interest me based on what I understood of it at the time*, “Gravity” would have aggravated Zazzy’s motion sickness; we ended up going to the mall and getting lunch. For the second, we agreed on “American Hustle” and enjoyed it very much. I was impressed with all the performances, but actually thought Cooper’s stood out to my very untrained eye. I can’t compare their performances to any of the other nominees but they all seem like worthy nominees.
    4.) Is there any rhyme or reason to how they determine who is considered a lead actor and who is a supporting actor? It seems pretty willy-nilly. I didn’t have a stopwatch, but it seemed like Bale/Cooper/Lawrence/Adams all had roughly equivalent screen times and their characters all felt like “lead” characters. It seems they said you can’t have two male leads and two female leads so they split them up. But then they have Bullock in the supporting category, despite my understanding that she was a co-lead with her male counterpart (was it Clooney?). I don’t get it…

    * At the time, I thought it was a simple morality play, with Hanks as the great white savior against the evil brown baddies. I understand now that it is far more balanced and nuanced than that.

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    • While two actors or actresses from the same film can both be nominated for lead roles, studios don’t like that because it splits votes. So they’ll usually push for one lead and one (or more) in supporting. See “Brokeback Mountain,” where Jake Gyllenhaal was nominated for a supporting role when he was arguably just as much a lead at Heath Ledger.

      And Bullock was nominated for Lead Actress.

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      • Ahhh… I misread the ballot. I remember reading an article from years back about Don Cheadle and how he was one of the truly best supporting actors in Hollywood because he didn’t need a lead role and could maneuver his acting in such a way to highlight the true lead, etc. but that he would never win for that because of the move towards ensemble casts with huge stars in every role. Cheadle has since become a lead actor in his own right (I think the piece was penned about his work in “Boogie Nights”). It was an interesting perspective.

        In some ways, I compare it to the Sixth Man of the Year award in the NBA. NBA teams start five players, so the “sixth man” is the first guy off the bench and usually leads the second team. It’s not necessarily the sixth best player on the team but a guy who either didn’t fit with the starting five or is uniquely situated to do his best work in that role. To qualify, a player has to have come off the bench in some percentage of games (I think somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4). Now, because teams are in the business of winning games and not winning secondary awards, they’d never manipulate their lineups to ensure a win. But, theoretically, a team like the Heat could just have LeBron sit on the bench for the first 30 seconds of the game, sub in, play as he normally does, and qualify for (and win) the award. Sometimes it seems like that’s what movies are doing now.

        But what do I know? I don’t even know who Meryl Streep is (WHY WILL NO ONE ANSWER ME?!?!).

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      • I don’t know how seriously to take your professed ignorance of who Meryl Streep is, since to my mind that roughly on par with having no idea who Michael Jordan is. However, assuming that you really have no clue, she is widely considered to be the best film actress of the past four decades. She gets nominated for almost everything she does, (almost) always deservedly.

        She’s won three times, most recently for “The Iron Lady,” a mediocre film in which she is typically magnificent. If you want to see a scene that displays her talent, find the one where she (as Margaret Thatcher) has just been pointlessly horrible to one of her most loyal advisors, and afterward is sitting alone in a room thinking about it. Merely with a subtle shift in her expression and shoulders, she communicates the moment when she realizes what a terrible mistake she’s just made.

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      • I more or less do know who Ms. Streep is, but there is a non-zero chance that if you gave me a lineup of similarly aged actresses, I might mix them up.

        Bill Simmons actually tried to do a quasi-sports-analytic breakdown of how she might be the greatest actress ever, assigning X points for a lead nomination, Y for a supporting, Z for a win, etc. She apparently blows every other woman out of the water.

        Did she play Cruella deVille? Was she the Devil wearing Prada?

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      • I would be about as good at “Glen Close or Meryl Streep” as most people are at “Bill Paxton or Bill Pullman” (http://www.sporcle.com/games/druhutch/gameovermangameover). Zazzy dominates the latter, but she remembers every person in every movie ever. If I say, “Is that the… ” “No… it’s not the guy you think it was. He wasn’t in X. It’s Joe Blow. He was in Y.” It is a remarkable talent.

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      • For a long time when their careers were closer to comparable in profile and distinction I, too, couldn’t keep Glenn Close and Meryl Streep straight. If you showed me a picture of one of them, I wouldn’t ever have thought it was anyone but one of them, but there was a fairly significant chance I couldn’t tell you which one it was, certainly not without hesitating. That’s pretty much resolved since everyone has come to the conclusion that Meryl Steep is basically The. Best. Ever., but it was definitely a thing at one time.

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  2. I haven’t seen much more that you’ve seen, but I have seen American Hustle, which was a pretty enjoyable if overlong black comedy that is overhyped and over-praised. Still, the best things about it were the performances (save for Bale, who I thought was a little weak) so I agree that Lawrence will win and it would be fine if Cooper wins also, if Leto isn’t a lock.

    I give McConaughey better odds than you, especially given the controversy that swirls around Wolf. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking, since I have no interest in the latter, and at least mild irritation that it exists. My guess is that category comes down to McConaughey or Ejiofor.

    As for best pic, crapshoot, but I think it will come down to Gravity or 12 Years a Slave. American Hustle is certainly a possibility, but it is just such a minor film, even if it isn’t being treated that way.

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    • I can see what you mean about “American Hustle,” since there have certainly been small films treated as much more major works than they merited in years gone by.

      I would be flabbergasted if McCounaughey won. Just floored. He’s certainly refined his acting chops in recent years, but I would be really astounded if he won on his first nomination. I just think there’s too much drek on his IMBD page to get the Academy’s blessing so soon.

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      • You’re right that McConaughey has a lot of drek to overcome, but he’s been on the redemption curve for a while now, earning a lot of praise and recognition for Magic Mike, Killer Joe, and Bernie. That’s why I don’t think a win would be quite so out of the blue. It’s not like he went straight from Failure to Launch to Dallas Buyers Club.

        That anyone’s career could survive Surfer, Dude might be deserving of a special Oscar.

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  3. I posited this on my own Twitter account, and it then became an endless Facebook fight with a friend, but suppose that 12 Years A Slave‘s only winner is Michael Fassbender. That would be the most tone-deaf thing Hollywood would have ever done, right?

    Also, I would expect legitimate booing at the awards if anything beats 12 Years A Slave for best picture – not because I’ve seen any of these films – but because the reaction of those that have seen it is so overwhelming seems to indicate a film that trumps all others.

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  4. I actually saw a nominated ,movie this year! “Gravity,” to be precise. Two days later I saw “All Is Lost” which is the exact same story except I got to see how wizened Robert Redford is compared with how sexy Sandra Bullock and The Cloon are. Oh and there was speaking in one of them.

    All is Lost is nominated once, for punch line category Best Sound Editing. The only other movie nominated for anything I’ve seen was Star Trek, nominated once for visual effects.

    So I am spectacularly unqualified to opine on who and what got snubbed and who or what should win. If the decision is made on the merits, anyway. Christian Bale put on a lot of weight and adopted an accent other than his own, and for some reason putting on weight for a role is admired, so I bet he gets an edge out of that.

    I’ve been begging my wife to come see American Hustle but can’t seem to motivate her to do it.

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  5. I get DGA screeners. I’ve seen: “American Hustle,” “Nebraska,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “12 Years A Slave,” and “Her.” Going to watch: “Blue Jasmine” and “Wolf of Wall Street.” Skipping: “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” and “August: Osage County.”

    Best Picture: My Vote – “Dallas Buyers Club.” What I Think Will Win – “12 Years A Slave.” Actors or no, a historical drama about slavery is the definition of Oscar Bait.
    Best Director: MV – Alfonso Cuaron. WITWW – If the academy is sufficiently dazzled, Cuaron, but more likely they will go with McQueen.
    Best Actor: MV – McConaughey, by a large margin. WITWW – Chiwetel Ejiofor, because sweep.
    Best Actress: MV and WITHWW: Cate Blachett. Haven’t seen it yet, but I do believe the hype.
    Best Supporting Actor: This is tough since there are 2 movies here I haven’t seen, but MV and WITWW: Jared Leto. Globe speech or no, he was great.
    Best Supporting Actress: MV and WITWW – Lupita Nyong’o. Look people, “12 Years…” is going to win every category it’s nominated in. Just fill in your ballots now.

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  6. 1.) I have to believe that “Gravity” will rack up multiple wins in the technical category — visual effects, sound editing, maybe cinematography. Won’t win Best Picture, though. (Nor should it, probably.)

    2.) I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard enough about “The Act of Killing” to think it’s the strong leader for Best Documentary.

    3.) McQueen will probably win Best Director.

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  7. 1. You read good reviews for August: Osage County? Where? Inquiring minds want to know. All of my reviewers trashed it. Some said Meryl Streep was good because it seems impossible for her to be anything else. Go Vassar!!! We had professors in common. There are times when I imagine bumping into her in the street and casually mentioning Everett Sprinchorn. Yes he looked and sounded as maginficiently WASPy as his name.

    2. I kind of agree with Sam that it would be unsurprising if Michael Fassbender was the only person who won for 12 Years a Slave. It is not the kind of “very important movie” that the Academy likes because it is really depressing. There is no triumph at the end.

    3. I haven’t seen Wolf so I can’t comment.

    4. I want Amy Adams to win for best actress. Stellar performance and did you see the way she looked in those low-cut shirts!!!

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    • I read at least one good review of “August: Osage County,” but for the life of my now I can’t remember where. But yes, most of the ones I’ve seen have been negative.

      I happen to think Fassbender is the longest shot from “12 Years,” but let’s see how the SAGs go.

      I would be happy if either Amy Adams or Cate Blanchett won, even though I’ve seen neither of the films they’re in. I’ve loved them in other things, and they both seem like truly lovely people in real life. (I will never tire of seeing Ms. Blanchett’s obvious delight that someone else has deservedly beaten here, or her equally obvious displeasure at having been mistakenly nominated for a lesser performance in the first place.)

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  8. My predictions, based heavily on which films have won awards thus far this year:

    Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave. In addition to its Golden Globe win, it’s got the most wins from societies of film critics. I firmly believe that it is the best picture of the year.

    Best Director – Alfonso Cuaron, for Gravity. I’d like to see Steve McQueen get this award for 12 Years a Slave, but going by the awards so far it doesn’t look like that will happen.

    Best Actor – Chiwetel Ejiofor. Okay, this is my emotional choice. He gave an exceptional performance. If he loses to either DiCaprio or McConnaughey, I will be outraged.

    Best Actress – Cate Blanchett. She’s won this category from every organization that gives awards. I’m glad Adams could at least win the Musicial or Comedy category at the Golden Globes, because she did a great job playing a character who was always acting – it was almost impossible to tell when her character was being sincere and when she wasn’t.

    Best Supporting Actress – Jen Lawrence. I’d say she and Lupita Nyong’o deserve this award about equally, but everyone seems to love Jen, and she did do an amazing and hilarious job in American Hustle.

    Best Supporting Actor – Everyone seems to be giving this to Jared Leto, so I think the Academy will as well. I haven’t seen Dallas Buyers Club and don’t intend to (the era it’s set in is pre-ARVs, so it sounds like the story of a man who courageously sells snake oil to dying people, which…No. But I’d love to hear Russell’s opinion of it, and if there’s something about the story that I’m missing.) Bradley Cooper didn’t deserve his nomination (Jen and Amy were gave the great performances of American Hustle, the guys did a fine job but nothing exceptional). Personally I’d like to see either Barkhad Abdi or Fassbender win this one.

    Best Original Screenplay: Either American Hustle or her. I’m going with American Hustle, despite her winning the Golden Globe – the Academy loves its period pieces, and the film strikes me as more complex in terms of interactions between characters than her. But I haven’t seen her yet.

    Best Adapted Screenply: 12 Years a Slave. It’s gotten the most awards so far in the Adapted Screenplay category, and it deserves the award.

    Best Animated Film – Frozen. It had better be Frozen.

    Best Song – U2 might win again, although having listened to both songs, “Ordinary Love” is far inferior to Frozen‘s “Let it Go” (the only really good song in the movie, a big flaw in what is one of Disney animation’s better films).

    Complaints about this year’s Oscars:

    – Seriously, Pacific Rim didn’t get a visual effects nomination?! Whatever you think of the film’s quality, its visuals were spectacular.

    The Hobbit doesn’t get a nomination for makeup and hairstyling, with 13 different dwarves? And The Lone Ranger does get one for, I dunno, racism?

    – I can pretty definitively say that Monsters University was a better film than either Despicable Me 2 or The Croods. And Rotten Tomatoes agrees with me. What’s up? Are the Academy punishing Pixar because they’ve decided Brave didn’t deserve the win last year? (Having just watched Wreck-It Ralph, I agree that it should have won over Brave – far more original, good characters, lots of fun worldbuilding, and lots of laughs.)

    – If you’re going to recognize a near-future science-fiction film, Robot and Frank – which I recommend to everyone – is far and away a more original idea than her. The robot is recognizably a robot and not a human being, while still having a clear personality, Frank (an old man suffering from dementia, whose son buys him the robot to help care for him) is an excellent character, and the interactions between Frank, the robot, and both his kids are excellent. It’s creative, emotional, and funny, and it deserves recognition.

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  9. My predictions:

    Best picture

    “12 Years a Slave” (voters will give them the nod so they feel less-bad about not giving Ejiofor the Lead Actor.

    Director

    Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity” – While the plot could have been a lot better, this was one of those movies that film students will be analyzing for decades to come. The director gets the nod and the cinemotographer should too.

    Lead actor

    Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club” – If the other awards are a predictor, MM has the momentum. Plus, Hollywood loves it when an actor physically transforms themselves for a movie.

    Lead actress

    Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” – Haven’t seen this but from what I hear this is in the bag. F— Meryl Streep.

    Supporting actor

    Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle” – I’m going to say it’s Bradley’s turn. The guy is a hard worker and always solid. I think this is the year that the rom-com guys get theirs.

    Supporting actress

    Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle” – I wanted this to go to Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”, because she was SO GOOD in it but Lawrence is the It Girl right now and hell, I can’t root against a fellow Louisvillian.

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    • I heard a fascinating theory about Gravity’s chances. It argues that the movie’s chances are greatly lessened by the fact that many of the voters will be watching screener versions of the film. As a result, they’re not going to be overtaken by the spectacle in the same way that those who saw it in the theater were. No idea whether that’s right – I have children and thus have only ever heard of these things called “movies” and “theaters” and “freedom” – but that’d be a hell of a reason to lose an award.

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    • Now that we have the SAG Awards done, I think a few things are clear.

      Cate Blanchett is a lock. Jared Leto is a lock. And (despite my comments above) it appears that Matthew MacConaughey is cruising to a win, too.

      I think Supporting Actress and Picture are both up in the air. I think Lupita Nyong’o has to be considered the favorite, though, after her SAG win, despite all of Lawrence’s appeal. Similar, I think “American Hustle” has to be considered the favorite for picture given its Best Ensemble SAG win, but I think that’s the hardest call to make. Let’s see what the DGAs show!

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  10. That theory makes sense. Gravity came out in October so it is very hard to keep the buzz going that long.

    As for the rest: babysitters and trading favors with your spouse for alone time. Your kids will thank you for having a life when they get older.

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    • Mike,

      You aint kidding about that, but so far, my wife and I have enjoyed an entire evening of freedom since my daughter was born three months ago. We’re enduring. Meanwhile, If I can get out of the house, I’m not going to see any of these depressathons. I’m baffled that anybody anywhere voluntarily wants to watch soul-wrenching films.

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      • It’s all about balance my friend. Just keep reminding yourself that you and your wife are the center of the family, not the kids. In 2014, it’s easy to be shamed on this one.

        The fall/winter movies are definitely less happy. The academy does love angst. I’m seeing Sole Survivor tonight, whch while ultimately pretty sad is also going to have enough gunplay and heroism that I can ignore it. And the new Jack Ryan movie looks fun for Friday night.

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      • When our first was born the older couple next door practically adopted her. They were empty-nesters whose kids hadn’t gifted them with grand-kids yet. They went out and bought everything just to babysit. Crib, playpen, stroller, highchair, books, toys, etc. And every weekend they were all, “Are you guys going out this weekend? Huh? Huh? ” Yeah, it was great. We didn’t have enough spare cash to go out that much.

        Sweet folks. We still keep in touch.

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      • My wife and I are constantly amazed at how little free time our married friends with kids have. We just never had that problem. When our oldest daughter was babysitting a lot there were two couples who used her constantly. The others would never hire her. Even though she was Red Cross certified and the other couples raved about her they were scared to leave their kids with anyone other than family OR they felt guilty about it.

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