2014 Oscar Predictions

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The big day is almost upon us – the 2014 Academy Award ceremony airs this Sunday. It seemed so far away, but a chaotic and stressful February has mostly flown by. One of the casualties of this rough month has been my annual Oscar death race. I had been looking forward to trying to see as many of the nominees as possible like previous years, but a whole host of outside circumstances made that nearly impossible this year. I had seen all the major award nominees before they were announced, so I’m still in better shape than most of the country, but I’m still disappointed. I wouldn’t have been able to see all the nominees anyway, since two of the animated films haven’t gone to wide release yet, so that is some small solace.  I’ll hopefully bounce back next year to chase after obscure foreign films, but I just didn’t have it in me this year.

That won’t stop me from making some predictions, however; even in the years where I have seen more of the nominees, I usually wind up guessing. On some things, my tastes and the majority (or plurality) of the Academy are simpatico; on others, we differ quite a bit. What I think will win and what I want to win are sometimes two very different ideas. Who knows – this could be the year that my accuracy actually increases because I don’t have to take my personal feeling into account for some categories.

So without any further ado – here are my predictions for the 2014 Oscars:

Best Picture:

12 Years a Slave

This is an extremely close race this year and there are several of the 9 nominated film that I could see possibly walking away with a trophy. For me, I think it’s probably down to 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle and while Hustle was my favorite film of the year, I think that the importance of 12 Years a Slave will ultimately give it the edge. I’m guessing that voters will be more inclined to pick the more serious film. I don’t think that Nebraska, Captain Philips, Philomena of Her have any real chance, but a win for Gravity, The Wolf of Wall Street or Dallas Buyers Club isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.

 

Actor in a Leading Role:

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

I was torn on this one – I’d like to see Leonardo DiCaprio finally pick up a win, but Oscar voters love a physically transformative performance and that gives the clear edge to McConaughey. I’d like to think that Chiwetel Ejiofor is in the conversation as well, but I haven’t heard a lot of buzz to indicate that. This would be a great capper on what has turned out to be the Year of McConaughey. Bruce Dern and Christian Bale were also great, but I don’t think that they’ll be factors.

 

 

Actress in a Leading Role:

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

I’m pretty sure that this is Blanchett’s award to lose; she’s done quite well at the earlier awards shows and she really gave an outstanding performance. I think Amy Adams is the best shot for an upset, but unless Blanchett did something awful to a lot of Academy voters, she appears to be a lock to win. Meryl Streep always makes things interesting, but I didn’t think her performance in August: Osage County was one of her best.

 

Actor in a Supporting Role:

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Leto’s performance was one of my favorite things that I saw this year, so I’ll be thrilled to see him win. He completely disappeared into his portrayal of Rayon and brought a sensitivity and fragility to that role that was essential for the movie to work. I kind of like the idea of “Academy Award Winner Jonah Hill” appearing on posters for movies like 22 Jump Street, but I don’t think that is going to happen.

 

Actress in a Supporting Role

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

I hate to go against my girl Jennifer Lawrence, but I think that Lupita Nyong’o will ultimately walk away with this one. She had the more challenging role and really nailed it; you can’t think about that movie without thinking about her Patsey. 12 Years a Slave was her film debut, which may hurt her with Oscar voters, but in the end I think she’ll ultimately walk away the winner.

 

Animated Feature Film

Frozen

I was going to go out on a limb here and name The Wind Rises (a film that I haven’t actually seen from acclaimed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki), but I don’t think that will be any competition for the Disney machine. I quite enjoyed Frozen and it’s a nice throwback to the classic Disney movies of the 90s. And let’s be honest – there is no stopping “Let It Go.”

 

Cinematography

Gravity

Few films were as visually stunning this year as Gravity and I think that the voters will reward the cinematographer for that achievement. I liked the black and white landscape of Nebraska, but the Midwest is no competition for the wonder of outer space.

 

Costume Design

American Hustle

I loved so many things about American Hustle, but the clothes were at the top of my list. I have a soft spot for 1970s couture, so I was in heaven while watching this film. It would have been easy to get caught up in 70s kitsch, but the costume designer showed enough restraint that the characters didn’t become caricatures.

 

Directing

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

The sheer magnitude of what he was able to pull off with all the special effects will surely win Cuarón Best Director. I had my issues with Gravity, but I think that Academy voters will be so awe-inspired by what he put up on the big screen that I don’t think the other directors have much of a chance.

 

Documentary Feature

20 Feet from Stardom

I predict that the change in the voting this year for documentaries (now open to all Academy voters) will result in a win for the more crowd pleasing 20 Feet from Stardom over some of the more depressing films that are in contention for Best Documentary. I really liked 20 Feet, so I have no issue with the win should it happen; I thought it was an interesting look at the world of being a back-up singer. And any movie that featured Bruce Springsteen gets my vote.

 

Documentary Short Subject

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

This is a total guess as I’ve seen none of these nominees and there usually isn’t a lot of news on the frontrunners in this category.  The woman profiled in The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life just died, so it would be nice to see that film win.

 

Film Editing

Gravity

I think that Gravity is going to win most of the visual awards. Just a hunch.

 

Foreign Language Film

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)

This is how you know I really dropped the ball this year – usually I’ve seen at least half of the foreign language films and this year I’ve seen nada. But I’ve heard good things about The Broken Circle Breakdown, so it gets my vote.

 

Makeup and Hairstyling

Dallas Buyers Club

I think this wins by default because I think most Academy voters would have a tough time voting for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa or The Lone Ranger.

 

Music – Original Score

Her

I liked a lot of things about Her, but the music in particular stood out to me which is saying something as I am usually pretty oblivious to that stuff. I don’t know if John Williams being in this race will have any bearing – he’s a known quality – but I hope he isn’t a factor. I did notice the music in The Book Thief, but mostly because I found it schmaltzy and cloying.

 

Music – Original Song

“Let It Go”

Case closed

 

Production Design

Gravity

Just going with the trend.

 

Short Film – Animated

Get a Horse!

I honestly didn’t really like this short, but it brings back Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse so I think that will be enough for people to get all nostalgic.

 

Short Film – Live Action

The Voorman Problem

I liked this title the best of the options.

 

Sound Editing

Gravity

In space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but you can sure hear things colliding with one another.

 

Sound Mixing

Gravity

Sure – why not?

 

Visual Effects

Gravity

 

Writing – Adapted Screenplay

The Wolf of Wall Street

I don’t know if this will actually win, but I’m reading the book The Wolf of Wall Street and Terence Winter deserves the award. That book is not very well written. At all. Jordan Belfort might know a lot of ways to hustle people out of money, but he has a very limited knowledge of adjectives.

 

Writing – Original Screenplay

Her

Not everyone loved this movie, but I think people can agree that it is a pretty unique story idea. I don’t know if that will be enough to get Her the win, but it is certainly the most non-traditional nominee.

 

What are your Oscar predictions? Let us know who you think will be a big winner on Sunday – and watch Monday for my love blog of the Oscars ceremony.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – I’m sick edition

So it turns out, dear readers, that I am indeed a mere mortal and occasionally I feel under the weather. Right now I’m battling either a nasty cold or a light flu; I’m not sure if it has made up its mind yet as to what it is. This has knocked me down for the count – my boss took one look at me yesterday and sent me home, where I slept most of the day and watched a lot of wedding-related programming which seems to comprise a lot of the daytime TV schedule. I’m feeling slightly better today, but I’m also hopped up on enough cold medicine to take down an ox. The good news is that I seem to have stopped coughing; the bad news is I’m exhausted walking from one room to the next.

However, I must soldier on. I couldn’t leave you without your pop culture roundup. That would be heresy. I just can’t guarantee that everything is spelled right and that the order of links makes total sense. I tried my best, but I can’t make any promises as to coherency. So while I try the difficult act of breathing without getting winded, kick back and enjoy the pop culture goodness that I’ve assembled.

  • Charlie Hunnam has quit the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation. I think this was a good career move for him, though he was the only reason I had any interest in the movie.
  • If you love those Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy commercials for Dodge as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that he made SEVENTY of them.
  • Watch Tom Hanks play around on a giant piano keyboard (with a little help from Sandra Bullock):

 

  • Bullock also showed off her rap skills:

 

  • The Simpsons will have guest vocals from Judd Apatow, Channing Tatum, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann and Seth Rogan.
  • File this under things that make you go hmmm….Japanese school kids perform “Day Man” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

 

  • The A.V. Club has a story on an old favorite of mine, Homestar Runner.
  • Britney Spears’ new album has a name – her name.
  • The cast of Modern Family played Family Feud on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

 

  • Lady Gaga and The Muppets are making a Christmas special. This could either be amazing or terrible. I don’t see any middle ground.
  • The showrunner for The Daily Show has left.

Trailers

  • Michael Bay and Starz are teaming up for a new pirate show:

 

  • Sarah Silverman’s new HBO special:

 

  • I’m really looking forward to Will Ferrell’s Spoils of Babylon mini-series on IFC

 

  • George Clooney and Matt Damon head up an all-star cast in Monument Men

 

  • This documentary on Calvin & Hobbes looks great

 

  • The trailer for Avalanche Sharks, SyFy’s newest terrible movie, has been released:

 

  • Ad Week has an interesting story on how much it costs to run a commercial on different TV shows.
  • The guy from Blur is working with actor Idris Elba on new music.
  • Elizabeth Berkley revisited her Saved By The Bell roots on Dancing with the Stars:

 

  • Alexander Skarsgard stars in the music video for Cut Copy’s “Free Your Mind.”

I would totally sign up for this cult.

As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts:

  • An Archer/Top Gun mashup:

 

  • Someone mad a Pokemon/King of the Hill crossover:

 

  • And finally, here’s a supercut that theorizes that Tom Hank’s career is just one long movie:

Gravity – A Review

There are people that are fascinated by outer space and all the mysteries that it holds: is there other intelligent life out there? What scientific discoveries do the cosmos hold? Some kids dream of becoming astronauts and going into space; enough people have this dream that many countries and companies have considered venturing into space tourism, which would allow civilians the chance to go into space. Hell, NBC is planning on a reality show that would allow two winners to be launched into the great unknown via a Virgin Galactic flight. To conquer the final frontier and to go boldly where very few men (and women) have gone before is the ultimate quest for many.

To quote the great Bob Dylan, “That ain’t me babe.”

Much like the Olympics, I am a total killjoy when someone expresses an interest in something as All-American as exploring the cosmos. I just don’t care. I think constellations are kind of cool, but I really have no desire to go up into space and poke around. I saw the movie Space Camp as a kid and while that caused my peers to have temporary dreams of becoming the next John Glenn, I thought it all looked like way too much work. I’m sure the fact that my class watched the Challenger explosion live on TV in class didn’t exactly make space exploration appealing to me either; once you’ve watched people blow up, the bloom is kind of off the rose. Plus I tried that freeze dried astronaut ice cream and it was disgusting; I’m not going anywhere that doesn’t have good ice cream.

So when I first saw the previews for the new film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to go see it. “Eh – more space stuff” I thought to myself. Not interested. I’ve tolerated a few franchises that are set in outer space, but they aren’t usually my idea to watch them. I wasn’t sure how they were going to make a movie out of what I saw of the Gravity clips anyway; Sandra Bullock screaming as she drifted off into nothingness seemed like it would be a pretty short film. Thanks, but no thanks, Gravity.

As the release date for the film crept up, however, there was a positive buzz around this film that I just couldn’t ignore. At first, I dismissed this as the enthusiasm of people like I described above – that are fascinated by all things space related. But as the din continued from nearly every critic that I know, I realized that this film was being universally praised. A film that hovers at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes is a film that I can’t exactly ignore. An hour and a half runtime was what finally sold me; on the off chance that I was swimming against the critical stream on the film, at least I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of my time. I could probably handle 90 minutes in space; I needed to see what all the hoopla was about.

While Gravity did nothing to change my opinion about space – if anything it reinforced my feeling that it is a pretty terrifying place – the critics weren’t wrong. Gravity is a visually breathtaking film that is probably the closest that many of us will come to venturing outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Strong performances from Bullock and Clooney – Bullock in particular – paired with the pure beauty and realism of the cinematography and special effects make Gravity a film that is definitely worth seeing.

The premise of the film is pretty simple, yet terrifying: Bullock and Clooney are part of a team sent to space to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Clooney is a seasoned astronaut who is out on his last mission, while Bullock is a medical engineer who is making her first shuttle mission. What should be a fairly routine trip becomes a nightmare when an accident from another quadrant of the cosmos sets off a chain reaction resulting in debris hurling at them and their ship. With their shuttle destroyed and their crew killed, Bullock and Clooney must figure out how to survive with their limited oxygen and limited options.

There is no denying that this is a stunning film to watch. It is absolutely gorgeously shot, with many long panning shots that are technically amazing. The director and cinematographer’s choices really give the viewer the impression of being in space with Clooney and Bullock, and just how terrifying it would be to be lost out there. I don’t know how they did much of what they did in the effect department, nor do I really want to know; the results were so convincing to me that I almost felt like I was floating along with them. Frankly I think the cinematography Oscar race is officially over – just hand the statue to Gravity and be done with it. I can’t imagine anything else that will even be in this league. It’s just so impressive. It’s worth going to see the film for this alone.

Though Clooney receives co-top billing on Gravity, this is really Bullock’s film. I was a little skeptical when I heard that she was cast; I generally like her, but despite her Oscar win I am not totally convinced that she is a great actress. But she is tremendously likable and that works to Gravity’s advantage. You are instantly invested in the fact that she is in peril because you like her and want her to be OK. Bullock totally rises to the occasion in this film and does a tremendous job of taking the audience on an emotional as well as physical journey. She manages to make the viewer feel everything that she is feeling and effectively overcomes a somewhat emotionally manipulative backstory that her character is saddled with. Both actors successfully sell dialogue that is a little hokey and cheesy. I don’t know that any dialogue could really meet the visual splendor and situation that the characters find themselves in, but the writers of Gravity really didn’t appear to try all that hard to rise to the challenge. Clooney, in particular, has to cash in some of his coolness chips to make the quips and wisecracks he delivers not sound completely ridiculous. It all mostly works because of the inherent charm and charisma of Clooney and Bullock, but don’t go into Gravity expecting well-honed dialogue. The script just isn’t all that great.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • It’s a minor quibble, but I am skeptical that astronauts wear as little under their space suits as Bullock had on. I’m sure that it is hot in there, but surely NASA would require more than a pair of boy shorts and a tank top (and no footwear whatsoever). But bravo to Bullock – she’s in fantastic shape.
  • I did not see Gravity in 3-D because I am cheap, but I regret that decision. As impressive as the film is in 2-D, I can only imagine how impressive it is using 3-D technology. This is the type of film that 3-D was made for.
  • That is indeed Ed Harris as the voice of Houston.
  • Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson went on a Twitter rant yesterday about all the scientific inaccuracies in the film. He raises some valid points. Always best to defer to an astrophysicist in these matters. Time also weighs in on the scientific flaws of the film, while Mashable writes about 5 things that the movie gets right.
  • This seems like as good a place as any to admit that I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey or Apollo 13.
  • I have to commend the directorial decision to have so much silence in the film. A less disciplined director would want to use a lot of music in the film to lend grandeur or to tell the audience how they should feel, but Alfonso Cuaron is confident enough in his visuals to let them stand on their own. This is a wise choice and only improves the film.

The weaknesses of the script don’t completely handicap Gravity; the extra effort from the leads paired with the simply awe-inspiring effects makes this an enjoyable and impressive film. The corny dialogue prevents Gravity from being a truly great film – next time hire a screenwriter instead of letting the director pen the script – but it is so dazzling that you almost don’t notice these limitations (almost). This is a surprisingly stressful movie to watch and I had no idea how the story was going to resolve itself. If this film can win over my cold, black, outer space-hating heart, it is certainly worth seeing. Gravity is one of the most exquisite films that you will see all year.