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 – Hell Has Frozen Over Edition

Now, I don’t know for a fact that Hell has in fact frozen over, but I don’t see why it should be exempt from the deep cool that most of the United States has been plummeted into. This weather is ridiculous – part of western New York may get 80 inches of snow in the next few days. 80 inches! I didn’t even know that was possible! For someone who hates winter on a good year, I’m miserable beyond belief. I need to move.

I’m bouncing back from several weeks of computer issues – malware is no joke, my friends – so unfortunately this week’s pop culture roundup is not as thorough. There’s still plenty of good stuff in here to peruse when you are hibernating from these frigid temperatures. Kick back, grab some hot cocoa and catch up on what’s been going on in the world of pop:

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  • It was only a matter of time: Jordan Belfort (the inspiration for The Wolf of Wall Street) is shopping a reality show.
  • Freed up from his commitments on Community, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) is going out on tour.
  • Marvel has released the first still for Guardians of the Galaxy:

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  • How many times would The Wet Bandits die if Home Alone was real?

 

  • Forbes released their list of 30 Under 30 for arts and entertainment.
  • MythBusters is getting a spinoff, perhaps as a result of all the posts I’ve written about the show recently.
  • An A to Z guide to Abed’s pop culture references on Community.
  • A Girls parody involving cats? Sounds good to me:

 

  • Steven Seagal and Clay Aiken are both considering running for office (Arizona governor and Congress, respectively).
  • A recent Jeopardy! category forced Alex Trebek to rap:

Seriously – those were the easiest questions ever!

  • Ringo Starr and…the Powerpuff Girls?

 

Trailer Time:

  • This new Sundance Channel series Red Road looks promising:

 

  • The first promos for the late night changing of the guard at NBC have been released. First up, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:

Too much Leno for me and I’m surprised Conan got any screen time at all.

  • Next up – Late Night with Seth Meyers:

 

  • A new promo for FOX’s The Following:

 

  • A new trailer for the second season of House of Cards:

 

  • A trailer for the Veronica Mars movie:

 

  • This documentary about Tom’s Restaruant in NYC, made famous by Seinfeld, looks interesting:

 

  • New footage from Spiderman 2:

 

  • The Raid 2:

 

  • Falling Downton Abbey:

 

  • Will Smith, Tyrese and the Crown Prince of Dubai all went skydiving. That sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it really happened.

And, as always, we end with the supercuts and mashups:

  • A tribute to dancing in movies (set to The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” for extra awesomeness):

 

  • A supercut of Norm MacDonald being a terrible salesman:

 

  • A supercut of TV commercials of actors and actresses before they were famous:

 

  • A Psy/Lincoln Park mashup:

 

  • Leonardo DiCaprio: The Movie:

 

arrested-development-her-poster

  • And finally – two of my absolute favorite things: The Breaking Bad opening credits done in the style of The Wire:

 

Stay warm, people!

The Wolf of Wall Street – A Review

In a lot of ways, The Wolf of Wall is in many ways similar in spirit to my favorite Scorsese film, Goodfellas. Both take the viewer into a world that is unfamiliar to most (the mafia and Wall Street, respectively) and the different codes of behavior that apply to participants in these realms (unsurprisingly, there is more law and order in the mafia than on Wall Street). Both feature narration by the lead character and both lament the idea of being an ordinary person living an ordinary life. Both men rose from humble beginnings and stressed the importance of loyalty over honor. They both run with a crew of guys “from the neighborhood.” Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort may swim in different pools, but they really aren’t all that different.

It’s a credit to the fantastic performances, as well as the direction and cinematography, that The Wolf of Wall Street is so fun to watch with such a slimy unlikable character like Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Based on Belfort’s memoir of the same name, the film is full of a lot of unlikable people doing a lot of terrible things. This is ostensibly a film about Wall Street brokers, but it is really a film about excess. While Goodfellas had plenty of violence, The Wolf of Wall Street is all about sex and drugs – especially the drugs. The amount of narcotics that these characters consume on a daily basis would kill a horse. All the while, Belfort and his pals are making money hand over fist through their predatory and aggressive method of trading and selling stock. Through in some money laundering and securities fraud and you have another day in the office at Stratton Oakmont. The traders engage in the kind of debauchery that would make most fraternity parties look like a tea party; this behavior is not only encouraged but is financed by Belfort and his cronies at the top. Their behavior is repulsive and yet you can’t look away; The Wolf of Wall Street manages to make these men alluring and disgusting at the same time. The fact that I didn’t tire of these characters and their terrible antics over the nearly three hour runtime means that Scorsese and company have put together an entertaining film. The film doesn’t celebrate this behavior; Belfort is not held up as any sort of aspirational ideal.

DiCaprio is great as Belfort; he displays a sort of swagger and bravado that I haven’t seen him possess before. Often when a director and actor pair up for multiple projects, there are eventually diminishing returns (see Johnny Depp and Tim Burton – the latter has pretty much ruined the former); that isn’t the case in the DiCaprio/Scorsese pairing. The duo continues to bring the best out of each other and I would be happy if pair continued to make films together ad infinitum. DiCaprio really brings Belfort to life and while he doesn’t necessarily make you feel sympathy for Belfort – nor do I think that is the intention of the movie – but you aren’t necessarily rooting for him to get his comeuppance either. Belfort as portrayed by DiCaprio occupies the same awkward space as many of the antiheros that have dominated the small screen the last few years – you don’t condone their behavior, but it is also a lot of fun to watch such reckless disregard for decency and laws. DiCaprio’s pretty boy appearance doesn’t automatically conjure up images of him as an alpha male, but he seamlessly transforms himself into a showboating and dominating personality that can rile up an entire company with one of his speeches. He’s never been so heartless and so cold; perhaps he is free to go for broke with this role because there is no effort made to make Belfort to be redeemable or likable. He has to hold nothing in reserve because this man never changes; there are no teachable moments for Belfort. Even when I don’t necessarily like the films that he is in, I generally like DiCaprio, but his work in The Wolf of Wall Street is among the best in his career. My only knock on his performance is that he doesn’t consistently get the accent right.

As Belfort’s schlubby and deranged right hand man Donnie Azoff, Jonah Hill also turns in a hilarious and wonderful performance. Belfort is a terrible guy, but Azoff is somehow even more unbalanced. Hill completely commits to his performance and the unlikability of his character. A lot of the big laughs in the film derive from Azoff’s lunacy; while Belfort occasionally can turn off his bad behavior, Azoff has no such off switch. He is all impulse with no control. Hill and DiCaprio play extremely well off each other and their friendship is completely believable.

The supporting cast is uniformly great as well – Australian actress Margot Robbie isn’t required to do much except be gorgeous (which she is), but she brings depth to her role as Belfort’s trophy wife Naomi; she also does a better job with the Queens accent than DiCaprio. Blog favorite Kyle Chandler (aka Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights) plays perhaps the only likable person in the whole film as the FBI agent that is trying to bring Belfort’s band of merry thieves down. Chandler does his usual solid job, but while morally you are rooting for him to be successful, you know that if he succeeds all the fun comes to an end. Matthew McConaughey turns up in a small but pivotal role early in the film as Belfort’s mentor when he first arrives on Wall Street. He knocks it out of the park as expected and creates a memorable role in his limited screen time; he’s really the catalyst for Belfort’s transformation from a quiet by-the-books guy to the Caligula-like man that he becomes. Jon Favreau and Rob Reiner also turn up in small parts.

Unsurprisingly, The Wolf of Wall Street is gorgeously shot and bares many Scorsese trademarks. The camera angles are used to illustrate points or exasperate behavior and they play with the film speed to simulate some of drug fueled binges. One Quaalude induced scene in particular is memorable; I’ve never taken the drug, but I imagine that they pretty successfully simulate its effects with their camera work. Scorsese and his team are able to make a film about really ugly behavior beautiful to watch. Even if you somehow got nothing out of the acting or story in the film, I think you would still be impressed with the aesthetic that they have put together. I’m always impressed with Scorsese’s choices behind the camera.

Some other thoughts:

  • I knew the guy that played Brad, the Quaalude King of Bayside, looked familiar but couldn’t quite place him; he’s played by Jon Bernthal, best known for his role as Shane on The Walking Dead.
  • Yup – that’s Academy Award winning Jean Dujardin (The Artist) as the Swiss banker. This film is seriously littered with talent.
  • She has a limited role as Belfort’s first wife, but Cristin Milioti is having a pretty great year as well. On the heels of her 2012 Tony nomination for Once, she lands the prized role of the mother on How I met Your Mother and gets to work on a Scorsese film. Not too shabby.
  • I really liked the use of music in the film; the used many familiar songs, but not the version that you are necessarily familiar with.
  • If my review hasn’t convinced you to go see The Wolf of Wall Street, perhaps this GIF of DiCaprio dancing will seal the deal:

leonard-dicaprio-dancing

  • While the film kept my attention for most of its 180 minute run time, I do think that this film would have benefitted from a bit more editing. All of the scenes are good, but I don’t know that all were essential. As excited as I was for this movie, a 3+ hour time commitment (with previews) was a bit daunting.
  • Tis the season to go to the movies with family, but this probably isn’t the film to go see with your parents (unless you want an awkward car ride home).
  • Belfort is a despicable person, but odds are pretty good that I’ll now read his memoir after seeing the film. I’ll just get it from the library so he doesn’t benefit at all financially.

I really had a lot of fun watching The Wolf of Wall Street; DiCaprio is fantastic and is surrounded by a ridiculously talented supporting cast of characters. Jonah Hill continues to show his versatility as an actor; it is impressive that his two big films in 2013 were the very different This is The End and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese in many ways has given us Wall Street for this generation; with the recent shenanigans on Wall Street and the benefit of hindsight, Belfort is not held up to be celebrated as a hero but to be reviled. “Greed is good” is no longer the mantra of our times. The Wolf of Wall Street impressively makes all this bad behavior immensely entertaining, but it is never sugarcoated as acceptable behavior. Definitely one of my favorite films of the year.