Entertainment
by Luke Johnsen on February 24, 2014

her-movie

I’m not quite sure how much forethought went into Eddie Vedder’s acceptance speech after being nominated for “Best Hard Rock Performance” at the 1996 Grammy Awards. I’m going to guess it wasn’t a lot. But for how little time Vedder spent actually speaking in the microphone, he made a lasting impression. Vedder prefaces his speech by stating, “We just wanted to relax, I just wanted to watch the show.” The subtext to this statement reading, “I am way too damn high to be up here right now.”

Yet having four young, anti-establishment rockers show up to an award show high really shouldn’t come as a big surprise. It’s what Vedder said next that would be the shock of the night: “I don’t know what this [The Grammy] means. I don’t think it means anything.” It took some large cojones to call the music industry’s most prestigious award worthless. And he raises a good point. What makes Pearl Jam’s 1996 record “Spin the Black Circle” the “best”? I know it’s the oldest argument in the book, but how can you objectively judge a subjective art?

Success and ability can be cognitively measured in many other industries. Whether it’s through profit, costumer satisfaction, or company growth, businesses are able to measure their success in numbers. And, like I’ve said before, every other business gets an Employee of the Month, so why should music, film, and television be any different? With Hollywood comprised of eccentric individuals, you are almost always guaranteed to be moved—whether it be to laughter or tears—because of one acceptance speech or another. I mean, how can you not smile when watching this Cuba Gooding Jr. acceptance speech?

So here it is once again, the 86th Academy Award nominees have been announced leading up to the March 2nd ceremony. I’m here to go through some categories and give you my predictions on who will win and who should win. Now, since I don’t actually know what will happen at the Academy Awards, I would like my first prediction to be that I am completely wrong on all accounts. But, these are my picks and I’m sticking to ‘em.

Cinematography

Nominees:

  • The Grandmaster, Philippe Le Sourd
  • Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Inside Llewyn Davis, Bruno Delbonnel
  • Nebraska, Phedon Papamichael
  • Prisoners, Roger A. Deakins

Who will win:

Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki

Who should win:

Gravity, Emmanuel Lubezki

Notable snubs:

  • 12 Years a Slave, Sean Bobbitt
  • Her, Hoyte Van Hotyema

I guess the “will win” and  “should win” conceit is a little useless in this first category. I don’t know how many times I heard people say “You HAVE to see this in 3D.” I never find myself going out of the way for a 3D experience, and sometimes it’s safe to say that I just flat-out hate it. But Cuaron and Lubezki’s unique vision for Gravity is inherently built around the idea of 3D. This director/director of photography duo has a proven track record as well (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien). The extended, 13 minute opening long-take was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre, and I wholeheartedly believe that Lubezki will get the credit he deserves from the Academy.

Best Director

Nominees:

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

Who will win:

The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese

Who should win:

12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen

Notable Snubs:

  • Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Her, Spike Jonze
  • Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass

History has shown that the film that wins Best Director will likewise win Best Picture. Seeing that it is predominantly the director’s responsibility to carrying out his/her intended concept for a film, this would make sense. Martin Scorsese is living proof of this as The Departed walked away with Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and, of course, Best Picture in 2006. It is my hope that history does not repeat itself this year, but we will get to that later. I’ve already shared a few of my thoughts on Wolf of Wall Street when I recommended Scorsese’s Raging Bull last week (which is currently streaming on Netflix).

When I say that 12 Years a Slave deserves to win it does not mean that Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t. I think 12 Years a Slave deserves to win because we saw something new from Steve McQueen. We saw his most thorough and cohesive plotline for a movie, we saw him produce fantastic performances out of every actor in the film, and we saw a very gentle camera that dealt with some atrocious subject matter in an incredibly tasteful way. To me, Steve McQueen has always been a hands-off director. He puts a lot of faith in his actors. He would rather spend an hour working to rehearse a solid scene than he would setting up an elaborate shot. And a passive camera seems necessary in a movie that is about the passive nature people had towards the brutalities of slavery.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

  • Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
  • Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
  • Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
  • Julia Roberts in August: Osage County
  • June Squibb in Nebraska

Who will win:

Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

Who should win:

Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave

Notable snub:

Scarlett Johannson in Her

This is probably the most uninteresting Oscar category this year. Jennifer Lawrence gave a fantastic supporting turn in American Hustle and June Squibb was a pleasant comic relief in Nebraska. But no one really stands a chance against Lupita Nyong’o’s portrayal of the slave Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Nyong’o landed the part in Steve McQueen’s film almost immediately after graduating from the Yale School of Drama. I know some people who have had an aversion to seeing this film because they fear the sheer brutality they will be subject too. This is understandable, but, like I said before, McQueen’s gentle touch with the camera really lets his performers shine. He doesn’t thrust the inhumaneness of slavery in the audience’s face; instead he lets the struggles of his characters convey that for him. Nyong’o is the most deserving of this award, and I have no doubt she will win.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

  • Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
  • Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
  • Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
  • Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Who will win:

Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street

Who should win:

Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Notable snubs:

  • Matthew McConaughey in Mud
  • James Franco in Spring Breakers
  • Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners

It’s crazy to think that the fat kid from Superbad is now a two-time Academy Award nominee. Jonah Hill completely deserves all of the praise he has gotten for his portrayal of Donnie Azoff in The Wolf of Wall Street. His is a career that easily could have come unhinged with a string of bad decisions on and off the camera. Instead, Hill kept his composure, took the roles he wanted, and recognized the ones he needed. The guy has proven time and time again that he has chops, and I think the Academy will recognize him for that this year.

My personal pick in this category is Barkhad Abdi as Muse in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips. If it weren’t for his incredibly authentic appearance, you would never guess that Abdi is a first time actor. A Somali refugee, he made a living as a chauffeur prior to catching the best break possible by starring alongside Tom Hanks in this year’s survival epic. Captain Phillips is a film about leaders: How power dynamics change, how this can effect the decisions you make, and how those affect the people you lead. He works perfectly in this dynamic against Tom Hanks, I loved the chemistry these two had on screen and Abdi’s lanky frame is starkly contrasted by his dominating presence in every frame he is in.

Best Actress

Nominees:

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

Who will win:

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Who should win:

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Notable Snub:

Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

This is another category I’m not too jazzed on. I must admit that I haven’t seen Philenoma yet. I think Amy Adams gave a solid, sincere performance that, alongside the fact that she is the only nominee in this category not to have won, will certainly catch the Academy’s attention. People still have their doubts about Adams. Perhaps they are a little fatigued from how frequently she works (10 features since 2010). But David O. Russell plays favorites when it comes to casting his films and he also knows how to get the best out of actors, as is the case with Adams. It’s a performance that people have no problem getting behind.

This is not so much the case with Woody Allen’s protagonist in Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett gives a rather shrill performance that seemed to frustrate people more than it wowed them. If you weren’t on board for what Allen and Blanchett were going for, then be warned: this movie was an hour and a half you will never get back. I thought Blanchett really shined in this film. She gave a remarkably complex performance of the worst kind of family member.

Best Actor

Nominees:

  • Christian Bale in American Hustle
  • Bruce Dern in Nebraska
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
  • Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

 Who will win:

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Who should win:

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Notable Snubs:

  • Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips
  • Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

I know everyone’s first reaction to this category is “GIVE IT TO LEO!” But can we please stop and think about this for a moment? There is no doubt that Leonardo DiCaprio has made a fine career for himself, especially noting the work he has done since 2000, though What’s Eating Gilbert Grape will always have a spot in my heart. Leo has been fortunate enough to work alongside some exceptional talent and incredible directors. He is also very meticulous about the scripts he chooses, which is smart for an actor in a position to be choosey. But considering that the “Best Actor” category is notoriously stacked with the best talent there is, I really don’t think it’s unreasonable he hasn’t won. It’s going to take Leo going out on a limb, not only finding a role that challenges him, but one that plays against his type, one that he can truly get lost in, to win an Oscar.

Which brings me to Matthew McConaughey. He hasn’t had the decade-encompassing prestige that Leo has found, and many could make the argument that the mid-2000s didn’t treat him too well (Fool’s Gold anyone?). McConaughey came at 2012 and 2013 knowing he was going to do something great, and he certainly has. He topped off a great two years with two notable performances, first as Rust Cohle in HBO’s new series True Detective. (If you have any pressing matters in your life they need to be dropped immediately until you have caught up with this show.) The second is his portrayal of real-life Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. Every person goes into the movie knowing that McConaughey dropped his model physique and replaced it with that of slender AIDS patient. But although that’s important to the role, I think he gives us so much more.

And if it weren’t for Chiwetel Ejiofor, I would certainly say he deserves this win. Both roles deal with an internal conflict to embrace the world around you, and to leave the one you knew behind, though each character does so for very different reasons. Simply put, Chiwetel took the internal struggle that was so evident in McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof and magnified it tenfold. So many times do we find Ejiofor staring directly into the camera, as if he is about to address the audience. He so desperately wants to celebrate the intelligence he has been fortunate enough to gain through his journey as a free man. Watching as this desire for celebration slowly turns into a need for mourning is one of the most compelling things I saw on screen all year.

Best Picture 

Nominees

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

Who will win:

12 Years a Slave

Who should win:

Her

Notable Snub:

Inside Llewyn Davis

Spectacle of the screen versus the intimate portrait of a character: that seems to be the trending matchup when it comes to “Best Picture” favorites at the Academy Awards. In 2009 The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar, which was considered the greatest (and most expensive) 3D spectacle to date. The King’s Speech left Inception and Black Swan in the dust in 2011 (although I was pulling for The Social Network that year). The Artist and Argo soon joined this collection of “Best Picture” winners in their respective years. This cemented the idea that an intimate look at characters through a historical lens will beat out any sort of technological achievement that is made in cinema. This year’s nominees prove that the battle goes on between these two cinematic ideologies. Gravity more than fills the void left behind by Avatar for onscreen spectacle, and 12 Years a Slave gave authentic characters to the darkest tales of American history. To me, there is no doubt 12 Years a Slave will walk with the “Best Picture” award.

But when it comes to what movie would I like to revisit now? Which one I’d revisit in a year? Which one made me think just a little bit harder, and stayed with me just a little bit longer? That one’s easy: Spike Jonze’s Her. The main fear I had going into a movie about an out-of-touch man falling in love with a computer is that it would completely demonize technology as we know it. That would be the easy road to take, and Jonze avoids it completely. Instead, he gives us a small glimpse into the future, how our world has evolved, how we have integrated technology into our lives. Her gives a perfect blend of spectacle and character, it doesn’t sway too heavily one way or the other, it simply is what it is. The most important takeaway from this film is that nothing can ever replace the human connection, and nothing ever will.

Luke Johnsen writes about TV and film for BroBible. Follow him on Twitter.