It’s Academy Awards season, and as those little golden homunculi peek at us from just around the corner, and full-page Variety ads lobby “for your consideration …,” it’s good to reflect back on the past year in film and see which Oscar nods are significant.
Let’s not beat around the bush. The category that everyone really wants to know about is the “Best Picture,” and this year’s roster reminds us that it has been a tremendous year for film.
- American Hustle
- Captain Phillips
- Dallas Buyers Club
- 12 Years a Slave
- The Wolf of Wall Street
The obvious pick here is 12 Years a Slave, and I have to imagine it will get the win, not only because it is a quality movie, but because it feels like the sort of “significant” movie that the Academy typically picks. Like Lincoln two years ago, it is an historical drama with excellent production design, several commendable performances, and it addresses some current social issues through it’s retelling of history. Yes, if I were a betting man, 12 Years a Slave would be the safe pick, but one thing I love about this list is that it honors some films that are trying to be different than your typical “important” film.
As Eileen Jones points out in this excellent article reprinted on Salon.com, Gravity turned out to be a compelling film by using the art of cinema to bring its audience very visceral thrills, reminding us that films can overwhelm us with emotion but they can also become exhilarating odysseys for the senses. It has become the critical norm to scoff at anything with an overblown special effects budget, and Cuarón appears to be making a compelling argument that there is nothing wrong with using bleeding-edge technology to impress the audience even when the framework is a very basic narrative.
Perhaps what you dig is a smaller film, one where the narrative really is the draw. In that case, it’s wonderful to see Nebraska get recognized this year.With interesting casting of a 77-year-old Bruce Dern, an actor who usually nets supporting roles, and Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte, Nebraska is a small family story that ruminates on father-son relationships with its bleak visual style and deadpan delivery of its humor.
“Best Actor in a Leading Role”
- 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)
This is an interesting crop of actors, as none of them have won an Oscar as a leading actor, and only Christian Bale has won an Oscar for his supporting role in The Fighter. In fact, all of these nominees have something to gain. This would be a tremendous win for Chiwetel Ejiofor as it is his first nomination, and would be a perfect capstone on a role that has earned him a spot in the public consciousness. Matthew McConaughey has worked hard to bring about what I’ve heard others dub the “McConaugh-ssaince,” his recent string of dramatic roles that are thoroughly transforming the perception of him as only a romantic leading man and “Alright, alright, alright” stereotype. He gave three fantastic performances last year, including Mud and a short role in Wolf of Wall Street and a win here would be some amazing validation. My personal pick would be Leonardo DiCaprio, partially because it blows my mind that he has not won an Oscar in his entire career, even after four previous nominations, two for leading actor and two for supporting. He transforms himself into a vile character in Wolf of Wall Street and captivates during every moment of screen time. An Oscar for Bruce Dern would be amazing to see for the veteran who has appeared in over 140 films but gotten no Oscar nods since 1978 for his supporting role in Coming Home. Christian Bale has a long history of physically transforming himself for roles, and the schlubby con artist he plays in American Hustle is a great example, although not the role I would pick out of Bale’s entire career. Regardless of who wins, this batch of nominations gives some terrific validation to all of these talented actors.
The “Best Actress in a Leading Role” nominees feature some veteran actresses alongside some other seasoned pros.
- Amy Adams (American Hustle)
- Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
- Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
- Judi Dench (Philomena)
- Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
There are no newcomers; even Amy Adams is enjoying her fifth nomination since 2006, although it could make for her first win. Sandra Bullock nets her second nomination after winning for The Blind Side in 2010 and it will be interesting to see if she fares well when her performance is so heavily reliant on CG augmentation. My pick would be Cate Blanchett, whose fragile performance in Blue Jasmine gave her a well-earned fifth Oscar nod, and hopefully an award for lead actress to stand next to her award for supporting actress from The Aviator in 2005. Judi Dench is no stranger to the Academy Awards with her seventh nomination and one win under her belt, but Meryl Streep towers above everyone as the invincible juggernaut of Oscar recognition with her 18th nom, which could very well lead to her fourth win.
Those wanting a complete rundown of the categories can see the full list here, but there are a few other standout nominations to which I want to draw your attention. Barkhad Abdi deserves to win the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar this year for his performance as the de facto leader of the Somali pirates in Captain Phillips. It is his first film role, and he brought a menace born of desperation to the screen that added layers of tension this taut thriller. I would love to see first-timers sweep the supporting actor categories this year and have Lupita Nyong’o take the “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” award for her role in 12 Years a Slave. I have a sneaking suspicion that “Best Animated Feature” this year will go to audience favorite Frozen, although I would love to see it go to The Wind Rises, which isn’t just the latest film to come out of Studio Ghibli, but may also be the last film the Hayao Miyazaki will have personally written and directed as his son takes over the studio’s reins in the future.
There are plenty more categories to speculate on, but I want to know what all of you think. What are your predictions? Any notable omissions from the nominations this year? Please drop us a comment below!