OSCARS 2017 recap

February 27, 2017

oscars-2017  In a year when Viola Davis urged us to “exhume those bodies” from the graveyard because that’s where the potential is, it wouldn’t be shocking to learn that long-ago-deceased Rod Serling actually produced the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony. Of course he didn’t, but … at the sign post up ahead …

In no particular order (other than the obvious #1), here are just some of the oddities – some pleasant, others head-scratchers:

  1. Re-defining ‘public debacle’, a confluence of factors caused the erroneous announcement of LA LA LAND as Best Picture, when in fact, MOONLIGHT was the actual winner. The correction occurred after a couple of acceptance speeches from the wrong film’s producers.
  2. A tour bus of surprised tourists was ushered into the Dolby Theatre leading to Denzel Washington unofficially marring Gary from Chicago and his fiancé.
  3. The “In Memoriam” section included a photo of the much-alive Jan Chapman, rather than the deceased Costume Designer Janet Patterson
  4. Amazon films won 4 Oscars (THE SALESMAN, THE WHITE HELMETS, 2 for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)
  5. Sound Mixer Kevin O’Connell finally won an Oscar … he had previously been nominated 20 times without winning.
  6. A flag from the dance group whacked singer Auli’I Cravalho in the head as she sang the Oscar nominated song from MOANA.
  7. SUICIDE SQUAD, Oscar winner
  8. Brother and sister Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine were part of two separate memorable moments … 250,000 years apart.
  9. Jimmy Kimmel treating the ceremony as an all-out roast of Matt Damon
  10. Nicole Kidman clapping (Google it)
  11. The aforementioned Viola Davis being allowed to speak for almost 4 minutes, while others “played off” at 46 seconds.
  12. Damien Chazelle (age 32) becoming the youngest Best Director Oscar winner
  13. MOONLIGHT becomes one of the least expensive productions ($1.5 million) and lowest grossing movies ($22 million) to win Best Picture Oscar.
  14. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA becomes the longest Oscar winner (7 hours 47 minutes) surpassing the 1969 Best Foreign Language Winner WAR AND PEACE (6 hours 36 minutes)
  15. 98 year old Katherine Johnson was brought on stage with the lead actresses from HIDDEN FIGURES. It was a wonderful moment that became slightly awkward as they weren’t sure whether to keep her onstage or help her off prior to the next award announcement.
  16. John Cho and Leslie Mann teamed up for a humorous overview of the Science and Technology awards from the prior day.
  17. Sarah Bareilles’ beautiful voice singing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” during the In Memoriam section
  18. Justin Timberlake proving once again that he is one of the best contemporary performers, as his show opener of the Oscar nominated “Can’t Stop the Feeling” got the entire crowd up – dancing, singing, and clapping.
  19. A series of three Wal-Mart commercials directed by Hollywood stalwarts Antoine Fuqua, Marc Foster, and Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg put the Super Bowl ads to shame.

Maybe the only thing missing was Rob Lowe singing to Snow White!

It was nice to see the gold statuettes spread over quite a few films: La La Land won 6, Moonlight 3, Hacksaw Ridge and Manchester By the Sea each won 2, and one Oscar went to Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Jungle Book.

Fortunately, political views only snuck in a few times: Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue and a couple of other times through the evening (including a failed Twitter bit), and the statements from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman), the producer of The White Helmets, and the confusing remarks from the director of O.J.: Made in America.

At times it did feel like a long lost episode of “The Twilight Zone“, though there were enough moments to remind us that the ceremony, at its core, is a celebration of cinema – and the magic it brings.

oscars-2017b

 


OSCAR NOMINATED DOC SHORTS (2016)

February 21, 2017

OSCAR NOMINATED DOCUMENTARY SHORTS 

Greetings again from the darkness. When the feel-good movie of the bunch revolves around a Holocaust survivor, you know there aren’t many chuckles to be had for this block of Oscar nominated Documentary Short Films. However, if you can deal with being ultra-serious and devastated for 2 ½ hours, you will find high quality filmmaking focused on topics that are not just timely, but exceedingly important and vital. Below, in order of personal preference, are the nominated 2016 releases.

4-1-miles 4.1 MILES (USA/Greece, 26 min)

From 2015 through 2016 more than one million people were desperate enough to flee Syria, Afghanistan, and other war-ravaged areas by risking their lives in small boats launched from Turkey. The 4.1 miles to Greece, and hopefully freedom, is fraught with danger (more than one thousand have drowned). Director Daphne Matziaraki introduces us to a Greece Coast Guard Captain from the small island of Lesbos, as the captain and his crew remain diligent and dedicated to rescuing mothers, children and others so desperate for a new life. The camera work is a bit rough, but that’s to be expected given the harsh conditions of wind, waves, rain and frantic actions … when every minute counts.

 

joes-violin JOE’S VIOLIN (USA, 24 min)

If anyone deserves to be a little bit selfish, it’s a Holocaust survivor. Instead, 91 year old Joseph Feingold donated his beloved violin to Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation – an organization that distributes musical instruments to inner city schools. Mr. Feingold tells the story of “purchasing” the violin after the war in 1947. When 12 year old Brianna is selected to receive the gift, we learn her story and how the violin and Mr. Feingold’s history profoundly affects her. Director Kahane Cooperman ties together a Siberian labor camp, the dreams of a bright, enthusiastic young girl, and an appreciative elderly gentleman to remind us of the power of music and how it can transcend generations, race, economic status and culture. It’s an inspirational story from two quite different perspectives.

 

the-white-helmets THE WHITE HELMETS (UK, 41 min)

In what would be viewed as an inspirational story … if not for the tragically violent environment of Aleppo City … this film from director Orlando von Einsiedel takes us to the front line with the civilian volunteer group known as The White Helmets. Numbering 2900 strong, these brave folks run directly into the buildings that have been bombed mere minutes before. We get interviews and discussions with some of the volunteers, but the most awe-inspiring moments come during the rescue missions, as they comb through rubble looking for signs of life. One of the most amazing sequences you’ll ever see on screen occurs during the rescue of a one week old “miracle baby”. Up to 200 raids per day have resulted in more than 400,000 deaths over the past five years, yet the volunteers have sayings like “To save a life is to save all humanity”. They provide hope to a place that has little, and possess a human spirit dedicated to helping.

 

extremis EXTREMIS (USA, 24 min)

Highland Hospital in Oakland, California is the setting for a first-hand look at the emotional and ethical complexities involved in end of life decisions. We witness the perspective of dedicated ICU doctors, terminally ill and confused patients, and the emotional families often burdened with making the final call between hoping for a miracle and allowing their loved ones to die with dignity. Director Dan Krauss introduces Dr. Jessica Zitter who takes a compassionate yet direct approach in her discussions with patients and families. Her goal is to provide the information that helps them make the most difficult decisions they will ever be faced with.

 

watani WATANI: MY HOMELAND (UK, 39 min)

Is there anything more frighteningly surreal than watching kids playing with guns as actual bombs are going off in their neighborhood, tanks are rumbling down their streets, and the constant sound of gunfire is present? Welcome again to Aleppo City. Directed by Marcel Mattelsiefen, we meet the father of four kids who is working hard to protect his city. We then flash forward one year and learn that the father has been taken by ISIS and the family is headed to Germany, seeking a safer life … new home, new friends, and a new school. Though they long to return to their original home, it’s a reminder that home is really where you are, not where you are from.


OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS (2016)

February 17, 2017

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORTS (Animated and Live Action)

Shorts HD now sponsors the annual theatrical run for the block of Oscar nominated Short Films. For those of us who love movies, it’s a much appreciated opportunity to see what once were the most difficult categories of nominated films to watch prior to the awards ceremony. I would encourage everyone to make this an annual event, and experience a variety of stories and styles from filmmakers around the globe.

Below are my comments for this year’s nominees (released in 2016), and they are listed in order of personal preference for each category, Animated and Live Action.

ANIMATED

blind-vaysha BLIND VAYSHA (Canada) – Far from light-hearted and feel good, this one not only has the most substantial story, it also features the most original look and style of any in the category. It’s directed by Theodore Ushev and adapted from a short story by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov. The story centers on “the blind girl”, who remarkably sees only the past through her brown left eye, and only the future through her red right eye. Through her eyes, no present exists. It’s a remarkable fable about how we look at the world, and one of the few short films that lends itself to a good debate.

piper PIPER (USA) – Pixar, through co-directors Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer, delivers what may be the most realistic CGI we’ve seen to date. Easily the most seen of all short films since it played in theatres with Finding Dory, it tells the story of a mother Sandpiper teaching her baby how to scavenge and feed itself. The baby is reluctant to give up being spoon-fed, but soon overcomes his fear of water and embraces life … thanks to the lessons of some local sand crabs.

borrowed-time BORROWED TIME (USA) – An old, weathered sheriff revisits the spot on the cliff where a tragic mistake changed the course of his life. The event has obviously haunted him ever since he was a kid. The animated pocket watch looks real at times, and ends up playing a vital role not once, but twice for the man. It’s a side project from Pixar animators Co-dir Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj, with a score from two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla, and a reminder that living with regret is no way to live.

pearl PEARL (USA) – Playing like little more than an animated music video or commercial, this one nonetheless taps into the emotions of a father-daughter relationship over the years … and the role a car and tape recorder might play as they come full circle. “There’s no wrong way home” is a simple little song that works fine in this short from director Patrick Osborne (Feast).

 

pear PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES (Canada and UK) – By far the longest entry at 35 minutes, this one has the feel of an animated documentary or at least an animated diary. The narrator reminisces about his thrill-seeking friend Techno, and the difficult road travelled by the once care-free and talented youngster. Alcoholism, drug addiction, bad luck, poor health and poor decisions all play a role here, but it’s mostly about non-conditional friendship. Directed by Robert Valley, it’s quite a sad story, though not dissimilar to one many friends have experienced in real life.

LIVE ACTION

sing MINDENKI (“Sing”, Hungary) The new girl in school can barely control her excitement at joining the renowned school choir. Poof! Her joy is gone in a scene that proves just how quickly a teacher can destroy a child’s spirit. Directed by Kristof Deak, we see how misplaced priorities of those in charge, can drive the student to become the teacher. The philosophical aspect here is quite interesting … in order to remain part of the group, one must surrender the thing that motivated them to join the group in the first place.

la-femme LE FEMME ET LE TGV (“The Woman and the TGV”, Sweden) Jane Birkin adds stardom to an otherwise earthy story of a small town woman who, for 32 years, has been waving her flag at the high-speed train that blows past her window twice each day. A letter of appreciation from the train’s engineer arrives one day, and it inspires the woman to re-join life and stop living in the past. Ms. Birkin gives a nice performance in this commentary on growing old in a fast-changing world. Timo von Gunten directs this story inspired by true events (he actually interviewed the real flag-waving woman).

timecode TIMECODE (Spain) – In what is easily the best use of security cameras and dancing parking lot guards, director Juanjo Gimenez Pena delivers a very entertaining 15 minute film. With minimal dialogue, the day and night guards barely cross paths, but share a secret talent that’s exposed in a most humorous way with a killer punchline.

 

silent-nights SILENT NIGHTS (Denmark) – A good-hearted Salvation Army volunteer makes friends with a man from Ghana who has immigrated to Denmark, seeking a better life. She is kind to the man and a romantic attraction develops leading to a look at racism, desperation, and the ramifications of deceit. Directed by Aske Bang and produced by two-time Oscar winner Kim Magnusson, the film teases us with optimism, only to frustrate us before giving way to an unexpected life lesson.

ennemis ENNEMIS INTERIEURS (“Enemies Within”) – The most blatantly political of all entries, it’s also the most relevant. A man from Algeria is interrogated by a government official in hope of obtaining his French citizenship. Questioned on his religion and neighbors, we see how any situation can be twisted to seem suspicious … especially in this age of fear of terrorists. Directed by Selim Azzazzi, it seems to tell us that if we try to find something wrong, we likely will.

watch the Oscar shorts trailer:

 


OSCARS recap (2015)

February 23, 2015

oscars6 Greetings again from the darkness. “Stay weird and stay different” is the main takeaway from this year’s Oscars presentation. Not only was that the heartfelt and emotional plea to kids made by Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore (The Imitation Game), but it also describes Best Picture winner Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The Academy seems to suffer from a multiple personality disorder in trying to decide what to do with the ceremony. Is it a formal and dignified event to honor the nominees? Is it a celebration of the artistic and historic sides of cinema? Is it an opportunity to entertain the tens of millions of TV viewers who tune in each year? Not knowing the objective makes it very difficult to be successful, which leads to a too-long mish-mash of all three approaches further muddled by the 30-second political statements offered up by millionaires whose words probably carry less weight than they believe, but more than they should.

As a movie lover, what draws me to the telecast is the celebration of cinema, so my favorite segments included: the brilliant opening number entitled “Moving Pictures” as performed by emcee Neil Patrick Harris, with an assist from Anna Kendrick, Jack Black, numerous costumed dancers, some terrific special effects, and clips from many iconic movies; the beautifully sung melody by Lady Gaga as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music – with an appearance from Julie Andrews; and the first time ever that each movie nominated for Best Picture (all 8 of them) went home with at least one Oscar.

Of course there were also segments which I did not enjoy so much: an ultra-creepy John Travolta pawing at Idina Menzel’s face a year after butchering her name on stage; a lackluster Birdman parody by Neil Patrick Harris that paled in comparison to the recent work of Fred Armisen (Indie Spirit Awards) and Sesame Street (with Big Bird); the cut away shots to Michael Keaton chomping his chewing gum like a junior high kid; and the multitude of lame jokes (and absurd pre-show predictions) by Mr Harris that could have been excused if not for the poorly timed zinger directed at the dress choice of an award winner who had just moments before disclosed the suicide of her child.

Emotions always run high in a room full of artists, and the live performance of “Glory” from Best Picture nominee Selma was quite impressive … from the infamous bridge setting, to the vocals of Common and John Legend, to the dozens of folks who joined them onstage (Note: they were given much more time than the other live performances of nominated songs). Also registering high on the emotional meter were: Patricia Arquette’s call for pay equality, Eddie Redmayne’s pure joy at winning Best Actor, and the excitement, pride and perspective shown by Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski  towards his home country of Poland.  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, how does it make sense that sourpuss Sean Penn tries to crack wise with an ill-timed joke, while “comedian” Eddie Murphy reads the list of nominees like he is checking inventory at Home Depot?

On a personal note, my favorite film of the year was Boyhood, and while I am not upset that my second favorite film of the year won Best Picture, I do wish director Richard Linklater had received more accolades for his unique and extraordinary project. It was nice to see two screen veterans and professionals like Julianne Moore and JK Simmons take home their first Oscars, and I was ecstatic to see so many awards go to Wes Anderson’s beautiful The Grand Budapest Hotel and the frenetic Whiplash. We should all welcome the notice given to international talents like Emmanuel Lubezki, Alexandre Desplat and the previously mentioned Eddie Redmayne.

Alejandro Inarritu was the big winner of the night for his ground-breaking work on Best Picture winner Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and on one of his trips to the stage he articulated a point of which I fully agree. He talked about how in the world of art, “works can’t be compared”, and when he has completed a project, it is that moment when he feels like he has succeeded. That is the heart of why the Academy remains confused about how to treat this event. The work of one actor cannot be objectively compared to that of another. No movie can fairly be determined superior to another. By their nature, works of creativity and art impact each of us differently, and the real test is … were we moved? Were we touched? Did the work cause us to think? Each of these things is more important than a shiny statuette … unless it’s one of those Lego Oscars, which, regardless what was contained in the $160,000 swag bags, were the absolute coolest item given away at the Dolby Theatre!

oscars7


OSCAR PREDICTIONS (2015)

February 18, 2015

oscars6 Greetings again from the darkness. With apologies to those who have depended on me to help with office Oscar pools, and even to my fellow movie lovers who have simply enjoyed arguing over the years, I am opting to put an end to my annual Oscar prediction column, effective immediately.

My track record of accurate predictions is significantly better than most of the big media experts, so this decision was not made due to fear of failure. Instead, my annoyance with the “headlines” and “top stories” related to the Oscar nomination process has soured me on the whole thing.

Every year, rather than celebrate the nominees, we are inundated with articles and TV reports focusing on “snubs” and “politics” and an “out of touch Academy”. I take movies about as seriously as anyone, yet fully understand that Academy voting does not take place in some bubble or vacuum. New voters are invited each year, and they maintain voting rights until death or incapacitation. It’s no secret that the Academy demographics skew older – white – male, and to assume these voters would vote in a manner that doesn’t involve their own personal tastes and preferences would be to ignore human nature. Just take a look at Olympic judges for figure skating, diving, gymnastics, etc.

As for the politics involved, would we really expect voters to not support those who have influenced their own careers, or might in the future? Isn’t self-interest a part of most decisions we make? Aren’t we able to acknowledge that when voting for the President of the United States, many votes are cast FOR or AGAINST a particular candidate based on a perceived personal connection (or bias) on details as fundamental as religion or skin color? If that decision-making process is utilized for electing the leader of the free world, perhaps it’s understandable that a similar process occurs for something as relatively minor as Best Actor or Best Director of a freaking MOVIE.

Mathematics also plays a role here. Due to the outcry over so many “worthy” films not receiving Best Picture nominations, the Academy responded a few years ago with a rule change which allows as many as ten (10) pictures to receive a nomination. None of the other major categories were affected, including Best Director, which remains at 5 nominations. This year eight (8) movies received Best Picture nominations, and immediately the ridiculous cries of “I suppose that movie directed itself” rung out.  Simple math tells us at least 3 directors of Best Picture nominated movies would not receive a Best Director nomination. Additionally, and more importantly, it should be noted that these are two distinct categories (Picture and Director). It’s certainly feasible, and highly likely, that some of the best work by directors was not accomplished on films nominated for Best Picture. An easy comparison is with Major League Baseball. The Manager of the World Series winning team may or may not have done the best coaching job amongst all the coaches in the league, which is why the World Series trophy and the Manager of the Year are two distinct and separate awards.

I do understand the emotions that follow movies. Everyone has their “favorite”, and often can’t understand why all their friends and movie critics and Oscar voters don’t feel the same way. But the accusations of racism and politics as related to Oscar voting seems to imply that the Academy has the power and responsibility to change society mores … even when these same traits are ever-present in elections from school boards to civic leaders and even our nationally elected officials. Perhaps we should expect more from the Academy, but it seems we should each look in the mirror before passing this buck.

Movies certainly have value in society. They entertain and inform and tug at our emotions, and the best ones generate lively debate and discussion. They re-tell history, introduce us to fascinating characters, educate us on different cultures, and teach us how to relate to each other. The Oscars, despite all the hoopla surrounding designer dresses and 6 figure $ earrings, are simply a celebration of an art form that is easily accessible to the masses. The “best” are not determined by a scientific formula, but rather a small group of people who have many of the same flaws and personality quirks as you and I. And while they may not always agree with our movie tastes, we should know they vote with a combination of heart and head … a messy combination that rarely results in perfection.

Just to be clear, I most certainly have my Oscar predictions and preferences in mind, but for the foreseeable future, will not be contributing to the morass of heavy-handed judgment that is all too prevalent at Oscar time. Though soured by the media fallout, I will just sit back, watch the presentation, and be thankful that Rob Lowe will never again perform with Snow White.

spoiled milk

 


OSCARS recap (2014)

March 3, 2014

oscar twitter The 86th Academy Awards are over … after a mere 3 ½ hours!  Ratings and viewership were at a 10 year high, so ABC is thrilled.   Ellen DeGeneres is clearly a popular draw as host.   The nature of awards shows make them ripe for criticism, and sometimes the Oscars just makes it too easy.  But first, the good stuff.

If you follow my Oscar predictions, you know that I correctly predicted 21 of 24 winners. While that’s impressive, it’s clear that luck played a huge role. As I previously stated, many of the categories could have gone two or three or four different ways, but the  Gravity roll I was banking on did in fact happen … it finished the night with 7 Oscars, easily the most of any movie. What it couldn’t do was get past 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, creating the rare “split” between director and picture.  The day after has been filled with much noise from the experts who felt strongly that Gravity was the best movie of the year. As I’ve said, I found it to be a visual feast in 3D IMAX, but can’t imagine it will have much staying power on home TV.

The 3 categories I missed were Costume, Live Action Short, and Animated Short.  My personal preference won two of those categories, and in quite a shocker, Disney’s Get a Horse didn’t finish as the top Animated Short.  Three of the four acting awards went to first time winners, and all acting winners gave very sincere acceptance speeches (Jared Leto and Lupita Nyongo’s were particularly terrific).  This is a good time to recognize Meryl Streep’s phenomenal 18th Oscar nomination during her 36 year career.  To put that in perspective, this was Bruce Dern’s second nomination … 35 years since his first one!  American Hustle was 0 for 10 in this year’s Oscars, narrowly missing the record of 0 for 11 held by both The Color Purple (1985) and The Turning Point (1977).  Even more startling, of the 32 nominated feature films (not counting foreign language, documentary, or shorts), only 7 films walked away with a statue.

There were many frustrating (for me) points during the ceremony. The seemingly endless gags on pizza and Twitter (picture, above) were a silly waste of time and caused many East Coast viewers to stay up much later than necessary.  Also confusing was the decision to have Bette Midler sing the tribute song AFTER the slideshow honoring those who have passed away since last year’s ceremony. Having her sing during the slideshow would have been more touching and saved 3-4 minutes.  Ellen’s cruelest joke of the evening was directed at Liza Minnelli … and inexcusable in my book. Ms. Minnelli and her sisters were invited guests for the 75th anniversary of their mother’s (Judy Garland) classic 1939 hit The Wizard of Oz.  To be hit with such a cruel comment just minutes after the show opened must have been humiliating.

The cringe-inducing moments did not stop there.  How about the parade of less-than-perfect plastic surgery results?  The most obvious and difficult to look at were John Travolta, Kim Novak, and Goldie Hawn.  And if the fake hair and face weren’t enough, Mr. Travolta botched his introduction of singer Idina Menzel by inexplicably calling her “Adele Dazeen”.  At the other end of the spectrum, 67 year old Sally Field is the poster child for aging gracefully.  For me, the most uncomfortable moments came courtesy of the rift between “Slave” director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley.  An historic night for both of them should have allowed for a respectful sharing of the moment, rather than the icy cold shoulders and petty acceptance speeches.

The highlights of the evening helped offset the negative.  I found all of the musical moments to be really enjoyable: Pharrell Williams managed to get the stodgy crowd up on their feet, Karen O’s ballad was short and sweet, U2 unplugged added a touch of rock’s elite, and Broadway star Idina Menzel showed off her extraordinary voice singing the winning “Let it Go”. Pink elegantly performed the “Oz” tribute, and 75 year old Darlene Love brought down the house with her powerful pipes while singing her acceptance speech.

We also witnessed the youngest and newest member of EGOT, as Robert Lopez’ Best Song Oscar finished off his Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony collection.  So after all the predictions, good and bad jokes, musical interludes and pointless hero montages, the single best moment of the night for me was the speech delivered by Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o, including the inspirational final line, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”  In a room full of egos, it’s that line that sticks.

lupita oscar

 


OSCAR PREDICTIONS (2014)

February 28, 2014

oscars5 Each year I publish my Oscar predictions. I do so in a most straight-forward manner. My track record is pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) and more often than not, I end up with a better record than most national movie critics.  What I never do, is mislead myself or the readers.  Sandbagging is not my thing … Lou Holtz showed me what a poor quality that can be.

I can honestly say that this year provides less clarity, more uncertainty, than any year in recent memory.  Numerous categories have no real front-runner, and some have not just two, but three or four potential winners … even in some of the high profile categories!  As you might imagine, that makes a high number of accurate predictions extremely unlikely.  That’s not sandbagging, but rather full disclosure on this year’s predictions.

My theory on the elevated uncertainty stems from what I have labeled an extraordinary year for the number of good, quality, watchable movies … and an absolute void of truly great ones. There are nine nominated for Best Picture, and I would venture to say that not one will live on as a “must-watch” for the next 10 or 20 years (like say The Godfather or Lawrence of Arabia).

Below you will find my Predictions (my expected winner), my Preferences (my personal choice were I voting), and a brief description of each category.  After the ceremony, I will post a recap, regardless of my record, and provide some insight and observations.  Here’s hoping you enjoy.

BEST PICTURE

12 years This is an incredibly tight race between 12 Years a Slave (the traditionally favored historical drama) and Gravity (the box office bonanza).  A 3D sci-fi movie has yet to win the big award (Avatar, Hugo, Life of Pi), but Gravity could be the first. Because of how tight this is and the convoluted Academy voting methods, we can’t rule out American Hustle sneaking in and taking the statue.  Gravity is the one movie that could get on a roll and rack up a big number of Oscar wins.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave (mostly because I’m not a big fan of Gravity)

Preference: Nebraska (my #2 film of the year)

BEST DIRECTOR

cuaron No matter the Best Picture winner, I fully expect Mr. Cuaron to win this award.  He was the driving force behind a technical marvel that raised the bar for future sci-fi films.  David O Russell once again proved he is a dream director for actors, while Martin Scorcese had the most fun he’s had in years. Steve McQueen directed the most powerful film, but Cuaron was ground-breaking.

Prediction:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity (yes, I am predicting a rare split between Best Picture and Best Director)

Preference: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

mm Matthew McConaughey has reinvented himself as an actor and is on quite a career roll.  If you haven’t seen him in HBO’s “True Detective”, you are really missing out. He has even inspired a new word, McConassaince. This is a ridiculously strong category with five worthy nominees, especially Chiwetel EjiforChristian Bale is the only one in the group who has won an Oscar. It’s been 35 years since Bruce Dern’s last nomination, and this is Leonardo DiCaprio’s 4th nomination (no wins yet).

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Preference: Matthew McConaughey (I thought he was even better in Mud)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

cate Another very strong category, but one in which Cate Blanchett has been the favorite for months. Only a tidal wave of backlash against Woody Allen can stop her.  If that happens, 5 time nominee Amy Adams slides right in.  She is the only non-Oscar winner in the group.

Prediction: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Preference: Judi Dench, Philomena

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

jared leto This is one of the three picks closest to “a sure thing” on the ballot.  After touring with his rock band for 6 years, Jared Leto thought he would jump back into this acting thing. He delivered what is probably the year’s best overall performance from any actor.  Any other year, Barkhad Abdi or Michael Fassbender would have had my vote … they both frightened me!

Prediction: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Preference: Jaret Leto

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

lupito There is no wrong pick here (except of course, Julia Roberts). June Squibb stole every scene in Nebraska, Sally Hawkins brought humanity to Blue Jasmine, and Jennifer Lawrence was stunning in American Hustle.  Newcomer Lupito Nyong’o is the one who captured our heart in 12 Years a Slave.

Prediction: Lupito Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Preference: Jennifer Lawrence (this would be back-to-back Oscar wins for the 22 yr old)

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

frozen This is another of the 3 picks closest to “a sure thing”.  It’s been 14 years since Disney has won this category, and this year they have a $1 billion box office, critical raves and many entertained families. Anything other than Frozen will be a shocker. I am abstaining since I have not seen any of the nominees, though I am a fan of animation.

Prediction:  Frozen

Preference: abstain

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM

20 feet 20 Feet From Stardom is my favorite movie of the year, but it has tough competition from critic favorites The Act of Killing and The Square.  Both of these are extremely powerful and should be seen, but my pick is both insightful and crowd-pleasing. The prediction is based on the strong word-of-mouth and the all-out marketing blitz… including The Super Bowl.

Prediction: 20 Feet From Stardom

Preference: 20 Feet From Stardom

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

gravity Yet another impressive category, this time featuring the legendary John Williams with his 49th Oscar nomination.  Yes, 49!  Also on the ballot are two who are long past due for a win, Alexandre Desplat (6 nominations in 8 years) and Thomas Newman (10 nominations). Riding the expected wave of Gravity, look for Steven Price to take the win.

Prediction: Steven Price, Gravity

Preference: Alexandre Desplat, Philomena

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

Neither celebrities nor pop/rock stars have a strong track record with the Oscars, so don’t expect the hot-on-the-charts Pharrell Williams or rock gods U2 to eclipse “Let it Go” from Frozen.  While I have heard all the songs, I did not see all the movies, so I am abstaining (the category is supposed to reward the best use of song within the movie)

Prediction:Let it Go“, Frozen, sung by Idina Menzell

Preference: abstain

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Gravity is the odds-on favorite to win this award since it was so extraordinary to look at on screen, and none of us are smart enough to know how much was special effects.  My personal favorite is Roger Deakins, whose fantastic camera work elevated Prisoners from TV movie to nail-biting thriller.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Prisoners

PRODUCTION DESIGN

gatsby If the voters can get over the divisiveness brought on by Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of The Great Gatsby, and not get caught up in straight-lining their ballot for Gravity, the obvious choice here is Gatsby.  However, there is no way to know if either of those things will happen.  Gravity may continue its roll and well, Old Sport, Gatsby could get shut out.

Prediction: The Great Gatsby

Preference: The Great Gatsby

COSTUME DESIGN

am hustle Another of the incredibly tough categories to predict with three worthy nominees. 12 Years a Slave could get some love here just to offset the Gravity blitz, but American Hustle and The Great Gatsby were absolutely spot on in capturing their eras.  Any of these three would make worthy winners, as would The Grandmaster.

Prediction: American Hustle

Preference: The Great Gatsby

FILM EDITING

capt phillips Oscar voters tend to favor the rapid-fire cuts of action movies, but my preference was the expert and story-enhancing editing on display during American Hustle.

Prediction: Captain Phillips

Preference: American Hustle

SHORT FILM (DOCUMENTARY)

lady in no 6 Alice Herz-Sommer was 109 during filming and passed away last week at age 110. Her story is fascinating and blends her indomitable spirit, her world class piano talent and her Holocaust survival story.  Would you vote against this lady?  I certainly won’t.  I’m not sure how, or even if, this one will get distribution, but I highly recommend you track it down.

Prediction: The Lady in Number 6

Preference: The Lady in Number 6

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

get a horse I didn’t find the nominees to be as strong as years past, but it’s pretty hard to imagine Disney’s Get a Horse not winning.  It has the advantages of retro-Mickey Mouse and showing prior to the mega box office hit Frozen.

Prediction: Get a Horse

Preference: Room on the Broom (charming bedtime story with a message)

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Again, not as strong as other years, but I expect the Oscar voters will defer to the project featuring the well known actors, rather than the touching and hyper-sensitive story of a terminally ill boy.

Prediction: The Voorman Problem

Preference: Helium

MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING

dallas Since somehow the wig expo known as American Hustle did not receive a nomination, let’s go with the great work in Dallas Buyers Club … rumored to have a make-up budget of $250 (or a week’s worth of lipstick for Sandra Bullock)

 

Prediction: Dallas Buyers Club

Preference: Dallas Buyers Club

SOUND EDITING

The sound editor gathers the ingredients; the sound mixer makes the soup.  Gravity had very unusual sound needs … we had to believe the characters were in space.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Gravity

SOUND MIXING

The sound editor gathers the ingredients; the sound mixer makes the soup.  The sound of Inside Llewyn Davis perfectly captured the Greenwich Village feel for me, while I have serious doubt about how much on set sound Gravity actually used.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Inside Llewn Davis

VISUAL EFFECTS

The single biggest “sure thing” of the night.  This category describes the movie Gravity.  It is a unique and revolutionary viewing experience (in 3D, on a huge screen).   For those who are waiting to watch it on their home TV, I predict much disappointment.

Prediction: Gravity

Preference: Gravity

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

her This looks to be a close race between Her and American Hustle. Her seems to be the most unique, but I had zero connection to the film, the characters or the story (yes, I am the only one on the globe who feels this way).  Nebraska seems so small in comparison, but the genius is in appearing effortless while so many emotions are flying.

Prediction: Her

Preference: Nebraska (Bob Nelson’s personal project)

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Four very powerful and personal stories: a free man turned slave, a woman’s quest to find her son, a ship captain’s horrific ordeal, and a despicable con artist on the road to ruin.  I think this comes down to a toss-up between Soloman Northrup vs Philomena Lee.

Prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Preference: 12 Years a Slave

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

great beauty Italy’s entry The Great Beauty is the most visually stylish, and the other four are pretty much downers in tone.  Still, I found The Hunt (Denmark) with Mads Mikkelsen (a great performance) to be mesmerizing.

Prediction: The Great Beauty

Preference: The Hunt

If you would like to see my “BEST of 2013” list, please visit:  https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/annual-bests-2/best-of-2013/

As always, your feedback is welcome.  Enjoy the Oscars!