The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Academy Awards

The good. The bad. The ugly.

It’s all over for another year, and what a year it’s been. The closest Oscar race in years, with some of the best films we’ve ever seen in the running. And yet, somehow it all pretty much went to plan. There’s always a slight tinge of disappointment when this happens. We all want the deserving frontrunners to win, but we all secretly hope for a few shockers in the mix too, and this year, well they just weren’t there. To predict 22 out of the 24 categories correctly is a nice achievement, and sure I’m proud of myself for sticking to my guns and not being swayed into shocker territory, but it also shows that this year was far more predictable than everyone was letting on.

It’s actually quite difficult to write a good, bad, and ugly type post, because there’s a lack of major moments that fall into these three categories. But alas, that’s how I like to look back on these things, so here we go.

THE GOOD
Lupita Nyong’o. What a star. What an absolute bonafide star. You know I wanted J-Law to pull off the upset, but in the end, I was glad they went with Lupita. Not only did she look absolutely exquisite, she carried herself in such a way as well. Her speech was beautiful, her reaction was priceless, and ultimately it’s better to give it to someone who truly needed and deserved it. Lupita dancing with Pharrell was just the icing on the cake of her amazing night. Lawrence is the biggest star in the world. She didn’t need a second Oscar so soon, but one day I do hope she’s up there again.

Jared Leto, and his truly beautiful acceptance speech. The man has been giving amazing speeches at every turn this awards season, and he saved the best til last. So eloquently spoken, so perfectly delivered, and so moving on many levels. He paid tribute to everyone from the victims of HIV/AIDs, to the transsexual community, and finally to his brother and mother. No one managed to match this speech the rest of the evening. And he’s just so pretty.

Ellen Degeneres. A wonderful hosting job. She was hilarious, without being crass or offensive. She gave a fantastically witty monologue, and dismissed the obvious gag of her dancing into the audience. She was heavily involved throughout the entire show, without ever overstaying her welcome. She completely relaxed the usually tense crowd, and made the toughest gig in showbiz seem easy. She gave the starving celebrities pizza. And she managed to break Twitter with the greatest selfie of all time. What more can you ask of a host? Bring her back next year. Start a new tradition.

The ‘In Memoriam’ segment. The Oscars generally handle this part the best of any award show, and once again they created a beautiful tribute to our departed idols. The audience waited (I’ve heard they were instructed) until the very end to applaud, instead of the usual incredibly awkward awards show staple, where everyone claps after each person, as some sort of morbid popularity contest for who gets the biggest clap. I thought Bette Midler’s involvement at the end was wondrous.

Frozen wins the double. Thank you, Academy. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for not giving that god awful U2 song the award. Sorry, Bono. Go back to writing albums, and leave the movie awards to the movie folk. Animated Feature was never in doubt, but it was still wonderful to see Disney FINALLY win this award, for a non-Pixar film. Bonus points for creating a new EGOT recipient in Robert Lopez.

Kevin Spacey breaks into character as Frank Underwood while presenting. Too much to handle.

None of the major winners were cut off by the orchestra. This needs to continue. Let them speak. Let everyone speak. Let the awards go for five hours. I will never complain about that.

The selfie. A stroke of genius.

THE BAD
American Hustle – 0 for 10. I knew it would happen. It still hurt. Whatever David O’Russell does next will win everything it’s nominated for.

Leonardo DiCaprio loses, yet again. Oh, poor unfortunate Leo. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. We all love the McConaissance, but we would’ve loved a Leo triumph even more. It’s bound to happen the next time he’s nominated…but I’m sure I said that in 2007 too.

Harrison Ford presenting…something. I don’t even remember what it was, but he looked and sounded about as uninterested to be there as he did throughout the entire production of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Wake up, Han. You’re at the Oscars!

The tribute to The Wizard of Oz. Not the P!NK performance of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, because that was flawless. I’m referring to the idiocy of having Judy Garland’s three children just sit in the audience, and then awkwardly get up and just stand there for 30 seconds. I know Liza is a bit of a loose cannon, but give her the right pills and surely she could pull it together to actually present the tribute on-stage?

THE UGLY
John Travolta – you had one job. Her name is Idina Menzel, not Adele Dazeem. Go back to Xenu, champ.

Jamie Foxx’s ad-libbing. It was cute when you were doing Ray Charles impressions back in 2004, but now it’s just annoying. You were essentially talking over poor Jessica Biel, who was doing her best to get through her bit without slapping you in the face.

Kim Novak. Enough said.

Goldie Hawn. She has fulfilled the First Wives Club prophecy, and can now blink her lips.

Will Smith presents Best Picture. So you had legends like Sidney Poitier, Harrison Ford, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Robert De Niro and Bill Murray there, but for the biggest award of the night you go with the man who literally just won a Razzie Award for Worst Actor for the worst film of 2013? If you wanted to go with an African-American, because of the 12 Years A Slave angle, go with Samuel L. Jackson. At least his career isn’t in the toilet.

Overall, it was a splendid ceremony, perhaps even one of the best in recent years. 12 Years A Slave goes into the history books, but thankfully so does Gravity. American Hustle – I still love you. See you next year.

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Final predictions for the 86th Academy Awards

How will it go down on Oscar night?

Well folks, it’s time. After going back and forth on pretty much every category this year, I must lay down my final predictions, and ultimately stand by them. Go hard or go home, that’s how it must be done. As always, I must state that no matter how hard anyone tries to convince you, nobody knows anything with how the night is going to play out. We can predict these things until we’re blue in the face, but anything can happen at the Oscars, and this year that rings even more true. The precursor awards haven’t provided solid frontrunners in most categories, but we must at least try to guess, otherwise what’s the point of this post. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the 86th Academy Awards.

BEST PICTURE
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years A Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Will win: 12 Years A Slave
Should win: American Hustle
Possible shocker: The Wolf of Wall Street

The toughest category of the night, something I haven’t said in a good decade or so. Each of the three psuedo-frontrunners (12 Years, Gravity and American Hustle) have held my prediction over the past few months. Each has felt like the eventual winner at different stages, and even now at the eleventh hour, I still don’t know how it’s going to end. Whatever happens will be wonderful, and I will truly be happy no matter what. My heart wants American Hustle, but my head is going with 12 Years A Slave. It has the edge, it has the importance, it has the history-making element, and it will win Best Picture. That said, I won’t be surprised to hear Gravity read out. I said back in November that it was the best film of the year, but it would never win Best Picture, and I’m sticking with that prediction to the end.

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave
David O’Russell – American Hustle
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Will win: Alfonso Cuarón
Should win: Alfonso Cuarón
Possible shocker: Steve McQueen

For the second year in a row, we’re heading for a Picture/Director split vote. This used to be such a rarity, but perhaps it’s becoming the norm. Last year, they had no choice, after Affleck’s surprising snub, but this year it seems like they will purposely make this call. After claiming every major precursor award, Cuarón stands as one of the few locks of the night. His masterful direction cannot be ignored, and Gravity is nothing but his triumph to revel in. Adding to that, he’ll make history as the first Latino director to take the prize. Sure, McQueen would make history too, but not this year. If McQueen does pull off the shock win, there won’t be any doubt about Best Picture. Whatever O’Russell directs next will sweep the awards. He’s now officially overdue.

BEST ACTOR
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

Will win: Matthew McConaughey
Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Possible shocker: Leonardo DiCaprio

The McConaissance cannot be stopped. He will win an Academy Award for Best Actor, something none of us dreamed would happen just a few years ago. His performance has everything the Academy loves, and it seems impossible for them to ignore him. I will give him the due credit. He does a phenomenal job, and winning the award also seems a solid nod to the way he’s transformed his career, much like Sandra Bullock’s win a few years ago for The Blind Side. You have to feel bad for Leo. This kind of performance would normally win. Ditto with Christian Bale. Transformative performances (Leo gets dirty, Bale gets ugly) are normally showered with awards. Any other year, and the prize would be theirs. Bruce Dern also had the winning formula for an Oscar too. A seasoned, but only once nominated, veteran actor, in a moving and timeless performance. His nomination will be the only prize. Likewise with Chiwetel Ejiofor. Sadly, I don’t think he’ll ever get close again, but what a ride it’s been.  I still have the feeling deep down that Leo can pull off an upset. He has a huge groundswell of support, and there could be voter exhaustion with McConaughey, meaning they turn elsewhere. You never know.

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

Will win: Cate Blanchett
Should win: They all should win. Seriously.
Possible shocker: Amy Adams

Possibly an even bigger lock than Director. Our Cate will win her second Academy Award, and perhaps, in some small way, make up for her shameful loss to Gwyneth Paltrow all those years ago. It seems the last-minute Woody Allen controversy thankfully hasn’t affected her chances, and she’s the only performer this season to win all the major precursor awards. Her performance in Blue Jasmine is truly one of the greatest ever seen on screen, and she must win. That being said, the other four women are all astonishingly good, and any other year, they would have easily won. Adams steals the show in a movie full of showstealers, Bullock carries an entire film literally by herself, Dench gives the most beautiful performance of the year, and Streep knocks it out of the ballpark, yet again. It is a crying shame we can’t just have a five-way tie, because they all should take home something this year. I honestly can’t see it happening, but if somehow the Allen scandal sways voters, Adams will steal the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Will win: Jared Leto
Should win: Michael Fassbender
Possible shocker: Barkhad Abdi

If not for BAFTA, Leto would have made a clean sweep as well. Despite that, he will take the Academy Award, and just like his co-star, this seemed incredibly unlikely a few years ago. Like McConaughey, he has delivered a powerhouse performance, while at the same time delivering some truly gracious and moving acceptance speeches over the past few months. The Academy cannot overlook a man playing a transsexual dying of HIV/AIDS. It has Oscar written all over it. I personally think Fassbender’s performance is better, but his lack of campaigning from the beginning hurt his chances. It’s amazing that Hill scores his second nomination. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, because he does, but who would have thought the chubby kid from Superbad would end up being a double Oscar nominee? Cooper does a superb job again, and he’ll get there one day. The only possibly shocker I can see is the Abdi. BAFTA loved him, and Oscar does love to reward debut performances.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave
Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska

Will win: Lupita Nyong’o
Should win: Jennifer Lawrence
Possible shocker: June Squibb

The one major category I am completely unsure of. I thought it was Lawrence’s for the longest time, and I still do think it could happen. Had she not won last year, the award would be hers. Her performance is just sublime. There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner since Tom Hanks in the early 90s, so I know it’s almost impossible to imagine it happening. Her somewhat surprising BAFTA win, and the fact Oscar voting opened just after those awards, is the one glimmer of hope for J-Law. That said, my money is on Nyong’o. As I already mentioned, they love to award debut performances, and hers is of the highest calibre. She gives a brilliant and heart-wrenching performance, and has quickly become the darling of the awards circuit. It’s a coin-flip between the two. Do I honestly think June Squibb can pull off a shocker? Maybe. The two frontrunners could split the vote, and my feeling is Squibb will be in third, and could be the surprise winner. Roberts and Hawkins are just happy to be there.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Will win: Her
Should win: American Hustle
Possible shocker: Blue Jasmine

Another coin-flip category. It’s an incredibly tight race between Her and American Hustle. I have absolutely no idea how this will go. Her is the best screenplay, and certainly the most original, so that’s why I’m laying my bet there. It won more precursor awards, so it definitely has the momentum. But it seems unimaginable that American Hustle won’t win a single award, and this is the only category it stands a real chance. I’ve changed my mind on this one a dozen times. Either way, I’m happy.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years A Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Will win: 12 Years A Slave
Should win: The Wolf of Wall Street
Possible shocker: Philomena

Where Best Picture goes, so too usually does the Screenplay, which is why I’m going with 12 Years A Slave. It’s probably not the best screenplay of the pack, but it rides the momentum to take the award. That said, I could really see a Philomena upset.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Happy” – Despicable Me 2
“Let It Go” – Frozen
“The Moon Song” – Her
“Ordinary Man” – Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Will win: “Let It Go”
Should win: “Let It Go”
Possible shocker: “Happy”

Nothing but “Let It Go” should be winning this award. There is a strong chance for U2’s sappy Mandela tribute to steal it, especially given how hard Bono has been campaigning, but I’m confident this won’t happen. “Let It Go” has become a phenomenon, and it has to be rewarded. If the two split the vote, Pharrell could dance his way up onto the podium. Dear god, no.

I’m not going to bother going into great detail with the other awards. I’m predicting Gravity to clean-up the tech awards (Cinematography, Editing (possible upset for Captain Phillips though), Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Score), Disney will take home both Animated categories, with Frozen taking out Feature and Get A Horse! taking home Short, and The Great Gatsby will score both Costume and Production Design, a double win for Australia’s Catherine Martin. As for things like Foreign Film, Documentary, and the short film awards…flip a coin, or go with whatever seems the most bleak.

There’s a lot of Oscar watchers predicting locks of shocks and surprises, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen. Take my predictions with a grain of salt. I could be completely wrong on everything, it’s one of those years. Have a great Oscar day, and I’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up my thoughts on the winners and losers.

The case for 12 Years A Slave

Will it win Best Picture?

The film to dominate this awards season has really been 12 Years A Slave. While there hasn’t been a clear frontrunner, Steven McQueen’s powerful film has been the closest to claiming that title. It doesn’t have the most nominations, which admittedly is unusual for a frontrunner, but it has the most prestige about it, and seems to be the stand-out choice this year. Can it make history and claim the big prize? Here’s why it could happen.

It’s time. That’s the campaign slogan the studio has been running with for the film’s final ‘for your consideration’ advertisements. While this wording is purposely vague, and could mean all sorts of things to different people, it’s fairly obvious what they’re trying to say here: it’s time that a black film won Best Picture. And don’t deride me calling it a “black film”. Everyone else is. To expand on that fairly gauche notion, it’s time for a film with an African-American lead character, in a story about African-Americans, written by an African-American and directed by an African-Brit, won the award for Best Picture. To be honest, I find the campaign a little tacky, as it basically reduces the film to just being a black film and nothing else, but as I’ve said numerous times before, the Academy loves to make history. It’s been 13 years since the Academy made history by anointing Halle Berry as the first African-American to win Best Actress. Perhaps the studio is right, and it IS time they awarded an African-American film with Best Picture.

It’s the only important film. All this year’s nominees are great films, and they all have a great story to tell, but no other nominee this year tells as important a story as 12 Years A Slave. Gravity breaks new ground visually and delivers an incredible cinematic experience, American Hustle crackles with an amazing script and four stellar performances, The Wolf of Wall Street showcases one of the finest actors in the world working again with one of the finest directors, but none of them encapsulate something important in history like 12 Years A Slave. Slavery is one of the most shameful chapters in American history. It has been portrayed on the screen many times before, but never like this. Never from the personal perspective of a slave, and a wrongfully imprisoned slave at that. The film doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable true nature of what it was to be a slave. The beatings are severe, the treatment is disgraceful, the despair is unrelenting. This is an important film. It demands to be acknowledged. Voters will struggle to overlook that.

The powerhouse ensemble, and the Pitt factor. While American Hustle may have taken the prize for Ensemble Cast at the SAG Awards, the sheer size of 12 Years A Slave’s ensemble is hard to ignore. Hustle had four powerhouse performances, but essentially 12 Years has six, maybe even seven truly wonderful turns. Everyone is at the top of their game, from Ejiofor, Nyong’o and Fassbender, and even into the smaller roles like Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, and Sarah Paulson. A wonderful ensemble performance can speak volumes to voters. It worked for Shakespeare In Love, Chicago and even Argo, so it could work just as well here. When one performer doesn’t meet the grade, it hurts the entire film (I’m looking at you Russell Crowe…), but there are no dull performances here. No one lets the team down. Add to that, the Brad Pitt factor. Not only is he part of that ensemble, he is also one of the film’s producers. That means, if the film wins Best Picture, Pitt is finally awarded an Oscar. Sure, Pitt doesn’t have the Leo internet meme campaign behind him, but you can’t deny he’s been long overdue to win one. Seeing him standing up there is hard to resist.

Can 12 Years A Slave create its own piece of history, and become the first African-American film to win Best Picture? Does it have the might to take down the Gravity juggernaut? Am I predicting it to win Best Picture? Find out in my final predictions for all major categories tomorrow…