Sunday, February 23, 2014

Voting for the 2014 Oscars

It’s finally here! Awards show season kicked off this January with the Golden Globes, and every week there are more societies looking to promote what they find the best films of the year.  Laced with nominations in every category imaginable along with red carpet interviews that are so graciously candid yet elegant, I look forward to enjoying every second.  As we approach the best part of the cinematic year, the Academy Awards Ceremony, I make it my goal, my duty, to see everything (or close to) as far as the nominees go in the major categories. What else is there to do with a polar vortex sweeping the Tri-State Area?
This has been a very strong past few months in the world of cinema, and it has been tough pitting these pictures against each other, as each is extraordinary in their own way.  Some made me laugh, some made me cry, some made me question why they are even such a big deal?  After careful consideration, these are my votes for the 2014 Oscars:
Best Picture: the hardest category to choose a winner for, perhaps because there have been so many silver screen spectacles this past year. Of the nine (NINE) nominees, my favorite film (and probably the best, as movie making goes) was “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  However, it probably won’t win, as the academy is made up of people who are upwards of 60 years old and probably aren’t into films that are near pornographic.  Especially those of the three hour variety.  Nonetheless, this film is fast-paced as anything.  The source material attached to the film does prove Belfort to be an unreliable narrator at times, but Scorsese is able to dress up everything and keep us watching.  Unlike “American Hustle” (which will probably win if “12 Years a Slave” or “Gravity”-God help us-doesn’t), this film has illegal dealings and an actual plot to follow.  Unfortunately, “American Hustle” may win as a result of its ensemble cast and it being the “safest” film, with the most glamour and the least touchy subject matter.  Nonetheless, if you are looking for a real movie, “Wolf of Wall Street” is the one to watch.  

Best Actor: Christian Bale may be a cinematic chameleon and his toupee had plenty of personality in itself, but his character in “American Hustle” didn’t have an insane amount of depth.  Leonardo DiCaprio is at his finest in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” as he bosses everyone around and lets sex, money and drug rule his life.  However, Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” was brilliant.  I mean, the man lost 47 pounds for this role, and looked like a skeleton to get the “dying from HIV look.”  The pent-up frustration he showed in playing Don Woodroof was moving, and the lengths his character went in order to keep himself from dying of AIDS was incredible.  Of course, this film was “based on a true story” so there was something to draw from, but McConaughey’s performance was incomparable.  Even in his bag of bones appearance, I was captivated during the duration of “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett has won me over again.  Ten years ago she shined in Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and now her erratic performance as the titular character in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” has left me feeling the utmost sympathy for her character.  “Blue Jasmine” follows her as she emerges from the denial she faces as she comes to terms with her recent divorce.  She flees from New York and imposes herself upon her sister in San Francisco.  We see her go through one of the hardest things a woman can face, and cheer for her as she starts to get herself together.  The emotional roller coaster Blanchett rides on screen makes many feel sorry for her troubles, and wishes she could overcome everything in her way.  As much as I adore Amy Adams, I felt like her character lacked the depth that Blanchett showed.  She (Adams) won the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, but Blanchett’s emotional range has a stronger presence and should be recognized by the Academy (sorry Amy).  She also beats out Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” anyday.  I’m sorry, being lost in space without George Clooney at your side must be awful, but Cate Blanchett’s tragedy is far more common and likely to happen to the average female.  Thus, once more hitting home for us.  Even though we also love Meryl (who doesn’t?) her performance was a bit too kooky for my taste; it’s not difficult to act high for half of your screen time.  
Best Supporting Actor: This is a tough one; I am caught between Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle” and Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave.”  Although a lot of people don’t think he will win it, I thoroughly enjoyed Cooper in “American Hustle.”  He has come a long way to taking minor roles in R-Rated comedies (“Wedding Crashers”), and his second collaboration with David O’Russell has led him to another Oscar nomination.  And the appeal goes beyond his hair curlers and funky perm.  He plays a cop caught up in the blurred lines of the Abscam operation, Richie DeMaso.  He’s funny, confused and torn.  However, Fassbender was also a favorite of mine this awards show season.  His on-screen presence is dynamic as Edwin Epps, the plantation master.  His personality is loud here, and his strange behavior is interesting to watch, even though we all cringed whenever he would make his slaves dance.  He has potential to go gain more critical acclaim in his career, and  “12 Years A Slave” could be the starting point for that.  
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years A Slave.”  As much as I love Jennifer Lawrence and thoroughly enjoyed her goofy presence in “American Hustle,” I don’t think she deserves an Oscar this year.  Her character had little depth to it, and not even locking lips with Amy Adams will secure her award.  Nyong’o was excellent in “12 Years,” as her character showed boldness in times of adversity, and she has much more depth than J-Law’s sleazy character could hope to have.  Unlike Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County,” Nyong’o’s pain and inner struggle does move us, and Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”) doesn’t have enough feeling in her performance to make us cry for her.  
Best Animated Film: Frozen. If you didn’t like it, then mentally prepare yourself for its soundtrack blaring from my car’s stereo for the next few weeks.  End of story.  
Best Original Screenplay: “Her” by Spike Jonze.  I still can’t get over how good the film was.  And I totally understand that “American Hustle” was a “big deal.”  Hear me out-as many can agree with this statement-it is supremely overrated.  It was a strong character piece, but nothing more.  I couldn’t even tell you what the plot was beyond the first ten minutes; I probably could tell you more about “The Prestige.”  “Her” isn’t a story about falling in love with technology, but is a fresh look at love and how the complexities of it make it worth it in the end.  Screenwriter Spike Jonze uses Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), an operating system, as the tool to teach Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) what it really means to love someone selflessly, and giving yourself that joy.  The allure of falling in love with a piece of technology is brilliant, as it is almost frightening how dependant we are on it today.  As much as I did enjoy “Blue Jasmine,” which is up for the same nomination, the story line behind that script is more hackneyed and expected.  “American Hustle” did have some good lines too, but after researching the film I found that a decent amount of it was improvisation done by the actors.  The story line goes a little fuzzy anyhow.  Nonetheless, “Her” is the light at the end of the tunnel for this year’s various scripts.  

Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name.  Everyone is writing memoirs these days, because there is nothing more interesting to exhaust in a novel than one’s own life.  This memoir is worth reading, and film watching.  The differences between the book and the film were hard to really pick out, as Jordan Belfort lends himself to the pages of the novel, and he becomes an unreliable narrator.  Who wouldn’t be though, based on the amount of drugs he consumed on a regular basis.  This helps him to a fault, as his drug-induced tirade filled with stocks and sex is a brilliant display on screen.  Even though “12 Years a Slave” was the most accurate film-to-source material, it wasn’t as captivating as “Wolf” was, as far as making a spectacle (in this case, a rather burlesque one) of its writing.  Leonardo DiCaprio badgered Scorsese for years to turn this book into a film, and the product is inspiring (in perhaps the most sickening way possible).  

Best Director: Once more, this is another tough category to single out.  Alfonso Cuaron spent four years developing “Gravity” and worked endlessly with Sandra Bullock to develop her character. “12 Years A Slave” was realistic, as the novel it was based on practically wrote the screenplay, giving Steve McQueen lots to work with.  “American Hustle” was glitzy, as David O’Russell allowed for lots of improvisational dialogue and character development.  “Nebraska,” shot in black and white, was an interesting yet effective choice of Alexander Payne.  “The Wolf of Wall Street,” directed by Martin Scorsese, is the film that deserves to win in this category, even though it probably won’t.  There was so much going on onscreen, and through the three hour drug-induced, sex-laced roller coaster, it’s hard not to give him credit for his work.  Scorsese had to personally edit the film to avoid NC-17 ratings, and was meticulous about every detail on-screen.  He has worked on many films in the past, but none of them is as excessive as “Wolf.”  Cinematic excess is difficult to pull off, and no one does it as well as Marty.  

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