Andrew Riche: It is that time of the year again for movies in which box office receipts from 2013 are formally marked off, the screeners have all been sent to members of the Academy, and the votes are in as to who will be nominated for the Oscars. The announcement for the Oscar nominations, like usual, took place at an ungodly hour for some (7:30 AM CT, 5:30 PT), but there are always a few surprises that leak out of the looming sunrise as it did this past Wednesday. Some annual enjoyments that we can certainly expect for nomination day include shocking snubs, Harvey Weinstein getting a seat at the Best Picture table, and Meryl Streep just because she’s Meryl Friggin’ Streep! But I will pass the baton over to the Place To Be Nation movie reviewer, Derek Cornett, as I ask him before we delve into the details what his take was when the Oscar nominations were first announced on Wednesday morning.
Derek Cornett: Well I think right off the bat, this year’s Argo is looking to be American Hustle. This movie has so much momentum right now and really has a chance to walk away with some big awards. After reviewing the big eight awards… I don’t know if there were any MAJOR snubs. I would have liked to see Sam Rockwell get a nod in supporting actor for the Way Way Back, but that was wishful thinking.
Andrew: Now, it is fitting that you talk about the movie ‘Argo,” which did not get Ben Affleck a nomination for Best Director this time last year. However, later that night at the Critic’s Choice Awards and in the ensuing awards ceremonies, not only did Affleck win but “Argo” was the runaway for Best Picture by the time we got to February. This year, after the nominations were announced, “American Hustle” tied for the most nominations alongside “Gravity” with 10, but it was “12 Years a Slave” that walked away with the Best Picture prize at the Critic’s Choice Awards. “American Hustle” did, however, win the Best Ensemble Award. If “12 Years a Slave” also wins the Producers Guild Award for Best Picture this weekend, is it an overwhelming favorite to win over “Hustle”?
Derek: I thought “12 Years a Slave” was an amazing film. I ranked it quite high on the movies I saw this year, but I don’t see it walking away with Best Picture for the Oscars due to previous Steve McQueen snubs… namely “Shame.”
Andrew: Since I doubt too many people are terribly interested in who is leading the way to win Best Costume Design or Best Cinematography, let us get going with the least publicized and, sometimes, most unpredictable category, and that is Best Supporting Actress. We have newcomer Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine,” previous winners Julia Roberts for “August: Osage County” and Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle,” an older name in June Squibb for “Nebraska,” and a new face in Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave.” A few months ago, I would have said Nyong’o would be running away with this award, but Lawrence’s performance drew the love of many and people campaigning really hard for Hawkins to get nominated when she got blanked years ago for a great performance in “Happy-Go-Lucky.” What say you?
Derek: I think Lawrence is such a hot topic right now. She is one of the biggest female stars in Hollywood and I feel as though that is going to sway voters.
Nyong’o’s performance was incredible in “12 Years” and she was so captivating on the screen… but Lawrence has so much momentum right now.
Andrew: Does the fact that Lawrence already won an Oscar last year for a separate David O. Russell-filmed role hurt her because the voters might want to spread the love elsewhere or does it help her because she has popped her Oscar cherry, so to speak?
Derek: I think her momentum from “The Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook” just adds to it to be honest. She is everywhere right now and I think this is her opening. It would be one of the two though.
Andrew: And oh, what about that Oprah! A lot of the talk that morning was the fact that the O Powerful One was not nominated for what was deemed a very good performance in a mediocre money maker in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” What about that and the fact that Scarlett Johannson’s disembodied voice in the movie “Her” was deemed ineligible for this category?
Derek: I would of given Scarlett the nod there. Her voice made the movie what it was and from what I have heard, it was a spectacular performance.
But again, the Academy makes some weird decisions and without someone actually being on camera, I don’t see her getting a chance to even get the recognition she deserves.
Andrew: Prediction- I go with Lupita Nyong’o from Kenya to pull it off for “12 years a Slave.”
Derek: Deep down, I hope that’s true, but these voters can be out there.
Andrew: We now move over to the men in this category and look at Best Supporting Actor. Similarly to Best Supporting Actress, we have “12 Years a Slave” (Steve McQueen favorite Michael Fassbender) facing off with “American Hustle” (Bradley Cooper, who was up for Best Actor last year). The newcomer here is Barkhad Abdi, who really turned heads as a Somali pirate in the film “Captain Phillips.” Jonah Hill got his second nomination in this category for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and it was a pleasant surprise to some. And then there is Jared Leto, who transformed into a fascinating performance in the AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club.” Who is looking good here?
Derek: I may be the biggest Michael Fassbender fan out there. This dude is incredible and deep down, I hope he FINALLY gets the award to show the world that… however… Leto has this thing almost tied up. His performance was spot on and very powerful in the development of the film “Dallas Buyers Club” along with helping out McConaughey’s character.
Andrew: Barkhad Abdi’s performance just got released on DVD for everyone to see for the next few weeks while “Dallas Buyers Club” was rarely seen despite its consistent praise on the awards circuit. Is this close to a slam dunk for Leto like it was for Heath Ledger’s performance in “The Dark Knight” or is there some creeping doubt?
Derek: I don’t think it has the Heath Ledger momentum, but it is up there. He has a lot of steam going in and his sacrifice and performance is justice of that praise. Ledger’s run from Batman is something of legend when it comes to awards though. They practically gave it to him once his name was announced on the ballot.
Andrew: For the snub list, I can think up a few in this case. Will Forte impressed many people for his part in “Nebraska.” Daniel Brühl, who had quite a busy year, seemed to some like an easy choice at first to be nominated for “Rush,” but no soup for him. Then there was the late James Gandolfini, whose performance in “Enough Said” made some think he would get the all-too-familiar posthumous nomination. You already brought up Sam Rockwell in “The Way Way Back,” but one that I actually saw that i would pine for was James Franco in the outrageous “Spring Breakers.” Any of those you would make a case for?
Derek: I think “Nebraska” is one of the big surprises of the season and I am happy with Dern getting the nod for best actor. I don’t think “Rush” did enough to get the big time recognition in comparison to the other films in the category. I do think that Gandolfini put on a great performance but again, it just wasn’t enough to put him in the running with these other actors that had success. I would say Franco is the outlaw of acting in today’s Hollywood. He can do whatever he wants and be very good at it, good enough to make people turn and take notice and that’s saying a lot for “Spring Breakers.”
Andrew: Prediction- Michael Fassbender gets some momentum at the end for his role, but Jared Leto wins.
Derek: I agree.
Andrew: Before we reach the last four major categories, let us take a quick detour and talk about two awards that I have found myself more and more intrigued in seeing who wins over the years, and those are the writing awards. I have felt in recent years that the winners for Best Screenplay are almost equally significant to the Best Director award, with the only Best Picture winner to not win a screenplay award was The Artist in 2011.
Let us start with Best Adapted Screenplay, where three movie stars are present. One is Steve Coogan, who co-wrote “Philomena” with Jeff Pope. The other two are Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who helped write the trilogy-ending “Before Midnight” with veteran director Richard Linklater. There are also Terence Winter (whom many know as the creator of “Boardwalk Empire”) for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave,” and Billy Ray for “Captain Phillips.” Any front runner here?
Derek: I like “The Wolf” here. It was the best movie I saw this year and I think this may be the only one it walks away with. “12 Years” is my second pick though. Both are tough and both have some controversy, which helps their cause.
Andrew: Were you surprised at the absence throughout the awards for the Coen Brothers’ folk singer tale “Inside Llewyn Davis,” starting with what many saw as a reachable goal for the Coens for Best Adapted Screenplay?
Derek: I was surprised, but on the other hand I wonder if the momentum of the movie is due to its limited release. I still think it may be one of the best films of the year to not get the recognition it deserves. Its limited release really shocked me due to their name, and the ensemble cast they put together.
Andrew: You have already said it will be Terence Winter to take the prize for his three-hour-long “Wolf of Wall Street” script. Because of the fact that screenplay awards ride along so often with the big awards, I will go with John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave,” but this a competitive category, nonetheless.
We move on now to one of the wild card awards due to the fact that it involves, well, you know, freshly minted stories, and that is Best Original Screenplay. We have seen winners for this award come from eventual Best Pictures like “American Beauty,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “The King’s Speech.” Then there are the outliers like “The Usual Suspects,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and, most recently, “Django Unchained.” Now Quentin Tarantino is passing this year’s award off to five very different types of films: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell for “American Hustle,” Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine,” Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack for “Dallas Buyers Club,” Bob Nelson for “Nebraska,” and Spike Jonze for “Her.” What do you think of that eclectic list?
Derek: This is where I really like “Her.” The movie is very captivating and creating a lot of buzz. performances by Scarlett Johannson and Joaquin Phoenix are really pushing this one into the minds of voters. This is another spot where “American Hustle” could walk away with the award though. This movie has a lot going for it and without a doubt it is a great film. Dallas Buyers Club is the underdog in this category though. I think the story and the performances were some of the best, but I don’t know if it will have enough to pull out the victory.
Andrew: In line with the great work that Peter Bogdanovich and the late Polly Platt did in “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon” (both of which were nominated for their screenplays in the early 1970’s but lost), I have a small bias for Alexander Payne’s film that honors that style of cinema with “Nebraska.” I think the film is slightly too off-kilter for the Academy to totally embrace, but it has a chance here.
Derek: I think it would be great to see someone step outside the box for a movie that is fantasy and reality put together.
Andrew: A safe choice, but a wise choice. I will take a chance and go with Amy Adams to win it, but I am not 100% confident that will happen.
Now, we reach the Best Actor category, which truly was a loaded plate. By the time we got done with the Toronto Film Festival, it was easy money that Chiwetel Ejiofor was going to be nominated for his incredible part in “12 Years a Slave” and Matthew McConaughey was going to get something for his physically demanding performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Bruce Dern is an old hat, but it did not go out of style when he got tons of praise for his dry, no-nonsense approach in “Nebraska.” The two that sneaked in to some but still put on great performances were Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Christian Bale in “American Hustle.” Quite the lineup, eh?
Derek: I have no doubt in my mind that Matthew McConaughey walks away with the award here. Bale is incredible. DiCaprio is going to fall again. Dern is the grizzled vet and Chiwetel did great, but Matthew McConaughey has this thing wrapped up. I want DiCaprio to win, but I know he won’t and I don’t know what he’s going to have to do in order to win at this point.
Andrew: It is well known that DiCaprio, like Tom Cruise, has had an embattled relationship with Academy voters, going all the way back to 1997 when Titanic won a slew of awards while Leo was not even nominated, leading to him doing a much talked-about no-show. I absolutely loved him in “The Aviator” (for which he was nominated but lost) and “Django Unchained” (for he which he was not nominated at all). Is this his best performance and even if it isn’t, does he have any shot at winning the gold man?
Derek: I don’t think he does… I hate to say it. I thoroughly enjoy his work and feel his is one of the premiere actors of this generation of stars and he won’t get what is coming to him… although Pacino didn’t either until later in his career. That may be his same situation.
Andrew: Now, this is a category where catcalls about omissions can be heard a mile away. A two-time Academy Award winner, Tom Hanks, got passed up two times over, one as the hijacked “Captain Phillips” and the other as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.” Then there was Robert Redford, who put on one of his best performances in decades with “All Is Lost.” Then there was Joaquin Phoenix’s heart-bending main character in “Her,” Oscar Issac in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station.” It was almost unfair to just have five spots for this year. In a perfect world, would you have reshuffled any of those?
Derek: I don’t think so. I think the Oscars try to just nominate people now who did outstanding, when in reality there are only 2-3 real choices for winners. I think this dates back to Micky Rourke and “The Wrestler.” They wanted to recognize him, but in no way was he winning.
Andrew: Back in 2010, “The Fighter” did not win Best Picture or Best Director, but garnered a Best Supporting Actor Award for Christian Bale and a Best Supporting Actress Award for Melissa Leo. I also remember 2004 when the great “Mystic River” did not win it all, but Tim Robbins and Sean Penn both won Oscars for their respective roles. Do you see something similar happening for “Dallas Buyers Club” with Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey?
Derek: I do. Like I said earlier, the story was very good and the performances were great, but there is something missing from the movie. “Mystic River” was an incredible movie but again, the overall film was missing some small piece that didn’t allow it to win the big one.
Andrew: “Dallas Buyers Club” may not be the last name on the envelope at the end of the night, but you and I both agree that the film has two Academy Awards with its name on it.
We go now to Best Director. This is usually the first real tell as to which film is going to win Best Picture, but that is not always the case. Just look at last year, when Ben Affleck was not nominated in a year were his film “Argo” cleaned house on the awards circuit. That trophy went to Ang Lee for pulling off some amazing technical and cinematic achievements in “Life of Pi.” Now, we have another risk-taking director with a technically stunning movie, and that is Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity.” I have been in love with this guy’s work since “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and I personally rooting for the win here. But Cuaron has quite the gauntlet to run first. There is Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave.” If he wins, he will be the first African American to win Best Director in Oscar history. David O. Russell may have made his best movie yet with “American Hustle,” and he almost won last year for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Then there is Alexander Payne for “Nebraska” and Martin Scorcese for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” His movie did not win Best Picture at the Critics Choice Awards, but Cuaron did win Best Director. Are you getting on the “Gravity” train right here, Derek?
Derek: I really like McQueen and “12 years a Slave” here, but for some reason, I think that it is going to get shoved to the side like Shame did years ago. I think Hustle is the big gun at this point with “Gravity” in a close second. Scorcese did amazing work with the Wolf, but I think some of the negative attention has scared voters.
Andrew: Were you surprised at all or somewhat expecting with an air of convention that in the Best Director race, Spike Jonze would get left out for his directorial effort in “Her”? And what about Paul Greengrass, who had been nominated in the past for another fact-based story in “United 93,” not getting the nod for his shaky cam style in “Captain Phillips”?
Derek: I don’t think so on Spike Jonze. There are some heavy hitters for Director and I think the story of Her was what is bringing him to the dance. I think Captain Phillips is suffering the same way that “Gravity” is with movies like Hustle, Her, and Wall Street coming out so recently… whatever steam they had is all but gone.
Andrew: You are tentatively deciding on David O. Russell to get his Best Director prize after coming up empty his first two tries. I will go with Alfonso Cuaron. And Steve McQueen is right there neck and neck with both of them, it seems. This is going to be a nail biter all the way till the end.
Here we go, my man! The big banana. The one that Jack Nicholson usually does unless he is too busy hitting on Jennifer Lawrence backstage. Best Picture. This used to be a five-film list for eons until it was changed to expand the field based on number of votes. This year we have nine with “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Of the nine nominees, the four that did not get Best Director nods to go with it were “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her,” and “Philomena.” That usually spells doom for such movies, but hey, it worked out for “Argo”! “Her” is the only Best Picture nominee without a single acting nomination. Derek, before I get your pick, what do you think of the field itself and what does it say about the depth of the year in movies in general?
Derek: I go back to an earlier comment… they are simply nominating to nominate at this point. As much as I love Wolf of Wall Street, it doesn’t have a chance. Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska didn’t get the notoriety through the theaters. Her is a hot ticket item but will fall short. Captain Phillips and Gravity are lost in sea and space respectively. I think this one comes down to 12 Years and Hustle… I HOPE “12 Years” comes out on top… but I don’t know if it will happen. I think Hustle has got a lot of steam and it may just be the winner.
Andrew: So at this moment, for your pick for Best Picture, you are taking “American Hustle” over “12 Years a Slave”? Any way you can be swayed before the big night?
Derek: I don’t think so… I know there are events between now and then, but in my mind, the Hustle is going big and I really wish it wasn’t true. Andrew: I say your wish DOES comes true and “12 Years a Slave” wins the big one.