The Oscars are tomorrow. I know that. You know that. And with fewer than 24 hours to go, I feel as though it’s time for me to purposelessly predict what will win. Instead of merely predicting who and what will win each award, I will add my own opinions as well; who I think should win out of these nominees, and who I felt was snubbed of a worthy nomination (try to see through my pro-Inside Llewyn Davis bias).
So here it goes!
Will win: 12 Years a Slave. The Academy loves a period film that explores the often ignored horrors that pervade American history, and many people consider 12 Years a Slave to be a landmark film. Don’t rule out Gravity, though; as a spectacular achievement in cinema, the Academy will find it hard to deny the technical and formal power of Gravity.
Should win: The Wolf of Wall Street. I don’t think this is a particularly strong crop of Best Picture nominees this year. Many of my favourite films of 2013 are not nominated. Having said that, I think The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film out of these nine nominees. It would be easy to say that The Wolf of Wall Street film is a cautionary tale, warning that sex, drugs and money is inherently amoral. If it was, then its encoded messages would be endemically unoriginal. Instead, Martin Scorsese and his team examine how sex, drugs and money can be temporarily invigorating, but they will ultimately leave you as an empty shell of a human. The film indicts Belfort, but it is not a cautionary tale because it is so hyperbolic, and the people who need to be cautioned by the film are too far up their own arses to pay any attention to the egocentricism that characterises Belfort.
The Wolf of Wall Street works for me as an experiment in filmic form; it uses classic formal devices like editing, repetition and structure to allegorise Belfort’s life. Do we need to see twelve consecutive orgy sequences to get the point that Belfort is a debauched man? No, not really. But does Belfort need to spend $20 000 on one dinner? Of course he doesn’t. The Wolf of Wall Street is self-reflexive, tongue-in-cheek and very funny, and it is my favourite film out of the Best Picture nominees.
Should have been nominated: Inside Llewyn Davis. Inside Llewyn Davis was almost entirely snubbed by the Academy this year. I could write tens of thousands of words explaining why Inside Llewyn Davis is a perfect film, but I know you wouldn’t read it. It is a film as funny as it is melancholic; as entertaining as it is morosely profound; and as thematically rich and inert as any film I’ve ever seen. It is a film deliberately structured to reward multiple viewings, and after seeing it three times in the cinema, I am convinced that it is one of the best films I’ve ever seen.
Will win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity. Cuaron controls every frame of Gravity with taut precision, deliberate choreography, immersive long takes and a consistently kinetic pace and flow. Despite a flawed script, Cuaron has crafted a pure work of cinema, and his Oscar is assured.
Should win: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity.
Should have been nominated: Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis. As auteurs, you constantly feel the presence of the Coen brothers in Inside Llewyn Davis, and their directorial choices are evidently brilliant. From their decision to make an ‘anti-musical’, eschewing the triteness of breaking into song as is done in regular musicals, to their aesthetic decision to shoot in soft focus, mirroring the faded covers of Bob Dylan’s albums, their choices are subtle, and perfectly fold into the intricate fabric of the film. They evoke wonderfully painstaking performances from all their actors, and every scene flows with a quiet, tender, beautiful pace. The Coens are the best directors working today.
Will win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club. The brilliance of Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club is his willingness to completely embody his character, rather than simply impersonate the real-life figure of Ron Woodruff. From the way he gruffly mumbles, to his emaciated physical appearance (not merely the weight he loss, but the way he postures himself as empowered despite his withered visage), McConaughey creates a character that is far more complex and intriguing than the one simply written in the script. That is the sign of superb acting.
Should win: I’d be happy to see any of these nominees win (except Christian Bale, of course), but I want to give a shout out to Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street). I think Leo can be a great actor, but only when he allows himself to become completely unhinged, without preconceptions of whether audiences will like his character or not. That is why I think he has only delivered two great performances – Django Unchained and The Wolf of Wall Street. The worst kind of movie villain is the villain who thinks he’s a hero. Jordan Belfort is a man numbed by amorality and egotism, as he prances around a world where greed is, far from being merely “good”, a religious ideology. As Belfort, Leo spits out his vitriolic, capitalistic diatribes with the same intense self-belief as Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. There is no denying the hilarity of Leo’s broad, physical comedy either – he acts like a drug-addled Buster Keaton at times. I hope the Academy shows the scene where he gets anally penetrated by a candle as they pan to Leo in the crowd.
Should have been nominated: I’m not sure why both Tom Hanks (Captain Philips) and Robert Redford (All is Lost) were snubbed in favour of Christian Bale’s ultimately bland and undemanding performance in American Hustle. I’d also like to give a specific shout-out to two great performances that were never really part of the Awards race. Firstly, Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), whose emotionally scarred facial expressions when struggling through each intimate folk song are nothing short of astonishing. Secondly, I want to mention Toni Servillo (The Great Beauty), who waltzes through the film with a marvellously nonchalant self-assurance and stern facade, but heartbreakingly evokes the emotional fragility of his character, Jep, when required.
Will win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. While I didn’t love Blue Jasmine due to its plotless and repetitive exposition, I can’t deny that Blanchett’s appropriation of the Woody Allen neurotic New Yorker is wonderful. Much like McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Blanchett adds traits to her character that are beyond what is merely written on the page through her performance. Few actresses could have managed to act so histrionically and yet ground their character firmly in gritty reality quite like ‘our Cate’, even with an actor’s director like Allen at the helm. She gives the ‘Woody Allen Jewish archetype’ her own spin, subverting Alvy Singer’s self-awareness by vividly communicating her character’s haughty ignorance in the way she walks and talks.
Should win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine. Compared to Cate, this is a pretty lacklustre field.
Should have been nominated: Again, I’d like to give shout-outs to two performances; performances that were always unlikely to receive a nomination, but should have received one. Firstly, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (Enough Said), who is as funny, sharp, human, broken and conflicted as any performer this year. She is especially impressive given how bombastic her acting style can be, and how nuanced her character embodiment is in the very good but flawed Enough Said. Also, Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color) should have featured more prominently this Awards Season, after delivering one of the year’s most physical, quiet and unassuming performances; she elicits a performance that rivals the best silent performances of all time.
Will win: Spike Jonze, Her. Sure, Her’s ‘novel’ premise and quasi-quirky ‘weirdness’ are what will win Spike Jonze a screenplay Oscar. However, its themes and inherent concept are not really that ‘original’; they are more grandiose than that. They are universal. However, I believe Her has a fairly problematic script. There are many great aspects to the screenplay, especially the attention to detail. There’s the unusual job held by Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly and his nuanced characterisation; there’s the miniscule quirks that make up the film’s futuristic aesthetic – the production designer merges contemporary Los Angeles with Shanghai to create a landscape that looks as oneiric and lustful as some of Tarkovsky’s best films. However, Spike Jonze has a tendency to literalise some of his themes in a one-off, unsubstantiated line of dialogue. While I enjoyed Her immensely, I felt it strained to appease undiscerning, unintelligent audiences at times. Its most profound themes are the unspoken ones; the themes about human relationships, rather human relationships with technology.
Should win: Blue Jasmine was buoyed by unnecessary exposition. Dallas Buyers Club was, in my opinion, a superb screenplay that was occasionally marred by inefficient repetition and heavy-handed direction. American Hustle was an abysmally incoherent and unfocused mess of narration, unsubstantiated characters and unfunny, unsubtle dialogue. And I haven’t seen Nebraska yet. So, all things considered, I will be gunning for Spike Jonze to win for Her, despite the gripe I described earlier.
Should have been nominated: Come on, do I really need to say it? Inside Llewyn Davis is not only the best written film of 2013; it features the greatest screenplay since, well, Fargo perhaps. It would take me thousands of words to encapsulate the brilliance of the Coen brothers’ script, so I’ll just mention a handful of things. Every single little event in the film – every line of dialogue – can be interpreted as absolutely hilarious, or deeply, profoundly tragic; it depends what mood you’re in as a viewer. For example, there is a really short scene where our eponymous protagonist tries to stash a box of unwanted LPs under a table belonging to his folk singing friend Al Cody. However, Llewyn discovers a box of Al Cody’s unwanted LPs under the table as well. The first time I saw this in the cinema, the audience howled with laughter; the next two times, there was poignant silence.
Llewyn is a character who is constantly in a state of movement, refusing to settle in one apartment, in one city, with one partner or with one label. He outwardly hates the idea of music existing as a portal to settle in the suburbs, or as a “joyous expression of the soul”. It would have been easy to write Llewyn as an unlikeable character, but I always empathised with Llewyn’s inability to achieve catharsis in his quest to uphold artistic integrity. Halfway through the film, we learn that Llewyn has recently experienced something very traumatic, and he is still grieving this. When I watched the film for a second and third time, Llewyn’s inconsiderate facade becomes highly tragic because I knew what had happened to him before the film’s events begun to take place; the more times you see Inside Llewyn Davis, the more Llewyn becomes a victim of fate and circumstance, rather than a man suffering from things he caused. This is where the film’s quasi-cyclic structure, consisting of a meta cycle within a cycle, comes into play; he is a man caught in an inexorable, inescapable rut of fate.
Bob Dylan appears right at the end of the film. If Llewyn played different clubs, or existed in a slightly different milieu, he could have had the same success as Dylan. Through their screenplay, the Coen’s inertly foreshadow future events and depicts minor characters as fully realised characters – from an elevator operator to an abortionist. If this was a fair world, then Inside Llewyn Davis would win Best Picture, Best Director and especially Best Original Screenplay; but this is not a fair world, as Llewyn (fare thee) well knows.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will win: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave. I thought the script for 12 Years a Slave was the weakest element of the film. There were so many heightened and profound lines of dialogue that were never fully substantiated, and the protagonist Solomon Northup did not feel to me like a fully realised character; he says something along the lines of “I don’t want to survive; I want to live”, but this element of his character was never properly explored beyond this one line. In this regard, the script is similar to that of Her. I thought 12 Years a Slave was really well structured – up until the sudden conclusion and uncharacteristically saccharine epilogue. However, the film’s cinematography, direction and performances are far greater than the screenplay it is founded upon.
Should win: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight. It’s unnerving to think that Bad Grandpa is nominated for more Oscars than the superb Before Midnight. Before Midnight is the most honest film of the year, and one of the funniest and most verisimilitudinous. It takes structural turns that mimic the beats of everyday life – taking with children, talking amongst a large group, talking intimately with your spouse, and, climactically, vehemently arguing with the one you love. I absolutely adore this film. I wrote a lot about Before Midnight and its screenplay in my review of the film, which you can find here.
Should have been nominated: Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring. The Bling Ring was criticised for failing to explore, in detail, the values of its characters. However, the film is a rather simple instance of form mirroring content. It is a superficial film about superficial people. It uses facile dialogue with very little subtext and basic characterisations to demonstrate how these characters’ lives are shallow and unfulfilling. This is again reflected in the film’s brilliantly cyclic and repetitive structure. The eponymous ‘Bling Ring’ breaks into the house of a celebrity, goes to a party or a club, and then brags about their robberies to themselves at home or others at their school. Rinse and repeat. Each time this three-sequence structure is repeated, another subtly insidious element is introduced: more people join the ‘Ring’, the drugs they take get increasingly harder, they start to hear sirens, and a gun is briefly brought into the mix. The Bling Ring is the most underrated film of the year.
Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Should win: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should have been nominated: Ali Mosaffa, The Past
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Should win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Should have been nominated: Amy Adams, Her
Will win: The Great Beauty
Should win: The Great Beauty
Should have been nominated: The Past, despite lacking the sharp social acumen of Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant A Separation and containing a couple of clichés. Blue is the Warmest Colour wasn’t selected as France’s entry into the category, so it was never going to be nominated.
Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Should win: Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis. Inside Llewyn Davis is a film that could only have been shot on film.
Should have been nominated: Chung Chung-hoon, Stoker
Will win: Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger, Gravity
Should win: Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger, Gravity
Should have been nominated: Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
Best Animated Feature
Will win: Frozen
Should win: Frozen (even though I didn’t love it).
Should have been nominated: Monsters University
Best Documentary Feature
Will win: The Act of Killing
Should win: I honestly didn’t see any of these films, but I’m very keen to see The Act of Killing.
Should have been nominated (or shortlisted at least): Room 237. I wasn’t a huge fan of Stories We Tell, but I was surprised by its snubbing.
Best Production Design
Will win: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Should win: K. K. Barrett and Gene Serdena, Her
Should have been nominated: Stefania Cella, The Great Beauty