Sunday, March 2, 2014

12 Years an Oscar Preview

by Chris Bellamy and Jeremy Mathews

We have been writing The Only Oscar Preview Longer Than The Oscars™ for 12 years, so if anyone understands how Chiwetel Ejiofor felt, it’s us. Back then we were so innocent, and we believed those confidence tricksters with ’70s wigs and fake British accents were just letting us in on the financial opportunity of a lifetime. Ah, youth – you should have seen Jeremy’s long hair back then! The Best Picture winner our inaugural year was “Chicago,” so we should have known we were doomed, and the nominees included a badly directed frontrunner (see above), modern classics from Spike Jonze and Hayao Miyazaki, an Alexander Payne comedy, and a Martin Scorsese crime epic.

How things have changed.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”
Brad Pitt says: The prospect of going forward with predictions for Best Supporting Actress worries me, both for myself and for Jeremy and Chris. So let’s do it!
Jeremy says: Oh boy. Loyal reader(s) of our Oscar extravaganza may be aware that I am quite a fan of Sally Hawkins’s performance in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” and was a tad perturbed in 2009 when Angelina Jolie stole her Best Actress nomination like it was Samantha Morton’s Oscar or Jennifer Aniston’s husband. So I am pleased to see her nominated at last for “Blue Jasmine.” Her performance isn’t the showpiece that Cate Blanchett’s leading turn is, but is essential in providing a human counterpoint to her co-star’s madness. Hawkins captures lingering self-doubt and tenderness in her portrayal of a woman torn between the reality of life and the fantasy of something better.
Of course, Hawkins has no actual chance of winning. The Oscar seems destined to go to either Lupita Nyong’o or Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence has the best chance of any of the four “American Hustle” acting nominees — mainly for her performance of “Live and Let Die.” But Nyong’o has a few things going for her. She’s a new discovery, while Lawrence won last year. She left a nice impression with her acceptance speeches and seems genuinely likable (not to suggest Lawrence doesn’t). And she gave a better performance. The Oscar goes to the new girl.
Some might wonder why Carey Mulligan didn’t get a nomination for “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and I would be one of them.  I certainly wouldn’t have missed Julia Roberts if she were in her place.
Jeremy’s Prediction: Lupita Nyong’o
Jeremy’s Preference: Sally Hawkins

Chris says: Oh, I’ve stopped trying to figure out what the hell the Academy’s doing with Carey Mulligan. Losing to Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side.” Not getting nominated for “Never Let Me Go.” Not getting nominated for “Shame.” Not getting nominated for “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It’s water off my back at this point.

But seriously, would anyone have missed Roberts if she hadn’t gotten nominated? First of all, that was a fucking lead role, so she doesn’t belong here anyway. Secondly, the movie sucked. Third, I have not heard a single person who was enthralled by her individual performance. And this is nothing against Roberts – it’s just a vexing nomination, especially for a movie that didn’t really have much awards momentum to begin with. (And if any of its supporting actresses deserved consideration, it was Julianne Nicholson.)

Jeremy’s comments on Hawkins are spot-on, as she absolutely nailed a role that could easily have been overwhelmed by Cate Blanchett. However, I’d still give the slight edge to Nyong’o, who leaves so much of an impression in her limited screen time that her journey in many ways feels more profound than Solomon Northup’s.

It’s clearly a two-woman race for the prize in this one, but my instincts (full disclosure: my instincts are terrible) have this thing going to Jennifer Lawrence again. Come on, you think these Academy Awards are ending without one David O. Russell performance getting an award? Please. And it sure as shit ain’t gonna be any of the other three. This is happening, people.

Chris’ Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence
Chris’ Preference: Lupita Nyong’o

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
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”
Five or six years ago, Barkhad Abdi was just a limousine driver. Bradley Cooper was just the douchebag fiancée from “Wedding Crashers.” Jonah Hill was just the fat guy from “Superbad.” Michael Fassbender was, like, a background extra in “300.” And all Jared Leto was doing was singing in that shitty band of his. Now they’re all Oscar nominees – and in a couple of cases (Cooper and Hill), two-time nominees.
Chris says:  This category seemed all locked up for Jared Leto until recently, when his award acceptance speeches were characterized as arrogant and insensitive, turning some people off as they directed their attention the non-campaigning Fassbender and the Cinderella story Abdi, who pulled off the BAFTA upset.
And yet they continue to not look at the best nominee of this category, Jonah Hill, probably because of some combination of anti-comedy bias and offended sensibilities. Look, if there’s one thing Academy voters do not appreciate, it’s the presence of a hilarious prosthetic penis.
Michael Fassbender says: Oh, Jonah Hill used a prosthetic penis, eh? Well excuse me while I whip this out.
Jeremy and Chris: No no no no no!
Shia LaBeouf: No no no no no!
Jeremy and Chris: Please, Michael, we don’t –
Michael Fassbender: Oh, no, it’s just a whip. See? I was making a pun. Get it? I’m going to whip out my whip? What did you think I meant?
Chris: Wait, what do you need a whip for anyway?
Michael Fassbender: Because I’m going to whip the competition!
Michael Fassbender: (clears throat): I’m going to WHIP the competition!

For Best Supporting Actor, I mean.
Chris: Oh, I got it. It’s very clever. But be that as it may, I still think Leto has too much widespread support and will likely take the prize, and proceed to never be nominated for another acting award as long as he lives. But seriously, while Fassbender was strong (as always) and Abdi went toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks and never flinched, Hill’s performance in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the most indelible of the nominees – the combination of sad desperation, mischievous idiocy and cold arrogance made for pure comic brilliance. Few pieces of acting this year were better than Hill’s wide-eyed plea for approval as he begs Leonardo DiCaprio to smoke crack with him.
And that’s to say nothing of the actors more deserving than Leto’s showy awards bait or Cooper’s two-hour experiment constantly changing his mind about what his character was supposed to be.

Michael Fassbender: My penis is a better actor than Bradley Cooper.

Chris: The Academy predictably ran as far away as possible from “Spring Breakers,” so James Franco’s spectacularly funny effort was ignored despite being a major force in critics’ awards. And to add to the trend of great and surprising performances from unexpected places, how about Nick Frost in “The World’s End” or Andrew Dice Clay in “Blue Jasmine”?
And Leto’s co-star and fellow nominee Matthew McConaughey, as great as he was in “Dallas Buyers Club,” was equally good or better in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.” (Not that McConaughey will be able to complain much once he takes the Oscar and cleans up at next year’s Emmys and Globes for “True Detective.”)
Chris’ Prediction: Jared Leto
Chris’ Preference: Jonah Hill
Jeremy says: What’s with the whole Jared Leto thing? No one seems to want to predict someone other than him. I could get behind a Barkhad Abdi upset, but I think he lost momentum when the Best Actress category had nothing but boring white-people names, ruling out a funny-name sweep in the acting categories. I guess I’ll go with him anyway, just to be different. Then if I get it right, everyone will say, “Wow, Jeremy nailed it!” Whereas if Leto wins, it’s just, “Well yeah, everybody buy Jeremy predicted him!”

I agree with Chris on Hill. Check out all the notes he hits in the married-my-cousin conversation alone. Hopefully one day Hill can play a retarded person in Nazi Germany and win an award.

Franco’s omission is a true travesty. I mean, he had shorts in every fucking color! And “Mud” was indeed a fine McConaughey performance, but like Chris said, he won’t have too many complaints at the end of Oscar night.

Jeremy’s Prediction: Barkhad Abdi
Jeremy’s Preference: Jonah Hill
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
“Dallas Buyers Club” – Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” – Steve Prouty
“The Lone Ranger” – Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua Casny
The makeup category is best known as the source of countless jokes about “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” being an Oscar nominee. Hey, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” is an Oscar nominee! Ha ha!
Jeremy says: Yes, dear reader, I watched “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” for the sake of this article. I know Chris agrees that “Bad Grandpa” should receive an award for Most Unnecessarily Elaborate Makeup for covering a known actress to look like an old woman, just so she can play dead. So weird. Maybe there were scenes that were cut? Who knows? I can’t imagine how bad a scene would have to be to get cut from that piece of shit. Anyhow, I didn’t find the makeup or the prosthetic penis and scrotum to be that convincing, but I guess the targets of the movie’s pranks were fooled, so who’s to say I wouldn’t have been if Johnny Knoxville had asked me to help pull his cock out of a vending machine?
Regardless, one of the other two nominees will take home the prize. “The Lone Ranger” has the most distinct, creative and showy makeup of the three, but apparently some people are upset because — oh shit — the makeup isn’t historically accurate. Well fuck. Who’d have thought?
That leaves “Dallas Buyers Club” as the prestige picture with makeup used to convey emaciation and disease. At least the drag queens give the makeup artists a variety of material, but this feels more like an award given by default than truly great makeup.
Looking at omissions, there does seem to be a bit of Hobbit fatigue, which is understandable to anyone who sat through the Hobbit movies. “Oh boy, more furry feet! Fuck it, I’m nominating ‘Bad Grandpa.’”
Jeremy’s Prediction: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Jeremy’s Preference: “The Lone Ranger”

Michael Fassbender: Did somebody say prosthetic penis?
Chris says: That’s enough out of you, Michael. I find it difficult to get too enthused about any of these nominees. “Dallas Buyers Club” has a good story because all the makeup supposedly only cost $250. “The Lone Ranger” had a nearly identical story, with its budget coming in at $250,000,000.

I’m a tad flummoxed about Jeremy’s choices. He says he didn’t find “Bad Grandpa”’s makeup all that convincing, yet he picked “The Lone Ranger” as his favorite of the bunch. Say what you will about “Bad Grandpa,” but its old-man makeup was a hell of a lot more convincing than “The Lone Ranger”’s old-man makeup. And for that matter, “Bad Grandpa” – as bad as it was – was a hell of a lot better than that awful frame story in “The Lone Ranger,” which is what got the movie the best makeup nomination in the first place. Good god, that shit was awful.

“Bad Grandpa” got the nomination because its makeup was essentially the main character of the film, and it fooled a hell of a lot of real people. The movie’s problem was its utter lack of material beyond the initial setups of its pranks. Most of its sequences ended up going nowhere, with Knoxville proving to not be a very skilled improviser or comic performer. But that’s a whole other topic.

Let’s just go ahead and eliminate the old-man prosthetics and just give it to the skin sores and sunken cheekbones of “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Chris’ Prediction: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Chris’ Preference: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Achievement in Costume Design
“12 Years a Slave” – Patricia Norris
“American Hustle” – Michael Wilkinson
“The Grandmaster” – William Chang
“The Great Gatsby” – Catherine Martin
“The Invisible Woman” – Michael O’Connor
The Invisible Woman says: Hey, I know you think you can ignore me, what with the lack of attention I've received during award season and me being invisible and all, but listen up, you cunts. There's only one nominee set in Victorian England, and if you think I'm going down without a fight, you better think again!
Chris says:  What, you’re telling me the most contemporary setting of the costume-design nominees is a film set in the disco era? I don’t believe you.
I think if you had given me a list of 2013 releases last January and asked me to predict which ones would be nominated for costume design, I probably would have nailed at least four of the five. “The Grandmaster” I would not have expected, if only because I would have been unconvinced that it actually existed, let alone would be released in 2013.
But I don’t begrudge any of these nominees a nomination, even if I would have personally liked to see something like “Laurence Anyways,” “Stoker,” “Her” or “The Great Beauty” get a nod instead.
Of the five, Catherine Martin’s decadent jazz-age duds are the flashiest and I’m guessing she’s the favorite to win. (Then again, she’s also nominated for the film’s production design, so maybe they’ll honor her there instead of here.) The costumes in “The Great Gatsby” are such an essential piece to the film’s aesthetic, and I probably would have really loved them even more if I hadn’t found the movie as a whole so fucking aggravating. Nonetheless, I’m still inclined to think it will (and should) take the Oscar, though I wouldn’t mind seeing William Chang’s subtle but distinctive work on “The Grandmaster” get recognized, either.
I could easily envision a victory for either “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle,” especially if one or the other winds up dominating the ceremony as a whole. So if one of those two starts rolling through the minor categories, look out Catherine Martin because you are going DOWN.
Prediction: “The Great Gatsby”
Preference: “The Great Gatsby”
Jeremy says: Martin did win in both categories back in 2002, so I’m guessing that the voters aren’t really thinking that way. Also, you only need 20 percent to win, so if 50 percent of voters want Martin for one award or the other, and split it, she could still end up winning. Or something. You do the math.

“The Great Beauty” would have been my pick for the year, but alas, it’s foreign and contemporary, so that was never going to happen.

Martin of course did a fabulous job as usual and will be a worthy winner. However, William Chang’s work for “The Grandmaster” might have become iconic if the movie made any fucking sense.

Jeremy’s Prediction: “The Great Gatsby”
Jeremy’s Preference: “The Grandmaster”
Best Documentary, Short Subjects
“Cavedigger” – Jeffrey Karoff
“Facing Fear” – Jason Cohen
“Karama Has No Walls” – Sara Ishaq
“The Lady in Number 6” – Malcolm Clarke, Carl Freed
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” – Edgar Barens
Best Short Film, Animated
“Feral” – Daniel Sousa, Dan Golden
“Get a Horse!” – Lauren MacMullan, Dorothy McKim
“Mr. Hublot” – Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares
“Possessions” – Shuhei Morita
“Room on the Broom” – Max Lang, Jan Lachauer
Best Short Film, Live Action
“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” – Selma Vilhunen
“Helium” – Anders Walter
“Just Before Losing Everything” – Xavier Legrand
“That Wasn’t Me” – Esteban Crespo
“The Voorman Problem” – Mark Gill
Room on the Broom says: We have money galore, and stars participated / So though our film’s a bore we still got nominated! / Our rhymes are all forced and our meter is shit / But our generic visuals made us a hit!
Jeremy says: Many of the 15 short film nominees revisit familiar territory without bringing anything new to the table. In live-action, “Helium” and “That Wasn’t Me” meet the Academy’s quotas of one sappy melodrama about a dying kid and one tale of white people in a third-world war zone. In documentaries, “The Lady in Number 6” gives us the reliable Holocaust movie via a gifted pianist who lived in a propaganda-motivated concentration camp for artists, while “Karama Has No Walls” shows life and loss in a war zone, complete with disfigured children. Then there’s “Room on the Broom,” the latest torturous bore from the masters of torturous boredom who brought us “The Gruffalo” in 2009.
Of those films, I’d like to think that the only ones with a chance of winning are the documentaries. The craft in “The Lady in Number 6” isn’t particularly thrilling, but you can never bet against a Holocaust film, and it does serve as an interesting character study and historical document. “Karama Has no Walls” tells an important story of the Yemeni revolution, but lacks some of the context that could have really tugged voters’ heartstrings.  “Facing Fear” could win over audiences with its story of homophobic violence and redemption, but it’s not as engaging as it should have been unless you’re really interested in the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
While none of the docs are perfectly structured, “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” and “Cavedigger” are the most satisfying. The former depicts the hospice service for a World War II hero turned criminal with a life sentence, while the latter studies a cave-digging artist struggling with the divide between artistic freedom and finances. I’d give “Cavedigger” the edge, but “Prison Terminal” could prove to have more emotional connection with voters.
I should probably quit messing around and just give it to the Holocaust film like a professional Oscar predictor, but fuck it, let’s go “Cavedigger.”
I’m still suffering from PTSD after the infamous “The New Tenants” incident, and have no faith in the live-action shorts category or my ability to predict its winner. However, I’d like to think that this category comes down to the surreal, dark British comedy “The Voorman Problem” and the French domestic-abuse thriller “Just Before Losing Everything.”
I favor the French film, built around a fantastic performance by Léa Drucker. It doesn’t give you all that much insight into domestic abuse other than the fear it inspires, but that’s plenty. The film easily has the most gripping storyline, and even if it’s guilty of milking the suspense, the milk is still tasty.
I’m not sure whether established actors Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander will help or hurt “The Voorman Problem.” In one sense they’re recognizable and well-liked, and give nice performances. But in the other sense, it might not seem like the filmmakers need the career building block that this Oscar would provide. In the past, voters might have been expected to skip the film based on its tone and subject matter, but a quick glance at the past decade’s winners will prove that isn’t a danger. Still, my gut tells me “Just Before Losing Everything.” And my gut may be wrong, but I’m going to go with it.
I don’t necessarily think “Get a Horse!” is the nailed-on winner that so many other predictors see it as. It’s definitely a fun bit of interplay between past and present animation styles, but I could see people being more inclined toward my favorite, the interestingly textured “Feral,” the surreal Japanese ghost story “Possessions” or, and here’s where I’m putting my money, the quirky “Mr. Hublot.”
Jeremy’s Predictions: “Cavedigger,” “Mr. Hublot,” “Just Before Losing Everything”
Jeremy’s Preferences: “Cavedigger,” “Feral,” “Just Before Losing Everything”
Chris says: Come on, Jeremy, it’s the short-film categories. Let’s keep it short.

I would be equally happy if “Feral” or “Mr. Hublot” were to take home the Oscar, but I’m going to be unoriginal and predict that “Get a Horse!” takes it. And yes, as Jeremy so beautifully said, “Room on the Broom”  is an unforgivable catastrophe of terrible poetry, mediocre animation and mind-numbing redundancy, just like “The Gruffalo.” If I see that filmmaking collaboration in a shorts program ever again, I swear to God, I’m walking right the fuck out of the theatre.

“Just Before Losing Everything” is the best of a typically mixed-bag crop of live-action nominees, with a couple of cheaply staged scenes only partially undercutting a gripping piece of in-the-moment filmmaking.

But I don’t think I’m going out on THAT much of a limb to assume that the silly Academy voters will be charmed by the saccharine bullshit of “Helium.”

Chris’ Predictions: “The Lady in Number 6,” “Get a Horse!,” “Helium”
Chris’ Preferences: Undecided, “Feral,” “Just Before Losing Everything”

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
“Gravity” – Timothy Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” – Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Daniel Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” – Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” – Roger Guyett, Pat Tubach, Ben Grossman, Burt Dalton
Alone Yet Not Alone says: “Gravity” didn’t actually have any special effects. They just went up into outer space and shot the movie. The camera operators got really sick during some of those scenes. Three grips died after space debris smashed into them. So while the movie may not technically deserve this award, they’re letting it slide in memory of the lost crew members. And yet they couldn’t let a little cronyism slide? For shame, Academy! For shame!

Also, they accidentally left the only copy of the original screenplay on the moon, so they had to write another one on the fly.
Chris says:  Aww, it’s cute that they nominated four movies other than “Gravity” for special effects.
Joe Letteri, Christopher Townsend, Tim Alexander, Roger Guyett (in unison): It’s an honor just to be nominated.
Prediction: “Gravity”
Preference: “Gravity”
Jeremy says: Yup.

Prediction: “Gravity”
Preference: “Gravity”
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
“Captain Phillips” – Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro
“Gravity” – Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” – Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” – Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
“All is Lost” – Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” – Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” – Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – Brent Burge
“Lone Survivor” – Wylie Stateman
Inside Llewyn Davis says: Hey look, I was eligible for Oscars this year! Who knew?
Jeremy says: “Gravity” has the advantage of having both moments of subtlety and moments of big, clanging action cacophony — and being a stunning technical showcase all around.  The subtle work on “All is Lost” may be even more impressive, but that film has no momentum whatsoever.
Of course, everyone knows that “Upstream Color” had the year’s best sound design, but everyone also knows that it never filed to be eligible so I guess we can’t complain.

Jeremy’s Predictions:  “Gravity,” “Gravity”
Jeremy’s Preferences: “Gravity,” “All is Lost”

Chris says: Don’t tell me I can’t complain about “Upstream Color” not being nominated. You know why? Because it’s fucking retarded that you have to apply to be considered for an Oscar nomination. How hard would it be for the Academy to just hire a fucking clerk and have him keep track of what’s eligible? Look, if one guy can keep track of both an entire pig farm and each pig’s human counterpart, I’m pretty sure one guy can write a goddamn list of movie titles.

In fact, they could just hire Liam Neeson. He loves making lists. Just ask him.

And while we’re at it, I’ll take this opportunity to complain about “All is Lost” only getting one nomination and nothing else. I was glad it was at least recognized here, but come on!

GOB Bluth says: Come on!

Chris: “All is Lost” and “Gravity” had some of the best sound design in years, so both films would be worthy winners. It would be nice if the Academy could spread the wealth a bit, but I’m pretty sure “Gravity” is taking both of these.

Chris’ Prediction: “Gravity,” “Gravity”
Chris’ Preference: “Gravity,” “All is Lost”
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
“The Book Thief” – John Williams
“Gravity” – Steven Price
“Her” – William Butler, Andy Koyama
“Philomena” – Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” – Thomas Newman
Did you know that John Williams didn’t receive an Oscar nomination between 2006 and 2012? And yet they still found five nominees EVERY YEAR. That’s some impressive nominating on the Academy’s part. I mean, we didn’t even know there were other composers.
Chris says: Perhaps more than anything else in “Gravity,” I loved Steven Price’s score. Yeah yeah, Lubezki’s camerawork. Yeah yeah, Cuarón’s direction. But god, that score. Rather than taking cues from the emotional false bullshit in the screenplay, Price doesn’t force or drive home the emotional implications of the story, but instead creates a score that gets under your skin and just stays there. In effect, the score works almost in reverse, as it slowly embeds itself before we’re in danger, and in the film’s calmer moments, so that when things go to shit, we’re already deeply unsettled on a visceral level. I hope I’m explaining that well enough. I thought it was a remarkable feat that, as much as anything else, made the experience of “Gravity” what it was.

Arcade Fire’s work on “Her” was quite good as well, quietly underscoring the delicate emotional undercurrents in a film full of them – the fragility, the confusion, the joy and sadness – without ever spelling things out.

The other three nominated scores are all from great composers who have all done much better work elsewhere. John Williams is basically the Meryl Streep of composers.

It’s as if the Academy only allows itself one daring choice in this category every year, and in this case it was “Her.” All the others were either Best Picture nominees or legendary composers, or both. So there was no room for Alex Ebert’s extraordinary (and Golden Globe-winning) score for “All is Lost,” David Wingo’s for “Mud” or Clint Mansell’s for “Stoker.” Speaking of which, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that Clint Mansell has never been nominated for an Oscar. But by all means, Academy, just nominate John Williams for whatever the fuck movie has his name on it.

Chris’ Prediction: “Gravity”
Chris’ Preference: “Gravity”

Jeremy says: In fairness, Williams’s score for “The Book Thief” isn’t nearly as bad as his score for “War Horse,” which was nominated a couple years ago. It’s a downright achievement in sparse subtlety by comparison. In fact, both he and Thomas Newman aren’t so much undeserving nominees as safe nominees. Alexandre Desplat delicately balanced “Philomena” with deceptive simplicity, but has failed to win when for the scores of two Best Picture winners, so it seems unlikely he’d pull it off for a lower-profile effort.

Price uses the score to great novel effect in “Gravity, and I don’t see this award going elsewhere, even if “Her” could pull an upset.

Jeremy’s Prediction: “Gravity”
Jeremy’s Preference: “Philomena”
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” – Pharrell Williams
“Let it Go” from “Frozen” – Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” from “Her” – Karen O
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” – Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Brian Burton
Bruce Broughton says: I’d just like to thank everyone I emailed for voting for “Alone Yet Not Alone.” I couldn’t have made it so far without y — hey, where’s my name on the list? No fair!
Jeremy says: First off, let’s acknowledge that “Let it Go” is a tasteless exercise in schmaltz, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez can thank Idina Menzel’s vocal chops for their inevitable Oscar. I mean, I guess it works OK as an original song for the film “Frozen,” mainly because I sure as hell wouldn’t want to listen to it when not watching “Frozen.”

“Ordinary Love” and “Happy” are inoffensive enough, but not remarkable. The “Happy” sequence in “Despicable Me 2” could have worked just as well with another generic feel-good song. “Ordinary Love” is an ordinary U2 song.

Chris says: Aren’t they all?


Jeremy: I don’t suppose it will surprise anyone that “The Moon Song” is my favorite of the bunch. I gotta keep my hipster cred, after all. It also helps that the song has a vulnerable intimacy that really underlines “Her”’s themes of connecting with another person.

Jeremy’s Prediction: “Let it Go”
Jeremy’s Preference: “The Moon Song”

Chris: You say “hipster cred” like that’s a good thing. Go move to fucking Brooklyn.

Spike Lee says: Yeah, move to fucking Brooklyn, you gentrifying motherfucker.

Chris: But back to your original point: I will acknowledge no such thing, Jeremy. First of all, you make the mistake of separating the song from the actual performance of the song. The two are not mutually exclusive. Sorry, but a lot of good songs would come across a lot worse if not for the performance itself. For that matter, a lot of good songs from Disney musicals are pretty schmaltzy when it really comes down to it. (Although I can see your point in the context of an award presentation, where Menzel doesn’t actually get a piece of the award.)

I don’t think “Let it Go” jumps into the pantheon of great Disney songs, but the fact that it can become the showstopper that it is – and it is, folks; don’t let Jeremy tell you any different – undermines any claim that it’s no more than tasteless schmaltz. Oh, I know, it doesn’t have the ironic distance required by those yearning for hipster cred, so I guess straightforward emotional expressions specifically explaining the experience of the main character of a movie will have to do. Simple, but well done, and Menzel turns it into a memorable number.

That being said, I, too, am in the tank for “The Moon Song,” for the reasons you cited.

Chris’ Prediction: “Let it Go”
Chris’ Preference: “The Moon Song”

Jeremy: Note that the award is for the composition and not the performance, as Chris acknowledges. And even with that taken into account, the whole production sounds like your choice of 1990s Celine Dion numbers (also show-stoppers). As I think about it, my soul is spiralling in frozen fractals, all around. But well done using the self-deprecating hipster cred joke against me, you wannabe-gentrifying motherfucker.

Chris: Oh, I knew you were being self-deprecating, you silly goose. The Celine Dion bit hurts, I gotta admit. But I still think “Let it Go” is a few cuts above her stuff.

Best Achievement in Production Design
“12 Years a Slave” – Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker
“American Hustle” – Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler
“Gravity” – Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard
“The Great Gatsby” – Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn
“Her” – K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena
We tried to get The Same Dame interns to find out the last time the Academy nominated two contemporary or semi-contemporary films for Best Production Design. However, there was an incident with some Lemmon 714 quaaludes and they’re three hours late to bring us our lunch. We even let them borrow The Same Dame company Ferrari (it’s white). Thankfully, we just got a call from them and they, not to worry, they haven’t gotten a scratch on it. So we can rest easy.

But I guess we’ll never find out about that production design thing.
Chris says: I’ll admit, I spoke too soon. Back in December when I first saw “Her,” I immediately remarked – to anyone who might listen – that the film’s production design would inevitably, undoubtedly, be ignored by the Academy in favor of some dusty period piece. But lo and behold, I got to cheerfully eat my words when it got a nomination after all. And why shouldn’t it be?  K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena create a near-future that’s both familiar and strange, its welcoming pastels helping invite us into the characters’ lives rather than distancing us from it, as most futuristic movies do. It’s so impressive how much Barrett and Serdena do just with color to transform modern-day Los Angeles into a genuinely distinct future.
In fact, I’m going to try to make recent history repeat itself, so if you’ll indulge me: Ahem. (Clears throat.) “Boy, it’s sure too bad that the Academy will undoubtedly overlook ‘Her’ when they hand out the production design Oscar on Sunday night. They’ll probably give it to, like, ‘American Hustle’ or some other bullshit.”
There! Hopefully my reverse-jinx will do the trick.
Prediction: “The Great Gatsby”
Preference: “Her”
Jeremy says: Nice work Chris, I hope acknowledging it doesn’t jinx it. I also hope my talking about the possibility of jinxing it doesn’t jinx it. It was quite the shocker to see “Her” nominated, based on the Academy’s track record of ignoring great production design in films not set in the past. The film is covered with large- and small-scale details that really create a feel for the world. Everything from electronics to product packaging has been considered.

But this seems like an award made for “The Great Gatsby,” unless of course everyone saw it in 3D and couldn’t actually see anything.

Prediction: “The Great Gatsby”
Preference: “Her”
Best Achievement in Cinematography
“The Grandmaster” – Philippe Le Sourd
“Gravity” – Emmanuel Lubezki
“Inside Llewyn Davis” – Bruno Delbonnel
“Nebraska” – Phedon Papamichael
“Prisoners” – Roger Deakins
This category features two long-snubbed cinematographers, but only one of them can win. Unless there’s a tie. Which, if you recall, happened in a category last year.
Jeremy says: Hey, remember when Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t win for “Children of Men”? What the fuck was up with that? Seven years later, the man looks slated to win his first Oscar for his technically stunning lost-in-space work. And good for him — Lubezki’s Oscar is well overdue.
Roger Deakins says: Did somebody say overdue?
Jeremy says: Sorry, Roger, you’re going to have to keep waiting, despite your fine work on “Prisoners.” Of course, the Academy voters have taken to awarding CG-heavy films this award in recent years, and gotten flak for it, but Lubezki’s elaborate floating-in-space shots are amazing no matter how he created them.
That said, I can’t get Bruno Delbonnel’s brown tones and soft lighting out of my mind. It’s as if every shot in “Inside Llewyn Davis” perfectly channels its main character’s aloof, resigned, desperate nature.
Jeremy’s Prediction: “Gravity”
Jeremy’s Preference: “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Chris says: Hey, remember when Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t win for “Children of Men”? And remember a few years later when Emmanuel Lubezki didn’t win for “The Tree of Life”?

Roger Deakins: Hey. Asshole. Remember when I didn’t win for ALL OF MY FUCKING MOVIES? Jesus.

Chris: Of course I remember, Rog. (Can I call you Rog?) Look, here at The Same Dame we’ve been riding that train for years. We love you. But it’s just not your year, dog. I’m going to have to agree with Jeremy on both counts. I admit, this may have to do with my preference for one movie over the other, but I keep going back to Delbonnel’s work on “Inside Llewyn Davis.” In most other years, “Gravity” would be a hands-down choice – the gliding camerawork is absolutely essential to the experience of the movie as a whole, both from our perspective and the main character’s. It’s a remarkable accomplishment and, by a historical standard, probably the deserving winner.

But Delbonnel’s faded, smoky color palette and relaxed focus was such a rich embodiment of the film’s emotional beats  – capturing the nostalgia, the melancholy, the depressed and lost soul  – that I’ve gotta go with it.

Roger Deakins: Oh, that’s just great. JUST great. I’ve been making the Coen Brothers’ movies come alive for two fucking decades, and the one I’m not there for is “amazingly shot” all of a sudden?! Fuck this.

Chris: What can I tell you, Rogy Babe? Don’t get me wrong – your overcast naturalism on “Prisoners” was extraordinary. You said so much with your compositions that the script left unsaid. You’re a genius, alright?

Roger Deakins: Yeah, right. You’re just saying that. You probably didn’t even like it. You like Emmanuel and Bruno better than you like me.

Chris: There, there.

Roger Deakins: You just like them better because they have exotic names.

Chris: There, there.

Roger Deakins: All the other cinematographers who have Oscars are always making fun of me.

Chris: There, there.

Chris’ Prediction: “Gravity”
Chris’ Preference: “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Best Achievement in Editing
“12 Years a Slave” – Joe Walker
“American Hustle” – Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
“Captain Phillips” – Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” – Martin Pensa, John Mac Murphy
“Gravity” – Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
No matter how great a film’s acting, writing, directing, cinematography, sound design, producing, special effects, music, stunt work, marketing, craft services or source material, it’s always ultimately whittled into shape by an illustrious team of editorial technicians, who implicitly understand the rhythms and timing of filmmaking, and do their best efforts to tighten often unwieldy material into a concise whole. These men and women are among the unsung heroes of the film industry, working day and night under tyrannical directors who feed them more and more footage, day after day after day after day, to the point that it seems like it will never end. They incur the wrath of egomaniacal filmmakers and overly oppressive studio executives, toiling away until the deepest hours of the night attempting to bring forth the most complete vision imaginable. Oh, ’tis a thankless task, and these great nominees have pulled it off with great aplomb.
EDITED VERSION: Editors tighten material. ’Tis a thankless task.

Chris says: So let me get this straight. “American Hustle” had three credited editors, and between the three of them, they still couldn’t put together a coherent movie?

Seriously, I’m wondering. Did the three editors, like, take turns deciding what tone the film should be going for? Were they each only shown specific portions of the screenplay, so none of them actually knew what the fuck was going on in the story? When they had all their footage, did they just William S. Burroughs this motherfucker and hope whatever they cobbled together ended up making sense? Did they all put their heads together to make sure that there was no rhyme or reason to any of the character dynamics, or was that entirely David O. Russell’s decision? Did they call Thelma Schoonmaker for advice on how to put together this type of sprawling crime epic, and then deliberately do the exact opposite?

When Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper started unconvincingly getting it on in that sleazy nightclub bathroom stall and then decided to stop and wait until they had, like, officially declared their love or something, did either of these three editors stop and say WAIT, WHAT THE FUCK ARE THEY EVEN TALKING ABOUT. WHERE DID THIS SUBPLOT COME FROM. WHAT IS HAPPENING.

Because that would have been a good idea.

But I digress. Look, if “Gravity” wins for editing, it’s winning Best Picture as well. That’s just science. I’d probably say the same for “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle.” But I guess you’ll just have to wait to see who I’m predicting for the big prize, because I think the Academy is going to go for Christopher Rouse’s precision timing on “Captain Phillips,” which just so happens to be my top choice for the category as well.

Of course, Rouse’s work, excellent as it was, had nothing on the editing of “Upstream Color,” which was the year’s best film in large part because of the way Shane Carruth and David Lowery blended images and sound, doing so with an intuitive, Soderberghian mastery of concise form, expressing every bit of meaning that most movies try to cram into a screenplay.

In general, it would have been nice to see Lowery recognized just for the fucking year he had – not only on “Upstream Color,” but directing and writing “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (another of the year’s best films) and editing Amy Seimtez’s “Sun Don’t Shine.” But oh well.

Chris’ Prediction: “Captain Phillips”
Chris’ Preference: “Captain Phillips”
Jeremy says: I don’t think “Gravity” HAS to win Best Picture to win this category. The question is whether its dominance in the so-called technical categories will expand here. “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” are definitely the most accomplished of the nominees. I could also see “American Hustle” swiping this award on the merits of having multiple storylines and not winning Best Picture. Yes folks, this is the Academy, where cutting between multiple storylines can represent great editing whether it’s coherent or not.

Some might argue that if Cuaron and Sanger were such great editors, they would have cut out all the film’s dialogue. But “Gravity’s” sense of rhythm and and tension owes a lot to its editing, though the same can be said for  “Captain Phillips,” of course. But the films are completely different styles, and “Captain Phillips” definitely draws more attention to the things the Academy thinks of when it thinks of editing. So all things being equal, “Captain Phillips” seems the likely winner. But put some momentum with “Gravity” and it’s the deserving winner. Even though “Upstream Color” is really where it’s at, yo.

Jeremy’s Prediction: “Gravity”
Jeremy’s Preference: “Gravity”

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
“12 Years a Slave” – John Ridley
“Before Midnight” – Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater
“Captain Phillips” – Billy Ray
“Philomena” – Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
“The Wolf of Wall Street” – Terence Winter
Screenwriters are lazy. They’ve got true stories to make into movies, but they can’t even do their own research. So they base it on a book, and just copy it. That’s what screenwriting is, folks. You want to award that?!?.
Jeremy says: The consensus is that “12 Years a Slave” will take the award, but isn’t that screenplay kind of shitty? That’s definitely a film buoyed by its performances and its direction. I don’t take quite as much umbrage as some do with (SPOILER ALERT FOR REST OF PARAGRAPH) Brad Pitt appearing and quickly saving our hero from slavery. That’s essentially how it would have to happen — he’s stuck until he finds someone willing to help him. (And hey, we even see the risk involved when a man who promises to help our hero betrays him instead.)
No, the problem with the “12 Years a Slave” screenplay is the dialogue. Brad Pitt’s character doesn’t have much screen time, yet manages to give a lot of speeches that awkwardly telegraph his feelings and attempt to create false suspense.
Linklater, Hawke and Delpy are much more deserving for their rich characters and intense conversations in “Before Midnight.” Plus there’s a lot of talking, and Academy voters equate that with writing, so that should give it even more of a boost. Some might say that if I’m going to pick an upset, something like “Philomena” or “The Wolf of Wall Street” might be more likely, but hey, I’m a loose cannon.
Jeremy’s Prediction: “Before Midnight”
Jeremy’s Preference: “Before Midnight”
Chris says: You’re adorable, Jeremy. No, really. As much as I liked “Before Midnight” – and that trilogy as a whole – they’re not going to get an Oscar for it. And in fairness, Jesse’s absolutely godawful-sounding book ideas should almost be enough to disqualify the screenplay from contention.

Jesse from “Before Midnight” says: No hold on, don’t you get it? Let me explain again. The whole book takes place inside one pop song. One song! Just think about that, man. Just think about that. Just think about it.

Jeremy Scahill says: Hi, my name is Jeremy Scahill, and I once lived inside a pop song. The year was 1998, the artist was Madonna, and the track was her classic hit, “Ray of Light.” It was cold, dark, and treacherous, and I felt that at any moment the song might end, leaving me stranded in a wasteland of ennui.

Chris: This isn’t about you, Jeremy Scahill. This is about Jesse and his terrible book ideas. But nevermind, we’re going to let those slide because the rest of the movie is so good, and because they wrote a scene that included the phrase, “Julie Delpy takes her shirt off.” That’s just damn good writing right there.

Anyway, I don’t think the “12 Years a Slave” screenplay is shitty, as Jeremy (Mathews) believes, but it certainly has its deficiencies, both in dialogue and structure. It doesn’t seem to have all that much to say about the institution of slavery, which is why the film as a whole works best as a visceral experience, but doesn’t function nearly as well at provoking thought or introspection. And sorry, Jeremy’s protestations aside, the whole Brad Pitt section is still an abomination, primarily because it reduces Solomon’s emancipation to what feels like a screenplay mechanic.

“Hi, I’m a nice white man and I hate slavery.” / “Will you save me?” / “Sure, why not.” / Cut to five minutes later: “Hooray, I’m free!”

If the script had drawn out that aspect longer – so it wasn’t just the sudden, overly convenient final 10 minutes – I would have been more OK with it. (Although that’s to say nothing of Pitt’s uncharacteristically bad performance, or the sensationally bad dialogue he had to work with.)

Jeremy: Well in that case I’ll defend the screenplay that you think is better than I do (although shitty may have been a strong word — shitty by award-worthiness standards though) by again drawing attention to the previous attempt to send a message via a white man. Essentially, to get free he needs to get the message out. The message is his ticket to freedom, he just has to get the fucking ticket. There’s no point in drawing things out in that regard. The scene is poorly written, but the actual structure is a reflection of the reality of the situation.

Chris: I suppose its presence in the structure of the film doesn’t really bother me so much as the way it comes across as so perfunctory. By “drawn out,” I don’t necessarily mean all at once. Perhaps Magical Brad Pitt could have shown up a half-hour or so earlier, Solomon could have made the request, and then things could have proceeded in a sort of uncertainty until he was finally freed at the end. Considering the amount of time such a process would have taken between his request and his emancipation, you’d think the waiting would be agonizing, and could have enhanced the drama. But that’s just one idea, and I’m not the screenwriter – I just wish it had come across as less tacked-on.

Anyway, I’m guessing if anything is going to beat “12 Years” for screenplay, it will be “Philomena.” It isn’t going to win any of the big awards, and it’s the kind of film that’s hard not to be charmed by on some level. And it will sure as shit charm the pants off the mostly old Academy voting crowd. My preference would be Terence Winter’s savagely funny “The Wolf of Wall Street” script, but as sure as “Philomena” charmed the old Academy fogies, “Wolf” surely offended them. My sources confirm audible declarations of “Why, I never!” and “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” and “Outrageous!” and “How dare they!” at the Academy screening, so that can’t be a good sign.

Chris’ Prediction: “12 Years a Slave”
Chris’ Preference: “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
“American Hustle” – Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” – Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club” – Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
“Her” – Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” – Bob Nelson
Screenwriters are so diligent and hard-working. Not only do they have to write the full scripts by themselves — they even have to come up with all the ideas! Coming up with ideas is hard! YOU try coming up with an idea for a movie. And then writing it. And then having some sleazy director take credit for all your hard work.
Chris says: So let me get this straight. “American Hustle” had two credited screenwriters, and between the two of them, they still couldn’t put together a coherent movie?

If it does end up winning, will David O. Russell pull a Jason Reitman and refuse to allow Eric Warren Singer to speak? Because from what I understand, Singer wrote a script that was entirely about Abscam, and Russell turned that into a nonsensical and largely improvised “story” during which Abscam happens to take place.

I know I’m on kind of a lonely island here with my hatred of “American Hustle,” but I just don’t understand the appreciation for it at all. I can’t understand how the Academy – or anyone, for that matter – could argue that Russell and Singer’s pseudo-collaborative trainwreck of a script is more worthy than Joel and Ethan Coen’s gently profound writing on “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Or Jeff Nichols’ predictable but note-perfect “Mud” screenplay. Or a whole handful of others.

But there are two silver linings here. (Get it? The reference to Silver Linings Playbook? Good.) 1) At least the Academy refused to nominate that shitshow of a “Gravity” screenplay, amirite? I mean, good god, Alfonso Cuarón was THIS CLOSE to making an all-timer, and he had to go and ruin it with that tone-deaf dialogue. Anyway, on to: 2) The momentum in this category seems to have swung the right way in the direction of Spike Jonze’s “Her,” which is not only the best nominated original screenplay (by far) but the most likely winner.

One of the great accomplishments of “Her” is the way it takes a premise ostensibly driven by disconnect and turns it into a deeply felt examination on how people connect with one another, and the ways relationships blossom, build, grow, mature or even die. It’s intimate and sincere, and has more to say about human emotions, and more to reflect upon, than most love stories between two human characters ever have, or could.

Chris’ Prediction: “Her”
Chris’ Preference: “Her”

Jeremy says: I, too, think this baby is going to “Her,” although I wouldn’t be shocked if “American Hustle” stole it. I just think it’s hard to deny the originality, insight and power that went into “Her” (even if the whole book plotline makes little sense), so I think that’ll trump the higher-profile “Hustle.”

In addition to “Mud” and “Inside Llewyn Davis,” I would have been happy to see the delightful and smart “The World’s End” recognized here.
Jeremy’s Prediction: “Her”
Jeremy’s Preference: “Her”
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
“The Croods” – Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders, Kristine Belson
“Despicable Me 2” – Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Chris Meledandri
“Ernest & Celestine” – Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner
“Frozen” – Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho
“The Wind Rises” – Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki
Idina Menzel says: Hey everybody, want me to sing “Let it Go” again?!?

Everyone Except Jeremy says: YES! YAY! HOORAY!!!

Jeremy says: No thanks, I think once was enough.

[Everybody pelts Jeremy with rocks.]

Idina Menzel says: I am one with the wind and sky / you’ll never see me cry, etc.
Jeremy says: Ouch.

Even the allure of Hayao Miyazaki’s most recent final film can’t stop the juggernaut that is “Frozen.” Disney’s hit take of the Ice Queen suffers from some lazy screenwriting and awkward plot mechanics, but it’s so much fun that no one seems to have noticed. The film is stuffed with clever gags, likable characters and, ahem, songs that everyone loves.

That said, I would give the Oscar to “The Wind Rises” for its gorgeous visuals, poetic dream sequences and meditations on the act of creation versus the use of that creation.

Of the other nominees, “Ernest & Celestine” has hand-drawn French charm, while “The Croods” is crafted with charming visuals and laughs. The weakest of the nominees, “Despicable Me 2,” still has some very amusing moments.
Jeremy’s Prediction: “Frozen”
Jeremy’s Preference: “The Wind Rises”

Chris says: Yep, “The Wind Rises” is the best of the bunch, but simply picked the wrong year to get released. Miyazaki’s mastery sets the tone of the film right from the start, as an innocent and playful dream sequence transforms into a nightmare, establishing the complexities of the conflict that will haunt the main character for the remainder of the story. It’s such an evocative and moving piece of filmmaking, but when a studio like Disney makes an enjoyable movie like “Frozen” that turns into a global smash hit, it’s hard to beat it come award season.

I seem to be in the minority in thinking that “The Croods” was actually really good, despite some hiccups here and there. Just look again at that extended opening action sequence – that is just damn good filmmaking, by any standard.

I could have done without “Despicable Me 2,” which felt like an unnecessary tack-on to the enjoyable original. Then again, at least “Monsters University” wasn’t nominated.

Chris’ Prediction: “Frozen”
Chris’ Preference: “The Wind Rises”

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
“The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Belgium)
“The Great Beauty” (Italy)
“The Hunt” (Denmark)
“The Missing Picture” (Cambodia)
“Omar” (Palestine)
The Khmer Rouge! Israeli-Palestinian conflicts! Child molestation! Cancery children!

It’s just what you always expected from the Foreign Language Film category.
Chris says: Jeremy always chastises me for being idealistic when it comes to the Best Foreign Language Film category. I always end up predicting the best film of the bunch to win, rather than the one most likely to appeal to the voters. Remember back when I thought “The White Ribbon” would win? Or “Downfall” a few years before that?

So young, so naive.

But alas, the tide has turned of late, with both “A Separation” and “Amour” deservedly taking the prize the last two years. Will the Academy make it a three-peat and honor the clear best film in this group, Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty”?

Well, it’s considered the heavy favorite and it’s got plenty of other hardware, winning both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. And why not? It’s a thrilling piece of filmmaking, pulsing with passionate, comedic and sexual energy, and driven by an electrifying lead performance.  Maybe it will remind these old-ass voters of the exuberance of the Italian imports they grew up watching.

But I have a hunch they’re going to go for the dark horse, Belgium’s more bluegrass-infused drama “The Broken Circle Breakdown.” It has all the boxes checked to be the surprise winner in this category – melodrama, tragedy, romance, great music, political commentary. Did I mention cancer? Yeah, cancer. It’s actually a pretty decent crop of nominees this year – Denmark’s “The Hunt,” for one, features a towering performance from Mads Mikkelsen and is considered by some as a potential sleeper. That’s to say nothing of the deserving submissions that didn’t even make the cut like Chile’s “Gloria,” Iran’s “The Past” and the Netherlands’ surreal black comedy “Borgman,” which would have been my favorite if it had garnered a nomination.

Chris’ Prediction: “The Broken Circle Breakdown”
Chris’ Preference: “The Great Beauty”

Jeremy says: Wow, it’s quite a shocker here to see Chris make this leap here, especially in a year when everyone and their mother is predicting “The Broken Circle Breakdown.” That said, I think he’s right. The Belgian entry may be a bit of a mess, but it hits all the emotional buttons for the Academy. Take into account the Oscar predictors’ track record of choosing the highest profile film and failing, and “The Great Beauty” becomes the dark horse.

Jeremy’s Prediction: “The Broken Circle Breakdown”
Jeremy’s Preference: “The Great Beauty”
Best Documentary, Features
“20 Feet from Stardom” – Morgan Neville
“The Act of Killing” – Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” – Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” – Rick Rowley, Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” – Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer
Jeremy Scahill says: I was asked examine the Best Documentary category. Being a journalist, I try to be objective and get to the bottom of the truth of the matter of the subject without letting my biases get in the way, but I was pretty sure that the documentary featuring yours truly, “Dirty Wars,” was hands-down the best nominee.

Being a journalist, I have researched and discovered that before awarding a winner, they will first recite the name of each nominated film, typically pausing briefly in between each one so as to give the audience ample time to express appreciation for each picture.

So here’s how it’s gonna go. When they introduce “The Act of Killing,” you’re going to cut to a shot of me, journalist Jeremy Scahill, looking melancholy and disturbed, so as to make sure you know I care deeply about the Indonesian genocide. Next they will announce “Cutie and the Boxer,” at which point you will cut to me, deeply committed patron of the arts Jeremy Scahill, looking wistful and charmed.

Then comes the big announcement of “Dirty Wars,” when you will once again cut to me, award-winner reporter Jeremy Scahill, looking intrigued and empathetic, which should get across how well I understand and appreciate the film’s portrayal of a courageous journalist attempting to put into context the rapidly changing and secretive face of the global war on terror. Make sure to get a close-up shot of my eyes, which will begin to tear up.

Then they’ll name “The Square,” a movie that kind of sucks because it wasn’t even about a death-defying foreign correspondent explaining how he feels about the Egyptian Revolution. And finally, when they introduce “20 Feet from Stardom,” you’ll cut to a shot of me, Jeremy Scahill, as I’ll be seated next to my black friend so the world will know how much I sympathize with the struggles depicted in that movie.

Then comes the time when they read the winner of the category, which will be one of the five nominees. Being a reporter, I will be in the audience with my reporter’s notebook, dutifully scribbling notes and comments on the evening’s events, in the hope that I will one day be able to understand it all.  As they’re tearing open the envelope, you will cut to a shot of me, your friend Jeremy Scahill, looking pensive. When they finally read the winner, regardless of the outcome, make sure to cut to a shot of me typing away on my laptop – pausing every now and then to scratch my chin and ponder what it all means, and to reflect on what a thoughtful and courageous figure I truly am – so that I can quickly publish this breaking news bulletin.
Jeremy says: “20 Feet From Stardom” appears to have won Oscar voters’ hearts, and I don’t see any other film usurping it as frontrunner. “The Act of Killing” is deservedly the most acclaimed film of the bunch, but I can’t quite see the academy favoring a surreal, complex study of mass-murderers over a bunch of sweet-voiced women who spent their lives helping other people achieve hit songs. “Cutie and the Boxer” is a more layered, complex and rewarding exploration of “20 Feet’s” themes of toiling in obscurity, but it too, I fear, is a bit too weird for these squares. Speaking of squares (see what I did there?), Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer’s “The Square” would also be an understandable winner for its gritty activist filmmaking, but I don’t see that happening. “Dirty Wars” has some interesting content, but is mostly just Jeremy Scahill talking about himself.
Jeremy’s Prediction: “20 Feet from Stardom”
Jeremy’s Preference: “The Act of Killing”

Chris says: Jeremy – Mathews, not Scahill – I just want you to promise me one thing. That if one day I decide to dip my boxing gloves in paint and punch a few splotches onto a canvas, you will pay me thousands of dollars for my work and then make a whole movie about me. Deal?

Hey, just in case my current career runs into some hiccups down the road, I want to make sure I have a backup plan in place. And since literally anyone with two arms, a pair of boxing gloves and two buckets of paint can do what Ushio Shinohara does, I surely hope I can do the same and then have everyone jerk me off for it. (The motorcycles, for the record, are a different matter.)

But please, Jer, if you are going to make a documentary about my artwork, please make sure it’s not as half-baked and lightweight as “Cutie and the Boxer.”

“20 Feet from Stardom” is similarly lightweight, but tells better and more interesting stories, albeit without ever really diving much beneath the surface of its subject matter. Still, I think this one – with its inspirational arc and its engaging and likable subjects – will tug at Academy members’ hearts the most.

“The Act of Killing” (which shuffles between brilliance and ineptitude) is the critical favorite here, but I imagine it will turn off a decent percentage of voters. Which leaves my favorite of the bunch, “The Square,” which is not without its own problems but which gets by largely on the strength of its powerful collection of in-the-moment footage and a genuine sense of purpose.

But it sure would be nice if the documentary category could recognize more formally and artistically daring choices – “¡Vivan las Antipodas!,” “Stories We Tell” and “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” to name a few – or films with the breadth of something like “At Berkeley.”

Instead, we get pseudo-important nominees like “The Jeremy Scahill Autofellatio Hour,” which takes a fascinating subject and reduces it to 90 minutes of one guy talking about himself, interspersed with insert shots of said guy walking, typing, looking out of windows, buying coffee, sitting and staring out into the horizon.

Chris’ Prediction: “20 Feet from Stardom”
Chris’ Preference: “The Square”

Michael Fassbender: Did somebody say autofellatio?
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Fact: When Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep go out for drinks and shopping together (which is pretty much constantly), they deliberately never invite Amy Adams because she’s never even won her own Oscar. And that bitch Meryl won’t even let her borrow one of hers. Adams has been reduced to doing lunch with Roger Deakins, poor girl.

The pettiness of Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen.
Chris says: This race has been over for months, ever since people got a look at what Cate Blanchett does in “Blue Jasmine” last summer. While some have complained that this is an example of the most acting winning rather than the best (and may be partially true in terms of why certain voters have gravitated toward it), that does a disservice to just what a balancing act her performance actually is. The trick is the way her character tries desperately to keep from slipping over the edge, to convince herself (and those around her) that she can keep things under control. There’s a precise inner tension to the way Blanchett plays the role that, even as her life veers into the pathetic and the tragicomic, prevents the performance from spinning out of control. As others have pointed out, it’s difficult to imagine many (if any) other actresses nailing this role.

She’s by far the most deserving, even as good as Judi Dench was, not to mention Sandra Bullock (far more deserving for her nomination here than she ever was for “The Blind Side”), whose presence carried most of “Gravity” in what is surely her best dramatic performance.

As for the other two? Well, look, I’m a huge Amy Adams fan, but her performance was so wildly uneven – as much a symptom of the movie as Adams herself – and her faux British accent so thoroughly unconvincing (to the point that I had no idea certain other characters were meant to believe she actually was British, all but ruining one plot point in particular) that I remain stunned she scored a nomination.

But just so you know I’m not just here to rag on Amy Adams, can I just remind everyone that she was not nominated for “Enchanted”? That is a fucking performance.

Oh, and Meryl Streep was in a movie this year, too, which means she got herself a nomination. Go figure. Hey, when was the last time Streep got an Oscar nomination for a movie that was actually good? Do we have to go all the way back to “Adaptation.” or are some people still convinced “Doubt” was a good movie?

Anyway, you could have easily chucked out Streep and her silly “Osage County” scenery-chewing, and replaced her and/or Adams with the likes of Greta Gerwig in “Frances Ha,” Julie Delpy in “Before Midnight” or Adele Exarchopolous in “Blue is the Warmest Color” – or as Jeremy calls it, “La vie d’Adèle - Chapitres 1 et 2.”

Chris’ Prediction: Cate Blanchett
Chris’ Preference: Cate Blanchett
Jeremy says: Pretty much what Chris said, plus, I may be alone on this one, but shout-out to Robin Weigert for “Concussion.”

Jeremy’s Prediction: Cate Blanchett
Jeremy’s Preference: Cate Blanchett
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
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”
We finally have an answer to the question of what Matthew McConaughey had to do to get nominated for an Oscar: starve himself to death and, if we have our facts right, actually contract AIDS.
Jeremy says:  I missed the moment when “Dallas Buyers Club” became a big Oscar frontrunner. It had a lot of pre-release hype, then it came out and no one seemed that impressed. Yet it’s been winning shit left and right. Now it’s poised to take home half of the acting Oscars. (That’s two, FYI.)
It’s hard to say that McConaughey doesn’t deserve recognition after years of hard work and an impressive array of performances, but I’d give DiCaprio the statuette. His depiction of Jordan Belfort seems destined to go down as an iconic display of bravado, working on both subtle and not-remotely-subtle levels. He also gives one of the funniest scenes of physical comedy I’ve seen in a long time. And the part is simply more demanding than the routine “Dallas Buyers Club” screenplay gives McConaughey room for.
Toni Servillo’s performance in “The Great Beauty” infused so much personality into the film, and matched the overall tone so well, that it really should have been recognized here. The same could be said for Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” but we all know how the Academy feels about nominating that one for awards.
Jeremy’s Prediction: Matthew McConaughey
Jeremy’s Preference: Leonardo DiCaprio

Chris says: As much as I want DiCaprio to pull off the upset in this category, I gotta admit that this is a hell of a strong year for Best Actor candidates. Four of the five are nominees are deserving – sorry, Christian Bale, but –

Christian Bale says: The FUCK. Are you DOING? Slagging me off in front of all these people? You and me, Bellamy? We’re fucking done professionally.

Chris: Wait, why did you just lecture me in that hammy New York accent? Are you still in character? Didn’t that movie wrap shooting like a year ago?

You know what? I don’t care. My point was, as deserving as MOST of these nominees were, I could easily replace the whole lot with five equally deserving choices – Oscar Isaac, as Jeremy noted, would be one. I’d add Robert Redford for “All is Lost,” Søren Malling for “A Hijacking,” Tye Sheridan for “Mud” and Joaquin Phoenix for “Her.” Think that’s impressive? Well guess what, I’m going to give you five more: Toni Servillo for “The Great Beauty,” Simon Pegg for “The World’s End,” Mads Mikkelsen for “The Hunt,” Casery Affleck for “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and Isaiah Washington for “Blue Caprice.”

Any way we can increase this category to 15 nominees, just this once?

Fine. On to the actual nominees. What got me so much about DiCaprio’s career-best performance in “Wolf” is how, even though I’m a fan of his already, he did certain things I did not know he was capable of. Not out of any weakness of his, but because these are things that most actors aren’t capable of. His physical comedy alone is an astonishing piece of acting, particularly during the legendary Lemmon Quaalude sequence.

In fact, you know what? Fuck it. I’m calling it right here.

Chris’ Prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio
Chris’ Preference: Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Achievement in Directing
Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Hey look, it’s a bunch of guys getting nominated after being completely overlooked for far superior work! A belated congratulations, fellas!
Chris says: This one’s over, too, folks. Cuarón has this one in the bag. I can pretend he’s getting the Oscar as a makeup for not winning it for “Children of Men,” right? Because that’s what I’m going to do.

What’s interesting, in going through all of these categories, is the number of times I’ve been on board with “Gravity” winning. It’s truly great in so many areas. Making it all the more frustrating how bad (bad, bad, bad) that screenplay was. And Best Director is another category where it will be a deserving winner. While I would prefer to see Martin Scorsese take it – for his ability to get the best out of his performers in increasingly bizarre and challenging scenarios, for the bombardment of energy and anxiety pulsing through every scene, for his rare (and underappreciated) gift for comic timing, cutting and tone – Cuarón did great work in his own right, pulling off a rather monumental technical and dramatic accomplishment.

I did not think “12 Years a Slave” was McQueen’s best work, but his patience and unflinching eye (particularly the now-famous hanging sequence) make the film a strong visceral experience even if it falls short in other areas. Alexander Payne is a personal favorite but I wasn’t as enamored with “Nebraska” as some of his previous work.

And then there’s “American Hustle.” If I didn’t know David O. Russell made this movie, I would assume that whoever directed it had no clue what the fuck he was doing. Inept storytelling, bizarrely spotty tone, inconsistent performances, all in the midst of a desperate attempt to imitate Martin Scorsese – a bad idea in any year, but especially in a year when the master himself is showing you exactly how shit is done, and exposing you as a fraud.

So many other worthy directors were left out. J.C. Chandor gave us one of the best pure pieces of filmmaking in years in “All is Lost.” Not to mention Shane Carruth for his devastating and brilliant “Upstream Color,” the Coen Brothers their typically pitch-perfect work on “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Spike Jonze for “Her,” Clio Barnard for “The Selfish Giant.” Or even a left-field choice like Chan-wook Park, who directed the ever-loving SHIT out of “Stoker.”

Chris’ Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón
Chris’ Preference: Martin Scorsese

Jeremy says: Naturally when a director I love is poised to win an Oscar, it’s for a film that is far from his best work. That said, “far from Cuarón’s best work” is still pretty damn good. As Chris said, “Gravity” is a remarkable achievement in directing. It’s just that a director who was really on top of his game would have thrown out a lot of that dialogue.

There’s really not much point in discussing this category further. Sure, Scorsese earned this award with the Lemmon 714 scene alone, but for whatever suspense the Best Picture category may have in store for us, I will be shocked if anyone but Cuarón takes this one.

Jeremy’s Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón
Jeremy’s Preference: Martin Scorsese
Best Motion Picture of the Year
“12 Years a Slave”
“American Hustle”
“Captain Phillips”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
Oh, fuck it, you’re not even reading anymore. The Oscars are already over.
Jeremy says: The even split of people predicting "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" is pretty impressive. I mean, we've had recent years when the race has seemed pretty tight, but the consensus frontrunner has generally come out on top, the upset predictors being proved wrong. But this year, neither "12 Years" nor "Gravity" would be considered an upset. Add in the late surge for "American Hustle," and this is quite a year.

I suspect this might be the year when Hollywood honors some good old-fashion large-scale opulent filmmaking and gives it to "Gravity." As admired as "12 Years a Slave" has been, various elements have turned certain people off — its violence, its Brad Pitt speeches, and the like. Granted, these complaints may not reflect the majority, but they might eat away just enough votes to give "Gravity" the edge. How confident am I? Not very, but there's my prediction.

Obviously I would have liked to see more of the year's most brilliant films on the list, particularly "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Upstream Color," but we all know how that went. As it stands, "Her" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" are the best of the bunch.  

Jeremy's prediction: "Gravity"
Jeremy's preference: "Her"

Chris says: Indeed, “Her” and “Wolf” are the best two nominees – in fact, they’re the only ones of the nine that I’m overly enthusiastic about. Most of the rest are varying degrees of pretty-good, which is par for the course for the Oscars.

What’s at least mildly interesting about this year’s Best Pic race is that I could easily see it going to any of the three frontrunners. The Academy could go with “Gravity” if they want to honor its impressive technical achievement. Or they could go with “12 Years a Slave” because it’s a Serious Important Drama. Or they could even go with the presumably entertaining one that seems to have put a smile on everyone’s face, “American Hustle.”

Me, I’m going to go with the trend I’ve seen from the Oscars over the last few years, pretty much ever since they expanded the Best Picture field and altered the voting process. The trend has been to reward the most agreeable and slight – even, dare I say it, middlebrow – of the major contenders. In its best light, “Gravity” is a monumental achievement, so I can’t totally buy the Academy honoring it. For “12 Years a Slave,” I imagine a few too many voters will feel like they’re being forced to eat their cinematic vegetables.

Which leaves “American Hustle,” a movie that Academy audiences seem to have loved, and which doesn’t do them the disservice of forcing them to think about it or even pay much attention. It has all the ingredients of a good bit of breezy inoffensive fun – those costumes! those accents! con artists! crooks! big stars! romance! – just enough superficially great pieces to fool people into thinking they’re watching a great movie.. It’s the ultimate lightweight Oscar movie, and thus the ultimate Best Picture winner.

Chris’ Prediction: “American Hustle”
Chris’ Preference: “Her”


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