The Oscars 2014: A Night For History Making or…

The biggest storyline that’s headed into this year’s Oscar race has always been the discussion of diversity.  Male to female ratios, white to minority voting blocks, the impending conversation has stemmed from a lack of a wider voting body from a culture that’s technically supposed to support multiple ethnic backgrounds and groundbreaking movement in terms of equality and balanced perspectives.  Regardless of how the Academy is perceived, they have the ability to make history tonight.

Specifically with two categories: Best Director and Best Picture.  If Alfonso Cuaron (favorite) or Steve McQueen wins, they’d be the first director to ever receive the award for a Hispanic or a Black filmmaker in the history of the Academy Awards.  When I first heard that statistic, it was mind-boggling, thinking that it couldn’t be true that they’ve never awarded outside the Caucasian and Asian backgrounds.  But it is, and take it how you will, but if the cards play out tonight, one of the two will be rewarded unless…

The other major category, Best Picture, is a lot more mixed with mystery and confusion, with an ample amount of non-evidence for which picture has taken the lead.  You can make the argument for both 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY, with 12 YEARS having the precursors and consensus split awarded them, whereas GRAVITY is the clear on favorite for Director and has won the DGA, which is usually the best predictor in regards to Best Picture.  Regardless, history will be made with one of these two films, with one film winning being the first time a black director, black producer, black writer, and a mostly black cast has ever won Best Picture.  The other would be the acceptance of the future of filmmaking, a thrill ride with an emotional punch surrounded by the incredible advancement in technology for the world of entertainment.  But you cannot deny AMERICAN HUSTLE’s presence, with David O. Russell’s pesky persona, hoping for third time’s a charm.  He’s greatly overdue in the eyes of the Academy, but it all depends on how a voter perceives each film.

But at least there’s a ton of speculation and unknown going into the biggest prize of the night, which hasn’t happened for quite some time.  Nonetheless, it’ll all unfold tonight, and the hysteria will end… until next year.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

One of the hardest categories to pick outside of Picture, this is dead heat race between Spike Jonze’s HER and David O. Russell and Eric Singer’s AMERICAN HUSTLE.  It’s easy to distinguish what I’d want to win, but it’s incredibly difficult to see where the trend is floating towards.  This is the one award that AH could potentially win (outside of Supporting Actress, Costume Deisgn, maybe Production Design or Editing), and if it doesn’t, then that means AH could be completely swiped out clean, which I have a really hard time seeing.  This is the one category where it’s chances are best, even if it comes down to a coin toss.  But I’m going to stick with HER, the precursor pick, and the more noteworthy film.  Yes, I’m mixing my thoughts and opinions into this category, but the script is just so much better and more complex, whereas Hustle is about people yelling and screaming for two hours.

Predicted Winner: Her
Dark Horse: American Hustle
If I Had A Vote: Her

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

This category is much more clear cut, with 12 YEARS A SLAVE winning the USC Scripter.  It’s biggest challenger would be Billy Ray’s CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, who won the WGA (though 12 YEARS was disqualified for the award).  Regardless, I believe it’s John Ridley’s night and he’ll graciously accept his achievement.

Predicted Winner: 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Captain Phillips
If I Had A Vote: 12 Years A Slave

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Such a strong group of nominees, but the season has been dominated by Jared Leto and his strong performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  No one has come close in regards to amount of accolades he’s collected, but Barkhad Abdi from CAPTAIN PHILLIPS has some momentum coming in, especially with his win from the BAFTA (Leto was no nominated).  It’s Leto’s night, and I think this is an easy call to make.

Predicted Winner: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Dark Horse: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
If I Had A Vote: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

This is one of those races that are full of absolute arrogance and preposterous banter, and no, it’s not because of Jennifer Lawrence’s potential upset against the better performance in Lupita N’Yongo in 12 YEARS.  It’s the conversation that if Lawrence, there’ll be this complete backlash and her popularity will take a major dive.  It’s a pathetic pop culture significance where a young woman’s success would ACTUALLY derail her potential and future career.  It speaks volumes of our current obsession and misplaced emphasis in these people’s lives, and if a woman has too much success and it’s become a bad thing, then, wow, we’ve really regressed as a country.  Pathetic.

Predicted Winner: Lupita N’yongo, 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
If I Had A Vote: Lupita N’yongo, 12 Years A Slave

BEST ACTOR

The McConnaisance is truly something to watch.  I don’t know if we’ve seen a better year from an actor in the history of film.  It’s tough to say, but he’s really out done himself in 2013 calendar year, and then add upon his riveting performance in TRUE DETECTIVE, he’s built quite the resume recently.  He’s got this one sewn up pretty much, with the only potential upset in the form of Chiwetel Ejiofor or Leonardo DiCaprio (which COULD happen), but I’ll play it safe and stay with the consensus for almost the awards season.

Predicted Winner: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Dark Horse: Leonardo Dicaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street 
If I Had A Vote: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave

BEST ACTRESS

These are one of those categories where they not only award the best performance, but also the actor or actress’ career and their entire body of work.  No doubt Cate Blanchett has put in a wonderful piece in BLUE JASMINE, but she’s long overdue, and has dominated the acting scene for a long time.  There is no one close to touching her, and the biggest concern of the night for this category is her acceptance speech and her acknowledgement of Woody Allen.

Predicted Winner: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Dark Horse: Judi Dench, Philomena…?
If I Had A Vote: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine (Brie Larson for Short Term 12)

BEST DIRECTOR

The funny thing is, I think director and picture go hand-in-hand, for the most part, and in most years, I’d vote for the director that I believed directed the best film, but this year, I’d likely regress because Alfonso Cuaron’s work in GRAVITY is astonishing, and his commitment and determination to create a moving and daring piece of work while advancing the world of filmmaking technology is groundbreaking stuff.  I have equal admiration for Steve McQueen, and I think Scorsese is one of the five greatest filmmakers in history, but as the consensus is showing, I think Cuaron should win and will.

Predicted Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Dark Horse: Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
If I Had A Vote: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

BEST PICTURE

The big one.  The one that is probably the least predictable.  The reason for it is that history contradicts one another when perceiving who the likely winner will be.  Gravity has it’s own history with PGA (tie) and DGA win with the Director category pretty much already given to them.  12 YEARS has the precursor designation given to them, with the clear Picture/Director split the pronounced trend through the awards circuit.  And then you have AH, the film that usually tickles the Academy’s fancy with it’s heavy dialogue, actor friendly, and safe and friendly movie viewing.  But it’s only won the SAG Ensemble, and unless it pulls a Crash-like surprise, then I think it’s more of a dark horse than a contender.  This category can be determined by how the night is played.

If American Hustle starts winning awards that it wasn’t favored to (Production Design, Costume, Supporting, Screenplay, and ESPECIALLY EDITING), then you can make the assumption it could take Picture.  But the likelihood of that is incredibly slim.  Now if 12 Years start taking awards like Editing, Screenplay, Costume or Production, then you can start seeing a potential trend.  If it wins Director, it’s a lock.  The only thing you can’t make the assumption on is if Gravity starts sweeping the tech categories, which it’s pretty much favored to do outside one or two categories.  The only one category that I’d watch is Editing, because if it wins that, it leans favorably for a Gravity Best Picture win.  But who knows.  Like the entire awards season, it can be a spread-the-wealth type ordeal.  We’ll all have to wait a find out.

Predicted Winner: 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Gravity (with a little glimmer of chance for American Hustle)
If I Had A Vote: 12 Years A Slave

The Oscars 2014: Tech Categories & Their Importance

Like it is every year… the tech awards are important, outside of the fact that these elements in film are crucial to the overall product of the film, but they also can dictate the fate of other categories at the latter end of the show.  When ARGO won Editing and Screenplay last year, it was certain that Picture was theirs.  When films like TITANIC or LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING swept almost every technical category, it was almost certain that the evening would end on their terms.

The tricky thing about this year’s Oscar race is that there are so many films that are in the hunt, that even if a film dominates early on (a la GRAVITY or AMERICAN HUSTLE) a film like 12 YEARS A SLAVE can still take the big prize, considering that has been the established precedent for this entire awards run.  Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, PGA (tie) – they all have handed other films more awards but still presented the biggest and most important category to 12 YEARS.  This is a year where anything can happen, and even if a film starts sweeping early (which GRAVITY will definitely do), that isn’t necessarily an indication that we can call it an evening an hour in.

BEST EDITING

This is a category that usually goes in hand with the winner of Best Picture, but not always a certainty.  In some years, the category is crucial, but in a year like this, it’s difficult to exactly decipher its meaning.  The favorite at this very moment is CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, winning an Eddie, and easily the most showiest of edited films.  If Gravity wins, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to take Best Picture, as it was a favorite not so long ago.  The bigger tells would be if 12 YEARS or AMERICAN HUSTLE winning, especially the latter.  If AH somehow pulls this out, it’d be a potential spoiler for the rest of the evening.

Predicted Winner: Captain Phillips
Dark Horse: Gravity
If I Had A Vote: Gravity

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

I feel bad for Roger Deakins.  What does the man have to do to get his incredibly overdue Oscar?  In any other year, I’d say PRISONERS easily the most enhanced through its cinematography, easily creating the tense and darkening world, making the film much better.  But with Emmanuel Lubeski’s groundbreaking work, it’s easy to call this category.  Anyone else winning would be a complete shock.

Predicted Winner: Gravity
Dark Horse: Inside Llewyn Davis
If I Had A Vote: Gravity

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

This is one of those categories that will most likely mean nothing in foreshadowing future categories, but I think if GRAVITY beats THE GREAT GATSBY (favorite), then we’re going to see a sweep of sorts, including Picture and Director.

Predicted Winner: The Great Gatsby
Dark Horse: Gravity
If I Had A Vote: Her

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

This is another category that has a clear favorite, but if AH or 12 YEARS somehow surprise here, I think it’d be quite telling.  I think the only other nominee that stands a chance against THE GREAT GATSBY is AH, and if it does sneak up and win, watch out…

Predicted Winner: The Great Gatsby
Dark Horse: American Hustle
If I Had A Vote: The Great Gatsby

BEST SOUND MIXING & SOUND EDITING

Not even close.

Predicted Winner: Gravity
Dark Horse: Lone Survivor
If I Had A Vote: Gravity

BEST FILMS OF 2013: #20-11

Best films of 2013: #20-11.

Honorable Mentions: Mud, The Spectacular Now, Nebraska, Frances Ha

20.  THE CONJURING

A classic horror film with top notch scares and a tense, frightening plot will always get the better of me, and with THE CONJURING, it is easily one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.  Outside of it’s bone chilling techniques and torturing long sequences, the film itself is done with precision and quality.  James Wan is a master of the scary, and add in great performances from the always reliable Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Lily Taylor, this is an exception horror film that’s irresistibly terrifying.

19.  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

You can always appreciate Tom Hanks and the kind of work he brings to the table, but the last scene with him breaking down in the infirmary is easily his best work as an actor.  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is more than just pirates taking over a ship.  It brings upon the ideals of American success, the dreams the world has for itself, and what it takes for people to get a sense of that ideal.  It’s a tense, fast pace adventure with excellent performances from Hanks and first timer Barkhad Abdi.  Overall, it’s an achievement to execute a film like this that provides an ample of opportunities to twist and create subjectivity, but Paul Greengrass is so much better than that.

18.  BLACKFISH

A documentary like BLACKFISH is so important because it promotes change.  The waves that this little film has created is enough motivation for documentary filmmakers to truly believe that their film can create a difference in our saddening society.  Following the story of Tilikum, an orca taken from its habitat and placed in captivity at Sea World, and the trainer that was killed by Tilikum, it reveals the blanket of secrets and dark antics the “family-fun” corporation has consistently performed to keep the money coming in.  Animal captivity is a tragic situation that deserves more discussion, and BLACKFISH has become the fuel in what should become the blazing fire.

17.  AMERICAN HUSTLE

Though I feel this film doesn’t deserve a Best Picture win, it is still, in my opinion, one of the best films of 2013, mostly because of the top notch performances that surround AMERICAN HUSTLE.  You can’t get a better cast than this, and each provide a flawed and deeply infuriating character that keeps you glued to the screen.  The plot is insanely complex, and if you miss one scene, your most likely lost, but it’s a sight to behold.  David O. Russell continues his impressive streak of modern America folklore, bringing out the ugliness in our humanity, but dazzling it with a touch of love and… Jennifer Lawrence.

16.  INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

There’s nothing like a Coen Brothers’ film, and with INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, the story about a man wrapped within self-loathing and pity, is beautiful, unflinching, and daring, especially with how the character unravels.  There’s much to be said about success, and how we define exactly where we want to be.  But it’s clear where we all don’t want to be, and with Llewyn, it seems that’s the only place he wishes to be at, hurting those that he encounters, and pushing away any possible form of progress from himself.  Anyone pursuing a career like show business know the difficulties of climbing that steep mountain, but Llewyn refuses to take that climb, and somehow expects to reach the peak without breaking a sweat.  He’s the definition of talent without passion, skills without drive, and it’s heartbreaking to watch, but also expected.  Add that with one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and well, you got a great film.

15.  LABOR DAY

Though not widely released until January 31st, catching this film at Telluride, and having a small release in 2013, it’s a classic love story executed finely by Jason Reitman.  These are one of those films that don’t deliver some insane technique or brilliant writing.  In simplistic terms, it’s a romance based on pure love and chemistry.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Most of LABOR DAY occurs in a house, so all we see are these characters, in dying need of love and care, embrace each other, though from the outside, it’s a criminal taking hostage of a family.  It’s such a moving film with tear-jerking moments, and if anything, it’ll make you crave peach pie afterwards.

14.  THIS IS THE END

We all expected this film to have great lines, brilliant improv, and a lot of fun to poke at their own supposed selves, but the greatness of THIS IS THE END is that it takes a wild turn into a religious-infused apocalyptic dread, and the way we see everything unfold gives you assurance that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have much more talent than we give them credit for.  The cameos help, that ridiculous cast really helps, but what works here is the utter ridiculousness that continually raises as the film progresses, knowing that what they sold the audiences on (lots of barking at each other, playing themselves) would eventually get old.  It’s a smart and well-crafted film that is laugh out loud hilarious.  One of the best ensemble comedies in recent memory, it’ll be something that we watch years down the road.

13.  FRUITVALE STATION

A heartbreaking and gut-wrenching experience, FRUITVALE STATION exclaims to its audience the unfairness in which lives are lived based solely on culture and stereotype.  But more than that, it’s a tragic story about a young man trying to remake his life, doing the right thing, and to unfortunately not see how those drastic decisions would’ve played out.  First time writer-director Ryan Coogler takes this story and doesn’t fine tune it or mess around.  He takes that one fatal day and speaks volumes with it, raising its quality and its ability to speak for many issues without taking a stance on all of them.  With it’s final scene bringing me to tears, it’s a film that can be a intricate moving piece to real African-American films in today’s society.

12.  ENOUGH SAID

Sometimes, simple works best.  Nicole Holofcener’s ENOUGH SAID is exactly that, and what’s so great about it is that it’s centered around great characters, not necessarily great story.  James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus work magically together, having the audience to believe that these are real relationships, brought in with our human flaws and our uncontrollable behavior.  It’s a love story, but not between male and female, but between families, friends, and that subtle feeling of loss and trying to replace it with something imperative.  It’s a hilarious script with plenty of touching moments, and it deserves more attention.

11.  THE KINGS OF SUMMER

This is a film that I’ll show my kids, and no, not because I want them to run away and build their own house deep into the woods to escape my utter dread and embarrassment (which really could happen), but because of its ability to resemble innocence in youth, and the meanings and sacrifices we make as we continue to grow older.  THE KINGS OF SUMMER is a hilarious, well written film that entails the journey of a boy who hates restriction, but more so, unhappiness, and we can find unhappiness right around the corner.  Dealing with our problems head on is the act of maturity that we all must face, and the film greatly exhibits both sides of execution.  The characters are loveable but also flawed, and what we see here is a classic coming-of-age story with some of the best improved scenes you’ll see this year.  Not forgetting Biaggio, easily one of the most memorable characters in 2013, THE KINGS OF SUMMER will definitely be one of those films that I watch every year and appreciate what it represents: defiance in youth.

*Tomorrow will be the BEST FILMS OF 2013 #10-1.

Amazing Roundtable Interview with Actors & Actresses of 2013

If you have an incredible amount of free time, I suggest watching these two videos by The Hollywood Reporter on roundtable interviews from this year’s contenders in the acting field.  Though each video is an hour long, they’re insightful, thought-provoking, and intellectually beautiful.

Actors Roundtable 2013

Actresses Roundtable 2013