Talking about movies, not necessarily Oscars

CL's News Editor reluctantly ruminates on the upcoming Academy Awards.

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12 YEARS A SLAVE: Chiwetel Ejiofor might be overlooked by Oscar, but he's a worthy contender.
  • 12 YEARS A SLAVE: Chiwetel Ejiofor might be overlooked by Oscar, but he's a worthy contender.
As an inveterate moviegoer, this is an exciting time of year. Not because of what's playing in the multiplexes themselves, where the American film industry seems to think it's perfectly fine to offer up the dregs that somehow didn't make it to video-on-demand (where there's much more interesting fare). No, I'm talking about all the hype in print and on the Internet regarding the best of American movies in 2013, because of this weekend's major awards shows.


Shows, I write, because over the past decade I've actually become a bigger fan of the Independent Spirit Awards that air Saturday evening on the Independent Film Channel than the Oscars, but the Oscars are what everyone cares about on Sunday night.

Every article about the Oscars seem to be all about Who Will Win and/or Who Should Win. I get that, but since it's sort of random and really cannot be taken that seriously, I'd prefer to just concentrate on looking back at the year in cinema.

Because really, you know for whatever reason, the Oscars frequently get it wrong. Or do you forget when Raging Bull lost out to Ordinary People in April of 1981? Or Kevin Costner's Dancing With Wolves over Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in 1991? Or Robert Altman's The Player not even being nominated for Best Picture in March of 1993?)

But enough about nostalgia. As everyone knows, the three biggest films in terms of nominations this time around are 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Gravity

Let's start with Gravity, which may take home the Best Picture award. Certainly nobody seems to be contesting that Alfonso Cuaron, the previous director of Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men will take Best Director. Generally, the best director takes the best film, but not always, of course.

Gravity was an amazing film, wasn't it? I was in Hollywood, actually on Hollywood Boulevard, on the first Friday of last October when the film opened, and there was an excitement about it coming out that transcended its relatively low-level set of expectations (luckily it wasn't so pronounced like the summer Hollywood blockbusters which inevitably disappoint). I actually went to the Griffith Observatory in L.A. and checked out the galaxy that same day and the awesome vision that Cuaron brought to his feature the next time. Simply mesmerizing.

However for my tastes, I'd take Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture, the most searing exploration of slavery in America that we've ever seen on the big screen (directed by a Brit, incidentally). You know, the fact of the matter is that slavery has barely been depicted in popular American entertainment. Seriously. Take away Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and you've got to go back to the phenomenon that was Roots in 1977 when Americans have had an "entertainment" teach them about a crucial chapter in this country's DNA.

I'm old enough to remember that entire week that Roots aired, a week that sort of blew America's mind. This was one of the great mini-series that became all the rage in the late 70's and early 80's — you know, like the Thorn Birds, Rich Man, Poor Man, The Winds of War, and of course, Holocaust, which aired for four consecutive nights on NBC in late 1978.

I think Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance as Solomon Northrup was as good as any that we saw in 2013, but he doesn't seem to be getting any pre-Oscar love. Michael Fassbender was the personification of evil, but wasn't a caricature (Paul Giammatti's character in 12 Years sort of was, though). I wasn't as blown away as others have been regarding Lupita Nyong’o, who is considered a co-front runner for Best Supporting Actress.

GROOVY MOVIE: American Hustle's retro odyssey might take home a best costume or screenplay win.
  • GROOVY MOVIE: American Hustle's retro odyssey might take home a best costume or screenplay win.

Okay, I thought I wasn't going to get into talking about these categories about who should win, but I guess I'll go down that path. You've got my choice for Best Actor, but all the buzz is about Matthew McConaughey and Leo DeCaprio. Whatever. If you're going to go more mainstream than Ejiofor, what about the great Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle?. It's actually a heartbreaking performance if you think about the end of the film. Not the very end, but when Rosenfeld tells Carmen Polito, the New Jersey mayor, the truth about the scam that's been played on him? Devastating.

Did you catch the tremendous backlash about a week after American Hustle came out? I never really understood it myself. Sure there's a lot of flash to it, what with the costumes, the wigs and the wall-to-wall '70s soundtrack. But I (shamefully?) love the '70s for a variety of reasons. And by the way, have you noticed how well ELO's music stands up some 40 years after its heyday? Back in the '70s they were constantly rapped as being Beatles wannabes, but check out their contributions to movies like this and Eternal Sunshine of the Sunspot Mind. Great stuff.

Okay, so that's the big 3.

But there really are a lot of outstanding movies that were also nominated, real life dramas like the Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena.

Best Actress? Cate Blanchett was terrific in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Seems like a can't miss. But I wouldn't mind Amy Adams taking it for American Hustle. Damn, she looked good in those Cosmo magazine style outfits, and what a contrast from her performance in Her (which I'm sorry, but I think was way overrated. Also not a huge fan of Alexander Payne's Nebraska, which I thought I would like more).

Did you see August: Osage County? I never saw the Pulitzer Prize winning Tracy Letts play (which has been performed here in the Bay area), but the movie wasn't half bad. The great Meryl Streep received some of the worst reviews of her life as the domineering matriarchal figure in the film whacked out on drugs, but I didn't find it so egregious. Julia Roberts was a surprise choice getting a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but she won't win.

Okay, now I'll go straight to rest of the big nominations. Best Adapted Screenplay? It's gotta be 12 Years a Slave, written by John Ridley, right? The Wolf of Wall Street was hugely entertaining (if overly long). Philomena and Captain Phillips are also nominated, but it's got to be 12 Years.

Best Original Screenplay

David O. Russell won't win for Best Director for American Hustle, so this is the next best thing, right? Woody Allen has to be given serious consideration for Blue Jasmine. After a long period of irrelevancy, Woody seems to come up with a really strong film every few years now, going back to Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona and now Blue Jasmine with a lot of films that aren't nearly so compelling (though lots of people dug Midnight in Paris).

Best Foreign Picture

Here in Tampa Bay we're always a bit limited in making this choice, since all the films haven't made their way here (where they're usually screened at the Tampa Theater). The only film nominated that I did see is Italy's choice, The Great Beauty (click link for review by CL A&E Editor Julie Garisto) Didn't see any others, so I'll take that by default (interesting that this film was not beloved by some members of the audience at Tampa Theatre when I saw it earlier this month, with a few couples walking out. Then again, I saw several people walking out of Wolf of Wall Street on Christmas Day as well). Gloria, the Chilean import nominated in the category, opens at Tampa Theatre Wednesday.

Best Cinematography

Nebraska has a lot going for it with its black-and white look; Inside Llewyn Davis has a lot of style, and it's great that the very underrated Prisoners gets a nomination in this category. But come on — it has to be Gravity, because the visuals were simply stunning.

Best Costume Design

American Hustle. Not even close.

Best Film Editing

LOST CAUSE? Robert Redford stars in All Is Lost, Mitch Perry's favorite of the year.
  • LOST CAUSE? Robert Redford stars in All Is Lost, Mitch Perry's favorite of the year.

Captain Phillips
(barely mentioned in this essay until this point) is getting some attention, and won the American Cinema Editors' award for best film drama. But American Hustle won in the musical/comedy category, and as I mentioned above, this film was like Goodfellas in how much it moves. A very quick two hours and 10 minutes. It's American Hustle, again.

Best Sound Editing/Sound Mixing/Visual Effects

Gravity.

Regarding the Independent Spirit Awards which celebrates the best in indie film making, I'm excited that my favorite movie of the year, the Robert Redford starring All is Lost, is nominated for Best Picture. Also, that Jeff Nichols is nominated for Mud, also one of my favorite films of the year, also ignored by Oscar. Redford also is up for Best Actor, and how about Shailene Woodley and Gaby Hoffman for Best Actress? Good stuff. Hoffman was a trip in Crystal Fairy, which is all about tripping. Literally.

Regarding the Independent Spirit Awards which celebrates the best in indie film making, I'm excited that my favorite movie of the year, the Robert Redford starring All is Lost, is nominated for Best Picture. Also, that Jeff Nichols is nominated for Mud, also one of my favorite films of the year, also ignored by Oscar. Redford also is up for Best Actor, and how about Shailene Woodley and Gaby Hoffman for Best Actress? Good stuff. Hoffman was a trip in Crystal Fairy, which is all about tripping. Literally.


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