And the big one. The final award of Sunday night and the most coveted. Over the last couple of years, the Oscars have gone really soft, picking more straightforward, entertainment driven films for Best Picture instead of films with more substantial cultural, social and cinematic endeavors. Whether it is the very well-made, suspenseful Argo (2012), the silent film The Artist (2011) or the decent The King's Speech (2010), the Academy has passed are more meaningful films. 2012 should have gone to the more suspenseful and impressive Zero Dark Thirty. In 2011, a very weak year for quality films, but The Descendants was a far better film than The Artist. And in 2010, how do you not award Fincher's brilliant, engrossing The Social Network. It was a far better film then The King's Speech.
I do not see this changing this year, even though the eventual winner is of far superior quality and filmmaking than of the winners from the last three years. I have a feeling that Gravity is going to win Best Picture. It is entertaining and safe, and one of the best films of the year, but not a Best Picture winner. I feel the same way about American Hustle, which is a soft, entertaining piece of cinema, from a top notch director, but not in the same category as the two films that should be duking it out: 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. It is not as good Gravity or Her either. This has been one of the best years in film since that amazing year of 1999, but these two films stand far ahead and above the rest. I just wish the Academy would see that. 12 Years a Slave is too real, too graphic and I imagine most of the voters avoided watching it. The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the best social critique films of the last 20 years and one of the funniest, but too vulgar and full of depravity. It is sad that the Academy will be going soft and for just straight entertainment once again. I hope I am wrong and surprised on Sunday night. On a side note, no nomination for the Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis is a flat-out embarrassment on their part as well.
The Best Picture nominees are:
- American Hustle, d. David O. Russell A perfectly acted film of old school Hollywood entertainment, but just not as great as everyone says it is. Russell is fantastic and gets great performances from all involved, but pacing issues and an ending you could see a mile away kept it from being really great. That is not to say I did not enjoy it, but I expected more. The Academy honored it with 10 nominations and it could win the whole thing Sunday night.
- Captain Phillips, d. Paul Greengrass Probably the best thriller of the year. Great performances, directing, editing and a wonderful screenplay, this film was excellent from start to finish. Hanks showed what a powerhouse he can still be and a breakout role from Barkhad Abdi really stands out. I do not think it has a shot of winning, but the film received 6 nominations and has a real shot in the screenplay and editing categories.
- Dallas Buyers Club, d. Jean-Marc Vallée One of the big surprises of the year and easily one of the finest acted films, featuring career-defining turns form nominated stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. A film full of education, hope, anger and fight. It has been one of the best reviewed movies of the year and rightfully so. It is hard not to walk out of theater with dry eyes. The film received 6 nominations and will win for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.
- Gravity, d. Alfonso Cuarón The best entertaining, suspenseful, roller coaster rides of the year and in a long time. Gravity was fantastic on all accounts and is exactly what it is, a piece of amazing technical achievement, visual wonder and the kind of suspenseful entertainment I really enjoy. I believe it is the frontrunner for the Best Picture win, but I will not be completely disappointed with this, although there are two other films that deserve it more than this one. Still, an amazing achievement from the immensely talented and innovative Cuarón. Nominated for 10 Oscars, it should have the cinematography, visual and sound awards in the bag. I believe it will also win Best Director and, most likely, Best Picture.
- Her, d. Spike Jonze I would be really excited and surprised if Spike Jonze's beautiful love story Her was to win Best Picture. A fantastic film from a truly innovative artist. Phoenix is astounding in the picture and Johannson's voice is breathtaking and sharp. I really fell in love with this film after sitting on it for a couple of days. Everything about it is relevant and so perfectly poignant. The film received 5 nominations and its best shot at a win is in the screenplay and music categories.
- Nebraska, d. Alexander Payne This is film I finally saw this past week and what a wonderful, small, personal joy from one of the most talented and honest filmmakers working today. Dern gives one of his finest performances and the gorgeous black and white cinematography works perfectly with the small towns in Middle America. The film is nominated for 6 Oscars, but probably has no shot of taking home the big prize.
- Philomena, d. Stephen Frears The only Best Picture nominee I have yet to see. The film has an excellent cast, including Judi Dench and co-writer/actor Steve Coogan. Frears is always consistent and this true story of a woman in search of her son appears to be a competent, well-made film. The film received 4 nominations and is the least likely to win Best Picture.
- 12 Years a Slave, d. Steve McQueen A profound, brilliant, brutal piece of filmmaking from one of the best stylists in cinema. Steve McQueen's film is so rich and agonizing, but, in my opinion, is required viewing for everyone. A film that is so important in its showing of the visceral realities and heartaches of slavery in America. If the Academy, as reported on awardsdaily.com, refused or avoided watching this film due to its harsh brutality, shame on them. This is one of the best films of the year and one of the most important ever made. The film received 9 nominations and I really hope it can win Best Picture.
- The Wolf of Wall Street, d. Martin Scorsese Although I really hope 12 Years a Slave pulls off the win for Best Picture, this is the one that is without a doubt the Best Picture of the year. This is my pick for Best Picture, but it has no shot. Too cynical, sarcastic and vulgar. A master still at the top of his game and easily the best living director, if not the best of all-time. The Wolf of Wall Street is a wild ride of debauchery and extreme decadence of the arrogant 1%. The film is so true, so funny and so dead-on. It contains Leonardo DiCaprio's finest performance and amazing turns from Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie. This will not win, but it should. The film received 5 nominations.
And that is all. I really loved Gravity, but do not think it should win over 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street. That is just how it is. The Academy needs to get back to being more profound and gritty. Back to the 70s, before films turned into nothing more than a bank. We shall see what goes down on Sunday night. Enjoy.
Photo credit by IMDB.