CineFile’s 86th Annual Academy Awards Preview Extravaganza

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! No, it’s not Monster Truck Madness at the Tacoma Dome. It’s something far more dirty and overinflated. And fun.

Ellen DeGeneres is hosting the 86th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2. Who do you think will come away the big winners?

Ellen DeGeneres is hosting the 86th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2. Who do you think will come away the big winners?

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

No, it’s not Monster Truck Madness at the Tacoma Dome. It’s something far more dirty and overinflated. But also, for a movie nerd like me, a lot more fun.

It’s Oscars time, y’all.

The yearly tradition where everyone and their half-brother gets to pretend like they know anything about movies and complain how Iron Man 3 was clearly the best movie they saw out of the three movies they saw last year and what the hell is Her anyway? I didn’t see any commercials on TV for them. What a load of crap.

They sure are, but I enjoy them, and I also enjoy complaining about them too, so I get it. Complain away you strangers of the cinema who for some reason still watch the Academy Awards every year. Shine on.

Does none of this make any cohesive sense? No? Who cares, it’s the Oscars!

So every year I tend to write this little preview to weigh in on what I think will win, should win and should have been nominated at the Oscars.

We all know they are but one test of the best movies of the year, and a highly flawed one at that. Both huge commercial successes and mass critical darlings tend to get left out, though occasionally those worlds converge. None of my Top 5 Films of 2013 are nominated for Best Picture, and many other critics could say the same.

That being said, it’s a pretty good crop this year. I don’t absolutely loath any of the Best Picture nominees, so that says something. There’s no War Horse, no The Help, no Les Miserables.

Let’s just get to it shall we.

Here we go:

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Will: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley) – Getting over the fact that Before Midnight is not an adapted screenplay (which I never will), this is a category where I think the early overall favourite in the Oscar race is going to take it. 12 Years a Slave managed to build a magnificent movie out of what I hear is some pretty sparse source material. The movie’s power is in its performances, direction and music, but the story itself is also meticulously and expertly constructed.

Should: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hunt) – I would have zero problem with 12 Years a Slave winning, but if I had my way Before Midnight, my favourite movie of 2013, would receive some love in the only category it is nominated in. Even if it doesn’t belong in that category. It’s a film of words, magnificent words which hold so many insights about life and love in them, while seeming so natural and effortless. Linklater and his actors did a wonderful job constructing them and wouldn’t it be nice to see them recognized.

Missed: I have no strong opinion over a missed opportunity in this category. Sorry.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

Will: American Hustle (Eric Singer and David O. Russell) – This year’s race towards Oscar love appears to be a three-way split between Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, so one of the keys to figuring out your predictions is figuring out which of those will take the top categories. I don’t think it will be American Hustle, hence why I think it will receive love here. It’s a popular movie with lots of support, and its screenplay is full of colourful, interesting characters and scenarios. Why not?

Should: Nebraska (Bob Nelson) – When it comes to film writing I’m a person who appreciates subtlety and silence. Nebraska is rather broad in its comic appeal, but its characters are perfectly balanced against its setting and tone. It’s a film which rises from its script. It would be a well deserved win.

Missed: Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen) – I may become a broken record here, but I love Inside Llewyn Davis more every time I think about it, and its screenplay is a big reason. Rich characters, biting dialogue. An unfortunate snub by the Academy.

Best Documentary Feature

Will: The Act of Killing – I’m willing to admit I could be very well wrong about this one. The race seems to be between the popular favourite (20 Feet From Stardom) and the critical favourite (The Act of Killing). It may be just that I’m plugged into the critical world a bit too much, but there has been so much talk about how outstanding The Act of Killing is as a doc, and it truly is, that I can’t imagine it not winning. Only, well, I can.

Should: The Act of Killing – I have never seen a doc quite like The Act of Killing, and I mean that in a good way. I must admit docs are not my first love in cinema, so to see one break away from the form I often find holding them back was inspiring to see. It’s a great film, and deserves to win.

Missing: Stories We Tell – This is my most anger-inducing missed opportunity by the Academy. Maybe it’s the combination of being a film lover and a Canadian, but Sarah Polley’s doc not being nominated makes my blood boil. It made my best of the year list, is another doc which really stretches the form, and manages to make non-fiction incredibly personal, while managing to say so much about the nature of truth, family and storytelling. #$@( you, Academy.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will: The Great Beauty (Italy) – This is a close race, but The Great Beauty seems to be the favourite, what with the Golden Globes win and all. It’s a little bit on the abstract side for the Academy though (which is to say it’s ever-so-slightly abstract), whereas The Broken Circle Breakdown or The Hunt might appeal more as straightforward story-driven narratives. Nonetheless, The Great Beauty has been very well received by all, so I think it will take the award.

Should: Tie: The Great Beauty and The Broken Circle Breakdown – I saw The Great Beauty recently and I loved so much about it, but did feel it dragged in the middle and covered the familiar ground of a rich, aging white man all of a sudden discovering there is more to life than money and power. All the same, it is a beautifully wrought movie, especially in its depiction of it’s true main character: Italy. So really, I’m split. I also really enjoyed The Broken Circle Breakdown, especially the music, but found that too got bogged down, only in melodrama. Both are basically wonderful movies though, I would be happy to see either win.

Missed: I have no strong opinions in this category for what was missed. But I did rather enjoy a French film called Grand Central I saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival which I really haven’t heard anything about since. I’m not sure what its release history is, but the film, starring Tahar Rahim (The Prophet) and Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), is a captivating look at a romantic triangle which arises among a group of nuclear power plant workers. Keep an eye out for it.

Best Animated Feature Film

I honestly don’t really pay much attention to this category and haven’t seen any of the nominees. Frozen will probably win and The Wind Rises probably should win. That’s all I have. Animation ain’t really my thing, especially the Disney-fied animation the Oscars tend to focus on.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Will: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) – For all the work Hollywood still has to do to include well-rounded LGBT characters in mainstream movies, Oscar sure does love a sick gay guy played by a straight guy (Tom Hanks, Sean Penn). And while that may sound glib, and it is, it could be worse. And Jared Leto is impressive as a transexual AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club, getting into the role with his usual dedication and depth.

Should: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) – I would support most of the actors in his category (except maybe Bradley Cooper), but I think Fassbender put in a marvellous, largely underrated turn in 12 Years a Slave which helped the film articulate its point of how slavery hurts everyone. He is a vile, tormented man, with demons his own way of life stokes. It’s a searing, ravaged performance.

Missed: James Franco (Spring Breakers) – Oh come on, how cool would that have been to see Franco’s bizarre yet infinitely engaging performance as Florida scumbag Alien nominated for an Oscar? He could hoist the statue and tell the audience to look at his sheeyit.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Will:  Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) – I thought June Squibb initially, but now, with further reflection (and Google searches), I believe the award will go to Nyong’o for her brave performance in 12 Years a Slave. For one thing, I think voters will feel guilty for not giving any of the other marvelous performances from that film awards and, for another, she deserves it. Jennifer Lawrence is a contender for American Hustle, but she won last year and Oscar don’t play like that.

Should: June Squibb (Nebraska) – I will be cheering if Nyong’o wins, but I loved Squibb as the delightfully foul-mouthed matriarch of the quirky family of Nebraska. She gets the tone just right, and it’s a fun, charming performance. It’s a heavy year for Oscars, be nice to see a comedy get some love here.

Missed: Scarlett Johansson (Her) – I didn’t love this film as much as others did, but Johansson turned in an extremely impressive performance, considering we never actually see her. As the voice of a personal operating system who falls in love with her owner, Johansson hits all the right notes, capturing all of the longing, confusion and disappointment of love all in her voice.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Will: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) – Another strong performance from a film I liked but didn’t love which will see success come Oscar night. McConaughey is picking up all the right hardware on the road to Oscar glory and is the talk of town ever since he reinvented himself as a dark, intense character actor. He is great as AIDS patient/medication smuggler Ron Woodroof and people love them some McConaughey, so it’s all but sewed up here.

Should: Bruce Dern (Nebraska) – I’m extremely split over whether I’d like to see Dern or Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave win, but I’m a fan of comebacks and it is just so good to see Dern getting some late career recognition that I can’t help pulling for him. Nobody has played a quiet, grunting, curmudgeonly old man better.

Missed: Robert Redford (All Is Lost) – Another category where Inside Llewyn Davis could have got some love for Oscar Isaac, but I’m a fan of the strong, silent performance, and none was better than Redford in the largely dialogue-free All Is Lost. He manages to elicit all the survival, fight-for-life sympathy Sandra Bullock does in Gravity, only without the cheesy backstory and overinflated dialogue. Now that’s a performance.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Will: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – Another seemingly locked up category, Blanchett will win for her turn as a mentally-strained divorce survivor in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. The film isn’t great as a whole, but her performance is what holds it all together. Allen is buried in controversy right now, but Blanchett’s performance speaks for itself and she will win on her talent alone.

Should: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – I don’t disagree with anything I said above. While I wish I had an actress to root for in a film I loved, this will do.

Missed: Julie Delpy (Before Midnight) – Delpy is a force to be reckoned with in Before Midnight. Sweet, smart, passionate, sexy, fierce, confused and outraged, Delpy passes through all these modes with talent and intense commitment. Anyone who can perform a nude scene like the one in Before Midnight is an actress worth her weight in Oscar gold.

Best Director

Will: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) – People be lovin’ some Gravity, am I right? While I’m not one of them I can objectively see the wave of support this film is getting and while its performances were (rightly so) left out of contention, Cuaron’s use of dazzling special effects will be honoured here. It’s one hell of a film to look at, I must admit, it’s just too bad it’s not as impressive to actually watch. Nonetheless, this is the one to beat.

Should: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) – I’m sorry, y’all, but I feel like the lone wolf who didn’t fall in love with Gravity, and I don’t believe grandeur for its own sake should win a Best Director Oscar. It deserves every technical award it will surely win, but when it comes to the direction of its actors, I found Gravity to be disappointingly heavy handed. 12 Years a Slave, on the other hand, manages to take already heavy material and find effectively subtle ways to get it under your skin. From the long-shot of the hanging, to the power and grace of the graveside singing, 12 Years a Slave goes for both the head and the heart and hits every note just right.

Missed: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) – Here we are again, but Joel and Ethan Coen are at their best when tackling understated tales of doomed characters living in flabbergasting worlds, as in A Serious Man, and here with Inside Llewyn Davis, one of their best movies. The use of colour, music, pacing and tone are exquisite and the film as a whole is a worm burner of a masterpiece.

Best Picture

Will: 12 Years a Slave – You never know, Gravity may just split the difference between 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle and take the win, but I think the Academy is going to go with the early favourite this year, after last year’s momentum winner (Argo over Lincoln). Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but love for American Hustle seems to have lost steam and the Academy still typically loves drama over pure entertainment, so 12 Years a Slave will inch out a win.

Should: 12 Years a Slave – For once, I agree. 12 Years a Slave is a rare picture which manages to be Oscar bait, due to its heavy, American-historical content, but is also marvellously made, with stunning performances, one heck of a story and the impressive vision of director Steve McQueen. This is the black history film America has been in need of, and it deserves all the accolades it gets.

Missed: Inside Llewyn Davis – Broken record much? I’ve said it all already: I loved this movie, critics loved this movie, it deserved a nomination at least, over Gravity, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Phillips, in my occasionally humble opinion. Like I said, I don’t detest any of the nominees this year, but Davis is such a strong picture, it would have just made this category all the more impressive. Before Midnight, too.

So there you go. In other news, look for Gravity to sweep up technical awards and a bunch of films we’ve never heard of, even if sadly so, for short films. Oh, and dresses and stuff, whatever. The main point is: have fun.

Look for me on Twitter @CineFileBlog to get into some live reactions to the awards this Sunday night (March 2) at 4 p.m. (that might be red carpet stuff, I’m not sure).