Right, so yesterday the nominations for the 86th Academy Awards came out, and with the Golden Globes having been at the weekend, it is more or less a given that we are now well into 'Oscar season' as it is popularly known. Ellen DeGeneres is hosting this year, which is great, because she has been the best of the recent schlock of hosts for the ceremony (much as I love Hugh Jackman). As a critic, we share the same feelings of a general audience during this period, ripples of excitement at the prospect of seeing so many potentially great films at the same time. On Wednesday, I planned on watching Anchorman 2 at the Movie House Dublin Road (which I ended up not seeing, for complicated and boring reasons), and half an hour before the start time, there were queues out into the street, for what I assumed to be advance screenings of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, but so I found to be a line that was split between American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave. That is perhaps indicative of the atmosphere in the race to the finish come March 2nd (a late scheduling for a ceremony normally in mid-late February), but the other main aspect for a critic is that it is oftentimes (aside from perhaps the late May/June Summer threshold) that most chaotic time of the year. I've only seen at present three (Captain Phillips, Gravity, Philomena) of the nine nominations for Best Picture, and alongside the fact that I want to see Anchorman 2 and the second Hobbit instalment, I've no less than eight movies on DVD to catch up with over the past year, so, to paraphrase an old line, you'll have to keep your eyes posted!
I supposed we'll start with the big ones, being the movies with the most nominations. American Hustle and Gravity lead the pack with ten nominations apiece, with 12 Years A Slave just behind with nine to it's name. American Hustle is very much an Oscar movie, if you will; it has a now thrice-nominated Director in David O. Russell, who has also been nominated for his screenplays, and ensemble cast with all acting categories represented in the nominations. Looking at that list now, while Christian Bale has done another of his transformations, I see Jennifer Lawrence as the frontrunner in the Best Supporting Actress category, and the movie may well pick up some awards for nominations in the likes of the Best Costume category. However, while it may be a big player in the noms, I don't see it snapping up the awards. From a technical standpoint, Gravity is one of the most extraordinary films ever made. I see it as the big winner of the night, and that it will be the frontrunner in the Visual Effects, Editing, Production Design, Cinematography, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories. I think it will go away with no less than four of those awards. Also, the fact that it has been nominated in the Best Picture and Best Director categories is indicative of the power of the movie, but also the shift in the tide regarding the voting in the Academy. In 2009, there was concern over the fact that The Dark Knight and Wall-E (along with, to a certain extent, The Wrestler and Gran Torino) failed to received any major awards nominations at the 81st Academy Awards, that the Academy were out of touch with the climate of movie audiences, and thus, the next year there were ten nominees, which was later (and rightly) amended to a number between five and ten, so that there wasn't a set number, but judged on the basis of the voting ballots. Call me a cynic, but I don't see Gravity winning Best Picture, but I think Alfonso Cuaron will pick up Best Director. It used to be unusual to have the Best Picture and Director awards split between two movies, but I think for the first time in a long while we'll see it happen two years in a row. I see the major winner of the night in the terms of the awards being Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave. Already it has been compared to the likes of Schindler's List for it's unflinching portrayal of slavery and racism, and Spielberg's 1993 movie has since entered the AFI's top ten films of all-time, so that's no mean comparison. Also, not to sound gripey about it, 12 Years A Slave is an 'issues movie,' it's about something, and we all know how the Academy loves movies with issues, so, while I would say that American Hustle and Gravity have a chance, I think Steve McQueen's movie will take the gong this year.
Now, while those are the majors, there are certainly other noteworthy nominations in this years pack.
Most surprisingly, but perhaps most emblematic of fierce Oscar campaigning and of the Academy's love for the Brits, Philomena has gotten nominations in a number of major categories; Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay (which I could see it winning as an acknowledgement for 'the little movie') and Best Original Score (thank you, Mr Desplat!). Judi Dench mentioned about getting a fake tattoo of Harvey Weinstein's name on her bottom, I think there's a chance this time she might need to get it properly inked! Also, in the Best Documentary category Joshua Oppenheimer's extraordinary The Act Of Killing has been nominated and hopefully it will pick up Dogwoof, who have been distributing some of the finest documentaries of the past ten years (Burma VJ, Restrepo) their first Oscar. It's a film unlike an other I've ever seen, and hopefully the Academy will also recognise it's brilliance. Captain Phillips has picked up a number of noms, of course Best Picture, but I'm also happy to see Barkhad Abdi and Billy Ray get acknowledged respectively in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. Ray is a fine writer and filmmaker, so it's nice to see that he's getting recognition, and Abdi more than holds own with Tom Hanks, and deserves this, though he's got competition not only Mighty Fassbender but from Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. Speaking of that movie, what a year for Matthew McConaughey! First he had Mud earlier in the year, and now he's in both Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf Of Wall Street comes awards season. At first, it was looking like Best Actor was going to be between Chiwetel Ejifor and Bruce Dern (for Alexander Payne's Nebraska), but McConaughey's (Leto's) win at the Golden Globes has put him in as a strong contender. As for The Wolf Of Wall Street, while I look forward to seeing it, I don't see it being a major player, and while Martin Scorsese may be piped as an Academy Award winning director, aside from The Departed, look back at his record at you'll see that they still fail to acknowledge one of the greatest filmmakers of this or any generation. Just look at there was a complete lack of nominations for Shutter Island, despite being one of the best films of 2010 and of Scorsese's entire back catalogue. While there were five wins in technical categories for Hugo, once again, I don't see it as Scorsese's year.
While Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street may not get any wins, at least it's up there, as there are some noticeable absentees from this years list. Most notable of all these films is Rush. Now, I was also surprised at Inside Llewyn Davis not getting major noms, especially win the Coens being Academy favourites, but Rush's lack of acknowledgment for any award is a bizarre one. You've got former Oscar winner and favourite Ron Howard at the helm, it's fronted by two powerhouse lead performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, and aside from Gravity it's perhaps the most technically accomplished film of 2013. It's not just sour grapes on my part, for it's one of those movies that would fit right in with the likes of Unforgiven as a movie that manages to be both high-art, great entertainment and a snug awards movie. In other categories, I was surprised not to see more representation from Prisoners, which looked to be a major awards contender in pretty much every category upon release but only pulled a single nomination for Roger Deakins' exquisite cinematography, but also not a single nomination for Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which has bagged Best Foreign Language Film noms with both the Globes and the upcoming BAFTA's. Another of the good things to emerge from the more fluid voting process for Best Picture is that it now leaves films from other countries (such as Michael Haneke's Amour) the opportunity to find a slot not only in the Foreign Language category, but in other major categories. Furthermore, although it carries with it a certain reputation, Blue... won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and you'd think if the Academy wanted a token foreign language film in there, that'd be it. Finally, although to be frank I didn't expect it to get major nominations (though it deserves them, certainly), how in the name of heck did Pacific Rim not get any nominations in the technical categories? Like it or not, that is one of the best designed films of 2013.
Overall, though, not an altogether bad year for the Academy Award nominations, but not perfect by any stretch. Yes, this is a jury of one judging an institution whose membership is not too far shy of six thousand, but hey, learn to live with it! Once again, the best thing to be said about the Oscars is that the Best Picture voting system is far more malleable than the stringent ties of the former five nominations. Francis Ford Coppola once said that there hasn't been a masterpiece since Raging Bull, and while I agree that Scorsese's picture is a masterpiece, I disagree with the sentiment that there isn't great worth in contemporary cinema. Every year, we see about four or five masterpieces, and many great more, and there are at least a good number of them in contention at this year's Oscars.
Here is a short breakdown of my predictions for this year's winners (don't take this to the bookies, incidentally!)
Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Writing, Original: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Writing, Adapted: Steven Coogan/Jeff Pope, Philomena
Best Animated Feature: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty
Best Documentary, Feature: The Act of Killing
Best Original Score: Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Best Original Song: 'Ordinary Love,' U2, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
Best Sound Editing: Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Inside Llewyn Davis
Best Production Design: 12 Years A Slave
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume Design: American Hustle
Best Film Editing: Alfonso Cuaron/Mark Sanger, Gravity
Best Visual Effects: Gravity
There you have it! I dare say my awards won't look altogether like this, but that, my friends, is for another day...