Defying Gravity: The Toughest Oscar Race in Years

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Usually, Academy pundits – or “Oscarologists” as Tom O’Neill and his ilk have dubbed themselves – are scrambling for nominees to fill the slots for AMPAS’ annual evening of self-congratulations and cinematic legacy. But this year, there were so many great films that soared such unbelievable heights (some even out of this world) that whoever Chris Hemsworth announces, inevitably many terrific performances and films will be left on the ground; this is one of the best years in film of the past decade and it is going to be close.

Since I think the journalists on Gold Derby have essentially chosen the nominees, I will spare you a regurgitation. Instead, these are my choices for induction into the club:

*Note: I have neither seen Dallas Buyer’s Club nor Captain Phillips

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BEST PICTURE:

12 Years a Slave – Stripping the humor from Django Unchained, Slave is a difficult, beautiful, and surprisingly subtle treatise of America’s darkest hour. Forget Roots. This is the film that will be taught in high school history classes to illustrate the horrors of our past. Steve McQueen is a force to be reckoned with. I need to seek out his other films.

American Hustle – A fun pastiche of ’70s excess and bad wigs with the best acting ensemble this side of August: Osage County.

Blue Jasmine –  Woody Allen is an (almost) untouchable God to me. Even his bullshit is exciting and worthy of a viewing. Which is a moot point when it comes to his 46th feature film as writer/director. Blue Jasmine – a modern day Streetcar meets Bernie Madoff scandal – joins the ranks of Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, and Broadway Danny Rose. Just superb. And Blanchett. My God, Blanchett.

Frances HaNoah Baumbach has steadily been positioning himself as the new Woody Allen with his nuanced, neurotic characters and their crimes of the heart. Frances is a 27 year old dancer, living, loving, and failing at both in New York City. The film hits a chord with any artist trying to make it, as the clock relentlessly beats on, making us assess reality and the attainability of our dreams. Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the film with Baumbach, is great as the aimless, plucky, immature Frances. Instant on Netflix. Watch it today.

GravityI feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t get a chance to watch this in the theatre. Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) proves once again that he is the best cinematographer in the world. Need proof? Maybe that 13 minute unbroken opening shot. Cuaron’s vision is epic, yet intimate. And Bullock is the perfect choice for our lost in space surrogate, all the more impressive knowing that she spent up to ten hours a day in a harness acting in front of a green screen. I wish there was room for her on the ballot. 

HerIs there anything that Joaquin Phoenix cannot do? Spike Jonze makes one of the defining films of the zeitgeist, romanticizing and indicting the ways we rely upon technology. The most moving love story of the year, maybe the decade. And yes, Scarlett Johansson deserves a nomination.

NebraskaWhile August: Osage County showed us the complicated, theatrical version of the Plains, Alexander Payne showed us the simple, documentary version of what it means to be from the fly-over states. Charming and sad, poignant, and very close to the bone.

Mud – A dark, coming of age indie that has sadly slipped under everyone’s radar. Matthew McConaughey is on the poster and billed as the star. But the heart and soul of the film is 17 year old Tye Sheridan. Watch his face as he learns that adults lie and that love is not always pure. Vulnerable and beautiful. This should have been a star making turn. Check it out on Redbox.

Saving Mr. BanksI expected to hate this movie because I assumed, with the Disney moniker, it would be hopelessly sappy. What a pleasant surprise. Emma Thompson is tough as nails as Mary Poppins‘ author, P.L. Travers, and Tom Hanks matches her with whimsy and his own brand of likability as Walt. Special kudos must be given to the screenplay – certainly one of the most original of the season – for showing us the filmmaking process without being didactic and showing us how her past has influenced her present without beating us to death with sentimentality.

Wolf of Wall Street, TheUnapologetically self-indulgent, Scorsese’s latest masterpiece takes us into the world of the ruthless and the bombastic (WITHOUT, I feel the need to add, celebrating or punishing their behavior…). The quaalude scene is worth the price of admission. Please, oh please. Give Leo the Oscar he deserves. Or at least a goddamn nomination.

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BEST ACTOR:

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofer – 12 Years a Slave
Joaquin Phoenix – Her
Robert Redford – All is Lost

*Honorable Mention: Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station; Tye Sheridan – Mud

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BEST ACTRESS:

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

*Honorable Mentions: Sandra Bullock – Gravity; Judi Dench – Philomena

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Bobby Cannavale – Blue Jasmine
Chris Cooper – August: Osage County
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Will Forte – Nebraska
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

*Honorable Mentions: James Franco – Spring Breakers; Tom Hanks – Saving Mr. Banks

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Scarlett Johansson – Her
Margo Martindale – August: Osage County
Lupita N’yongo – 12 Years a Slave
Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station

Honorable Mentions: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle; Juliette Lewis – August: Osage County

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BEST DIRECTOR:

Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine
Noah Baumbach – Frances Ha
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
Spike Jonze – Her
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave

Honorable Mentions: David O. Russell – American Hustle; Alexander Payne – Nebraska

WINNERS:

12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio
Cate Blanchett
Chris Cooper
Sally Hawkins
Alfonso Cuaron

TUNE IN THURSDAY AT 5:36 AM TO SEE ALL THE NOMINEES