Manhattan Digest film reviewers Peter Foy and Dane Benko discuss the major categories of this year’s Oscar nominations.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
PF: Well, the Best Animated Feature Film category has always interested me, as some of my picks for best film of the year were actually the winners in that category
DB: And this year has surprising selections.
PF: Yeah, no Pixar!
DB: And The Croods, for some reason. Frankly three of them only have a chance, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, Frozen, and Ernest & Celestine.
PF: Yeah, and I regret to say I had not heard of Ernest & Celestine till the announcement.
DB: Right, me either… I don’t think it’s going to win, but the nomination itself is a huge honor for it.
PF: Still, it seems to be that Miyazaki is an almost sure-bet.
DB: Yeah, Frozen has perhaps a chance because of the surprising amount of audience fondness of it, but frankly Miyazaki is too big of a name, regardless of the fact he’s won before (for Spirited Away).
PF: Yeah, it’s just the film is being hyped as his “farewell masterpiece,” so that alone should edge it towards the Academy’s favor. I wanted to see Frozen, but somehow it eluded me amidst the bustle of Oscar Season.
DB: Yeah, my Facebook feed is alive with talk about how awesome the songs are, and I was surprisingly engaged by the trailer, but this is the only time I’ve looked at the Animated section and felt at a loss as to where my year of movie watching went, precisely. And why the Croods?
PF: Yeah, that does seem an odd choice. Especially as Monsters University did receive decent critical recognition for a sequel, while it seemed like both audiences and critics were lukewarm towards The Croods. Hey, maybe they were persuaded to nominate it just to have a dark horse in there.
DB: In the end, last year’s Oscar win for Pixar seemed a little shoed in, so all in all I’m glad to see different options this year (even though I’m a die-hard Pixar fanboy), but I don’t think Despicable Me 2 or The Croods really replace that slot. Ernest & Celestine would be the most interesting win, but it’s already reaped a major award just by being featured. Frozen could be a surprise hit but only because audiences were surprisingly keen on it. But this year goes to Miyazaki
PF: I would agree, and I’m also totally for it. I feel that Miyazaki really has earned his coveted title as being perhaps the most celebrated animator of our generation, and has really made the medium an art form
Not only has he used animation to tell fantasy stories that appeal to all ages, but does them with a sense for wonderment and joy that most directors (including live-action ones) couldn’t even hope to capture.
I would call him the Walt Disney of Japan, but in all honesty I think he’s even greater than that.
DB: I still am not 100% sure he’s finished in the world of animation, the last few movies he’s made grumblings about being his last, but since he seems to want this one to underline his ouevre, I respect that.
PF: Yeah, I don’t know if this will really be his last film. He had said that about Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away also. But giving his age, and the acclaim and anticipation that this film is already receiving, then I feel it only builds to it’s stature for us to envision this as being his last work. Kind of like with Jay-z’s The Black Album! Same standard!
DB: But why The Croods?
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
DB: Scrolling up, how do you feel about the Supporting Actress nominees? I always have a difficult time with the actors segments., but it’s the actors that bring in the viewers, as the Oscars is really a celebrity showcase.
PF: Yes, very much so. I’m happy with the Supporting Actress nominations for the most part. I’m glad that they nominated Sally Hawkins, as I felt she gave a really strong and careful performance in Blue Jasmine, and I felt that some people didn’t acknowledge it due to Cate Blanchett’s lead.
DB: Sally Hawkins and June Squibb are the interesting ones. I… don’t see Jennifer Lawrence winning again. I love Jennifer Lawrence. She’s awesome. And she won last year. And I think the Academy thinks the same way I think about that.
PF: Yeah, Jennifer Lawrence was great though… and if the Academy wants to make history they may let her win as if she did win the best supporting role again this year, she would be the youngest actress to do so
DB: If the Academy Awards wants to make history (more on this when we discuss Best Picture), they’ll pick Lupita Nyong’o, which I wouldn’t be surprised to see. She did an amazing job in 12 Years a Slave, and 12 Years a Slave is pretty much a showcase of Oscar-quality talent. She may even be my pick.
PF: Yes, that’s true. She gave a very gripping performance, and her performances in the film’s most harrowing scenes were simply astonishing. She might be my pick as well, as any actress would need to go to intense places to deliver in a movie like that. I can’t comment on Julia Roberts as I haven’t seen August: Osage County
DB: I haven’t either. Fact is I’d be surprised if it wins many, or any, awards. I actually have the suspicion that the movie itself is different from the trailer, as the trailer seemed to highlight the reprehensible character Meryl Streep plays.
PF: Yeah, it’s not uncommon for trailers to be misleading these days.
DB: The movie clearly operates on that basis of ensemble performance. This is one reason why it would be sort of interesting to have an ensemble cast section for Oscars. But people’s reactions to it seem to be along the lines of, “I’m jealous of the dead character.”
PF: Ha, well if one film legitimizes the necessity for an inclusion of that category then it’s American Hustle, a film I think we will be discussing quite a bit of…
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
DB: I sort of want to head this one off by saying, I like Jonah Hill and all, and I loved This is the End, but his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street seemed more like he was acting out a sketch about being in a Martin Scorsese movie, than him actually acting in a movie directed by Scorsese. I’d even, in this list, eagerly give him the award for This is the End, because he played off himself perfectly, really subverting his own celebrity. I think Barkhad Abdi and Jared Leto seem like good contenders to add diversity to the list, but this really seems to be a showdown between Cooper and Fassbender.
PF: Yeah, I don’t think Jonah Hill has a chance. Barkhad Abdi is a fantastic actor though, and was just as strong a screen presence in Captain Phillips as Tom Hanks. Jared Leto might also get my honor for “best comeback performance” of the year, but yeah, it looks like it’s a showdown between Cooper and Fassbender, and I think the Academy is likely to tip in Fassbender’s favor.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE:
PF: I actually was having a conversation with someone that Tom Hanks was snubbed a leading actor nomination the other day.
DB: Oh? I don’t know, hasn’t Tom Hanks sort of proven his Academy chops?
PF: Yeah, and in actuality I don’t think his performance was quite as remarkable as the other 5 gents that the Academy nominated this year. Although the climax to Captain Philips shows that there’s still plenty of range for the veteran actor
DB: The Best Actor category seems like one of the most competitive. It’s not surprising that many good roles were lost in the shuffle. I honestly have about as good a chance predicting this one as a Magic 8 Ball.
PF: Yeah, I know that feeling. I can tell you I’m rooting for Matthew McConaughey though. In fact I wanted to see him nominated for Killer Joe last year
DB: Yeah, I can see that. The Academy has this really bad habit of awarding talent the year after the movie they deserved to win for. It seems a lot of people feel Leonardo DiCaprio is overdue for an Oscar. I throw my support behind Chiwetel Ejiofor.
PF: Yeah, as 12 Years a Slave really is a star making performance for him. Getting back to snubs… I still think they could of fit Joaquin Phoenix in there…
DB: Oh man…
PF: …as I felt he deserved to win last year for his incredibly unique and volcanic performance in The Master.
DB: It was ridiculous. I didn’t even see Phoenix the person in Her. I certainly saw Phoenix in The Master, and still thought he was powerful. Oh and by the way, as a terrible Pynchon fan, I can’t wait to see him in Inherent Vice. He’ll rock Doc Sportello. But believe me, we’ll get to discussing Her in a bit!
PF: Ha! I can’t wait to see Inherent Vice!
DB: Maybe that’s why Phoenix wasn’t put up for this year. Next year is being prepped for a long anticipated Pynchon adaptation Oscar streak.
PF: If he wins next year, then I’ll be completely ecstatic about it! Back to the best acting nominees though…What do you think about Christian Bale getting another nod? I feel he might have another good chance to win, just cause it’s a role so different from what he’s played before, and he once again perfects it
DB: My opinion on Bale is best described by the scene in Rescue Dawn where he eats maggots with a …. maggot-eating grin: Dude chews scenery in a way I adore, but I wouldn’t give him an award. I feel like I’m more on a rollercoaster than watching a performance. I’d almost feel like giving him the golden man for American Hustle would be more boring than his performance deserves. But I’m not one of the voters, so what do I know?
PF: Bruce Dern is another likely contender. Either for an Oscar, or a lifetime achievement award. As you said all five of the nominees gave career highlights this year, but, who knows, maybe the average age of academy voters will dictate them voting for the oldest nominee in the bunch.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
DB: Let’s start talking about Best Actress! No in all seriousness, this is one of the better line-ups of actresses in my memory, being that women are finally not always secondary characters in their own stories anymore.
PF: Yes, very much, although I feel that Brie Larsson was snubbed for her performance in Short Term 12
DB: Oh really? I… I don’t know what that is.
PF: It’s just it was a little-seen independent film with an arthouse veneer. So yeah, it’s not exactly the type of movie that would attract Oscar voters. I felt she just gave such a complex and hard-edged performance for that film.
DB: Well, you certainly caught me off-guard. I was gonna mention that Melissa McCarthy should have been nominated for The Heat. I am absolutely serious, she’s the Lou Costello of our generation.
PF: Yeah I didn’t see The Heat, but I thought she should have been nominated for Bridesmaids.
DB: But since Sandra Bullock got nominated instead for Gravity, that’s about the only segue I had to this otherwise eclectic mix of characters. Like Best Actor, I don’t even know where to start here.
PF: I feel Cate Blanchett might be the most likely contender
DB: Yeah Blue Jasmine was something else. I never thought Blanchett would top her performance in Coffee and Cigarettes. And of course there she only had a segment. Now she had to hold up a movie.
PF: Yeah, she gets serious props from me as she was able to balance the humor of her character against the distraught nature of her as well. What an ending too? It was rather disturbing I found.
DB: Actually now that you use that word, pretty much all the actresses this year had disturbing roles.
Bullock’s was the most lighthearted, and it was about the grief of losing a child! Or maybe Meryl Streep’s because we were supposed to laugh at her character?
PF: Yeah, that’s true. Although there aren’t many years when an actress gets nominated cause of how “happy” their performance was. Well for me Brie Larsson’s performance outshone the rest.
DB: Right. So we’re agreed. Brie Larsson should have won, and, uh… we have no clue who will win. But we can agree that all of these actresses do a fine job at making you feel sad.
PF: Yep! Exactly!
PF: Moving onto best picture now!
DB: Well alright then. To cut to the chase, I can’t help but feel this comes down to 12 Years a Slave versus Her. The rest of the movies are great.
PF: Really, I don’t think Her has much of a chance of winning. To be honest I wouldn’t have been surprised had it not even been nominated
DB: It’s been pretty much universally embraced by critics and audiences alike. And as a separate, specific feature, it’s good up and down and through and through. Good design, good performance, good acting, good editing, and a story that seems to be hitting close to an area big on people’s minds.
Plus Megan Ellison is about as celebrity as producers get.
PF: Yeah, but it’s not exactly an Oscar-type of movie. While it is a film about contemporary relationships, it’s also a high-concept sci-fi film that also seems aimed at indie-rock fans.
I think the two most likely picks for best picture are American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. The former just comes off to me as this year’s Argo
DB: Yeah but that might be why it loses…
PF: Yeah, I thought about that as well, but it also seems hard for The Academy to resist it.
DB: 12 Years a Slave seems like a good pick because in a weird way we’re overdue for the sober social consciousness film. It also fits the Academy’s MO.
PF: Yeah, although I do notice that the Academy does still tend to like film’s that have a little bit of levity to them. Which 12 Years a Slave certainly does not have
DB: Well in theory, the purpose of these awards are to argue for artfulness of film. 12 Years a Slave is an important film whether you enjoyed it or not. So that sort of sets it to demand people’s, including Academy voters’, attentions.
PF: Yeah, and if we’re talking about craft, then the film is a shoe-in for best picture. I absolutely feel that 12 Years a Slave will win for best director. Steve McQueen really has established himself as such a visionary with only just three films.
DB: I feel like Gravity is misplaced in these two departments. Strictly speaking Cuaron is worthy of being considered for Best Director and the movie is astounding, but it is a technical showcase that should sweep whatever technical awards its up for. But it’s kind of the odd-man-out of the rest of the titles in the Best Picture category.
PF: Yeah, well they have one of those every year (i.e. Inception)
DB: I feel like American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street will cannibalize each-others votes as historical looks at decadence and power. 12 Years a Slave has the biggest chops and Her has the feverish word-of-mouth. Which makes them create an interesting sort of unintentional narrative about whether the award will go to the mistakes of our past, or the hopes of our future.
PF: I don’t think Wolf of Wall Street has much a chance of winning. But that’s fine, you can tell Scorsese didn’t make it to win an award
DB: I don’t think Scorsese made The Departed to win an award.
PF: Yeah, but he did make The Aviator to win one. I personally think he wouldn’t have done that movie had he won an Oscar at that point, and I do feel it’s one of his weakest films because of that
DB: I wouldn’t want to answer for him. My feeling is that Scorsese is a case in point that the Academy tends to award a filmmaker about a year or two after the point when people feel the filmmaker deserves it most. Which is why Leonardo DiCaprio is either getting an award this year or next.
PF: A very solid accusation. In fact bearing that in mind, then maybe Leo will indeed win this year as the he has said he’s going on hiatus from acting, so the academy may want to award him now before he takes off for a bit.
DB: I trust his hiatus about as much as I trust Soderbergh’s various retirements. Film people seem to be like that one guy on message forums that’s always announcing his departure from the community. The ones that make the loudest announcements are typically the ones that can’t quit. Heck, Phoenix’s hiatus was a performance in and of itself. Anyway, perhaps I am being too confident in Her. I just strongly feel it is the title that SHOULD win, though 12 Years a Slave is the title to beat.
PF: Yeah, well I didn’t mention it earlier, but I would of liked to see my favorite film of the year nominated (Before Midnight). Her and 12 Years a Slave are my favorites of the batch nominated and Her is what I feel should win, but 12 Years a Slave seems the more probable outcome.
MINOR AWARDS AND ERRATA:
PF: What do you think about how Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t receive any major nominations?
DB: Don’t feel it should have. Loved the movie, isn’t as caustic and daring as A Serious Man and the Coens already settled their score with No Country for Old Men. It still got cinematography award nomination, and it looks friggin’ beautiful. I actually really hope it wins that category.
PF: Yeah, I liked how the film looked like the cover of a folk album. Really evoked The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s, but it wasn’t surprising to see it wasn’t nominated for best picture. But, I don’t think the Coens really care either way.
DB: It’s also up for sound mixing but that should go to Gravity. Full dynamic atmospheric subjective sound. Llewyn Davis’ audio award should be for Music. But those categories have to be original song or original score.
PF: Well, it will be interesting to see which movies win in the screenplay categories, as once again, this year saw so many great scripts. Although I’m not exactly sure why Before Midnight is up for best adapted screenplay…
DB: Yeah I was wondering that as well. I guess “Adapted from the characters by Linklater.”
PF: Yeah, probably just an excuse to put the film in that category, but hey, you hardly see sequels nominated for Oscars also.
DB: It would be kind of funny if the Adapted Screenplay went to 12 Years a Slave and the Original Screenplay went to Her. “We’ve adapted to the past, and now we’re originating the future!”
PF: Yeah I was thinking that myself. It could very well happen too, as Her demonstrated that Spike Jonze is a talented screenplay writer, in addition to being a fantastic director, and as you said, The Academy seems due to acknowledge a somber film about America’s darkest past.