2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture and Final Predictions

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

Alright, alright, alright. We’re finally here. Two days to go, and this Oscar race will have finally come to an end. Similarly, I only got one more prediction to make: Who will win Best Picture? If you ask me for who should win, well, there is no question. 12 Years a Slave is not only the only one of the nominees that made my top ten movies of the year, but by far the most impressive to me in both a formal and emotional level. There is no denying the feat of Steve McQueen’s portrayal of such deep and harrowing emotions in the most appropriate way for both respecting the material, and approaching XXI century audiences. The rest of the nominees I could do without. As a matter of fact, there are only two movies of the nine that I like without reservations (the other being Captain Phillips).

But let’s move into the interesting stuff: who will win? If seems like it’s a race between Gravity, which will surely end up being the movie with the most wins Sunday night thanks to its impressive technical work, but has the problem of being basically an action thriller set in space (not the kind of movie the Academy likes to give Best Picture honors to); and 12 Years a Slave, which has won the most awards so far, but seems to have done so based more on respect and a feeling that it should win based on its important subject matter rather than true passion. So, if the Academy thinks Gravity is too slight, and they aren’t particularly passionate about 12 Years, who could be the surprise? Most people point out at American Hustle, a parade of movie stars in seventies makeup, which if not entirely successful, is pretty entertaining. The Academy seems to love director David O. Russell, and all the actors involved in the movie (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence), so don’t be surprised if it manages an upset, even if the internet explodes in a gigantic fit of rage when it happens. That being said, I still think 12 Years a Slave should and will win this golden guy.

Here’s a list of all my predictions for this year:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
DirectionAlfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Original ScreenplaySpike Jonze (Her)
Adapted ScreenplayJohn Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Lead Actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Lead ActressCate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) 
Supporting Actor
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Supporting ActressLupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Production DesignCatherine Martin (The Great Gatsby)
CinematographyEmmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
Costume DesignCatherine Martin (The Great Gatsby)
Film EditingChristopher Rouse (Captain Phillips)*

Original Score: Steven Price (Gravity)
Original Song
“Let It Go” Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen)
Sound MixingGravity
Sound EditingGravity 

Makeup and Hair: Dallas Buyers Club
Visual Effects
Gravity

Animated FeatureFrozen
Documentary FeatureThe Square*
Foreign Language FilmThe Hunt (Denmark)*

Animated Short: Mr. Hublot
Documentary Short: The Lady in Number Six: Music Saved My Life
Live Action Short
: Just Before Losing Everything*

UPDATE (MARCH 3): I have marked the ones I got wrong with an *. I got 20 out of 24 categories right, setting my own prediction record (my previous best was 18 in 2009). Prediction lessons to be learned from what I got wrong: it seems like the Academy is going to go for the most popular movies in Foreign and Documentary now that the rules have changed, or at least until they change them again.

As for the show itself, I enjoyed it a lot. I thought Ellen was a really good host. She did much better than the first time she hosted. I liked her whole “celebrities are people too” approach. What can I say, some people don’t seem to have liked the selfie and the pizza, but I thought those were pretty good moments, especially since the celebrities were so willing to go along with the joke. Anyway, Oscars are over, see ya next year!

Advertisements

Review: ‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me’

Elaine Stritch Shoot Me

What makes for a good documentary? I always struggle when writing reviews for documentaries. I am never sure how to approach them, and how to weight their efficiency, whether to give more importance to their value as pieces of journalism, or as pieces of cinema. I think a lot of people (myself included) tend to prioritize the latter. But just as a documentary with a noble message should be criticized if it exhibits dull filmmaking (a good example would be last year’s Blackfish), I don’t think a documentary with innovative structure is inherently better.

These were all questions I asked myself going into Chiemi Karasawa’s Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. As a showbiz documentary that follows one of Broadway’s living legends, which also happens to be a funny and loud old lady, I was expecting this to be basically an hour and a half of what it would be like if Elaine Stritch had a reality show. And it’s true that a lot of the pleasures of the movie exist in Stritch’s clever comments. Early in the movie, for example, she is greeted by a fan as she walks through fifth avenue. “You’re still the best” says the fan. “Still, eh?” answers Stritch.

If you are a fan of Stritch, or you like this kind of older diva personality, then you’ll enjoy the hell out of this movie. Similarly, if you actively dislike her, or that type of celebrity, you might be better off not watching the movie. But if you fall anywhere between the two ends of the spectrum, you will probably be amused, but like me, you will also be surprised to find something much more valuable. What is interesting about Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, and what sets it apart from lesser documentaries about celebrities, is: First, Karasawa’s access to film Stritch at virtually every second of her life, and Second: Karasawa’s ferocious attitude towards lingering there, showing much more than any other, much more reverential filmmaker would be comfortable to. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Karasawa doesn’t admire Stritch. That would be a ridiculous claim, since the movie is very much a love letter to the performer and her restless drive to keep working. Stritch, who is well into her eighties, is still actively touring and performing in concerts. If you think that such constant live performing would be exhausting for a woman of her age, then you’d be correct. The fact that Stritch can’t bring herself to stop doing it, and that she does it so superbly, is probably what inspired Karasawa to make the movie. But just as Stritch is fully committed to keep on performing, so is the director to making this movie, and she recognizes that if the heart of this movie is Elaine Stritch, then we better see everything there is to know about her.

The result is, as I expected, hugely entertaining and funny. But it is also sometimes sad, dark, and even hard to watch. Considering its subject, you might have expected the documentary to touch on aging and death, but whereas most documentaries do precisely that, “touch” on it, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me always has those themes present. This shouldn’t scare you, though, the film is not depressing or anything like that. Age and death are appropriate for the movie, holding the space they hold on Stritch’s life. It’s their constant lurking, and the fact that we get to watch Stritch fight and cope with them, what makes the movie a deservingly uplifting experience. Movies that are called “a celebration of life” are often sappy and overly sentimental, but Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, being intensely matter of fact as possible about its protagonist, manages to be just that. 

Grade: 8 out of 10

2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Foreign Language Film

The Hunt 2013

Predicting the Foreign Language Film category has traditionally been kind of a bitch. It’s mostly been that way, because it had special rules for the voting. If you were a regular Academy member, you couldn’t just vote for this category, you had to attend special screenings in order for the Academy to know that you had seen all five nominees in its entirety. That made it so that for the longest time, the winner couldn’t be predicted based on any kind of buzz or critical support, it was basically the movie that the members of the Academy that had the time to attend screenings (mostly older members) liked the most.

Now, the last few years, there have been movies that became kind of crossover hits. Amour, and A Separation before it, both had nominations outside the Foreign Film category, which made it easy to know the Academy was pretty much a fan of them. However, this year, not only don’t we have a crossover hit, but the Academy has actually changed the rules, and now everybody can vote for this category, no screenings required. That would give the edge to Italian movie The Great Beauty, which is the closest thing we have to a crossover hit, having won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and European Film Award. However, that would be assuming Academy members are very comfortable voting for a movie based on buzz or stuff they have heard about it, without feeling the need to watch any of the other nominees.

Since I’m willing to give Academy voters the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to assume they are watching the screener DVDs the studios are sending them. Now, based on that assumption, and having seen all nominees but one (I haven’t seen Omar, which is actually on limited release in New York right now. I know, shame on me), I have to say The Great Beauty doesn’t struck me as the kind of movie Oscar voters like to reward in this category. I can see it winning if they feel nostalgia for the good ol’ days of Federico Fellini, as this trip through the Roman art scene has been compared to La Dolce Vita numerous times. Much more in the realm of the Academy’s cup of tea, though, are two other European movies. Belgian movie The Broken Circle Breakdown, about a couple of bluegrass musicians with a daughter suffering of cancer, and Danish film The Hunt, about a school teacher accused of being a child molester.

Most people are predicting The Great Beauty without a whim, and while it is a pretty awesome movie, I am willing to go with an upset for a movie that lies more within the Academy’s sensibilities. That being said, it is sad that the one that is by far the best movie of the nominees, Cambodian animated documentary The Missing Picture, is also the least likely to win. Although I shan’t be sad, since the fact that the Oscars nominated a Cambodian animated documentary is a good enough victory. For now. 

Will Win: The Hunt (Denmark)

My Pick: The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

HER

Just three more days and we’ll finally come to the end of this never-ending awards season. It feels like it’s taken foreverr. And it actually has, with the Superbowl and the Winter Olympics delaying the Oscar telecast until the first days of March. In any case, it’s all about to go down, and we only have a couple categories left to predict. One of them is Original Screenplay, which usually finds room to nominate some cool choices, like foreign movies (Amour, A Separation), animated films (mostly Pixar stuff), or movies that otherwise don’t have much Oscar buzz around them (like In Bruges or Vera Drake). This year, however, I am pretty disappointed with the nominations. 

I have deep issues with every single one of the screenplays singled out by the Academy. Before nominations came out, I was ready for a pretty dull category, and was riding on a nomination for Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis to rest my hat and my hopes on. However, they were snubbed, and now I don’t know what to make out of this group. Which of these movies could I root for? Certainly not American Hustle with its meandering, almost exclusively improvised plot. I also have deep problems with the treatment of most supporting roles in Nebraska (especially June Squibb’s character). The same goes for the preachiness and dullness of most everything about Dallas Buyers Club except for Matthew McConaughey’s performance. And although it is most people’s favorite in the category, I think Her was a big missed opportunity for making a truly remarkable movie. That would leave me voting for Woody Allen’s script for Blue Jasmine, which has some pretty good moments, but doesn’t feel very polished, using Andrew Dice Clay as a big deus ex machina and what not.

As far as who’s going to win, though, after somewhat surprising wins at the Golden Globes and Writers Guild Awards, Spike Jonze’s Her seemed to be our winner. That is until American Hustle won the BAFTA a couple weeks ago. It seems a little ridiculous that a movie whose production basically consisted of David O. Russell staging a big improv session with some of his favorite actors would win an Oscar for writing, but the Academy has been known for simply voting for the movies they like, and with ten nominations, they certainly like this one. I’m tempted to pick Hustle, but at the same time, Her is a certain kind of movie, whose basic premise is so imaginative, that the Academy sometimes can’t help but award in this category (think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Plus, everyone loves Spike Jonze, right?

Will Win: Spike Jonze (Her)

My Pick: Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis) Oh, right. Can I abstain?… You know what, even if I have my problems with the movie, I can’t object to giving a trophy to Spike Jonze. I also love the guy.

2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Film Editing

Tom Hanks

Now this is what I call an Oscar race. We’re a few days away from the ceremony, and there is pretty much no way of making a confident prediction of who is going to win this category. Except for the hugely surprising nomination for Dallas Buyers Club (seriously, they liked the movie that much?), I could see any of the nominees walking away with the Oscar on Sunday.

I was ready for a Gravity sweep, and thought that would include a win in this category, but not only has it not won an Editing award so far (the Guild went to Captain Phillips, the BAFTA to the not-nominated Rush), I have also come to realize that while the Academy loves to reward visual-effects movies for their Cinematography, they rarely do so in Editing as well. Consider this, when Avatar won Cinematography and Visual Effects, Editing went to The Hurt Locker. Similarly, the year of Hugo won five technical awards, Editing went to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo of all things. I think Gravity will win more Oscars than any other movie on Sunday night, but Film Editing won’t be one of them.

That leaves us with three contenders. 12 Years a Slave has the advantage of being a front-runner for Best Picture, and I would argue that editor Joe Walker makes an impeccable job of knowing when exactly to cut in order to build a movie around a series of excruciating long takes. Oscar prefers faster paced movies, with more action. An alternative would be American Hustle, which is definitely lively in its pacing, but has also been hugely criticized for being hugely meandering and unfocused, not that the Academy hasn’t awarded dubiously edited movies before *ahem* Chicago *ahem*.  That leaves us with Captain Phillips, which uses its Editing to become the most intense and nerve-racking thriller of the year, and features just the kind of work that tends to do well with the Academy.

Will Win: Christopher Rouse (Captain Phillips)

My Vote: Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave)

Disney Canon: Brother Bear (2003)

Brother Bear

Do you remember Brother Bear? No? I thought so. I don’t blame you. It’s a very forgettable movie. Case in point, I had not forgotten the existence of Brother Bear, mainly due to the fact of having somewhat of an attachment “On My Way”, one of the songs Phil Collins wrote for the movie. So I knew I had seen the movie at some point during my childhood, and still, beyond the songs, I could remember virtually nothing about Brother Bear despite the fact that it involved a man being turned into a bear.

All you need to know to get a pretty good idea of why Brother Bear turned out to be such an unmemorable movie, is that its life began when Disney CEO Michael Eisner approached the animators and told them he wanted to make a movie about bears. Did Eisner have a fondness for the quintessentially American grizzly bear? No, he wanted to sell toys, and a movie about bears meant a lot of teddy bears at your local toy store. You’d see how that inception wouldn’t result in the most memorable of movies. And yet, Brother Bear, is not exactly a bad movie.

It isn’t a good movie either. You could say it’s “good enough”, but a more accurate depiction would be serviceable. It’s sufficiently well-crafted and animated as to entertain little kids without much complaining from their part, but it will probably prove itself incompetent at fulfilling the same task with adults. I mentioned I had somewhat of an attachment to “On My Way”, so that might have something to do with what I’m going to say, but there is a montage towards the middle of the film set to that song that I find very effective and heartwarming. And while it works, it is also the kind of montage that you would expect from a movie like this.

If you’re wondering what “a movie like this” means, here’s a quick recap. This is basically the story of a young man (or caveman? I mean, there are mammoths around) who avenges his brother’s death by killing a bear who had something to do with it, so the spirit of the same brother turns him into a bear to teach him a lesson about acceptance. There is more to the movie than that, but you get the idea of what it’s like. The protagonist, who is named Kenai and is voiced by an unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix, gets turned into a bear and is paired up with a baby bear named Koda who is the offspring of the bear he killed. Koda is annoying at first, and Kenai doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, or any other bears for that matter, but ends up warming up to him and learning about love and family.

You see how that is a very familiar journey for an animated hero, especially for the beginning of the XXI century, when we had a lot of reluctant heroes paired up with either small children, annoying companions or both. Think of Shrek, Ice Age, or Monsters, Inc. As such, it might have felt very derivative when it came out, and on some level, you’d be very right to think of the movie that way. On the other, though, it is as effective as most of those movies. I mean, Monsters, Inc. is much better and original, but Brother Bear, although not as idiosyncratic or even as ambitious as the other already-not-that-ambitious twodoesn’t feature anything as lazy or dated as the humor in Shrek.

As you can see, I don’t have much to say about Brother Bear. It features some very well-painted backgrounds, and the character animation (especially for Kenai) is very well done. The character design for the supporting characters (and most humans) leaves a lot to be desired, and the movie has a weird transition in aspect ratio when Kenai becomes a bear that doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. It basically gets in, gets the job done, and leaves. It isn’t spectacularly effective at doing the job, but it does it anyway, and I’m already running out of things to say. It’s just not a memorable movie. But it’s also not a bad one.

Next Week: Home on the Range, which for a while there, seemed like it was going to be the last hand-drawn Disney movie ever released.

2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature

The Square

I don’t have much time, so I’ll make this quick. Here’s the gist with the Documentary Category: the most talked-about documentary, and the one that has been mostly winning awards left and right is Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, which you might remember is the second best movie of 2013. It is definitely the best of the nominees, and a movie that I hope will be watched and remember for years to come. Many a critic and movie fan (me included) would love to see it win the Oscar. However, we also know how the Academy plays, and thus, most people are thinking the harrowing subject matter of the movie (the reenactment of genocide killings in Indonesia by the people who perpetrated them) will keep it from the win, with Oscar voters preferring to vote for 20 Feet from Stardom, a fun documentary about the career of backup singers such as Darlene Love, people that you have definitely heard in such famous records as The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. A win for 20 Feet from Stardom would go along with the logic that turned last year’s movie about forgotten musicans, Searching for Sugarman, the winner of this category. However, Sugarman, had much more buzz than 20 Feet going into the Oscars. Everyone seemed to be fascinated by the story of Rodriguez. If you were to ask me, knowing the kind of movie the Academy likes to reward in this category, I got this feeling that the winner will be The Square, which chronicles the Egyptian revolution of a couple years ago. Call it hunch, but don’t be surprised if it wins Sunday night.

Will Win: The Square

My Pick: The Act of Killing