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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Oscar Preview: Best Picture

- 12 Years A Slave
- American Hustle
- Captain Phillips
- Dallas Buyers Club
- Gravity
- Her
- Nebraska
- Philomena
- The Wolf of Wall Street

SHOULD BE HERE: The Place Beyond The Pines

This was a decently small film that was released in April of 2013 by an Indie director. Granted, the names attached like Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendez gave it some credibility to the outside world, but still, I get why it wasn't nominated. Being "good" doesn't cut it- you have to be able to promote and network as well. Despite that, The Place Beyond The Pines was excellent. In this year of mediocre films, The Place Beyond The Pines was one of the best of them. I don't want to give anything more away about the plot of the film, because it's best knowing as little as possible about it going in. I was initially off put by the 140 minute run time, but I promise you, it's worth it.

Now, out of the films that at least had somewhat of a chance to be nominated but was not, Friuitvale Station was the best of them.


12 YEARS A SLAVE: I'm going to do my best to be honest and objective here, and that's it. I assume I'll be called a racist for it, but this is just my opinion. 12 Years A Slave was a boring and dull movie that does not deserve the hype it's getting and the eventual win. While it's well-made (Steve McQueen is a fantastic director in general), but it's poorly paced and many shots last far too long. 12 Years A Slave reminds me of a book you had to read in high school- sure it's good, but do you ever want to read it again? Do you really remember anything about it after you've finished discussing it? If 12 Years A Slave does win, I think we'll look back on this year in 20 years and scratch our heads why. Either that, or 2013 will be a year like the 1980's where all the films where bad choices and we just choose to forget it and move on.

AMERICAN HUSTLE: I think there's a great movie somewhere in American Hustle, but it is not the final product. I think if David O. Russell had sat on his footage some more and spent more time editing it better, then I think the movie would have been better. The biggest problem I had with the film is that I didn't care what was going on because I didn't care about the characters. The first act of the film failed to suck me in so I couldn't have cared less about the last 2 acts.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS: This film is surprisingly good, but now I think it's properly rated. At the very, very beginning of the Oscar season, Captain Phillips seemed to be in an elite class with Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. However, as the award season started to pick up, Captain Phillips started to gain less and less steam leading to the eventual Oscar categories being announced and Tom Hanks and director Paul Greengrass being left on the sidelines. So now, it seems to be properly rated. It's a good movie, and one that's appropriate for both date nights as well as a movie to see with your friends, but it's nothing spectacular. However, for Oscar bait, it's a solid flick, and one that I would recommend.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: Dallas Buyers Club is a film that tells the story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) as he struggles to deal with getting HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. He starts up the Dallas Buyers Club, where he sells unapproved FDA medication to those who desperately need it. While this is definitely a character driven story first, where McConaughey and Jared Leto give great performances, there's still a heavy handed political message that's being told. The small budget and short filming schedule shows, as the limitation of different perspectives drag down the film. It's a solid and well made story, but I don't know that it would have gotten a nomination if the field were limited to only five nods. But considering there's nine now, I'm fine with it.

GRAVITY: Gravity was excellent. OK, maybe it's not as good as the hype says it is, but it's pretty great. Not only is the film visually stunning and a piece of impressive film making, but it tells a wonderful and touching story about loneliness. It's the only movie that I've ever enjoyed seeing in 3D, and I recommend that's the only medium you watch this film in.

HER: Her is a brilliant and beautiful love story that strips down what it means to be in love and shows its bare bones. Her has all of the beats of a typical love story without being cliche. The film doesn't work unless it's two leads, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johanssen ('s voice), aren't at the top of their game. (Luckily for us, they are). Writer/Director Spike Jonze manages to be quirky without bordering on Wes-Anderson-level insanity, and he's the perfect guy to helm this ambitious project.

NEBRASKA: This film was the last Best Picture nominee that I saw. Frankly, I almost didn't see it at all. I had heard a lot of backlash, and that if "Alexander Payne" hadn't slapped his name on it, it wouldn't be up for any awards. I wanted to hate it. But I couldn't. I really enjoyed Nebraska. Plot wise, nothing happens, but a lot ends up going on. It's an extremely simple story told extremely well. Nebraska feels like movies in 2013 in general: good, but nothing spectacular. It's absolutely worth the Redbox rental though.

PHILOMENA: I have no regrets about not seeing Philomena. If it wasn't produced by Harvey Weinstein, I don't think it would have even gotten a nomination.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET: It turns out I saved the best for last. Wolf was excellent. It was everything you love about Scorsese. Personally, I rank it up there with his modern classics of Goodfellas and The Departed. The film feels a lot like Goodfellas, with often times Leo DiCaprio sounding exactly like Ray Liotta's Henry Hill. But Wolf is great, and I love the Scorsese style attached to this late 80's / early 90's excess-fest. The film is absolutely a little long, and I understand editing what they had down to the final product was tough enough, but I give it a pass because everything about the film was so incredible. I think people's biggest problem with the film was that they had a false expectation about what the film was about, but personally, I thought the tone and content of the trailers was exactly what the film was about. I can't recommend this film highly enough.

1) The Wolf of Wall Street
2) The Place Beyond The Pines
3) Gravity
4) Her
5) Don Jon
6) Nebraska
7) Fruitvale Station
8) Captain Phillips


WHAT SHOULD WIN: The Wolf of Wall Street
WHAT WILL WIN: 12 Years A Slave


My very good friend and Academy Award aficionado Gerald Connor thinks American Hustle is going to win, but here is why I think 12 Years A Slave will win.

MAIN REASON: American Hustle won the SAG Award with no PGA win

Mr. Connor thinks that because American Hustle won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, it will win the Oscar for Best Picture. That's a extremely valid argument, but here is my counter: Since 2005, no film that won the SAG award for Best Ensemble Cast (The SAG version of Best Picture) without winning a PGA has won the Oscar for Best Picture.


- 2011: The Help won the SAG, but The Artist won the PGA and the Oscar
- 2009: Inglorious Basterds won the SAG, but The Hurt Locker won the PGA and the Oscar
- 2004: Sideways won Best Picture, The Aviator won the PGA, Million Dollar Baby won the Oscar
- 2001: Gosford Park won the SAG, Moulin Rogue won the PGA, A Beautiful Mind won the Oscar

The only time where a film won the Oscar and the SAG, but not the PGA was Crash in 2005- and many people consider that the biggest upset in Oscar history (although I do not).

In 2012, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2003, 2002. 2000, and 1999, the films that won both the SAG and the PGA also won the Oscar. The only time that a film won the PGA and SAG, but not the Oscar was in 2006 when Little Miss Sunshine won both early awards, but then lost to The Departed.

My main point is this: The SAG awards are a terrible predictor of who will win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and the fact that American Hustle did not win the PGA I think is a death wish for the film.

P.S. 12 Years A Slave also won the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture as well.

SECONDARY REASON: American Hustle is a comedy whereas 12 Years A Slave is Oscar bait

The Academy Award HATES comedies. The last comedy to win Best Picture was Annie Hall back in 1978. Now you can argue that Oscar winning films like Forrest Gump and American Beauty are just as comedic as American Hustle, but those are also few and far between. The Academy loves serious dramas (seriously, just take a look at their entire history), and 12 Years A Slave fits right into their wheelhouse.

TERTIARY REASON: American Hustle lead all movies with the most nominations. 

You would think that a film who has the most Oscar nominations would easily be the favorite to win Best Picture. After all, if a film is great in many different aspects, then it must be great overall. No? Unfortunately, the numbers say otherwise.

Last year, I did a quick study to see how having the most nominations affects the film's odds to win picture. (You can see my analysis in the THE CASE AGAINST LINCOLN section). But just a quick recap, out of the past 11 years, 6 films that had the most nominations failed to win Best Picture, 3 films that had the clear cut most nominations won Best Picture, and 2 films that were tied for the lead with the most nominations won Best Picture (but on the flip side, two films that were tied for the most nominations failed to win Best Picture).

So for all those reasons, I think 12 Years A Slave is a lock to win Best Picture on March 2, 2014.

What did you think was the Best Film of 2013?

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