Thursday, January 16, 2014

Observations and Thoughts on the 2014 Oscar Nominations

This morning was the announcement of the 2014 Oscar nominations.  Considering I'm paid to have thoughts on things like movies, it is probably best that such an event moves me to words.  Luckily, the few surprises and non-surprises that occurred definitely got the ol' noggin working.  Here are a few thoughts on this morning's announcements, and I'm sure I'll have even more to say as the actual Oscars come closer.

Somebody has it out for Inside Llewyn DavisThere were rumblings that Inside Llewyn Davis could get snubbed, because it wasn't faring well in other awards shows.  Most thought it still had a shot here, because the Academy loves the Coens, it was on most respected critic's top ten lists, and simply put it was one of the best pictures of the year.  The film had a compelling look at the 1961 Greenwich Village folk music scene right before Bob Dylan burst upon it, and not only was it a fairly fresh concept but it was a loving tribute to the time period with a great blend of the music and drama.  It had all the usual Coen touches that usually lead to them being nominated, but it was also a very complex character study that challenged the romanticism of the artist life.  Time period pieces and deep observations of the starving artist normally grabs the Academy's attention.  But the Academy clearly decided something was missing because it left the tenth spot for Best Picture empty rather than slot in this one.

It isn't just the movie that got shafted here.  Coen brothers were instrumental in making this film work by using music and camera work that captured the vibe of the era, but also properly balancing humour with darker moments in order to present the absurdity and tragedy of Davis' life.  It was a very strong directorial showing that was completely ignored.  Though I don't think anyone thought Oscar Isaac had a shot, it was still a powerful performance that was crucial to the story working, because he had to be an unlikable guy that we still wanted to cheer on.  Isaac had the right balance of cynicism and hope, and so it would have been great for him to get some recognition.  A great movie was shut out of all the major categories, and didn't even get a nod in Best Original Song category, despite having a spectacular soundtrack (some of the music must have been written for the picture).  Inside Llewyn Davis has to settle for a few small technical award nominations, which is a real shame since as I said, it was easily one of the year's very best.

Martin Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street overcome the backlash:  The other big rumbling prior to nominations was that Scorsese and The Wolf of Wall Street would possibly be anchored down and left out of the hunt due to what some saw as a glorification of the decadence and crimes of Jordan Belfort.  It also was a very hard R-rated picture that I'm still kind of shocked dodged the NC-17 bullet, which isn't typical stuff that gets the Academy's attention.  The negativity tossed at the film by critics largely came from a perceived moral stance and it also got a very mixed response from audiences, so the talk was the negative buzz would crash the movie.  I considered it one of the year's best and appreciated that it didn't moralize (though arguments that it glamourizes the events are really ridiculous if you pay attention to the movie), so I'm happy to see that the picture, Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jonah Hill got nods. 

DiCaprio's nomination is the biggest win, because it was the incredibly dynamic performance that made the movie.  DiCaprio is one of the best young actors continually denied an Oscar, and though I don't think he'll win this year either, it was good to see one of the best performances of the year acknowledged.  Jonah Hill is destined to win an award some day too, and he is amazing here as well, so I'm happy to see him joining in on what was a decent haul for the Wolf.  Though there was no real talk around her and so it is nowhere near a surprise, it is still a bit of bummer that young actress Margot Robbie was denied recognition for what was a crucial role to making the film work and was a definite stand-out performance.  The woman is beautiful and she is talented, so she likely has more nominations in her future.

David O. Russell repeats his magic touch:  Last year, Russell got the honour of being nominated for Best Director while also getting his picture nominated and the actors in every respective category.  I'm sure this isn't a first, but he has now done it two years in a row.  The man is making a very strong case for winning Best Director this year, and I'd say he has a very strong chance of taking it (my guess would be Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron being the strongest competition).  A director is a guide for the actors and sometimes can bring out greatness, and now in the case of American Hustle he was also blessed with top notch talent, but he deserves some credit for leading his actors to performances worthy of nominations.  Even if critics had their problems with the picture, I think most will agree the acting was top notch and it really was an actors' showcase.  I'd consider both the movie and Russell with strong chances at winning, and on top of that, both women should be considered possible favourites to take it home.  At this point, the victory is the man pulled off an astonishing repeat of last year.

No shocking Best Picture picks:  I already mentioned the biggest surprise in this category being the omission.  I don't think there were any other shockers in regards to what movies that got left out, and I am happy with all the other choices.  But at one point, the reasoning for the expanding to ten possible movie nominations was so that people got their eyes opened to some lesser known movies they'd have missed on the initial theatrical run.  The idea would be the film likely wouldn't have a shot for the award, but the win would be it was nominated.  It would be kind of what Beasts of the Southern Wild was last year.  I didn't think they would be any outside contenders this year due to such a strong crop of pictures, but I'm still a little disappointed.  It would have been great to see some recognition to pictures like The Place Beyond the Pines, Mud or Fruitvale Station.

The above movies likely also got short changed due to the timing they got released.  The sad reality is October to December isn't just called Oscar season because it typically has some of the best pictures, but it tends to be where the committee nominates from.  The fact is that great (and sometimes even better than those nominated) movies that are from other months get ignored; it is kind of a sign that memory doesn't seem so good among those responsible for picking the best of the entire year.  Beasts of the Southern Wild stands as an exception, and that is unfortunate, as we do get great movies 12 months of the year if people are willing to dig.

The best part about Captain Phillips gets ignored:  This was supposed to be the year that Tom Hanks returned to form.  He delivered in the acting portion, but surprisingly, fell short in the awards department.  I'm not sure if the Academy feels bad denying DiCaprio for so long (though he likely isn't winning this year either) or just really badly wanted to do the Russell repeat, but it is a huge upset that Hanks got left off here.  I liked Captain Phillips, but based off how many top ten lists it made and the buzz around it, I think it is a little overrated.  What really made the movies special was the emotional and gut-punching performances by Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi.  The last act of the movie felt so real and made me get claustrophobic based off the chilling and captivating showcase by Hanks.  You believed he had just been through an emotional war, and he was desperately trying to grasp a hold of his sanity.  It was incredible showcase and proof that he is an all-time great.  It is a stunner he got left off the ballot, because along with Abdi, he is what made it a worthwhile movie.
 
Saving Mr. Banks is left naked:  At one point, this was an Oscar favourite, but then it got screened and it all fell apart.  The Academy tends to love movies about Hollywood or how filmmaking can transform and save lives (many think that is why Argo won last year, because Hollywood saved hostages).  It was a definite bird flip to Disney that their big run for awards was left out of all the major categories.  Emma Thompson was the best thing about the movie and one of the reasons I enjoyed myself during it, but surprisingly, she even got left in the cold.  She was a favourite until the start of this week as Banks has had a bad run in most awards shows.  I also can't say who'd you trade out for Thompson, and so it looks like the right call.  I know Scott predicted Amy Adams to be out and Thompson in, but early buzz is Adams has a strong shot to finally get that overdue statuette this year.  Anyway, I think Saving Mr. Banks wasn't really award worthy outside of Thompson, but still a little surprising how empty its hands are now.

First timers get rightful career boost:  Both Lupito Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi made their feature film debuts in the pictures they got rightful nominations.  Not only rightful nominations, I'm a currently leaning towards them being the rightful winners too.  Not sure if that will actually happen and considering they're both first timers, I can't see the Academy giving it to both (politics, the ugly part of awards shows).  This is a definite case where nominations are just as big as wins.  It keeps their names in the spotlight, and today people likely learned the names of two actors they were unaware of.  Both had chilling and provocative performances that were extra captivating based off the fact they were paired against veteran powerhouse actors and they more than held their own.  Abdi overshadowed Hanks on the screen when Hanks was at his best, and that is an incredible feat.  Abdi also showed equal amounts of strength and vulnerability in his character, and that was very important in making him somewhat sympathetic rather than a straight villain.  Nyong'o played a sweet and innocent girl but also had a quiet strength in a girl cunning enough to play the game to survive.  It was a nuanced performance and also one that could have been overshadowed by all the other major events in the picture if it wasn't for her depth and ability to resonate.  I can't wait to see both in more roles, and I hope this will lead to some worthwhile and interesting offers.

Best animated movie of the year is left out:  I put Monster's University on my best of the year list, and thought it was easily the best animated movie of 2013.  It was a great homage and parody to the old college frat comedies, but also was a sweet buddy picture.  I was very impressed how they went in a much unsuspected route in telling the old "everyone can realize their dreams" trope.  Obviously, the Academy doesn't listen to me, and Monster's University got left off the ballot.  I'd think half the Academy just passed it off as a cash grab and didn't even give it a chance.  It was far better than Despicable Me 2 but it didn't make as much money, which is probably the reason for its nod.  If I had to predict, I'd say Frozen is the strong favourite now.

Spike Jonze is underappreciated:  Jonze does get a Best Picture nod and a screenplay nomination, but his amazing directorial efforts get ignored.  It is a shame.  Not only is Her easily one of the very best of the year, but a lot of that is due to some very smart and sly directing.  The emotion and message is enhanced thanks to the pacing and lighting and camera direction.  Every shot matters in this movies and each has some kind of story.  The film was an innovation and incredibly powerful, and it is sad that Jonze got left out for some more conventional filmmaking (that was also great, don't get me wrong).  The denial of Jonze also likely hurts the chances of Her to win, since even though it happened last year with Argo, it is very rare a picture wins the award if the director isn't nominated.  Jonze will go down as one of the more underappreciated modern directors.

Fellow Canuck left out of Best Documentary:  I haven't seen Stories We Tell, but I know it made many respected critics best of the years lists.  It has been one of the films I am most eager to see.  It was a little shocking it got left off the Best Documentary ballot.  I've heard that the film caused some controversy for possibly having a few scripted or contrived scenes, so I am not sure if that was the reasoning it was denied.  I think Sarah Polley is an incredible director, and it would have been great for her to get some recognition.  I'm sure her big moment is still to come, because she is a great storyteller and one of the top independent filmmakers.

"Let It Go" should just be given the award now:  Is there any way that "Let it Go" is not winning the best original song?  Is it possible?  Maybe, but it shouldn't be.  I've shown that scene from the movie about a dozen times to my son and he always dances right along with me.  That song along with half the soundtrack got stuck in my brain after my screening and I hummed it all the way home.  This is how Disney musicals used to be done, and this is one of the iconic songs.  I've heard some critics claim that Frozen was an allegory for a female teenager coming out, and if that is true, this song would be the perfect way to capture that message.  It is subtle enough to not upset those uneasy with that sort of thing.  This song is wonderful, and I don't even remember the Despicable Me 2 song, so this one has to win.

What were some of the things that stood out to you with the Oscar nominations?

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