Winners Only Club: Picking the 86th Oscars

By: Daniel Reynolds

The first Academy Awards ceremony was not televised (TV didn’t exist yet) and it was 15 minutes long. Try to let that sink in for a second. 15 minutes! Nowadays we’re lucky if the opening montage slash introduction sequence slash musical number clocks in at less than 20. Last year’s ceremony ran 3 hours and 35 minutes. What a difference 85 years make. Leave it to what feels like the longest event on TV to also have the longest “season”. I feel like I’ve been thinking, talking and writing about the Oscars for months now. Wait, did I say feel? I mean, I have been thinking, talking and writing about the Oscars for months now.

Still, Sunday, March 2. The finish line. Last year I picked 16 winners out of 24. Not a bad .667 win percentage. But, we can do better. I’ve endured months of Oscar talk and think pieces, reviews and recaps, predictions and odds. To make it all worthwhile I’m going to have to run the table.

So here we go, your 2014 Oscar winners:

There Oscar stands, looking on in judgement.

There Oscar stands, looking on in judgement.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave – In a year with films that shine in black and white or endless blue, that relish the past and stretch into the future, that warm the heart or curdle the soul, one film – 12 Years a Slave – continues to stand apart. Unsentimental, unrelenting, unflinching but not unlovable. I realize this is not an easy movie to like, to just sit back and enjoy, but it does make you feel something and that counts.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron – Much like last year, the Academy will likely split the Picture/Director awards. Alfonso Cuaron’s insanely detailed creation of life in terrifying space  – a film that took him seven years to finish – needs to personally win him something beyond the technical awards it will definitely receive.

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey – The McCon-aissance continues! I rooted for McConaughey to get nominated for Magic Mike and had I known this nomination and win were coming I would have kept quiet then. With the run of roles he’s had, we should all just sit back and enjoy (unless you are a True Detective fan, because good God, it is hard to chill while watching that show).

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett – When all the lead up awards (your Golden Globes, your SAGs, what-have-you) go in one direction, the narrative is pretty clear. The Best Actress category feels extremely familiar this year (four previous winners, plus multi-nominee Amy Adams), but Blanchett has control of the story, the others do not.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto – People want to hate on Jared Leto. No dude bro like him should be able to just wander back to acting after five years off (and after making Alexander and Chapter 27) and win an Academy Award. But that’s how he do. Leto’s performance should be a ridiculous cartoon, but damn if he doesn’t breathe his character Rayon to life.

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o – I’ve heard all the arguments for/against Jennifer Lawrence winning here and frankly, I get it. She’s a star. But sometimes stars don’t need another Oscar. Especially if it means taking one away from a very deserving performer and a very challenging performance. Nyong’o is ready for her close up now.

Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave – Reviewing the nominees, I have to assume this comes down to 12 Years a Slave and Philomena. Me personally, I think Philomena starts off slowly and then rounds into form as it strides into its third act. 12 Years a Slave does not start slowly. It wins.

Best Original Screenplay: American Hustle – I’ll admit that I have significantly cooled on American Hustle. It’s a fun movie, but thinking back on it really drives home how empty it is. The film got a bunch of nominations and is too much of a delight to completely ignore, though. While it feels like American Hustle is set to be shut out elsewhere, I think it gets the push here.

Everybody celebrate!

Everybody celebrate!

Best Animated Feature: Frozen – When in doubt go with the Disney movie that made the most money. Frozen is a full on phenomenon now and while I admit I haven’t seen it, I have no problem with it winning. Plus I worry about the army of young girls that would descend to riot on Hollywood if it lost.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty – I’m embarrassed to admit that I missed out on all of the nominees here. The best word of mouth I’ve heard has regarded The Great Beauty as the frontrunner. It also is getting compared to Fellini, a four-time winner in the category. Lock it up.

Best Documentary – Feature: The Square – No way does The Act of Killing win, despite probably being the most deserving. So does 20 Feet from Stardom become the second straight music based doc – after Searching for Sugarman to win or do we go for the politically charged tale? I’ll lead with The Square this time, but it was close.

Best Documentary – Short: The Lady in Number 6 – A film about the oldest living survivor of the Holocaust. She was 110. She died last Sunday. I think we’re done here.

Best Live Action Short: The Voorman Problem – A new rule I’ve learned: when picking the winner of the live action short, just go with the one with the biggest star actor in it. The Voorman Problem has Martin “Bilbo Baggins” Freeman. It gets the win.

Best Animated Short: Get a Horse! – A mix of hand drawn and computer animation that stars a little known cartoon mouse. I think this one’s got a shot. Mark my words, in 10 years you’ll be hearing about this Mickey Mouse character.

Best Original Score: Saving Mr. Banks  First an aside: how cool would it be to see Win Butler and Owen Pallett take the stage with a win for Her? They’ve come a long way. My actual pick is Thomas Newman, the longest of the long time nominees (12 to Alexandre Desplat’s six, both with zero wins). It is also possible the Academy will see Newman and think Randy; this bolsters the case for a Saving Mr. Banks win.

Best Original Song: Let It Go – Ordinary Love is a song from a movie about one of the most beloved figures of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela, who also died last year. The song is by U2, a very popular band. That being said, you definitely heard “Let It Go” more times over the past year.

Best Sound Editing: Gravity – Despite ostensibly being shot in a vacuum Gravity‘s use and control of sound was remarkable. Panicked breathing, controlled vibrations, radio static; the film created a symphony out of cacophony. Only Captain Phillips comes close.

Best Sound Mixing: Gravity – Again, I think this comes down to Gravity or Captain Phillips. And not to take anything away from the Captain, Gravity just goes that extra mile (or a few hundred, but who’s counting?).

Best Production Design: 12 Years a Slave  In a perfect world the smooth and subtle designs of Her would win. In reality, the winner is the film with the loudest attention to detail in the frame. Gravity‘s design feels like mostly CGI, The Great Gatsby feels too forgotten, American Hustle wins elsewhere. So, 12 Years a Slave, which feels positively coated in dirt, sweat and period piece touches, wins here.

Best Cinematography: Gravity – Poor Roger Deakins, loser once again. He probably should have known better than to run up against such an unstoppable force as, wait for it, Gravity. Let’s just move on.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club – From McConaughey’s gaunt, ghastly look to Leto’s lush makeup job, I’m fairly confident that Dallas Buyers Club has this one sewn up. (Also, look at the other nominees. Jackass? The Lone Ranger? Pass.)

Best Costume Design: American Hustle – Someone, somewhere needs to get an award for all those plunging necklines. Honestly, I don’t know where to begin. Christian Bale’s suits? Bradley Cooper’s leisure wear? Amy Adams’ sultry numbers? The list goes on and on.

Best Film Editing: 12 Years a Slave – If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: this is the true indicator of the Best Picture winner. While I think Captain Phillips (a film destined to be shut out at these awards) and Gravity (a winner of all the other technical awards) have a shot, I’ll be damned if I don’t see this streak continuing.

Best Visual Effects: Gravity – Have you seen Gravity? Done and done.

—————

Remember, my goal this year is to try to do better than 16 out of 24. That’s the target number. With the split of the major awards coming down to a showdown between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, it really is a matter of priority. The former displays huge technical feats of filmmaking that beggar belief; the latter drums up spectacularly painful and moving emotions without devolving into sentimentality. Sometimes I’m not sure which is more difficult to do. Good luck with your ballots everyone and try to enjoy the show.

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