Saturday, March 1, 2014

Academy Awards 2014 Preshow: Oscar Winner Predictions

Tomorrow night comes the Academy Awards the biggest night in Hollywood.  Unfortunately judging by Russia's current belligerent foreign policy, by tonight much of the world is going to look like the opening FMV of "Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2".  By noon tomorrow, all of us will either be dead or have evolved into subterranean mutant societies.  So we can expect some extremely low ratings for the Oscar telecast this year, but luckily since most critics will be dead, nobody will be around to make the same tired complaints about how the show was boring, the host was either drunk/offensive/not funny, and the winners were wrong.  So maybe the apocalypse has a silver lining?  Or is that a symptom of radiation sickness?

However, if perhaps Vladimir Putin does not in fact start World War III to reconquer Ukraine*, tomorrow night most of us will be watching the Oscars, absorbing complex carbohydrates in potato chip form while the hottest stars of last year come together to celebrate the greatest achievements in filmmaking.  So let us forget the growing powerkeg in Eastern Europe and come together to focus on imaginary people taking part in stories that have never happened (aside from "12 Years a Slave" which makes our Ukraine problems seem like a naughty game of Twister).  2013 was a very mixed big of a year, one where nearly every single major blockbuster landed with a bombastic whisper of mediocrity.  However, the Oscarbait releases were above-average, and this is a nicely strong crowd for Best Picture.  There is a lot of artistry on display at this awards show, and it would be a crime to let impending atomic annihilation get in the way of some very watchable television.

The question therefore is:  who will win?  That is why I, Dr. Blue Highwind, was called in, a veritable expert of statistics, the zeta function, occultist lore, German strategic planning in WWII, and "Final Fantasy XII".  Or more appropriately, I am a random dude on the Internet with a blog, and I've seen a lot of movies, so my predictions are based upon nothing more than gut-feeling and a few notes cribbed off the AV Club.  That of course makes my opinions far better than anybody else's.  Because nobody knows, but we can all pretend that we do know, and when we are wrong tomorrow, we do not have to admit anything to anybody.  That's the beauty of predicting things.  Nostradamus never predicted the War of the Spanish Succession, but stupid housewives still look to him for guidance.  I was wrong about "Metal Gear Rising", and nobody called me out on that. But I won't be wrong this time, because I have a huge throbbing brain.  Here are my predictions for tomorrow night:

BEST PICTURE:  "12 Years a Slave"

Why?  The more obvious frontrunner is "American Hustle", the most-likely winner thanks to being generally the least offensive pick.  "American Hustle" was a good movie, do not get me wrong, but already I am seeing some kind of weird backlash against it, as film fans are deriding it for merely being good, but not great.  It is like a premature version of the treatment "Shakespeare in Love" or "How Green Was My Valley?" received.  Other movies have Leonardo DiCaprio snorting cocaine out of a hooker's asshole, outer space, a robot wife, or are just "Philomena".  But I feel like simply having the strategic edge is not enough for "American Hustle" to actually beat "12 Years a Slave".

The thing with "12 Years a Slave" is that it is horrifying.  It is a very disturbing movie based upon the Academy's favorite subject:  terrible things we have done to each other in the past.  No movie has ever been so raw about the nightmare of slavery.  "12 Years a Slave" is very nearly a religious confession, America laying out its sins, begging for forgiveness.  The movie is already being added to high school curriculums.  That it also has fantastic performances all around, is well-shot, and is an prime example of solid filmmaking is just icing on the cake here.  "12 Years a Slave" is the movie we are going to remember from 2014, "American Hustle", ultimately, is not.  I know Oscar voters are generally not an edgy crowd, but I do not think they can justify to themselves why they would pick anything other than "12 Years a Slave".

What I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  "Gravity".  This was simply an incredible movie experience.  However, it is so visceral, that many critics claim it is "simple".  "Gravity" was not a simple movie, it had a plot easily described in a single sentence, but it was also highly emotional, the best-shot movie of 2013 without a doubt, and an experimental jump forward into just what movies in this century can achieve.  Do not underrate this movie.

BEST ACTOR:  Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club"

Why?  Because Matthew McConaughey is riding a wave of critical acclaim and acting superstardom rarely seen on this Earth right now.  This is not merely a brief upturn in his career, this is a goddamn tsunami flooding Los Angeles in acting genius.  "Dallas Buyers Club" was far from a perfect movie, but McConaughey was clearly at the top of his craft in that production.  I was the most stunned by a scene very early in the movie where his character, Ron Woodroof, broke down while driving to Mexico for a supposed miracle cure.  McConaughey can bring a cocky Southern charm to this character, but in this scene we see that break down as well, showing a raw man on the verge of losing everything.  That is great acting, and nobody can argue against it.  Not to mention the massive amount of weight he lost to make this movie happen, which is always something that inspires the Academy.

McConaughey winning this Oscar would only be the final feather in his cap for years of solid work.  That winning streak is continuing by the way, as McConaughey's leading role in HBO's amazingly new series "True Detective" is really showing this actor's range and possibility.  I am guessing this will not be McConaughey's last trip to the Oscars.

Who I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street".  I agree McConaughey is the better choice, but Leonardo DiCaprio put forward one of his best performances yet in "The Wolf of Wall Street", being amazingly smug, but still a very charismatic douche bag.  That was a huge feast of a movie, where DiCaprio played high drama, gloating superiority, comedy slapstick, lustful desperation, and Master of the Universe.  He did it all.  That is impressive.

BEST ACTRESS:  Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine"

Why?  Because Cate Blanchett's performance as Jasmine in Woody Allen's pastiche on Blanche DuBois was easily the single best acting performance of last year, by several miles.  Make that lightyears.  Really, there is no competition.  Cate Blanchett again and again has proven she is an amazing performer, able to pull herself into any role.  She was magnificent in "Blue Jasmine", playing a proud upper class woman who has lost everything, including her sanity.  If you're still wondering why, go see "Blue Jasmine" again, and tell me anybody but Cate Blanchett deserves this award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Jared Leto in "Dallas Buyers Club"

Why?  Everybody is generally in agreement on this one, Jared Leto needs to win this award.  I believe a lot of this is mostly out of honest concern for his health.  Unless Jared Leto wins an Oscar soon, he is going to kill himself.  Every role he has picked has forced him to push his body to freakish limits.  Jared Leto has become massively fat, he's become massively skinny.  He would set himself on fire to play a burn victim.  He would roll around in toxic waste in order to become a super hero.  We have to give him this award and hopefully that will let him settle down and do a romantic comedy or something.

That is not to say Jared Leto was not fantastic in "Dallas Buyers Club".  His character of Rayon, a transgendered drug-addicted AIDs victim, carried herself with tragic charisma.  I have heard some angry nonsense from various channels that this character is offensive to the transgendered community because Jared Leto himself is not transgendered (though I would not put it past Leto to lop off his balls for his art), this is absolute nonsense.  The character was a very strong component to the film, it was a great push forward as Ronald Woodroof accepted her as his best friend and business partner, and truly mourned her once she was gone.  Leto has this award coming.  I am not transgendered, so I do not pretend to know what that community wants or needs from Hollywood, but honestly, they have nothing to fear here.

Who I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Michael Fassbender in "12 Years a Slave".  Michael Fassbender knows how to play a savage.  He can be a very frightening man if he need to, and his role in "12 Years a Slave" was a terrifying mixture of cruelty, obsession, and desperation.  He is madly in love with a slave named Patsey, but his dominating wife manipulates him into abusing her.  Fassbender seems like a man twisting further and further into madness, it is one of the best components of that movie.  Unfortunately Jared Leto had to look so damn pretty in a wig and a dress, so Fassbender will not win.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave"

Why?  Nyong'o played Patsey, the unfortunate victim of Michael Fassbender's perverse affections.  In many ways, this actress stole the show.  Her sorrow is really the moral center of that piece, while Chiwetel Ejiofor's leading role is really little more than a POV for the audience.  Patsey was the real victim of slavery, never knowing anything more than the violent world she was born into, and bitterly trying to hold onto any kind of dignity as her captors violated her in every way possible.  Midway through the film, Nyong'o's normally quiet character explodes with anguish, begging Ejiofor's Solomon Northrup to kill her and put her out of her misery.  That is the kind of acting that sends chills down your spine.  That is bottled lightning.

Who I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle".  This is again clearly a second-best choice, but Jennifer Lawrence is truly a superstar, and her work in "American Hustle" must be remembered.  The only problem really is her age:  she's too young, her role was almost unbelievable as the wife of Christian Bale.  Even so, despite that handicap, she still brought some well-needed insanity into that picture, creating a character entirely full of shit, simply unbelievably delusional, but still dominant and almost awe-inspiring.  Also in a fit of out-of-control lunacy, she made out with Amy Adams.  We can all appreciate how that scene enriched our lives.

BEST DIRECTOR:  Steve McQueen for "12 Years a Slave"

Why?  Because the Best Picture Winner almost always is directed by the Best Director, that's why.  I am not saying Steve McQueen did a bad job as a director, he made a very solid movie, but there is one man who deserves it more that I believe will not win.

Who I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity".  "Gravity" was the best-shot movie of 2013, without a doubt.  But as a filmmaking achievement, that movie was so much more.  It really pushed the boundaries of special effects to a new level, creating a whole new language of film.  We should not ignore the accomplishments here, building a new method of filming, a new combination of CG special effects and live action, and again, the brilliant pacing, quietly stunning acting, and all-around majesty that was "Gravity".

...And Also:  Martin Scorsese for "The Wolf of Wall Street".  It is easy to forget, considering how long Martin Scorsese has been working and how many incredible movies he has made, but Martin Scorsese is the best director alive today.  "The Wolf of Wall Street" in less sophisticated hands would have been a disaster of cheap laughs, gross humor, or perhaps worse, a didactic moralizing crusade against Wall Street criminals.  Instead Scorsese made yet another milestone masterpiece:  a comedy crime epic, something I do not believe has ever been done before.  We should not forget that.


Why?  You know why.  "Frozen" was one of the best movies of last year, and I would argue actually deserves to be nominated for Best Picture.  Disney was reborn swinging with that film, breathing new life into their Princess genre.  It is a movie that is impossible not to love, and I cannot imagine anybody would vote for "Despicable Me 2".

What I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Nothing.  "Frozen" deserves to win.  I have yet to see the new Hayao Miyazaki film, "The Wind Rises", but as much as I respect that man, he will not surpass "Frozen".


Why?   I don't really know why.  "Her" has a huge appeal to audiences that I simply do not completely understand.  It was, however, a very original movie with an intelligent screenplay taking the concept of artificial humans very seriously.  I thought the screenplay, perhaps directed in a less dreary manner, could have been something decent.  However, I still have many problems with this movie.  I am not a member of the Academy though and almost certainly never will be, so my vote does not matter.

Who I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Woody Allen for "Blue Jasmine".  Out of all the nominees, I believe this to be the best written movie.  "Dallas Buyers Club", for example, was downright bad in screenplay terms, lacking any third act, yet it is nominated.  "Blue Jasmine", however, was the one movie that I felt had the most clever dialog and went to the most interesting places.  Cate Blanchett did not build the movie all on her own, that material was ripe to be picked and made into greatness.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  John Ridley for "12 Years a Slave"

Why?  Again, another choice I do not personally agree with.  It will win though because tomorrow will be "12 Years a Slave"'s night, and the momentum that film has gathered will trample over the better choice.

Who I'd Like to Win (But Won't):  Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke for "Before Midnight".  Without a doubt, this was the best written movie of 2013.  Fish in a barrel, honestly.  The Before trilogy has been a modern masterpiece of dialog and character interaction, and "Before Midnight" continues that tradition with truly fascinating people discussing incredible topics.  Plus there is the cataclysmic climax, with a relationship argument making for a more intense experience than most CG-splooge action explosions.  You have to really care about the characters to get involved with their marital problems.  This screenplay made you not only care about both of them, but really understand both sides of the argument, and horrified to see their inspiring love nearly torn apart.  That is something only the best of screenwriting can do.

BEST EDITING:  "Gravity"

Why?  We've been through this about a hundred times now.


Why?  Because again.  We've been through this.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:  Let it Go for "Frozen"

Why?  Because I am not the only one that sings that song in the shower every morning.

Now there are other awards, but honestly, I cannot comment on the rest of them, or simply do not care.  I know Sound Mixing is a huge part of filmmaking, it takes real talent to keep a score, various actors, and explosions level, but I am not a professional sound mixer, so I have only the vaguest idea of what goes into this.  And a lot of my skipped awards are simply ignorance on my part.  I have not seen any of the Foreign Language picks or the Documentary picks.  I know that makes me probably part of the ruinous American marketing machine that rules cinema, but I am just one guy.  Frankly also, I will never ever begin to care about Best Make-Up, sorry.

Whatever happens, I will be watching the Oscars tomorrow night, and on Monday I will have my reaction post ready.  Hopefully I was correct about everything.  Maybe I wasn't.  Time will tell.  And hopefully there will be a Monday and the Russians will not forcibly conquer the Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, all of Europe, and then the entire planet.  But who knows?

We should ask Nostradamus about this...

* There is actually a long and complicated history about Russia, Ukraine, and the Crimean peninsula.   I'll give you the short version: 

Russia and Ukraine were once one people united in the Kievan Rus', until the Mongols came, conquered everybody, and Russia was eventually reborn as first the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, and later the Russian Empire.  Ukraine had become an independent region semi-ruled by Poland and semi-independent with its own Cossack government.  Russia, being endlessly greedy, eventually conquered Ukraine, the Crimea (which was its own nation ruled by Tartars), and even Poland.  Crimea was never ethnically Ukrainian, it only wound up as part of that nation when Nikita Khrushchev, then leader of the Soviet Union, gave Crimea to his home Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukraine.  When the USSR broke up, Ukraine became independent and took Crimea with it.

Now Ukraine is a heavily divided state between Pro-Russian and Pro-Western/Independent groups.  That's a social division that goes back centuries now.  Crimea is very pro-Russian, and it appears that Vladimir Putin is going to use this crisis to add a new province to his empire.  Which is an extremely bold and possibly insane thing to do in the modern world.  It is unknown how President Obama will react, but it appears only bold action can answer something for moves like these.  The entire situation is, to use professional academic terms:  a serious shitfuck of the highest order.

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