Junkee Roundtable: Oscars 2014
Three of our movie-loving writers discuss what to expect from this year's ceremony, and who will (and should) take home the statues.
The year’s biggest sporting event is nearly upon us. And though nobody involved will be wearing footy shorts — actually, Pharrell will be there, so who knows? — we do anticipate that the Academy Awards ceremony (airing on Nine this Monday March 3 at 12:30pm) will be a high-octane blood match. So many good movies! A performance from Karen O! Another win for Cate Blanchett! Or maybe not?
Junkee invited three of its movie-loving writers — Mel Campbell, Glenn Dunks and Nicholas Fonseca — to have a chat about this year’s contenders, what we can expect from the ceremony, and their predictions for who will (and should) take home the gold.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR/ACTRESS
Nicholas Fonseca: Glenn and Mel, let’s do this. I get stupidly excited even when Oscar’s having an off year (see: that one where The Artist and Hugo won heaps), so I predict I’ll be extra-super-major into this year’s ceremony. It boasts a great crop of musical performers — Pharrell, Karen O, U2, Idina Menzel and Bette Midler — but by and large, this year’s nominees reflect the fact it was a great year at the movies. Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, for instance, there’s only one whose win would disappoint me. But we can get into that later.
Let’s start with the supporting categories. Supporting Actress will almost certainly be claimed by 12 Years A Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o or American Hustle’s Jennifer Lawrence. The other three actresses in the category — Nebraska’s June Squibb, Blue Jasmine’s Sally Hawkins (how happy were you to see her nominated?) and August: Osage County’s Julia Roberts — are going to have to be happy with their nominations.
I’d actually tick the box for Roberts; I know she’s already won an Oscar, but she hasn’t been this memorable onscreen in ages. And the part — brittle, fed-up, pissy — was a nice change from her typical onscreen persona.
Still, I think it’s Nyong’o’s to lose. But if Jennifer Lawrence pulls off her second win in as many years, I may upend the crudité tray and leave the room.
Glenn Dunks: 2013 was a fantastic year for cinema, but unlike Nicholas I don’t think this year’s Oscar nominations reflect that at all. So many of the year’s bravest, weirdest, saddest, funniest, sexiest and ballsiest movies got pushed aside for middle-of-the-road confections by filmmakers who’ve done better work multiple times in the past (I’m looking at you Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, and Stephen Frears). My personal disappointments with the Best Picture line-up notwithstanding (I only think two of the nominees — thankfully the frontrunners in the form of 12 Years A Slave and Gravity — deserve to be there), the Supporting categories throw up their own unique quandaries.
If I were an Oscar voter — as I so often dream/fantasise/roleplay — I’d almost certainly be ticking the box for Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave. As much as I liked Sally Hawkins in that role, she didn’t quite hit the winning high and the nomination feels like payback for her ridiculous Happy-Go-Lucky snub. I thought Roberts was best-in-show, but for anybody who thinks she is “supporting” in August: Osage County, I have a question: who was she supporting? She was the lead character through and through! Her nomination feels like a kick in the face to the likes of Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), Scarlett Johansson (so funny in Don Jon; so poignant as the voice in Her), Emma Watson (The Bling Ring), Joanna Scanlan (The Invisible Woman), Gabby Hoffman (Crystal Fairy), not to mention her own co-cast Julianne Nicholson and Margo Martindale.
If I were Jennifer Lawrence — as I so often dream/fantasise/roleplay — I’d be hoping to not win. Nobody deserves the status and incredible burden of being a two-time Oscar winner at 23, let alone for roles and films as frivolous as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Lupita will look divine clasping that deserved Oscar.
Mel Campbell: Personally I was so, so disappointed not to see Inside Llewyn Davis making more of a splash this year. It’s a thoughtful and beautifully crafted film in almost every way, and Oscar usually loves Joel and Ethan, but perhaps its scale is just too small, its appeal too niche.
Nicholas, your comment about Julia Roberts being uncharacteristically brittle, fed-up and prissy reminded me of her performance in Duplicity back in 2009, in which she played a jaded corporate spy and spent most of the movie looking sour and suspicious. I wish I could find it online, but the best scene in the film shows her interrogating a ditsy travel agent played by Carrie Preston without even saying a word — just fixing her with a death glare.
I don’t think Roberts will win this year, though. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance was consummately, fiercely stoic. So much of what we code as ‘excellence’ in acting is self-transformation and spectacle, which is why the highlight reels tend to feature the grandstanding moments and big emotional blowouts. But I agree with Richard Brody, who recently wrote in The New Yorker, “The greatest movie actors don’t have to say or do anything, though a little trick at the right moment doesn’t hurt. They’re fascinating and emotion-filled in repose, and their action contains an ineffable core of stillness…”
What struck me about Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave were those moments when Patsey is absolutely silent, with a thousand-yard stare, as if she’s protecting herself by retreating somewhere faraway inside. For me, that’s a much more mature performance than JLaw’s, which was basically a collection of sassy line readings. I adore Lawrence but if she wins, it sets a dangerous precedent for the miscasting of young actresses in roles meant for older women. At least Hawkins, Roberts and Squibb are age-appropriate for their roles.
Nicholas: Mel, I couldn’t agree more with your worry about what a win for Lawrence would mean — as if Hollywood needs any more encouragement to rely on younger actresses in favour of seasoned veterans or longtime character actresses (hence why I’m so happy to see Squibb and Hawkins. Glenn, I agree she was robbed of a nomination for Happy-Go-Lucky) or even middle-aged newcomers who’ve finally landed a proper role. I loved Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, but have been flummoxed by the hyperbole surrounding her rise and rise and rise. I don’t know, I guess I’m a grouch.
(Sidebar: It really is too bad that Fruitvale Station‘s Octavia Spencer wasn’t recognised in this category , which was quiet and compelling and a world away from her Oscar-winning performance in The Help. It’s too bad that fine film was shut out altogether. That reminds me, Glenn… I’m curious which films you would like to have seen in the Best Picture category that aren’t there?)
What do you guys make of this year’s Supporting Actor category? In comparison to last year’s, when five previous winners were vying for the prize in one of the more impressive acting category lineups in recent memory, this year’s crop feels a bit flat. And it’s missing the surprisingly touching work of Nebraska‘s Will Forte. Will Forte, who knew?
I wasn’t blown away by Leto, to be frank, though it’s almost certain he’ll be at the podium on Monday. Which, fine. I cannot deny I will be thrilled to see Jordan Catalano win an Oscar. Me, though? I’m quietly rooting for the actor in this category who has the lowest chance of winning, and that’s Bradley Cooper, the least-heralded of American Hustle‘s starring quartet. The hilariously nervous energy he brought to the film shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the fact the erstwhile TV pretty-boy has proved himself worthy of being called a proper movie star. Like Matthew McConaughey, his career transformation has been such an out-of-nowhere delight that I can’t help rooting for the guy.
Mel: You know, I’d never heard of Bradley Cooper before The Hangover! But that nervousness you point out — that manic, fidgety quality — is what made him so great in Limitless, Silver Linings Playbook and, yes, American Hustle. Especially because Russell has become such a fidgety director — I can’t remember if he was always this way, but that thing where his camera drifts down to the characters’ hand gestures seems quite anxious. Cooper should probably also win a special award for that party scene where he’s taking the piss of out of Louis CK!
But not the Academy Award. The cynic in me thinks they’ll give it to Leto because of the physical transformation the role required, and because it’s deemed brave to play queer, trans and terminally ill. (But not full retard.) Fassbender’s a chance, too — he dominated the screen with a terrifying sense of utter mayhem only barely restrained. But I’m not even sure why Jonah Hill was nominated, because it’s such a bland, unfocused performance — he was so much better in 21 Jump Street!
I really want Barkhad Abdi to win. He was a real revelation — as I wrote at the time, one of the big surprises of Captain Phillips was that it paints the pirate as a tragic antihero rather than a cipher. Abdi deftly switches gears to show the various public faces Muse dons for different audiences, and also the private desperation that creeps in as his ambitious hijacking goes pear-shaped.
Glenn: I was so much more on board with Jared Leto’s potential for an Oscar win before he started actually winning awards and sounding like he hadn’t a clue about trans issues. Which I think is a damned shame, because I find his performance so hard to dislike. I think if anybody’s going to steal it from him — and, really, at this stage it’s as inevitable as Hathaway’s was last year — it would be Barkhad Abdi, since Captain Phillips is likely going to go home with zero statues in its pocket. As for Cooper? He was my favourite of the Hustle ensemble and I’ve had dreams about his chest hair, but he’ll win someday, just not for this underheated mess of a movie.
But me being the die-hard actressexual almost always finds the male acting categories far more of a predictable snooze. I am here waiting breathlessly to see who Cate Blanchett throws shade at next. So far this awards season she’s dissed U2 to their face, “your first album was really good.”; Ryan Seacrest off camera, “I hated every second of that interview”; Matthew McConaughey and the nosey orchestra on national TV, “Matthew McConaughey spoke about Neptune, I think I can have five seconds”; and the BAFTA seating organisers. Without the likes of Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue Is The Warmest Colour) or Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) nominated, there’s literally nobody who can come close to Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine. If she loses we will riot. RIOT!
Mel: For me, the Best Actress category is a fight between Dame Judi and Our Cate. Meryl Streep basically nommed the scenery, and Amy Adams was playing subtle in a film where everyone else was turned up to 11 (she can play big, though!).
Sandra Bullock convincingly anchored an entire movie on her own, but for me she was just too Hanksy, if you know what I mean? Like, an all-American everywoman, triumphing against the odds? Hanksy.
I hope Cate Blanchett wins, because it was a supremely actorly performance that didn’t rely on bombast or gimmickry; just mad acting chops. It was uncanny to watch Jasmine’s decline from pampered socialite to demented homeless lady. Blanchett made Jasmine pitiable without ever losing sight of what a poisonous, selfish person she was.
Nicholas: I have no real issues with a Cate win, most specifically because I’ve always felt her previous win (for a mimicky turn as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator) says little to nothing about the depth of her talents. But my heart belongs — as it has since my first of many Junebug viewings — with Amy Adams, who is up at bat for a fifth time and, despite some late-season momentum/Mia and Co.’s anti-Woody campaign, almost certain to lose again. To me, she’s the true star of Hustle, taking the audience along for a (joy)ride that is fresh, unpredictable and so utterly watchable. She took a tricky part and made it more than her own, and at the tender age of 39, she’s already proved herself worthy of an Oscar that rewards not just a particular role, but the impressive breadth of her filmography.
Meryl, by the way, does not belong here — the nod feels akin to her streak in the late ’90s, when voters rewarded her with praise for good-to-middling work in films like One True Thing and Music Of My Heart without seeming to have noticed that, you know, she was kinda just being Meryl. In this particular instance, I fear she has been rewarded for simply showing up and screeching her lines in the most annoying way possible.
Mel: Christian Bale annoys me with his ostentatious method acting, constantly morphing his body. I don’t think that’s what we should be granting awards for, and so for the same reason I don’t want emaciated Matthew McConaughey to win, even though it was quite a subtle, accomplished turn.
I’ve always found Chiwetel Ejiofor quite a cerebral actor, but there’s also something vulnerable about him. He always looks worried! For me that made him perfect for 12 Years A Slave, as a guy who realises his intelligence and worldliness are a liability in a world of relentless physical punishment. He’d be a worthy winner.
This is awful, but when I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s infamous ‘luded-out slithering, it instantly took me back to his uncanny performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. No wonder the film got slammed by disability advocates. And I dunno, I’d basically give the guy an Oscar for this other brilliant moment of physical comedy:
The thing DiCaprio really nails, though, is that Jordan Belfort was primarily a pitchman. His speech-making scenes are mesmerising, like Orson Welles in full Charles Foster Kane mode.
Nicholas: Like Adams, I reckon Leo is long overdue for an Oscar, even if it’s an Oscar that just says, “You’re great. You’re undervalued. You’ve had this coming for a long time.” And whilst I agree with your final observation, Mel, I’m just not sure I want him to win it for this role. (Unlike Cate, I wish he had won for The Aviator.)
I’m a fan of McConaughey — always have been, even during the dark rom-com years — but…oh, how do I put this kindly without slamming his commitment to a role and film that seem to mean so much to so many? The guy did fine work in a flawed film (Dallas Buyers Club), but even the physical transformation didn’t fully hide the fact he was playing yet another variation on Good Ol’ Matty McConaughey.
Which is exactly why I’m pulling for Bruce Dern in Nebraska. Much of Dern’s focus in the myriad interviews he’s given this Oscar season has been his touching (but by no means self-congratulatory) admission that Hollywood long ago wrote him off as ‘that creepy guy’ because he was typecast early on as the kind of actor you could rely on to steal scenes by being so utterly unsavoury. Dern is a movie lover’s favourite kind of actor, one who pops up on the regular, in films good, mediocre and awful, and always makes an impression. Like Christopher Plummer, who finally snagged the statuette two years ago on his first nomination in more than five decades of acting, he’s also old, underappreciated, and by all accounts a lovely guy. Am I rewarding the narrative here? Perhaps a bit. Do I feel guilty for it? Not at all.
Glenn: Despite my very vocal opposition to the film it’s in, I’d be all for a Leonardo DiCaprio win in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Whatever success that film finds, it finds in DiCaprio’s incredibly committed performance. It’s the role only a ‘Movie Star’ could play, and I would rather see him acknowledged now for this than in 30 years for Scent Of A Woman 2: Curly’s Revenge.
I do, however, think McConaughey will win. I’m just incredibly suspicious of anybody who shrieks and shouts about not knowing he was actually capable of this kind of work. He did fiiiiiiine work early on in his career (both comedic and dramatic, like John Sayles’ Lone Star), but because he got stuck in the rom-com glut he lost his credibility and now people are acting as if he’s the second coming despite the fact that none of his recent roles have even been all that big of a stretch. Likewise, I don’t think Bruce Dern is doing all that much to warrant an award outside of career achievement, and don’t even get me started on Christian Bale who I would gladly swap for Tom Hanks doing the best work of his career in Captain Phillips, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners, or Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt. I’d love Chiwetel Ejiofor to win, but that seems unlikely for reasons that I can’t quite understand.
BEST ADAPTED/ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Mel: For me, the role of Best Adapted Screenplay is producing something that does justice to the source material while also transforming it into something that lights up the screen in its own way. The Wolf Of Wall Street screenplay has done a wonderful ventriloquist job of Jordan Belfort’s grotesque, hilarious, unrepentant memoir, condensing the book and yet still being skeptical of Belfort’s reliability as a narrator.
Philomena is interesting in that it introduces comedic elements into what’s actually a really grim story. But Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope, has said, “I love to use comedy to try and make difficult subjects easier. It sweetens things that are bitter.”
I’ve not read the book 12 Years A Slave, but Junkee contributor Tara Judah has, and she told me it’s perhaps more confronting because Solomon Northup writes that he would have been happy to be a slave… for a master he respected. It’s been adapted before, but while the previous TV adaptation framed it in traditional classical terms as an ‘odyssey’ (Odysseus spends 20 years away from home, ten of them struggling to return), John Ridley’s adaptation is interior and experiential.
Before Midnight is controversial because it’s seen to be adapted from a previous film, rather than an original sequel. It’s quite an achievement because it seems so spontaneous and conversational, yet everything is meticulously scripted.
Of the Original Screenplay contenders, Her is probably the most startling in its ideas, but also veers dangerously into melodrama. American Hustle has a zesty screwball screenplay (“Thank god for me!”) and I’d be happy if it won.
I loved Blue Jasmine and thought its structure was so clever, but I have to say that I have massive ethical problems with Woody Allen. I’m still sorting out for myself how to approach Allen’s films now — I mean, I haven’t watched a Roman Polanski film since The Ninth Gate — but look, Allen has had plenty of praise. Let’s give the statuette to someone else.
Glenn: I worry that this is David O. Russell’s to lose since every category in which American Hustle is nominated, I think something else will trump it. Given some of the rather brilliant writing that he’s done in his career, winning for a garbled mess like Hustle would disappoint me greatly. I hope the Academy are having one of their lucid moments and give the original statue to Spike Jonze for Her — they did, after all, give this same prize to Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, which was even more of an eye-popping look at love and science. No matter which of those two wins (and I do think it will be one or the other), I think we can all agree that this won’t be Woody Allen’s year.
Mel, it’s funny that you mention the iffy boundaries of ‘Adapted’ regarding Before Midnight (Before Sunset was also nominated in this category because it is technically based upon characters and scenarios from a previous film) because I think the aforementioned Woody Allen should be here for Blue Jasmine rather than in the Original Screenplay category given its very obvious debt to A Streetcar Named Desire. This is all basically me waffling on avoiding this category because I find it all impossibly dreary. Philomena? Really? Yikes. Give it to 12 Years A Slave and save face, Academy.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Mel: ‘Let It Go’ is what my friend Penny would refer to as a ‘showstopper’ and demand I sing at karaoke. Generally, I found the songs in Frozen quite dumb while I was actually watching it, but somehow they stuck in my head.
God I hope that stupid twee ‘Moon Song’ doesn’t win. For me, it represented how lame people in love can seem from the outside: how insufferable what they find meaningful can be. It’s just a massive cliche. I mean, people were taking the piss out of ‘moon/soon/June/spoon’ lyrics 80 years ago.
But I would accept a ‘Moon Song’ win if it kept U2’s utterly anodyne ‘Ordinary Love’ at bay. I can’t believe this is the same band who produced genuinely powerful songs like ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘All I Want Is You’. And now here they are ripping off Coldplay. How anyone could think this expresses Nelson Mandela’s political struggle is beyond me.
‘Happy’ is perhaps my favourite, though – it actually sounds joyful! And I love a song with clapping. (Maybe if Pharrell Williams wears that stupid hat on the night we will have to call it ‘Hatty’.) Pharrell’s in Curtis Mayfield mode here, though someone with a ballsier falsetto — Cee-Lo Green, perhaps — might have done a better job and needed less Auto-Tune.
Nicholas: My disdain for a) most animated movies, b) Idina Menzel’s voice, and c) any song that prompts a billion YouTube covers that subsequently clog my Facebook news feed means I have no actual idea what ‘Let It Go’ sounds like. But I reckon its massive popularity will lead it to a victory. As for the others: I’d personally love to be able to say the phrase ‘Oscar winner Karen O’ going forward, but now you’ve point it out, Mel, ‘Moon Song’ is kind of dippy. U2’s ballad is a treacly non-starter for me, so I’m going to join you in rooting for ‘Happy,’ which is infectious and fun and would reflect well on the Academy if it managed a come-from-behind victory. (Don’t count on it.)
And, hoo boy, do I hope Pharrell wears that hat come Monday.
Glenn: I live in New York City and let me tell you, if ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen does not win then there will be riots, looting, and armies of lip syncing Broadway babies storming from Chelsea to Park Slope. As previously discussed, it’s a great song. I quite like ‘Moon Song’ from Her, but the other two contenders — ‘Happy’ from Despicable Me 2 and ‘Ordinary Love’ from Mandela: A Quick Read Through Wikipedia Will Save You Two-And-A-Half Hours — are, to me, terrible tunes.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Mel: I’m so annoyed that Casey Storm’s costumes for Her didn’t get nominated — Joaquin Phoenix’s sorbet-coloured shirts and high pants are a key motif in the film’s retro-futurism.
American Hustle is a film about outer appearances, so Michael Wilkinson’s glamorous ’70s costumes are vital to narrative and character, from JLaw’s luxe loungewear to Christian Bale’s eccentric outfits pieced together from forgotten dry-cleaning. But I don’t think that’s enough for a win. I can’t believe it wasn’t nominated for Makeup & Hairstyling, though — it might as well have been called ‘American Hairstyle’!
Michael O’Connor, nominated here for The Invisible Woman, has form costuming the 1840s — he was nominated for his naturalistic and historically pitch-perfect Jane Eyre costumes two years ago. Catherine Martin has already won an AACTA and a BAFTA for The Great Gatsby, but will Oscar favour her fantasy version of the 1920s? Last year’s win for Anna Karenina‘s ‘historical expressionism’ shows that the Academy isn’t always a stickler for impeccable period accuracy.
But I think Patricia Norris will win for 12 Years A Slave. Because there are so few records of what slaves wore, she has made a leap of imagination that feels utterly convincing. I was especially struck by the blousy cut of the men’s shirts, the male slaves’ colour palette of bone and beige, and Patsey’s Regency-style empire-waisted dress suggesting she’s wearing a 30-year-old cast-off.
Nicholas: The winner in this category tends to be the most showiest — as if the more seemingly labour-intensive the costumes, the more deserving of the statuette to their designer(s). So Mel, to your point: the clothing in 12 Years A Slave was as austere and unshowy as many of that film’s other production and design elements — a necessary (and dreadfully banal) contrast to the terror in the foreground. That said, like you I remember much of it vividly.
Norris is actually up for her sixth Academy Award with no wins yet; she received her first nomination for Terence Malick’s Days Of Heaven in 1978. Those are two interesting bookends to her Oscar career so far: the results of a Google image search reveal a remarkable similarity in the two films’ visual approaches. Norris also received nods for her work on The Elephant Man, Victor/Victoria, 2010 and Sunset — really? Sunset?! — a disparate lot of films whose styling required some truly fleet creative talent. Even if 12 Years A Slave were her first credit, she’d be deserving of this nomination. Throw her CV into the mix, and she’s more than earned a win. It would be a deserving one.
But I’m also crippled by a deep and abiding adoration of all things ’70s, so it’s hard for me to root for anything but American Hustle here. And just because the clothing styles featured in this film are of a more recent vintage (and can be found at op-shops the world over) doesn’t make them any less difficult to pull off. Plus, as you mention Mel, they are part and parcel of the film’s narrative and its characters.
You know where I would really like to see American Hustle win? In the production design category, if only as rightful payback to Judy Becker, who wasn’t even nominated for her brilliant, unbelievably gaudy work on Silver Linings Playbook. It was a deeply sourced delight, and the earth-toned horrors of the Solitanos’ living room are still burned into my brain.
Glenn: I’m thinking that Catherine Martin may just become the most Oscared Australian ever at this week’s ceremony. She has already won two for the costumes and art direction of Moulin Rouge! (2001), and after winning both categories at the recent BAFTA Awards, I suspect she will do the double repeat for The Great Gatsby. If she does she will overtake Orry-Kelly, who won three Oscars for costume design in the 1950s.
The joke that “best equals most” has more than an ounce of truth to it, and that’s why I think the likes of Her in production design and 12 Years A Slave in costumes won’t have enough oomph to get them over the line when up against the glitz and glam of Baz Luhrmann’s extravagantly designed F. Scott Fitzgerald update. Mel is right in saying they’re not so fussed about period perfection — remember the Doc Martens featured in the Oscar-winning duds of Marie Antoinette (2006)? — although I do, like Mel, wish they’d sometimes step away from the sequins and the hoop skirts and award something as friskily modern and cheeky as The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994). The nomination for The Devil Wears Prada (2006) remains a category highlight for the way they recognised how contemporary fashion can help build characters and place just as well as an Elizabethan gown or exotic couture.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Mel: Even though The Wind Rises is about the guy who basically enabled Pearl Harbor (no, not Michael Bay), it has a real chance here because it’s the Academy’s last opportunity to honour Hayao Miyazaki. He won for Spirited Away in 2003, and while The Wind Rises is less whimsical than his classic films, it’s still about the power of imagination.
What also strikes me about The Wind Rises is the evocative simplicity of its animation compared to the digital hyper-detail we get from Pixar and Dreamworks. Ernest & Celestine has a charming, painterly look, too. I loved Gabrielle Vincent’s books when I was a kid, so it’s a nostalgic and distinctively French aesthetic for me, akin to Madeline and Babar The Elephant.
But I’m tipping Frozen to win. Despite the awful design of the female characters with their scooped-out Michael Jackson noses, it’s crowd-pleasing while subverting Disney’s princessy romance narrative. And I just love the goofy song in which the snowman fantasises about summer, with its sly homage to ‘Jolly Holiday’ from Mary Poppins.
Glenn: Are the Academy feeling Disney’s Frozen with its gigantic box office and chart-topping soundtrack, or do they want to go small and give Hayao Miyazaki his second statue after Spirited Away? The last time Miyazaki won, the competition was far less popular — Treasure Island, Lilo & Stitch, Ice Age, and Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron. I don’t think the Academy can ignore Frozen’s across the board success, and Disney will win their first ever award in the feature category.
Mel: The Best Documentary category tends to reward either zeitgeisty exposés or portraits of offbeat individuals, so Cutie And The Boxer, The Square and Dirty Wars are all in with a chance.
I feel The Act Of Killing has this in the bag, even though I didn’t find it the intensely moving masterwork that lots of other people did. I found it often inscrutable and distancing rather than insightful or empathetic, quite uncurious about the political context of Indonesia, and the extra runtime just made it feel boring and lazy to me.
But I have to say the nominee I just flat-out enjoyed most was 20 Feet From Stardom. I’ve always been fascinated with those little moments in pop songs when the backing singers get their time to shine. And apart from telling a history of pop from the bittersweet perspective of its marginalised performers rather than stars, I loved the wonderful musical interludes in which they take centre stage.
Glenn: I’ve discussed this category in another Junkee piece that also looked at ‘Foreign Language Film’ and all the short film categories. It was a very strong year for the artform, and thankfully Oscar followed suit. I’d genuinely be happy with any of the films taking out the prize, although my favourite is The Square. I feel as if The Act Of Killing would be a shocker simply for how out of the box a film like that winning would be. They went for the more classic formalism of Inside Job (2010) over the playful art prank Exit Through The Gift Shop, after all.
Glenn: David O. Russell — three consecutive nominations. Alexander Payne — three consecutive nominations. Martin Scorsese — five nominations from six films.
A category that once threw us delicious surprises like Pedro Almodovar for Talk To Her (2002) and David Lynch for Mulholland Drive (2001) has now seemingly descended into a club of familiar faces that get nominated simply for pointing a camera at something. I would give anything to sub one, or two, or all three out for names as left-of-centre as Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers), Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond The Pines), Francois Ozon (In The House) or Jia Zhangke (A Touch Of Sin).
Thankfully, none of those three will win for their sub-par efforts. This looks like Alfonso Cuaron’s to lose, although if the Academy really want to make history then here is where they could do it, ’cause Steve McQueen would be the first black director to ever win.
Mel: Gravity has raised questions about the extent to which directing for visual effects is supplanting the traditional techniques of shooting actors on location. But Cuaron’s trademark long takes are beautifully choreographed, and the film is full of strikingly composed shots, such as George Clooney drifting in space, and Sandra Bullock floating in the foetal position. I don’t think any film since 2001: A Space Odyssey has captured the dizzying three-dimensional perspective of space until this one.
But Steve McQueen’s directing has a vitality and viscerality that makes me hope he wins. The film’s two key set-pieces are the hanging scene — those toes in the mud! — and the whipping scene. But I was equally struck by the atmospheric scenes of natural beauty, and the scene in which Epps ambushes Solomon at night, the lantern he holds throwing their faces into a ghoulish puddle of light. Every shot in this film expresses an urgent struggle for survival.
Nicholas: Cuaron. Cuaron, Cuaron, Cuaron. I’m not sure what else I can say. He’s up against a formidable and deserving pack, though my second-place pick, Captain Phillips‘ Paul Greengrass, was shamefully snubbed here. (I’d sub out Scorsese).
Mel: I didn’t like Dallas Buyers Club at all — despite some interesting visual flourishes, I felt it was a rather unsophisticated, didactic throwback to the tasteful liberalism of Philadelphia. Such a disappointment from Vallée, who has shown a willingness to be weirder and queerer with his material than this.
The Wolf Of Wall Street has a hyperreal, cartoonish quality; in both tone and content it feels made by people on drugs. It’s roguish, cheerfully offensive and laugh-out-loud funny. In many ways it reminded me of Michael Bay’s underrated Pain And Gain, in that it’s about bro-dudes who take American materialism way too far. But is it the best film released in the last year? No.
I was really moved by Her when I first saw it, but I’ve since cooled on it a little. I’m not sure if it succeeds completely in its ambition to distill the essential nature of human intimacy.
For me, this is a race between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. I’d be happy for either film to win, because they both succeed powerfully in what they set out to do.
Nicholas: There are some late-in-the-game suggestions that 12 Years has already peaked. Some cite the slightly scoldy “It’s Time” campaign being waged by Fox Searchlight on the film’s behalf; conservative wingnut favourite Breitbart got all click-baity by suggesting it plays on white guilt; while professional Oscarologist Sasha Stone just posted a “bombshell” report in which she claims the film is doomed becuase many voters have admitted they’re too scared to even watch the film.
I’m not sure I’m buying it, partially because in a particularly tight year, the Academy’s complex preferential-voting system means it’s that much harder to deduce a clear front-runner. That said, in the final days leading up to the race, Gravity does suddenly seems to be back in serious contention. Do I think 12 Years a Slave deserves to be named Best Picture? Well, sure. Will I be upset if Gravity takes it instead? Absolutely not. 12 Years is a fantastically made film, but I didn’t find it quite as revelatory as its many supporters would have you believe.
Besides, as an honorific and in this context, Best Picture is often a misnomer. Many times throughout the Academy’s 86-year history, the award has gone to the film that sent moviegoers streaming back to the theatre — no small feat in the year 2014 — in order to be part of a proper collective cinematic experience, one that speaks to why we all love movies in the first place. This year, that film was Gravity. I’m sure it looks great in the lounge room on a plasma TV, but to have seen Gravity on the big screen, in 3D, was to witness something pretty damned awesome. The craft and care that went into its making simply can’t be denied (even if its script was so weak it didn’t even warrant a nomination), and if it ekes out a win, I’ll be satisfied.
Glenn: As I’ve previously stated, I only think two of these films deserve to be here — Gravity and 12 Years a Slave — but the only two that make me genuinely angry are The Wolf Of Wall Street (too long, repetitive, been-there-done-that) and Dallas Buyers Club (reductive, exclusive, awfully directed). Thankfully, the two I really like are the two most likely to win, although I shudder at the thought of American Hustle shimmying onto the winner’s podium.
I almost want Steve McQueen’s harsh slavery film to win just so future generations will be forced to watch it, and because in this time of social change it feels like a pertinent choice of a film to represent 2013 to future generations. A win for American Hustle would tell future generations that we were surprisingly receptive to Amy Adams’ cleavage and that our fondness for Jennifer Lawrence rendered us temporarily insane.
The 86th Academy Awards will air on Nine on Monday March 3 at 12:30pm.
Mel Campbell is a freelance journalist and cultural critic. She is the founding editor of online pop culture magazine The Enthusiast and author of the book Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit. She blogs on style, history and culture at Footpath Zeitgeist and tweets at @incrediblemelk.
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.
Nicholas Fonseca is a freelance writer and editor and (sometime) master of film studies student based in Sydney. A former editor at Madison, Fonseca has written for WHO, Sunday Life and Foxtel magazines; prior to his arrival in Sydney, he was based in New York City, where he spent a decade as a staff member with Entertainment Weekly.