Every year, the movie industry comes together to celebrate the achievements of its best, from the best scores to the best foreign films to best actor and actress, and the supremely coveted best picture. March 2, 2014 is the 86th Annual Academy Awards. Here are some of The Talon’s predictions for who will take home the trophies.
Will win: “12 Years a Slave”
Could win: “American Hustle” or “Gravity”
Should win: “Her”
Steve McQueen’s film “12 Years a Slave” is the likely winner of the Academy Award for best picture. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, the haunting film has received praise for its powerful acting and unflinching look at slavery. Solomon’s desperate desire for freedom and his struggle to maintain dignity in the face of cruelty will captivate generations of moviegoers.
However, David O. Russell’s ‘70s crime flick “American Hustle” and Alfonso Cuarón’s space thriller “Gravity” are making best picture a close three-way race. All three films have established themselves as Oscar frontrunners.
Both “American Hustle” and “Gravity” racked up 10 Oscar nominations, with “12 Years a Slave” nominated for nine awards. Earlier this year, “Gravity” also swept the Critics’ Choice Awards, setting an all-time record with seven wins. “American Hustle” won the major Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award: outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture, as well as the Golden Globe for best comedy or musical film. The Golden Globe for best drama went to “12 Years a Slave,” which has received near-universal critical acclaim since its release.
Yet while these three films battle it out for the most prestigious film award of the year, Spike Jonze’s movie “Her,” is perhaps a more fitting winner. Set in the near future in Los Angeles, the story follows Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a withdrawn man who writes heartfelt letters for other people for a living. Devastated after his marriage ends, he turns to an intelligent operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) to fill the void in his life. Ultimately, he falls in love with her, a surprisingly convincing romance that both legitimizes and questions our culture’s technological attachments. With a vulnerable performance by Phoenix, “Her” is a commentary on the modern human relationships expertly crafted for our generation. While “12 Years a Slave” is also deeply deserving of this Oscar, “Her” is the most culturally relevant film of this year.
Will win: Matthew McConaughey — “Dallas Buyer’s Club”
Could win: Leonardo DiCaprio — “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Should win: Chiwetel Ejiofor — “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” will win him the Oscar for Best Actor. McConaughey’s powerful acting in the film was far more memorable than the the actual plot of the movie. Despite the success and popularity that has followed him throughout his long career, this is McConaughey’s first Academy Award Nomination. Like DiCaprio, he took home a Golden Globe for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” earlier this year. McConaughey’s character is immensely complicated, and as such, he seemed like a totally different person from one scene to the next. Woodroof is whatever he needs to be to make each scene advance the story, and McConaughey delivered a performance to be remembered.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as wealthy stockbroker Jordan Belfort in the comedy “The Wolf of Wall Street” was your typical DiCaprio performance-excellent, but not Oscar-worthy. DiCaprio was previously nominated for this award in 2005 with “The Aviator” and in 2007 with “Blood Diamond.” This year has already seen him bring home a Golden Globe Award for his role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” but that in no way affirms that he will likewise bring home an Oscar for the same performance. Due to the salacious and often vulgar nature of the film itself, it’s unlikely that DiCaprio will win over Ejiofor or McConaughey, though he does, of course, have a chance.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, the heart and soul of the movie “12 Years a Slave,” stakes his rightful claim on the title of “Best Actor” for this year’s Academy Awards. Ejiofor plays a free African-American who’s kidnapped and sold back into slavery. It is Ejiofor’s eyes and body language that much of the emotional impact of the film stems from. He trades spoken word for expression, the depth and intensity of which should bring him home an Oscar. While Ejiofor has won a number of “Best Actor” awards in the past, including a Laurence Olivier Award, British Independent Award, Independent Spirit Award and Gotham Independent Film Award, he has not yet acquired one of such high acclaim. His performance of incredible subtlety and emotion may leave you speechless and in complete awe. By all accounts, Ejiofor deserves an Oscar for his portrayal of Northup.
Will win: Cate Blanchet — “Blue Jasmine”
Could win: Meryl Streep — “August: Osage County”
Should win: Amy Adams — “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett’s performance as a rich Manhattan socialite whose life crumbles around her in “Blue Jasmine” has been lauded for its exceptional acting. Blanchett’s character, Jasmine French, hits rock bottom as her swindling husband is arrested and her finances disappear. Her brilliant portrayal of this fallen woman grounds the movie in a sense of self-delusion and cynicism. After winning a SAG award and the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, Blanchett has come into the Oscars season as the top contender for the award for best leading actress. However, Meryl Streep, a three-time Oscar winner, cannot be counted out for her striking portrait of a strong-willed, dysfunctional matriarch in “August: Osage County,” a role that won her a Golden Globe earlier this year.
Yet Amy Adams’ role as a cunning faux-aristocratic partner-in-crime in “American Hustle” is the most stunning of the year. Adams’ move to darker roles has been flawless, coming through vividly in her portrayal of a woman desperate for a taste of the good life. Her character, Sydney Prosser, joins a dishonest businessman to deal in forged art and fake loans, entangling herself in passionate, greedy relationships. Adams brings a touch of despair to an otherwise juicy, bold film, a performance more than worthy of Best Actress.
Will win: Alfonso Cuaron — “Gravity”
Could win: Martin Scorsese — “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Steve McQueen — “12 Years a Slave”
Should win: Alfonso Cuaron — “Gravity”
Alfonso Cuaron has never won an Academy Award, although he’s been nominated three times before now. That’s about to change this year.
Cuaron is currently leading the race for Best Director for his work in “Gravity,” an outer-space survival thriller starring Sandra Bullock. It has been praised for its brilliant technical production and raw, powerful storyline. He has shown his talent in creating a film that keeps its audience on the edge of their seats, regardless of how simple the script and plot seem to be. In addition, Cuaron has just recently won the Directors Guild Award for Best Director; and there has only been seven times in the Director Guild’s 65-year history that the director who won the award didn’t win Best Director at the Academy Awards.
Nonetheless, Cuaron has some competition from Martin Scorsese, of the controversial “The Wolf on Wall Street” and Steve McQueen, of the heart-wrenching “12 Years A Slave.” Having already been nominated for the same award previously, Scorsese is to be noted for his visceral and bold style in exploring the story of Jordan Belfort, a corrupt New York stockbroker in the 1990s. McQueen, a first-time nominee, is a viable contender for the award for the same reason; his blunt and unrelenting approach to the cruelty of slavery that is presented in “12 Years A Slave” created an eye-opening film that has been previously lauded as the best film of 2013.
All three films and their respective directors have been regarded as front-runners for the Best Director award. While Scorsese (“The Wolf on Wall Street”) and McQueen (“12 Years A Slave”) have high chances, Alfonso Cuaron of “Gravity” seems to be the most likely bet.
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Lupita Nyong’o — “12 Years a Slave”
Could win: Jennifer Lawrence — “American Hustle”
Should win: Lupita Nyong’o – “12 Years a Slave”
In one of the most heart-wrenching, intense films of 2013, Lupita Nyong’o plays the character Patsey, a slave taken under the control of the notoriously sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). In her delicate portrayal of this troubled character, Nyong’o expresses raw emotion and compelling depth in Patsey who is the object of Epps’ sexual obsession and cruelty. She immerses herself into a character who is faced with unimaginable mental and physical trauma, forcing audiences to develop intense compassion for the suffering that Patsey experiences.
Having won the Critics’ Choice Award and the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress, Nyong’o is a frontrunner to secure the Oscar, and rightfully so. She has been lauded for her exceptional depiction of a woman challenged by the horrors of slavery, and as a result, has been rewarded for her extraordinary work (as is seen by her SAG win, an award voted on by fellow actors).
Overall, Nyong’o’s portrayal of Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” is deserving of an Academy Award. Resonating with audiences across the country and spawning new conservations regarding our nation’s horrifying history, Lupita Nyong’o is certainly worthy of claiming the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress this year.
However, one cannot rule out Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle” completely from the possibility of claiming the Academy Award. Having won Best Leading Actress last year for her commanding performance as Tiffany in “Silver Linings Playbook,” it is evident that the Academy has and will recognize her remarkable talent. As Rosalyn, the wife of hustler Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) in “American Hustle”, Lawrence captures her character’s manipulative, yet desperate nature skillfully. She acts well beyond her years, portraying a troubled mother in a deteriorating marriage, all of which performed in convincing fashion. Ultimately, with a Golden Globe win for her solid performance in “American Hustle” under her belt, it would be unwise not to consider Lawrence as the possible Best Supporting Actress winner.
Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Jared Leto — “Dallas Buyers Club”
Could win: Michael Fassbender — “12 Years a Slave”
Should win: Michael Fassbender — “12 Years a Slave”
Michael Fassbender himself described the role he played in the critically-acclaimed “12 Years a Slave” of Edwin Epps, a savage plantation owner and slave master, as “terrifying.” His dark portrayal of Epps as sub-human in terms of his regard for African-American slaves should net him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Epps embodies religious hypocrisy as a false prophet who uses religion to dehumanize slaves that he considers no more than “property;” he considers his right to abuse his slaves to be biblically-sanctioned and he repeatedly rapes and abuses his slaves-particularly Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). The ordinarily mellow Fassbender evoked such animosity in his character that brought him to commit inhumane acts against his slaves. Epps is a repulsive character by every scale but Fassbender, somehow, elicited some sort of complexity in the character that makes the audience, at moments, see parts of themselves in Epps.
But the award for Best Supporting Actor will more than likely go to Jared Leto. Leto delivered a gripping performance in “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” playing the incredibly nuanced and difficult character of Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman. Many other actors might have otherwise portrayed Rayon as a sort of a drag queen caricature that she seems to be when we meet her at first. However, Leto’s portrayal of Rayon made her the absolute heart and soul of “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Rayon is supposed to represent the antithesis to everything Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) stands for with her sexuality. But the animosity that builds between Woodroof and Rayon paves the way for a seriously touching friendship. With the incredible work he put into preparing for his role—from working with transgenders to working on making his vocal inflection as appropriate for his character as possible—Leto fused life and soul into his tragic role. Ultimately, recognized for his masterful, yet vulnerable portrayal as Rayon, as seen from his Golden Globe and SAG) award wins, Leto is almost a sure bet to claim the Oscar.
Best Music (Original Score)
Will win: “Gravity” — Steven Price
Could win: “The Book Thief” — John Williams
Should win: “Philomena” — Alexandre Desplat
“Gravity” maintains its long list of Academy Award nominations with yet another one for the Best Music (Original Score) Award. With its haunting vocalizations by Katherine Ellis and escalating tempo, it amplifies the desperation and determination of astronaut Ryan Stone’s attempts to stay alive in the vastness of space alone. Having already nabbed nominations at the Golden Globes and the British Academy Film Awards, the original score by Steven Price is a front-runner for the award and it’s not hard to see why.
Yet John William’s score in “The Book Thief” is inching its way into becoming one of the top contenders in addition to Price’s “Gravity” score. A common sight on the Academy Awards nominations list, considering he’s been nominated a total of 49 times and has won five times, Williams has produced yet another enchanting piece of work. His score, notable for crisp instrumental solos that create an odd combination of sombre yet hopeful feelings, has been nominated at the British Film Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.
Like John Williams, Alexandre Desplat is a familiar name as he’s been previously nominated five times for the same award. However, it’s Desplat’s work in “Philomena” that is the most remarkable out of the nominees. For the story of a woman, Philomena Lee, trying to find her long-lost son after years of separation, Desplat compacts the overall feeling of the film in a mere three minutes. The score is filled with little percussion notes accompanied with a melodic string section that create such an interesting listen as a parallel to Philomena’s quirks and oddities while conveying her hope in finding her son.
While Price’s “Gravity” and William’s “The Book Thief” are to be taken into serious consideration, Desplat’s score, tender yet slightly halting like its main character, is worthy of the title of Best Original Score.
Best Animated Feature
Will win: “Frozen”
Could win: “The Wind Rises”
Should win: “Frozen”
Since it’s release in November 2013, “Frozen” has been gaining praise from moviegoers and critics alike. With two wins already under its belt from both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards, “Frozen” is poised to win the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature.”
The film is based on a Danish fairy tale called “The Snow Queen” from writer Hans Christian Andersen of “The Little Mermaid.” The story centers around estranged sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) as they strive to free their kingdom from the icy winter created by Elsa’s magical ability to control ice. With them is mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer and Olaf (Josh Gad), the fan-favorite snowman brought to life by Elsa’s powers. With a cast of Broadway alums, it is no wonder that the film has been praised for its musical sequences that have a pointedly epic, Broadway style to them. It’s cinematography too has been praised for it’s animations of the characters and the kingdom of Arendelle.
However, “Frozen” may face some competition from fellow contender “The Wind Rises.” The film from revered director and writer Hayao Miyazaki is the fictionalized biography of World War II aircraft maker, Jiro Horikoshi. Though “The Wind Rises” has received generally positive reviews, the film has already lost the Critics Choice Award for “Best Animated Feature” to “Frozen.” In any case, “Frozen” has already become a hit with audiences as its box office numbers of $347 million in the U.S. and Canada alone prove. With its heartfelt storyline, wonderful musical numbers and capable voice acting, “Frozen” is simply another Disney classic.