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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actor

If this year’s Best Actor race is all about which nominee brandishes the most compelling story, then Christian Bale faces some mighty long odds. Not only is the actor only two years removed from his Oscar win for The Fighter, but the consensus is that he gained enough of a victory by being nominated this year. Not faring much better is Leonardo DiCaprio, whose “always the nominee, never the winner” stasis—admittedly a sexier narrative—still needs about 10 more years of ripening before voters begin to sympathize. And as if those reasons weren’t enough, the cheating, swindling characters Bale and DiCaprio play, in American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street respectively, are the two that Academy voters will surely find most unlikable, which effectively guarantees their losses.

Bruce Dern’s case is admittedly more complicated. While his confused character from Nebraska elicits more pity than outright contempt, the actor’s emergence from nearly two decades of relative obscurity for “one last shot” at Oscar gold almost certainly played a part in awards prognosticators deeming him the early favorite after the Cannes Film Festival last May. But as the Best Actor campaign took shape through the fall and into the winter, it has whittled down to a two-way race between Chiwitel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey, a development no doubt aided by the charged racial and gender politics of their respective films.

Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2014 Nomination Predictions: Actor

While basking (or is it wallowing?) in the afterglow of last night’s Golden Globes, which hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler admitted was—and I’m paraphrasing—the mess they hoped it would be, it’s tempting to discuss potential Oscar ripple effects for the winners, like cocksure Matthew McConaughey, who, in preaching his glee in reaping the benefits of Dallas Buyers Club’s serial shelving, implied he might be akin to the Southern-fried pricks he’s recently been playing. But Oscar nomination ballots have already been submitted, and despite news outlets’ annual insistence that the Globes are an Oscar indicator, the Hollywood Foreign Press has nothing to do with the Academy. Still, if there’s any prescience to be taken away from last night’s proceedings, it’s that the industry at large isn’t afraid of the big, bad Wolf of Wall Street, and that McConaughey’s fellow Best Actor victor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s been charmingly campaigning arm in arm with Martin Scorsese, is a bona fide threat this year. It seemed virtually impossible that All Is Lost star Robert Redford would go from presumed frontrunner to the season’s biggest snubbee, but after being passed over by both BAFTA and SAG, the living legend may indeed be out, with DiCaprio stepping in to fill the void.

Golden Globe 2014 Winner Predictions: Who Will and Who Should Triumph at Sunday’s Ceremony

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Golden Globe 2014 Winner Predictions: Who Will and Who Should Triumph at Sunday’s Ceremony
Golden Globe 2014 Winner Predictions: Who Will and Who Should Triumph at Sunday’s Ceremony

Believe it or not, we know exactly what’s going to happen at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. Since there are no actual musicals competing in the Comedy/Musical category this year, the talent will have to pick up the slack. Co-hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will kick off the night with a dance number to the tune of 30 Rock’s theme music, since guests might fear they’re in the wrong place if they don’t hear it during the ceremony. Alfonso Cuarón will strap drunken revelers to their seats before turning the ballroom into a zero-G environment, only to have Michael Douglas tickle the ivories in midair as Liberace. And, to wrap things up, Emma Thompson will serenade Meryl Streep with a feministic, shade-throwing rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Or maybe not. But herein is who will, and who should, win in each category.

Oscar Prospects Nebraska, the Arguably Offensive Veteran’s Vehicle

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Oscar Prospects: Nebraska, the Arguably Offensive Veteran’s Vehicle
Oscar Prospects: Nebraska, the Arguably Offensive Veteran’s Vehicle

Lately, the conversations I’ve been having with people about Alexander Payne’s Nebraska keep coming back to the same thing: Payne’s depictions of Midwesterners, which, in his latest, are more ostensibly—and, to many, offensively—cartoonish than ever before. I’ve heard some folks describe the characters in Nebraska as loving renderings of those in and around the auteur’s home state, while others have announced outright that Payne’s employment of stereotypes make his movie truly hateable. I personally found that the deplorable decisions Payne does make (such as planting his viewers inside a g-darn TV set, and making them gawk at lounging Nebraskans with voyeuristic judgment), are eventually alleviated by the layered character revealed by the film itself. But what matters in regard to this movie’s awards potential is whether the naysayers have loud enough voices to counter the din of approval. And, at this point, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even critics and pundits left squirmy by Payne’s captured-in-grayscale rednecks have largely not allowed the caveat to ruin the party, and as for industry types, most seem over the moon about Payne’s well-intended, yet characteristically barbed, heart. Moreover, enthusiasm for the film’s performances, particularly that of “long-overdue” and “under-appreciated” Bruce Dern, appears strong enough to eclipse pesky, nitpicky hang-ups (you should have seen the film’s rapturous reception at the New York Film Festival).

Oscar Prospects Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers Musical Bound for Aural and Visual Nods

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Oscar Prospects: Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers Musical Bound for Aural and Visual Nods
Oscar Prospects: Inside Llewyn Davis, a Coen Brothers Musical Bound for Aural and Visual Nods

Okay, so it may only be a “musical” in the eyes of the Hollywood Foreign Press, but even the “bad” music is great in Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers’ tuneful, bittersweet study of a deeply talented failure amid the 1960s folk scene. As is their wont, the Coens lay on the dry satire as they turn the likes of Hedy West’s “Five Hundred Miles” into an impossibly earnest sham, set in stark contrast to the rich and raw poetry of the titular artist’s (Oscar Isaac) soul-bearers. But, as arranged by incomparable music producer T Bone Burnett, and as performed by co-stars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands, the West cover still sounds gorgeous in all its tongue-in-cheek squareness, and it’s one of many songs that could humble Les Misérables in regard to the “novelty” of singing live on film. Isaac’s tracks, which are each flawlessly sung in scenes that operate as sober, angelic interludes to the film’s irony, are, unfortunately, all covers as well, leaving them ineligible for Original Song consideration (it would have been swell to hear Isaac croon traditional ballads like “Dink’s Song” or “The Death of Queen Jane” on the Oscar stage, but that won’t be the case). The only eligible track appears to be “Please Please Mr. Kennedy,” a political parody song penned by Burnett, Timberlake, the Coens, Ed Rush, and George Cromarty, and performed by Timberlake, Isaac, and a quasi-beatboxing Adam Driver. The song is deliberately un-soulful, but it’s an absolute hoot, and it has a good shot here if only because voters will want to squeeze in some music from the film.

Oscar Prospects 12 Years a Slave, The Overhyped, Feel-Bad "Frontrunner"

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Oscar Prospects: 12 Years a Slave, The Overhyped, Feel-Bad “Frontrunner”
Oscar Prospects: 12 Years a Slave, The Overhyped, Feel-Bad “Frontrunner”

When I assess my feelings about supposed Best Picture frontrunner 12 Years a Slave, a film I ultimately disliked save the knockout performances and select unshakable parts, there’s a voice in my head telling me, “You’re kinda eating your own words.” I’ve been very vocal about my adoration for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and a lot of that love springs from the appreciation and acknowledgment that we’ve been gifted an epic film about black history, from a black director, that unflinchingly and unapologetically depicts the racist atrocities that have stained our country’s past. Fast-forward (or, rather, wind the clock back) to Steve McQueen’s 1800s-set slavery horror show, and you’re ostensibly looking at the same thing. So, the objective now is to point out the differences.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave

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Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave
Toronto International Film Festival 2013: Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave

The opening scene of 12 Years a Slave is startlingly tragic for both the viewer and its protagonist, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), renamed Platt upon being sold into slavery, but it’s also effective in its smallness and intimacy. Shown supine on the hard, wooden surfaces sleeping with fellow slaves, Platt is awakened by a young woman who forces his hand on her breast and pushes it down her body so that he will finger her. He relents, at least momentarily; she watches him with an unimaginable despair that turns into temporary pleasure, and he watches her back with a similarly unknowable sadness. This is the first of many scenes in the film in which director Steve McQueen masterfully articulates the necessity of a character demanding a level of control and power when forced into contexts as depraved as slavery. The woman doesn’t look to Platt for physical intimacy; she just needs to be touched, and knows she can simultaneously trust him and exploit his humane temperament to do it without him hurting her.