Maybe it is just me, but the Oscars are taking place kind of late this year. While the ceremony usually happens in late February, this year it is being held the first weekend of March.
Okay, so it is only about a week later than usual, but that one week makes a slightly big difference. I have a feeling that it has something to do with the Olympics (thanks for that one, Putin). What that really means is that there has been this multi-week period since the nominations were announced that the Oscars have been barely in the news, except for the occasional precursor awards. Don’t worry though, in about two weeks, the Oscar hype will come back in full force.
At that point, it will be time to get serious with the nominations. Now, it is time to have some fun with them, and I mean “fun” in a very loose way. There is nothing fun about snubbing “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Anyway, voters always have the tendency to get it wrong in at least a few of the categories. While I am not a voter, I have a movie blog so I can just pretend I’m voting anyway. I love technology.
If the world were actually a right and just place, here is who and what would win in the top Oscar categories this year:
Best Picture: Her
As every die hard fan of “Her” (“Her”-heads? “Her”-galos? I’m working on it) knows, “Her” has little to no chance of winning Best Picture. It’s ambitions are far ahead of its time. It has both all of and none of the characteristics of a Best Picture winner. It is an epic love story between two unlikely forces. But it also has Kristen Wiig yelling “choke me with the dead cat!” in a sexual manner. And it is just as funny as it sounds. “Her” is so perfect for the time we live in now and for years to come that it will take many people a while to catch up with its message. It might not be remembered in history as a Best Picture winner, but it will be remembered as a Best Picture also-ran, which happens to be a pretty good place to be in (see: “Citizen Kane,” “Taxi Driver,” “Pulp Fiction,” and a never-ending etc).
Best Director: Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
At this point, it is just common knowledge that Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time. However, I almost forgot why this was true until I saw “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a film that he directed the hell out of. His manic style where absolutely nothing is held back fits flawlessly with this story of excess. I am convinced that nobody else could have thought of placing that incredible Popeye joke into the now legendary quaalude scene. Some directors have a very distinct style, but the reason people may get tired of it so quickly is because they never take a break from it (looking at you, Tim Burton). Scorsese is different. In the past decade, he has only done two films in his signature style (“Wolf” and “The Departed”) and in between those two he made a psychological thriller (“Shutter Island”) and a 3D family adventure (“Hugo”). Scorsese understands that using your magic tricks sparingly is what makes them work even better.
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
We are coming closer and closer to the day where Leo wins a sympathy Oscar. He’s been around for so long that he’s not even 40 yet and it already feels like he’s long overdue for a win. If Leo does win this year, it would definitely be earned. With “Wolf,” DiCaprio replaced his last career-defining performance in a long career of career-defining performances. As Jordan Belfort, Leo is dark and complex, but he also shows a comedic side that I didn’t even know he had in him. Besides his incredible physical comedy in the quaalude scene, there are some smaller moments in the film that deserve acknowledgement. Take for instance one scene where he describes the prostitutes that come into Stratton Oakmont. It is so difficult for him to even contain his excitement just by talking about them that he has to bite down on his fist, ever so slightly. It is a subtle gesture that gets funnier every time and shows what an out-of-control monster Jordan Belfort was.* A win for Leo in “The Wolf of Wall Street” would also be a much needed win for comedy at the Oscars.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
“Blue Jasmine” forces you to have a conversation with that crazy person you see in the park. With an ongoing Kubrick Stare, Cate Blanchett is frightening in the best way possible, as she uses basically anything she can to connect with anybody who will listen to her. That usually includes talking to herself. As the titular Jasmine, Blanchett adds a thrilling unpredictability to her role. Watching Jasmine is like watching an emotionally unstable child: you never know when she is going to snap. It is this part of Blanchett’s performance that ends up being so heartbreaking, because nobody knows less about what is going to happen to Jasmine than Jasmine herself.
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jonah Hill’s performance as Donnie Azoff was one of the most fun to watch last year. Instead of becoming one of those funny actors who leaves it all behind to become serious, Hill instead brought “Superbad” to Stratton Oakmont. And he is so game for this. Hill will not walk home with gold, but he should be honored to have been nominated for a performance that involved eating a goldfish and masturbating in a public setting. Now that is something we may never see at the Oscars again.
Best Supporting Actress: June Squibb (Nebraska)
While watching Will Forte and Bruce Dern bond together is great, “Nebraska” doesn’t truly pick up steam until June Squibb gets off the bus and yells at everyone and everything that she can. Squibb absolutely steals the show. You’ll laugh with delight when she flashes a tombstone and get up and cheer when she yells “go fuck yourself.” I did just that on both occasions. The greatest trick about her performance is how much of a 180 she pulls on us. At first, Kate Grant is an annoying and fussy old lady. But when she defends her husband, she becomes the loud, proud heart of the film. “Nebraska” is about a lot of people who can’t express their emotions. Without Squibb, the marriage of Woody and Kate Grant wouldn’t have felt as real as it did.
Best Original Screenplay: Her
“Her” is a film that is filled with balancing acts and tight rope walks. Spike Jonze was tasked with making something funny that didn’t mock the subject, and at that he succeeded with flying colors. The fact that Scarlett Johansson was merely a voice in a box of wires seems irrelevant by the end. The job of any great writer is to bring humanity to anything that they can, and Jonze did that better than almost any writer this year. Jonze also creates a future that is so plausible because it isn’t overbearing; it feels like pieces of both past and present accumulating to a world where comfort and convenience mask the lack of human emotion. A lot of people will try and write films that are similar to “Her,” but very few of them will do it as well as Spike Jonze did.
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
I have not read Solomon Northup’s “12 Years a Slave,” but it seems like it would have been a real challenge to adapt to the big screen. It is based on a true story where the ultimate outcome is still unclear. Yet, John Ridley still makes something clear and substantive out of it. This film deserves credit both for serving as an alternative to what you learned in history class, and most of all for being one of the most powerful and important films of the last few years. It takes a brutal subject and makes you think about it. Even if it does suffer from a tinge of White Messiah Complex, “12 Years a Slave” usually does not take the easy way out. It pulls off one of the most difficult endings possible: everything is back to the way it used to be, but the scars of the past, and the passage of time, means that nothing will ever be completely back to normal. Hey, I never said this was a happy film.
*For the record, I still think Jordan Belfort is a real life Ari Gold.