By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
This is getting interesting.
Back in November, when I wrote a column discussing the disparity between the Oscars and the Golden Globes, I would never have predicted the race to end up this way. Everyone knew that excellent films were on the horizon for the final weeks of 2013, but surely not everyone expected Steve McQueen’s epic slavery drama to lose so much footing.
In a year that was supposed to be all about “12 Years a Slave” and space drama “Gravity”——-Oscar-worthy themes facing off against Oscar-worthy cinematic achievements——–the floodwaters have broken through, allowing many legitimate contenders to find their place amongst the early favorites.
I wouldn’t go so far as saying that “12 Years a Slave” has lost any hope of winning the grand prize in March. The film did recently win the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Drama and is still being lauded as a landmark in American film history.
But “12 Years” was denied each of its six other nominations two Sundays ago, including the awards for acting, directing, screenwriting and scoring. The last time this happened was seven years ago, when “Babel”—-the most decorated film at the Globes—-was named the best drama, yet went one for seven as well. And guess who won the Oscar? Not “Babel.”
And “Dreamgirls,” the Best Motion Picture-Musical/Comedy, wasn’t even nominated, despite the winner of this category often being a contender for the Academy Award. A different drama nominee, “The Departed,” won Best Picture at the Oscars that year.
Much like “Babel” back in early 2007, “12 Years” sees its strongest competition from below—-fellow Golden Globe drama nominee “Gravity”—-as well as across—-“comedy” nominee “American Hustle.”
Yes, “American Hustle” was thrust into the slightly absurd “comedy” category that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association reserves for any movie that may cause you to laugh at some point. While these films certainly have comedic elements, calling them anything but dramas almost cheapens them.
Regardless, “Hustle” rounds out the trio of frontrunners for this year’s Best Picture hunt. David O. Russell’s latest work of art marks his third film in four years to be nominated for Best Picture, along with 2010’s “The Fighter” and 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” the latter of which is undoubtedly my favorite film of that year.
“Hustle” effectively acts as a greatest hits album of actors for Russell, bringing back Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence from their Oscar-winning performances in “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings,” respectively. Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper also return following Oscar-nominated roles in those respective films.
While Russell is becoming known for crafting character-fueled movies that bring out the best in his actors, I was still quite surprised that he managed to snag all four acting categories for a second straight year. Not that the four weren’t good—-they were at the top of their game—-but merely because the acting field was incredibly crowded this year, particularly for the men.
I’ll get into further discussion on the actors in a future week, but one of the most noteworthy snubs of the year is unquestionably Tom Hanks’ omission from the Best Actor category for his turn in Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips.”
Hanks, a former vice president of the Academy and two-time winner, lost out on a potential sixth and seventh nomination for not only this role but also for his portrayal as Walt Disney in the charming “Saving Mr. Banks.” While I personally don’t think he lived up to his Tom Hanks standards as Disney, one would think that this is the kind of thing that would get the Academy drooling.
Emma Thompson’s captivating performance as the author of Mary Poppins in “Mr. Banks” also went unrecognized by the Academy, a snub that mildly annoyed me considering some of the nominees. Not to discredit her talent, but I don’t even think Meryl Streep is trying anymore.
Another notable surprise on the acting side of the ballot is the inclusion of Jonah Hill. A few names were thrown around for this “last spot,” including the late James Gandolfini of “Enough Said” and Daniel Bruhl of “Rush,” but Hill was only occasionally included in the conversation. While he might have to wrestle the Oscar out of Jared Leto’s hands, at least the “Superbad” alum gets to take credit for a second Academy Award nomination.
Nothing too shocking occurred with the supporting actresses, at least when considering that all five Oscar nominees align with the Golden Globe nominees, something that hasn’t been achieved since the 2002 ceremony. Okay, there were six Globe nominees that year, but there was simply no way to squeeze Cameron Diaz in there.
Although Adams has certainly gained some ground with her Golden Globe win, I just can’t see anyone but Cate Blanchett winning Best Actress. I personally haven’t seen “Blue Jasmine,” but Blanchett appears to be sending her competitors’ hopes into the same recesses of outer space that provided the backdrop for fellow nominee Sandra Bullock’s one-woman show in “Gravity.”
Going back to “Gravity,” I’m getting the vibe that Alfonso’s Cuaron’s technical marvel is losing some footing as well. Criticism of some of the dialogue and the scientific inaccuracies may prove fatal to the once-promising box office smash.
Additionally, the film was omitted from the two screenplay categories. Since the 1998 ceremony, when “Titanic” was left off these sections of the ballot, every single Best Picture winner was at least considered for its screenwriting—-and often won. “Gravity” is seeing an uncannily similar trajectory as “Titanic,” with its fan favorite status, financial success, technical achievements and massive scope. Could the film see similar results?
Again, I’ll go into further detail as the ceremony gets closer, but I wanted to highlight the Animated Feature and Original Song categories. First of all, fine, “Monsters University” is no “Wall-E.” But no nod? I surely hope Pixar doesn’t maintain this fall from grace, although the Academy darling production company did manage to pull out a win for “Brave” last year.
I don’t know why Globes and the Oscars can’t seem to agree on the eligibility or quality of original songs, but this year is not too much less crazy than usual. Only two of the Globe nominees return for a shot at Oscar gold, including a beloved song from “Frozen” and the winner, U2’s “Ordinary Love” from that Nelson Mandela movie that got lost in the Academy’s wash.
I’m glad “Prisoners,” one of my favorite movies of 2013, got a pity Best Cinematography nomination. In the Academy’s defense, the film did come out slightly too long ago—-its late-September release date precedes the early-October release of “Gravity,” the earliest Best Picture nominee. The content was also a little too dark and the excellent performances were overshadowed in the succeeding months. Too bad “Gravity” is probably going to pick up the cinematography award.
Probably the single biggest disappointments about this year’s ceremony, however, is the general lack of love for the wonderful “Inside Llewyn Davis.” I’m a fan of a lot of the Coen brothers’ movies, but this story of a struggling musician wandering the Village with nothing but his talent and a cat really spoke to me. Sure, the movie got nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Cinematography, but the former in particular feels about as significant as getting a ribbon for placing fifth out of five.
And yes, “Llewyn” got as many Oscar nominations as “The Lone Ranger.” How the Academy could see past… anything about that broken live action Disney flick to dish out makeup and visual effects nods is beyond me.
The reason why I think films like “Llewyn” and “Mr. Banks” didn’t get nominated for Best Picture is because they epitomize third- or fourth-favorite movies of the year among a field of candidates that top critics’ lists.
In order to be nominated for the grand prize, enough Academy votes must rank the film as their favorite of the year. Since the field can be as small as five or as big as ten, the first five nominees with enough number one votes automatically get nodded. More are added until the votes stop being substantial enough. For the third consecutive year under this new system, nine Best Picture nominees emerged.
Since nays don’t affect the yeas, polarizing films like “The Wolf of Wall Street” can—-and do—easily sneak in with enough support from adoring Academy members.
But when a majority of voters merely appreciate or like a film? No nomination.
Alongside “Wolf” and the aforementioned trio of juggernauts in the Best Picture race are “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her,” “Nebraska” and “Philomena.” I don’t know about you, but I would’ve pegged most of these as third- or fourth-favorites as well.
Except “Her.” Spike Jonze’s iPhone-era romantic masterpiece was easily my favorite movie of 2013. As much as I wanted Russell to snag that distinction two years in a row, “American Hustle” will, like “Llewyn” to the Academy, have to settle for second place.
I’ll go into deeper detail regarding the technical categories next week, shedding light on who got what nomination and why. If I can, I’ll try to come up with a scenario that doesn’t involve “Gravity” sweeping these awards.