Indie Outlook’s Two Cents on Oscars 2014

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

With the 2014 Academy Award nominees announced early this morning, Indie Outlook offers its instinctive predictions for each category: who will win, should win and should’ve been nominated. For a complete list of nominees, visit the official Oscar site. It’s the usual assemblage of expensive campaigns and familiar faces with a few lovely surprises tossed into the mix.

Best Picture

Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should’ve Been Nominated: Short Term 12

Fearing a repeat of last year’s debacle, in which the wildly overrated “Argo” triumphed over the infinitely superior “Lincoln,” I assume that this year will follow suit, with the wildly overrated “American Hustle” triumphing over the infinitely superior “12 Years a Slave.” Criminally snubbed in every major category on the ballot is Destin Cretton’s masterful indie drama, “Short Term 12,” about twentysomething staff members at a foster care facility. If the Weinsteins had backed it, this film would’ve easily been a front-runner.

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity

Should Win: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Should’ve Been Nominated: Spike Jonze, Her

The groundbreaking technical achievement of “Gravity” is bound to be awarded in many categories this year, and since Ang Lee was awarded last year in this category for the equally effects-heavy “Life of Pi,” there’s a good chance Cuarón will be honored here as well. Yet in terms of sheer storytelling, no one in this category rivals the vision and audacity of McQueen. Would’ve loved the tirelessly inventive genius Spike Jonze to have won the prize, if only to have seen Richard Koufey accept on his behalf.

Best Actor

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Should’ve Been Nominated: Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Though McConaughey’s weight loss is undoubtedly impressive, his one big scene in “Wolf of Wall Street” has more impact than the entirety of “Dallas Buyers Club.” In every lingering glance and fierce silence, Ejiofor’s performance is flat-out phenomenal. The scene where he lies straight into the face of his fearsome master is an acting class of the highest order. I suppose the exclusion of America’s finest living actor, Joaquin Phoenix, isn’t much of a tragedy, since the guy obviously couldn’t care less about such accolades.

Best Actress

Will Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Should’ve Been Nominated: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color

In the midst of safe, uninspired choices, Blanchett is the obvious victor. Her performance in “Blue Jasmine” is the sort of towering work that knocks the wind out of your lungs. She deserves the award simply for her very last scene in which she mutters to herself on a park bench, lost hopelessly in her shallow delusions. Yet the best performance by any actor this year was the one delivered by 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos, whose Palme d’Or-winning romance, “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” was left entirely off the list, due to a technicality.

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Should Win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

Should’ve Been Nominated: James Gandolfini, Enough Said

Leto does what he can with an underwritten role, but Fassbender’s uncompromising portrayal of a self-righteous sadist has far greater impact. One may have hoped that the late Gandolfini would’ve received a posthumous nomination for his endearingly nuanced work in “Enough Said,” but I suppose it wasn’t loud enough for voters to hear.

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Should’ve Been Nominated: Léa Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color

How can anyone resist loving Jennifer Lawrence? She’s the humblest, most lovable lady on the red carpet, not to mention a sensationally gifted actress (she was the real winner of last year’s ceremony when she deflected inane press room questions with her grounded wit). But “Hustle” is far from her best showcase, requiring her to overact more than the entire cast of “Looney Tunes.” Nyong’o’s shattering portrayal of an abused slave is clearly deserving, though it would’ve been great to see the ever-radiant Seydoux honored here for her career-best performance.

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: “American Hustle,” Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell

Should Win: “Her,” Spike Jonze

Should’ve Been Nominated: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Joel & Ethan Coen

An undeserving win for Best Picture must be backed up by a few more undeserving accolades, so why not award the fitfully amusing mess of a script in “American Hustle”? It’s certainly no worse than last year’s winner, “Django Unchained.” Spike Jonze’s first solo script for “Her” is the sort of masterpiece that would work equally well as literature. The same could be said of Joel and Ethan Coen’s exasperatingly snubbed ode to early ’60s folk music (I’m guessing it was deemed too downbeat by crestfallen voters).

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: “12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley

Should Win: “Before Midnight,” Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater

Should’ve Been Nominated: “The Spectacular Now,” Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

I will be perfectly happy to see John Ridley win for his beautifully eloquent script, though no nominee rivals the delicious verbal duels or piercing insight of “Before Midnight.” One of the year’s most overlooked films, the smashing coming-of-age drama, “The Spectacular Now,” deserved a nomination for its marvelously observant script stripped entirely of genre clichés.

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: The Wind Rises

Should’ve Been Nominated: Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

Considering the uninspired winners that have taken the award in previous years, I’m expecting Disney to bulldoze Hayao Miyazaki’s elegant final masterwork. Why oh why does the Academy insist on nominating commercial garbage like “Despicable Me 2” instead of avant-garde gems like Michel Gondry’s animated conversation with Noam Chomsky?

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

Should’ve Been Nominated: 12 Years a Slave

In a previous blog, I listed the six films that Emmanuel Lubezki should’ve already won the Oscar for. There’s no cinematographer in the business more exciting or innovative than this guy, and he certainly deserves the award this year. But it’s a travesty that Sean Bobbitt was left off the list, considering his magnificent, Lubezki-like long takes and gorgeously harrowing compositions.

Best Editing

Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should’ve Been Nominated: Upstream Color

The dizzying editing in “Hustle” was more of a problem than a plus. In contrast, “12 Years a Slave” was impeccably paced from its first frame to its last. Apparently a technicality also caused Shane Carruth and David Lowery’s astonishingly abstract, Malick-inspired editing in “Upstream Color” to be ineligible. It was the year’s most accomplished job of editing, no question.

Best Documentary

Since my cousin, Jeremy Scahill, is a nominee in this category, I will refrain from the usual analysis, opting instead to say that I am extremely happy to see both “Dirty Wars” and “The Act of Killing” on the list, though it’s a shame that Sarah Polley’s brilliant “Stories We Tell” was snubbed. Considering that Oscar voters have recently favored crowd-pleasers over vital wake-up calls, I’m predicting that “20 Feet from Stardom” will take home the prize.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: The Great Beauty

Should Win: The Hunt

Should’ve Been Nominated: A Hijacking

The Golden Globe awarded to Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty,” now playing at the Music Box Theatre, suggests that it’s the favorite, though I’d love to see Thomas Vinterberg’s mesmerizing paranoid thriller, “The Hunt,” score a dark horse victory. A shame that Tobias Lindholm’s “A Hijacking” didn’t make the cut, considering that it’s vastly superior to the similarly themed Best Picture nominee, “Captain Phillips.”

Best Costume Design

Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: American Hustle

Should’ve Been Nominated: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Here’s the only category where I feel “American Hustle” is deserving of the win, since the film is essentially one long-winded excuse for actors to play dress-up. But no film delivered the sort of delirious eye candy on par with Effie Trinket’s runway-ready outfits in “Hunger Games.”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club

Should Win: Dallas Buyers Club

Should’ve Been Nominated: Lone Survivor

Unless “Bad Grandpa” pulls off an upset, I assume the immersive disguises worn by McConaughey and Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” will be awarded. Yet I believe the punishing wounds on display in “Lone Survivor” were equally deserving.

Best Production Design

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Her

Should’ve Been Nominated: Inside Llewyn Davis

Since the sets in “Gravity” blended seamlessly with the digital effects, they were quite a remarkable achievement. The same could be said of “Her,” which is far more captivating in its subtly satirical vision of a not-too-distant future. Yet no film’s production design externalized the psyche of its hero better than “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The claustrophobic hallway that leads Llewyn to his ex’s apartment is one of the cinematic year’s great absurdist spaces.

Best Original Score

Will Win: Steven Price, “Gravity”

Should Win: William Butler and Owen Pallett, “Her”

Should’ve Been Nominated: Daniel Hart, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”

Whereas Price’s rousing score was intrusive, Butler and Pallett’s score forged a peerless duet with the intimate conversations between Phoenix’s lovesick bachelor and the alluring voice of his computer operating system. My favorite score of the year is still Daniel Hart’s evocative, melancholic melodies composed for David Lowery’s under-seen western.

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Let It Go,” Frozen

Should Win: “The Moon Song,” Her

Should’ve Been Nominated: “Please Mr. Kennedy,” Inside Llewyn Davis

To be honest, none of the nominated songs are anywhere near as exuberantly entertaining as the Coen Brothers’ space race protest song from “Llewyn Davis,” performed to uproarious perfection by smarmy Justin Timberlake, sputtering Oscar Issac and scene-stealing Adam Driver. By not nominating the tune, the Oscars have lost a golden opportunity for an indelible live performance.

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: All Is Lost

Should’ve Been Nominated: The Conjuring

The “Gravity” sweep will continue through most of the technical categories, yet the visceral use of sound in J.C. Chandor’s shipwreck drama was arguably more impressive, especially considering how nearly the entire story was told through sound effects. Too bad “The Conjuring” was left off the list. It managed to jolt viewers with a single clap of hands.

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Lone Survivor

Should’ve Been Nominated: Upstream Color

The bone-crunching sound of the soldiers’ tumble down a treacherous mountain in “Lone Survivor” still echoes in my ears. The meticulously layered, exquisitely disorienting sound in Carruth’s “Upstream Color” should also not be discounted.

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

Should’ve Been Nominated: Sorry, it’s no contest. “Gravity” is king.

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