Saturday, March 01, 2014

Oscar 2013: Predictions, Preferences

All feature-film categories now complete!

Look how distressed Sandra Bullock is, trying to glance into her crystal ball, straining to quantify how many Oscars her movie Gravity will win tomorrow.  I'm sporting the same look on my face as I publicly prognosticate winners for the first time since Jennifer Lawrence was in the Brownies.  But why not take a stab at it?  I've been spouting off on every other angle of the Academy Awards this year: diagnosing the narrowing field of "top" competitors for The Advocate; debunking popular myths about the Oscars and their biases in The Washington Post; and discussing some favorites among this year's nominees and some formative Oscar moments with Der Spiegel, though if Sie kein Deutsche sprechen, you won't be able to read it.  What I have not done anywhere, in any language, is forecast who is winning or fess up to my own choices.  So many of my favorite people are sticking their necks out.  So, as Charles Busch belts out in Die, Mommie, Die! - widely regarded as a near-miss for a Best Picture nod in 2003 - "Why not me?"

Best Visual Effects
Gravity will stomp all over its competitors, making it the sixth Best Picture nominee in a row to cop the prize (after Benjamin Button, Avatar, Inception, Hugo, and Life of Pi, just so you don't have to look it up).  You may take this streak as proof of the Academy's growth over the years—since even within my lifetime as an Oscar queen "effects movies" were often persona non grata in Best Picture—or all you may see is an industry increasingly compelled toward digital extravaganzas. Either way, Gravity would probably mop the floor even with the five past winners I just named, much less with the competitors it has to vanquish here... which in a way is too bad, because there's a lot to say for the invigorating spectacles and sleek execution of several sequences in Star Trek and Iron Man 3.  I was less taken with the effects work in The Lone Ranger (yes, even as regards that train crash), and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was one of a handful of Oscar nominees I missed in theaters. Will: Gravity  Should: Gravity  Hey, Where's The Great Gatsby, which owes the bulk of its locations, color schemes, camera movements, and memorably debauched extras to digital intervention

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
From an impressively strong field we slide over to an annoyingly weak one. Dallas Buyers Club will probably win on default, since voters tend to gravitate to Best Picture nominees unless there's a stirring reason not to.  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is many things, but not that.  (Actually, Bad Grandpa on its best day is only a couple of things, which disappointed me, since I thought the first Jackass movie was a hoot.  Especially seeing it in a Detroit shopping mall, with people flashing laser sights on the screen midfilm.)  The Lone Ranger has the more-is-more thing nailed down, and a lot of graphically arresting cosmetics have been lovingly applied to actors like Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham Carter.  Still, AMPAS has recently rejected some ostentatious contenders who would have been shoo-ins in the Rick Baker era (The Time Machine, Norbit, Hellboy II) when a more broadly admired film presents itself as an option (Frida, La Vie en rose, and Benjamin Button in those cases).  I think it might have been nice if more of the Buyers Club's subscribers had looked visibly ill.  I would love to see a bruising throwdown between those who insist that Johnny Depp's bird-stapled-to-his-head "Native American" is the year's most horrifying faux-archetype and those who proffer Jared Leto's eyebrowless transwoman for the same distinction.  But failing that battle, and following the canny publicizing of Dallas's breathtakingly low budget, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews ought to get own their chance to say "All right, all right, all right!" or possibly even speak about Neptune. Will: Dallas Buyers Club  Should: Lone Ranger  Hey, Where's American Hustle, obviously, but also the lightly greyed hair of Llewyn Davis and the wax-museum quality of so many of his acquaintances.  Also, Cate Blanchett's Park Avenue blonde tresses in Blue Jasmine, which are turning into dark roots before her eyes, or ours at least.

Best Supporting Actor
On the subject of Dallas Buyers Club, I thought the movie was fantastic and Jared Leto pretty good the first time I saw them.  Upon revisiting a week or so ago, Dallas betrayed more stress marks, and Leto—by now vaulted from Casting Stunt That Paid Off to Prohibitive Favorite for the Oscar—still seems ...pretty good, without quite explaining what Rayon's doing in this script.  There are some pearl-clutching gestures and other frou-fra in the performance that make it seem stale, conceived more for an audience than from a character who's been built feet up, as they say in American Hustle.  And speaking of Hustle, Bradley Cooper has a large enough part in that movie that he's drawn fire for being a lead falsely slumming in this category.  Yet there are lots of ways to confront the question of who's really "supporting" in a film.  Leto's scenes are more limited, but every single one is handed to the character to be charismatic, or tragic, or funny, or all three, just like Angelina Jolie's and Jennifer Hudson's scenes were in their Oscar-winning vehicles. The movie arguably supports him more than the reverse. Cooper is on screen bunches but, like most of his Hustle castmates, acts an over-the-top character in a strong way and still doesn't seem like he's showboating, or depriving his co-stars of the cues they need to enrich their work.  He and Abdi are the Bests in Show in their movies without ever looking like they realize it.  Fassbender, like Leto, is cleverly playing a thesis that's been posited in the script in place of a real character: in one case, the AIDS patient with a wavering commitment to living, in the other, a slave-owner as one-man multiplex of grimy perversions.  Hill is ...uh, very good in 21 Jump Street and Moneyball.  I have no idea who he's playing in Wolf of Wall Street, no matter how hard he's working to keep the badminton birdie from landing. Will: Leto  Should: Cooper  Hey, Where's James Gandolfini, who didn't need an iota of gratuitous sentiment to merit a nod for his middle-aged romantic, so tentative yet brave, so relaxed yet staunchly principled.  Plus the usual surfeit of guys who got no promotion (Ben Mendelsohn in Place Beyond the Pines, David Oyelowo in The Butler) or who indulged in the sin of acting in non-American films (Yiftach Klein in Fill the Void, Peter Kazungu in Paradise: Love).

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