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Countdown to the Oscars 14’ – Best Picture Nominees (‘Nebraska’)

Well, I’ve put this one off as long I could, secretly hoping it might get removed from contention in the manner one of the nominated songs was a couple weeks ago. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but think this film is only here because the Academy wants it here. Meaning, this is their “art picture’ of the year that normally always finds its way onto ballots, despite no one actually going to watch it. While that might sound harsh, nothing about it screams Oscar winner, unless one of the cast members walks away with an award. That I can see, but for the life of me, I can’t come up with anything else. And listen, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t entertaining, because it was; it just means it’s not a film that should be nominated for much. Sure, the writing by first time nominee Bob Nelson was great as it helped carry this slow and methodical film for the better part of 110 minutes, but that’s about it minus a couple performances worth lifting up. Because anyone that actually ventured into the one theater in town to watch this probably walked away wondering why it was nominated for Best Picture. It’s a truth you can’t ignore, but one I will attempt to explain here and now.

Bruce Dern in "Nebraska"
Paramount Vantage

Black and White films in 2014 make no sense to me. I realize it was just three years ago we saw “The Artist” win Best Picture, but before that shocker, we went a good 51 years without a black and white film getting this kind of love. Think about that for a minute. I get this is part of Hollywood’s history, but in no way is shooting in black and white better than color given what studios can do nowadays. It might not change much with the film, but I just don’t get the decision to go through with it. Clearly director Alexander Payne wanted to emphasize the empty and dreary look to Montana or Nebraska by filming in black and white to go against distributor Paramount Vantage like he did. He was even quoted as saying he wanted an “iconic, archetypal look.” Well, I think he got it as that decision is pretty much the very reason why I’m even talking about this film within this Oscar preview and why the native Nebraskan is nominated for directing. And truthfully, Payne didn’t really do anything spectacular behind the camera, just showcased a region that he loves in black and white. So, kudos to him and the producers for that one, as they could have easily been watching all these award ceremonies at home this season. Because I can’t help but think this film would have never been in this position had it been shown in color. Which, oh by the way, Payne did film a version in to satisfy Paramount Vantage’s concern’s, all the while hoping it never gets seen or released.

For a cast not all that well known, they handled their business quite well within the Bob Nelson script. I just don’t if they were as good as people are making out to be. Sure, I like Bruce Dern, but he really isn’t doing anything Oscar worthy in this film. Plenty of actors have played a sloppy old drunk on the big screen, so why does Dern get an Oscar for it? Because from where I sat, he would have been nothing without the likes of Stacy Keach, June Squibb and Will Forte, who actually was the guy that kept this film together. The Saturday Night alum was solid in so many ways, making me want to go back watch old SNL skits from 2002-2010. And it wasn’t just in how he interacted with Dern, it was the way he did and how believable it was. I felt like I was watching an actual father and son, which tells you a lot about the job those two did overall. Especially Forte, who truly should have been nominated for an Oscar, simply due to how different of a role it was and how real it felt. That’s important to a film like this, which is forced to rely so heavily on the story. One that clearly had June Squibb at her best, as she shined each and every time she was on screen. I mean, Squibb was hilarious without looking like she was trying to be, making it too easy for all those old Academy members her age to vote her in. I just don’t think it will be enough to unseat either Jennifer Lawrence or Lupita Nyong’o, who seem to be getting all the early attention this season for Supporting Actress.

Having said that, the one category it surprisingly might have a chance in is for Best Original Screenplay. Because for those that haven’t been paying attention, writing is becoming more and more relevant as each new Oscar season arrives. So many times people forget about the writer’s, the talent behind the story you’re watching, the talent in many cases never seen or heard from. Sure all roles behind the scenes deserve credit, but often it’s the cast and director that gets their name up in lights, when the reason most people fell in love with the film was the story, written by a screenwriter or even director. Now, obviously this mostly applies to the kind of films you will see rewarded in just over a week from now; not the summer blockbusters or so-called “popcorn” flicks we all can’t seem to resist. Films that, yes, require writing but ultimately don’t depend on it, like a “Her” or “Nebraska” would. And it’s for that reason I respect the writer’s like Bob Nelson even more, because what’s great about the Oscars; versus let’s say The Golden Globes is that there are two categories for writing, not just one. With only one, the Hollywood Foreign Press must decide how to fit just five films, adapted and original, into the category, whereas the Academy has the option of fitting each into their own category with a combined total of ten. It’s for that reason we see a film like “Nebraska” in the mix, primed and ready to steal the Oscar for Original Screenplay. I would hate it, as pretty much every other nominee in this category deserves it more, but that doesn’t meant I wouldn’t understand.

CLICK HERE to read my original, uncut review on “Nebraska”

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