As a norm and for most of his history, the Oscars have 5-slot nominations for most of their categories as a way to make it more manageable for voters. Too many possibilities could split the votes and lead to no favorite, which would not feed the advertising machine properly. This has lead to years when two many people have the same weight for a nomination (Could anyone tell me why Redford, Thompson Isaac, Phoenix and Hanks did not get a nomination this year, other than the staple 5-slot norm?) or when there are not enough contenders (some years, the song category goes down to three).
Of course, the academy changes their policies every once in a while, like the year after Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for 8 minutes of screen time (she does not hold the shortest performance record though. That would go to Beatrice Straight winning for 5 minutes 40 seconds (of mostly a “one-monologue” performance in “Network”), which prompted a reaction in the media about how short could a performance be to deserve an Oscar, or when the ‘Best Song’ nominee had to be a song related to the actual movie and not simply a musical companion to the closing titles of a movie, and, of course, the year after Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ got out of the competition, raising the limit to 10 for 2009. "Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize," AMPAS President Sid Ganis said in a press conference. Two years later the rule changed again and now there is a limit between 5 and 10, in which a film nominated must earn either 5% of first-place rankings or 5% after an abbreviated variation of the single transferable vote nominating process used for nominations in other major categories. The Academy executive director Bruce Davis said at that time: "A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn't feel an obligation to round out the number."
So we come to 2013, an extraordinary year. The crop of movies is vast and varied and the 9 nominees reflect it clearly. Sadly, the favoritism keeps working against other deserving films. Do you really believe ‘Philomena’ or ‘Her’ have a chance, even if they are wonderful films? And if we are talking about merit for the limit of 10, why did ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ or ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ get snubbed, after being in most of Best Films of 2013 lists by critics and the support of the audience? I believe it’s still a mystery. The only truth is, there’s always the sure thing (this year it comes to three: ‘12 Years a Slave’, ‘Gravity’ and ‘American Hustle’), the runner up (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’) and then the empty handed (‘Her’, ‘Nebraska’, ‘Philomena’, Captain Phillips’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’).
The winner is always considered to be the representation of the state of American Films, a film that is serious, with a good message and that raises decisive topics, in short: An Important Film.
Here is a little bit about each of the nominees, for your consideration. No matter which one wins, they’re all deserving of your time. Go see them at the movies (and also those who were close to be nominated like my favorite film of the year ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’).
Picture this: 1978, we’re in the midst of the glam years where wigs, fur, and patent made us beautiful, hiding our commonness and giving room to a fantasy of ourselves. Everyone wants to be a millionaire fast and easy so it’s the right time for con artists to flourish and spread, and for the FBI to open their eyes to a new (and not improved) America. That’s what FBI agent Richie DiMaso is trying to do: catch the big fish by hiring the expertise of lower criminals like Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser (A.K.A. Lady Edith Greensly), and even the unrequested help of Rosenfeld’s mess-of-a-wife Rosalyn.
Coming from his critically successful ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ which, in the long run will prove to be a film that stitches together ideas, characters, genres and storylines with that are mostly mismatched (which reminds us of another one of his choral films ‘I Heart Huckabees’), this is a more cohesive film that centers on the interrelation of five characters and how they influence (and destroy) each other.
David O’Russell’s film had been on the radar of critics and audiences before it came out, and as soon as it did, started collecting praise and awards, especially to its ensemble of actors. It is a film in which the bad guys have a chance and the forces of good are not rewarded, so even if the glitz makes see an uplifting movie, it does reminds us of the American we don’t want. Just for that I would say the film won’t win the top awards.
For a review of the Best acting nominations for Bale, Adams, Lawrence and Cooper, click on the following links:
Paul Greengrass has built a career out of action films that happen in the midst of an important historic moment, elevating its entertainment value to an “important issue” movie. Films like ‘United 93’, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ and ‘Green Zone’ are proof of this, and Captain Phillips has resonated not only with the very effective depiction of pirates off the coast of Somalia taking an American container ship, but also clearly establishing psychological and socio/economic background to the bad guys in order to understand their purpose, instead of the typical Hollywood agenda of showing enemies as malevolent guys for the sake of fun. The fact that Greengrass and Hanks have not been nominated has weakened this powerful film’s chances.
For a review of actor Barkhad Abdi's Oscar Nomination, click on the following link:
Dallas Buyers Club
Ron Woodroof was a homophobic electrician and rodeo cowboy who was diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 Days to live. From that moment on, he picks up the pieces of his dislocated life and makes what all good cowboys do: takes control. The film follows Woodroof closely but drops the ball in the mid-act, recreating a love-ish interest with Dr. Eve Saks completely unnecessary and the addition of transsexual Rayon who functions as Woodroof’s first assistant, helping him also to come to terms with the homosexuality in the world. It is an interesting film, with a sense of urgency that was helped by its superlative actors to enter the Best Film category, but it won’t be called come Oscar night.
For a complete review of 'Dallas Buyers Club', click on the following link:
Typically, this would be a matinee film, starring Bullock and Clooney in action roles. But Cuarón gives it purpose and heart, and the actors submit themselves to the grandeur of their enterprise. They are not in the film to save the Earth. In fact they don’t even want to save their own lives, but instinct and that stubborn quality of mankind to survive at all cost connect to the audience beyond the spectacular CGI work. In the end, ‘Gravity’ is one of the closest films to get to the level of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in portraying the place of man in the universe. There is a huge possibility that ‘Gravity’ finds itself getting the Best Picture Oscar. First of all Cuarón is a locked in for Best Director, the film is very successful and represents American Film 100% without immersing itself into hot topic issues that might polarize voters. And if it does, it is a well-deserved Oscar.
For a full review of 'Gravity', click on the following link:
No nomination for Spike Jonze as best director? (Well, he wasn’t nominated for ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ either) but he does get three noms: Best Film (he co-produces it), Best writing and Best original song. In a film as magical and analytical of our state of inter-relationships now and future, Jonze has maintained a very cohesive body of work and ‘Her’ is a marvel. A lone divorcee engages in an intimate relationship with an advanced operating system with the voice of Scarlett Johansson. Who wouldn’t, right? That’s exactly the point: we see how possible it is to fall in love and even think of a possible relationship with something and not someone, isolating ourselves even more to the point of abandoning social contact and keeping our humanity in a virtual reality. This film grows on you the more you think of it. Whenever you sit at a table with your family but can’t seem to take your eyes and fingers off your smart phone, you’ll see how real ‘Her’ is. Still, as with David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ this depiction of the new reality is not seen as a serious enough matter for the academy. Besides, snubbing Joaquin Phoenix’s most relaxed performance of a sweet lonely soul, gives us a hint of where the film is in the Academy’s priorities.
For a review of Joaquin Phoenix's acting career, click on the following link:
When Bruce Dern won Best Actor at the last Cannes Film Festival, he practically told the academy, here’s the next great film from Alexander Payne, the guy who brought us the glorious ‘About Schmidt’ ‘Sideways’ and ‘The Descendants’. Payne might be the only one of the last breed of American filmmakers that puts content over style and rathers tell you a story in the classic sense of storytelling. He does that very well and is able to bring not so glamorous characters to the front page. We could call him a new American neorealist. The simple beautify of this black and white film about an almost senile 80-year old who walks to Nebraska to get his million dollar won through a mail scam and who ends up giving us a glimpse into his life, the life of his relatives and his whole hometown reminds us that turning the camera on our simple life is, sometimes, the best tale we can tell.
For a complete review of 'Nebraska', click on the following link:
Stephen Frears has found himself in the path of Oscars for long. A double nominee for ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and ‘The Queen’ his latest effort carefully unfolds a tragic story without too much drama or tears. He is, of course helped by two of the least over-dramatic actors in England: Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
As an elderly woman looks for traces of her son, who was given away by the convent in which she was paying for her sins as an adolescent single mother, Philomena is helped by a journalist who doesn’t care much for stories of “human interest” but who grows to understand and finds meaning. It is a film that embraces balance, peace of mind, forgiveness and acceptance as closure in life. All in all, to the members of the Academy this is the weakest film to win the Oscar even if it is a well deserving one.
For a complete review of 'Philomena' click on the following link:
12 Years a Slave
Of all the films nominated, this is the one with the hottest of topics: Slavery. Not that it hasn’t been depicted before (recent memory will bring us to Tarantino’s stylistic fantasy ‘Django Unchained’), but Steve McQueen makes the definitive film to tackle this obscure episode in American history and every scene of its perfectly engaged and engaging script sounds true and very close to our soul as human beings. It is both a film of psychological and physical power and physical. A work of art and a well informed document of our history. The film’s win at the Golden Globes is a strong support for it to earn top prizes.
For a complete review of '12 Years a Slave', click on the following link:
The Wolf of Wall Street
Scorsese is not a filmmaker of delicately hidden meanings; that explains why his 1993 ‘The Age of Innocence’ failed to connect with the audiences that didn’t understand his change of pace. His latest collaboration with DiCaprio takes his violent methods to the very abstract world of money that ends up influencing our very real life. Yes, it is an over-the-top depiction of an inhuman world, but a naturalistic and sensitive approach would have been completely wrong anyways. As with ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’, the film traces the rise and fall of a corrupted empire and in doing so, it sparks controversy (some have seen the film as a glorification rather than a satirical document). Having lost for his masterpieces (‘Raging Bull’ and ‘Goodfellas’) and not even being nominated for his other master work (‘Taxidriver’), I don’t think ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ will be his second Oscar after ‘The Departed’, even if it is building momentum.
For a review of DiCaprio, Hill and Scorsese's career, click on the following links: