The Final Picks

BestPictureOscars2014
86th Annual Academy Awards are here!

The Oscars are today. That means, like for all great competitions (the Superbowl, NBA Finals, Kentucky Derby etc.) it’s time to make your final picks. For the Oscars however, considering its wholly subjective and there’s no way to determine really what’s “best”, I’m NOT going to make predictions… I’m not going to try to guess which movie or which person is going to win. Instead, I’m going to pick who I believe should win. This is 100% my preferences. So, here we go….

The Non-Feature Categories

I’m also asking myself why I’m picking these, because let’s be honest… there’s a slim chance any of us have seen any of these movies. This category consists of short-films, usually done by various artists, maybe even student filmmakers that don’t get much of a theatrical release or audience exposure. The Academy however, does air these in a Youtube series for everyone to see, so I did manage to catch some of them.

Best Animated Short Film: Room on the Broom

Best Live-Action Short Film: Helium

 The “Other” Best Pictures

In addition to “Best Picture”, the Academy also offers competition in 3 other major film categories for great cinema that wasn’t necessarily eligible or viable for Best Picture. Much of the time, these categories can actually feature cinema that is better than any of the actual Best Picture nominees. I have seen almost all of these movies, so this is a much more fair assessment on my part:

Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty (dir. Paolo Sorrentino, country: Italy)

Italy is an absolute powerhouse of Oscar-winning cinema. The country has produced some of the world’s greatest filmmakers, from Federico Fellini to Vittorio DiSica, from Michelangelo Antonioni to Lucino Visconti. Films like Bicycle Thieves, La Dolce Vita, Cinema Paradiso, and La Vita E Bella show you just how much the Oscars love Italian cinema. The country has won more Best Foreign Film Oscars than any other nation and this year, with master director Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, it’ll add another feather to its cap. While I did love Cambodia’s The Missing Picture directed by Rithy Panh, and I am very eager to root for such an underdog Asian country that rarely gets the cinematic love that Western countries always do, I can’t deny how enigmatic and electrifying The Great Beauty was.

Best Documentary Film: The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

This is one I will defend to the death. There is no documentary film to come out in the last year that is as harrowing, gutting and unforgettable than The Act of Killing, about the aftermath of Suarto’s takeover of Indonesia and how his death squads, lead by the ruthless Anwar Congo, committed the disgusting mass genocide of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese immigrants in Indonesia, which was fueled partly by money from the… you guessed it… USA. The film-style is bizarre, using the Indonesian film industry and Anwar Congo’s own directorial vision to re-enact the horrifying killings of women and children by the soldiers. There is no competition here… no documentary of 2013 will stay with you for the rest of your life the way The Act of Killing will. Just thinking about it still makes me shudder.

Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Yes… I know… Frozen is going to win. I’ve accepted that (or maybe I’m still just hoping beyond hope that Miyazaki will go into retirement on top). While Disney’s Frozen was definitely good, and presented a very different and unconventional theme, I am a huge fan of Miyazaki’s cinema. This guy made my adolescence with his movies. From My Neighbor Totoro to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and his later masterpiece Spirited Away (which won an Oscar in this category) and Howl’s Moving Castle (my personal favorite animated film ever), Miyazaki’s career is one that everybody should have the privilege to marvel over. That The Wind Rises will be the last movie he ever makes is very difficult to swallow… so as a farewell to the greatest animation director whoever lived, I still do hold onto the hope that he can be on that Oscar stage just one last time.

The Technical Awards

We’ll go straight through these. Tech awards are for all the behind the scenes stuff that you never see going on, but are crucial in making a movie the way it appears on the big screen. These are underrated, but to me, technical categories might be even more important to cinema than the actors are (no offense to actors hehe). I’m chocking up Original Song and Original Score (music) in this as well.

Best Visual Effects: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug(Joe Letteri, Eric Saidon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds)

The DRAGON man… the DRAGON.

Best Sound Mixing: Gravity (Skip Leivsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)

Sound Mixing is the most painstaking job of post-production, and these guys knocked it out of the park with the transitions from dead silence to heavy breathing and pairing music with the action.  

 Best Sound Editing: Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney)

Wanted to pick Love Survivor for this, but the final act of Captain Phillips sold me on just how many different sounds had to be tailored to create that scene.

Best Production Design: 12 Years A Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker)

The plantations and set design of the Louisiana landscape literally transports to you back to that dark time in America’s past.

Best Make-Up/Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews)

Jared Leto’s getup is the obvious benchmark, but the creative team evoked all the northern Texas clothing and styles very well.

Best Costume Design: 12 Years A Slave (Patricia Norris)

It’s remarkable how authentic all of the costumes were in this film. Again, as I said with the production design, it literally transports you to that time period.

Best Original Song: “Let it Go” from Frozen (Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez)

I’ll just say this… Disney really knows how to put great songs in their movies.

Best Original Score: Gravity (Steven Price)

As I said with the sound mixing, the visuals and music lined up beautifully in this film and made its impact that much more powerful.

Best Film Editing: 12 Years A Slave (Joe Walker)

Convention would pick an “actiony” movie like Captain Phillips or Gravity, but the really long time-lapse scene (people who watched this movie will know exactly which one I’m talking about) had some incredible editing and used so effectively, it had viewers, including myself, gut-wrenched.

Best Cinematography: Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)

I’m still bitter about Lubezki not winning for The Tree of Life, which had some of the greatest camera-work I’ve ever seen in my life. His work in Gravity is almost as remarkable.

The Supporting Cast

Supporting Actors usually turn out more dynamic performances than leading actors because writers have much more room to experiment with them. This year, we have some very interesting nominees.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Jennifer Lawrence is in a close race with her, but Nyongo’s performance to me was more remarkable because of how much of an impact she had while still not having much screen-time at all (I think she was in the movie for.. 8 minutes?). She definitely was the central member of the most devastating scene in the whole movie, which she nailed, and that surely adds to why she was so great.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Yes, I know, Jared Leto is going to win. But Fassbender was just so damn good. His performance lent so much to why audiences at once despised his character, but at the same time, almost felt sorry for him. His, out of all the nominees, was certainly the most difficult and dense act to pull off, and he became the show-stealer in 12 Years A Slave.

The BIG 5

The “Big 5” is the 5 biggest awards of the night. Well, they’re actually 6 because Screenplay is split into 2 categories (Adapted and Original), but who cares about technicalities right? Here they are:

Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years A Slave (John Ridley)

This one is obvious for me. There was no story that was more affecting than Solomon Northup’s trues story of how he went from a free black man in New York to being deceived and sold into slavery in Louisiana. It’s a remarkable biography of his life and one that when you watch it, you won’t ever forget.

Best Original Screenplay: Her (Spike Jonze)

Once you get to know Spike Jonze’s filmmaking (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) you’ll know why Her is a movie he was born to write. Melancholy, somber, but all in all beautifully compelling, this strange love story is one of the most truly original scripts of the year… and it’s no surprise it comes from a writer/director as imaginative and quirky as Spike Jonze.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Cate Blanchette (Blue Jasmine)

This one is a bit boring because she’s been a lock for a while. It would be cool to see a left-field upset in this category, but Blanchette really comes into her own in the lead role of Woody Allen’s movie. It’s not an “all-time great” performance, but it certainly is the best of the 5 nominees.

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Best Actor is 1000x more interesting than the Best Actress race. Leonardo DiCaprio is the Internet favorite because everyone wants him to win his first Oscar (after failing 3 times). Matthew McConaughey is the Academy favorite because he pulls off a great transformation and renews his career from “chick flick guy” to “serious actor”. But if you watched 12 Years A Slave, I don’t know how you could vote for anyone but Chiwetel Ejiofor. His raw emotion just bled through the screen and his presence was never lost. The only comparison one could make is to Ben Kingsley’s incredible act as the Mahatma in Gandhi (which won an Oscar).

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Alfonso Cuaron is going to win this award because lets face it, making an entire movie in outer space with barely any dialogue and stunning effects is a landmark achievement. But Steve McQueen made the best film of the year. 12 Years A Slave had the longest lasting effect on its audiences and it’s a movie that was talked about as being that, 50 years down the road, will still be discussed as Hollywood’s definitive exhibit of American slavery. What Spielberg did with Schindler’s List is the closest comparison to the incredible feat McQueen managed to pull off here with 12 Years A Slave.

Best Motion Picture: 12 Years A Slave

The race is close between Gravity and 12 Years A Slave, but the latter gets my vote. In addition to the numerous reasons I already gave in this article, McQueen’s film is one that represents a benchmark for historical cinema from Hollywood. No sugar coating here, just raw reality. 12 Years A Slave is a film generations down the line will be talked about and discussed and used as a reminder of not just a very dark time in American history, but the ability of the human spirit to survive it and to thrive thereafter. There is no movie from 2013 that I would recommend you watch more… but be warned, you’re not going to get the warm fuzzy Hollywood treatment with this film, it’s a movie you’ll have to learn to respect and come to terms with.

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