The Alpha Primitive

Film reviews, essays, commentary and sundry writings

2014 Academy Awards: the Nominations

I’m going to start this off with one note of triumph regarding the Oscar nominations, that were revealed this morning at a time before most of Hollywood was even awake: Saving Mr. Banks, that awful piece of manipulative treacle that I had second on my list of worst films of 2013, was almost entirely shut out of the ceremony, receiving one nomination for Original Score. There was quite a bit of talk surrounding Emma Thompson for Lead Actress (which I wouldn’t have been entirely upset with, as she is perfectly acceptable in a film that doesn’t even remotely deserve her, though I guess “perfectly acceptable” is not the stuff of Oscar nominees) and a nonzero amount of prognostication regarding its likelihood as a Best Picture contender. My own personal narrative would be that the Academy saw through the bullshit for what that film really is at its core, a cynical and thoroughly insulting whitewashing of PL Travers combined with some reprehensible Disney hagiography, but in reality it was probably tenth in line for Best Picture and Emma Thompson was likely a close sixth for the Best Actress race.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at some of the individual categories for some thoughts. The full list is available here

Original Song

Lots of press about this random “Alone Yet Not Alone” song from a movie no one’s seen that isn’t getting any kind of substantive release until March. The Dissolve put up a nice article explaining what the hell it is, which shows you the level of penetration the film has on our consciousness. Of course, this is an example of a category where the Oscars’ bylaws wreak all sorts of havoc. Not a single song from Inside Llewyn Davis was nominated, even “Please Mr. Kennedy,” in part because they are either covers or reimaginings of previous songs. The short list for Best Song was 75 or so (oddly only one song from Frozen, “Let Me Go,” which we have to assume is the favorite regardless of what happened at the Globes), and I wonder how a song like “Alone Yet Not Alone” makes it in. Personally, I would have opted for Lana Del Ray’s “Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby, which just might be the best non-Jordan-Baker part of that film.

Foreign Language

The idea that Blue is the Warmest Color, which got a full release in the US that allowed me to see it in a theater in November wasn’t eligible for foreign language film is a monstrously stupid rule. That is all.

Documentary Feature

The big surprise to me is the lack of Stories We Tell, a film many consider on the same level as (I would assume at least) presumptive favorite The Act of Killing (I had Killing as my number 7 film of the year, and Stories was 16). But a part of me isn’t too surprised, considering the twisting narrative and metatext of Sarah Polley’s inventive documentary about her parentage that often isn’t really about the subject it’s purported to be about at all. I definitely think it deserved a spot, but if traditionalism reigns in a category like this (unless we’re talking an extreme case like The Act of Killing), I can see how it would be left off ballots. But if traditionalism does reign, it is a little weird to see no Blackfish, especially considering The Cove won the award in 2009, so it’s not like there’s some anti-cetacean bias.

Editing

I would make the argument that no films on this earth are edited quite like Edgar Wright’s films. He has a style all his own (as shown by using two different editors over his career, Chris Dickens for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and Paul Machliss for Scott Pilgrim and The World’s End). Wright’s films use editing as part of the comedy, and that style does such a wonderful job  reaffirming the central themes and humor of his subjects. The World’s End deserved recognition this year, and the Editing category seems like a place it actually could have sneaked in. Ah well.

Cinematography

Yes, Roger Deakins is going to lose again. No, the fascinating clash between The Coens and their usual cinematographer (both Deakins for Prisoners and Bruno Delbonnel for Inside Llewyn Davis were nominated) isn’t going to matter a lick. This (and every other technical category) is Gravity’s world; we’re just living in it.


For the major categories, I’ll be including my five choices were everything to go as perfectly as possible (in no particular order)

The Writing Categories

I love how the Academy’s kooky rules means that Before Midnight is considered “Adapted” because it’s reusing characters from a previous film. I like the nominations for Adapted just fine, but am mystified by the inclusion of Dallas Buyers Club over in Original. I totally get the love for McConaughey and Leto in the acting categories, but that script is such a house of cards built on every clichéd biopic genre convention we’ve seen over the decades that it’s a shame it was standing in the way of Inside Llewyn Davis, a film the Academy apparently didn’t get or care about at all. I could quibble about the over-indulgent script of The Wolf of Wall Street that’s a good thirty minutes too long, or the preponderance of American Hustle as a favorite, but Buyers Club is the real travesty on the writing side of things.

My Five (Original): Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Frances Ha, Upstream Color, The World’s End

My Five (Adapted): Blue is the Warmest Color, 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now

Supporting Actress

Sally Hawkins sneaking in is, to me at least, a bit of a surprise (Sorry, Oprah Winfrey!). I liked her quite a bit in Blue Jasmine (she and Cate are both great in a pretty not-good film). I personally would have loved to see Amy Adams’ nomination come in this category for Her instead of her lead performance in American Hustle (though Johansson was better, so Adams probably would have been left out there too if the Academy were at all forward thinking about what makes a good acting performance), which I found a bit lacking. Nothing else is really a surprise; Lupita Nyong’o is going to lose to the Jennifer Lawrence machine, and that is a crime (and I like Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle).

My Five: Lawrence (American Hustle), Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Scarlett Johansson (Her), Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now)

Supporting Actor

I think this category proves that the Academy is just going to throw four acting nominations at David O. Russell whenever he makes a new film. It makes no sense to me that Cooper was nominated here over Will Forte (Nebraska) or Gandolfini (Enough Said) or JAMES FUCKING FRANCO (Spring Breakers), who probably never really had a chance even though he’s better than everyone else in the category. The lack of Gandolfini is a surprise considering the sympathy vote. Totally fine with Abdi, Fassbender, Hill and Leto. You punt Cooper for Franco and you have the perfect category.

My Five: Abdi (Captain Phillips), Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), James Franco (Spring Breakers), Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Lead Actress

After I check out August Osage County this weekend, I’ll have seen everything of note, so I can’t quite comment on Streep’s inclusion here. The simple (and correct) math would be to subtract Amy Adams and slot in Brie Larson, who is thoroughly incredible in Short Term 12, a film entirely ignored by the Academy. I’ve heard some grumblings that Streep is nominated simply because she’s Meryl Streep, but I’ll formulate my own opinions about that after the weekend. Of course, the utter lack of Adele Exarchopoulos remains similarly criminal. I don’t particularly like this category as formulated.

My Five: Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color)

Lead Actor

So no Tom Hanks, huh? Did the voters walk out of their screening before that last scene? Because MY GOD that last scene might be the best piece of acting by anyone in anything this year. But nope, we need to appease the gods of David O. Russell, so Christian Bale gets in. Bale’s behind Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Hanks and Redford in my eyes (and Simon Pegg for that matter, but it’s not like that’s ever going to happen); his performance is fine as a performance, but lacks the depth of Hanks or Redford’s work this year. Two horse race between Wooderson and The Operative, which is fine enough for me (until McConaughey wins, that is. I just want Chiwetel to get some love, and the more times you force people to pronounce his name the better)

My Five: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Robert Redford (All is Lost), McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Director

Can’t say I’m thrilled with Alexander Payne being here, but I haven’t really loved a Payne movie since Election, so that’s not much of a surprise. This is going to be an interesting one to see how it shakes out, as you’ve got the two favorites coming out of the Globes (12 Years a Slave and American Hustle) going up against the winner at the Globes (Cuaron), for a film that seems like it’s perfectly set up to make the Life of Pi run, where it wins all the tech categories and Director but loses out for Picture. Which is fine, though McQueen should win this one (which would make him the first black Best Director winner, for what it’s worth).

My Five: McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Cuaron (Gravity), Edgar Wright (The World’s End), The Coens (Inside Llewyn Davis), Spike Jonze (Her)

Picture

The only howler is Dallas Buyers Club, which is a bad movie with good performances (not to be confused with American Hustle, which is a middling to mediocre movie with good performances). Everything else is fine, if almost hilariously safe. When your “indie comedy that sneaks in for a Best Picture nomination” slot (think The Kids are Alright or Little Miss Sunshine) goes to Philomena, you know that no one anywhere is sticking their necks out. Everything being equal from a personal perspective, there are only two films I’m happy about being here; though nothing else is a surprise for what the Academy represents these days, it’s still a shame that traditionalism always wins out in the end.

My Nine: 12 Years a Slave, Her, Before Midnight, Spring Breakers, Inside Llewyn Davis, Short Term 12, Upstream Color, The World’s End, Blue is the Warmest Color