Sunday, March 02, 2014

Have You Been "Hustled?"




Here are the Oscar picks from the New York Times, and My Choices for some of them.  


Best Picture: ‘12 Years a Slave’

Contender: ‘Gravity’

For the first time in years, even the most seasoned awards watchers are sweating the best-picture race, an unusually tight contest that could end with either Alfonso Cuarón’s space epic, “Gravity,” or Steve McQueen’s period drama, “12 Years a Slave,” as the big winner. Fans of “Gravity” — and there are many — praise its cinematic vision; detractors (plenty of those, too) lampoon its script. “12 Years a Slave” has the weight of history on its side, and lauded performances by its cast, as well as the industry sense that it feels like a movie that the Oscars should reward. But the Academy has rejected hefty biopics before — recall “Lincoln” last year — and many actors, its largest voting bloc, also fell hard for“American Hustle,” the third pony in this race (and the one with the best hair). Will that film, and the six other contenders, each with fervent fans, divide the field? Though the Academy won’t release the tally, in the end the win could come down to an unglamorous, and perhaps unimpassioned, quirk of its complicated preferential balloting system, inching “12 Years a Slave” to a coronation.

My Choice: Her

Academy Awards have been given to films illuminating history, foreseeing the future, and revealing the present in all its human frailty and heroism.  But the film, "Her," is an inventive look at the future as if it is the present.  The idea is truly imaginative, and yet, you barely have to use your imagination to identify with the characters or the plot.  All the actors are amazing, but Scarlett Johannson deserves a nomination even thought we never see her on screen.  This film requires that we stretch our notions about what criteria we use to award prizes to those who bring films to us.  I would have liked to see more attention paid to this ground-breaking film by Spike Jonze and his collaborators.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, ‘Gravity’

Contender: Steve McQueen, ‘12 Years a Slave’ 

My Choice: Spike Jonze

Wouldn't it be nice if Steve McQueen had been nominated for something that was not a "black" issue?  And what if the NY Times writer didn't even mention that McQueen would be the first black director to win?  That's when we will be able to say the Academy is color blind.  And, though I admire the skill it took to make "Gravity," I feel that the award for best director should go to someone who can pull performances out of actors that they, and we, had no idea they had in them.  Working with real-life humans is more difficult that any difficult technological effect.

After Alfonso Cuarón won the top honor from his peers in the Directors Guild of America, the Oscar is his to lose. But he won’t: His four-and-a-half-year odyssey to make “Gravity,” a feat of groundbreaking technical and visual storytelling, had many other filmmakers, even those skilled in effects work, asking, “How’d he do that?” Their votes of confidence, along with the support of other technically minded factions, will be more than enough to put him over the top.
Steve McQueen would make history, if the Academy rewarded him, as the first black director to win this prize. (Only two others, John Singleton and Lee Daniels, have even been nominated.) Mr. McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” has its fans, but a best picture-best director split (with “12 Years a Slave” getting the big prize) is more likely. And the Academy could still make history if the Mexican-born Mr. Cuarón makes the trip to the stage.

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Contender: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

My Choice: Tom Hanks

I am a sucker for "based on a true story" movies, and Captain Phillips was riveting.  Tom Hanks is like Meryl Streep - can do anything anyone asks of him, but he showed me what that man thought, what he felt, his fear, his concern for his men and his ship, and his compassion for those Somali pirates.  I know that the actors in "Dallas Buyers Club" did a great job, but we don't give awards to people who are able to lose weight except on "The Biggest Loser."  I must admit that as of this writing I haven't seen "Dallas," but my daughter says it's amazing.  Still, I think it would be a toss-up.

Matthew McConaughey lost 40 pounds to play an AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club,” but it was his career transformation, from rom-com pretty boy to versatile dramatic actor, that really stunned. In the last year he’s turned in one stellar performance after another — in the indie “Mud,” as the memorably vocalizing trader in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and, not incidentally, in the HBO series “True Detective.” Hollywood, the Academy — everyone, really — loves a showcase for reinvention. It’s his year, all right (all right, all right).
Leonardo DiCaprio has been working hard to charm Academy voters, too. “Wolf” divided viewers, but nearly everyone agreed that Mr. DiCaprio’s showy acting was a standout. Alas, there’s already a heartthrob-turned-thespian in the running this year.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Contender: Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

My Choice: Scarlett Johannsen

In "Her" Scarlett portrays a being that we have yet to meet - an iOS intelligence that is capable of responding to its owner in such a human way as to make us all believe "she" is really human.  I saw "Blue Jasmine," and, as usual, I found I couldn't relate to any of those characters.  I just can't imagine the people Woody Allen knows, because I have yet to meet another human who bears any resemblance to any of his characters.  I always thought that was one of the prime criteria for making judgments about the worth and value of any film - are the characters believable?  Well, not if you are Mr. Allen.  He gets away with stuff that no other director could.  So, how do you judge an Academy Award performance? Is it Oscar-worthy if the film has no other redeeming qualities?  How about an award for an actress who delivers an outstanding performance in a movie that is also nominated for Best Picture?  Hmmm?

In “Blue Jasmine,” Cate Blanchett offers a bravura portrait of a meltdown, in the form of a wealthy socialite brought low by her philandering husband’s financial fraud. Every close-up and throwaway line is a master class in acting, and she’s been the front-runner from the start, recent news concerning the film’s writer-director, Woody Allen, notwithstanding.

Sandra Bullock is the undisputable center of attention in “Gravity” — except for all those glorious shots of outer space — but she won her leading-lady Oscar only a few years ago. So her contender spot goes to the perennial nominee Amy Adams, as the multiaccented grifter with the plunging necklines in “American Hustle.” But Ms. Adams will probably have to wait for another year, or another David O. Russell film, to take home the golden guy.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Contender: Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

My Choice:  Might have to go along with this one.  Barkhad was great, great, great, but since I haven't seen "Dallas" I can't compare.  
Jared Leto’s narrative is some combination of ingénue and turnaround-veteran. After a nearly six-year absence from the screen, he returned to play a transgender AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club,” which required him to lose weight and tackle sensitive issues like homophobia. He did it deftly, judging by all the precursor awards he’s racked up.
Barkhad Abdi is a true newcomer, earning his role as a Somali pirate in “Captain Phillips” in an open casting call in Minneapolis. But though he held his own against Tom Hanks and delivered one of the last year’s few memorable movie lines (“I am the captain now”), his momentum will probably not match Mr. Leto’s.
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Contender: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

My Choice:  Lupita - Jen was amazing, as always, but she won last year and the Academy doesn't usually award the same contender two years running.

An extremely tight race. The Academy can’t resist an ingénue, perhaps even two years running. As the frantically emotional and frankly funny wife with the bouncing updo in “American Hustle,” Jennifer Lawrence — a previous season’s ingénue — received near-universal praise, but she just won an Oscar last year, for another David O. Russell movie.

Ms. Nyong’o, making her feature debut in “12 Years a Slave” straight out of drama school, fits this season’s bill perfectly. Her off-screen glamour is a testament to her skill in playing the traumatized slave Patsey, and it might be the only way voters get to reward the finely tuned performances in this Steve McQueen drama.

Will that be enough to beat the national darling JLaw? With “The Hunger Games” franchise, she was 2013’s box office champ; that could be prize enough. Or not — and she could make history as the first 23-year-old double-Oscar-winning blockbuster star.


Best Animated Feature: “Frozen”

Contender: “The Wind Rises

My Choice:  Super movie with an unexpected, but most welcome, ending.  Every family needs to see this movie.  But, please, there are enough You Tube videos of 4-year-olds squeaking out "Let It Go."

This is as sure a lock as there will be on Oscar night. The Disney musical “Frozen,” about the thawing love between two princess sisters, has been a global blockbuster (nearly $1 billion earned) whose momentum shows no signs of slowing. The soundtrack is a hit, too, as is its anthem, “Let It Go.” A few of the Academy’s artier members may vote for “The Wind Rises,” perhaps the last film from the Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, but the onslaught will be for “Frozen.”