Sunday, January 19, 2014

2013 Best Picture Nominees Update

The Oscar class of 2013 is Her, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Nebraska, Wolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years a Slave. Here's an updated list of who's appeared in 3 or more Best Picture contenders:

9          Robert De Niro-Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The Mission, Awakenings, Goodfellas, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle
7          Tom Hanks-Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Green Mile, Toy Story 3, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Captain Phillips
7          Leonardo DiCaprio-Titanic, Gangs of New York, Aviator, Departed, Inception, Django Unchained, Wolf of Wall Street
6          Ed Harris-The Right Stuff, Places in the Heart, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The Hours, Gravity
6          Brad Pitt-Babel, Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglourious Basterds, Tree of Life, Moneyball, 12 Years a Slave
6          George Clooney-Thin Red Line, Good Night and Good Luck, Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, Descendants, Gravity
5          Rance Howard-Chinatown, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Nebraska
4          Michael Pena-Million Dollar Baby, Crash, Babel, American Hustle
4          Sandra Bullock-Crash, The Blind Side, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Gravity
4          Judi Dench-Room with a View, Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat, Philomena
3          Bruce Dern-Coming Home, Django Unchained, Nebraska
3          Christine Ebersole-Tootsie, Amadeus, Wolf of Wall Street
3          Paul Giamatti-Saving Private Ryan, Sideways, 12 Years a Slave
3          Jonah Hill-Moneyball, Django Unchained, Wolf of Wall Street
3          Amy Adams-Fighter, American Hustle, Her
3          Kyle Chandler-Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, Wolf of Wall Street
3          Chris Pratt-Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty, Her
3          Paul Dano-Little Miss Sunshine, There Will be Blood, 12 Years a Slave
3          Dennis O'Hare-Michael Clayton, Milk, Dallas Buyers Club

Also, if you want to know the past Oscar nominations of this year's Oscar class they are: Coming Home, Deer Hunter, Kramer vs Kramer, French Lieutenant's Wife, Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, Out of Africa, Iron Weed, Evil Eyes, Steel Magnolias, Pretty Woman, Postcards from the Edge, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Bridges of Madison County, Mrs. Brown, Elizabeth, One True Thing, Music of the Heart, Chocolat, Erin Brockovich, Adaptation, Aviator (2), Mrs Henderson Presents, Junebug, Notes on a Scandal (2), Blood Diamond, Devil Wears Prada, I'm Not There, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Doubt (2), Blind Side, The Fighter (2), Winter's Bone, Moneyball, Silver Linings Playbook (2), and The Master
Can you guess which actors earned which nominations?

I've seen four of these films so far and find them all innovative enough to merit the title "Best Picture Nominee." My capsule reviews on them:
American Hustle: American Hustle is a film that's suave and stylized while simultaneously having some fun (particularly with Irving's hair) deglamorizing itself.

Some might complain that the plot is convoluted, but I found the plot to be a red herring to explore more complex themes about identity, transience, and the pursuit of wealth. The fact that Bradley Cooper's character was constantly changing his game plan and ultimately didn't really know what he was after (which brought about his doom) was a telling indication of that theory.

With a plot that was secondary to the complex web of betrayal and ambition, the film was the perfect excuse for its cast to flex their acting chops, and the film earning four acting nominations (David O. Russell films amassing 11 acting nominations in a 4-year period, which I'm pretty sure is a record) is no small coincidence. Amy Adams and Christian Bale give career best performances.

Whether the film is thematically muddled or has any sort of grand message anchoring it are certainly up for debate, but that's a debate I see great merit in: I easily found the film to be the most thought-provoking of the year.

Captain Phillips: Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks, and the production rights for the most recent topical news story of heroism seems like a can't-miss proposition and there's nothing disappointing about it. The film doesn't necessarily overtly deliver on its ambitions (if you believe whomever wrote Sony Pictures' press release) to be a "complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalization" with a couple conversations about the alternative lives the pirates could have chosen that didn't really resonate. Still, the film is an effective and emotionally resonant thriller with what seems like  painstaking authenticity and that's pretty darn good. A major asset of this film is the casting of four Somalis with no prior acting experience to play the four Somali pirates which terrorized the real Captain Phillips. Barkhad Abdi deservedly got nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the head pirate. The story's pacing is also ideal for a docudrama of this sort with very little unnecessary back story and a near-perfect stopping point.

Gravity: I expected to see Gravity as the Apollo 13 of our era: A story about NASA and space exploration that inspired a new wave of kids to go to Space Camp. The more I think about it, the more I see Gravity as the Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey come to mind: A movie-going experience that pushed the capacities of the medium technologically to the point where it was  something audiences had simply never seen before. In comparison to the last big attempt to revolutionize 3-D cinema-going, Avatar, Cuaron showed you don't need to create an elaborate visual world. Cuaron's film is minimal like 12 Angry Men or Cast Away set in space. The only other on-screen actor, George Clooney mercifully (as he is one of my least favorite actors) disappears 30 minutes into the film and it's just Sandra Bullock and the void of space to fill in the time. The film also packs emotional punch in Bullock's arc that one might not expect out of a film in this format.

Her: Some of the best comic performances (Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot, Christopher Guest, David Cross in Arrested Development, Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove) come from people playing their parts as seriously as possible. In that same vein, Spike Jonze chose to play a rather absurd premise for a love story as straight as possible and it works really well. The love story is set in what first appears to be a depressing, almost dystopic, future where technology has taken over people's lives, but the excitement of the film is how this satirical overlay doesn't take away from the love story. The first twenty minutes of the film show Ted (Joaquin Phoenix) as a depressed and lonely figure with strong suggestions that his overreliance on technology is what's keeping him from interacting with humans. The film, curiously, seems to ease up on this pretense as Ted's romance with his phone is set alongside his coworker's romance with a fellow human and a blind date (Olivia Wilde) that seems to at least have the potential to go well (it ultimately doesn't). Eventually, it's revealed that Ted isn't locked in a hellish world where his only hope for companionship is a machine, which is what makes the love story worthwhile: Ted doesn't have to be with a machine but he slowly is won over by her.

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