Friday, July 11, 2014

Top 4 Films of 2014 (So Far)


As is my normal tendency, I got a little stalled out this year on topics to write about in the spring and early summer. That should change in a few weeks with my most anticipated film of the year, Boyhood, seeing its release in my neck of the woods on the 25th of this month. I will be first in line.

Until then, I wanted to catch everyone up on the best few films I’ve been able to see this year. Out of the 15 or so titles I’ve seen from 2014, there are four that I feel are worthy of a “top” list, but I didn’t feel strongly enough about a fifth film to round it out and make it a top 5.

There are a few films I simply have not been able to catch yet although I really wanted to, including most notably the Scarlett Johansson vehicle Under the Skin, as well as blockbuster titles Edge of Tomorrow and Godzilla. The rest of the year is shaping up to be pretty great, as well. Until then, catch up on the following titles if you haven’t been able to yet:

4. Enemy

Improving on his 2013 film Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve builds an eerie and genuinely unpleasant cinematic world around which to tell his doppelganger story, which like his former effort also stars Jake Gyllenhaal. A lonely and aloof college professor, Gyllenhaal’s character comes into contact with a doppelganger who happens to be a brash and cocky aspiring actor, and the film follows each character’s story as they attempt to resolve the mystery. This is Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date in a dual role. The ending will leave you gasping.

3. The Lego Movie

I had to make room for one of the two great features this year by directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and I thought this film was superior in many ways to their recent comedy sequel 22 Jump Street. Though the film is an impeccable crafting of the many different worlds that Lego operates in, perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is how it manages to remain hilarious throughout while actually having some interesting thematic points of view. I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel.


2. Chef

This was the biggest surprise of the year for me so far. Jon Favreau writes, stars and directs in this comedy about a chef that is a loose metaphor for his own career in the film industry. A visionary chef in a renowned Los Angeles restaurant, Chef Carl Casper must reinvent himself after his culinary endeavors are stifled and he subsequently receives a blistering review from a food blogger. The story then becomes somewhat of a travelogue, as it follows him and his son on a journey across the continental U.S. in a food truck, as they attempt to restore their relationship while Casper finds his voice as film director, ahem, I mean chef. It is surprisingly sweet, funny, and has some of the best food porn in any movie I’ve seen in awhile.


1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Sometimes, forces converge in a director’s path that enables their voice to sing at its most beautiful pitch. This is the case with Wes Anderson’s latest film, which I find to be his best. The whimsical focus of the story, a concierge at the titular hotel played wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes, is the exact type of material we’ve become used to Anderson working with. But the backdrop of the imminent Nazi occupation of Hungary and the ensuing World War allows him to add thematic depth and a sense of meaning to the whole thing, and I wonder if this is Anderson acknowledging the quaintness of his own work, while demanding that we don’t focus solely on the hipster-glossiness of his films and mine for the truth that undoubtedly lies within all his work. A real gem, this one.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What we talk about when we talk about "Noah"

In my experience, the story of Noah found in Genesis ch. 6-9 is not discussed often in church past Sunday school classes for children. You know, with the flannel boards for all the cute animals and the songs about building an arky arky out of gopher barky barky?
 
When the reality about the story of Noah is that it is sometimes profound, sometimes violent, sometimes sexually implicit, sometimes mysterious and at some points downright bizarre.

For instance, an honest reading of the passages found in the story of Noah might incite the following questions in the reader’s mind:
  • Why would an omniscient God, who exists outside of time and has had a plan from the beginning of time, regret his own decision to create Mankind?
  • If God is Love, as the Bible teaches, then why does he commit genocide against mankind? Surely there were at very least innocent children, toddlers, even infants who were drowned that did not deserve this fate?
  • How did Noah deal with the potential guilt of God choosing his family? Was this the reason one of the first things he did after coming off the ark was to plant a vineyard so he could get blackout drunk?
      These are uncomfortable questions. Questions that should make us wrestle with who God is. Questions that are debated heavily even among the most learned of Biblical scholars.

And here is where I confess that I don’t know the answers to the questions above, and I doubt the sincerity of anyone who says they do. Fortunately for me, my belief in God does not hinge on having definitive answers for the multitudes of questions that I don’t know the answers to.

Which brings me to the 2014 Darren Aronofsky film, “Noah.”


Let me start off by just getting this out there: the film itself is mediocre. Formally, it is a mixed bag of Aronofsky’s typical artistic visual style on one hand, and some awful and even goofy CGI on the other. For instance, the graphics in Noah’s recounting of the creation story to his family is impressive, while the design of “The Watchers” (fallen angels that are just...giants made of rocks?) is simply baffling.

Thematically, it does a few things very well, and a few things very poorly. Although it does not strictly adhere to the Biblical text, as many have taken it to task for, overall it does serve the greater purpose of the story, which is that even though we are all corrupt, God gives us the choice to follow him still.

But I’m not really here to offer my formal criticism of the film. I’m here to offer why it is so important that Christians not be as dismissive of the film as I have witnessed. I've read various pieces about why Christians shouldn't see this movie, and decrying it for leading people astray due to its Biblical inaccuracies (although it is adapted from ancient sources other than the Bible…and was never intended to be a strictly Biblical film), and because the director is an atheist.

And I’m here to say I thoroughly reject that response.



How often is Biblical narrative portrayed in popular culture? Not often. So instead of being dismissive of the things it gets wrong (and it does, trust me), why not use it as an opportunity to engage our neighbors? As an opportunity to minister to and love them? A dismissive attitude ignores those around us that may be seeking and knocking, and exchanges it for a cloak of fear.

And it glosses over the big, giant questions about ancient mysteries of life that this film presents:

Like why sometimes God feels so far away when we need him the most. Or why our attempts to receive a sign from him can feel completely futile. Or why knowing the right thing to do seems impossible at times.

I don’t know the answer to these questions, yet I still believe there is much to learn in the story of Noah, and there are deep truths about it whether one believes it to be a literal account or a symbolic one, as I do.

I believe that God gives us a choice. As God gave Noah the choice to obey him and save humanity, so he gives us the choice save humanity in our own ways by driving out hunger, prejudice, violence and hate so we may administer a system based on love, purity, community and egalitarianism.

I believe that God is in the mission of bringing his people out of exile. As God brought Noah out of the flood in the midst of a corrupt civilization, he later brought Israel out of Egypt, and Babylon. And that ultimately through Jesus he brought us out of the exile of sin and gave us a new way of living.

And I believe that having questions about the nature of God is healthy, and that no questions are too big for God to handle.

So for that reason I welcome the challenge of engaging myself and others in the questions that “Noah” presents, and embracing the mysteries of life. And I take issue with those who will not see the forest for the trees in this film. Because there is no reason to be afraid of the questions it asks. Because in Christ we have a peace that surpasses understanding. Because we’re part of a battle that’s already been won.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Final Oscar Predictions 2014


No worthless blabber from me this year, there’s way too much ground to cover and not enough time to cover it, so I’m going to just jump head-first right into my official Academy Award predictions. I will not guarantee that you’ll win your office pool with these, but I can guarantee that I’ve spent more time researching these predictions than just about anyone who doesn’t do this professionally and who's not actually a certified lunatic.

(Cracks knuckles)


BEST PICTURE: 12 Years a Slave

% Sure: 51.5
Could Win: Gravity
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Have Been There: Before Midnight
Comments: Welp, for the first time since I’ve been doing this there appears to be an actual race for the Best Picture award. The Producer’s Guild, usually the best indicator of what will end up winning Best Picture, somehow managed a tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave this year. However, the Director’s Guild gave their biggest prize to Alfonso Cuaron for his directorial achievement with Gravity. The last time the Director’s Guild gave their top prize to a movie that DIDN’T go on to win Best Picture was in 2005, with the Crash over Brokeback Mountain debacle. And it’s only happened three other times since 1989. And yet...

12 Years a Slave FEELS way more like a Best Picture winner, doesn’t it? I want to quickly compare a few movies:

12 Years a Slave
Crash
Driving Miss Daisy
Chariots of Fire
In the Heat of the Night

What do all these films have in common? Well, firstly, none of them won the Director’s Guild Award for their year, but then went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Secondly, they all involve race/culture relations (with all except Chariots of Fire being about black/white relations in America).

So I find it interesting that in many cases, the Academy voters have felt some sense of duty to be on the “right” side of history when it comes to casting a vote for their top award. Yeah, Gravity is a groundbreaking and enjoyable film, and they can still award it with a Best Director Oscar. But when it comes to the top prize, the award everyone will remember, the award that defines them as an awards body?

It HAS to be the movie depicting the horrors of slavery in America, right? The one perceived as more important?

So even though I’ve debated this in my head a million times, and even switched my vote while writing this column 800 times, it eventually came down to “which film would I feel more stupid for being wrong about?” And there’s where I found my answer. 12 Years a Slave is my official prediction.

BEST DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
% Sure: 85
Could Win: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Should Have Been There: Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines
Comments: Won’t bore you all again with a long-winded, metric-based discussion of why this award has to go to Cuaron, but I don’t see any way that he loses this.

BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
% Sure: 75
Could Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Should Have Been There: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Comments: I have a sneaking suspicion about Leo’s chances here, but only two actors have ever won an Oscar without getting a Screen Actor’s Guild nomination, of which Leo didn’t. Christoph Waltz managed to pull it off last year for only the second time ever, but the odds are clearly against it. Having said that, this category has the biggest possibility for a surprise upset, as I could legitimately see any of the four other nominees stealing it from McConaughey.

BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
% Sure: 98.5
Could Win: Amy Adams, American Hustle
Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Should Have Been There: Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Comments: Recent Woody Allen controversies withstanding, Dame Blanchett has this award in the bag.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
% Sure: 99.5
Could Win: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Should Have Been There: Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines
Comments: The most sure-fire bet of all the acting awards.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Lupita Nyongo, 12 Years a Slave
% Sure: 60
Could Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle (though Lupita would be a very worthy winner)
Should Have Been There: Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street
Comments: Bit of a two-way race here between Nyongo and last year’s Best Actress winner, miss J-Law. Which is exactly the reason I don’t believe she will win this year.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAYAmerican Hustle 
% Sure: 55
Could Win: Her
Should Win: Blue Jasmine
Should Have Been There: Frances Ha
Comments: The debate with this prediction is that it I think Her could very well win, but then that means American Hustle racked up 10 nominations and went home empty-handed (unless, as I note above, J-Law pulls off her second straight Oscar win). And wonky things always seem to happen in the screenplay categories.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: 12 Years a Slave
% Sure: 75
Could Win: Philomena
Should Win: Before Midnight
Should Have Been There: Before Midnight got the nomination, and that’s the most important thing.
Comments: A Best Picture winner rarely loses this award (it happened in 2012 with The Artist, but, that was a silent film).

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Frozen 
% Sure: 80
Could Win: The Wind Rises
Should Win: Whoops...didn’t see any of these.
Should Have Been There: I literally didn’t see a single animated film this year. Totally unacceptable.
Comments: The Academy usually likes to reward more artistic films like The Wind Rises with a nomination, but that seems to be as far as they’ll go. It finally appears to be Disney’s year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: 20 Feet From Stardom
% Sure: 55
Could Win: The Act of Killing
Comments: The Act of Killing is great and you should watch it on Netflix streaming as soon as you get a chance. Does not seem to be an “Academy” movie to me. Which is why a lot of people are predicting The Square, a cultural documentary about Egyptian revolutionaries. It’s really too bad that Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell couldn’t manage a nomination, because I think it would have gone on to win. Okay, it’s clear that I’m just stalling and I have no handle on this category whatsoever. Next.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Great Beauty
% Sure: 50
Could Win: The Broken Circle Breakdown
Comments: Usually there’s a clear winner in this category, but it appears to be a race this year.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gravity
% Sure: 95
Could Win: Prisoners  
Should Win: Gravity
Should Have Been There: To the Wonder, obviously. But I also wish 12 Years a Slave could have made it in (let’s be honest and admit that Nebraska would not have been here if it weren’t in black and white).
Comments: Emmanuel Lubezki, director of photography on such films as The Tree of Life, Children of Men, and this year’s To The Wonder, looks to win his first award for Gravity after having been previously nominated five times without a win. Rarely do Best Picture nominees lose to non-Best Picture nominees in this category, and the only other Best Picture nom here is Nebraska. Gravity has this one in the bag.













BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: The Great Gatsby
% Sure: 68
Could Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Win: Her, obviously
Should Have Been There: The Wolf of Wall Street
Comments: Gatsby appears to satisfy the tech award category mantra of “Best = Most” and the always-gaudy Baz Lurhmann seems to have done just that this year with a quantity over quality approach to his adaptation of the Fitzgerald novel. Four Best Picture hopefuls are waiting in the wings with Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Her all exhibiting worthy work, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear frontrunner among them to topple Gatsby.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: The Great Gatsby
% Sure: 70
Could Win: American Hustle
Should Win: 12 Years a Slave
Should Have Been There: The Wolf of Wall Street and Her
Comments: See above. Costume and Production Design seem to go hand-in-hand fairly often, though I’m wondering if some voters will cast their vote for the glitzy costume-work in Hustle as a consolation prize for missing out on other top awards.

BEST HAIRSTYLING AND MAKEUP: Dallas Buyers Club
% Sure: 95
Could Win: Actually Bad Grandpa might have a chance.
Should Win: Dallas Buyers Club
Should Have Been There: 12 Years a Slave (I’m sorry, I’m trying to keep my personal biases out of this, but, sorry.
Comments: Best Picture nom against non-Best Picture noms. Easy money. Moving along...

BEST FILM EDITING: Gravity
% Sure: 68.5
Could Win: Captain Phillips
Should Win: I’ll let Gravity have this one even though I loved the editing in 12 Years a Slave.
Should Have Been There: Both the crisply-moving Frances Ha and the wonderfully drawn-out The Wolf of Wall Street exhibit how important editing is to telling the type of story you want to tell. They each worked wonderfully for opposite reasons, and both deserved to be in this field over the severely undercooked American Hustle, which might be the single worst nomination in any category this year.
Comments: Look out for Captain Phillips, as the last Paul Greengrass film to be nominated here won the award (The Bourne Ultimatum).

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity
% Sure: 10,320
Could Win: A short film that I just made on my iPhone about me doing the dishes, because it literally has as much of a chance as winning as anything else not named Gravity.
Should Win: Gravity

BEST SOUND MIXING: Gravity
% Sure: 97.5
Could Win: Captain Phillips
Should Win: Gravity
Should Have Been There: The Conjuring
Comments: Best Picture hopeful that’s also a big blockbuster = lots of Oscar wins in technical categories. This is a tried and true Oscar rule.

BEST SOUND EDITING: Gravity
% Sure:
Could Win: Lone Survivor
Should Win: Gravity
Should Have Been There: who cares.
Comments: Last year, Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall tied to squeeze this one out over the otherwise heavily-awarded Life of Pi, but it seems like Gravity is such a tech-monolith this year that I don’t anticipate that will happen with, say, Lone Survivor (also, Zero Dark Thirty had a lot of other nominations and was a Best Picture contender, so that means something there, I think).

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Gravity 
% Sure: 60
Could Win: Her
Should Win: Gravity
Should Have Been There: Not a great year for original scores, but I liked both Her and Gravity pretty well.
Comments: Don’t have a great feel for this category. It’s mainly a case of “no other good nominees” that will probably propel Gravity toward one of it’s many wins of the night.  

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Let it Go” from Frozen
% Sure: 95
Comments: Whatever. Always my least favorite category of the night.  The tween and gay faction of viewers will enjoy this win.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: Get a Horse!
% Sure: 85
Comments: Disney will kick off their two-win night with an award for this fun little short film (barring an Original Score win for Saving Mr. Banks).

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: The Voorman Problem
% Sure: Whatever.
Comments: The only English language short film. Next.

BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECTS: The one about the 109 year old Holocaust survivor seems about right. No other commentary necessary.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

In Defense of Film: The Top 10 Films of 2013


In late 2013, A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote an article entitled “The Big Picture Strikes Back,” a piece I considered to be one of the year’s best film-related articles. It was a thread I had picked up on earlier in the year, and had been heavily considering as I entered and exited various theaters throughout 2013. As usual, Scott knocked it out of the park with his take, but I think the idea behind Cinema vs. Television deserves enough space for a small-fry blogger such as myself to offer his own thoughts on the subject. 

So, for this year, instead of posting my Top 10 list along with the usual little blurb on each of the films, I thought I would take a broader approach and discuss some of them in the context of this larger conversation that’s been happening around film and television for the past few years. I’ve posted my Top 10 list below, but overall I won’t discuss every film on the list, and I might also include discussion on some films that didn’t make my list, but that add to the conversation. 

*          *          *

As most of my readers are aware, Breaking Bad had it’s final eight-episode half-season run from August through September of last year, and pretty handily dominated the pop-culture landscape for those eight weeks, and deservingly so. The critical and commercial success of Breaking Bad seemed to put somewhat of a period on a decade and a half of marvelous television storytelling, which has given us everything from The Sopranos, to Lost, to Mad Men and of course, The Wire.

Concurrently with Breaking Bad’s final run, the cinema had been pumping out its normal end-of-summer crapfest, with big-budgeted gaudiness such as Neill Blomkamp’s misguided Elysium failing both critically and commercially. I had begun to think that the best stories were being told on television, and moreover, that the perceived limitations of the medium were actually in its favor, because the episodic structure at least somewhat forces good writing, acting, and plot development.  

My attitude changed somewhat, when five days after the finale of Breaking Bad, I went to see a little film called Gravity (#7). Set in space just outside of earth, filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron uses 3D technology and weightless camera movement to achieve an overwhelming sense of imbalance and vertigo.  The emotional and spiritual journey of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as she attempts to forge her way back to earth after debris destroys her spaceship works seamlessly as a thematic complement to the visual wizardry on display.

A gorgeous crane shot from All is Lost
A film that didn’t quite make my Top 10, director J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost, is probably another one of the year’s best examples of a film that would not be successful in any other medium. Set in the Indian Ocean, Robert Redford stars as an aging sailor who is stranded at sea when his boat is damaged by a loose shipping container. The one-man-act contains exactly one paragraph of spoken word, a monologue at the beginning of the film. Like Gravity, it is in many ways a stripped down film that forces introspection about coming to terms with one’s own demise.  How lucky we are to have filmmakers brave enough to tackle these subjects in such interesting and fully cinematic ways.

Relationships were explored in new ways this year as well. A trio of films on my Top 10, Before Midnight (#2), The Place Beyond the Pines (#3), and To the Wonder (#9), contemplate marriage, father-son relationships, and romance, respectively. Before Midnight is the third film in the Before series by Richard Linklater, each set nine years apart from one another. It is a rare treasure in cinema to see characters change and grow over an 18-year period. Each of the three chapters take place over mere hours and yet somehow successfully tell the story of entire lives.  

The Place Beyond the Pines, a film that I regretfully never wrote a review of this year, has an interweaving three-act structure involving fathers and sons that unfolds like a modern Dickens novel. Derek Cianfrance, director of 2010’s Blue Valentine, improves on his solid rookie effort drastically, which successfully expresses how legacy can beget both privilege and suppression. The two and a half hour runtime only heightens the impact as Cianfrance peels back layer after layer, until a core of thematic truth hits you like a pile of bricks in the film’s final moments.

I find it ironic that two inarguable cinematic masters tackled success and failure in New York City this year – Martin Scorsese with the relentless The Wolf of Wall Street (#4) and the Coen brothers with the slow-simmering Inside Llewyn Davis (#5). These two stories could almost work as a double-feature film, as both are centered around flat-out assholes for protagonists – one, an imposturous but riotously successful Wall Street Banker, and the other a floundering 60’s folk singer whose devotion to his artistry is both his guiding star and his Achilles heel.  The storytelling prowess of these two directors could propel them to success in just about any medium, but the particular structures they operated in this year allowed them to fully explore the circumstances of characters who manage to learn absolutely nothing over the course of their story.

*          *          *


Finally, I would be remiss to neglect mentioning 12 Years a Slave (#1) in the context of this discussion though I’ve already dug into it thoroughly here. When I consider television shows I love, the first aspect that comes to mind is characters. I think of Jerry Seinfeld, Don Draper, Homer Simpson and Walter White. When I think of movies, however, imagery is the first thing that comes to mind. I think of Janet Leigh’s screaming face in Psycho, and Anton Chigurh staring down a west-Texas gas station owner in No Country for Old Men, and Kubrick’s shuddering “star-child” at the conclusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For me, at least two images from 12 Years a Slave belong in a conversation alongside some of the very best single shots in film history. The first is an extended shot that I discussed in my review of the film, which shows the main character, Solomon Northup, hanging from a tree across a period of hours. This shot, and the movie in general, isn’t particularly representative of the cinematic innovation I’ve been discussing here, and yet, there is a modernity to it that I’m not sure America realized it was ready for until director Steve McQueen showed us the way.

The single most memorable image for me from 2013

The second shot, and the subtler of the two, comes about three quarters of the way through the film.  Standing in a field alone and slowly looking around at nothing in particular, Northup stands left of center in the frame. For a brief, breathtaking moment, Northup fixes his piercing gaze directly into the camera, as though to say, “this is not the story of me – it is the story of all of us.” 

These two shots, and a third – an extended close-up take in Gravity (pictured above) in which Sandra Bullock desperately attempts to stabilize her oxygen use – will be the chief take-aways for my cinema experience this year. I hope as television continues to tell great stories, film will continue to find new ways to distinguish itself by innovating and surprising us.

The Top 10 Films of 2013
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Before Midnight
3. The Place Beyond the Pines
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. Frances Ha
7. Gravity
8. Blue Jasmine
9. To the Wonder
10. Enough Said


Honorable Mentions (No particular order):
Prisoners
Don Jon
Fruitvale Station
All is Lost
Nebraska
Short Term 12
Her
Spring Breakers

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Oscar Bait: Oscar Nomination Predictions 2014


My obsession with film awards season has been well-documented on this blog for the past 4 years (wow, I can’t believe I’ve been writing this blog for 4 years), which makes me sad to report that my attempt to crack the Oscar code was derailed a little this winter at the hands of the job carousel and a series of other unfortunate events, including two catastrophic car failures and me having to take public transportation for the better part of 4 weeks.

However, Sunday evening’s Golden Globes ceremony really oiled my prediction gears, as I spent an unreasonably long time (see: at least 3 hours -- okay, it was 5) doing research to correctly predict all the film awards given out by the HFPA that night, in which I went a solid 8/10, correctly predicting all six acting awards, director and Best Comedy and incorrectly predicting Best Drama and Screenplay.

So I’m back in the game now a little and plan on riding my wave of Golden Globes success through nomination morning tomorrow and ending up with hopefully my most successful predictions ever for the Oscars themselves.

Below are my nomination predictions for the 8 major categories at the Oscars. As always, I try and break each group down just a little to give you a little insight for where I’m at with any particular category.  And, as always, feel free to come back tomorrow morning after the announcement and laugh at how wrong I am.


BEST PICTURE

Locks:
12 Years a Slave
Gravity
American Hustle

Relatively Safe:
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street

The Good Value Bets:
Her
Dallas Buyer’s Club

The Bad Value Bet:
Saving Mr. Banks

Long Odds:
Nebraska
August: Osage County
Philomena
Inside Llewyn Davis
Blue Jasmine
The Butler

Final Predictions: I’m going with 9 nominees again this year: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, and my biggest No Guts No Glory prediction of the day: August: Osage County.

If I were to predict 9 or 10 I’d feel comfortable adding Saving Mr. Banks and one of the other long shots.   I’m really straying from convention with my August: Osage County prediction, and Saving Mr. Banks will probably make beat it out, but without a DGA, SAG, or WGA nomination backing it, I feel justified in leaving it out of my predictions. I also REALLY want to look like a genius and add Inside Llewyn Davis to my prediction list, but alas, I already used my No Guts No Glory prediction on August: Osage County.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Locks:
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

Pretty Much a Lock:
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Lots of Great Performances That Will Probably Be Screwed:
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Robert Redford, All is Lost
Joaquin Phoenix, Her
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Forrest Whitaker, The Butler

Final Predictions: McConaughey, Hanks, Ejiofor, Dern, and DiCaprio.  Robert Redford could very well get in here, but I’m not so sure it would be over DiCaprio, even though that seems to be conventional wisdom.  The first four names in the category seem SO solid though, that I can’t possibly make myself remove any of them in favor of Redford.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Locks:
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity

I Think She’s Safe?
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Vying for the 5th Slot:
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Final Predictions:  Blanchett, Bullock, Thomspon, Adams.  I believe Ms. Adams win at the Golden Globes shows some support for her performance, propelling her to a nomination over Queen Streep.  I would not in any way be shocked if Meryl gets in over Emma Thompson, though.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Lock it Down:
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

Feeling Confident:
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

I Don’t Know Who The Hell is Getting in Out of These People:
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Daniel Bruhl, Rush
Will Forte, Nebraska
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Final Predictions:  Leto, Fassbender, Abdi, Gandolfini, Cooper.  I think a LOT of people are sleeping on Will Forte’s chances here, and I for one will not be shocked at all to see his name mentioned.  However, I’m sticking with these five here against my poorer judgment. 

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Lock, Stock & Barrel:
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Safe Bets:
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Waiting in the Wings:
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Final Predictions: Lawrence, Nyong’o, Squibb, Winfrey, Roberts.  These five seem extremely solid despite a few mentions here and there for Ms. Hawkins. If someone outside of these six make it into the lineup, a lot of prognosticators will fall out of their chair tomorrow morning.

BEST DIRECTOR

Lock, Lock, Lock it Down:
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Not as Safe as Everyone Thinks:
David O. Russell, American Hustle

The Bloodbath for Two More Slots:
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
Spike Jonze, Her
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

Final Predictions:  McQueen, Cuaron, Russell, Scorsese, and...Greengrass.  Unfortunately this is the same five nominated by the DGA this year, which never matches with the Oscars 5/5, but I just can’t figure out who I would take out of the lineup, even though conventional wisdom would say Spike Jonze is a sure thing.  This category had some CRAZY movement last year from the norm, and has a history of being unconventional, so nothing will surprise me. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Locks:
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Her
Dallas Buyers Club
Nebraska

Poised for the Upset:
Inside Llewyn Davis

Final Predictions: I feel extremely confident in my locks. I can’t see anything else making the cut in that category.  Which, as you know, means I’m really, really wrong about something, and Inside Llewyn Davis will somehow get in.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Locks:
12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight

On the Safe Side:
The Wolf of Wall Street
Philomena
Captain Phillips
August: Osage County

The Rest of the Field:
Short Term 12
Lone Survivor

Final Prediction: Sticking to my first five here: 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena and Captain Phillips.