Some view them as a showcase of talent and a chance to acknowledge artistic achievements; others see them as a parade of wealth and an exercise in mutual back-patting. But no one can deny the fact that award shows can garner massive media and public attention, shining a spotlight on the nominees and winners, and revving up business for important pieces of work. None of them generate more interest than the Oscars, the most prestigious acting accolades that come by once a year and have movie buffs around the globe transfixed. And yes, it’s precisely that time of the year again.
It will be an evening of glitz and glamour as the Hollywood elite converge at the Dolby Theatre today for the 86th Academy Awards. The delightful Ellen DeGeneres will be in charge of the ceremony, hosting the show for the second time, as the golden statues are handed out for some of the most impressive work of 2013. Here’s a look at the main categories and how the night’s major races are shaping up…
Nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street
If you want proof that 2013 was an impressive year in films, then simply look at the list of the Best Picture nominees and the depth and variety they offer. And if you need still more proof, then just think of the omissions. How did All Is Lost not make the cut? Why was there no love for Inside Llewyn Davis? And whatever became of The Butler?
As for the movies that did get a nomination, six of these nine flicks have something in common: they’re based on real people and actual events. It is no secret that the Academy loves movies based on real life, and like always, this time around reality has helped shape many of these tales of surviving in difficult situations (12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips), searching for answers (Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club), and corruption and fraud (American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street), all of which have been inspired by true stories. Rounding up the Best Picture list is the inventive love story Her, the lost in space drama Gravity, and the tender black and white comedic gem Nebraska, all worthy contenders.
While guessing which one will emerge victorious is an attempt at predicting the unpredictable, both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity are going into the Oscar race with the most momentum and are likely to battle it out for the night’s biggest award. Based on how well it has done during the award season so far, 12 Years seems like the favourite in this category, and quite deservedly so – its shocking story, strong acting, and skilful execution have won this affecting albeit difficult historical epic many accolades, and it won’t come as a surprise if it takes home the coveted trophy.
Nominees: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Even though David O. Russell’s crime dramedy has been shown much love in the nominations, and despite the fact that Martin Scorsese is, well, Martin Scorsese, neither of them are expected to win the gold in this category tonight. In fact, it is the frontrunners of the Best Picture award that map onto the frontrunners of the Best Director accolade, making it a race between two first-time nominees. The technical wizardry of Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity goes up against the poignant storytelling of Steve McQueen in 12 Years a Slave for the Best Director prize, with Cuarón having an edge for his dexterous execution of the hard-to-film space drama and for intricately bringing its setting to cinematic life, while leaving us wondering how it was done.
Nominees: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Five strong performers vie for the Best Actor award, making it a very close race for the Oscar in this category. Dazzling us with their acting skills, we have Christian Bale as a conman forced to set up a sting operation in American Hustle; Bruce Dern as the dementia-struck father in Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio as the shady New York stockbroker in The Wolf of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor as the free man kidnapped and sold into slavery in 12 Years a Slave; and Matthew McConaughey as the AIDS patient struggling with his disease as well as the medical system in Dallas Buyers Club.
While Chiwetel Ejiofor’s role and performance are powerful enough to potentially win him the gong, and even though the Academy may feel like they pretty much owe Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar at this point, the most deserving performer here is Matthew McConaughey for his turn in the brilliant Dallas Buyers Club, both for his physical transformation and for bringing the complex character so convincingly to life.
Nominees: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Amy Adams’ turn as a con artist, Cate Blanchett’s take on a troubled socialite, Sandra Bullock’s struggle for survival as a stranded astronaut, Judi Dench’s search for a lost son, and Meryl Streep’s spin on an unravelling matriarch have earned these five talented ladies a place among the Best Actress candidates. And while all five roles were handles expertly, it’s time for Cate Blanchett to ready her acceptance speech and make room on her shelf for another trophy; she is the clear favourite in this category for what is being termed one of her best performances to date.
Amy Adams could potentially cause an upset here, what with this being her fifth Oscar nomination without a single win so far. But this award really is Blanchett’s to lose. The hoopla around Woody Allen’s personal life can’t diminish her contribution to Blue Jasmine, as her unsettling performance is the driving force behind the movie.
Also, no matter who wins, keep an eye on all of their outfits; the night is sure to generate pages upon pages of “She wore WHAT?! Shoot the stylist!” fodder in entertainment magazines.
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Between Bakhad Abdi’s Somali pirate, Bradley Cooper’s curly haired FBI agent, Michael Fassbender’s ruthless slave owner, Jonah Hill’s sleazy sidekick, and Jared Leto’s transgender AIDS patient, there is one actor whose performance very prominently stands out: Jared Leto.
Sure newcomer Bakhad Abdi and the incredible Michael Fassbender will give him a run for his money, but the Oscar belongs to the Dallas Buyers Club actor. In his most prominent role since Requiem for a Dream, Leto wows with his moving take on a complex character, giving one of the most memorable portraits of the year. His performance is so convincing that it doesn’t even look like he’s acting. Who knew the Thirty Seconds to Mars front-man was this good an actor?
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), and June Squibb (Nebraska)
Jennifer Lawrence’s firecracker of a performance in American Hustle, Sally Hawkins take on a complicated role in Blue Jasmine, Julia Roberts’ much-hyped part in the melodrama that was August: Osage County, and the lovely June Squibb’s acerbic character in Nebraska have earned these impressive actresses a place on this list.
Last year’s Best Actress pick Jennifer Lawrence was probably the most entertaining element of American Hustle and could take this category, but based on the combination of a substantive role coupled with a gutsy performance, none can compete with newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, the most deserving in this category. She had the toughest role and she did it justice, gripping us with her heart-wrenching portrayal of downtrodden slave Patsy.
Best Animated Feature
Nominees: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, and The Wind Rises
It’s sad to see that Pixar, the once mighty animation powerhouse that has not only dominated this category during the last decade but also helped make it relevant and significant with its amusing, inventive features, hasn’t even managed to get a nomination this year. The five nominees for 2014 – The Croods (a pre-historic family’s journey into an unfamiliar world), Despicable Me 2 (the return of Gru, as he is recruited by the Anti-Villain League), Ernest & Celestine (the story of an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse), The Wind Rises (Japanese historical drama about Jiro Horikoshi who designed WWII fighter planes), and Frozen (fairytale musical about a princess who tries to find her sister who has inadvertently frozen their kingdom) – have all garnered a positive reception, which is why it is hard to say with certainty which one will be picked as the winner.
The two most likely contenders are The Wind Rises, retired animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, particularly if the Academy wants to honour the director for his contribution to the field, and of course everyone’s favourite Frozen, Disney’s highest grossing animation ever, with its touching tale of sisterhood and loneliness, and a refreshing look at true love. If Frozen does bag the honour, it will (surprisingly) be the first such victory for Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Best Original Song
Nominees: ‘Happy’ from Despicable Me 2, ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen, ‘The Moon Song’ from Her, and ‘Ordinary Love’ from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The category that highlights how intrinsic music can be to movies has ended up being the centre of controversy this year, after the nomination of the track ‘Alone, Yet Not Alone’ (the title song from Alone Yet Not Alone) was revoked when it was deemed that the song’s co-writer Bruce Broughton had improperly contacted Academy members for support.
The remaining singles – Pharrell William’s funky ‘Happy’, the rousing Idina Menzel-belted ‘Let It Go’, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s front-woman Karen O’s soulful ‘The Moon Song’, and U2′s touching Nelson Mandela tribute ‘Ordinary Love’ – are now left to vie for the golden man (and U2, Idina Menzel, Karen O, and Pharrell Williams are set to perform their respective tracks during the ceremony).
All four songs are well made and well used, and anyone could take this award. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s ‘Let It Go’ has an advantage going in for being part of the universally loved animated film and is the favourite based on the trophies it has already collected, but it won’t be shocking if the well-liked U2 single or the beautiful ‘The Moon Song’ snag the accolade.
Gravity and American Hustle are tied for the most nominations with ten mentions apiece, and are also the likely potential recipients in some of the other categories. Gravity has a shot at taking the Visual Effects as well as Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, and Film Editing awards, while the American Hustle could take the Costume Design trophy with its flashy ’70s ensembles, although Her (also a frontrunner for the Best Original Screenplay) and The Great Gatsby also have a chance to win here.
Italy’s The Great Beauty, an aging socialite’s look at Rome, is riding high on the back of its recent Golden Globe win and is expected to finish atop the Best Foreign Language Film list (even though many are rooting for Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown). And the Documentary Feature candidates see a battle between top contenders The Act of Killing (an offbeat look at the mass-killings in Indonesia) and 20 Feet From Stardom (an uplifting crowd-pleaser about back-up singers).
Here’s hoping the night will let talent triumph over politics, and give us winners that will stand the test of time and continue to shine long after the award show glitz has faded.