With the Oscars just two days away, it seems as though Academy members want a seat at the cool kid’s table. The tactics of abandoning high art to make room for box office boomers is cruel and unusual punishment inflicted by a system designed to do the exact opposite.
By stretching the field of Best Picture contenders to a possibility of 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has done a disservice to the auteurs and craftsmen who deserve proper recognition. The rationale is to generate viewers. However, unless Beyoncé is planning a half-time show, there is no number grand enough to force the general public to sit down and watch four hours of awards and acceptance speeches. Oscar Sunday has always been a sacred night for film connoisseurs to geek out on a glitzy film spectacular; but now, the Academy is serving up watered down categories made to fit consumer demand.
Well, there is nothing we can do to fix this now, we must make the best of what’s on our plates. Here is a breakdown of how the night will likely go…
Best Picture–12 Years a Slave is by far and away the best film of 2013. However, embracing such heartbreaking beauty is not in vogue this year. Therefore, we have a two-way race between Gravity and American Hustle. Considering its wins at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and SAG Awards (and standout performances by a top-notch cast) American Hustle has the most steam heading down the home stretch. So, in a similar move that gave an Oscar to Crash rather than Brokeback Mountain, American Hustle will go home with the goods. This way, the Academy can continue to ignore those gut-wrenching epics that challenge audiences to look within themselves and ponder the poetry of carnage.
Best Actor-2013 will undeniably go down in history as the year of Matthew McConaughey. He is sensational in Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street and HBO’s True Detective. In addition to all of these feats, he has taken home every major award thus far for his dynamic portrayal of Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club and Oscar night will be no exception. McConaughey is set to strike gold with his first nomination despite Chiwetel Ejiofor’s more worthy performance in 12 Years a Slave…we can’t forget the Academy is in people-pleasing mode and this year, the people want McConaughey to win an Oscar.
Best Actress– Cate Blanchett is at her best in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. In the film, she pulls mightily from a bag of tricks worthy of any expert magician. Blanchet won a Best Supporting Oscar for her role as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator and, come March 2, she will finally be atop Hollywood’s list of leading ladies.
Best Supporting Actor-This field is stacked. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) all delivered incomparable performances. While Fassbender’s torturous portrayal of plantation owner, Edwin Epps, is the best of the best, the night will belong to Leto. His character, Rayon, emotes grace and elegance amidst the agony of despair and, he too, is the one all those crazy kids want to see win.
Best Supporting Actress-Early on this Oscar season, Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) seemed poised to nab back-to-back Oscar wins. However, momentum has shifted to Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave). Not only has she been the embodiment of class and style on the red carpet, she also turned in one of the most harrowing supporting roles in recent history. Her spirit as Patsy gives the film honesty and innocence that captures the soul. The race to Oscar is close, but all signs point to a well-deserved win for the darling newcomer.
Director-For whatever reason, the Academy is reluctant to embrace Steve McQueen. Two years ago, he and his film, Shame, were shut out of contention and it doesn’t appear as though he will get any loving for this year’s slave epic. Instead, we will watch Alfonso Cuaron take home a directorial statuette for Gravity–despite the fact his actors were in front of green screens throughout production and the film is fully comprised of computer-generated images.
Original Screenplay-It is rare to see three different films walk away with top honors, but in this new era of Oscar schizophrenia, nothing is out of the question. Spike Jonze weaves together an innovative and intoxicating screenplay with the film, Her. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson deliver his words of transformative love with the fluidity of an eagle in flight. Her plays out on screen like a dream, and we will all reap the benefits of hearing an acceptance speech from this literary genius.
Adapted Screenplay-This is where 12 Years a Slave will find it’s much needed redemption. John Ridley beautifully adapts Solomon Northup’s tragic tale of wrongful enslavement. It is a story that has been screaming to be told to the mainstream for 150 years. Luckily, in the wonderful world of cinema, it’s never too late to enlighten the masses.
In years past, we have seen hauntingly beautiful films walk away with big wins—The Deer Hunter (1978), Schindler’s List (1993), The Pianist (2002)—none of these films were box office hits; but they were honored for their artistry and commitment to honest depictions of tortured realities. Hopefully we can return to those days sooner rather than later.
Image by Lincolnblues
*This article also appeared in the Loyola Phoenix.