Oscar Statue
Academy Award nominations just love winter weather.
Academy Award nominations just love winter weather.  So, it is during the coldest part of the year that this reviewer warms her hands over the computer keyboard and takes a look at the Academy Award Nominations for 2014. The presentation will be Sunday, March 2, 2014 and it will be Oscar’s 86th birthday. This year, we have a wide range of films from con games (“American Hustle”) to inadequate medical treatment (“Dallas Buyers Club”) to finding a lost son (“Philomena”) to the game of Wall Street. Yes, folks, Wall Street and the people, thereof, do play a game and it is called Everyone Else’s Money.
*Best Picture has Ten Categories and ten directors, but in the Directors Category, only five are listed, Go figure. In alphabetical order, “American Hustle” is one big con game, set in Vegas and with hair you wouldn't believe on men or women. “Captain Phillips” is a harrowing true life saga of an ocean hijacking and both sides mean business. “Dallas Buyers Club” shows how treating the patient is not always in anyone’s best interest. “Gravity” takes us to the cold of space where there is no music only the sound of one’s own breath. “Her” I quibble with, as I feel this is a weak film and weak entry, thus we  have Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with the voice of his computer. “Nebraska” has never looked lovelier than in black and white photography and a power story to boot. “Philomena” has a power story but it gets short shrift here with threads dangling. “12 Years A Slave” takes us back to the 19th century and slavery and abuse. “The Wolf of Wall Street” shows us that the top guys on Wall Street still continue to fiddle while their Rome burns. My favorite is “American Hustle,” but I think “12 Years A Slave” will win in this category.  Missing in action are “Lone Survivor,” “August: Osage County” and “All Is Lost.”
*Best Director is all over the map this year from David O. Russell’s con games in “American Hustle,” to Alfonso Cuaron’s astute direction in “Gravity” and graceful absence of music, too. Alexander Payne directs from someone else’s script (Bob Nelson) and Payne sharpens his focus to bring land, light, shadow and actors into a whole. Steve McQueen (familiar name, eh?) takes us back to slavery issues in “12 Years A Slave” which is of a nightmare kidnapping and life after. Martin Scorsese brings the wildness of Wall Street and bushels of money to the forefront in a story of greed with a capital “G.” I like David O. Russell’s direction for “American Hustle,” but I think Steve McQueen will get it for “12 Years A Slave.”  Where is Paul Greengrass for “Captain Phillips,” Peter Berg for “Lone Survivor” or the Coen Brothers for “Inside Llewyn Davis?”
*Best Actor has Christian Bale with his disguises in “American Hustle” and two women to contend with. Bruce Dern, usually a villain, takes on the role of a feisty old man in “Nebraska,” and a marriage that is on a rocky road. Leonardo Di Caprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” shows us how greed can change someone from a person to debased/person. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the kidnapped man in “12 Years A Slave” shows us how one man survived a nightmare life in a harsh environment. Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” took us into the world of illness, medicine, doctors and the sometimes stigma of being ill. My favorite is Bruce Dern for “Nebraska” but I think Chiwetel Ejiofor for ”12 Years A Slave” will get the Oscar.  What happened to Tom Hanks for “Captain Phillips,” Robert Redford for “All Is Lost” or Hugh Jackman for “Prisoners?”
*Best Actress has Amy Adams (also good in “She”) as the chameleon woman in “American Hustle.”  Cate Blanchett is the woman in depression and dealing with family members in “Blue Jasmine,” though I don't think this is her best role. Sandra Bullock as the astronaut who fights to survive in space that seems to be closing in on her, had everyone on the edge of their seats. Judi Dench gave a read-through performance in “Philomena” and I was disappointed. Meryl Streep, on the other hand, went all out as the hateful mother in “August: Osage County.”  This is a tough category, but I liked Amy Adams changing character in “American Hustle” and I think she might get it. Where is Emma Thompson for “Saving Mr. banks” or, as a long shot, Greta Gerwig for “Frances Ha?”
*Best Supporting Actor covers a wide range of talent. There is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as the head hijacker in “Captain Phillips.” Bradley Cooper is a government agent with too much on his mind in “American Hustle.”  Michael Fassbender goes back to the 19th century as a slave owner in “12 Years A Slave.” Jonah Hill, with greed in his eyes,  works with Leonardo Di Caprio on Wall Street in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Jared Leto was unrecognizable in the role of an AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  This is a difficult choice, but I liked Jared Leto’s performance and he just may get the Oscar. Where are Chris Cooper for “August: Osage County” or Ben Foster for “Lone Survivor?”
*Best Supporting Actress runs the gamut from youth to maturity in the actresses nominated. There is Sally Hawkins as the over-the-top sister to Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine.” Jennifer Lawrence, in a shorter, but memorable role as the housewife you wouldn't trust with a microwave in “American Hustle,” Lupia Nyong’o plays a tragic character in the 19th century drama, “12 Years A Slave.” Julia Roberts is the daughter who stands up to Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County,“ and June Squibb, the mature actress, takes the role of a crusty wife to Bruce Dern in “Nebraska,” and goes with it. My favorite is the newcomer, Lupita Nyong’o for”12 Years A Slave” and she just might win it. Missing are Oprah Winfrey for “The Butler” and Alison Janney” for “The Way Way Back.”
*Best Animated Feature Film contains two films that were not widely shown. “Ernest & Celestine” and “The Wind Rises.”  The former being about the friendship between a bear and a mouse, while the later is a film concerning a young Japanese man during WWII who is an airplane designer.  “The Croods” showed life at Neanderthal time with teenage angst, too. “Despicable Me 2” was a continuation of the Steve Carell-voiced villain/soft guy who adopts orphans. “Frozen” is Disney’s next venture into Princess-land with a good music score. Missing are the humorous “Monsters U.,” the snail-with-speed “Turbo,” and “Cloudy With Meatballs 2,” with a person-eating hamburger. My favorite is "Frozen” and I think it will win an Oscar.
*Best Foreign Language Film, per usual, is usually an almost-empty category in the Midwest.  East and West Coasts seem to think they have a monopoly on such films that skip over the Mississippi River on their way to either ocean.  The films nominated, which I did not see are “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” “The Great Beauty,” “The Hunt,” “The Missing Picture” and “Omar.”  The one I did see was “The Attack” about a doctor who thinks his wife may be involved in a bombing.  It had me interested from the beginning. However, it was not nominated.
*Best Original Screenplay has David O. Russell for “American Hustle” about the con game and who is conning who. “Blue Jasmine” is Woody Allen creating a dysfunctional family. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack with “Dallas Buyers Club” show what happens when medicine and real life come to terms. “Her” by Spike Jonze I have a problem with, as the plot is similar to television episodes from “Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek.”  “Nebraska” by Bob Nelson gives growing old an edge with a feisty old man and his equally feisty wife in a marriage of thorns.  I think “American Hustle” is the favorite here and mine, too.  What happened to “Gravity,” or “Prisoners” or “All Is Lost?”  Shelved by Oscar.
*Best Adapted Screenplay with “Before Midnight” that gives us love from Richard Linklater, Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke.  “Captain Phillips” from Billy Ray comes from the trauma of kidnapping on the high seas and the aftermath. “Philomena” by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope has a wealth of information but it was not adequately presented to the screen.  “12 Years A Slave”  by John Ridley took us back to the 19th century and a different life style. “The Wolf of Wall Street”  from Terence Winter shows that no matter how much money you have, you end up wanting more and more and more. My favorite is “Captain Phillips,” though “12 Years A Slave” just may get it. Missing are “The Book Thief,” “Great Expectations,” “August: Osage County” and “Lone Survivor.”
*Best Documentary has an eye-opener on “The Act Of Killing” about what happens when you turn a camera on a group of rebel killers. “Cutie & The Boxer” is the life experience of a couple. “Dirty Wars” follows a reporter in wartime. “The Square” concerns the Egyptian uprising. Last, is my favorite, “Twenty Feet From Stardom” about the background singers and dancers in stage productions. So near and yet so far.  I think “Twenty Feet From Stardom” will make it. I am missing, and that is sorely missing, “Kon Tiki,” with fabulous photography and the story of men who made a raft like Thor Heyerdahl’s craft, and venture out on the South Pacific in it.
*Closing this year’s nominations list is Original Score. John Williams is here (again) with “The Book Thief.” Steven Price has “Gravity” with barely a whisper of music. “Her” with original music (generated by the computer in the film) was composed by William Butler and Owen Pallett. “Philomena” music is by Alexandre Desplat, while “Saving Mr. Banks” (shades of “Mary Poppins”) is by Thomas Newman. John Williams is always grand, but I'm partial to Steven Price and “Gravity.” However, where are “All Is Lost” or “Lone Survivor?”
This year, as always, enjoy movie-going and be safe, not only to and from the theater, but also in the theater and outside in the parking lot. 
Copyright 2014 Marie Asner