Reading the Signs for Hollywood’s Big Night
Reality will be inescapable at this year’s Academy Awards. Six of the nine Best Picture nominees are “based on a true story.” It’s a curious turn, given that so many top moneymakers are fantasies drawn from comic books or young adult fiction. Perhaps “reality based” pictures hold more gravitas for a Motion Picture Academy whose members have always wanted to be taken seriously—even while keeping a close watch on the box office.
All nine Best Picture contenders have much to recommend them, but odds are behind three frontrunners. American Hustle is a crowd pleaser, Gravity has awesome special effects but 12 Years a Slave has the gravitas.
Predicting the future is a business riskier even than filmmaking, but film critics are obliged by law this time of year to read the signs and predict the winners on Oscar night.
12 Years a Slave
Well-acted and paced, 12 Years a Slave is probably the best movie ever made on the antebellum South. It’s the sort of serious, prestige picture the Academy always loves, but will probably win few awards in other categories. Most of the cast and crew are, relatively speaking, Hollywood outsiders.
Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
Although it might seem strange that the director of the likely Best Picture (Steve McQueen) is unlikely to be named Best Director, who says Hollywood isn’t strange? The Academy will probably split the honors, handing the trophy to Cuaron for a film less important in the grand scheme but too visually impressive to ignore. Gravity will likely take home the greatest number of Oscar on March 2, sweeping up wins for editing, mixing and anything technical.
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
2013 was Matthew McConaughey’s year. He played a cocaine-addled broker in The Wolf of Wall Street and the mysterious stranger of Mud, but his star turn in Dallas Buyers Club stole the spotlight for his full-throateed portrayal of a rowdy Texas redneck who contracts HIV through profligate heterosexuality just as AIDS became recognized as an epidemic.
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Blanchett’s extraordinary, unforgettable performance channels Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois to depict a high-strung woman whose affectations have descended into delusion. As the posh Manhattan life she knew unravels, Blanchette’s defrocked society woman is unable to find her footing.
Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Leto’s sensitive, sympathetic performance as the transsexual glam rocker who joins with McConaughey’s cowboy in an unlikely business partnership has captured imaginations. My choice would be the maniacal slave owner Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), but all the money is on Leto.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
In 1969 Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand tied for Best Actress in a competition between serious (The Lion in Winter) and light (Funny Girl). Could much the same thing happen again in 2014? Stay tuned, as they said back in the ‘60s, for this year’s big night in Hollywood.