There are some years when I find it difficult to fit in all of the Academy Award nominated films before the Oscars (In 2007 I saw “Letters from Iwo Jima” the night before the Oscars). This year, in part because of the Olympics, I found it really easy. In addition to seeing all of the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony, for the nineteenth year in a row, I have also seen all twenty nominated acting performances. Below I will cover the top six categories. First, I will post what I think will win and then I will rank each of the nominees from least deserving of a win to most deserving.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win-Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
5. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
I do not like Jonah Hill. I do not think he is funny and I certainly do not think he is anything resembling a decent dramatic actor. However, he was better in this movie than I thought he would be. He is a gross arrogant person playing a gross arrogant person. Perfect casting that does not deserve an Oscar Nomination. This spot should have gone to Ryan Gosling in “A Place beyond the Pines”.
4. Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
This is not a bad performance by any means, but I wonder if anybody would have noticed it if it wasn’t a performance given from a first time actor. It’s not even the best supporting performance in this movie. This spot should have gone to Jake Gyllenhall in “Prisoners” or Paul Dano in “12 Years a Slave”.
3. Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Mr. Cooper continues to impress with his desire to be an actor instead of a movie star. He was also very good this year in “A Place beyond the Pines”, a well-deserved nomination.
2. Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
Robbed of a Best Actor nomination two years ago for “Shame”, he finally gets his nomination for his great performance of a true American villain. He is the only acceptable alternative to the actor that will and should win.
1. Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”
A mark of a great performance is when you forget the actor that is playing the role and only focus on the character. Jared Leto does that with this role. It is a remarkable, brave and heartbreaking performance. Thirteen years ago he was left out in the cold for “Requiem for a Dream” but this year he will and should walk away with the big prize.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win-Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
5. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
By no means is this a bad performance. In fact is a good performance. However, it doesn’t deserve an Oscar and one could argue this fifth spot could have gone to Amy Adams in “Her”.
4. June Squibb in “Nebraska”
It’s the role of a lifetime for an eighty something actress. She is an absolute hoot in her role and she totally deserves her nomination but not the win.
3. Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
This is possibly the best acting of her career and I almost ranked it as #2. She goes toe to toe with Meryl Streep. If she hadn’t won for lesser work thirteen years ago in “Erin Brokovich” I think one could argue for a win for this.
2. Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
She is every bit as good in this, if not better, than she was in “Silver Linings Playbook”. It is a great performance but it’s just not the best performance.
1. Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
This is an absolutely amazing tour-de-force performance. It is heartbreaking and star making. She will and should win. I will be very upset if she doesn’t.
Will Win-Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
5. Bruce Dern in Nebraska
I am a sucker for a good Hollywood comeback performance. Peter Fonda in 1997’s “Ulee’s Gold” and Ellen Burstyn in 2000’s “Requiem for a Dream” come to mind. However, neither of those performances won and this one won’t either. I get why people love this performance but I don’t. The performance is fine but this spot should have gone to Joaquin Phoenix in “Her” or Liam James in “The Way Way Back”
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
It’s kind of hard to believe that this is only Leo’s fourth Oscar nomination. Year, after year, after year he turns out good performances in quality films. I have no doubt that he will win an Oscar one day but this is not the movie that will or should do it for him. He’s good, he’s always good, but this spot should have gone to Ethan Hawke in “Before Midnight”.
3. Christian Bale in American Hustle
This is a tough call between #2 and #3. If I had flipped a coin I could have easily put this as my #2. Once again Mr. Bale completely disappears into his role. This performance is everything acting should be. He completely deserved his first (how is it only his first?) Best Actor nomination.
2. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
If I decide to be nice and not nitpick I can admit this is a great performance. McConaughey does amazing work here and is as the best he’s been since “Amistad” in 1997. However, if you start to pick at the performance you realize that it is an actor known for playing cocky arrogant characters playing a cocky arrogant character. It is a Texas with a swagger playing a Texas with a swagger. But this is being nitpicky. So I’ll play nice and say this is a great performance that deserves a nomination but I just don’t think it’s in the same league as my #1.
1. Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
If the Oscars were just about awarding the best performance his would be a shoe in for a win. This performance is what movie acting should be about. It is about creating a character and showing everything that makes them tick. This film doesn’t work without this performance and the film is amazing. Everything rests on his shoulders and he delivers one hell of a performance. He won’t win tomorrow night but he should.
Will Win-Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
5. Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Okay, Sandra Bullock has given excellent dramatic performances in her career. For example 1998’s “Hope Floats”, 2000’s “28 Days”, 2002’s “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” and 2005’s “Crash” but this is not a great performance. It is a good performance in a science fiction action thriller. She did not deserve this nomination. It should have gone to Julie Delpy in “Before Midnight”.
4. Amy Adams in America Hustle
I love Amy Adams and I want her to win an Oscar. She is very good here and continues to show a darker edge here than she did in earlier roles. Despite the fact that I love her I can confidently say this performance does not deserve an Oscar. I don’t even think it deserved the nomination. I think this spot should have gone to Emma Thompson in “Saving Mr. Banks”.
3. Meryl Streep in August: Osage County
Meryl is amazing, as always. This character is not likeable but Streep does not shy away from that. She goes for it manages to hit the sweet spot in playing what is ultimate a villainous character. Her award is her eighteenth Oscar Nomination. I doubt there will ever be a fourth Oscar to tie Katherine Hepburn but if there is it won’t be for this movie.
2. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Of the four acting categories this is the one that is the most difficult for me to pick a winner. In the end I had to think about how I felt about the performances while I was watching the film. Blanchett is brilliant but there is often a slight removable quality to performances in Wood Allen films and I defiantly felt it here. It’s like it’s not quite based in reality, which kind of works for the character who really isn’t operating in reality. I won’t be upset when she wins but she’s not my number one pick.
1. Judi Dench in Philomena
In the late 1990’s when everybody was in love with Judi Dench I had yet to be convinced. But I have come around on her. She is a great actress and she creates a beautiful character. She is as good as Blanchett but her performance is more grounded and that is what makes her the winner for me. She is funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. Give the dame a second Oscar before it’s too late!
Will Win-Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
5. Alexander Payne for Nebraska
The movie is fine but nothing special. I appreciate seeing things shot in black and white but that doesn’t necessarily mean he should win or even been nominated. This spot should have gone to Spike Jonze for “Her”.
4. Martin Scorsese for The Wolf Of Wall Street
I get it, it’s Scorsese but this movie is too long. He’s done better stuff and will do better stuff. He doesn’t deserve another Best Director Oscar for this. In fact one could argue this spot should have gone to Stephen Frears for “Philomena”.
3. David O. Russell for American Hustle
He goes great performances out of his actors. That is a huge part of filmmaking but visually and pacing wise I don’t think there is anything special to this movie. This spot could have easily gone to Denis Villeneuve for “Prisoners” or Richard Linklater for “Before Midnight”
2. Alfonso Curon for Gravity
Kind of the opposite of American Hustle, this film is a stunning visual achievement. However, the performances are nothing to write home about. I suppose he deserves his nomination but when you consider the work in my #1 pick it should even come close to a win.
1. Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
McQueen’s direction has it all. He gets amazing performances out of his actors. Visually he creates the world of the 1800s in the American north but especially in the American south. You can practically feel the heat and the humidity of Louisiana as you watch the film. He makes brave choices with certain shots that only suck you further into the film and the story. This is the director that should win, hands down.
Will Win-12 Years a Slave
I know Alexander Payne has his diehard fans. This is the only explanation behind this film getting a Best Picture nomination. If the list was only five films it never should have made the cut. As it is it still shouldn’t have made the cut. This spot should have gone to “Blackfish” (which was even robbed of a Best Documentary nomination).
8. The Wolf of Wall Street
It was better than I thought it would be. Despite the fact it is at least twenty minutes too long it was entertaining from start to finish. However, at the end of the day it’s nothing special and ends up endorsing the behavior it is portraying. This spot should have gone to “Before Midnight”.
7. Captain Phillips
This was also better than I thought it would be. As an action film is perfectly fine but if you take a closer look it is a piece of American propaganda that has a narrow vision on a large problem.
I’m sorry but it’s just a thriller. It’s a well-paced and visually stunning thriller, but in the end it amounts to little more than several sequences where Sandra Bullock tries to survive a nightmare from hell. It better not win.
5. American Hustle
The opposite of a lot of long movies, this one starts out slow and then gets exciting. I get why some people love it but I only liked it. I’m okay that it got nominated but it shouldn’t win.
4. Dallas Buyers Club
Two great performances and a powerful story are what make this film stand out. It is an important film in terms of the history of H.I.V./A.I.D.S. in this country. However, the rumors/evidence that Matthew McCounaughey’s character may have been openly bisexual does damper the impact of the film for me a bit.
I don’t want to spoil anything but there are some themes addressed in another movie lower ranked on this list that this one addresses just as well or better. This film made me laugh and made me cry. It had plot turns I didn’t see coming and was entertaining from start to finish. I don’t see a lot of movies twice these days but I would absolutely see this one twice.
Original, timely and artsy, this film has a European style ending that allows you to make your own conclusions. The performances were all great and it is visually interesting. This is the science fiction fantasy film of the year not “Gravity”. In my mind this is the ONLY film that even comes close to my #1.
1. 12 Years a Slave
This film is a true American epic that forces us to hold up a mirror to our own awful history. Anybody who complains that this film is hard to watch is missing the point and should be ashamed of themselves. This film is supposed to be hard to watch it’s about slavery from crying out loud. It’s not disrespectful to the topic like “Django Unchained”, it is brutal because let’s face it the slavery was brutal. The film has great performances, a great story and great direction. Only “Her” comes close and that’s a very distant second. This was the best film of 2013 and if it doesn’t win then than the Academy should be ashamed of themselves.