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Recapping the Oscars: A Critic’s Notebook

It’s always a bit dull to watch the Academy Award telecast when there was such a sweep. Well, the seven awards for Gravity may not constitute a “sweep,” but it was always such a front-runner that watching it slowly take over all its categories was kind of predictable. The lesson from this year’s Oscars: The “Social Message” film will always win over the technically impressive one. This was also a lesson we learned back in 2009 when The Hurt Locker – a film about the life of the modern soldier – bested Avatar – a film about blue giants on a distant moon.

Gravity, as many predicted, was the shoo-in for just about every technical award, which it did indeed win, including Visual Effects, both sound awards, editing, and cinematography, not to mention Best Director; Yes, the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban just won an Oscar. 12 Years a Slave only won three Oscars, but took home Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. I have a feeling 12 Years a Slave will be shown in high school classrooms. This is the second year in a row wherein the film that won Best Picture did not win Best Editing or Best Director, an uncommon thing in Oscar history.

Her

I was glad to see Her win Spike Jonze an Oscar for Best Original screenplay. Her, as has been constantly touted on Nerdist, was indeed one of the best films of the year for how, well, original it was. It was a moving love story, but also an incredibly salient sci-fi picture about our relationship to technology… that was not dystopian.

My two big disappointments: Leonardo DiCaprio and Before Midnight. In The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio gave what can easily be considered the best performance of his career, swinging for the fences with a wild abandon that most movie stars ordinarily consider unbecoming. Can you see someone like Sandra Bullock snorking drugs out of another human being’s orifice? I didn’t expect him to win – Matthew McConaughey’s performance was deservedly always the front-runner – but I kind of wish Leo could have stood a chance.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is one of the best romances in a year that was great for romances (Her, The Spectacular Now, Blue is the Warmest Color, and To the Wonder are all excellent love stories). The film was only up for one award – Best Adapted Screenplay – and it didn’t seem like it had a real shot, but it would have been nice to see such a fine adult film win something.

I’m not a great follower of the career of Robert Lopez, the co-writer Best Song winner “Let It Go,” but it’s exciting to see someone achieve the ever-coveted EGOT. EGOT, of course, stands for Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony. Lopez has now won all four. His audition-piece-ready belter “Let It Go” deservedly won, and his acceptance speech – a poem performed with his co-writer and wife – was adorable and showbiz in a way the Oscars usually aren’t.

The biggest shocker: American Hustle was nominated for a whopping 10 Academy Awards, and it won zero. It’s hard to point to a single reason why it won nothing. The comedy aspect (the Academy famous doesn’t award comedies)? Was it too broad and stylized? Was it too actor-centric and not story-centric enough? I think most people who saw American Hustle loved it immediately, but then sort of cooled on it in the ensuing months. By Oscar night, the bloom was off the rose. A reminder, American Hustle is still a corker of a flick.

American Hustle

The best acceptance speeches belonged to the two Best Acting winners. Cate Blanchett (the obvious winner for Blue Jasmine) addressed the specious film culture bias against movies about women, pointing out that movies about women should not be considered an anomaly, and that Hollywood should make more of them. Bully for her. Hear, hear. Matthew McConaughey was particularly sincere and entertaining, describing his heaven-dwelling father watching down on him, eating a pot of gumbo and enjoying a Miller High Life. It was the speech you wanted to hear from this man, whose Oscar win seems to have been a long time in the coming.

The weird thing: Although I admire 12 Years a Slave, this is not a Best Picture winner I feel like I need to recommend you run out and see. You wouldn’t fault yourself for seeing it, but I’d rather you rush to see American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity, or Her.

In short, I have to make this complaint once again: The film to have won Best Picture was not, y’know, the year’s best picture.

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5 comments

  • I didn’t see “Her” but the premise is not my cup of tea. “American Hustle” had it all, great script, good story, amazing costumes, the best acting, and, of course, that comb-over. So sad to have seen it be so snubbed.

  • I mostly agree with you. But American Hustle is just a nice movie for a sunday afternoon. Nothing more and nothing less. 12YAS is a good movie, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The acting is good, but it doesn’t have true range (white people are either crazy or nice and black people look desperate or are in pain). It’s, like you said, good school material (like “Lincoln” last year) but not really a BEST Picture Winner. HBO would have been a better release platform. Not too big but not too small either, just perfect.

  • I stopped watching the Oscars years ago because, I hate to sound cliche, but it is much more about politics and less about honoring the best in the film industry. There are many reason for this: The Academy’s blind favoritism for musicals, the refusal until recently to acknowledge sci-fi and fantasy films, the snubbing of certain actors during the height of their career only to receive the “We’re Sorry Oscar” for a later work, the practice of giving a deserving movie several awards but them denying them Best Picture because it isn’t the right type of movie to be considered a best picture, these are just a few of them. I just don’t feel the academy does enough to recognize truly groundbreaking movies that innovate the art of cinema and is more about rewarding the movies that fit into the Oscar mold.