It’s the final week before the Academy Awards which means it’s time for my final Oscar predictions. My long (and often quite pleasant) mission of seeing all of the films and performances nominated has reached its conclusion. In addition to my prognostications on what the Academy will do I have also included my personal picks. I don’t expect the Oscar winners to match my opinion in every case which is really too bad because as we all know, I’m always right.
I don’t intend to cover every single category but I will spend each day this week on one or two of the top 8. Today we’ll start where all good movies start… the screenplay.
Best Original Screenplay Nominees
American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell) – Clever, funny and surprising, American Hustle also benefits from stellar performances from an all-star cast. Each character’s voice is captured so well that they each leap off the screen so naturally. The humor is so deftly woven within the anxiety, tension and occasional bursts of rage, often playing directly off them to deliver a punchline when least expected.
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) – Woody Allen has strayed from his usual fare with Blue Jasmine. Not to nearly as remarkable results as with the enchanting Midnight In Paris for which he won an Oscar 2 years ago, but still impressive. The non-linear framework allows him to explore Jasmine’s troubling journey and bring us back to its inception at just the right moment for maximum impact.
Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack) – Dallas Buyers Club comes out of the gate rough and jarring and beautifully transitions into tender and poignant without stumbling into mawkishness. The transformations of Ron Woodroof and Rayon were both natural and genuine. My only issue with this otherwise magnificent film was the ending which felt a bit anticlimactic.
Her (Spike Jonze) – Spike Jonze has a reputation for mind-bending work. But most of that comes from directing films written by Charlie Kaufman. Jonze is a visionary and his screenplay for Her is a fully realized depiction of the classing “what if” seed of writing. “What if artificial intelligence become so advanced that neither the human nor the computer could tell the difference between real and artificial emotion?” This premise evolved into what is truly and original story. I don’t know that it evolved enough for me though. It doesn’t seem to resolve and although I don’t know that resolution is always necessary in a story, I think this one lacks from its absence. Nonetheless, Her is truly unique.
Nebraska (Bob Nelson) – This is tough for me. I have been seriously watching and studying films for almost 20 years and can usually find something good to say about every movie. Even bad movies have something good in there somewhere. I can’t find it with Nebraska. I hated this movie. I literally hated this movie. I endured it because I want to watch all the nominees. As soon as the credits rolled I, my wife and our son immediately stood up and made a hasty exit. It isn’t just that I’m not a fan or not impressed or didn’t like it. I really, completely hated this movie. I don’t have anything positive to say about it. So instead of going into all the things I didn’t like I just thought I would leave it at that. I know a lot of good people worked hard on this film. Kudos to them for making the film they wanted to make. I have talked to people who thought it was amazing. I’m happy for them that they didn’t have the same experience I did. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just trying to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, Bob Nelson. But that’s just my opinion. The Academy seems to be in love with the movie. It’s up for 6 Oscars. So as you read these blog posts this week you will see a running theme in any of my commentary on Nebraska.
OSCAR WINNER: Her
SELBY PICK: American Hustle
Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke) – This is such a heartbreakingly beautiful film. What a marvel to see these three artists give such care and love to these characters over so many years. Jesse and Celine’s journey was their journey. They know these characters and it shows with crystal clarity. The extended single-shot scenes where Jesse and Celine will converse (and there are at least 3 whoppers) are jaw-droppingly good.
Captain Phillips (Billy Ray) – I work with a guy whose wife worked for Maersk when this all went down. They had a private viewing of the film before it was released. They felt it delivered in some places authentically and then took too many liberties with others. That usually doesn’t bother me if the intent is to consolidate events, conversations or character for the good of the story. I think Captain Phillips handled this well. The pace was right, the characters honest and the action compelling.
Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope) – What a delightful surprise of a film. I was so glad to see it get so much Oscar recognition. Steve Coogan really handled the story with real thoughtfulness. Philomena’s quest with with Martin Sixsmith to find her long-lost son moved them both and just when I thought the story was going to careen off the road into trite cliché it surprised me. Well done.
12 Years a Slave (John Ridley) – Of all the things that are good about 12 Years a Slave, the screenplay was the least. It didn’t attempt anything new or different. That being said, it was well crafted and aptly maintained Solomon Northup’s perspective and experience. I just wish it had been more compelling. While I was understood and loathed his plight, I never connected with Northup personally. There wasn’t anything about him that made me care about this particular story than if it had happened to anyone else (and I know it did many times).
The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter) – Like Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street was a total surprise for me but for completely different reasons. I, like most, had heard all about the film’s graphic content and lurid subject matter. But what I wasn’t expecting was an expertly crafted story about the destructive nature of a life of remorseless excess. Winter’s screenplay never glorifies or romanticizes this world. The splendor that comes with being fabulously wealthy was more than counterbalanced by the complete devastation of greed, corruption and indulgence.
OSCAR WINNER: 12 Years a Slave
SELBY PICK: Before Midnight
I’ll see you tomorrow with my Best Supporting Actor and Actress predictions. In the meantime, I’m counting on all the Nebraska fans to tear me to shreds. Go for it! Drop a comment below or tweet at me @cmselby.