It's Oscar day, and I'm gearing up for my annual mixture of kvetching and ogling and cheering. In case you want a taste, here's how I would vote on this year's Oscar's nominees--entirely non-predictive of what will happen at tonight's Oscar ceremonies:
Best Picture: NEBRASKA. As I indicated on my ten-best list, I could make a case for "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," or "Her" in this category, and consequently I'll be happy if any of them wins. "Nebraska," for me, is the most satisfying film experience, and the one I'm most likely to want to see over and over again. (I've seen all these films twice.) None of the rest deserved nominations. "Gravity" is technically good, but too thin on story and substance. "Captain Phillips" has some pretty terrible dialogue and doesn't deal in a very subtle way with the issues of race and privilege embedded in the story. "Philomena" is pleasant and worth seeing but not among the best films of the year. I'm really happy that "Dallas Buyers Club" got made (it languished for a long time and is a story worth telling) but I don't consider it to be among the best films of the year. "The Wolf of Wall Street" probably deserves to be on the list more than others but is hard to celebrate, given its repugnant subject. "Inside Llewyn Davis" deserved a nomination in this category.
Best Actor in a Leading Role: BRUCE DERN. This may well be the strongest set of nominees. I could make a very strong case for Chiwetel Ejiofor in this category and will be absolutely delighted if he wins. But Bruce Dern pulls off a pretty complex feat in this performance and I would love to see him be rewarded for a very solid and largely uncelebrated body of work. Christian Bale also is particularly amazing in "American Hustle." I understand that Matthew McConnaughey is getting a lot of buzz to win, and I do appreciate his good work in "Dallas Buyers Club" but don't think his performance displays the subtlety of the other three. Leonardo DiCaprio is a force of nature in "The Wolf of Wall Street" but I don't believe his performance is as interesting and generous as those of Dern, Ejiofor, and Bale.
Best Actress in a Leading Role: AMY ADAMS. Actually, this award really belongs to Emma Thompson, who did not even receive a nomination for her amazing work in "Saving Mr. Banks." Cate Blanchett is getting lots of buzz and I am a huge fan of hers but I don't think Blue Jasmine is a particularly strong film.. None of the other nominees are deserving. Judi Dench is good in "Philomena" but it is a relatively minor performance. "
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: JARED LETO. This a pretty strong group of nominees, except or Jonah Hill, whose performance in Wolf of Wall Street is not particularly worthy of note. I'll admit that part of the reason I'd give Leto the edge is out of affection for his character and the energy and commitment it took to create it. But Bradley Cooper really crackles in "American Hustle," and Michael Fassbender's work in "Slave" is deep and important. Barkhad Abdi deserves the notice he has gotten, though I find the film problematic.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: LUPITA NYONG'O. This is one of the clearest choices. Her work in "slave" is wrenching to watch, as it should be, specific and complete. Jennifer Lawrence is also absolutely amazing in "Hustle" but she doesn't need to win two years in a row, especially in this company. Sally Hawkins is quite good in "Blue Jasmine," and I'm glad to see her get some notice. June Squibb is perfect in "Nebraska," though I don't know if I'd call her performance award-worthy. Julia Roberts? No way.
Best Cinematography: NEBRASKA. This film, shot in expansive black-and-white, perfectly captures the drabness and stark beauty of its landscape, which resounds with its take on its characters. "Gravity" and "Inside Llewyn Davis are also deserving--but "Prisoners"? Please.
Best Costume Design: AMERICAN HUSTLE. The costumes in this film are almost like a character, elevating the humor and the distinctness of each character. So playful and fun! The others are all fine enough, although "The Great Gatsby" was just too much of everything.
Best Director: ALEXANDER PAYNE for achieving such a perfect tone and assembling all of the elements of his beautiful film. But I could easily make the argument for Steve McQueen, whose achievement in directing "12 Years a Slave" is much more heroic. David O. Russell certainly deserves the recognition, and I'm fine with the nomination for Alphonso Cuaron, though I'm not a fan of "Gravity." I wouldn't include Martin Scorcese on the list for "Wolf," which doesn't attempt anything new or notable. "Her" certainly does, and Spike Jones deserves to be among the nominees.
Best Documentary Feature: 20 FEET FROM STARDOM. I'd eliminate two of the nominees: "Cutie and the Boxer," which is mildly interesting but also quite ponderous and annoying, and "The Act of Killing," which I actually find quite problematic. The director of the latter discovered that a bunch of horrible men who committed atrocities in Indonesia fifty years ago were not only quite proud and happy to talk about it, but wanted to reenact them for more impact. That's interesting, but I don't think giving them two hours to do just that was necessary or illuminating. I didn't get to "The Square" in time, but I do think "Dirty Wars" is absolutely excellent and important. "20 Feet from Stardom" brings a lot of very deserved attention to an overlooked community of musicians and is a joy to watch, so I'm happy for it to win, though I'm frustrated that "Let the Fire Burn" didn't get a nomination. I'd give it the award among Oscar-eligible documentaries.
Best Film Editing: 12 YEARS A SLAVE. I'm quite impressed with the editing choices in this film, particularly the long takes that ask us to attend closely to things we have been so unwilling to look at. The other nominees are fine, particularly "Gravity."
Best Foreign Language Film: OMAR, by default, though I have not yet seen "Broken Circle Breakdown." This is the most disappointing list of nominees to me, having seen so many of the other films that were put forward for Academy consideration that were so much better. "Omar" is a fine enough depiction of divided loyalties among Palestinians, but I wouldn't consider it one of the best foreign language films of the year by any stretch. "The Missing Picture" is an interesting exploration of the experience of Cambodians during Pol Pot's regime, but a bit ponderous in the execution. I find "The Hunt" very manipulative and am frustrated to see it get a nomination, and "The Great Beauty" is beautifully shot but empty. All of these eligible films were better: "Of Horses and Men" (Finland), "In Bloom" (Georgia), and "Metro Manila" (Great Britain), a phenomenal film that far surpasses any of the nominees that I have seen.
Best Original Song: THE MOON SONG" FROM "HER" is the best of these nominees, but "Fare Thee Well" from "Inside Llewyn Davis" is better than all these nominees.
Best Production Design: HER deserves recognition in this category for creating such a complete, convincing, and compelling future world. "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" are also deserving, and I guess I can accept the nomination for "Gravity," but "The Great Gatsby" is way too over-the-top. "Inside Llewyn Davis" deserved recognition in this category.
Best Visual Effects: GRAVITY. Here's where I would accord the recognition to this film because this is the basket where all its eggs went.
Best Original Screenplay: HER. It's the most original, for sure, and rich with insight and nuance. "American Hustle" and "Nebraska" are also standouts in this category, and given what the writers had to go through to get "Dallas Buyers Club" made, I'm happy for them to be recognized as well. I don't think "Blue Jasmine" deserves this recognition, and not just because Woody Allen is such a distasteful human being.
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 YEARS A SLAVE for sure. John Ridley's work in bringing this story to the screen is absolutely brilliant. The other nominees, except for "Before Midnight," are actually pretty disappointing.