Category Archives: Awards

Review: La La Land (2016)

La La Land: City of Dim Stars

By Adam Tawfik

La La Land, like every Oscar frontrunner is bound to face a wave of backlash. From its premiere at Sundance last January, La La Land was hyped, and hyped, and hyped by everybody, including the highbrow critics, the awards pundits, and the industry bigwigs. Around September, the unfiltered euphoria was challenged by editorials suggesting that La La Land was overrated. Closer to awards season as La La Land usurped prizes left and right, the criticism took a more pointedly aggressive turn.

Having seen it myself, I can understand the visceral reaction around this film. My experience was akin to eating a store-bought cake; in spite of my reservations to the fake vanilla and the stale batter, I still eat it for that taste of sugar. In the end, the aftertaste of artificiality lingers in my mouth and my mind. With La La Land, I was reasonably entertained in the moment, but its flaws resonated with me longer.

Although its over representation at the awards show is certainly annoying (considering that it ties for the same amount of Oscar nominations as my darling All About Eve), what really galls me most about La La Land is the overabundance of commentary of the behind-the-scenes technical challenges and all of the side by side comparisons of scenes La La Land and scenes from classic films that Damien Chazalle clunkily “paid homage to.”

The Bandwagon, 1953. Courtesy of cliqueclack.com

What makes the musicals by Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, and Astaire endure the test of time is their ability to be effortless yet superhumanly multitalented at the same time. Writer-director Damien Chazelle, a 32-year old Harvard graduate, conversely, slaps you in the face with his technical and film geekery. This approach inadvertently spotlights La La Land’s mediocrity, from the songs, the breathy auto tuned singing voices of the entire cast, the costumes, and worst in my mind, the negligible choreography which is one step above a beginners swing dance course. For this reason, La La Land lacks the magic spark that makes masterworks like Singing in the Rain and others dazzle. As Richard Brody sharply observed, “Chazelle strives to impress, to wow, to dazzle…[the numbers] close off the imagination rather than opening it. [And] The one thing that Chazelle seems to have little interest in is life.”

The only person to escape criticism is Emma Stone. I think that her “it girl” status of 2016 has given her this immunity. Richard Brody faulted Chazalle’s characterization of Mia, rightly pointing out that she is nothing more than a “cipher.” However, he praises Stone, dubiously claiming that “all the movie’s charm emerges from her performance.” Like with so many of the “it girls” of recent years- Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley, etc.- Stone is a watchable actress, but one with a decidedly limited range.

Courtesy of www.elantepenultimomohicano.com

As in Birdman, Stone proves that she can handle snarky comedy “one liners” well. She’s in her element where she can utilize her easygoing, sarcastic vibe to mock Seb (Ryan Gosling), who is an uptight, sullen self-proclaimer of “pure jazz.” She is considerably buoyed by Gosling’s intensity and moroseness, which compliments her light touch. With the exception of a montage where Stone amusingly auditions for a series of unsuitable roles, she lacks dynamism in her solo scenes. From the films I’ve seen Stone in, she doesn’t have a flair for grief and sadness. Like the Oscar bait monologue in Birdman, Stone in her “made for Oscar” number (“Here’s to the Ones who Dream”) overdoes the eyes and nostrils while her overall presence underwhelms as she strains to convey pathos.

It is an interesting aspect of current film criticism that male directors and male actors/characters are intensely scrutinized for faux pas’ while female counterparts’ flaws are cast under the rug. Much has been made (and to a degree fairly so) about Gosling’s “white savior” jazz appropriator and the way he supposedly “mansplains” jazz to Emma Stone (I think this is a bit overwrought). In an interesting perspective, Will Brooker argues that La La Land’s (evil) genius is that it symbolizes how 2016 is the year where mediocre hacks reign supreme. Brooker makes parallels between Ryan Gosling and Donald Trump:

“Ryan Gosling, who pluckily spent three months learning piano to play the protagonist, is the perfect hero in a year when the new president of the United States can take over with no training. His reality-show-standard song and dance routines are perfectly suited to this new era, when a mediocre businessman and second-rate television celebrity can become Commander-in-Chief.”

Courtesy of IndieWire

It’s true that Gosling isn’t a singer or a hoofer, but why is he faulted when Stone isn’t any better at either (and in my opinion she’s worse on both counts)? I agree that Seb is too cocky in his pedestrian opinions of jazz as well as in his actual ability as a musician.

At the very least Gosling overcomes the many shortcomings of his character by coming the closest to La La Land’s goal of combining the old movie cocksure naiveté with modern cynicism. Although Seb, as conceived by Chazelle, is problematic in many ways, at least he has a logical arc that Mia sorely lacks. We at least get a glimpse of Seb’s process as well as his (limited) ability as we see him in action. It is insinuated that Mia’s self-financed one-woman show is great, but there’s no way to gauge for ourselves as we don’t get to see it for ourselves. That doesn’t stop the film and Stone stridently instructing us to empathize with Mia’s heartbreak over the lack of attendance and her inability to pay her costs.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Seb’s trajectory from a struggling jazz musician to a keyboardist for his friend’s sellout electronica group (making $1000 a week) to the proprietor of his own jazz bar is wishful thinking. But Mia’s rise from barista to being discovered by an agent who was one of 3 people in attendance for the one-woman show who just happened to remember Mia several months after the fact, leading to a starring role with a script that will be based around her for a film in Paris, which makes her an A-list movie star is truly fantastical.

Certainly, Chazelle’s underwriting of Mia is a huge handicap, but in the end, Stone is wrong for the role because she is too mainstream, too trendy to be a credible underdog. Basically, the film assumes that we’ll root for Mia because Emma Stone is America’s Sweetheart; it seems to have worked as Stone is a shoo-in for Best Actress. Mia truly is the most entitled and undeserving character I’ve seen on film in a long while.

La La Land is the lucky recipient of a widespread nostalgia about the glamour and escapism of old Hollywood musicals, and from the fact that very few are knowledgeable of the movies themselves. In the long run, I do believe that La La Land will be contextualized correctly as another one of those lily-livered Best Picture winners that bested more original and innovative movies. (I guess it’ll make the Alternative Oscars relevant for years to come.)

Review: Oscar Short Films 2015

Let’s give it up for the little guys!

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of www.uica.org

Courtesy of www.uica.org

So the Oscars have come and gone. For all the controversy there was a still a silver lining to it all. Mad Max: Fury Road taking away multiple honors shows that a film can be acclaimed both critically and commercially. Leo finally got his Oscar so the internet can be at peace as far as that goes though I’m sure that they’ll still rampage about Stallone and Gaga being robbed- at least that’s what half the headlines on Buzzfeed read. Personally I’m just ready to completely tear down the Oscars and create something new in its place. The spirit of the Oscars should be about celebrating all things film.

Okay, I admit I caught one small segment while I was brewing my tea last night; Jason Segel showed some footage from an award ceremony dedicated to just the technical side of film and something like that is really refreshing to me. It was also brought to my attention online that voice actors do have their own award show, but it’s not widely known or even broadcast, but still we’re getting there.

So my local theater did a neat thing. The Oscar nominated short films (live action and animated, documentary was omitted) were screened the Friday before Oscar Sunday. This was a 4 hour session with a brief intermission between live action and animated, but still totally worth it to see some overwhelmingly under noticed master works of film. From my understanding some of these are available on Netflix so I hope you get the chance to enjoy them for yourselves. There might be some spoilers due to the nature of short film so just a heads up before you read on.

Courtesy of Youtube.com

Courtesy of Youtube.com

We started off with Ave Maria, probably the lightest offering in the live action shorts. The premise is that a Jewish family’s car crashes into the statue of the Virgin Mary outside of a convent of nuns on Sabbath. There’s mild conflict due to the different religious practices but ultimately the nuns help the family get on their way. And conveniently one of the sisters is a mechanic. Honestly this one just didn’t do much for me so I don’t have much to say. I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be comedic but I had trouble with the whole sister being able to fix up the car with a pair of pantyhose, it was just bizarre. If they were going to go that far they should have pushed it further and revealed the nun to be a religious messiah or an android masquerading as a nun, just something more interesting so it didn’t feel so flat.

Things got dark quickly with the next offering, Shoke. Imagine the film Stand by Me but with one of the boys getting involved with a terrorist group and ending with some of the kids getting shot. That is pretty much it in a nutshell. I felt more engaged during this film, the editing was tight and the overall look of the film was just better. Props to the cinematography department, I really enjoyed the look of this film.

Everything Will Be Alright should be viewed as an excellent example of tight editing and storytelling. The pacing was great, making it my second favorite of the live action selections.  Also a really good example of “show, don’t tell.” We open with a man picking up his daughter from his ex-wife’s house. In the car they have a conversation about how she’s playing the role of the queen in the school play and all seems normal. Then they get to the toy store, he lets her pick out two really expensive building kits which to me just gave away where this was going. Even so I sat at the edge of my seat until the conclusion. Now is the story a bit cliché perhaps, but as I said in terms of a finished product this one was quite excellent. Also would like to point out that Simon Schwarz who plays the father looks like an Austrian Simon Pegg.

Courtesy of atodmagazine.com

Courtesy of atodmagazine.com

Now after a couple of pretty heavy films the eventual winner came on, Stutterer. This one was quite enjoyable and my favorite of the night. A simple premise: a couple of linguaphiles are engaged in an online relationship, the film is presented through the eyes of the male in the relationship and it is revealed that he has a stammer. The girl ends up in his town and wants to meet him for the first time. Self-conscious of his stammer, he contemplates whether or not he will meet her. I don’t want to give away the conclusion but I found this film to be really sweet and endearing. Overall I felt the message was to not let our disabilities no matter how great or small get in the way of opportunity.

I must confess I missed half of Day One. You see normally I’m in bed by 9 and at this point I was starting to nod off so I needed a coffee break. I came back in at the climax of the film. From my understanding this was based off of a true story. The subject matter was handled well and I couldn’t see them making an entire feature length film out of the story. Really I can’t say much about it, like I said I missed half but the ending was very sad so it felt like that might be the only reason it was even nominated given the fact the Academy seems to love misery.

I will start off by saying I’m glad the Pixar film, Sanjay’s Super Team, did not walk away with the win. More often than not I feel Disney and Pixar take away a win by default because the other animations aren’t as widespread which is really a pity. Of the animations this was probably the weakest and I don’t mean it was a bad film, it just was very surface level in terms of meaning and presentation.

Courtesy of www.awn.com

Courtesy of www.awn.com

The next film we viewed was World of Tomorrow. If you want to feel the mental strain of running a full marathon, this 17 minute film is perfect for you. In fact it’s been so long since I’ve seen an animated film with this much depth to it tackling deep philosophical thoughts and questioning humanity’s morals. Interesting note, this was the only film with spoken dialogue. The visuals were simplistic in nature, but I feel that really allowed you to focus on the story and the messages therein.

After that emotional drain I was delighted by the opening visuals of Bear Story, a unique 3D animation that blended techniques to make some sequences reminiscent of stop frame animation. The story does quickly turn sad in that it holds a similar theme to Blackfish, where animals being separated from their natural habitat in order to provide entertainment for people. The bear is personified and shown to have a wife and child so I think that drives it home even further. This was a good one and I’m glad it received the victory.

Courtesy of festival.dcshorts.com

Courtesy of festival.dcshorts.com

If you like the Dilbert comic strips, We Can’t Live without Cosmos, a Russian import, is a very similar visually. No spoken dialogue, it’s all action driven. I really enjoyed the score on this one too, they kept it engaging by adding sound effects as well. This one even had a bit of humor to it throughout which was refreshing considering the heavy load that the other nominees provided.

Before we began Prologue we were treated to three other shorts that didn’t quite make the cut. One is the story of a traffic light that is narrated by Patton Oswalt, who you may remember as the voice of Remy from Ratatouille. It was enjoyable but I can see why it just missed the mark, the visuals were a little underwhelming and the story itself too simplistic. Another short was the story of a family of Meerkats fighting a bird of prey over a piece of fruit. It was cute, reminiscent of a silly symphonies cartoon. The Story of a Fox and Mouse was visually gorgeous and had a beautiful score to accompany the piece. But again I think this one fell short because it didn’t have much going on beyond the surface level.

Courtesy of www.bristol247.com

Courtesy of www.bristol247.com

So Prologue, I didn’t like this one. Visually, absolutely stunning. Created by one of the brilliant minds behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it literally brings a drawing to life. Now I didn’t like this on two fronts. As the name implies this is the Prologue, it feels like a very small piece of a much larger picture. And I mean not even a slice of the cake, more like the frosting or decoration on top small. The other reason comes down to personal preference, I just didn’t like the violence, fighting with spears is rather nasty business. Though again that’s just a personal preference.

Before I conclude I should take a moment to talk about best animated feature length. Now for me last night it came down to Inside Out and When Marnie was There– I know Pixar versus Ghibli. Both are stunning films, both moved me to tears and either deserving. I would have loved to see Ghibli’s final studio film clench the victory. I missed Inside Out during its original theatrical run, when I did get around to renting it I have to say it caught me off guard.

In regards to what I said before I have no problems with Pixar, it just seems like no matter what they always win and lately their films have been alright, nothing spectacular. Inside Out blew it out of the park. We also have to take into account the larger social impact this film has had, making it more comfortable for children and parents to discuss their feelings which is so important in this technological age. Really it’s a great film and it makes me look forward to 2016’s offerings in animation.

Heather’s 2015 Movie Awards

Welcome to my first annual Tawfik Zone Awards segment, which I am affectionately calling “The Toffees.” I feel that too many categories are left out of your typical award show so I’m hoping to remedy that. I’m covering everything from “Best Voice Over” to “Greatest Subtext” to “Biggest Disappointment.” Just to level the playing field, I’m only taking films into consideration; if we threw TV in this could become a 15 page term paper… Now onward to the awards!

Our first category is actor who got completely snubbed this season and the nominees are…Chris Evans, Captain America Winter Solider … Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel… and Dave Bautista… Guardians of the Galaxy. The winner could be any of these three men because let’s face it, bringing a comic book character to life is no easy feat and the fact that they aren’t taken seriously by the Academy is bullshit.

Courtesy of insidemovies.ew.com

Courtesy of insidemovies.ew.com

However in this case the award goes to Ralph Fiennes. M. Gustave is more than just another, run of the mill, precocious Wes Anderson creation. When you sit down and think about it he’s a rather seedy individual but you can’t help but like him and a great part of that is because of Fiennes’ performance.

Naturally following is actress who got completely snubbed this season and the nominees are Emily Blunt, Into the Woods… Oprah Winfrey, Selma… Angelina Jolie, Maleficent. Again another tough call, Amy Adams almost made it into the category as well, but since she won a Golden Globe I figured we owed to the other ladies to give them a chance. This is also a tough category because we simply need more females in major roles. Not just the teen dystopian flicks, but in general, we need more women.

Courtesy of www.vanityfair.com

Courtesy of www.vanityfair.com

The Toffee goes to, Oprah. Not just because she is a woman of color, she delivers a stellar performance in what could have ended up being another plain old bio-pic. We tip our hats to you.  (Also, I’m secretly hoping that she’ll give me a free car).

Greatest achievement in voice acting is an award in a field that is often over-looked. You don’t remember the “Empire Today” number because you studied the yellow pages, but because of a charming voice over that gets that damn jingle stuck in your head. Voice over has also given us a sound to go with of our most iconic and beloved characters, like Mel Blanc who gave life to so many of the Looney Tunes.

Here are this year’s nominees. Will Arnett, The Lego Movie… Allison Brie, The Lego Movie… Jay Baruchel, How to Train your Dragon 2… Bradley Cooper, Guardians of the Galaxy… Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy… and Sara Takatsuki, When Marnie Was There

Courtesy of www.thegeektwins.com

Courtesy of www.thegeektwins.com

And the Toffee goes to… Vin Diesel for his role as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Although the character speaks very few words, he conveys various emotions from joy, to displeasure to confusion through three simple words.

While often times we go to films to see a story and maybe learn a few lessons along the way, some films seek to give their audience a deeper sense of enrichment. Sometimes the intentions of a film are right out on the surface in plain view, but often times, even deeper messages are embedded within the context of a film. Here are the nominations for “Greatest Subtext,” in film. MaleficentCaptain America: The Winter Soldier… and 22 Jump Street

Courtesy of www.youtube.com

Courtesy of www.youtube.com

And the winner is… 22 Jump Street, the entire film self parodies in a way that is completely aware that it is a sequel, which more often and not are designed simply to make more money and if you need proof of this watch the end credits where they run through every possible scenario for a sequel that could think of.

Maleficent was nominated for that scene in the woods, you know the one where she spends the night with a man only to have been drugged and wake up the next morning to find her body mutilated… don’t know how they got past the Disney Censors with that one. And Captain America is a giant piece about living in a post 9/11 world, pretty deep for your average super hero fare.

Courtesy of www.towleroad.com

Courtesy of www.towleroad.com

Next we have the Leonardo DiCaprio Award, this honor goes to an actor or actress who has shown a great body of work through their years in acting, but has yet to walk home with an Oscar. This year it goes to Edward Norton who has been nominated three times in films we may not have liked… -cough-Birdman-cough- but who usually delivers an entertaining performance regardless of the role or film.

Now to our version of the Razzies… films that made us feel the exact opposite way a film is supposed to. Whether it’s being hyped up and ultimately ends in failure, does some sort of disservice to whatever it’s aiming to reboot or just makes you wonder why you sat in film school when these schmucks are rolling in it. The nominees for Biggest Disappointment are… The Giver… A Million Ways to Die in the West… … The Amazing Spiderman 2… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… and The Interview.

Courtesy of www.people.com

Courtesy of www.people.com

And the winner is, The Giver because deep down we knew the other nominees could potentially turn out badly. The Giver demonstrated a new kind of bad by trying to squish an award winning book into its cookie cutter mold of the teen dystopian story that now has to have a romantic love triangle. I expected better from Jeff Bridges, The Dude…

On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Film that Surprised us award. This goes to a film that exceeded all expectation, and we mean that in a good way. The nominees are The Lego MovieBig Eyes… and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Courtesy of www.fandango.com

Courtesy of www.fandango.com

And the award rightfully, once and for all, goes to The Lego Movie!

And our last Toffee is a very special award, the Meryl Streep award… which goes to none other than Meryl Streep. Now to be honest I liked her in Into the Woods, probably not my favorite thing she’s done. This is going to sound like an oxymoron but I wish the Academy would take comedy more seriously. She was brilliant in Death Becomes Her and I will stand by that.

Heather’s Golden Globes Reaction

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of www.awardscircuit.com

Courtesy of www.awardscircuit.com

So they just announced the nominations to the 72nd Golden Globes, a show I look forward to more than the Oscars because for one it’s usually better organized and hosted, it honors television in addition to film and the categories feel more balanced with dramas and comedies competing separately from one another. While I haven’t seen all the films and shows mentioned I’d like to weigh in on those I have seen and those that were left out, I’m pointing and laughing at you Interstellar. More on that later…

I really need to get out there and see more dramas, unfortunately the nearby theater rotates the ones I want to see on weeks where I can’t get to go; so unfortunately I’ve got some catching up to do before I can comment.

Courtesy of blogs.disney.com

Courtesy of blogs.disney.com

However the category for Comedy or Musical is looking like a good race. While I missed Birdman while it was playing, a number of colleagues have seen it and loved it. While the general public has yet to see Into the Woods, it’s already receiving critical acclaim and with a plethora of star power I greatly look forward to this one.

I was also happy to see the Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (which I reviewed earlier in the year) get a nomination. Anderson is known for making a very specialized kind of world with quirky characters, vivid colors and quick and witty dialogue. I think Budapest is his best work to date and this black comedy could take home a few wins. Especially for Ralph Fiennes who absolutely kills the role. Much as I love the other actors in the category I really think he’ll clean house the way Christoph Waltz did when he played Dr. King Shultz in Django Unchained.

Courtesy of www.swide.com

Courtesy of www.swide.com

Speaking of, he is also nominated for Big Eyes… but the film has yet to be released but I know it’s a Tim Burton project that does not involve Johnny Depp so I look forward to it. Not that I don’t like Depp, I just feel it’s time he and Burton spend a little time apart… just see Frankenwenie where every clay-made character bears resemblance to the actor…

The animation category is really down to The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6. While I see Disney bringing it home simply because of the name and how the film is fresher in people’s minds, The Lego Movie did something really fantastic so I’m hoping they pull ahead. I’m sad that Hayou Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises didn’t make the list but I also think it counted for last year’s ballot based on its original Japanese release. I don’t think it’d win against the two aforementioned films, but a Miyazaki film always holds a special place in my heart, especially since this was his final film.

Courtesy of www.wired.com

Courtesy of www.wired.com

Everyone is talking about Christopher Nolan getting snubbed in the best director category… First off look at those nominees- it looks like a solid ballot. I can’t call it yet as I haven’t seen all the films but I know that they are all heavily buzzed.

I have seen Interstellar and while I give it a 6.5 of 10… that’s due to its visuals and the fact that it does present some sound science as well as keeping a fairly steady pace for a 3 hour run time. However, this is not Nolan’s shining moment and certainly not representative of his strengths; this is due in part to several production decisions but mainly because the types of characters Nolan creates does not mesh well with the overall theme of the movie. For a human driven drama, it feels very robotic with flaccid performances despite a great cast. I am surprised it got a soundtrack nod as it is trying too hard to sound like 2001: A Space Odyssey with its accompaniment.

As for balancing the sound, overall that was well done and one aspect I liked as an explosion in space does not go “boom” like a Michael Bay film. So kudos to Nolan for having good science, now we just need the movie to match the brain power…

Courtesy of allthingsd.com

Courtesy of allthingsd.com

Moving on to television; what a great list for both categories. This time around it will be hard to guess at the drama category as it’s the first year since the end of Breaking Bad. Right now I’m putting my money on House of Cards; with wonderful performances and staging the Netflix series really brings it all to the table. While Game of Thrones is good, this season had a few too many plot lines going. that’s not to say it’s a bad season, it was awesome. Two words, Purple wedding.

As for comedy I am excited that a network show has made it into the running. Now if you asked me a couple months ago if I thought Jane the Virgin was going to be worth anyone’s time, I’d sit there and make fun of the flimsy premise of a virgin getting artificially inseminated and ask how that could possibly been seen as comedic. After hearing about it for months through promotions I figured I’d give it a whirl.

Courtesy of www.usatoday.com

Courtesy of www.usatoday.com

While I want to wait to make a full review until the conclusion of the first season, it’s a good show. It’s a comedy that keeps the twists, the drama and all the heart with each episode. The way in which Jane becomes pregnant is actually believable and Gina Rodriguez is fantastic in her lead role and fully deserving of her nomination. I’m really hoping this will beat out the others and bring more good writing back to network. The reason I’m not as on board with Orange is the New Black, while it fully deserves nomination this season is far less comedic and treads on much darker water making it more of a drama than comedy.

I have also not seen most of the mini-series that were nominated, only American Horror Story: Freak Show which has Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates up for nomination, yay. I’m somewhat sad to see that Finn Wittrock did not get nominated for his role as the deranged inbred rich playboy/sociopath, Dandy, but I am sure the other actors are deserving.

Courtesy of blogs.indiewire.com

Courtesy of blogs.indiewire.com

Here’s to our nominees, looking forward to the show.

Adam’s Two-Cents: I’m dismayed to see that the SAG and Golden Globe nominees for film are nearly identical. Looks like it’s going to be a boring, and Caucasian, Oscar season. Wish there was some love for Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton to spice things up. 

My Foolhardy, Intuitive Oscar Predictions for 2014

Courtesy of aceshowbiz.com

Courtesy of aceshowbiz.com

The 2014 Oscars showcases an interesting potpourri of films. Just look at the top category, Best Picture, for instance. There are three films about controversial, unpopular subjects: Dallas Buyers Club about the AIDS crisis (and government mismanagement), The Wolf of Wall Street chronicling the lives of amoral, greedy stockbrokers, and 12 Years a Slave is about you know what. If Slave wins BP as it would be the first time that a film dealing with the black experience with black eyes and voices tops this category.

The Academy has inducted two contemporary, original films: Her, a romance between a man and his computer, and Gravity, a sci-fi thriller about an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) stranded in space after her aircraft got destroyed. While there are no outright travesties in this category, Philomena, outside of Judi Dench’s bravura turn, is a ho-hum affair. I would have rather seen Blue Jasmine, Mud, The Great Beauty, or Blue is the Warmest Color in its place. Thankfully, Philomena was the only mediocre Harvey Weinstein affair to infiltrate this category.

Courtesy of patheos.com

Courtesy of patheos.com

Also notable is that there is no clear frontrunner. While Slave has the edge, American Hustle and Gravity could easily upset. Unlike many years, where one film sweeps most of the awards, it seems like many of the categories will be taken by different films. For example, regardless if Gravity takes BP, odds are very good that Alfonso Cuarón will win Best Director.

My biggest gripe comes with the fact that outside of Slave, there isn’t more diversity in the nominees. Even if their films weren’t great, there were several actresses, especially in the supporting category, who had the strong reviews and profile to be nominated (and surely would have been worthier than Julia Roberts in what looks like an overblown role in a dreadful film): Oprah, as the confident and sexually assertive wife of The Butler; Octavia Spencer as the long-suffering mother in Fruitvale Station; Naomie Harris as the morally complex Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Courtesy of redcarpetrefs.com

Courtesy of redcarpetrefs.com

Best Picture Nominees: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
Possible Spoiler: American Hustle
I make this prediction with reservation as I’m still skeptical that the Oscars will award the top prize to a film that is this raw and takes a black point-of-view. Slave has taken the top prize at most of the other critics and guilds awards, and the Oscars usually follow suit. If there is an upset, I’m hedging my bets on American Hustle, a crowd-pleaser that also received a ton of critical and industry love. It doesn’t hurt that many have favorably compared it to surprise Best Picture winner The Sting.

Best Actor Nominees: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Christian Bale (American Hustle)

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Possible Spoiler: Leonardo DiCaprio
2013 is the year of Matthew McConaughey. He took the summer by storm in the titular role of a thoughtful, funny, and heartwarming indie Mud. He finished the year just as forcefully with a memorable and well-reviewed cameo in Martin Scorsese’s unhinged The Wolf of Wall Street. His shining hour came in the headlining role of an uncouth white-trash drug-addicted homophobe who raced against the clock and defied the medical and law authorities to obtain and sell alternative and more effective medicine after he was diagnosed with AIDS and a 30-day life sentence. Conceivably anyone could upset as this is a strong lineup, but I think DiCaprio is next in line as he’s a 4-time Oscar nominee yet to win and gives a flashy and insane performance.

Courtesy of pastemagazine.com

Courtesy of pastemagazine.com

Best Actress Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Will Win: Cate Blanchett
Possible Spoiler: Amy Adams
Action flicks and raunchy comedies monopolize the crowds in the summer. However, every now and again, a sophisticated, adult film like Blue Jasmine can find its following. Much (if not all) of this had to do with Cate Blanchett’s tour-de-force performance as the pill-popping, alcoholic, self-pitying, and compulsively lying socialite who brings chaos when she moves in with her lower-middle class sister after losing her fortune. Adams, who is a 5-time Oscar-nominated bridesmaid might be number one if Academy voters feel she is overdue. Hopefully the Oscars will do their artistic duty and crown Cate the Great as Best Actress.

Best Supporting Actor Nominees: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)

Will Win: Jared Leto
Possible Spoiler: Barkhad Abdi
Jared Leto was the ideal embodiment of an actor in 1990s indie fare, playing dark, groundbreaking characters and often subjected himself to extreme physical transformations. After an acting hiatus, Leto is back this year and is intense as ever as Rayon, a drug-addicted transsexual dying of AIDS, giving a highly comedic and tragic performance, plus losing weight to the point of emaciation. In second place is surprise BAFTA winner Abdi. If the Oscars want to throw a bone to Captain Phillips, a film they liked, this would be a good place to do so.

Best Supporting Actress Nominees: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Possible Spoiler: Lupita Nyong’o
Most times, predicting the winners for the acting categories are underwhelmingly straight-forward. This year, we have a legitimate two-horse race between Lawrence and Nyong’o, who is a revelation in her debut feature film role. I believe Lawrence has the edge because she is the IT girl in Hollywood, plus is loved by the critics and the movie-going public alike. Whenever somebody wins 2 Oscars, it’s often done within a few years of each other, sometimes in consecutive years. Nyong’o, who gives a devastating performance as an intelligent and strong slave repeatedly beaten and raped, has a huge fan base (including me) rooting for her to be the champ. Come on Oscar, Nyong’o put herself through emotional hell, do the right thing.

Courtesy of honeycuttshollywood.com

Courtesy of honeycuttshollywood.com

Best Director Nominees: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón
Possible Spoiler: Steve McQueen
In hindsight, it is unbelievable that Cuarón had to overcome so much resistance in making this film. Most of this came from the fact that the studios didn’t want to invest money in a film with a solo female lead. Cuarón refused to be bullied and stuck with his vision, giving Sandra Bullock what is perhaps her most challenging role. There were several technical obstacles all of which he handled with skill and innovation. He stands the best chance since he’s won the major guild awards. Plus, history could be made, as winning would make him the first non-white and Latino victor of this category. If the Oscars go wild for Slave or Hustle, McQueen or O. Russell could conceivably ride on the bandwagon to victory.

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street), Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)

Will Win: John Ridley
Possible Spoiler: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
Slave left critics and audiences breathless by its unflinchingly honest and raw depiction of the tortuous and traumatic black experience during slavery. Much of its success is due to Ridley’s tense script, which by multiple sources is a very faithful adaptation (and in some ways darker and more critical) of Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoir. I think that Ridley’s important and relevant contribution won’t be ignored, though Coogan and Pope have a lot of supporters, especially from the British camp, who make a considerable number of the Academy.

Best Original Screenplay Nominees: David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle), Spike Jonze (Her), Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Bob Nelson (Nebraska), Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)

Will Win: David O. Russell and Eric Singer
Possible Spoiler: Spike Jonze
David O. Russell’s last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and now Hustle) have been huge smashes with the Oscars, scoring several nominations apiece and wins for three of his actors. However, Russell has yet to win the award for himself. Quirky comedies usually have a good chance in this category. That said, Jonze poses a real threat as Her has an ardent support group, but I’m hedging my bets on the more populist Hustle and Russell for the win.

Courtesy of vimeo.com

Courtesy of vimeo.com

Best Foreign Film Nominees: Italy, The Great Beauty; Denmark, The Hunt; Palestine, Omar; Belgium, The Broken Circle Breakdown; Cambodia, The Missing Picture

Will Win: The Great Beauty
Could Win: The Hunt
The Great Beauty, which fully capitalizes on Rome’s beauty while exploiting the wide vistas for a sad, somber quality, is delightfully operatic and satirical Italian style. It’s perhaps the most ambient and exhilarating film this year. It has swept all the other major awards and I don’t see it evading the Oscar. Although The Hunt, which has famous international star Mads Mikkelsen and good notices, or Omar, which has received scores of raves in the last couple of weeks could sneak in a surprise victory.

Best Documentary Feature Nominees: 20 Feet from Stardom, The Act of Killing, The Square, Dirty Wars, Cutie and the Boxer

Will Win: 20 Feet from Stardom
Possible Spoiler: The Act of Killing
I’m going against the grain, who are betting on Killing. Yes, Killing has the most press and raves, but I think the premise- former Indonesian death-squad leaders reenacting their murders with Hollywood production values- will be too dark and subversive for many Academy voters. When they award a dark documentary like The Cove or Bowling for Columbine, it has to have an overt activist message. 20 Feet, which chronicles the lives of background singers for famous performers, is regarded as uplifting and well-made. It seems more in accord with previous winners like March of the Penguins and Man on Wire.

Best Animated Feature Nominees: Frozen, Despicable Me 2, The Croods, The Wind Rises, Ernest & Celestine

Will Win: Frozen
Possible Spoiler: Despicable Me 2
I’m 99% sure that Frozen will score the victory. It’s incredibly loved by the entire family and critics, it has not one, but two female protagonists who are supposedly handled in a politically correct way (I can’t say for sure as I haven’t seen it and usually avoid Disney animations) as well as a catchy hit song (“Let it Go”). Also to its advantage is the great box office return. Possibly the other big box office earner, Despicable Me 2, has an iota of a chance.

Courtesy of gazette.com

Courtesy of gazette.com

Film Editing Nominees: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: Gravity
Possible Spoiler: 12 Years a Slave
I honestly don’t have any idea as any of these films (except Dallas) have a legitimate chance at winning. Often, the winner of this category is the Best Picture champ, which should put Slave in first place. Since Gravity is the toast of visuals this year, I think it has the edge.

Best Song Nominees: “Let It Go” (Frozen), “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), “Happy” (Despicable Me 2), “The Moon Song” (Her)

Will Win: “Let It Go”
Possible Spoiler: “Ordinary Love”
“Let It Go” is a prototypical Disney song; it’s both catchy and uplifting. It has not one, but two very popular versions, one by Broadway darling and singer in the film Idina Menzel and pop star Demi Lovato. I’m pretty certain that this will join the illustrious crop of Disney song champs on Oscar night. The only slight competition could come from “Ordinary Love,” if they want something more “political,” (but basically sentimental) a la Bono.

Best Original Score Nominees: William Butler and Owen Pallett (Her), Steven Price (Gravity), Alexandre Desplat (Philomena), Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks), John Williams (The Book Thief)

Will Win: William Butler and Owen Pallett
Possible Spoiler: Steven Price
Hands down, this is Oscars’ suckiest category this year. Williams, Newman, and Desplat are true to form, producing their typical brand of generic insipidity. My gut tells me that Butler and Pallett will win because it has just a wee more personality and a more modern sound than the other nominees. Who knows? Who cares?

Best Cinematography Nominees: Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity), Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster), Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska), Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis), Roger Deakins (Prisoners)

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki
Possible Spoiler: Philippe Le Sourd
Lubezki is one of the most versatile working cinematographers doing everything from soft Terence Mallick art films to barren, apocalyptic Sci-Fi’s (Children of Men with Cuarón, which in 2007, most people thought he was robbed of the Oscar). Reteamed with Cuarón again, he seems like he’s in a better position to win his first Oscar. The fact that the film is mostly green screen might hurt his chances. Le Sourd’s slick and stylistic camerawork is more indicative of Oscar-winning cinematography, but somehow I think (and hope) that Lubezki will be swept up in the Gravity frenzy.

Costume Design Nominees: The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman, American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave, The Grandmaster

Will Win: The Great Gatsby
Possible Spoiler: The Invisible Woman
Baz Luhrmann is one of cinema’s worst storytellers, but the mise-en-scene and costumes in his films are always breathtaking. The wardrobe in The Great Gatsby is no exception. The Academy are suckers for flashy period costumes; Gatsby most ostentatiously fits the requirements. The Invisible Woman, another film whose production values are higher than the story, has lush 19th century costumes. Even though this is the period that usually wins this category, Woman’s costumes don’t have as much pizazz, and the Oscars (over)value pizazz.

Courtesy of stewardshipreport.com

Courtesy of stewardshipreport.com

Production Design Nominees: The Great Gatsby, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Her

Will Win: The Great Gatsby
Possible Spoiler: 12 Years a Slave
I know that one film very seldom wins both Costume and Production Design awards, but every frame of Gatsby is a visual Art Deco orgy. In this category, more is more. Slave has excellent period sets, but I think they might be too subdued compared to Gatsby’s.

Makeup and Hairstyling Nominees: Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger

Will Win: Dallas Buyers Club
Possible Spoiler: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
I know that Bad Grandpa is the favorite to win because of its elaborate aging prosthetics, but I have a hard time seeing the Oscars choosing this critically reviled raunchy lowbrow comedy over Dallas, whose makeup accurately and respectfully depicted the ravaging of AIDS on the skin. Plus, Dallas was also spot on with the 80s hairdos.

Sound Editing Nominees: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, All is Lost, Lone Survivor

Will Win: Captain Phillips
Possible Spoiler: Gravity
A very poorly educated guess. I don’t want to predict Gravity in every technical category and Philipps took a Sound Editing Guild prize.

Sound Mixing Nominees: Gravity, Captain Phillips, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor, Inside Llewyn Davis

Will Win: Gravity
Possible Spoiler: Captain Phillips
Gravity is considered to be the visual and aural spectacle of the year. I think that gives it the edge in this category, though I am film sound illiterate and as probably as much help as a deaf mute.

Visual Effects Nominees: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger

Will Win: Gravity
Possible Spoiler: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Ditto.

Courtesy of www.filmaffinity.com

Courtesy of www.filmaffinity.com

Short Film, Live Action: The Voorman Problem, Helium, Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)

Will Win: The Voorman Problem
Possible Spoiler: Helium
I’m no expert, but on doing research it looks like Voorman has some key things over the competition: first, it’s the only film in English and there hasn’t been a foreign-language film to win in this category. Last year, the same scenario played out, where there were four foreign-language nominees and one English-language one, Curfew, which won. Also it has a well-known name, Martin Freeman. In 2012 The Shore which starred Ciaran Hinds, and in 2010 The New Tenants which had Vincent D’Onofrio won. However, Voorman at 13 minutes is about 5-10 minutes shorter than a typical winner in this category. Helium, which is 23 minutes long, is more typical of a winning length. Also, it tells a sad and heartwarming tale with a child at its center.

Short Film, Animated Nominees: Mr. Hublot, Get a Horse!, Room on the Broom, Possessions, Feral

Will Win: Mr. Hublot
Possible Spoiler: Get a Horse!
Again, I’m not making this prediction with any certainty. Looking over the past winners of this category for the last few years, Mr. Hublot seems to fit the trend. Typically, winning films are about 15 minutes long (Hublot is 11 minutes), they have a computer graphic kind of 3D look (which Hublot has), and Hublot seems to have a quirky premise that isn’t too dark. It also has a generous budget ($295,000). Get a Horse! which is a modern Mickey Mouse animation, will probably be campaigned hard by Disney.

Documentary Short Subject Nominees: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Cavedigger, Facing Fear, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, Karama Has No Walls

Will Win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Possible Spoiler: Cavedigger
Number 6 seems as though it was catered for the Oscars. It’s the improbable story about a very special individual, but not just any special individual, a musician. The hero in question is Aliza Sommer-Herz, who at 110 is the oldest living pianist AND Holocaust survivor, a double whammy. Films with a single protagonist tend to do much better in this category as do those with an uplifting silver lining in a depressing (usually Western) historical event. Even as she lived through this trauma, music offered her the peace of mind for a happy and comfortable life until her death, a few days ago. Cavedigger is another doc about a single artist, but focuses on his artistic struggle. Again, my knowledge about the short categories is about as extensive as that of quantum physics, so I’m fully prepared to be wrong.