Anticipating, choosing and predicting the 2014 Oscar winners

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

The Oscars are like an old friend you don’t see much anymore. You still care about ‘em, but in a sort of distant, dispassionate way.

I haven’t truly cared about the Oscars in a long time. Not passionately, I mean. But I do have an affection for them.

And let’s face it. There are sexier awards shows, more entertaining awards shows, even more serious awards shows. But the Oscar is the one everyone wants. Longevity has its privileges. So does institutional memory.

Here is my guesswork for the Oscar nominees in the six major categories.  I once worked with a guy who wanted us to make picks in every category. But I’m humble enough to admit, I know about as much about Sound Editing as I do Olympic curling.

PICTURE:

“American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”

I don’t have a dog in this hunt. Neither of my favorites from last year is nominated (“All is Lost” and “The Great Beauty”). Further,  “Blue Jasmine” is the best Woody Allen film in decades. But it’s not nominated either. Nor is “Enough Said,” which, I guess, was too “little” for Academy consideration.

ME: “”Gravity”

It took movie-making into another stratosphere without losing the all-important human element.  And it enabled Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to make the best George Clooney joke I’ve ever heard. (To wit: “‘Gravity’ is nominated for Best Film. It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”

OSCAR: “12 Years a Slave”

It’s an important movie. It’s a well-made movie. It’s the sort of movie the world is better for having around.  It’s also the sort of movie that makes the Academy look good.

PERSONAL NOTE: My buddy Bill Tush wants everyone to know ”12 Years as Slave” is not about his last marriage.

And consider this: “12 Years” ad “Gravity” tied at the Producers Guild of America vote.

DIRECTOR:

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”; Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”; Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”; David O. Russell, “American Hustle”; Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

ME: Alfonso Cuaron.

I believe he would be the first Hispanic to win Best Director (He was born in Mexico City). But that’s not why he should go home with the gold. He’s made so many excellent movies in so many styles: “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “A Little Princess,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Children of Men.”  Plus, “Gravity” is an immensely impressive picture.

OSCAR:  Cuaron.

For a long time, I thought McQueen was a given. But he is not an African-American. He’s a British black man. And to the Academy, that makes a difference.

Russell is hustling up last-minute support by appearing on every talk show he can. Most recently I saw him with Colbert.  And when they were talking, I realized I really liked Russell’s earlier less pretentious movies (“Flirting with Disaster,” “I Heart Huckabees,” both fabulous) but am lukewarm to downright cold on “The Fighter, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”

Scorsese has an Oscar  (“The Departed”). So, the honor truly is in the nomination. Add in Cuaron’s Directors Guild of America win and it looks like things are going his way. As for Payne, every movie he’s made, from “Election” to “About Schmidt,” is better than “Nebraska.” I did however, like Stephen Colbert’s joke: that “Nebraska” was filmed in black-and-white, but since it’s made in Nebraska, it’s mostly white.

ACTOR:

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”; Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”; Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”; Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

ME:  McConaughey.

Like McQueen, Chiwetel Eljiofor was the deserving front-runner through the fall.  But when it came to handing out awards, McConaughey kept going up to the podium. I admire Eljiofor’s performance.  DiCaprio and Bale are kind of playing the same role, so there’s a cancel-out factor. Dern…Please Academy, don’t be that old. Or that stupid.

McConaughey shows me things I haven’t seen before. And I don’t just mean things I haven’t seen him do; I mean things I haven’t seen anyone do. And there’s the whole gay thing. Tom Hanks won eons ago for tackling AIDS in “Philadelphia.” Back then, his performance was considered courageous and, given the times, it was. But this is another socio-cultural era. Things are different..or a bit different, at least. .  So, I’m looking forward to hearing “all riiiight, all riiiiight, all riiiight.”

OSCAR PICKS: McConaughey.

For all the reasons cited above.  Plus, he’s made about a zillion movies and brought in about a zillion dollars.

ACTRESS:

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”; Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”; Judi Dench, “Philomena”; Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

ME: Blanchett.

The revival of the Woody scandal may cause a roadblock.  I frankly don’t know what to think about Allen. However, I do know what to think about how he and his current spouse, Soon-Yi got together. And it isn’t pretty. Still, Blanchett is astonishing as a kind of mash-up of Blanche Dubois and Mrs. Bernie Madoff.

This is a particularly strong category this year. I think Amy Adams is long overdue for an Oscar. And, if “American Hustle” gets its momentum going, she could be an upset winner. That would be fine with me, though I think Blanchett’s is the better performance.

By the way, Blanchett already has an Oscar, as do Dench, Bullock and Streep (several).  I very much like the kind of role Bullock plays in “Gravity.” Five years ago, the part would probably have gone to Seth Rogen or James Franco. (It’s hard for gays and blacks in Hollywood, but it’s even harder for women).  And, to steal a line from Steve Alterman, the owner of the Horseradish Grill, I could watch Meryl Streep sleep. Judi Dench, too.

OSCAR: Blanchett. Though I wouldn’t count out Adams.

SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”; Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”; Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”; Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

ME: Leto.

This is usually the most competitive category.

Random example: the nominees in 1967 were John Cassavetes for “The Dirty Dozen,” Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard for “Bonnie and Clyde,” Cecil Kellaway for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and the winner, George Kennedy for “Cool Hand Luke.”

But this year, it’s just lame.   Fassbender is fine, but hardly remarkable. Ditto Cooper (though he also looked as if he was trying too hard).

The Whole Jonah Hill Thing …I just don’t get. He’s great at being a dislikable fat boy in movie after movie after movie (with the exception of his likable character in “Superbad” which is still his best work).

Abdi is one of those odd newcomer honors Oscar tosses someone’s way every once in a while In 1985, Haing S. Ngor actually won for “The Killing Fields.”  Like Abdi, he was an amateur given the right role at the right time. (Ngor was also murdered, but I don’t think the Academy did it).

Initially, I didn’t think much of Leto’s performance. The tragic queen with the waspish tongue. Hasn’t anyone seen “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert?” But his portrayal kept getting deeper and more interesting.  By the end, I was completely sold.

I mostly worried that he was taking attention away from McConaughey. But it turns out they both may be winners.

OSCAR: Leto.

Hey, not only is he terrific, but he’s a rock star. Really.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”; Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”; Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”; Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”; June Squibb, “Nebraska”

ME:  Hawkins.

Sally Hawkins, Sally Hawkins, Sally Hawkins.  What a tremendous actor she is. And one who’s been tremendously overlooked by Oscar. See her in “Happy-Go-Lucky” or “Made In Dagenham.” Apparently Academy members haven’t. Her performance makes Blanchett’s performance possible.

I like Squibb, but after a point, you realize she’s doing the same thing over and over.  A little-old-lady line followed by a dirty-old-lady punch line.

I wish this could be Roberts’ golden cross-over into character roles, supporting roles, etc.  Not that she’s any less talented or drop-dead gorgeous. But she is over 40 — practically a crone by Hollywood standards.

However, she’s not as good as Hawkins or, for that matter, Lawrence, who keeps the hits coming. She’s so alive in “American Hustle,” but she’s equally great in “The Hunger Games,” which director Russell gracelessly dissed. I bet he wishes his movies made that much money.

Anyway, Lawrence won in this category last year. Back-to-back Oscars aren’t unprecedented; remember Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) or Luise Rainer (“The Good Earth,” “The Great Ziegfeld”…okay, I know you don’t remember her)? But Lawrence is with the same director and the same co-star, so probably not.

That leaves Nyong’o. And why not? She’s good in the movie and she’s a smashing addition to the red carpet.

OSCAR: Nyong’o.

See…The Academy is not racially prejudiced.  Her win “proves” it. And she’s smashing on the red carpet.

The show is telecast on Sunday, March 2, on ABC.

I’ll be watching. Well, at least some of it…

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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