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Reviewing the Best Picture Nominees

February 28, 2014

By John Corrado

Best Picture Posters 2014No matter how things play out at the 86th Oscars, I have made no secret of my love for all nine films in the running for Best Picture this year.  That’s not to say there weren’t other ones I would have loved to see included, but 2013 was such a strong year in general and these ones feel like an excellent representation of last year, the culmination of which will come on Sunday night.

For those still needing to catch up, Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club are already available on home entertainment, with Gravity and Nebraska having just been released this week, and 12 years a Slave and Philomena coming this Tuesday.  American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street will be released on March 18th and 25th respectively, and along with Her are still playing in selected theatres.

This Monday I shared some final thoughts and predictions on the race in general, and below are brief reviews of the nine films in the running for Best Picture, a selection of brilliant achievements that are all worth celebrating together before one of them emerges as the lucky winner.  The films are arranged by number of overall nominations.  Enjoy!

American Hustle: Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) makes his money by swindling others.  Along with his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), the two hustlers are forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), but sexual tension and Irving’s loose cannon wife (Jennifer Lawrence) threaten to derail their elaborate con game.  Directed by the great David O. Russell, American Hustle is a brilliantly written and incredibly entertaining film, with energizing performances from the entire cast, receiving nominations in all four acting categories.  Among the three Best Picture frontrunners, watch out for Jennifer Lawrence in Best Supporting Actress and Amy Adams has a small chance of being the surprise Best Actress winner.

Ten nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design and Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell).

Gravity: After a storm of debris destroys their shuttle, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are left stranded in the middle of space, slowly drifting away into the darkness.  With a stunning performance from Sandra Bullock, Gravity is a breathtaking and and deeply moving masterpiece that holds us in suspense until the unforgettable final scene.  A genuine frontrunner for Best Picture, there is no doubt that Gravity will do very well in many of the technical categories, and the visionary Alfonso Cuarón will deservingly take home Best Director for this landmark achievement.

Ten nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score (Steven Price), Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.

12 Years a Slave: Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man living with his family in New York, when he gets abducted and sold into slavery, struggling to survive as he faces cruelty at the hands of abusive slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).  Director Steve McQueen does an excellent job of viscerally recreating this brutal time in American history, and the strong performances of the powerful 12 Years a Slave are matched by striking cinematography.  This could easily emerge as the Best Picture winner, and Lupita Nyong’o should win Best Supporting Actress for her heartbreaking performance as a tortured young slave.

Nine nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejifor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design and Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley).

Captain Phillips: Director Paul Greengrass delivers a multilayered take on the desperate decisions that were made when a cargo ship under the command of Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) was hijacked by a group of Somalian pirates, led by the conflicted Muse (Barkhad Abdi).  There is constant tension throughout Captain Phillips, right through to the unforgettable final few scenes, and this is a powerful and intense film that features brilliant performances from Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi.  This likely would have been a major player in another year, but Best Film Editing is still very much in sight.

Six nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Barkhad Abdi), Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay (Billy Ray).

Dallas Buyers Club: When Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was diagnosed with AIDS, the Texas cowboy played the corrupt healthcare system to help save lives, smuggling natural treatments from Mexico and providing them to other patients, including the transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto).  With mesmerizing performances, Dallas Buyers Club is both moving and entertaining, a truly special film that never loses sight of the humanity behind these characters.  Although the Best Picture competition is tight, Jared Leto has been a lock for Best Supporting Actor since the beginning, Matthew McConaughey is the Best Actor frontrunner, and the brilliant makeup could make the film a multiple winner.

Six nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Original Screenplay (Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack).

Nebraska: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is determined to make his way from Montana to Nebraska, to collect the million dollars that he believes will be waiting for him.  Although his wife (June Squibb) tries to convince him otherwise, his son David (Will Forte) sees no problem with keeping this dream alive, and they take a road trip together.  Another masterful character study from director Alexander Payne, Nebraska is an entertaining and bittersweet film, with haunting black and white cinematography and excellent performances.  Ending on a deeply touching note, this one already feels like a timeless classic, and could have been the frontrunner in a less competitive year.

Six nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Payne), Best Actor (Bruce Dern), Best Supporting Actress (June Squibb), Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay (Bob Nelson).

Her: Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely writer who installs a new operating system on his computer, an artificially intelligent and seemingly sentient program named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson).  The two fall in love, a relationship that visionary director Spike Jonze uses to raise fascinating questions about our reliance on technology, with brilliant acting from Joaquin Phoenix and exceptional voice work from Scarlett Johansson.  Although not among the Best Picture frontrunners, the beautifully written film will likely be deservingly honoured with the trophy for Best Original Screenplay.

Five nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Score (William Butler and Owen Pallett), Best Original Song (“The Moon Song”), Best Production Design and Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze).

The Wolf of Wall Street: When Black Monday costs him his job, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes into the business of selling penny stocks.  Founded with his business partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), their company quickly rises in the financial world, as their employees become rich on generous commissions, money that goes into funding an affluent lifestyle filled with wild parties and numerous addictions.  This is a darkly hilarious and energizing piece of work from veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and Leonardo DiCaprio is still in the Best Actor race for his electric performance.  But the extreme content will likely prove too much for the older Academy members in terms of Best Picture.

Five nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Terrence Winter).

Philomena: Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) has spent nearly fifty years searching for the son that the convent forced her to give up for adoption, but journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) helps her find the answers, following the leads that will provide much needed closure for this chapter of her life.  With beautifully nuanced performances and a multilayered screenplay, this is a moving drama that reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking true story.  The nomination really is the award for Philiomena, and I don’t doubt that this would have been a bigger player in a less competitive year.

Four nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Judi Dench), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope).

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