Awards-season fervor is at its peak since the 2014 Academy Awards nominations were announced on Thursday, Jan. 16. Now with the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards and BAFTA Awards crowning both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity as their top films, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards and BAFTA Awards crowning Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron as the best director of the year, it looks as if the contest has been narrowed down to two top contenders. But of course, the Oscars are known to pull off major surprises from time to time.
But let us pull back a moment, shall we, and recap this year's nominees for BEST PICTURE, so we can prepare ourselves for my Oscars Picks & Predictions, which will be announced next Thursday, Feb. 27.
Nebraska tells the coming-of-old-age story of Woody Grant (BRUCE DERN, giving one of his best performances in decades), an alcoholic husband and father in the twilight of his life. Woody receives a letter claiming that he’s a winner in a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes, and thusly, Woody stubbornly becomes determined to make the trek from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his winnings. His reluctant adult son, David (WILL FORTE, in his most subtle performance yet), joins him on the journey. Along the way, the father and son duo get sidetracked in Woody’s hometown, a small Nebraska town – where he runs in to long-lost family, old friends, old flames, and people with whom he’s got scores to settle.
Simply perfect in its utter simplicity, Nebraska captures small town life with grandiose ease, and quaint charm, all at once. While the cast as a whole leaves little to be desired, there are two standouts – Forte and Dern. The former, Mr. Forte, to me, was just barely flat; with some fine tuning, I really do believe he could be a fantastic actor. The latter, Mr. Bruce Dern, delivers an extraordinary performance as Woody, as he straggles through the twilight of his life, underappreciated, and overly stubborn. Unfortunately for the rest of the cast, they were eclipsed by Dern’s talent.
In the end, I don’t think Nebraska has much of a chance at grabbing gold come Oscar Sunday, but the Oscars do love their surprises… 7.4 (out of 10).
This is the story of disgraced political journalist Martin Sixsmith (STEVE COOGAN), and how he came to meet Philomena (the always brilliant JUDI DENCH) – a mother who had her son taken away from her when she was a teenager, and in a Catholic convent. Not knowing what to do next with his career, Martin decides to cover Philomena’s story, about her lifelong search for her son. This journey eventually leads Philomena and Martin to America.
Quite simply put, this is the film that tried to be this year’s The King’s Speech. While it was powerful and stirring, and sometimes funny, Philomena, ultimately, doesn’t reach the same heights. But, if there was ever a film to pull off an Oscar-night upset, this is the film to do it. I’ll be keeping my eye on you, Philomena. 8.1 (out of 10).
The Wolf of Wall Street
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (played by LEONARDO DICAPRIO in his most audacious role yet), Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street follows Belfort's rise from entry-level stockbroker, to eccentric billionaire living his life by burning the candle at both ends, to his fall into disgrace in the midst of crime, corruption, scandal, and the FBI.
I’m not going to hold back on this one. Until Her came out, Wolf was the movie that had entertained me the most in 2013. DiCaprio delivered the wildest, risk-taking, bold and loud performance of his career – and to see his name nominated for an Oscar, after last year’s Django snub, made me a proud Leo fan. Jonah Hill, in his own right, continued his evolution from one-note funny-boy guy, to full-on, full throttle serious Oscar-contender. Terrence Winter’s script is hilarious, bold, and horrifying all at once.
And then there’s Scorsese. The iconic film director. Wolf is his return to delivering classics; outshining all of his most recent efforts, even The Departed, and harking back to the brilliance of Goodfellas, or Casino. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; The Wolf of Wall Street succeeds, and it succeeds because it was unafraid to be the first movie to fully explore the horrors of full-on debauchery, without cutting away or using the power of suggestion. Scorsese makes us stare straight into the eyes of the addiction to excess, and in the process, we learn a little bit more about the dark side of human nature. Wolf many not win any awards come Sunday, March 2, but it’s still one of my favorite films of the year, if not the decade. 9.6 (out of 10).
That’s it for now. Check back next Thursday, as I release my Oscars Picks & Predictions, telling you guys who I think will win, and who I think SHOULD win. See you next week!