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Oscar night at last

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | FEBRUARY 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Academy Awards are upon us again and, as usual, some in America are preparing as if it's a national holiday. But this year's Oscars might be worth all the pomp and circumstance — 2013 was a fabulous year for movies, from biographies to futuristic films. My favorites might not make the winner's circle, but here's how I see the year's premier pictures stacking up.

American Hustle: Earning the approval of 93 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but only 78 percent of average viewers, American Hustle is arguably the most overrated film of 2013. David O. Russell's '70s heist comedy is fun to look at and fit with a stunning cast, but it never truly delivers on its wit, twists, and romance. 2.5/5 stars

Captain Phillips: This hijacking adventure surprised me more than any other film on the list, offering up suspense and soul in equal measure. Not only does Captain Phillips give its "villains" a human voice, but the Somali pirates are some of the most stirring characters of 2013. 4.5/5 stars

Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey is an HIV-positive rodeo cowboy with a heart of gold, and as his awards haul hints, the performance is brilliant. Pair McConaughey with a colorful and committed Jared Leto, and you have a captivating snapshot of the '80s AIDS epidemic. 4/5 stars

Gravity: There is a handful of action/thriller clichés here, but committed performances, stunning special effects, and Alfonso Curon's adventurous but restrained direction make Gravity — to borrow Sandra Bullock's line — "terrifyingly beautiful." 3/5 stars

Her: Thought-provoking above all else, Her feels like a 21st-century story that was just waiting to be told — and thankfully Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, and Scarlett Johansson were the first to do it. I was left wondering whether Judgment Day will more likely be provoked by terminators or hyper-emotional operating systems. 4/5 stars

Nebraska: Black and white but not nearly as flat as its titular state, Nebraska takes a seemingly pedestrian road-trip story line and infuses it with relatable antics and indie charm. My Midwestern heart went out to this dysfunctional small-town family. 3.5/5 stars

Philomena: The feel-good picture of the year, Philomena features the woman the long-lost Irish mother you wish you had. Judi Dench keeps the film on the edge of the quaint deep end, and its themes — of religion, family, journalistic integrity — are rarely heavy-handed. 4/5 stars

12 Years A Slave: This adaptation of Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir is perhaps the most "important" film of the year, both as a historical record of American slavery and an artistic achievement.12 Years will most certainly end up on history-class syllabi, destined to move high-schoolers for decades to come. 5/5 stars

The Wolf of Wall Street: It's excessive in almost every sense of the word — from its 180-minute running time to its 544 f-bombs — but Martin Scorsese works the superfluity to his favor, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are magnetic in their career-best performances. 4/5 stars
 
Actor Awards

As competitive as the Best Picture category will be this year, securing a best actor/actress award may be even tougher. Here are the performances that stirred me the most.

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) He has some tough competition, but I believe DiCaprio has sealed his first-ever Oscar win as the sexually deviant, coke-snorting, money-grubbing — yet somehow sympathetic — Jordan Belfort. As beautiful as he is, DiCaprio isn't afraid to get dirty for a role, and this visceral performance was clear evidence.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) In Woody Allen's latest film — loosely based on A Streetcar Named Desire — the spoiled yet sensitive Cate Blanchett could give Vivien Leigh a run for her money. Blanchett's American accent might not be flawless, but Jasmine has a spark in her eye that grows in strength and depth throughout the film.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club): His dropping down to a mere 114 pounds may have been extreme, but it speaks to the level of dedication Leto showed to his character Rayon, a transsexual woman suffering from HIV/AIDS. Leto embodies the deeply flawed Rayon to a T — both with and without her characteristic makeup. 

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle): Though I was surprisingly disappointed by American Hustle as a whole, Lawrence's sparks of sharp humor, vulnerability, and distinct, likable characterization saved the film for me—and was by far the most memorable component.

WHO SHOULD WIN BEST PICTURE?
Our 80 Hours staff weighed in:
1. 12 Years a Slave (38 percent)
2. American Hustle (25 percent)
3. Captain Phillips (25 percent)
4. Philomena (12 percent)
Source: DI arts staff, eight participants

WATCHING THE AWARDS

In case you haven't managed to secure an invitation to the 86th Academy Awards (I'm still waiting for mine to come in the mail), here's how you can watch the Oscars on March 2 — alone or in style.

At Home: Tune your TV to ABC at 6 p.m. and let host Ellen DeGeneres guide you through the night.

At the Englert: Don your best Red Carpet look for the Englert Theater's "Hollywood Live" event starting at 6 p.m. Ticket-holders are encouraged to dress up as their favorite film characters or stars, bring and eat film-theme foods, guess the Oscar winners, and earn prizes in the process.

At the IMU: Meet friends in the IMU River Room to play games, take photos, score prizes, and eat popcorn, all while watching the awards. On top of those perks, this Campus Activities Board event will cost you exactly $0.


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