Buy or sell: Oscars edition

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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DI Opinions Editor Zach Tilly and well-rounded pop-culture expert Ben Ross preview the Academy Awards.

Buy or sell: 12 Years a Slave deserves the Best Picture Oscar

Ross: Sell. 12 Years a Slave was good. But was this the best movie you saw this year? If it weren’t for the historical impact of this movie — which is important, don’t get me wrong — 12 Years would not have gained the type of buzz it has. Philomena, which also has significant cultural relevance, I think was a better film than 12 Years even, but I still don’t see either of those winning. To me, the Best Picture race is one for Dallas Buyers Club to lose, and I don’t think anything else is going to touch it. The acting was too good across the board, and the topic too relevant to today’s society.

Tilly: Buy. Of the Best Picture nominees, three are particularly memorable (to me): 12 Years a Slave for not pulling any punches as a picture of brutality and desperation, Gravity for pure technical achievement, and Her — which I’ll talk about later — for its fully realized version of the near-future. 12 Years and Gravity stand above the field — made up mostly of memorable performances and forgettable movies — as fully realized visions where nothing’s out of place, but only the former succeeds in turning its subject matter into something emotionally resonant.

Buy or sell: American Hustle is the most overrated Best Picture nominee.

Ross: Buy. It’s so hard to see a movie filled with a good plot, fantastic acting, and Amy Adams’ cleavage go in circles for two hours, but that’s exactly what American Hustle did. It was funny, smart, and presented in an aesthetically pleasing way, but American Hustle is just missing something that all great films possess.

I can’t even put my finger on it, but American Hustle lacks this zeal that makes you lose sense of time. I checked my watch regularly throughout the movie. This just goes to show you that great acting across the board can get you an Oscar nomination, but it certainly will not be film that takes home the hardware on Sunday.

Tilly: Sell. I liked American Hustle. I understand the complaints people have — the plot was incoherent, and it was messy — but the ensemble and David O. Russell were enough to overcome that messiness. Insofar as to be nominated for Best Picture is to be highly rated, nothing in the field is more overrated than Her. Joaquin Phoenix was charming and sad, the impersonal world of the near-future was really well-conceived … but damn, that script. It begins with a surprising humor, but the second hour is mired in melancholy staring-into-the-distance and philosophizing about the limitations of the human mind. Perhaps that turn would’ve been more palatable if the movie’s central conceit — a man falls in love with his phone — hadn’t required such a substantial suspension of disbelief.

Buy or sell: Gravity will take home the most Oscars on Sunday.

Tilly: Buy. Though 12 Years a Slave (nine nominations) and American Hustle (10 nominations) have Oscar-heavyweight pedigrees, Gravity looks like a trophy-mint in waiting. Only three of Alfonso Cuarón’s space-disaster movie’s nominations are in the major categories — Best Picture, Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), and Best Director (Cuarón). The rest of its nominations are technical — editing, production design, sound, and cinematography, etc. Gravity, which excelled in capturing the chaos and vertigo of space like nothing before it, should clean up on that front. Barring a few upsets in the acting categories for the American Hustle cast, the careening spectacle and single-minded devotion Gravity should carry the day in the medal account.

Ross: Sell. This is pretty tough, seeing as Gravity is nominated for just about every category it’s eligible for, but that’s no matter. I think Best Cinematography and Best Directing are its easiest bets, but I don’t really know enough about sound mixing to know what the Academy is looking for. I think The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club have better chances to take home the Oscar bundle despite having far fewer nominations than Gravity, simply because they are superior films in just about every way possible. 12 Years a Slave has a good shot of taking home five or more Oscars, too.

Buy or sell: McConaughey and Jennifer Lawrence will both win acting awards.

Tilly: Buy. Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress both look like tossups right now — Cate Blanchett and Jared Leto seem to be shoo-ins in the other acting categories — but this seems like as likely an outcome as any. McConaughey’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club was thoroughly McConaughey, and Oscar voters apparently love massive body transformations. Top that off with that among Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, and HBO’s “True Detective,” McConaughey is the reigning king of the zeitgeist. He’ll snuff out yet another DiCaprio dream.
A win for J-Law seems less likely but not implausible. This race between Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o will likely determine whether American Hustle or 12 Years a Slave gets shut out of the acting awards. If 12 Years takes Best Picture, I suspect the Academy could throw American Hustle and Lawrence its one and only acting bone. 

Ross: Half-sell. Matty McConaughey can do no wrong right now, and that will certainly be reflected when he takes home Best Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. The Academy notices when you lose enough weight to look sickly for a role.

Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, was not anything special. Her role reminded me of Celia Hodes from the TV show “Weeds,” just mucking up everything good that was planned. Lawrence will not win Best Actress, simply because I think this category is the biggest shoo-in for 12 Years a Slave. Lupita Nyong’o was fantastic as the object of Michael Fassbender’s wrath and created the most emotional reactions to the film with her tears and utter distress.

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