Lito’s Oscar Picks: Best Picture

R - Oscar05

SERIES 6 – BEST PICTURE

Well, this is it!  The big enchilada…

And the nominees are…

AMERICAN HUSTLE

FOR IT: It’s a delightful, electric, entertaining, pizzazz filled crime cape comedy-drama helmed by one of Hollywood’s favorite sons of the moment, David O. Russell whose previous two films also were nominees in this category. Perhaps it’s time to honor his work. It’s an acting showcase that has a surprising feel-good tone to it. It won the Golden Globe (Mus/Com) and the SAG Ensemble award, not to mention pretty strong at the box office. It certainly has momentum.

AGAINST IT: Compared to its other competition that has a strong shot of winning, this film feels relatively lightweight. Some feel the film as a whole is shallow and not more than an entertaining confection that will soon be forgotten. Perhaps in a different year, this discussion might be different.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

FOR IT: This intense thriller directed by previous Oscar nominee Paul Greengrass stars Tom Hanks as the titular sea captain whose vessel is hijacked by Somali pirates. It’s an exhilarating, well-crafted film that got strong reviews and decent box office. It’s true story roots don’t hurt either. Some would call it a true American story… the kind of film that might have starred John Wayne or Henry Fonda in the 50’s.

AGAINST IT: It hasn’t been winning any major awards. There are some who may steer away from it due to the minor controversy that was caused upon the film’s released dealing with accuracy (although what biopic doesn’t go through that these days?) The film’s lack of a Best Director nod could indicate it doesn’t have as much traction.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

FOR IT: This year’s little indie film that could spot goes to this solid drama set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s and the strongly homophobic environment in which it’s set. But at its heart, the film is a championing effort about the right to dignity, medicinal or otherwise commandeered by Matthew McConaughey’s outstanding lead performance. It’s an acting extravaganza and has been receiving excellent reviews.

AGAINST IT: No Best Director nod is noteworthy. Also, the film may be seen as too “small” . It has weak box office and some may also be turned off by what they may see as bleak subject matter. The nomination is the reward.

GRAVITY

FOR IT: A visually revolutionary film in the science-fiction genre, Alfonso Cuaron’s space thriller became one of this year’s biggest box office successes as well as winning rave reviews and a ton of respect within the industry. Perhaps this is a golden opportunity (no pun intended) to honor a genre that’s to this day been completely ignored by the Academy. Those who recall that “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Alien” or “Blade Runner” failed to even receive nominations for Best Picture may tip the hat to this film. It won the PGA Award (tying with “12 Years a Slave”) and is a real threat for the win.

AGAINST IT: History has decidedly suggested that this genre is not Oscar-worthy other than in technical categories. It is competing strongly with “12 Years a Slave”.

HER

FOR IT: Spike Jonze’s off the wall romantic drama set in the not too distant future where mankind interacts more personally with machinery and gadgets than with actual people made for one of this year’s most original concepts. It was won scores of rave reviews from critics and their respective awards groups. It has gone on many Top 10 lists and is certainly one of the most memorable films of the year.

AGAINST IT: Curiously, the major awards groups (Golden Globes, DGA) snubbed Spike Jonze for a Best Director nomination. Considering the film is thoroughly reliant on his vision, that doesn’t bode well for the film’s chances to win the big one. Cutting edge films on the “smaller or indie” scale have a hard time breaking through in this category.

NEBRASKA

FOR IT: Here’s an indie dramedy from acclaimed director Alexander Payne that is chock full of heart, nostalgia, and offbeat humor that many of the Academy’s older members will flock to. It has high prestige value, great reviews, and nominations from all the right places. Payne’s last two films have been nominated for Best Picture, but not won. Perhaps it’s time to recognize his skills here?

AGAINST IT: Though many have praised it, very few have gone as far to call it the year’s best film. It has no major wins from awards groups in Best Picture. The film caters to a select demographic that may no longer be in the Academy’s majority.

PHILOMENA

FOR IT: Here’s perhaps the most lightweight, but no less compelling Best Pic nominee. The Weinsteins pushed hard and one of their films made it in despite grim chances. Judi Dench’s wonderful performance anchors the success of this film and it is sure to have some fans cheering for it.

AGAINST IT: It was the surprise nominee of the year and well… its chances just aren’t great… not even good. Let’s be real.

12 YEARS A SLAVE

FOR IT: Long hailed since it opened last October as the frontrunner to win Best Picture, the time is drawing year and that same phrase may just carry it home to Oscar glory. The true story of free man Solomon Northup’s account of being sold into slavery has been heralded as a groundbreaking, unflinching, and compelling tale masterfully chronicling the horrors of slavery and the strength of the human spirit. Support is strong with the film winning Best Picture honors from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and PGA (tying with “Gravity”). The Academy is often fond of honoring such morally conscious dramas that make a heavy impact like that. Think “The Deer Hunter” or “Schindler’s List”.

AGAINST IT: Some may have found the film too stark and grim. Other may instead have been more taken with the achievements of “Gravity”. There’s a small group who considers the film too one-note, but all in all, there’s not much against this film’s chances.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

FOR IT: Martin Scorsese’s black comedy detailing the account, rise, and fall of Wall Street fraudster Jordan Belfort has been mostly hailed as a critical hit that has many singing its praises. It’s a somewhat different film for Scorsese and voters may want to honor the new avenue of the director’s oeuvre.

AGAINST IT: Controversy for the film rests on its brashness, crudeness, and film length -.perhaps too much to take home an Oscar. Also, Scorsese has been awarded his overdue Oscar for 2006’s “The Departed”. Then there are those who just don’t find this film among the best films of the year or of Scorsese’s, whether they liked it or not.

THE LOWDOWN:

It really is a two picture race. Those are of course, “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity”. The former has the slight edge. Many Hollywood pundits are saying that “Gravity” will prevail, but the majestic, dramatic, and historically important “12 Years” has more ingredients that Oscar likes in its winners. It would be the first film to honor a film about slavery and that is a historical note that I doubt Oscar will want to miss. However, don’t bee too shocked if “Gravity” wins. “American Hustle” is a possible for an upset, but it’s very unlikely. The other films are just happy to be here.

MY PERSONAL PICK: NEBRASKA

Okay, so I mentioned that “Nebraska” was geared catnip for the older folks, but I’m almost 30, and call me a sentimentalist, or what have you, but at the end of the day, my heart went with the subtle grace, nuance, and genuine heartfelt warmth that “Nebraska” was able to provide in an offbeat, not down your throat, Hollywood-y way. That’s what so amazing about Alexander Payne’s work. “Gravity” was a close second.

I’m a firm believer in only having five nominees for Best Picture, so with that in mind, I’m also all for “American Hustle” and “Dallas Buyers Club” reaping nods. If I had to go with a fifth, I would have included the overlooked film “Short Term 12” in the mix. It’s the kind of successfully pulled off indie drama that so many aspire to be, but never come close. It resounded strongly with me and while “12 Years a Slave” is a masterful film in my Top 10, I had some strong issues with how the film and script were structured in the last third of the film, omitting important story arcs and sense of urgency and high stakes that I felt were shortchanged. It was that flaw that cost it from being one of the final five and after seeing it three times, I think I can say it with confidence now.

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