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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 10 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 02
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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2014 Academy Award nominee predictions
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

The nominations for the 86th annual Academy Awards will be announced this coming Thursday, January 16, and it goes without saying Steve McQueen's slavery drama 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón's interstellar survivalist sci-fi smash Gravity will be the two frontrunners. They're likely to snatch up a gigantic batch of the nominations, and as of right now, one can't help but imagine come the night of March 2 itself, they'll be the pair taking home the bulk of the Oscars handed out to the victors.

But in a year as packed with greatness as 2013 was, trying to figure out who is going to get nominated in what category and why is proving to be an incredibly difficult enterprise.

Normally, there are a handful of frontrunners in all the major categories, and while there are always a modicum of outliers that can steal a few slots, predicting the majority of the nominees isn't that much of a challenge. This year, however, the majority of the categories, especially in regards to acting, are so overstuffed with viable contenders, it goes without saying there will be a number of potential nominees who will wake up Thursday morning to bitter disappointment.

There are, by my count, 20 viable Best Picture contenders duking it out for a possible 10 slots (I'm anticipating nine nominees, but that number could end up being as low as seven depending on the Academy's cryptic and awkward voting systems), while there are more than a dozen actors and actresses who gave award-worthy performances fighting over five precious spots in each respective category.

The following are my thoughts as to who the likely nominees will be in the major categories, as well as some personal thoughts as to who and who shouldn't be a part of the conversation. Come Thursday morning we'll find out just how good my prognostication skills truly are.

BEST PICTURE
The Contenders: 12 Years a Slave, All is Lost, August: Osage County, American Hustle, Before Midnight, Blue is the Warmest Color, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Nebraska, Philomena, Prisoners, Rush, Saving Mr. Banks, Short Term 12, The Wolf of Wall Street

The Locks: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity

Put Money On It: Captain Phillips, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks

Likely: August: Osage County, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street

Outside Looking In: Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Lee Daniels' The Butler

Darkhorses: All is Lost, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, Rush, Short Term 12

Thoughts - It's hard to know what to make of the Best Picture situation. If there were five nominees this would be easy, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity and Saving Mr. Banks the obvious picks one can't help but assume the Academy would give preference to.

But with a potential five additional slots and so many solid films to choose from? Honestly, it's anyone's guess as to which motion pictures will fill out the nominee card.

Personally, I'm going with a final tally of nine to make the party, a number of noteworthy titles, including Short Term 12, Before Midnight and the Coen brothers latest masterwork Inside Llewyn Davis missing the cut.

FINAL PREDICTIONS: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, August: Osage County, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street



BEST DIRECTOR
The Contenders: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), J.C. Chandor (All is Lost), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Spike Jonze (Her), Ron Howard (Rush), John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

The Locks: Cuarón, McQueen, Russell

Put Money On It: Greengrass

Likely: Scorsese

Outside Looking In: Coen brother, Hancock, Payne

Darkhorses: Allen, Chandor, Coogler

Thoughts - Yep, I'm voting against Scorsese, not because I don't think he's worthy, but more because I feel like the controversy surrounding the film itself will keep him out of the final nomination pool.

More, there's always one surprise in this category, and in this case I kind of feel like Coogler and Fruitvale Station are the flavor du jour that could make the nomination cut.

FINAL PREDICTIONS: Coogler, Cuarón, Greengrass, McQueen, Russell



BEST ACTOR
The Contenders: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Christian Bale (American Hustle), Robert Redford (All is Lost), Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler), Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor), Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Steve Coogan (Philomena), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

The Locks: Ejiofor, McConaughey

Put Money On It: no one

Likely: Dern, Hanks

Outside Looking In: Bale, DiCaprio, Isaac, Jordan, Phoenix, Redford, Whitaker

Darkhorses: Coogan, Elba, Hawke, Jackman

Thoughts - No matter what happens here, a number of actors, whether they want to admit it or not, are going to come away disappointed when the final nominee list is announced. I honestly have no clue what's going to happen here (other than Ejiofor and McConaughey), so take my final predictions with a gigantic pillar of salt.

FINAL PREDICTIONS: Dern, DiCaprio, Ejiofor, McConaughey, Redford



BEST ACTRESS
The Contenders: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said), Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Kate Winslet (Labor Day), Bérénice Bejo (The Past), Judi Dench (Philomena), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Rooney Mara (Side Effects)

The Locks: Blanchett, Bullock

Put Money On It: Dench, Streep, Thompson

Outside Looking In: Adams, Exarchopoulos, Larson, Louis-Dreyfus

Darkhorses: Delpy, Gerwig

Thoughts - Best Actress is as crowded a field as Best Actor, but when one understands the history and voting patterns of the Academy, predicting the nominees themselves is actually fairly simple.

In all honesty, I'm fairly positive the five women I'm guessing will get nods will prove to be correct, and it's safe to say this was the wrong year to be a young actress giving a spectacular performance if you were looking to be singled out for any sort of Oscar love.

That said, if Larson, Exarchopoulos or Adams (or even Gerwig or Louis-Dreyfus - you can sadly forget about Bejo, Delpy or Mara) edge their way into the final five, the squeal you'll hear is me losing my marbles in outright glee.

FINAL PREDICTIONS: Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Streep, Thompson



BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Contenders: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Harrison Ford (42), Ben Foster (Ain't Them Bodies Saints), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jeremy Renner (American Hustle), Chris Cooper (August: Osage County), Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), James Gandolfini (Enough Said), Ben Foster (Lone Survivor), Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Will Forte (Nebraska), Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners), Colin Farrell (Saving Mr. Banks), Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks), James Franco (Spring Breakers), Daniel Brühl (Rush), Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)

The Locks: Fassbender, Leto

Put Money On It: Abdi

Likely: Brühl, Gandolfini

Outside Looking In: Franco, Gyllenhaal, Hanks, Hill

Darkhorses: Baldwin, B. Cooper, C. Cooper, Forte

Thoughts - First things first: the fact Foster isn't going to get a nomination, for either Ain't Them Bodies Saints or Lone Survivor, I don't care which, is an absolute shame. After that, much like Best Actor, the Supporting category on the male side is also a crapshoot where just about anybody can sneak into the nomination pool. That said, I'm fairly happy with the picks I've made (emphasis on 'fairly').

FINAL PREDICTIONS: Abdi, Brühl, Fassbender, Gandolfini, Leto

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Contenders: Lupita Nyongo (12 Years a Slave), Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Margo Martindale (August: Osage County), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), Amy Adams (Her), Scarlett Johansson (Her), Carey Mullign (Inside Llewyn Davis), Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels' The Butler), June Squibb (Nebraska), Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street)

The Locks: Lawrence, Nyongo

Put Money On It: Squibb

Likely: Roberts, Winfrey

Outside Looking In: Garner, Martindale, Seydoux, Spencer

Darkhorses: Hawkins, Robbie, Johansson

Thoughts - This is a tough one to predict in many ways as well, because while Nyongo and Lawrence are most decidedly going to duke it out for the actual win, figuring out who the other three vying against them will be close to impossible. Every actress here gave a superlative performance in 2013, each deserving of being recognized. It's all going to come down to what particular movie the Academy falls in love with most (I'm guessing August: Osage County or Fruitvale Station) that more than likely is going to be the determining factor as to which actresses take up the final three slots.

FINAL PREDICTIONS: Lawrence, Nyongo, Roberts, Spencer, Squibb


Cantankerous Osage County a vitriolic family reunion
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

The Weston family has been reunited. Father and husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) has gone missing, his cantankerous headstrong wife Violet (Meryl Streep) not seeming particularly bothered by his sudden absence. Youngest daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is compelled all the same to bring her sisters into the mix, calling estranged eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts) in hopes she'll come back to the family homestead to help ease their mom's frazzled and fractured mind.

She arrives, husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) in tow, but she doesn't want to be there, things not going to go well, especially if Violet has been indulging in her passion for painkillers once again. But when tragedy strikes Ivy discovers she's the one expected to take charge and keep the family moving forward, especially when flighty middle sister Karen (Juliette Lewis) arrives with her older fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney) driving the getaway vehicle. When aunt Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and their son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) get thrown into the mix, all sorts of chaos is bound to burst out, the war between Violet and Ivy the ironic catalyst that could lead to reconciliation, if everyone at the dinner table can somehow let bygones be bygones and allow past demons to finally die.

As if.

Based on Tracy Letts' Tony award-winning play, director John Wells' (The Company Men) adaptation of August: Osage County, scripted by the playwright, isn't for the faint of heart, as the family at the center of it all isn't exactly warm and fuzzy. There is love, yes, especially between the sisters, but the slithery demon who is the matriarch of the Weston clan seems intent on trying to gobble it all up for herself whether or not her children feel like giving it to her. She's not a very good mother, needy and selfish, but she does care for her three daughters, whether she cares to admit it to them (let alone herself) or not, and while she's great at keeping the truth as it relates to her own life at arm's length, she's more than willing to vomit it upon everyone else at every opportunity.

But like a Tennessee Williams play dragged through the Oklahoma mud, as despicable and as ugly as much of what transpires over a couple days with the Westons might be, it's still a heck of a lot of fun to behold. Each character, no matter how brief the time they have on the screen, is a complicated morass of human frailties and failings, each trying their best to trudge their way through them as they look to find a semblance of happiness and peace they rarely get the opportunity to know. It's crackerjack stuff filled with snippy bits of dialogue and acid-drenched moments of brutal honesty that smacks the viewer across the face, and for those who like this sort of thing, then this is a movie not just to see, but to put right at the top of the must-watch list.

It helps that the all-star ensemble is each at the top of their respective games, Cooper, Martindale, Breslin, Lewis and Nicholson notable standouts, giving performances worthy of as much acclaim and notice that can be thrown their respective ways. As for Roberts, a serious case can be made that she's never been better, even her Oscar-winning turn in Erin Brokovich not quite as detailed or as crazily multifaceted as the character she's asked to inhabit here. Ivy is a wreck even if she doesn't fully comprehend it, the actress fearlessly diving into her more despicable aspects even as she manages to make her a compassionate woman of substance worth caring about at the exact same time.

Then there is Streep. What does one say about today's arguably greatest living actress that hasn't been said a thousand times before? Vi Weston is a snake in matriarch's clothing, clutching her cigarette butt like six-shooter and holding onto her Adderall as if it were life itself. Is she over the top? Is she chewing the scenery? Is she traipsing through the film as if she's the be-all and end-all of every single scene she happens to appear in? You bet she does - Streep unapologetically taking hold of the film's reins at every turn and not caring a lick what anyone else might think about it.

As great as she is, and she is magnificent, her titanic portrait does create something of a minor tonal imbalance in that the central thrust of the story is more concerned with Ivy than it is with her. Additionally, as detailed and character-driven as Letts' scenario might be, the melodramatic histrionics can get silly as things progress, some of the climactic revelations bordering on absurd. This makes the focus on Violet, whether intentional or not, even more unfortunate, the emotional strengths of the drama undermined because Streep dominates so completely.

Then there is the ending. The less said here the better, one doesn't want to ruin the climactic surprises after all, but there is one major change that Letts and Wells make from the play that, even for those who have never seen the theatrical production and have no idea what I'm talking about, still feels like a major misstep. You get the feeling that the movie understands just how dark it is, just how abhorrent the world it is exploring can be. As such it wants to ease the pain for the audience, leave them with a modicum of sparkle and hope that frankly isn't justified. While the final notes are performed incredibly well, that doesn't make them any easier to swallow, and honestly, I'm just not certain what it is the filmmakers hoped to accomplish by making this change from the source material.

Be that as it may, August: Osage County is certainly unlike most every other drama I've had the good fortune to see in all of 2013. It isn't afraid of darkness and doesn't mind going straight into the center of emotional mine fields risking total annihilation. Letts and Wells know audiences aren't as easily alienated as some might think, and when being treated with intelligence and respect are typically willing to be led into corners lesser filmmakers would be unwilling to tread. The movie is far from perfect, but that doesn't make it any less compelling or inherently mesmerizing, Streep and Roberts taking center stage with explosive aplomb, delivering unforgettable performances fans of both actresses would be foolish to miss.






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2014 Academy Award nominee predictions
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Cantankerous Osage County a vitriolic family reunion
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Toad the Wet Sprocket interview on February 7
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Northwest News
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Letters
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