Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Hello and welcome back to the Hot List. So far we have previewed the essential new music, the essential new television, and the essential new movies in 2014. This week we will turn our attention to videogames, previewing for you our loyal readers the most exciting videogames set for release in 2014.
2013 was a big year for gaming with blockbuster releases like Grand Theft Auto V, but at the same time there has been an increasing trend away from massive studios and back into independent development. Kickstarter and Steam Early Access are now firmly established as viable ways for games developers to fund and develop an ambitious title without the backing (or meddling influence) of a big publisher, and this is a trend we expect to continue in 2014.
It was also the final year of the old generation of gaming, with the Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Wii U now fully in the throes of battle for the next generation of home console gaming. Early signs suggest that Nintendo may suffer the consequences of a number of bad decisions with poor Wii U sales in recent months, but still they flourish in the handheld gaming market where their 3DS had a bumper year that has seen the company firmly retain their title as the king of handheld gaming consoles. That's not to disregard the smartphone gaming market which has developed massively in recent years to approach the level of complexity associated with dedicated gaming machines. Meanwhile the PC gaming market has seen something of a renaissance, driven in part by this new indie scene, and set to go mainstream with Steam's new push for "Steambox" home consoles.
2014 then has the potential to be very exciting indeed as these trends continue and the next generation of gaming continues to take shape. So behold, the top ten list of key videogames to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 10:
10. Titanfall (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC)
Without an established blockbuster franchise on which to ship Xbox One units, it's becoming clear that Microsoft's great hope in 2014 will rest with Titanfall.
This multiplayer only first person shooter, clearly aimed at the Call of Duty crowd, combines parkour-style on foot combat with giant mechs, as players compete across a war-torn planet between two very distinct sides.
A debut project from new developers Respawn Entertainment, Titanfall nevertheless has all the hallmarks of a new killer app in the making. Upon its reveal at E3 it won over 60 awards, and early hype is that this could do for Xbox One what Halo did for the original Xbox.
Release Date: March 2014
9. Alien Isolation (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
The venerable Alien movie franchise has always had an uneasy status in the videogame world. A few decent Alien vs Predator games aside, the series has never really lived up to its promise, and in particular the most recent effort Aliens: Colonial Marines has gone down as one of the all time biggest flops in videogame history.
Enter developer The Creative Assembly, who began life as a contractor for EA producing sports games, but has more recently seen success as the architect of the Total War series of games. They believe that the problem with Alien games is that they have typically owed more in inspiration to the action-oriented Alien movie sequels than the original horror masterpiece.
Alien Isolation seeks to rectify this with a totally new, horror-focused approach to design. No longer will you play a hulking marine with a machine gun mowing down hundreds of aliens, now you play a single unarmed scientist simply trying to survive and hide. It's a novel approach, and it could be brilliant. Much will depend on the quality of the AI of the alien, which will have to be considerably more sophisticated than what we have seen in previous games in order to create the appropriate level of unpredictability and terror. Meanwhile fans of the series will feel giddy at the love that's being put into replicating the original classic movie here, with a retro art-style taken straight out of the 1970s and a high level of detail into making game environments feel authentic.
Can this ambitious title live up to the hype? We will have to wait until the winter to find out.
Release Date: Winter 2014
8. DayZ (PC)
It's a somewhat remarkable story how DayZ came to be, starting life as an amateur mod for realistic military simulator ArmA2. The game has since on to become something very significant in its own right, and will see release as a standalone title in 2014.
The concept behind Bohemia Interactive's game is simple, take a realistic military simulator, turn it into a massively multiplayer world and fill it with zombies. Players can explore, scavenge for supplies, and do pretty much anything they want in order to survive. DayZ features a massive 225 km2 land mass complete with countryside, towns, and lots of zombies. Everything else is left completely open to the players.
This results in uniquely emergent gameplay that is governed less by its programmed mechanics than by the psychology of real people. Players can team up to survive together or kill each other in order to steal invaluable supplies, making trust a central mechanic of the gameplay. AI opponents can be predicted or manipulated, but people are inherently unpredictable. It's this aspect of human nature that makes DayZ such a compelling project, even as the interface and programming continues to look rough around the edges.
The game is currently in alpha on PC, with no firm release date. The buzz suggests it will be in a complete state sometime late 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
7. X (tentative title) (Wii U)
X is an RPG in the classic mold: big open world for exploration, epic world-saving plot, and a heavy focus on characters. Very little else is known about the game other than it is a spiritual successor of sorts to Monolith's highly rated, but hard to find Xeno series, and everything else just comes from the very impressive trailer.
A release date is not know, except that it is mooted for some time in 2014. Could this be the shot in the arm the Wii U needs?
Release Date: TBA 2014
6. Super Smash Bros (tentative title) (Wii U, 3DS)
The newest entry in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros series is coming in 2014. It may not have a title yet, but it's coming, and it will see release on both Wii U and 3DS, with some as yet undetailed inter-connectivity between the two versions.
Nintendo's mascot beat-em-up is a gaming classic, featuring some of the most important characters in videogame history, addictive gameplay, and bucket-loads of references for nostalgic gamers. We don't expect this golden formula to change much and why should it? From Mario to Sonic to Link to Donkey Kong, all the essentials will be here, along with many others.
When it will be released is anyone's guess, but Wii U owners desperate for a taste of Nintendo's celebrated IPs will be hoping it's soon.
Release Date: TBA 2014
5. Broken Age (PC, Mac OS X)
Broken Age, the new project from legendary games designer Tim Schafer's new studio Double Fine Productions, is seen as a landmark game for many reasons.
As one of the first major Kickstarter projects, Broken Age showed that crowdfunding is a viable way to make a videogame. Additionally, the resurrection of the long forgotten point-and-click adventure genre shows that there is still the demand for such titles at a time when few publishers would ever consider such a project. That Broken Age managed to raise millions of dollars from the general public for something few games publishers would take a risk on raises serious questions about the industry.
Whatever way you look at it, Double Fine appear to have produced a fairly exceptional videogame, with a unique and gorgeous art-style, retro gameplay and classic story telling. The first chapter is out now on PC and Mac OS X, with the conclusion due by the end of the year
Release Date: Out Now (Act 1), TBA 2014 (Act 2)
4. Kerbal Space Program (PC, Mac OS X)
Another massive indie hit from a game that studios wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (seeing a pattern yet?). Kerbal Space Program is not only one of the most unique games in years, but one of the most addictive.
It started out more as a tech demo than an actual game from developers Squad; players design spacecraft and attempt to fly them. But we're not talking about Star Trek here, these are spaceships modeled after quasi-realistic NASA style components, roughly comparable in technology and aesthetic to what we have today. Layered over this is a remarkably accurate model of interplanetary physics; you won't just point your rocket and fire engines, you have to take into account gravity, orbit, exit and entry, proapsis and apoapsis.
For non rocket scientist gamers it may seem a bit daunting at first, but the complex nature of the game, married with the cartoony and lovable artistic style and beguiling sense of scale make for one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming today. You'll cheer as you achieve stable orbit for the first time, marvel as you complete your first moon landing, and then feel giddy as you experiment with space stations, land rovers and many other possibilities.
That we have sunk so many hours into a game that's not even really a game yet, but rather a giant sandbox illustrates just how remarkable this project is. Currently at version 0.23 of alpha, the final game should be ready to play on PC and Mac OS X by the end of 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
3. Star Citizen (PC)
The mother of all crowdfunding success stories, Star Citizen has so far rasied over $40 million, and that amount is growing steadily every day. What makes this all the more remarkable is that people are throwing their money at Cloud Imperium Games despite the fact that barely anything in-game has been shown so far.
So why all the excitement and hype? Star Citizen is the brainchild of Chris Roberts, a game design legend from the early days of PC gaming most famous for his space-based combat simulations such as Wing Commander and Freelancer. Star Citizen is Roberts' big comeback to gaming following years in Hollywood with a number of producer credits to his name.
Unapologetically PC exclusive, Star Citizen's mission statement is simple: to be the ultimate space epic, the game that Roberts has always wanted to make. It takes Roberts' trademark quality combat simulation gaming, adds detailed economy and trading elements, and throws it all into one massively multiplayer online persistent universe. A massive online universe populated with thousands of players, in which players can essentially do what they want: they can trade or start a business, they can be a combat pilot, they can become a diplomat, or they can engage in a bit of in-game sports (racing for example).
The sheer variety of gameplay being thrown into this game is matched by the vast efforts that are going into creating a believable, fully fleshed out universe. The official website now is chock-full of literature and back-story for the world they are creating, and even if reading into all that depth is not your kind of thing, that kind of love and detail makes a game world truly engaging, even for the most casual of players. It's this kind of effort that turns a good game into a great game.
Can an independent developer really deliver on such high ambition? That much remains to be seen, but with the talent involved, and the massive funds they are raising, far eclipsing other crowdfunded titles, things are certainly looking promising. Such is the scale of the game that it is intended to be rolled out in a modular fashion, beginning in late 2014.
Release Date: TBA 2014
2. Destiny (Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3)
Bungie are one of the most prestigious developers in gaming, despite only being known for a single games franchise. But when that franchise is a worldwide phenomenon like Halo, it goes a long way. With Microsoft milking that series for all its worth, Bungie were never going to stick around and let their considerable talent stagnate. Destiny is the first major project following their declaration of independence from all things Halo.
So what exactly is Destiny? Destiny is a story driven open world first person shooter with RPG elements, set in a post-apocalyptic world where Human civilization, having dominated the Solar System, suddenly collapses due to a mysterious catastrophic event. Society has withdrawn into a single isolated city on Earth. Players control one of the "guardians" of this last city, charged with protecting the remnants of Humanity and exploring the wasteland of former civilization to uncover the various mysteries.
What makes Destiny stand out is the integration of multiplayer elements. While Destiny is by no means an MMORPG, players' solo characters are very much the center of the story and will take the full focus, other players will be able to drop in and out of each others' games at specified points, encountering one another along the journey. Quite how this unique aspect will be used to impact the singleplayer narrative has yet to be revealed. In the long run Destiny has been confirmed to take a Mass Effect style approach of allowing gamers to carry on the story, importing old characters through a series of games, with players' decisions persisting throughout.
Everything about this game is ambitious, from the mysterious narrative to the quasi-multiplayer gaming, and the persistent character customization. If the gameplay lives up to its promise then we could be looking at the most epic new videogame series since Mass Effect.
Release Date: September 9th 2014
1. Starbound (PC, Mac OS X)
Every game on this list is ambitious to some degree, some look revolutionary in their scope. Starbound might just be the most ambitious game of them all, in spite of its unassuming appearance. Another entry on the list of crowdfunded indie games, Starbound is the debut title of Chucklefish Games, and the team has not been shy about taking on a very complex first project indeed.
It's easiest to describe what Starbound is by reference to other games. Most people will at least have heard of Minecraft, an open world sandbox which enables players to mine blocks of a multitude of materials and use those blocks to build just about anything they can imagine. A few years later came Terraria, which took essentially the same block building mechanic, fleshed it out a bit and presented in a retro two dimensional style.
Starbound takes Terraria's design even further. The game features a procedurally generated universe with a practically infinite number of planets, each of which is the size of Terraria's entire world. Each planet has its own environment and it's own procedurally generated plant and animal life, making each one completely unique. Players explore these planets, mine for materials, and can build whatever they want, but this time they can also hop in their spaceship and travel to any other planet they choose. In addition, Starbound adds a lot more structure and story to the game than either Terraria or Minecraft had. There's a quest system, and a fully crafted backstory to everything, and every planet is full of secrets to discover and NPC characters to meet.
The scale of universe that this design creates is simply unparalleled in gaming, and allows players to play in pretty much any manner they choose. A player can assemble a team (either singleplayer with NPCs or multiplayer) and explore the universe hopping from planet to planet, or build huge houses, military bases, farms, shops, cities, theme parks, anything they can imagine (and the creativity seen in the work the community has produced so far during the alpha testing is remarkable), the possibilities are literally limited only by the player's imagination. This is something no game has ever really achieved, and if Starbound manages to pull it of, the result will be something very memorable indeed.
What makes Starbound stand out even beyond it's ambition is the development team, engaging directly with the community and constantly implementing new features and content based on their feedback. It's quite incredible to see how much direct input the players have had into this game's production thus far, and the commitment of the development team to facilitate such back and forth is very admirable. Hopefully this is a sign of a new era where developers have the resources to produce high end games, and still engage with the users in a very personal way throughout the development process.
Starbound is available in it's very basic alpha state on PC, but the full version is expected by the end of this year.
Release Date: TBA 2014
So there you have it folks: the 2014 Hot List, running a little bit behind schedule thanks to work but finally complete. Here's to a great 2014, and the Hot List will see you again next year!
Friday, 7 March 2014
Head Chef Nuno Mendes
Style American Fusion
Address 1 Chiltern Street, London, W1U 7PA
Telephone +44 (0)20 7073 7676
For anyone reading up on the restaurant scene in London, the past few weeks will have seemed a constant bombardment of hype regarding The Chiltern Firehouse. From the Telegraph and the Guardian to Timeout and the Londonist, you can't look anywhere without seeing it mentioned. The aptly named restaurant is quite possibly the hottest thing in town right now.
There are two main reasons to justify the existence of such hype before anyone has even tried the food: André Balazs, and Nuno Mendes. The former is the noted American hotelier with a penchant for the glamorous and surreal, while the latter is one of the hottest up and coming chefs in world cuisine, who earned two Michelin stars on his first attempt with former restaurant Viajante.
For Balazs, The Chiltern Firehouse represents his first hotel opened outside the United States, the culmination of a drawn out process which almost saw him purchase a site on Saville Row some seven years ago. While the hotel itself has yet to open one can already appreciate the quality and level of detail that has been put into its design. While the Victorian-gothic converted firehouse and gleaming brass kitchen fittings lend an authentically industrial feel to the room, its predominately wood fixtures and lavish furnishing create a suitably warm and rustic feel. The calmly lit room is instantly comfortable in its retro surroundings.
So while Balazs brings his trademark impeccable style to the decor and atmosphere, Nuno brings his to the kitchen. In many ways the style of the Chiltern Firehouse is a drastic departure from Viajante, no set menus, relatively affordable prices (£50 per head vs £150), and a heavily American-influenced menu. But what people adored most about Viajante was the creativity and playfulness of Nuno, each meal treated almost as a carnival of food, and that same flair is apparent throughout the Chiltern Firehouse's menu, creating an array of dishes that are truly unique, and completely unlike anything you will find elsewhere.
The place to be seated is at the counter surrounding the kitchen, taking a page from the "workshop" concept of Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier. Here one can see every action within the buzzing kitchen, offering a truly fascinating look at the care that goes into crafting something artistic from simple ingredients. Sitting here also means you're going to be seeing a lot of Nuno himself, who likes to greet guests and discuss his work openly. A brief chat will be enough to demonstrate just how passionate he is about food, and how seriously he takes the restaurant business.
Through such discussion we learned that the departure from set menus was a very deliberate decision to avoid comparisons with Viajante, and hence the decidedly more reasonable price tag. That £50 per head price we quoted earlier will get you one bar snack (£1-5 each), one starter (£7-12), one main course (£17-30), one side dish and one dessert, a very reasonable return from any central London restaurant, let alone such a prominent one in a trendy hotel with the hottest chef in town. Equally it is entirely possible to get a simple starter/main combo for as little as £25-30, not especially expensive at all by London standards.
As for the food itself (the menu is still being tweaked as we understand), everything comes with a distinctly American twist. The bar snacks menu includes dishes such as crab doughnuts, fried chicken with bacon and maple infused ranch dip, and cornbread fingers. The starters include various types of crudo and squab with grains, chicory and redcurrants, while the main courses include maple-glazed salmon, monkfish cooked over pine with puff barley and fennel, and The "Firehouse" Caesar salad. Meanwhile as a side dish you can find maple-bourbon sweet potato.
The Ephemeric's duo of researchers ordered between them the following:
Aside from an overabundance of beetroot it's hard to find a single misstep in the menu. That all dishes are beautiful to look at is a given, but it's the bold flavours and playful combinations that make them memorable. The crab doughnuts are inspired, the squab is served shockingly pink and succulent to the taste while the mixed grains provide the perfect contrast. The scallop is beautifully served in the shell, and the Iberico pork. an homage to one of Viajante's signature dishes, comes close to achieving the same greatness of its inspiration. But particular note has to be made of the maple-bourbon sweet potato side dish, which was so divine that even days later the taste is stuck in The Ephemeric's head.
With the Chiltern Firehouse Nuno has gone to great lengths to create a distinct experience from his previous restaurant, but without doubt anyone who loved Viajante will find themselves equally enamoured here. The same atmosphere of fun and celebration permeates the setting, while the more casual style ensures comfort; the entire experience is a joy from start to finish, and for barely an above average London price it simply can't be beat. The menu is diverse and of a high enough quality that The Ephemeric is already eagerly anticipating our next visit. The Chiltern Firehouse may be the hype restaurant of the moment, but all signs point towards a new permanent fixture in London, one that will be around for years to come.
Saturday, 1 March 2014
Today we take a quick break from our Hot List of 2014 series to bring you a last minute preview regarding the Academy Awards ceremony this weekend.
This Sunday, Hollywood's famous Dolby Theatre will once again play host to the biggest day on the cinema calendar, the Oscars. People all over the world will tune in for that most tragically popular of pastimes, celebrity watching, followed by four hours of forced laughs and real tears.
The host follows in the footsteps of 2013's very daring choice of Seth Macfarlane with the really quite unadventurous and unexciting Ellen DeGeneres. An especially ironic choice considering her name is plastered all over the internet across leaked copies of this year's films.
As always, I give you my loyal readers some predictions for the big night. You may not have seen the big films this year, or be familiar with the latest hype tearing through tinseltown; if so consider the following a crib sheet for what lies ahead this weekend, and perhaps even a sneak peek at who might just be walking away with the big prize.
- American Hustle
- Captain Phillips
- Dallas Buyers Club
- 12 Years a Slave
- The Wolf of Wall Street
Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave
A strong and diverse field this year which has seen three different favourites at varying stages following the various preceding awards this year. 12 Years a Slave can count among its accolades the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, while American Hustle took the New York Film Critics award, and Gravity took the Directors' Guild Award, which has typically been a strong predictor. Still 12 Years a Slave has got to be the odds on favourite here, from the fact that it has won the greatest number of best film awards this year, to the fact that it is so unanimously praised by critics, to the fact that it may as well have "Oscar Bait" stamped across the poster, 12 Years a Slave is a shoo-in to win this year.
Who Should Win: Gravity
As great a film as 12 Years a Slave is, it's not necessarily the most widely loved. The reason for this is simply that it does exactly what one expects. It's a gritty, disturbing film about slavery. It's not the first film on the subject and it won't be the last. And while it's very well made and excellently acted it doesn't bring anything new to the genre, and it's highly predictable progression means that the ultimate emotional impact is inevitably going to be lacking. Gravity, more than any other film on this list challenges expectations, showing that science fiction can be significant art in a way arguably not seen since Kubrick's 2001. While the main draw is clearly the innovative film making, the underrated performances and hugely impressive script (it would have to be to make one woman alone in a completely featureless scene so compelling for two hours) come together to make this simply in our view the greatest combination of all merits in film making for 2013.
- David O. Russell – American Hustle
- Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
- Alexander Payne – Nebraska
- Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
- Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Who Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
This is set to be one of those rare, but increasingly common years where the best picture and best director awards diverge. Cuarón has taken all the major directing awards, including the highly coveted Director's Guild of America award for best direction, which often predicts best picture, simply by merit of the fact that it virtually flawlessly predicts best director.
Who Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
No arguments here, Cuarón's direction was simply breathtaking. From the cinematography to the stunning Earth vistas, to the unbelievable camera shots (the film opens with a 15 minute single shot scene, set in convincing zero gravity no less!), the incredible attention to detail, and the most powerful emotional payoff at the end of any film this year, Cuarón has long been an underrated director, but this year will see him cement his position as one of the best in the world, and he will win this Oscar.
- Christian Bale – American Hustle as Irving Rosenfeld
- Bruce Dern – Nebraska as Woody Grant
- Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street as Jordan Belfort
- Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave as Solomon Northup
- Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
A few years ago no one in their right mind would have predicted Matthew McConaughey to win an Oscar, but such has been his career resurrection in recent years that he is now near certain to pick up the ultimate prize in acting this year. Up until recently Chiwetel Ejiofor was considered heavy favourite for his turn as abused slave Solomon Northup, but following a string of key award wins and a whole lot of buzz, McConaughey's AIDS victim Ron Woodroof is now dead on favourite to win. Abused minority or AIDS victim, it's a battle of the Oscar clichés this year!
Who Should Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
Again, no arguments, McConaughey's performance is excellent, throwing everything he has at the role and evidently nearly destroying his body to embody Woodroof. Ejiofor's performance is good too, but nothing mind-blowing and at times even a little overwrought.
- Amy Adams – American Hustle as Sydney Prosser
- Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine as Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis
- Sandra Bullock – Gravity as Dr. Ryan Stone
- Judi Dench – Philomena as Philomena Lee
- Meryl Streep – August: Osage County as Violet Weston
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine as Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis
The hype on Blanchett's performance has been near constant since last summer when Blue Jasmine first started limited screenings. After all the Academy loves her, she's in a very topical role as a humbled rich person, and yes, she's very good. She has also picked up the vast majority of awards in the run up to these Oscars, making her a very strong certainty to win.
Who Should Win: Sandra Bullock – Gravity as Dr. Ryan Stone
But at the same time, there's nothing great about Blanchett's performance. She does what is required with a character who is deceptively thin really, with very little actual transformation. She starts the film as a miserable cretin and ends in the same way, except a little crazier. In this humble observer's opinion the stand out performance by far this year has been Sandra Bullock. Eyebrows were raised when she won her first Oscar for Blind Side, but no one can question her acting ability after her performance in Gravity. She pulls off the near impossible feat of carrying an entire film, almost on her own for the entirety, very often with the camera right up in her face shining a spotlight on even the tiniest detail of her performance. But most of all, unlike Blanchett's character, there is real progression and transformation in Bullock's Dr. Ryan, and you can feel it through every facet of the performance. Bullock's performance checks every box you could ask for, and then some, and she deserves to win the Oscar, even if she won't.
Best Supporting Actor
- Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips as Abduwali Muse
- Bradley Cooper – American Hustle as Agent Richard "Richie" DiMaso
- Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave as Edwin Epps
- Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street as Donnie Azoff
- Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon
Who Will Win: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon
Another category with a heavy favourite. The Academy loves an underdog, and a former pop star turned actor is certainly that when given such a meaty role. It also helps that a tragic AIDS infected transgendered individual is just textbook Oscar material. Jared Leto has picked up all the big awards so far, and looks very likely to add to it with an Oscar. There remains a slight outside shot at Barkhad Abdi causing an upset, after all his is an even more remarkable story of a limo driver turned actor on his debut, and a strong performance to boot, but Leto seems by far the most likely going into this weekend.
Who Should Win: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club as Rayon
Another agreement, his performance is daring, transformative, and remarkable in a very difficult role.
Best Supporting Actress
- Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine as Ginger
- Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle as Rosalyn Rosenfeld
- Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave as Patsey
- Julia Roberts – August: Osage County as Barbara Weston-Fordham
- June Squibb – Nebraska as Kate Grant
Who Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave as Patsey
It's been a relatively weak field this year, which has made this one of the harder categories to predict all season. However the consensus appears to be building right now around newcomer Lupita Nyong'o for her performance in 12 Years a Slave. The Academy often likes to throw a spanner in the works with an unknown youngster, particularly for roles in such high drama, butt the lack of real standout among the nominees makes Lupita a genuine contender, and The Ephemeric's current favourite.
Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong'o – 12 Years a Slave as Patsey
Another agreement, but don't worry it's the last one! Nyong'o's performance is very powerful for a newcomer in a very challenging role.
Best Original Screenplay
- American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
- Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen
- Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
- Her – Spike Jonze
- Nebraska – Bob Nelson
Who Will Win: American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Of the major categories this is a tough one to call. Throughout the awards season American Hustle has been the heavy favourite, due in part to all the hype that has surrounded the film (you often see hype films pick up the smaller awards by default, even if they haven't really done anything to earn it, eg. see Hurt Locker, Kings Speech), but following a lot of last minute buzz generated mostly by word of mouth and a few screenwriting awards, Her has now emerged as a genuine contender. Is it going to win? It's tough to say. American Hustle still has the lions share of the awards so far, and quite crucially has a much larger campaign budget. In addition such has been the hype regarding American Hustle that it is hard to see it going home completely empty handed, and without this award it looks like it very well might.
Who Should Win: Her – Spike Jonze
But there's a reason why Her has suddenly started generating buzz in spite of a complete lack of insider backing or big money campaign budgets; it really is a very good film. Her is visionary in many ways, and much of that is owed to it's excellently understated script, taking a plot that many would otherwise find quite inaccessible as science fiction, and turning it into something that's not only believable, but makes it seem inevitable. Certainly the smartest script of the bunch and a truly worthy winner if the Academy decides to award based on merit.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke
- Captain Phillips – Billy Ray
- Philomena – Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
- 12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
- The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
Who Will Win: 12 Years a Slave – John Ridley
One of the few awards that 12 Years a Slave is almost certain to win. This is one of those moments where the Academy votes with their conscience, and even if the dialogue was not always the sharpest, there's very little chance of them not honoring the adaption of Solomon Northup's heartrending memoirs.
Who Should Win: The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter
The Wolf of Wall Street looks to have a very real chance of being completely shut out, and the buzz has it that this is down to the controversy of a film that seemingly glorifies the amoral debauchery of Jordan Belfort and his colleagues. That's clearly not at all what the film does, but we are not brave enough to predict that the Academy voters will be smart (or brave) enough to realize. The Wolf of Wall Street is razor sharp, deeply insightful into the mindset and flaws of a character such as Belfort, and genuinely funny. It's one of the better screenplays in a long while that it can keep audiences so entertained for a good three hours.
Best Original Score
- The Book Thief – John Williams
- Gravity – Steven Price
- Her – Arcade Fire
- Philomena – Alexandre Desplat
- Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman
Who Will Win: Gravity – Steven Price
Remember what I said about hype films picking up the small awards? Well this is one case where the film will deserve it, Steven Price's score is magnificent, one of the best in years, and with several awards already under its belt, looks a dead cert to win on Sunday.
Who Should Win: Her – Arcade Fire
But sorry, despite how good Price's score is, it's not the best score of the year. That belongs to Arcade Fire's mesmerizing score for Her, a big part of what makes that film so special is the atmosphere and aesthetic, and the score plays into it. Add to that the fact that it's simply brilliant. An honorable mention goes to M83's score for Oblivion which absolutely should have been nominated and maybe even won; it's majestic and makes an otherwise mediocre film worth watching.
Best Original Song
- "Happy" from Despicable Me 2 – Pharrell Williams
- "Let It Go" from Frozen – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
- "The Moon Song" from Her – Karen Orzolek and Spike Jonze
- "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – U2
Who Will Win: "Let It Go" from Frozen – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
It's rare to see an animated film with so much hype, and lets face it, Frozen is good but it's no Beauty and the Beast or Lion King. But still Frozen will win best animated picture, and with it will probably take best song. After all the Academy loves it's Disney musical numbers.
Who Should Win: "The Moon Song" from Her – Karen Orzolek and Spike Jonze
But the deserving winner is another Oscar for Her. One of the more enchanting and touching songs to pass through the Academy in recent years, but probably loses points for being too understated, the Academy likes its pomp and melodrama. Much like the score, Her also drafted top notch musical talent for this song, in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' lead singer Karen Orzolek, and it shows.
So there you have it, The Ephemeric's picks for the year. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and when the results go exactly as we have predicted, remember that you heard it here first!