james debate
james debate

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.

oscars 86th academy awards 2014

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.

Best Picture


  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • 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.

Best Director

  • 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.

Best Actor


  • 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.

Best Actress


  • 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!

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