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Taking a Second Swing at the 2014 Oscar Predictions

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A lot has changed in the weeks since my first Oscar prediction post. A big contender is now out of the running with Monuments Men unexpected move to a 2014 release, while Saving Mr. Banks debuted to soaring reviews, and The Wolf of Wall Street secured its chance in this year’s Oscar after solidifying a Christmas release date.

Although buzz has Gravity and 12 Years a Slave going head-to-head for the title, that conversation is nothing more than preemptive positioning, as there’s just so much more to see before the we start setting things in stone. One thing is for sure though, Gravity’s continued praise and high box office numbers make it a stronger contender than expected and it’s pretty much locked in nominations across the board. Nonetheless, expect it to pull an Inception/Life of Pi manuever and mostly walk away with technical accolades. Although unlikely, a director-picture split could potentially see Alfonso Cuaron taking home his first Oscar but after last year’s Affleck, Argo drama, don’t cross your fingers.

After seeing 12 Years a Slave, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Nebraska, I had to shake up a few categories, first and foremost, the Best Actor category, as I can’t imagine Bruce Dern not seeing some recognition. As for Chiwetel Ejifor‘s lead role in 12 Years, it’s beyond powerful, and he’s very likely to take home the gold. Nipping at his heels, Robert Redford continues to climb the charts for his near silent role in All is Lost and could just end up playing a legacy trump card when it comes voting time.

Another black man playing a role tailor man for the Oscars, Forest Whitaker got pushed out of the top five for now but it wouldn’t be unlikely for him to step back in sooner or later. Perhaps the biggest unknown quality in this category though is Leonardo DiCaprio, who leads Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Criminally undernominated, DiCaprio was pegged for an Oscar for this role early on but now his odds are shakier with the knowledge that Wolf is a nearly three hour long dark comedy. Now that the film will definitely see the light of day in 2013, there’s still a chance he can pull some last minute punches. For once, it’s a rather interesting race for Best Actor with some massive talent pining for those top five spots.

The Best Director category seems pretty firmed up as none of the top five spots managed to budge. Expect further momentum in that category in December when Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, and Inside Llewyn Davis play for a wider audience. For now, it’s a race between McQueen and Cuaron but if American Hustle is the success story that so many people expect, a win for David O. Russell would be more than understandable.

Glancing through the list for now, you’ll notice a bit of a 12 Years a Slave domination. Does that mean I expect 12 Years a Slave to clean up at the Oscars? Not necessarily, but all current momentum does have it as an early frontrunner, making it the one to beat at the moment. Gravity is currently perceived as its biggest competition but that’s little more than hogwash, as Gravity, no matter how well received, just doesn’t stand a chance at the top.

The closet thing we have as a lock for now is Cate Blanchett‘s stronghold on Best Actress. Although Judi Dench will give her a run for her money with her titular role in Philomena, Bullock is assured a nomination, and Streep is never someone to be scoffed at, this category is all but signed, sealed, and delivered for Blanchett.

Best Picture:

1. “12 Years a Slave” (No change)

2. “Gravity” +1
3. “Saving Mr. Banks” +1
4. “American Hustle” -2
5.  “The Wolf of Wall Street” +4
6. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)
7. “Captain Phillips” -2
8. “Nebraska” +4
9. “Dallas Buyers Club” -2
10. “All is Lost” +1

Fringe:
11. “August: Osage County” -1
12. “Rush” +1
13. “Before Midnight” +1
14. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (New)
15. “Prisoners” (New)

Best Director:

1. Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave” (No change)

2. Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity” (No change)
3. David O. Russell “American Hustle” (No change)
4. John Lee Hancock “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
5. The Coen Bros “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)

Fringe:
6. Martin Scorsese “The Wolf of Wall Street” +2
7. Paul Greengrass  “Captain Phillips” -1
8. JC Chandor “All is Lost” +1
9. Alexander Payne “Nebraska” +1
10. Jean-Marc Vallee “Dallas Buyers Club” (New)

Best Actor:

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1. Chiwetel Ejifor “12 Years a Slave” +1

2. Robert Redford “All is Lost” +2
3. Matthew McConaughey “Dallas Buyers Club” -2
4. Tom Hanks  “Captain Phillips” -1
5. Bruce Dern “Nebraska” +3
 
Fringe:
6. Leonardo DiCaprio “The Wolf of Wall Street” (No change)
7. Forest Whitaker “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” -2
8. Christain Bale “American Hustle” -1
9. Joaquin Phoenix “Her” (No change)
10. Oscar Isaac “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)

Best Actress:

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1. Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine” (No change)

2. Judi Dench “Philomena” (No change)
3. Sandra Bullock “Gravity” +1
4. Meryl Streep “August: Osage County” -1
5. Emma Thompson “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
 
Fringe:
6.Amy Adams “American Hustle” (No change)
7. Adèle Exarchopoulos “Blue is the Warmest Color” +2
8. Julie Delpy “Before Midnight” -1
9. Brie Larson “Short Term 12” -1
10. Berenice Bejo “The Past” (No change)

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Jared Leto “Dallas Buyers Club” (No change)

2. Michael Fassbender “12 Years a Slave” +1
2. Daniel Bruhl “Rush” -1
4. Tom Hanks “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
5. Barkhad Abdi “Captain Phillips” +3

Fringe:
6. Bradley Cooper “American Hustle” (No change)
7. Jake Gllyenhaal “Prisoners” (No change)
8. Jonah Hill “The Wolf of Wall Street” (New)
9. John Goodman “Inside Llewyn Davis” -4
10. James Gandolfini “Enough Said” (New)

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years a Slave” (No change)

2. Oprah Winfrey “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” (No change)
3. June Squibb “Nebraska” +4
4. Julia Roberts “August: Osage County” -1
5. Octavia Spencer “Fruitvale Station” -1

Fringe:
6. Lea Seydoux “Blue is the Warmest Color” (New)
7. Margo Martindale “August: Osage County” -1
8. Melissa Leo “Prisoners” (No change)
9. Jennifer Lawrence “American Hustle” (No change)
10. Carey Mulligan “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)

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Out in Theaters: ALL IS LOST

“All is Lost”
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Starring Robert Redford
Action, Drama
108 Mins
PG-13

2013 is the year of the survivor-thriller reigning supreme. In Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón explored themes of isolation amidst the inhospitable vacuum of space, using dazzling special effects to elevate a simple story to a visual masterpiece. Paul Greengrass dove into the true account of Richard Phillips and his struggle to maintain his humanity in a Somali pirate hostage situation in Captain Phillips, an excellent biopic fueled by a knockout performance from Tom Hanks. In All is Lost, J.C. Chandor pits man against entropy, testing the endurance of the human spirit against an onslaught of ill-tempered serendipity at sea. It must be time for a genre victory lap, because once more, survivor-thrillers have just crowned themselves king.

There is something about these types of films that make us want to rise from our seats and cheer. They drive us to invest, they urge us to care. They recognize the most enticing aspect of our own humanity, our un-surrendering urge to live. Unlike the cataclysmic weather catastrophe of The Perfect Storm, the humanist reckless abandon of this year’s Danish film Kon Tiki, or the global satellite calamity of Gravity, All is Lost follows a relatively meager story, one of bad odds and “Ah shit!” coincidences, but however paltry it might seem from afar, it ends up having more meat on its bones than either of the two former stories combined.

As the unnamed, gruff hero of this expedition, Robert Redford hardly utters a single line of dialogue and yet carries the film squarely on his shoulders. Even without a true spoken line, there is never a time when Redford’s weathered chops don’t convince us of the track-halting gravity of his worsening circumstance. Even while he remains collected and fine-tuned, it is clear that his situation is rather grim. But Redford’s “Our Man” goes about course correcting with the smooth confidence of a career father, trying to carry us into smooth seas, both physically and metaphorically. With his panic pushed deep down, Redford is a machine of physical efficiency, an Einstein of deep-breathed problem solving.

To be the only man credited on a cast list (there’s not even a glimpse of another face, not a whisper of another voice) is a pretty unique accomplishment, but to do so and be a serious Oscar contender is another thing entirely. Redford lays down a silent tour-de-force, reckoning those who may have called him on “phoning it in” in this later stage of his career. If there’s one thing Redford is not, it’s a hack, and even when his directorial projects land with a bit of a thud, it’s not for lack of trying.

In All is Lost, his measured passion and experienced bravado guide us through a range of emotions, however restrained and simmering they may be. But this is the most challenging, and often least appreciated, act of them all. Conveying buried emotions, those under a veneer of levelheaded collection, takes conditioned skill and requires a deeper commitment to self-exploration than those spilling over the surface in winded theatrical monologues or emotion-stricken outbursts.

The decision to put so much stock in Redford’s ability to single-handedly emote his way through a film takes a boatload of guts, to Chandor’s credit. But Chandor’s deep-seated confidence in Redford is doubled in his cool, collected approach. Evident from the blueprint of a dialogue-bereft script, Chandor obviously is a man of vision, swinging for the fences. Instead of deploying red herrings, arm wrestling the audience into a false sense of tension, everything from the very get-go is very real and very dangerous. 

 

From the opening shot that confusingly pans across a shipping container adrift at sea (I initially thought the shot was of a red dock attached to land), the sensation of something amiss comes barreling from the screen. It’s no surprise that the lost shipping container – human clumsiness and carelessness personified – is the culprit of the “Who punctured my boat?” mystery. Even worse, the salt water gushing through the boat’s gaping hole has destroyed all electrical navigation and communication equipment. From minute one, the stakes are sky high. The hole is in the boat, the boat is in the water, the water is in the boat and as it turns out, the ocean is large…very large. There’s no phoning in support, no cries for help, just a need to grab your bootstraps, yank them up as high as possible and try to start calculating your way out of the ghastly inevitability of drowning. Here, throwing in the towel means certain death.

What transcribes over the following 106 minutes is the story of a man fighting tooth-and-nail for survival against all odds, even when all is lost. Just as he patches up one problem, another surfaces, and another, and another. From sharks to lack of supplies to a crumbling mast, his very humanity dangles at the end of a rope but it’s not something he will abandon without the fight of his life.

Captured with crisp imagery from cinematographers Frank G. DeMarco and Peter Zuccarini, it’s almost hard to believe that the film was shot almost entirely on a water stage (the same one used in 1997 for Titanic actually). Though backed by a small army of digital effects workmen, the water-logged stunts have a sense of immediacy and deep-splintered truth to them largely lacking from CGI-driven films. Although Gravity elevates visual panache to a new level, it fails to hone in as acutely on the emotional isolation of its central character, giving Redford and crew a matured edge over Sandra Bullock and Co. emotionally.

The creaks and moans of the tried ship mimic the heaves and hoes of a exasperated Redford, visual cues as foreboding and understated as the hardly visible score from Alex Ebert. Each adds their own signature to the layer cake of suspense, rather than seeking glory for their own right. it’s this sum-of-all-parts attitude that really makes the film sing. Chandor’s vision is so exact and his execution so precise, that All is Lost adds up to one doozie of an experience. Finger-nibblingly exciting when it needs to be, nimbly quiet when called for, but always full of hope and tenacity, All is Lost is a whopper.

A

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