Oscar Re-Do: 2014 Edition

I’m stealing from myself a little here, but indulge me, if you would. On my podcast a few years back, my co-host Ryan and I decided to go back and choose alternate Best Picture winners going back as far as the 2011 ceremony (for films released in 2010, mind you; winner was The King’s Speech, we chose Inception, because it’s better). With a few weeks before this year’s Oscars–delayed from their usual February date due to the Olympics–I decided to take on a similar task, this time selecting my own winners for the top awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress and both Screenplays), with a little rationale for a change. I’ve heard a few people–namely Bill Simmons of The Ringer–state that they think the Oscars should be presented like this, and I think it would be interesting. The staying power of the films would be more indicative of the movie’s quality and importance as opposed to the immediate reaction, due to things like political climate and overreactions to previous years. That, in short, is my rationale. But also because I think it will be loads of fun.

We’ll begin, I think, with the 2014 ceremony and do this once a week until just before March 4, when the 2018 edition gets handed out. And away we go.

Note: Actual winners will be bold, new winner are underlined.

Best Original Screenplay

Her – Spike Jonze

American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen

Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Nebraska – Bob Nelson

This first one is easy because the Academy fully got this right. In terms of originality, you don’t get much more of that than you do in Jonze’s heartfelt, heartbreaking futuristic romance. The rest of the nominees are well deserved, especially the under appreciated Nebraska, but there’s no way this award goes to anyone else.

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years A Slave – John Ridley

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke

Captain Phillips – Billy Ray

Philomena – Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope

The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter

I thought that 12 Years A Slave was a good film, but I wasn’t taken by it as a great film, so I’m going a different direction with this one. Winter’s script for the 3+ hour Scorsese film is really smart and engaging, not to mention hilarious, even as it rips through years of history and a story about a person who isn’t exactly a role model. The only other contender here would likely be the third entry into the Midnight film saga, but at this point, the fact that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke were still getting recognized is a feat in and of itself. That’s enough.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

Nyong’o’s performance is obviously powerful, and if you factor in the fact that this was her first film role, this makes sense as the winner here. My alteration is not because I think the actual winner was undeserving, then, but because I was so impressed with the quality of Squibb’s performance in Nebraska. She isn’t in much of the film, but she manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking in her scenes, and her presence is vital to the film unfolding the way it does. Controversially–and slightly off-topic–but I feel like Sally Hawkins is more effective here than she is in this year’s The Shape of Water.

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

I cannot believe I live in a world where Jonah Hill has been nominated for not one, but two Oscars (essentially playing the same character, too, mind you). That said, this is a tough category. I wasn’t taken by Leto’s turn that much, and Abdi didn’t really have a lot to do besides yell at Tom Hanks. The Academy has always thought highly of David O. Russell’s actors, as American Hustle became his second film to have nominations in all four acting categories, but Cooper isn’t as good here as he was in Silver Linings Playbook. I’m left with Fassbender, who wins not only by default, but also because of the precision of his performance. It’s nuanced in a way that much of the film wasn’t for me, even if “cruel slave owner” is the basic trope of the role. Mostly I’d like a pass here, but I’ll take Fassbender over the rest.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

I’m also not bending here. Cuarón’s work here is second to none, as he managed to build an expansive world, shoot everything as realistically as possible and actually tap into the emotions that his small cast, especially Sandra Bullock, feels. Scorsese’s feat of making a 3 hour movie feel half as long is an achievement, but the movie isn’t great. And while I’d love to see Russell or Payne win one of these someday, they’ve both made better films.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Amy Adams – American Hustle

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Blanchett is undoubtably fantastic in the film, and I had no problem with her winning at the time (and still don’t, really); but I’m undoing a previous wrong here, too. In handing Bullock a much deserved Oscar here, I’m also taking away her by-the-numbers performance in The Blind Side and giving that trophy to someone else (Carey Mulligan from An Education, you’re now an Oscar winner). The work that Bullock does, acting essentially against herself and the perils of space, that’s top-notch stuff. This is the film she should be remembered for, not that mindless, white-privilege propaganda film.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave

McConaughey’s better performance of that year was actually a supporting slot alongside DiCaprio. I had major problems with Dallas Buyers Club, and didn’t really think much of it as a movie. The lead actor was the best part about it, but DiCaprio’s deranged, kinetic and confident performance in Wolf should have been the one to break his streak (he’s good in The Revenant, too, but that one felt more like “it’s time” than “this is the one!”). I love Dern’s performance, too, and even Bale is having fun hamming it up in his role, but for me, there’s no comparison. Also, if Joaquin Phoenix was here like he deserved, this becomes a totally different conversation. First major non-nominated snub.

Best Picture

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

What we have here is a reason that the Oscars should wait a few years. My goodness this list is a mess. Half of these movies are underwhelming head-scratchers (Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club especially), some are fine (Captain Phillips and American Hustle) and the actual winner certainly has its merits, but I’d maybe rank it 4th or 5th on my preferences. For me, it came down to two: Gravity and Her, both films made by talented and thoughtful directors who wanted to showcase their skills, and each featuring a tragic, terrific performance from a lead actor playing against technology. Her wins because, even though it is wildly quirky, its inventiveness is unmatched in this category and it also feels like the movie with the most to say, especially four years later. The dependency on technology is one thing, but the way we prioritize our lives and turn elsewhere to cope is a large part of the message here, and it is well made on all fronts.

(Note: for what it’s worth, my rankings would be 1. Her 2. Gravity 3. Nebraska 4. The Wolf of Wall Street 5. 12 Years A Slave 6. American Hustle 7. Captain Phillips 8. Dallas Buyers Club 9. Philomena)

 

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