12 Years a Slave is an important, admirable film (impeccably made but conventional for Steve McQueen); The Wolf of Wall Street is a dizzying kinetic romp; Her is a wonderfully affecting modern fable. But Hustle is a wildly entertaining movie about the American dream of reinvention and is the only film this year that compelled me to see it three times. It's messy (deliberately and successfully "anti-structural," as Robert McKee noted--free form like the jazz David O. Russell admires) and perfect and irresistible. Life life. Like love. Like all the things after which we lust.
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Not a great script (thin and rather superficial, I thought), but Cuarón went through what must have been imaginative heaven and hell to show us space as we have never before seen it. Even though his direction was necessarily dependent on a team of technicians and an almost co-directing collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is still ultimately Cuarón's vision. Although in general I think Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) is a stunning and perhaps an even more accomplished director.
Yes, Cate Blanchett portrayed a great manic contemporary Blanche Dubois, but compared to Adams' three characters in Hustle (Sydney, Edith, and the version of Edith pretending to be in love with Richie), Blanchett's performance seemed one note and over-the-top. Whether in Halston or hot rollers, Adams distinguished the role(s) with her range, restraint, and naked talent.
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Fassbender astonished me with his performance in this film, even more so than in Steve McQueen's previous film with him, Shame. (Fassbender was also excellent in this year's The Counselor.) A close second for me in the Supporting Actor category is Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, who is favored to win. And I have to say that Bradley Cooper was also great in Hustle.
Lupita Nyong'o was very good, but her role in 12 Years a Slave had built-in sympathy. Lawrence was hysterically inspired good. My microwave will heretofore be referred to as "the science oven" as a result of the scene depicted above. And even though the kiss was Amy Adams' idea, Lawrence executed it with such aplomb!
John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"
This was a tough decision, because I also admired Terence Winter's adaptation of The Wolf of Wall Street and the Linklater/Delpy/Hawke collaboration in Before Midnight. But Ridley's work was ultimately the most impressive, IMHO.
Spike Jonze, Her
There was simply no contest in this category. The story was fresh, imaginative, moving, and soulful.
Ernest & Celestine
I picked this simply because I like the minimalist water color palette. I generally have no interest in animation (or musicals) and haven't seen any of the nominated films.
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Just look at the lighting, color, composition...throughout this movie. Stunning.
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Sexy, fun clothes driven by character. The costumes were characters. They told a story in themselves, evolving and becoming more stylish as the characters, were, well, devolving.
20 Feet from Stardom
My only beef is that Jo Lawry (left) was in the film but not profiled. I liked Dave Grohl's Sound City doc better, but that wasn't nominated.
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Taut, tense, thrilling--Rouse's work was the perfect match for Paul Greengrass' documentary style direction. A close second was the editing team behind American Hustle: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Great Beauty
Ah, Jep Gambardella (played by Tony Servillo) and la dolce vita in Paulo Sorrentino's film! I also really liked Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt with Mads Mikkelsen.
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Dallas Buyers Club
Frankly, I would have picked American Hustle for this category, but it wasn't nominated.
The Moon Song, Her
Music by Karen O; lyrics by Karen O and Spike Jonze
Simple, haunting, lovely. See their performance here.
Steven Price, Gravity
You can hear the entire score here. One commentator refers to it as "heroin in audio format." Perhaps a bit overstated, but it's damned good. My second choice is the Her soundtrack by Arcade Fire (William [aka Win] Butler and Owen Pallett).
American Hustle: Judy Becker, Production Designer; Heather Loeffler, Set Decoration
The obvious choice is Catherine Martin for The Great Gatsby. Her work is period (which always wins) and flashy; it dazzles and almost overpowers all else--except her equally dazzling costumes. Don't get me wrong--I marveled at Martin's work. But American Hustle's period sets complement more quietly, effectively, without calling excessive attention to themselves. They're intrinsically integrated into and serve the story. That to me is what great production design is about. Think of Blade Runner--its design is distinctive, but we can't separate the dancer from the dance, so to speak. It's of a whole.
Glenn Freemantle, Gravity
So say the predictors. I don't have enough knowledge of the field to guess.
Gravity: Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland
Again, I defer to the predictors.
Gravity: Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, and Neil Corbould
This film looked unlike any space film we had seen before. That was riveting.
ALL THE REST....
Life is too short, so I didn't see any of the animated, documentary, or live-action shorts.
The Academy Awards broadcast is Sunday, March 2. (And don't forget the Indepdendent Spirit Awards the day before!)
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