Even though for years the Academy Awards ceremony – which takes place on March 2 in Los Angeles and will be broadcast on both HOT and YES at 2 a.m. on March 3 in Israel – has been an overproduced dud, movie buffs will always take an interest in how Hollywood rewards itself.
This year, Ellen DeGeneres is hosting the 86th Academy Awards, but it doesn’t really matter who reads those awkward jokes because everybody seems to flop when they host the show, as if it were cursed. The fun to be had is never in the scripted dialogue but in seeing the fashion and hoping to catch a glimpse of some genuine emotion from the usually very poised stars.
Israel has garnered six Oscar nods in the past seven years and had one win – the documentary short Strangers No More in 2011– but this year, there is no local Oscar nominee to root for.
However, 2013 was considered an especially strong year for movies, so let’s look at the nominees and my predictions for Oscar night:
BEST PICTURE: In 2009, the Best Picture category was changed so that instead of five nominees, there could be as many as 10. This year, there are nine. Last year, there was a great deal of drama as Ben Affleck’s Argo won Best Picture without a Best Director nod; but this year, the five most serious contenders are those that match the five Best Director nominations: David O. Russell’s American Hustle; Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave; Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity; Alexander Payne’s Nebraska; and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The other four are Spike Jonze’s Her, about a nerd who falls in love with his computer’s operating system; Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips, based on the true story of a merchant ship seized by Somali pirates, starring Tom Hanks; Stephen Frears’s Philomena, a fact-based drama about an Irish woman (played by Judi Dench) who searches for the toddler she was forced to give up for adoption decades ago; and Dallas Buyers Club by Jean-Marc Vallee, about a homophobic rodeo rider infected with HIV who becomes a pioneer in finding effective treatment for AIDS. In any other year, these four would have been strong contenders.
Of the five with Best Director nominations, American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street are thematically similar in that they deal with financial scams in the 1970s and ‘80s, and get you to root for selfish, devious and destructive people. Gravity is a big Hollywood movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, about two astronauts who are stranded in space outside their ship, and features spectacular special effects. Nebraska is a black-and-white low-key character driven story that features a wonderful performance by 1970s character actor Bruce Dern, whose career is undergoing a renaissance. 12 Years a Slave has divided audiences. It’s a sweeping epic based on a true story of a Northern black musician who was lured and kidnapped into slavery. Every moment is dramatic, but some viewers felt it was manipulative because its message – that slavery was a horrible injustice that corrupted every aspect of society – is so obvious. As Amy Poehler quipped on the Golden Globes, “ I can honestly say that after seeing that film, I will never look at slavery the same way again.”
But Oscar voters love social uplift, moral clarity and fact-based drama, and for that reason, I think that 12 Years a Slave will take the prize.
WINNER: 12 Years a Slave
BEST DIRECTOR: It stands to reason that the director of the movie that wins Best Picture will win Best Director as well. If the movie is the best of the year, then the person who directed it must be the best as well. But there are have been split Best Picture/Best Director combinations five times since 1998. The buzz is that Alfonso Cuaron will win for Gravity, since he is very well regarded in Hollywood, and Gravity was a spectacular combination of special effects, suspense and acting. If this Mexican director wins, he will be the second non-Caucasian director to win the Oscar. The only other one was Taiwan-born Ang Lee. Similarly, if Steve McQueen (a British director with no connection to the late American movie star) wins, he will be the first African-American to win for Best Director.
WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club looks unbeatable this year. He used to star in silly romantic comedies where he appeared shirtless, and Hollywood loves a comeback. He plays an HIV positive character, and Oscar loves the terminally ill. He lost weight to play the role, and that always helps. He also plays an ornery politically incorrect straight redneck who ends up doing good for the gay community, and lovable do-gooders win Oscars. Oh, and he gives an amazing performance.
WINNER: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett also looked like a sure winner for her performance in Blue Jasmine as the widow of a Madoff-like swindler who starts losing her mind when she has to join the 99 percent. But that was until the controversy that erupted when Woody Allen, the film’s director, was accused again by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, now an adult, of molesting her when she was a child. The daughter specifically criticized actors who have chosen to work with Allen. But then there was a bit of a backlash in the press against Mia Farrow, Dylan’s mother, and most agree that this is Blanchett’s year to win Best Actress.
WINNER: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto plays an HIV-positive transvestite with a heart of gold in Dallas Buyers Club. No one else has a chance.
WINNER: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o gives a memorable performance as an understandably suicidal sexually abused slave in 12 Years a Slave. She is gorgeous and has been spectacularly beautiful and poised in her public appearances, which doesn’t hurt.
WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: While there was little memorable dialogue in 12 Years a Slave, the screenplay, by John Ridley, is expected to win. If Ridley does win, he will be the second African-American screenwriter to win an Oscar.
WINNER: John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This category is one of the most competitive this year. Many feel that Spike Jonze (whose real name is Adam Spiegel) is the one to beat for his screenplay for Her, which won a Golden Globe. But the cynical and complicated American Hustle received 10 nominations, so voters obviously liked it, and this is the one category where it has a chance.
WINNER: American Hustle, David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Best Foreign Language Film category is always one of the most interesting and closely watched. The Nazareth-based Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar is nominated from Palestine, and it’s his second film to be nominated in this category (the first was the 2005 Paradise Now). However, Academy voters aren’t likely to warm up to a movie whose hero kills an Israeli soldier. Cambodia is a first-time nominee with the striking documentary The Missing Picture by Rithy Pran, but it’s in the lucky-to-be nominated category. Thomas Vinterberg’s suspenseful Danish film The Hunt is a strong film, but it’s about an accused child molester, which may turn voters off. The real competition is between Paolo Sorrentino’s mournful, Fellini-influenced The Great Beauty, about an aging Italian playboy, and Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown. Broken Circle should have more appeal to younger voters, since it’s a lively, tear-jerking film about two Belgian bluegrass musicians who fall in love and have a child who dies. It’s been available on various streaming platforms for months, and the actors have been in Hollywood promoting it heavily.
WINNER: The Broken Circle Breakdown
If you are interested in entering Oscar winner contests, there are dozens of websites to choose from. The most comprehensive of these is AwardsDaily.com, where there are several contests, with some fun prizes. Gold Derby, another one of the more interesting awards-oriented websites, has a contest in which the winner will receive a prize of $1,000 for picking the Oscars correctly, at goldderby.com.