Spree Picks the Winners, Part I: Chris, Bill, and Jared on This Year’s Acting Oscars
Cate Blanchett as Jasmine in Sony Pictures Classics' BLUE JASMINE
Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
The Oscars are generally quite boring, since we often know well in advance what is going to win Best Picture, Director, etc. But this year? Not so much. Sure, there are heavy favorites — see below. But it is entirely possible there will be some real surprises. Of course, I could be completely wrong. But if I am, hopefully Bill Altreuter and Jared Mobarak will be right. And away we go … —Chris
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Let’s be honest. Four of the five nominees are deserving, and four of the five have a semi-legitimate shot. (Sorry, Christian Bale.) The most deserving of the five, honestly, are DiCaprio and Ejiofor. After seeing 12 Years at TIFF, I truly thought it would be Ejiofor’s to lose, but that’s highly unlikely. The winner should, then, be DiCaprio, who literally owns the screen in Wolf, giving the most searing, king-of-the-world performance of his career. He has never won, and Wolf is his finest hour. But … I don’t think his first win happens this year. Dern is wonderful in Nebraska, but this is likely a case of the nomination being the victory, and recognition of a unique career. (See also: Richard Farnsworth.) The obvious choice, then, is Matthew McConaughey. And who can truly be upset about that? He has been on fire for the last several years, he’s likable, he gives a great speech, he’s McConaugheyyyyyyyyy. He will win, and that’s fine. Honestly, I’d give it to him for True Detective if I could.
Chris’s pick: Matthew McConaughey
How many things can I find to disagree with you on in two paragraphs, Chris? First of all, if the Oscars were boring we wouldn’t be doing this. The Oscars are great. There are fewer and fewer appointment television moments in American culture, and the Academy Awards are, I’d say, one of the peaks of the season. I love the Super Bowl, but it provokes nothing like the pre- and post-program discussion that the Oscars do. And even if we think we know who the winners are going to be, I’m not the man who is going to go back over our picks in the past to debunk you—all I know is that I’m far from the Amazing Kreskin when it comes to handicapping these awards. Let’s see if I can change that this year. I liked Bruce Dern in Nebraska. Everybody who saw it did, but let’s face it, unless you are a huge Bruce Dern fan the likelihood that you saw it was pretty small. I hope a lot of people catch up with it. Christian Bale was solid in an ensemble cast, but I agree that this was not a Best Actor performance. I wonder if the Academy has the guts to give the award to Chiwetel Ejiofor. It would be cool if they did, and certainly Ejiofor’s performance merits it, but doesn’t it seem like this is an award that frequently acknowledges a body of work? If that’s the case then the two most probable winners would be either McConaughey or Leo. Matthew McConaughey is an interesting case. For quite a while I couldn’t understand what the point of McConaughey was beyond Dazed and Confused. If that was as good as it got then I reckoned we were really looking at a pretty one dimensional talent. And then, you are absolutely right, he ignited. I think about his performance in The Paperboy all the time, Magic Mike was terrific, he showed range in Tropic Thunder, and I like The Lincoln Lawyer so much I teach it in my class. He has become someone that is exciting to watch pretty much every time. Dallas Buyer’s Club is a worthy movie, and a great performance. Leonardo DiCaprio consistently surprises me with how really good he is every time out, and Wolf looked to me like the sort of performance that we’ll talk about as career-defining years from now, the way that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was for Jack Nicholson.
Bill’s Pick: Leonardo DiCaprio
Can I hope the Academy somehow allows a write-in vote for Joaquin Phoenix in Her? I’m still reeling he didn’t get a nomination even though I was someone who thought post-American Hustle that Bale deserved a nod. Do I think that now in context with this group and the guys who missed out (Phoenix and a fantastic Michael B. Jordan from Fruitvale Station)? No. Star power wins again and David O. Russell gets his full house of acting nominees two years in a row. So, crossing Bale off like both of you, it comes down to four guys. Dern is great, Nebraska was overrated, and the nomination is his victory. Ejiofor is a force that I’m glad to see is finally becoming a household name a decade after catching him in a blind buy DVD of Dirty Pretty Things, but I don’t think his gold statue arrives in 2013. Again, it comes down to Leo and Matthew. If I were voting it would be Leo hands down. I’ve found him at the top of the industry for years now yet it’s hard to come up with a performance of his better than Wolf’s Belfort. I think he has a real chance and could be the biggest (unsurprising) surprise of the evening. But he didn’t lose any weight. So, like Chris, I have to go with Leo’s Wolf co-star. A victory for Matthew would be the culmination of a McConaughssance I’ve personally had a blast watching. And it’s deserved too despite what detractors say about the performance being all about his rail thin physique. He carries Dallas Buyers Club on his slight shoulders (with help from my guaranteed Supporting Actor winner below) to turn what could have been a made for TV drama into an Oscar candidate itself.
Jared’s Pick: Matthew McCounaghey
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench, Philomena
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
The consensus, of course, is that Best Actress is Cate Blanchett’s to lose. In Blue Jasmine, she gives the finest performance an actress has ever given in a Woody Allen film. OH. Right. Woody Allen … Is it possible the reemergence of sexual abuse accusations could cost Blanchett the Oscar? Yes, absolutely. Of course, it also seems wildly inappropriate to even think about something as frivolous as the Oscars when questions of sexual abuse are on the table. In any event, I think Blanchett still takes it. She is well-liked and very respected, and in my eyes, her only real competitor here is Amy Adams. Bullock, Dench, and Streep are all very good. (Admittedly, I still have not seen August, but it’s Meryl Streep—I hear she’s an actress of some note.) But Amy Adams is an intriguing alternate choice. She gives the finest performance in Hustle, and it comes after a string of past performance that garnered Oscar noms (Doubt, The Master, The Fighter). She could take it. But she won’t, not this time.
Chris’s pick: Cate Blanchett
I hate the idea of the Academy Awards becoming a referendum on Woody Allen almost as much as I hate the idea that everyone seems to believe that they should have an opinion about Woody Allen vs. Mia Farrow. Cate Blanchett deserves better, even if I don’t quite agree that she gives the best performance an actress has ever given in a Woody Allen movie. How could you choose? Whatever else can be said about him, Allen gets consistently great performances out of actresses. (If it weren’t for Woody Allen would we only think of Mia Farrow as the star of Rosemary’s Baby?) Sandra Bullock was a solid pro in a two-person movie, and even though George Clooney sucks all of the air out of the room whenever he walks in she more than held her own. On the other hand, Gravity isn’t the sort of movie that wins a lot of prizes, and Bullock already has a statue. So does Streep. She’s about two wins away from them naming the award after her, but hat win won’t come for August: Osage County which I haven’t seen either. Judi Dench, in Philomena is going to win. She is getting a big push—part of which includes prominent mention of the fact that she has never won over the course of a long and distinguished career. Plus she’s English. The Academy loves English—they think it classes things up. I haven’t seen Philomena either, but my mom says it’s swell.
Bill’s Pick: Judi Dench
Wow. I really like Bill’s sleeper pick here. I never would have thought it, but he makes a good point. She was prominently displayed in the Weinsteins’ campaign to get Philomena’s R reduced to a PG-13, the woman she portrays has had her on face in the spotlight at the Golden Globes and in print (love that open letter to Kyle Smith, who may be more reviled on Twitter than Woody Allen), and she’s Judi Dench. Why she won’t win, though? I have to believe the Weinsteins’ behind-the-scenes antics with voters has been pushing their other horse in the race: Meryl Streep. I did see August and I liked it a lot. Streep is great and deserving of the nomination, but I really don’t see anyone caring enough to give their vote. She’s simply won too many times. It was a safe pick by the Academy and unfortunately stole praise from three other ladies I would have put in her place: Brie Larson, Adèle Exarchopoulos, and Emma Thompson. So whom does that leave? Amy Adams and Cate Blanchett. (Sandra Bullock is this category’s Bale. Her performance is solid, but no one remembers the acting after leaving Gravity. They just don’t.) I’d love Adams to win. She’s the current Susan Lucci of the Oscars and seems primed to give Meryl a run for her money where nominations are concerned by the end of her career. The best part of Hustle—and not just because of her wardrobe—her Golden Globe may unfortunately be the end of the line. If anyone uses their uninformed opinion about Allen’s scandal to not vote Blanchett, they are missing the point. Don’t vote for his screenplay if you can’t stand what he did/didn’t/may have/never would have done. Cate is brilliant in Blue Jasmine—everyone saw it and if they didn’t they know.
Jared’s pick: Cate Blanchett
Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Sigh. Maybe I was wrong about surprises. It sure seems that way, especially when looking at Best Supporting Actor. Abdi, Cooper, and Hill are great actors and fascinating individuals, but they have no shot. Fassbender should have been nominated—and won—for Shame, and if there was a runner-up prize, he’d take it. But let’s be honest. Jared Leto will win. He gives a subtle, memorable performance in Dallas Buyers Club, he is attractive and smart, and he wins in a landslide.
Chris’s pick: Jared Leto
I have to agree with you here, Chris. Sometimes Best Actor in a Supporting Role is a lifetime achievement award, but that’s not how this field shakes down. In the universe of should-have-beens I’d like to put in a word for John Goodman’s performance in Inside Llewyn Davis, a cracking good job that lifted the movie up and snapped it into focus. Leto’s performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club is the sort of thing this prize exists to honor, and he will walk away with it
Bill’s pick: Jared Leto
Jared Leto is to Supporting Actor 2013 as Anne Hathaway was to Supporting Actress 2012. Slam-dunk. Who’s missing: James Franco. Even if he were nominated, though, I’d still vote Leto. I said it after TIFF and haven’t changed my mind—he’s the heart of Dallas Buyers Club and possibly the best performance of 2013 as a whole.
Jared’s pick: Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Okay, now we’re getting interesting. Supporting Actress is a category in which anyone could win, although I would say Julia Roberts and Sally Hawkins are highly unlikely to do so. Therefore, it comes down to Lawrence, Squibb, and Nyong’o. Sadly, I think Squibb faces the same problems Dern does (lifetime achievement, nomination is the victory). Jennifer Lawrence is the most well-liked young star in Hollywood, but it feels like she won yesterday. That leaves Lupita Nyong’o, who is simply stunning in 12 Years. Her Patsey is the film’s most memorable character, the actress’s backstory is fascinating, and quite honestly, she deserves it. This is a rare instance in which the deserving party wins.
Chris’s pick: Lupita Nyong’o
Julia Roberts wins prizes when she plays roles that tone down her astonishingly attractive appearance, but she is too big a movie star—still—to win for August: Osage County. When my mom comes to visit maybe we’ll watch it, and maybe I’ll say, “Holy cats, she really deserved the prize!,” but I doubt it. Sally Hawkins was excellent in Blue Jasmine, but my hunch is that although Cate Blanchet may overcome the Woody Allen hex, she won’t. It is fun to think about Jennifer Lawrence’s career: She is a key player in two big franchise series (and is predictably great in both Hunger Games and as an X-Man) and she is every bit as good in her more serious roles. If she’d won for Winter’s Bone, which she very well could have, she would be off to a career start that would be without precedent. I’m excited by seeing what she will do next, but she won’t win this award. Lupita Nyong’o wins because (a) she was amazing; (b) 12 Years a Slave was amazing; (c) liberal Hollywood guilt will pick up some votes; and (d) Nyong’o is such an intriguing person. I have a hunch people will vote for her just because they are interested in hearing and seeing more of her.
Bill’s pick: Lupita Nyong’o
I too think this is Lupita Nyong’o’s to lose. Admittedly, I was a bit underwhelmed with how little screen time she had in 12 Years after all the hype, but boy does she pack a punch every second she’s onscreen. It’s a harrowing portrayal that’s harder to watch for the psychological abuse inflicted upon her than the physical. The only actress I liked better in the category this year was Squibb, but that upset would be astronomical. Her only real competition is Jennifer Lawrence and J-Law’s Globe and BAFTA could mean things sway her way, but I hope not. She’s great in Hustle, but it’s less a performance and more a show. I believed her unhinged Rosalyn, but couldn’t help see her as little but comic relief in an already pretty funny film. Also, Bill makes an interesting point about liberal guilt despite my naïve belief people will vote on talent and talent alone. And there were so many fantastic turns from black actresses this year too that missed their time in the spotlight. I’d remove J-Law and Roberts by popping in Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) every time.
Jared’s pick: Lupita Nyong’o
Catch part two of this post on Thursday, February 27.