The 86th Annual Academy Awards: 2014 Oscar Picks

It is time once again for the annual Academy Awards picks post.  I find it hard to believe that it has already been a year since Ben Affleck was snubbed in the directing category, and then redeemed when Argo took home Best Picture. In the past this post has had a guest contributor (my friend Wieder), providing a second opinion and adding a bit more depth to the discussion.  Unfortunately, he was not able to participate this year so you're stuck with me!

I will be following suit with last year's expansion of categories picked here on the blog.  Twenty categories will be covered - all but the those for the documentaries and short films.  I am still excluding these because I haven't seen any of the nominees and wouldn't have any clue what I was talking about.  Please keep in mind that these are not predictions, but the selections I would make if I actually had a vote.  Each category is listed below.  The nominees that I have seen are denoted by a link to my review of that film.  In the case that I didn't write a review for a film that I have seen, it will be denoted by an asterisk (*).  Since it's just me this year, let's get to it!  My picks for tonight's 86th Annual Academy Awards look like this:

Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness

My Pick: First of all, can someone please explain to me how The Lone Ranger gets nominated in this category over films like Pacific Rim and Elysium?  Forget that The Lone Ranger wasn't a good film, its visual effects were not worthy of this nomination.  Anyway, rant over.  This is the first, but certainly not the last time that I willl be calling Gravity's name this year.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, and Star Trek Into Darkness all looked great, but Gravity was just a visual spectacle that really needs to be seen on the big screen.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing: All Is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor

My Pick: Not to be outdone by its visual effects, Gravity's use of sound was equally astounding.  It conveyed a large range of emotion and was even more important sometimes when it wasn't there at all.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor

My Pick: My first time seeing Gravity in the theater (after it was re-released) was actually my second time viewing the film.  As a result I was able to pay more attention to all of the details as I already knew what was going on.  I'm having a hard time differentiating between editing and mixing with this film so I'm going to go ahead and give Gravity the sweep of this year's sound awards.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Picture, Original Song: Despicable Me 2: Pharrell Williams ("Happy"), Frozen: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez ("Let It Go"), Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr, Brian Burton ("Ordinary Love"), Alone Yet Not Alone: Bruce Broughton ("Alone Yet Not Alone"), Her: Karen O ("The Moon Song")

My Pick: I haven't even seen Frozen yet, but from what I hear, it's wonderful.  The Pharrell Williams and Karen O songs were good, and U2 is legendary (even if this song wasn't), but none of them spawned a re-lease of their film in a sing-a-long format like "Let It Go" did.  It isn't often that I can pick a film that I haven't seen, but I think the overwhelmingly positive word of mouth Frozen has received makes it a safe bet here.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Picture, Original Score: The Book Thief (John Williams), Gravity (Steven Price), Her (William Butler, Andy Koyama), Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman), Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)

My Pick: I'm having a bit of a tough time with this pick actually.  I haven't seen three off the nominees (The Book Thief, Saving Mr. Banks, Philomena), but I loved the two that I have (Gravity, Her).  Making things more difficult is the fact that I can't say that the score from either film really stands out in my mind now that some time has passed.  I'll go with Her in this category as the rest of this post showers Gravity with enough love and it would be great to see Her get some recognition at the Oscars.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews), Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Steve Prouty), The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua Casny)

My Pick: Ok, I'm convinced that someone at Disney paid off some Academy members.  The Lone Ranger picked up another nomination?  Really?  Apparently putting Johnny Depp in make-up constitutes award worthy work.  Who knew.  Anyway, the fact that that awful film was nominated will surely be a non-factor when one of the other two takes this award home.  I have not seen Bad Grandpa, but the makeup work was pretty damn good as it is hard to believe that was Johnny Knoxville, but I'll go with Dallas Buyers Club for the more diverse workload that was highlighted by Jared Leto's and Matthew McConaughey's characters.

Best Achievement in Costume Design: American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson), The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin), 12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris), The Grandmaster (William Chang), The Invisible Woman (Michael O'Connor)

My Pick: Period pieces generally dominate this category.  I know, way to go out on a limb right?  Having seen only two of the nominees in this category, I have to think that this award will come down to three films: American Hustle, The Great Gatsby, and 12 Years a Slave.  Unfortunately, I think that the time and subject matter of 12 Years a Slave hinder it a bit here because the clothing was plain and fairly drab.  The Great Gatsby was a spectacle (so I hear) but from what I've seen of the trailer, that seems to be more from the set design than the actual costumes themselves.  Due to its flashy '70's inspired designs that jump off of the screen and really help complete some very unique characters, my pick here is American Hustle.

Best Achievement in Production Design: 12 Years a Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker), American Hustle (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler), Gravity, The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn), Her (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena)

My Pick: Flip flop my thoughts on American Hustle and The Great Gatsby from the last category and you know how I feel about Production Design this year.  As I just mentioned, the sets in The Great Gatsby are extravagant.  Even I could tell that from the trailer and from the little bit I saw as my wife watched it on the plane on our honeymoon.  Her had a clean and sharp not-too-distant future look to it that fit the story well.  American Hustle was dominated more by the characters and I'm trying hard not to give every award to Gravity.  I'm going 'sight unseen' again and picking The Great Gatsby in this category.

Best Achievement in Editing: 12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker), American Hustle (Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers), Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger), Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse), Dallas Buyers Club (Martin Pensa, John Mac McMurphy)

My Pick: Alfonso Cuarón's long shots and their seamless integration with visual effects are what make Gravity the pick here.

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki), Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel), Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael), Prisoners (Roger Deakins)*, The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)

My Pick: Gravity.  Do I sound like a broken record yet?  It was the most epic film in terms of scope this year and it was masterfully made.  I'm not sure there's anything else to say (other than this is a technical category which makes my selection iffy at best).

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: The Broken Circle Breakdown: Felix Van Groeningen (Belgium), The Missing Picture: Rithy Panh (Cambodia), The Hunt: Thomas Vinterberg (Denmark), The Great Beauty: Paolo Sorrentino (Italy), Omar: Hany Abu-Assad (Palestine)

My Pick: Wow.  I'm a little surprised my this, but for the first time in a few years I haven't seen a single nominee in this category.  Since I have no knowledge, I'll pull for the The Hunt, starring Mads Mikkelson because I'm always entertained by his performances.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, The Wind Rises

My Pick: The only nominated animated film that I saw this year was Despicable Me 2, which didn't quite live up to the standards set by the first one in my opinion.  Frozen continues to be shown at one of the local theaters here (that makes three full months at this point).  That kind of staying power makes it the clear choice here if you ask me.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater), Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley), The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter), Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope)

My Pick: I am notoriously awful at picking the screenplay categories.  I'm not a fast reader, so even if I was able to get my hands on copies of these scripts, I'd never get through them in a timely manner.  So this is really is a blind guess on my part as I have no actual knowledge as to what may make one script better than another.  Because it deserves some sort of recognition, and it is the film that I continue to find myself reflecting on months later, I'll pick 12 Years a Slave.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: American Hustle (Eric Singer, David O. Russell), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen), Her (Spike Jonze), Nebraska (Bob Nelson), Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)

My Pick: Ditto for this category.  Only I'm a little more torn here as I thoroughly enjoyed four of the five nominees.  I would have no issue with any of those four (American Hustle, Her, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club) winning.  Actually, I can't really argue against Blue Jasmine either, I just didn't appreciate it as much as the others.  That being said, similarly to my hoping that Wes Anderson would take this award last year (which he didn't), I'm pulling for Spike Jonze this year, so Her is my selection.

Best Achievement in Directing: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

My Pick: As always, the talent here cannot be questioned.  Russell has joined Scorsese as a perennial nominee in this category, and Payne is no stranger to Oscar nominations himself (albeit for writing, not directing).  In my opinion, Best Director comes down to Alfonso Cuarón and Steve McQueen this year.  The sheer scope of Gravity is what sets Cuarón apart in my mind.  McQueen will have his day down the road, but Alfonso Cuarón takes the cake tonight.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), June Squibb (Nebraska)

My Pick: Lupita Nyong'o.  There is no competition here if you ask me.  Sally Hawkins provided the perfect balance in Blue Jasmine.  Jennifer Lawrence was an amusing, chaotic force in American Hustle, and June Squibb was matter of factly endearing in Nebraska.  I haven't seen August: Osage County, but I can only imagine that Julia Roberts' role was worthy as well.  None of these performances (to my knowledge) carried the shear emotional force that Nyong'o's did.  Her turn as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave was so good it hurt (both emotionally and physically).  The fact that this was her film debut makes it all the more impressive.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

My Pick: This is such a strong category this year, it's crazy.  Any one of these men could take the award.  If you had told me two years ago that Bradley Cooper would have back to back Oscar nominations I would have told you you were crazy.  Similarly, Jonah Hill continues to prove that he's more than just a goofball, and Michael Fassbender's plantation owner was downright unhinged.  But for me, the two that stand out above the rest are Barkhad Abdi and Jared Leto.  They also happen to represent two ends of the acting spectrum.  Abdi, the first time actor and Leto, who's been in the industry for quite a while.  Abdi's performance really set the tone for Captain Phillips, and staring down a legend like Tom Hanks like he did was unbelievable, especially for a newcomer.  Leto's performance as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club though was really something other-worldly.  That and the fact that he's been sweeping the Best Supporting Actor category this awards season makes him the pick here.  Slightly biased side note: Leto walked within five feet of my wife and I as he went to a cd signing at the 30 Seconds to Mars (his band for those who don't know) show we saw in Charlotte, NC last fall.  It would be cool to be able to add the title of 'Oscar winner' to that story along with rock star.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

My Pick: I'm a bit conflicted here.  I didn't see either Judi Dench's or Meryl Streep's performances so I'm a little uneducated here (although I do tend to believe that Streep gets frequently gets nominated 'just because').  I've never been much of a Sandra Bullock fan, but I personally thought that her performance in Gravity was better than her performance in 2009's The Blind Side that won her this award in 2010.  As you may remember from previous picks posts, both Wieder and I are huge Amy Adams fans and it is nice to see her graduate to a nomination in the Leading Role category.  Despite those feelings, I think I have to pick Cate Blanchett this year.  I didn't particularly like Blue Jasmine and I certainly didn't like her character, but despite that, I cannot deny that Blanchett gave a spectacular performance.  I'm sorry Amy Adams.  You'll get your Academy Award one day!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

My Pick: This group is absolutely stacked.  But honestly, when is a Leading Role category not?  By definition it always should be.  The only name that would truly surprise me if it gets called tonight is that of Bruce Dern.  I loved his role in Nebraska, but he's clearly the underdog of the group.  Any one of the other four wouldn't surprise me one bit.  Bale and DiCaprio have both attained the level at which a nomination is expected - which is no small feet to be sure.  Chiwetel Ejiofor turned in an excellent performance in 12 Years a Slave, but in my mind was slightly overshadowed by Lupita Nyong'o's supporting role.  For my money, I'm picking Matthew McConaughey.  Over the last few years he has become a very diverse actor, culminating in his role as HIV/AIDS advocate Ron Woodruff.  The physical transformation that he underwent for the role is remarkable and the emotional transformation his character makes is equally impressive.

Best Motion Picture of the Year: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

My Pick: We've got nine nominees for Best Picture this year and I've managed to see eight of them.  Luckily for me, the one that I have yet to see (Philomena) is not a front runner.  I really can't argue against any of these nominees, but I can argue more strongly in favor of one.  It isn't often that we get an event film, one that truly benefits from the experience of seeing it in the theater.  Gravity is that sort of film.  More so than any other movie in this category.  I've seen it twice now: once on my computer, then a second time in the theater when it received its awards nomination re-release and it is just astounding in its original format.  The expanse of space and the detail and clarity involved are second to none.  It is amusing, thrilling, heart wrenching, inspirational, and downright awe-inspiring.  12 Years a Slave may give it a run for its money as they've split the Best Picture category at other awards ceremonies this year, but based on sheer beauty, scope, and emotion my pick for Best Picture this year is Gravity (which just so happened to top my Top 10 of 2013 list as well).

There you have it.  Those are my picks for the 86th Annual Academy Awards.  As always, I'll be curious to see how closely my thoughts match up with the Academy's.  What are your picks this year?  Did you see any of the films that I didn't and do you think they would have changed my picks if I had?


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