Grading the 2014 Academy Award Nominees

As far as Oscar nominations go, this morning’s announcements weren’t nearly as contentious as they have been in years past, but that doesn’t mean there still wasn’t a snub or two to complain about. With that in mind, I took a look at several of the major award categories and graded the Academy on their selections.

Best Picture

best film

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
“Philomena”
The Wolf of Wall Street

No real surprises here, expect perhaps for the absence of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which had more than its share of champions. I’m also a little shocked to see “Philomena” make the final list (that one reeks of the Harvey Weinstein School of Schmoozing), especially over the likes of Palm d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Color,” which was ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film due to a silly technicality. Of course, this category is essentially down to the three biggest nominee getters: “Gravity” (my pick for the prize), “American Hustle” and “12 Years a Slave.”

GRADE: B+

Best Director

best director

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

This one is Alfonso Cuarón’s to lose. The only thing standing in his way is that the Academy gave the award to Ang Lee last year for a similar reason, in which case, Steve McQueen could end up making history as the first African-American director to win the prize. The only real snub here is Paul Greengrass for “Captain Phillips,” though he was likely on the bubble.

GRADE: A

Best Actor

best-actor

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”

This is one of the best crops of Best Actor nominees in ages, with the Oscar virtually up for grabs. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the frontrunner, but considering that some people thought Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”) and Robert Redford (“All Is Lost”) were also shoo-ins to receive nominations, it just goes to show how competitive this category is really is. It was essentially a seven- or eight-horse race, and only five were invited to the party. Still, I would have chosen Hanks over Bruce Dern for that final scene alone.

GRADE: A-

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Potential 2014 Best Picture Nominees

With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.

12 Years a Slave

The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).

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Angelina shows some leg at The Oscars

Angelina Jolie arriving at the 84th Annual Academy Awards at the Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California Philip Vaughan or

Angelina Jolie strikes the pose she showed off on stage at The Oscars last night. We loved seeing this shot of her sexy right leg, and naturally this created an immediate sensation on social media. Angie’s Right Leg already has her own Twitter account!

  

Friday Video, Academy Awards Edition – Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”

Click here to listen to The Best of Depeche Mode Vol. I on Spotify

If you’re wondering what Depeche Mode has to do with the Academy Awards, the answer is: they don’t. Ah, but silence, that is another matter.

If you haven’t filled out your Oscar pools yet, take this to the bank: “The Artist” is going to win Best Picture. Not because it’s particularly the best film of the year – truth be told, the movies of 2011 are as weak a batch as we’ve seen in ages – but because it has a lot of things working in its favor, namely two captivating performances by the two leads Jean Dujardin (he’s this writer’s pick for Best Actor) and the lovely Berenice Bejo, but that’s not all. It has the advantage of being the one movie that is truly like no other nominee in any category – seriously, a black and white silent film in 2011, that takes balls of steel to make – and most importantly, it’s being distributed by the Weinstein Company, and if anyone can turn a film like this into an Oscar winner, it’s Harvey Scissorhands.

There is a great story surrounding the arrangement for “Enjoy the Silence,” which serves as the best argument anyone will ever need for why Alan Wilder was the most significant contributor to Depeche Mode’s success. (We even told him as much when we interviewed him in 2010.) As they were recording the tracks for their then-new album Violator – in a studio housed in rural Denmark – principal songwriter Martin Gore had turned in a tender ballad called “Enjoy the Silence” But they couldn’t get it off the ground; each time they tackled the track, it didn’t work. Finally, Wilder and producer Flood told the rest of the band to get out, hit the town and have some fun. We’ll figure this out. When the rest of the band came back, Wilder and Flood had taken Gore’s demo – which consisted of a vocal and a harmonium – and transformed it into a dance track. Immediately, the band realized that this was going to be massive. Flood got Gore to play that signature guitar line, and the rest was history, as “Enjoy the Silence” became the band’s biggest hit to date, hitting the Top 10 in eight countries.

For those who are curious to hear what Gore’s original version sounded like, check this out. Pretty, but holy cow, Gore should give Wilder a co-writing credit for his contributions.

  

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