Awards-season fervor is at its peak since the 2014 Academy Awards nominations were announced on Thursday, Jan. 16. This past weekend, the Director’s Guild Awards were announced, crowning Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuaron as the best director of the year, adding fire to the already burning blaze. But let us pull back a moment, shall we, and recap this year’s nominees for BEST PICTURE, so we can prepare ourselves for my Oscars Picks & Predictions, which will be announced on Thursday, Feb. 27.
By JIMMY WILLDEN
12 Years a Slave
– a harrowing film undaunted by the weightiness of its subject matter. Notice how I called it a film; the reason: it is not a movie; it is art. It transcends the need to entertain, and exists solely as an examination of the human spirit, and the will to survive. 12 Years a Slave is the harrowing true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, SERENITY, CHILDREN OF MEN) a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. He then spends the next twelve years struggling to survive and to not fall into despair as so many of his fellow peers did.
The performances throughout are quite literally perfection. EJIOFOR delivers one of, if not the best performances, of his career. His portrayal of Solomon Northup is layered and nuanced, and executed with a precise but natural unraveling into the core of what it means to be human. MICHAEL FASSBENDER’s Oscar-nominated performance as Edwin Epps is deeply raw. The actor dives in and loses himself in the role as the cruel master who whips, beats and sexually abuses his “property” as he pleases. Newcomer and Oscar-nominee LUPITA NYONG’0 is outstanding as the young female slave, Patsey. Her layered performance is hauntingly beautiful, and she most definitely deserves the nomination she received.
McQueen’s (also nominated in the Best Direction category) direction shines. He is unafraid of staring directly into the eyes of evil and showing every single layer of why it existed. It is disheartening and excruciating at times, but necessary to deliver home the powerful reality of life as a slave.
All this is not to say that the film is perfect. It has its faults. The film suffers from wavering pacing issues, and the occasional dip into over-sentimentality. All things considered though, the film’s powerful performances completely make up for many of these faults.
In the end, 12 Years a Slave looks like it has an extremely good shot at taking home Best Picture, after its tie win with Cuaron’s Gravity at the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) awards. To put things into perspective, for the past six years every film that has won the top prize at the PGA has gone on to win the Best Picture prize at the Oscars. But with there being a tie, there still is no definitive shoe-in for Best Picture, as of yet. 7.7 (out of 10).
– a film that centers on the not-so-true story of con man, Irving Rosenfeld (oscar-nominee CHRISTIAN BALE), along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser (oscar-nominee AMY ADAMS), who is forced to work for unhinged FBI agent Richie DiMaso. DiMaso (oscar-nominee BRADLEY COOPER), forces them to participate in a scheme to bring down “corrupt” government officials.
Last year, director David O. Russell delivered us a gem in the way of Silver Linings Playbook.
Three years ago, another gem: The Fighter. Again, Russell is back, with American Hustle. The film delivers not one, not two – but four oscar-nominated performances in the way of Adams, Bale, Cooper and JENNIFER LAWRENCE. What makes Russell shine as a director and storyteller is his attention to character. While making a plot cohesive is definitely important, Russell finds himself more involved in finding the intricacies of his characters. In return, the performances he gets from his actors are always extraordinary.
But, as a whole, the movie only works because of its performances. The beginning doesn’t feel quite alive, that is, until the audacious Jennifer Lawrence, who’s already won a Golden Globe and SAG Award for her performance, shows up on screen and commands every frame that she’s in.
In the end, American Hustle is a commendable film from oscar-nominated director David O. Russell; it’s just not the best of the year, or the highlight of his own career. The film’s win for Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes, followed by its Best Ensemble win and Best Supporting Actress trophy for Lawrence at the SAG Awards, keep American Hustle very much in the running come Oscar night 7.1 (out of 10).
That’s it for now. Check back next week for my reviews of Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club, as I break down their chances for Oscars glory! My Oscars Picks & Predictions will be released on Thursday, Feb. 27.