Awards-season fervor is at its peak since the 2014 Academy Awards nominations were announced on Thursday, Jan. 16. Now with the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards crowning both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity their top films, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards were crowning Gravity’s Alfonso Cuaron as the best director of the year, and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) giving the awards to Captain Phillips and Her, there is added fire to the already burning blaze. Unlike years past, this year’s Academy Awards look to still be semi-wide open.

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.

Captain Phillips

This film, based on the heroic true story of Captain Richard Phillips and follows the accounts of the hijacking of the US Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates in 2009, is one of director PAUL GREENGRASS’ strongest efforts, no doubt. The film keeps its viewer on the edge of the seat throughout its near two-and-a-half run time, much of this due to the suspense created by Greengrass’ direction, but even more so, it should be attributed to the outstanding performance given by TOM HANKS.

Hanks’ understated performance guides the audience along for the journey, as we follow an everyman facing an impossible situation, and his will to survive. The character’s journey leads Hanks to some intense, sad, and harrowing moments – and in the final few minutes of the film, Hanks is given probably the best “Oscar” moment he’s had in over a decade. Unfortunately, he was not nominated for this performance, which is a shame. Barkhad Abdi, though, was nominated for his supporting role as Muse, the leader of the Somali pirate group that hijacks the Alabama. While his performance is great, I don’t think he has much of a shot come Oscar Sunday, in light of his competition.

In the end, Greengrass’ Captain Phillips has its best chance at Oscar glory in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Having just won the WGA award in the same category, the film is in a good position to take the win come March 2. Unfortunately, Captain Phillips hopes of winning Best Picture do not look as promising. 8 (out of 10.)

Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaugheyPhoto Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features (l to r) Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallée's fact-based drama, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, a Focus Features release.

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey
(l to r) Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof. Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features

This film has had a lot of buzz since it came out in November, specifically for its powerhouse performances from MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY (who’s made a serious comeback as a respectable actor as of late) and JARED LETO.

The film follows Dallas resident, alcoholic, drug-abuser, womanizer, racist and homophobic electrician Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) from his diagnosis with HIV/AIDS in 1985 and continues along with him as he skirts around the FDA systems and regulations to eventually bring unapproved medications into the US to provide much needed help to AIDS patients, who had scarce choices during the infancy of the disease. During his travels, he meets Rayon, an HIV-positive transvestite, and two forge an unlikely bond and friendship, ultimately leading each other betterment beneath the shadow of tragedy.

McConaughey’s spot-on performance as Woodroof is exceptional; we are engrossed in every moment of his transformation – even when he falters and continues to battle his demons. Leto’s Rayon is just as brilliant, if not genius. Leto’s physical transformation into the character is just as startling as McConaughey’s, if not more. The story of Dallas Buyers Club was engaging, and quickly became one of the year’s favorites, in my opinion.

In a year where there are very little guarantees going into the Academy Awards, I will say that McConaughey and Leto both have extremely good shots at holding statues in their hands come March 2. Both have won Screen Actor Guild and Golden Globe awards in their respective categories (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor). They are, basically, as close as you can get to being “sure things”; I’d give them the guarantee. They definitely deserve it. 8.6 (out of 10).

That’s it for now. Check back next week for my reviews of Gravity and Her, as I break down their chances for Oscars glory! My Oscars Picks & Predictions will be released on Thursday, Feb. 27.


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