My Review of the 86th Academy Awards

Oscars Selfie

Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show.  But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you.  The Academy Awards has been known in the past to be utterly long and boring.  Although the show was still long (about 3 ½ hours), it was far from boring.  Ellen DeGeneres was an absolutely, hysterically entertaining host, and I would have zero problem if she was asked to host the show from here on out—her monologue this year was uproarious!  With the exception of only a couple, each of her jokes throughout the show were quite humorous and suitable for the Oscars, and even when she did toe the line of appropriateness, it still worked because it was done with Ellen’s trademark repartee.

This year’s Oscars had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (12 Years A Slave wins Best Picture)

McQueen JumpingAs you all probably already know from my blog, 12 Years A Slave was by far my favorite film from 2013.  I have been hoping and praying that it would win Best Picture, and last night, it did!  In a night where Gravity took home seven Oscars, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón, it was gratifying that the Academy awarded its most prestigious honor to a film that I believe is one of the greatest of all time.  Both Brad Pitt and director Steve McQueen were graciously humble in accepting the award, and after the Academy flubbed last year by giving Argo the award, it was great to see them getting it right this time around. The best part of the acceptance speech, though, was when Steve McQueen began jumping around on stage in celebration of the victory.  Well deserved, Mr. McQueen.

Worst Moment: (John Travolta’s mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name)

Adele DazeemEvery presenter at the Oscars is presented with a guide to help them master the names of anyone they must introduce.  Despite this, Idina Menzel’s name is not all that hard to pronounce in the first place—it sounds just like it looks.  However, John Travolta found some way possible to dastardly butcher the Let It Go-singer’s name as she was introduced to perform.  His pronunciation for “Idina Menzel” was as follows: Adele Dah-zeem.  HUH????

Most Endearing Moment: (Acceptance Speech for The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life)

Clarke OscarsThe subject matter of this Short Documentary winner is Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, and how music had given her optimism in life.  Ms. Herz-Sommer passed away at 110 years old, just one week ago.  While accepting the award, director Malcolm Clarke gave an undeniably endearing acceptance speech about this strong-willed, positive-minded woman and the impact she had on the entire filmmaking crew.  It was definitely a special moment last night.

Most Boring Moment (Bette Midler’s performance)

86th Annual Academy Awards - ShowLast year, my “Most Boring Moment” went to Barbara Streisand for her musical performance following the “In Memoriam” presentation.  Once again, this musical slot takes the cake for the most absolutely boring moment of the entire Academy Awards.  Bette Midler performed “Wind Beneath My Wings” following the “In Memoriam” slideshow, and it nearly put me to sleep.  For starters, Bette Midler simply does not have it anymore as a singer, at least not last night.  She was flat, unengaged, and dreadful, and the best part of her performance was when the music ended and she walked off of the stage.

WTF Moment: (Kim Novak presenting with Matthew McConaughey)

Kim NovakKim Novak is one of the most well known actresses of her generation, starring in incredible films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Joshua Logan’s Picnic.  Now, I understand Novak is in her early eighties, but her appearance last night was simply awkward in every sense of the word.  She rambled on and on in an extraordinarily incoherent manner, and she clearly was not on the same page with McConaughey; he had to continually pull her closer to the microphone, as well.  Also, when they attempted to announce the category for “Best Animated Short Film” in sync, it was a disaster—McConaughey said, “Best Animated Short Film,” while Novak said, “Best Short Animated Feature.”

Best Monologue Joke: (Poking fun at Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar “fall” last year)

J-Law TripsAs everyone may know, last year, while walking to the stage to accept the “Best Actress” award, Jennifer Lawrence tripped and fell (pictured on the right).  This year, while exiting her car for the Red Carpet, Lawrence again tripped and fell.  Ellen started the joke off by saying that she was not going to bring up either fall or poke fun because it is embarrassing when people bring those sorts of things up in public—she then went on to bring each of them up in greater detail, and it was hilarious.  The best part was when Ellen followed up by saying, “if you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.”  Jennifer Lawrence seemed to get a good kick out of it, and it was most definitely the funniest of Ellen’s many entertaining monologue jokes.

Worst Monologue Joke (the Liza Minnelli diss)

lizaLiza Minnelli was in attendance with her siblings to honor the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, a film their mother, Judy Garland, starred in.  Ellen’s worst joke came when she pointed out that one of the best Liza Minnelli impersonators she had ever seen was in attendance (referring to Minnelli herself).  Then Ellen said, “good job, sir.”  Liza Minnelli did NOT look impressed.

Best Ellen Moment of the Night: (Tie: Celebrity Selfie and Pizza Delivery)

Ellen definitely brought a hip new aspect to the Oscars, and the show’s entertainment value benefited significantly from this.  At one point in the show, Ellen rounded up some of Hollywood’s most famous movie stars (and Lupita Nyong’o’s brother) to tweet a selfie in an attempt to break the record for most retweets, which the picture did indeed accomplish.  Ellen PizzaLater in the show, Ellen had a few boxes of pizza delivered to the Dolby Theater, and she spent a few minutes passing out slices to everyone.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, Kerry Washington, Martin Scorsese, and many others indulged in the Italian treat—Brad Pitt was actually extremely stoked for the occasion, loudly voicing to the pizza guy that he wanted pepperoni!  It was a hilarious interlude during the ceremony, and it was one that has never been seen before.

Best Acceptance Speech: (Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress)

Lupita SpeechIn her film debut, Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Patsey in 12 Years A Slave.  She gracefully thanked the real-life Patsey and Solomon Northup for his amazing story.  She then, tearfully, thanked director Steve McQueen for the role, saying that being cast in this film was “the joy of [her] life.”  With every appreciative comment about the many people that helped her reach this milestone, she spoke kindly and eloquently, and her heartfelt acceptance speech was truly remarkable.

Best Musical Performance: (Pink singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”)

Pink OscarsDuring the Oscars, the Academy paid tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” and Pink performed a beautiful rendition of the infamous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Pink is by far one of the most talented singers in the music industry today, and her vocals were incredible during this cover of Judy Garland’s signature song.  If it were not for Pink’s amazing performance, this award would go to Pharrell Williams for his “Happy” routine earlier in the broadcast, but Pink’s breathtaking command of the stage during this earnest performance is absolutely undeniable.

Advertisements

Review: My Ballot and Countdown

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Well, with another successful few weeks of blogging, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s show, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past couple of weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 10 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about, and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 86th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years A Slave)

Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Picture

86th Academy Awards, Nominations Announcements

This year, one of nine nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies when it receives the Academy’s greatest honor, the Oscar for Best Picture.  Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include Casablanca, On the Waterfront, Rocky, Schindler’s List, The Departed, Argo, and many more; needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:

WINNER: 12 Years A Slave

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

3. American Hustle

4. Nebraska

5. Captain Phillips

6. Her

7. Philomena

8. Dallas Buyers Club

9. Gravity

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 1 – 12 Years A Slave

12 1

12 Years A Slave is a film directed by Steve McQueen, with a screenplay by John Ridley.  The film is adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.  It tells the true story of when Northup was abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era, despite the fact that he was a free man.

12 Years A Slave is an epic tale about the bitter reality of American slavery and the resilience one man had to withstand such brutal obstacles in order to one day reach his family again.  I have heard many great things about Steve McQueen’s filmmaking abilities, but prior to 12 Years A Slave, I had never personally seen any of his work.  But based purely on his effort here, the British director has made me a dedicated believer in his talented artistry.  McQueenThe subject of slavery in America has never been displayed on the silver screen before in such a straightforward, viciously honest nature, and when asked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly why there have not been more films in America about slavery, McQueen responded, “it’s a question it took a Brit to ask.”  McQueen gives Solomon Northup’s story justice on the screen and not by sugarcoating any part of this heroic story—he is candid at all times, no matter how atrocious the circumstances are.  McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time, and this is the first time since The King’s Speech won for Best Picture that I have so deeply believed that a film deserves the Academy’s most coveted award.

This epic tale is packed with astoundingly crafted acting performances, and this is just another reason why 12 Years A Slave stands tall among the rest of 2013’s cinematic exports.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, and his take on the real-life man is viscerally remarkable.  Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a SlaveThere are some horrifying scenes involving Ejiofor’s character, but he handles them with an experienced level of dignity.  Ejiofor admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he found the most brutal scenes the easiest to perform because “it allows for another level of legitimacy in the pursuit of someone’s story, somebody’s life.”  Ejiofor devoted the time and effort in preparing for this role with commitment and resolve, and for that, the story of Solomon Northup receives the respected amount of attention that it deserves.

Lupita Nyong’o also gave one of the most incredible performances of the entire year in her portrayal of Patsey, an iron-willed slave woman.  Her character is one of the more innocent figures in the film, but she has some of the harshest realities of pre-Civil War slavery, namely the sexual sadism she is subjected to from her slave owner.  lupitaNyong’o is a newcomer in Hollywood, but the performance she gives is more analogous to a veteran performer on the verge of a Lifetime Achievement award.  Her wisdom in terms of acting is beyond her years, and in this film, she gives a performance that will long be remembered as one of the best 2013 had to offer.  With every crack of the whip during her gruesome beating scene, Lupita Nyong’o becomes immersed even deeper into her character, and even though the scene is one of the hardest to watch, her realism knocks it out of the park.

The film’s other actors also give outstanding supporting performances, especially Paul Dano and Sarah Paulson.  fassbenderBut aside from Ejiofor and Nyong’o, no performance is more memorable than Michael Fassbender as the vicious slave-owner, Edwin Epps.  At first glance, the character seems blandly one-dimensional, but Fassbender’s exhaustive construction of the character brings out so many other previously unearthed qualities.  Ever since I first saw Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, I knew he had a unique gift in regards to acting, but never before has he been so instinctive and appalling as he is in 12 Years A Slave.  If any other skilled actor were to take on the role of Epps, the film would probably still be a solid “A.”  But Fassbender’s terrific performance takes this movie to another level, and McQueen is most assuredly thankful for this collaboration.

All in all, this film is by far the best of the entire year.  It touches every single emotion a viewer could possibly have, and the acting is something to behold.  McQueen has beautifully created one of the most important films of modern cinema, and for that, it deserves every single honor available in this industry.  12 Years A Slave is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.

12 Years A Slave trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg

Academy Award nominations for 12 Years A Slave:

Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas, Producers)

Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender)

Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o)

Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris)

Best Director (Steve McQueen)

Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker)

Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Director

Chiwetel Ejiofor

This year, there is a broad range of Oscars experience within the group of directors nominated in this category.  Two directors have been previously nominated twice each for Best Director, while two others are receiving their first nomination in this category.  The last one is Martin Scorsese—the veteran filmmaker has been previously nominated seven times!  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Steve McQueen 2In 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time.  He is an absolute master of his craft, and after critically acclaimed directorial efforts in Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), he has returned with a true tour de force.  The 44-year-old British director has taken a brutally pragmatic perspective on a true story set in one of the harshest periods of American history, but his effort is commendable and exceptional.  Even though at times this movie is difficult to watch, given the ruthless behavior by many of the slave-owners, it is honest and emotionally impacting, and McQueen has created one of the more important films of our generation.  Steve McQueen has never previously been nominated for Best Director.

2. Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

To put in straightforwardly, I will watch anything Martin Scorsese makes.  I have been a fan of his work for as many years as I have been passionately watching movies, and The Wolf of Wall Street ranks right up with the greatest titles on his distinguished filmography.  Marty ScorseseOne of my favorite Scorsese flicks is Goodfellas (1990), and The Wolf of Wall Street shares so many brilliant characteristics with that classic film.  Here, the 71-year-old director packs in more sex, drugs, and crime than any 3-hour film could possibly hold, but somehow, it works.  I credit this to the wealth of veteran experience Scorsese has in this business.  Although I am not quite prepared to put The Wolf of Wall Street above the likes of Goodfellas or The Departed (2006), Scorsese has nonetheless created another cinematic masterpiece.  Martin Scorsese has been previously nominated for Best Director seven times, winning his only Oscar in this category for 2006’s The Departed.

3. David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Just one year after directing Silver Linings Playbook, my favorite film of 2012, David O. Russell is back with another fantastic movie in American HustleDavid O. RussellThis is Russell’s third trip to the Oscars in the past four years, and this says a lot about where he is as a filmmaker.  He is one of the most renowned directors in the business, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.  Even though American Hustle is a magnificent film, I still think The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) were better movies overall; however, this is not a negative reflection on David O. Russell because it shows how dominant his work has been in recent memory.  David O. Russell was previously nominated for Best Director for both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.

4. Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

Similarly to David O. Russell, Alexander Payne is becoming a director that I very much enjoy.  Alexander PayneI have only seen two of his films, Election (1999) and The Descendants (2011), but they are each two of my favorites.  I was beyond pleased with Nebraska when I saw it in theaters, and even though it seems quite different than his other films, it is stimulating in many distinctive ways.  Although it does not appear Payne will come close to winning the Oscar this year, he has still made a movie that I will enjoy watching over and over again in the future.  Alexander Payne was previously nominated for Best Director for his work on Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011).

5. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Alfonso CuaronI will try not to waste much precious space discussing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  How on earth it has received so many Oscar nominations and award wins this season will continue to baffle me until the day I die.  Maybe the voters are smitten with the film in the way they were with Avatar (2009), but I do not believe a film should garner this much critical respect just because it “looks good.”  Both the acting and the plot are non-existent, and even though Cuarón has made a beautiful-looking movie, it is nothing more than a façade for a TERRIBLE work of cinema.  Cuarón has never previously been nominated for an Oscar.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey 2

This year, the Best Actress category features a group of fantastic performers with a combined 33 previous Oscar nominations.  On the contrary, this group of Best Actor nominees features five well-known actors that have not been so abundantly recognized by the Academy.  Between the five, there is only one Oscar win on a combined five nominations.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor:

WINNER: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays the real-life Ron Woodruff, an overtly homophobic man from Texas that begins smuggling life-saving drugs into the United States after he is shockingly diagnosed with AIDS.  Matthew McConaugheyAs many of you already know, McConaughey is receiving a wide range of attention for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, partly because of the physical transformation that took place—the 44-year-old actor dropped a staggering 47 pounds.  Even though this weight loss makes McConaughey closely resemble an AIDS patient from the late 1980s, it is his impeccable acting in this film that warrants his place at the top of my list.  Given his Texas roots, he always plays the Texan role with ease, but in this film, he takes on a part that is not your typical Southern gentleman.  The performance he gives is bold, empowering, and utterly heart-wrenching, and in a year where he had critically-recognized performances in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, he stands alone at the top of the acting world thanks to an amazing portrayal of a man on the brink of death.  Matthew McConaughey has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Chiwetel EjioforIn 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real-life Solomon Northup, a renowned Northern-born violinist that is abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era.  The story of Solomon Northup is incredibly heartbreaking, but Ejiofor gives the tragic story the justice it most definitely deserves.  With every passing moment throughout the film, the tale seems to get worse and worse for the distinguished Solomon Northup, and in every single scene, Ejiofor gives his heart and soul to the character, evoking a wealth of emotions in the minds of each viewer.  If it were not for a career-defining performance from McConaughey, Ejiofor would be far and away above the rest of the acting performances this year, and 12 Years A Slave is forever indebted to this awe-inspiring portrayal by Ejiofor of the resilient Solomon Northup.  Chiwetel Ejiofor has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonard DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a greedy stockbroker who took Wall Street by storm in the late 1980s through sex, drugs, and securities fraud.  Film Fall PreviewThis film was definitely one of the most wild and crazy movie experiences of 2013, and the way in which DiCaprio engrossed himself so deeply into this despicable role is absolutely incredible.  A year after staring in Django Unchained, Leo has again taken on a character with a serious lacking for any moral integrity, and once again, the results were certainly extraordinary.  Even though I think this is one of his most thorough and well-crafted acting performances of his dignified career, I do not believe it is enough to outshine both McConaughey and Ejiofor.  DiCaprio has previously been nominated for three acting Oscars, the most recent nomination being for Best Actor for his role in Blood Diamond (2007).

4. Christian Bale (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, an intelligent con artist who is forced into working alongside the FBI to take down a group of corrupt politicians.  Christian Bale has a long history of outstanding performances, and this role can be added to his long list of acclaimed portrayals.  Christian BaleIt would be easy to talk about the incredible acting abilities Bale elicits on the screen in American Hustle, but one thing not receiving as much attention is his very own physical transformation for the part.  Similar to McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Bale has lost a significant amount of weight for a role twice in the past: he lost over 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist (2004) and lost a substantial amount of weight for The Fighter (2010).  However, in American Hustle, Bale went backwards, gaining 50 pounds for his role as Irving.  This transformation was unbelievable, leaving Bale nearly unrecognizable for the duration of the film.  Christian Bale was previously nominated and won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter (2010).

5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who, after receiving a certificate in the mail saying he has won $1 million, embarks on a trip with his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize.  NEBRASKABruce Dern’s portrayal of Woody is one of the highlights from Alexander Payne’s most recent film, and I could not imagine any other old actor playing this role.  Dern utilizes his sprawling acting talents, made up from over fifty years of film experience, to take this character on in a manner that is more than award-worthy.  Woody is a simple man, and Dern plays those characteristics to a tee, adding in some hilarious, witty dialogue along the way.  In most years, a performance like this would garner a much higher ranking on my list, but this year, Dern is at a disadvantage because of four other unimpeachable performances.  Bruce Dern was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Coming Home (1978).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), and Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

Best Film Editing

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

The Oscar for Best Film Editing is awarded to a particular film for the finest post-production digital editing.  The award is presented to the film’s principal editor(s).  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Film Editing:

WINNER12 Years A Slave (Joe Walker)

2. American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten)

3. Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse)

4. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger)

5. Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa)

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender

Last year, the actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor combined for six previous Oscar wins and sixteen prior nominations.  This year, there could not be a more polar-opposite assemblage of performers.  Three of this year’s five nominees have never been nominated for an Academy Award.  Only Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper have previously received Oscar nominations; however, these two actors combine for just two previous nominations.  Even though this year’s group is made up of novices in regards to the Oscars, it is nonetheless one of the most competitive categories of the entire Academy Awards field.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

In 12 Years A Slave, Michael Fassbender portrays Edwin Epps, a dark, menacing plantation owner in the pre-Civil War era.  Epps is a complicated man with fits of rage mixed in with his sexual desire for his top-producing slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).  This Michael Fassbender 2year is one of the best collections of supporting performances in a very long time, and even though Jared Leto is stealing everyone’s thunder at nearly every award show, I believe Fassbender gave this year’s top performance.  His depiction of the slave-driving Epps is so incredibly multi-dimensional, and Fassbender performs in such a way that made me both despise and empathize with his character simultaneously.  For those of you that have not seen this film yet, there is a scene where Fassbender must discipline Patsey, the slave who is the object of his affection, and what transpires is a gruesome, but very authentic presentation that I believe justifies giving both Fassbender and Nyong’o Oscars.  Fassbender has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto plays Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman.  As many of you know, Leto is cleaning house at nearly every awards show for his Jared Letoperformance as Rayon, and honestly, it is all justified.  Leto is completely believable as a transgender woman, and he gives an emotionally dramatic performance that will rival any performance you may see for quite some time.  Even though nearly all of Leto’s scenes in the film are played as Rayon, the most heartbreaking scene in the entire movie features Leto confronting his father as Raymond, seemingly the man he used to be before his transformation.  In any other year, I would take Leto by a landslide; however, this year, his fantastic performance did not quite reach the level of Fassbender’s unbelievable depiction of Edwin Epps.  Jared Leto has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

In Captain Phillips, Barkhad Abdi plays the real-life Abduwali Muse, one of the Somali pirates who overtook a U.S. cargo ship and held the captain hostage.  If Abdi were one ofBarkhad Adbi in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks. the most established actors in all of Hollywood, I would still think that this performance was wonderful.  But Abdi is not an established actor; in fact, this was his very first acting job of his entire life—this fact makes it even more evident that Abdi gave one of the year’s most acclaimed performances.  Abdi’s depiction of Muse was carefully constructed, and he delineates the character in such a way that I identified with him despite the fact that he is holding a gun to Richard Phillips’s head while taking him hostage.  I sure hope Abdi is able to find other work in Hollywood because he is clearly one of the brightest shining stars from 2013.  Barkhad Abdi has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff, the drug-addicted, stock-scheming sidekick of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio); Azoff is a character based on Danny Porush, the real-life associate of Belfort’s brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.  If someone would have bet me $1 million in 2007, after my first viewing of Superbad, to say Jonah Hillthat Jonah Hill would become one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, I would have told that lunatic to get lost.  And yet, here I am today about to make that very proclamation: Jonah Hill is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood!  He has proven to be a comedic force in films like Get Him to the Green and 21 Jump Street, but his roles in both Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street have revealed his great acting depth.  His role as Donnie Azoff will forever be one of my favorites in film, and I only wish Jonah had a weaker group of competition this year so he could finally take home the coveted golden statute.  Jonah Hill was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moneyball (2011).

5. Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Bradley Cooper plays Richie DiMaso, a “go-getter” FBI agent who attempts to take down a group of corrupt politicians in New York City with the help from Bradley Coopertwo con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams).  Bradley Cooper continually takes on well-calculated acting roles and continues to find loads of success doing so; however, once again he has turned in a tremendous performance in a year that is packed with unbelievable acting talent.  I wish he could take home the award for his portrayal of the perm-hairdo-wearing DiMaso, but unfortunately, the cards are stacked against him this Oscars season.  Bradley Cooper was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

Actors snubbed in this category: Tye Sheridan (Mud), Daniel Brühl (Rush), Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12), Will Forte (Nebraska), and Jeremy Renner (American Hustle)

Best Production Design

The Great Gatsby

The Oscar for Best Production Design recognizes achievement in art direction.  Since 1947, the award has been shared with both a film’s production designer and set decorator.  Aside from the acting, directing, and musical compositions within a film, the production design and set decoration most help illuminate the visual image depicted on the screen.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Production Design:

WINNER: Catherine Martin & Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

2. Adam Stockhausen & Alice Baker (12 Years A Slave)

3. K.K. Barrett & Gene Serdena (Her)

4. Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler (American Hustle)

5. Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, & Joanne Woollard  (Gravity)

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'oLast year, each of the five women in this category had been previously nominated for at least one Academy Award, combining for a total of eight previous nominations and three Academy Award wins.  This year, however, the Best Supporting Actress category is made up of mostly Oscar rookies: Sally Hawkins, Lupita Nyong’o, and June Squibb are each receiving their first Academy Award nomination.  The other two nominees, Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts, have combined for five nominations and two Oscar wins.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) 

In her first feature-length role, Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey, a young slave in the South.  Although she is her master’s most productive slave, she is also the object of his sexual desire and physical abuse.  Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave takes an incredibly realistic look at the pre-Civil War era when slavery was prominent throughout the South, and while there are some incredibly powerful acting performances that set the film’s tone, none is more commanding than the 30-year-old Lupita’s.  Lupita 2There are times when you smile as Patsey enjoys some simple parts of life, such as making dolls out of cornhusks, but there are also times when you want to break down because of the evils being bestowed upon her by her master (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Sarah Poulson).  The vast array of emotions I felt while watching this film were truly illuminated by Lupita’s remarkable debut performance.  Even though Jennifer Lawrence had another amazing acting performance in American Hustle, it is hard for me to pick against Nyong’o this year, and in my opinion, the rookie actress is very much deserving of Hollywood’s highest honor.  Nyong’o has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the unpredictable wife of the lead character, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale).  Irving and his mistress (Amy Adams) are forced by the FBI to help set up a sting operation in order to take down corrupt politicians in New York City, but Irving’s often boozed-up, sun-burnt, stay-at-home wife may threaten the entire job.  I will buy into any role Jennifer Lawrence takes on, becauseJennifer Lawrence no matter what character she might play, she has proven that it will be played with an unparalleled level of wit, enthusiasm, and tenacity, and this performance is no exception.  Lawrence is quickly becoming one of the most successful actresses in the entertainment business today, and this nomination marks the third time in the last four years that her roles have landed her at the Oscars; if she wins, she will be only the sixth performer to ever win back-to-back acting Oscars.  While her role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games has helped garner her the title of “America’s Sweetheart,” Oscar-nominated performances like this one are cementing her place among the greatest young actresses in Hollywood.  Lawrence was previously nominated for Best Actress on two occasions: nominated for Winter’s Bone (2010) and winning for Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

3. Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Julia Roberts plays Barbara, the eldest daughter of the Weston family.  When Barbara’s father commits suicide, she ventures back home to northeastern Oklahoma to reunite with her two sisters, her aunt and uncle, and her pill-popping mother (Meryl Streep).  I have never been a big fan of Julia Roberts, and it has been since her Oscar-winning role in Erin Brockovich that I have been even remotely impressed with her acting abilities.  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with her on-screen display inJulia Roberts this film.  If it were not for a couple extraordinary performances this year by Nyong’o and Lawrence, Julia Roberts may have found herself taking home her second Academy Award.  She is great throughout the entire film, and the highlight for me was her foul-mouthed argument with her mother and sister over a plate of fish.  Julia is in rare form in this film, and this performance has definitely reinvigorated my interest in her career.  Roberts was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Steel Magnolias (1989).  She was also previously nominated for Best Actress on two occasions: nominated for Pretty Woman (1990) and winning for Erin Brockovich (2000).

4. June Squibb (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, June Squibb plays Kate Grant, the blunt, opinionated wife of Woody (Bruce Dern).  When Woody decides to journey to Nebraska in hopes of collecting a $1 million prize, Kate unsuccessfully attempts to convince Woody and his son (Will Forte) that it is allNEBRASKA a hoax and a waste of time.  This is my first encounter with Squibb as an actress, but she previously worked with Nebraska-director Alexander Payne on About Schmidt (2002).  I greatly enjoyed the black-and-white film and its simple, yet compelling plot, and one of the movie’s most obvious high points is Squibb’s character.  She curses at people and never shies away from arguing with her husband, and the single funniest scene in the film features Kate flashing the tombstone of one of Woody’s dead relatives.  The woman is a straight shooter, and I found her character extremely heartwarming and hilarious.  Squibb is the third oldest Best Supporting Actress nominee ever, and if she were to win the award, she would be the oldest acting winner of any kind in Oscar history.  Squibb has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

5. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Sally Hawkins plays Ginger, the sister of the ex-socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett).  When Jasmine is essentially kicked out of the high-class world,Cate Blanchette Sally Hawkins Andrew Dice Clay she moves in with Ginger.  Woody Allen is the king of creating neurotic characters, and he did so again with Blanchett’s disturbed character, but the best part of the film for me was Sally Hawkins as Ginger.  As a lower middle class mother of two, Ginger is struggling to deal with her sister’s erratic behavior and her own on-the-rocks relationship with her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and Hawkins delineates the character on the silver screen with particular brilliance.  I was pleased to see Hawkins receive a nomination, but unfortunately, the field is far too packed this year for her to take home a win.  Hawkins has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actresses snubbed in this category: Scarlett Johansson (Her) and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street)