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

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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 Actress

Film-Toronto Preview

This year, the Best Actress category is absolutely packed with Oscar royalty.  These five women have combined for a previous 33 Academy Award nominations in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress categories.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress:

WINNER: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in northeastern Oklahoma.  I have long believed that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress in the history of cinema, and even though Cate Blanchett is receiving all of the hype this awards season, Meryl Streep turned in a performance for the ages.  Meryl StreepShe plays a very complex, narcotics-addicted, cancer-ridden woman on the brink of all-out emotional breakdown, and only Streep could dominate a role like this.  From the scenes in which she is filled with pill-induced rage to the scenes of bitter heartbreak as she loses her husband, Violet permeates the screen in a way that makes you feel so deeply empathetic, and this is all due to an utterly amazing performance by Hollywood’s leading lady.  Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record seventeen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

In Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the title role of Jasmine Francis, a former socialite that is now forced to live with her middle-class sister in San Francisco after her husband is indicted in a pyramid scheme.  Cate BlanchettAs I mentioned in an earlier post, Woody Allen is the king of obsession in cinema, and in Jasmine, he has created his most neurotic character to date.  Blanchett is an amazingly talented actress with a distinguished filmography, but I simply could not see her owning a role like this; therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she absolutely, unequivocally dominated this performance inside and out.  Blanchett has already swept this category at nearly every award show, including the BAFTAs and Golden Globes, and rightfully so—her performance was probably the best of her career, and she is more than deserving of this critical acclaim.  Cate Blanchett was previously nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator (2004).

3. Amy Adams (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Amy Adams plays the confounding Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensly, the mistress and business partner of con man Irving Rosenfeld.  I have been an avid fan of Adams’s work over the course of her quietly dignified career, and this performance is probably my second favorite, right behind her portrayal of Sister James in Doubt (2008).  Amy AdamsAdams’s character in this film is miserable, but beautiful; she’s uncanny, but vibrant.  Needless to say, this is one of Amy Adams’s most complex roles of her career, but she uses the intricacies of her polished artsmanship to create a memorable character that dazzles in the wild world of the 1970s.  Amy Adams has previously been nominated for four Oscars, most recently for Best Supporting Actress in The Master (2012).

4. Judi Dench (Philomena)

In Philomena, Dame Judi Dench plays the real-life title character, Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her long lost son who was taken from her fifty years ago.  Not too many actresses still working today can attest to a more illustrious filmography than Judi Dench, and just when you thought she could not turn up the volume for another Oscar-worthy performance, she does it.  Judi Dench in PhilomenaThe story surrounding this film is incredibly heart wrenching, but Dench took on the role with a remarkable amount of poise.  When she needs to be funny, she can be downright hilarious, and when she needs to show dramatic emotion, she collapses with tears—Dench is a master of her craft, and she expounds upon this skill in the most beautifully administered way in Philomena.  Dench has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).

5. Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

In Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist on her first mission in outer space. Sandra Bullock I apologize to anyone who enjoyed this film and/or Bullock’s performance, but it is about to get extremely brutal in this post.  Gravity was one of the most over-hyped films of the year, and sadly, Alfonso Cuarón will probably win tons and tons of Oscars for this movie.  Yes, it was incredibly beautiful, but there was absolutely no storyline of any substance.  Also, I am appalled that Bullock is nominated this year.  Yes, she has become a great actress over the past few years, but this nomination is an utter joke in my opinion.  She floats around in space for an hour and a half—how that is worthy of an Oscar nod is clearly beyond my own understanding.  For the first time in a long time, I am overtly disappointed in one of the Academy’s nominations.  Sandra Bullock was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Blind Side (2009).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 7 – American Hustle

American Hustle - BP

American Hustle is a film directed by David O. Russell, with a screenplay co-written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer.  The film tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a brilliant con man and his seductively intelligent mistress.  The two are forced to work for Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent, as the Feds attempt to bring down a group of corrupt politicians, including Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a local mayor from New Jersey.  The piece of the puzzle that threatens the entire operation, however, is Irving’s wildly unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

In American Hustle, David O. Russell has created another blockbuster hit, just one year after his critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook received eight Academy Award nominations.  As many of you that followed my blog last year know, Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite film from 2012, so naturally, I was expecting big things from American Hustle; needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed.  The screenplay was wonderfully written, and it had me laughing throughout the entire film.  David O. Russell’s trademark filmmaking style was ever-present in this movie, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writer/directors in the business.  If it were not for an amazingly strong year in film, American Hustle would probably be right at the top of my list.

American Hustle 1As expected from a David O. Russell film, the ensemble cast was as top-notch as you could have in a single movie, and these dazzling performances truly morphed an incredible story into an amazing film.  The casting assemblage was intriguing, as it reunited four actors and actresses that have previously worked with David O. Russell in recent history: Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter (2010) and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook (2012).  Last year, SLP became the first film since 1981’s Reds to receive Oscar nominations in each of the four acting categories; just one year later, Russell’s American Hustle attained the same distinguished recognition.

American Hustle 3Christian Bale gained 50 pounds for his role, and this stellar transformation further proves why Bale is one of the most talented artists in the business.  The performance was well worth the critical praise that has come Bale’s way, and it is arguably his best work ever.  Amy Adams, one of my top five favorite actresses in the film industry, turned in another striking performance as Sydney Prosser.  Switching between both an American and British accent throughout the film, the character is a mystifying woman, never fully committing to one way of life, and Adams’s instinctive acting abilities allow this character to shine bright on the silver screen.

In recent memory, Bradley Cooper seems to continue giving outstanding performances, but somehow, he always does so in a year that is packed with Oscar-worthy competition; therefore, he probably will not come close to winning for Best Supporting Actor, but that does not determinative of his performance because it was incredible.  American Hustle 2The best part of the film, just like in SLP, is the performance by Jennifer Lawrence.  It goes without saying, but J-Law is one of the most talented actresses in the business, and her performance in this film is thoroughly gripping and pleasantly hilarious—I anticipate that Lawrence will duke it out until the death (okay, maybe not that far) with Lupita Nyong’o for the Oscar, and it will surely be an epic battle of acting greatness.  American Hustle is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, and brief violence.

American Hustle trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

Academy Award nominations for American Hustle:

Best Picture (Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, and Jonathan Gordon, Producers)

Best Actor (Christian Bale)

Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper)

Best Actress (Amy Adams)

Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson)

Best Director (David O. Russell)

Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler)

Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell)

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

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 Original Screenplay

Her 2

This year, like in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every single writer nominated will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time.  Only two writers out of the seven nominated have received Oscar nominations previously: David O. Russell and Woody Allen.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Spike Jonze (Her)

Spike Jonze ScreenplaySpike Jonze has created in Her one of the most interesting and mischievously comedic films in his well-established career, and here, the movie truly comes alive because of his inimitable script.  It is a science-fiction tale, set in the not-so-distant future, about a man who falls in love with his operating system.  The loving relationship between Theodore and Samantha in the film is so incredibly vivid, jumping off the page and into our hearts, despite the fact that we never see Samantha, since she is not a real person.  A main character that operates from a purely oral standpoint, lacking any visual component, must be presented with incredibly substantive dialogue in order to work, and Jonze gives Samantha more of a voice than anyone else could ever dream up in his or her mind.  This screenplay is the epitome of the term “original” in “original screenplay,” and Jonze is more than deserving of this award this year.  Spike Jonze has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

2. Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Singer and RussellA year after penning an Oscar-nominated screenplay in Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell has again received an Oscar nod for his script in American Hustle, co-written by Eric Warren Singer.  Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite film of 2012, and last year I personally named the script from SLP as the Best Adapted Screenplay.  Again, David O. Russell has penned an incredible screenplay, and clearly the collaboration with Singer has proven worthwhile.  American Hustle was a thoroughly entertaining movie with more wit than I knew what to do with, but it was this distinct characteristic from most of David O. Russell scripts that shined bright again here.  Eric Warren Singer has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award; David O. Russell was previously nominated as a writer for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

3. Bob Nelson (Nebraska)Bob Nelson

The black-and-white Nebraska was pure Alexander Payne at his best, but one of the immaculate moments from the movie was Bob Nelson’s script.  Nelson created some memorable characters, some unforgettable scenes, and one incredibly exceptional journey between a father and his son.  The dialogue was on point, and it gave each actor plenty of chances to make an impact on the film.  I hope to see more from Nelson in the near future because this film proves he is a remarkable talent.  Bob Nelson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)

Woody AllenWoody Allen is one of the greatest and most critically recognized screenwriters in the history of motion pictures, and once again a script of his has made its way to cinema’s greatest night—the Oscars.  Even though the bulk of Allen’s writing nominations came pre-2005, he still proves that he will always be a force to be reckoned with in the screenwriting world.  In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen created a wide range of wild and wacky characters, but his finest accomplishment in this film is the title character of Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett.  Over the course of nearly forty years, Woody Allen has become synonymous with obsession, and in Jasmine, Allen has created one of the most absolutely neurotic characters modern cinema has ever known.  For this alone, Woody Allen is deserving of being back at the Oscars.  Woody Allen is the most nominated screenwriter in Academy Awards history; this nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category marks his sixteenth (an Oscars record), and he has previously won on three occasions for Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Midnight in Paris (2011).

5. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)

Borten and WallackEven though the plot in Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have written an original piece about the previously unexplored subject matter of Ron Woodruff and his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid-1980s.  All of the hype surrounding this film has been focused on both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s marvelously inspirational acting performances, but without an effective script, these portrayals would carry little weight, no pun intended.  This wonderfully written script gave both McConaughey and Leto’s characters an encouraging voice, and it is because of this that both Borten and Wallack have been nominated.  Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

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)