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:
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. As 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)
In 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. This 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. It 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. Bruce 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)
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 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)
A 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)
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 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)
Even 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.
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:
WINNER: 12 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)
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 year 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 performance 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 of 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 that 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 two 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)
Dallas Buyers Club is a film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, with a screenplay written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. The film tells the true story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a homophobic Texan who is diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-1980s and given thirty days to live. After trials with the FDA-approved drug AZT prove unsuccessful, Woodruff begins smuggling drugs into the United States from all over the world that help alleviate the symptoms of the disease and give himself a chance to live longer; however, these drugs are not approved by the FDA, and Woodruff finds himself having to continually evade detection from the federal government. With help from a transgender AIDS patient named Rayon (Jared Leto) and a defiant doctor (Jennifer Garner), Woodruff establishes the “Dallas Buyers Club,” a way for AIDS patients to get easy access to illegal, life-saving medicines.
Dallas Buyers Club was definitely one of the best films that 2013 had to offer. Not only were there stellar acting performances, which I will get to in a moment, but the film also presents an inspiring story about staring into the face of death and choosing to live. The director, Vallée, is relatively unknown to the Hollywood community aside from his film The Young Victoria (2009), but this stimulating cinematic effort will definitely put him on the map in Tinseltown. The screenwriters, Borten and Wallack, are nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and rightly so; the script flowed fluently and provided each actor with a wide range of opportunities to make a memorable dramatic performance.
Besides the well-written script and the competent directing job by Vallée, the acting in this movie truly sets it apart from some of the other releases from the previous year. For starters, Jennifer Garner gives a heartfelt performance as Dr. Eve Saks, the physican who risks her career to help Woodruff. Many critics have overlooked her impact on the movie, but I refuse to do so—she makes the film work in a huge, emotional way!
But now to the two award-worthy acting performances: Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey. Both Leto (the front-man for one of my favorite bands, 30 Seconds to Mars) and McConaughey have already received Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor awards, respectively, from the Golden Globe Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and all of this praise is quite deserved for both men. Leto’s role as Rayon is unbelievably astonishing, and I mean that in the best way possible. He is truly convincing as a transgender woman, and his performance is one for the ages. McConaughey also gives the greatest performance of his career as Woodruff. It is well documented that he lost 47 pounds for the role, but my admiration for his performance goes well beyond the weight loss—McConaughey simply knocked this dramatic role out of the park! His role is the perfect combination of humor and devastation, and I would not be surprised if he takes home the Oscar for Best Actor. Dallas Buyers Club is rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity, and drug use.