If I Had a Ballot: My Picks for the 2014 Academy Awards

I don't get to vote for them, but here are my choices for the Best of 2013 circa the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

There was a time, long before I became a film critic, where I was passionate about the Oscars. I was invested in the offerings and performances of each and every year and sat with glazed, glad eyes as the overlong pageant provided Hollywood with the self-aggrandizing back slapping it so desperately needed. Even in those years where something didn’t grab my honest attention, I still tuned in to witness the always intriguing changing of the guard, Elizabeth Taylors giving way to Diane Keatons making room for Angelina Jolies. And then, I became more than invested. I became part of it. No, I don’t vote for the Academy Awards, but every year I am treated as if I do. I get hundreds of Oscar screeners. I participate in several guild nominations and elections. I even make the occasional media appearance to discuss the event. Granted, my role is not as important as the AMPAS membership, or the various under organizations that lead up to the big night, but I am there: small, insignificant, and struggling.

Struggling because every time I take up the mantle of Oscar predictions or preferences, I find myself facing a wall. Even as a critic of some renown I don’t get to see everything. I am not privy to stuff released at Cannes, or that plays the various festivals I am financially unable to attend. I can argue that I see all the mainstream and slightly off the beaten path films that the various studios choose to show me, but there are regular instances where I have to guess since my major market (Tampa) is not major enough. For example, I’ve seen The Hunt and The Great Beauty. The rest of the Best Foreign Film category? Forget about it. The documentaries? Cross The Act of Killing, 20 Feet from Stardom, and Cutie and the Boxer off the list. The others remain unknown quantities. Even the Animation category offers a single title (Ernest and Celestine) that makes my eventual pick less than perfect.

Still, I am duty bound to give you my Oscar predictions — or better yet, how I would vote if I had a ballot — so I will do my best to make this as painless as possible. We’ll start with the smaller categories first and build our way to the biggies. For the most part, my choices will reflect my already stated SE&L Awards sentiment, while avoiding most of the traditional givens. Come March 3rd, I may be way off base, but as least I know I voted with my head and not my heart (or maybe that should be the other way around). Anyway, here we go.


Star Trek: Into Darkness
Best Visual Effects

I know, I know… Gravity is going to take it all. So what? Those F/X are really one note (we are in outer space, and…) so I am going with J.J. Abrams’s visually compelling reworking of the classic sci-fi series. There’s just so much going on here.


American Hustle
Best Production Design

I was a teenager in the ’70s and this movie nailed the look. I could smell the corduroy couches and ultrasuede chairs through the screen. So much burnt umber and avocado green.


“Let It Go” from Frozen
Best Original Song

I always look for the nominated tune that gave me a spine shiver the moment it appeared on screen. This Broadway bound blockbuster is still giving my central nervous system fits four months later.


Best Original Score

I’m not sold on the bombast of Gravity or Saving Mr. Banks and frankly can’t remember the music in Philomena or The Book Thief. Without the inclusion of 12 Years a Slave, I’m picking Spike Jonze high tech fairy tale.


Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa
Best Make-Up

I just want to hear some former fading star or up and coming novice read this out as the winner.


America Hustle
Best Costume Design

Yes, we wore those clothes. No, we were not being hip or ironic. No, there is no excuse. Yes, Michael Wilkinson should be rewarded for reminding everyone of the Me Decade shame.


The Hunt
Best Foreign Language Film

While it’s slight and sort of pat, the subject (a man wrongfully? accused of molesting a child) is so unnerving and compelling that I was engrossed for the entire running time. On a side note, I want to personally thank whoever was responsible for keeping Blue is the Warmest Color out of this category. What an overrated, boring film.


The Act of Killing
Best Documentary Feature

It’s not every day that a country opens up about its obvious genocide. Even rarer when they take PRIDE in it. This astonishing movie may have its problems, but it’s a jaw-dropper from beginning to end.


Roger Deakins for Prisoners
Best Cinematography

I was not a fan of this highly flawed morality play pretending to be a thriller. I loved what Deakins did with the look of this film. Besides, he has yet win an Oscar (and this will be his 11th shot at it).


Best Animated Feature

No, I am not on the House of Mouse payroll and yes, I saw Miyazaki’s latest, but when a cartoon can make me cry and make my heart leap for joy when it’s over, I’m sold. This is the Disney I grew up loving. This is the Disney that deserves another Oscar win.


John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave
Best Adapted Screenplay

I LOVED The Wolf of Wall Street (as you will see soon) but I think this was the most difficult of all the projects to bring to the screen. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have been doing this so long they could write a new Before film in their sleep and I have no real affection for Captain Phillips or Philomena. So it’s Slave.


Spike Jonze for Her
Best Original Screenplay

Let’s face it, he made a love story between a man and a voice work, and work well. The rest of the writers on this list can’t make such a claim.


Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Supporting Actor

I’m of the camp that Jared Leto was good in Dallas Buyers Club, but he wasn’t doing anything that dozens of other straight actors have done for decades. If you want to see someone moving far outside their public persona and comfort zone, watch Hill match DiCaprio’s horrifically hilarious hedonism Quaalude for Quaalude.


Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Best Supporting Actress

This was a tough one for me. I pondered the power of Lupita Nyon’o in 12 Years, and was originally going to pick her. Then I went back and revisited both films and realized that, while she is heartbreaking in her role as a favored slave girl, Lawrence’s blousy New Jersey housewife wannabe is so much more dense and nuance. There’s a lot more going on here than in any other performance up for consideration.


Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Actor

The Wolf of Wall Street. Django Unchained. Inception. Shutter Island. Revolutionary Road. Heck, even The Great Gatsby. It’s Leo’s time. Enough said.


Amy Adams in American Hustle
Best Actress

I am NOT a fan of Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s faux farcical take on Tennessee Williams. Instead, I thought Adams was the emotional core of Russell’s ABSCAM satire. She kept things grounded and never let the movie slide wholly over into ridiculousness.


Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
Best Director

Like several benchmark movies before, Cuaron’s film creates an aesthetic line of demarcation in the artform. Before Gravity, space films looked and felt one way. After it, everything has changed. While he already deserved a Gold one for Children of Men, his work here warrants the Academy’s highest accolade.


The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Picture

Again, another very, very, very close call. Since I saw it in October, I believed NOTHING would beat 12 Years a Slave as my choice for Best Picture. Then I realized I was confusing MOST IMPORTANT PICTURE with the year’s most gratifying, and it became a real battle between 12 Years and Wolf. I would argue that my final selection is indicative of a gradient measured in microns, with the final selection based solely on entertainment value, not social message or meaning.

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