The Academy Awards are the cream of the cream1 of awards shows. The gowns. The lights. The arguments. The prestige. The long-ass speeches and weird musical numbers. The inevitable controversy. This is the quintessence of awards-showing. And it’s super-late this year because of the Olympics. So, y’know, that’s got to be a cold splash of water in the face.
It’s also dry as toast. Too much “classic hollywood,” too much back-patting. I realize that it’s an awards show and needs to be congratulatory, but it’s ok to quit jerking off for awhile, AMPAS.
Anyway. Here are the awards and the deserving winners.
Best Visual Effects
So. Gravity is here because they did a good job of portraying space, which is neat, but since everything about that movie focuses on “you must see it on the giantest most impressive screen in the loudest theater or it doesn’t have the same impact,” I’ve got to say: that’s not that impressive. Iron Man 3 does nothing not done by Iron Man 2 or Iron Man. The Lone Ranger had some really impressive visual racism. Desolation of Smaug was visually fine, but loses points for forgetting about convection2.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Trek: Into Darkness which, coincidentally, is only good if you only pay attention to the visuals, and forget about sound altogether.
Best Film Editing
“People really liked Gravity, but nobody can figure out why. Maybe it’s because of the editing?” No, guys. It wasn’t the editing either. Editing remains the hardest award to talk about, because it’s such a finicky little thing. No frame interefered with any other frame, no frames were missing3. I guess Captain Philips wins because it means the editor was able to successfully make it through the movie without laughing at that stupid voice.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Captain Philliips
Best Costume Design
This, by contrast, is the easiest one to figure out. The Invisible Woman and The Great Gatsby were both garish and harsh in their own separate ways. American Hustle captures period dress of a period that’s within the lifetime of a lot of the people involved in the film, so that’s not very impressive either. 12 Years a Slave managed to get costumes right for one of the most-filmed periods in history.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Grandmaster. The costumes sure are nice.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Look, I’d like to quit saying the same thing about The Lone Ranger over and over again, but it’s still getting nominated. And the racism problem – the depiction of Johnny Depp as a lazy, overbaked stereotype – has a lot to do with the makeup department itself. So this is literally nominating The Lone Ranger for an award for its racism. And whatever miniscule percentage of General Native Americanness J. Depp is claiming doesn’t change that. Fuck AMPAS. Anyway. Jared Leto looks impressive in Dallas Buyer’s Club.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dallas Buyer’s Club, but that doesn’t mean much coming from the organization that’s still rewarding the kind of bullshit on display in The Lone Ranger.
This is a crowded category! Nebraska and The Grandmaster both do a good job, but aren’t actually that interesting in terms of camera choices. Inside Llewyn Davis does have some interesting camera choices, but Bruno Delbonnel is a big, swoopy, showy cinematographer, and generally cameras that draw attention to themselves are kind of visually annoying. Roger Deakins is nominated here for Prisoners, and not Inside Llewyn Davis, despite being the Coen Brothers cinematographer for years. That’s got to be weird. I’ll spare him the awkwardness of winning so he can stay home.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gravity. Emmanuel Lubezki really does have a pretty marked talent for fluid camera work that doesn’t outpace slow, languid direction.
Best Production Design
The Great Gatsby is just a mess. I still can’t understand how people make visual sense of Baz Luhrmann movies. Gravity did a good job of replicating something, which raises the question: is replicating a thing exactly as important as replicating a thing in such a way that serves the emotional tone of the movie? I’m going to argue “no4,” and thus I’m going to deny Gravity this Oscar. Her had some good work here, but wasn’t as distinctive for its design as for its performance. 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are both period pieces, and while that’s where you get your Oscars in a period piece, I don’t think either of them precisely reinvented the period piece set.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair, which is, of course, an excellent setting for building a nest in and curl u…Oh, right. You people are still here. Anyway. Mrs. Coach’s hair.
Best Sound Mixing
Eh. There have been a bunch of war movies, and even a bunch of small-scale movies about individual aspects of war. While it might an interesting thing to watch a movie in which the audio field is taken advantage of, Lone Survivor mostly takes advantage of tricks that are already well-established. Captain Phillips could win it on the same grounds as the Film Editing category, but that fucking voice is part of the sound mix, which means that the mixing team had the opportunity to save us all and didn’t take it. They must be killed. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is really loud. Inside Llewyn Davis is competent, but unspecial. Gravity had an opportunity to take real advantage of the empty space and the silences, mixing them in Martin Hannet-style, but they didn’t.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: presentation of the statuette will be replaced by the public hanging of the sound mixing team for Captain Phillips
Best Sound Editing
It has four of the same nominees as the last category, and I am rapidly running out of things to say about Gravity.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Actually, the sound editors couldn’t very well cut out all of the dialogue of the title character of the movie, so they’re spared, and the award will be presented to All is Lost, because dealing with the ocean on a sound track can be really difficult, and they did a good job.
Best Original Song
Ugh, that U2 song just isn’t going away5. “Happy” isn’t a particularly good Pharrell song. “Alone, Yet Not Alone” isn’t a particularly good song of any kind. The Lopezes did some fine Disney-style work, but at this point isn’t writing the main song from a Disney movie more about following instructions than actually writing a song? Anyway, I like “The Moon Song” a bunch.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Karen Orzolek and Spike Jonze, “The Moon Song” (from Her)
Best Original Score
Y’know, John Williams has done some really impressive work. He’s written music for films that has been unavoidably dominant. I spent the entire day the other day going “dah dah dah DAAAAAAH dah dah DAAAAAAH” and explaining to the cat that I was doing “Adventure dishes”6. And so I’m here to say: the score to The Book Thief is just dull crap. Gravity and Saving Mr. Banks have ok scores that, again, just aren’t that interesting as scores or as pieces of music. I have a lot of good things to say about Alexandre Desplat’s score for Philomena, but I also really like William Butler and Owen Pallett’s score for Her.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I guess William Butler and Owen Pallet, Her
Best Animated Short Film
I didn’t get this far last year, focusing on the technical categories because they’re more interesting to me, so I have to say: I was absolutely right not to try to parse all of this shit.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: 2013 me, who wasn’t trying to parse all of this shit.
Best Live Action Short Film
I mean, it’s not that short films aren’t great, or that the work isn’t worth doing. It’s that with the technical categories, you’re not trying to figure out the sum of all of these really immersive things. I mean, the sound editing and production design are part of the final piece, so shouldn’t their goodness or badness be accounted for? And if so, is a good short with bad production design a better short for overcoming its shortcomings7? You see why this is all so hard to do.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The janitors who had to clean the stage quickly after what will almost certainly have been a messy public execution of the sound editors of Captain Phillips.
Best Documentary – Short Subject
And here again – is the best documentary the documentary that functions best as a film, or the the documentary that functions best as a document? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS THAT PLAGUE MEN’S MINDS.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Do any of you want to do the Academy Award coverage? I would totally give this over to a reader. Cripes.
Best Documentary – Feature
I mean, I love documentaries. I see a bunch of them every year, and I’ll watch one about any damn thing.It’s just that there’s two fundamental ways of viewing them, and I don’t understand which one they want.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Remember the dudes from March of the Penguins a decade or so ago? They were so happy to win. Maybe we should give them a bunch more awards and watch them be happy.
Best Foreign Language Film
Can we just all admit that 2014 is too late in modernity to have a fucking “Best Foreign Language” film award? “Everymovie that isn’t made in English is the same, and can all be judged on the same criteria and so here’s one fucking award for the rest of the world.” Anyway.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair again, because it always lowers my blood pressure.
Best Animated Feature
Still not a great year for animation, but at least the Oscars could find a reasonable number of films to nominate. I note that there isn’t an “Animated Short” category. I don’t know why that bugs me, but it does. So it’s not The Croods or Ernest & Celestine. Frozen did a pretty good job graded on the Disney Curve, and really did some interesting things with the Disney Princess milieu, but seriously. It’s 2014. Despicable Me 2 would, I feel, lose something in the legitimacy of an Academy Award.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Wind Rises
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Poor Billy Ray. He wrote all of that careful, thoughtful dialogue to advance a story and a plot, and it got forced out of Tom Hanks’ stupid Captain Phillips voice. I guess we’ll never know if the script was good or not. I’m surprised to see Before Midnight here, as those movies are kind of massaged into existence, and I’m curious as to how much of a role the actual script plays in that sort of thing. John Ridley and Terrence Winter are both pretty great at their jobs, but they’re no Steve Coogan.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope, Philomena
Best Writing – Original Screenplay
Her, Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska rely pretty heavily on performances, and while that’s usually the result of a script that enabled the actor to crawl into a role, that’s almost always a case of either a script that doesn’t stand up to a performance, or an actor who’s wrenching the character so violently around in a role that it stands out by contrast8. Having not seen the scripts, I don’t know, and hell, it could even be that they’re just that good. That happens once every couple of years or so. Blue Jasmine isn’t doing anything that Woody Allen doesn’t do habitually. And while that’s nice, I still don’t think that sort of thing deserves awards. American Hustle keeps a bunch of balls in the air and doesn’t get bogged down with a billion characters, and that can only be an impressive feat of writing.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: American Hustle
Best Supporting Actress
I feel like Jennifer Lawrence is going to continue to get nominated for David O. Russell movies until we’re all so tired of both of those names we scream collectively9. Shouldn’t we save these for movies where she doesn’t spend any time talking about a “science oven”? I suppose I’d have to talk to the Academy to figure out if one of the criteria is “someone doing something they haven’t done a billion times”. I tend to think that it is, and that, therefore, Julia Roberts and Sally Hawkins are probably not the right choice, here. Probably not June Squibb, either.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o, who I suppose by dint of not having a lot of work out there to compare it to, is doing something pretty revelatory.
Best Supporting Actor
I suppose there probably also isn’t anything in the bylaws that says that you can’t win an academy award if more than 25% of your character work is actually your costume, but I don’t like the idea of that either, so Bradley Cooper and Jared Leto are right out. I feel like Michael Fassbender is in “not doing anything new” territory here, so it’s not him either. Barkhad Abdi wins lots of points for not affecting the dumbest accent on film for Captain Phillips, but that’s not really a good reason to give out an acting award.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
A few entries ago I worried that I would run out of things to say about Gravity, but I do have one more: in a few years, I think that all of the praise that Gravity is getting is going to look awfully silly. So sorry Sandy, this isn’t for you. Unfortunately with her out of the running it’s basically people who get nominated for Academy Awards every time they take a role. Oh, and Amy Adams. But I feel like she gets nominated more than she should. Anyway.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Well, in a few years it will be me, for not falling for Gravity’s…thing. So we’ll just hold the award until then.
How do you choose the lead actor of an ensemble cast? Is this some weird Actors’ Guild thing I don’t know about? Christian Bale only takes roles if he’s automatically the lead? Even though at least three other characters have as many lines as he does? I don’t care. It’s not him. Or Leonardo DiCaprio. Or Matthew McConaughey. Or, while I’m making lists, Bruce Dern.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chiwetel Elijofor, 12 Years A Slave
Y’know, it’s fair to say that I have loved movies directed by each of these men. I’ve already said what I needed to say about Gravity and implied what I needed to imply about American Hustle. While The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave are both effective exercises by people working somewhat outside of their usual mien, neither is the kind of departure that Nebraska is.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nebraska
I’m just going to come out and say it: this is too many nominees. Cut the list down, guys. It’s impossible to take you seriously. I’m not choosing from this many. Sue me.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Philomena, because I love Steve Coogan that much.
And that’s it until next year, when I again dismay about how much of this is the exact same from year to year!
1 I translate. Sue me.
2 I know that isn’t a visual thing, but it bugs me. Sue me.
3 yes, I know that these were mostly edited digitally, and so we’re not talking about “Frames”. Sue me.
4 I’m also going to argue that Gravity’s “this is a document” style, which worked so well for Children of Men is working against Gravity, whose visuals are impressive, but for whom everything else is thin on the ground. And I’m not sorry about that. Sue me..
5 I like U2. I like Nelson Mandela. I like the idea of a U2 song about Nelson Mandela. There probably are already a couple. But this song is the worst things about U2 and the worst things about Nelson Mandela, and I feel like someone needs to be saying that. Sue me.
6 also adventure sock-folding, adventure blog-entry-typing, adventure Lego Marvel Super Heroes playing and adventure catbox-cleaning. I had a lot of adventures. Sue me.
7 Yeah, I said “Shortcomings” on purpose. Sue me.
6 y’all have largely been spared my opinions on acting. This is for a perfectly good reason: my opinions on acting do not make me friends, and leave most people baffled and sputtering. Sue me.
9 some of us believe this has already happened. Sue me.