This is the second part in a series on the Oscars. Read the first part here covering the other movies nominated.
The ballot-counting process for Oscar nominations is a meticulous one that includes complex formulas and multiple rounds, leaving even the average Academy member unable to explain exactly how it works. That’s why, for 80 years, the final verdict has been left in the hands of accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which has an office on Pratt Street at the Inner Harbor, along with one in the heart of LA.
In exactly one week, a team created specifically for the task will begin tallying the final votes and sealing the famous golden envelopes that keep the winners a secret until the night of Sunday, March 2nd. In the meantime, it never hurts to speculate who might walk away with a trophy so here, again, are three Best Picture nominees and their respectively nominated actors and actresses:
Like many of Alexander Payne’s films, Nebraska comes as a breath of fresh air during an awards season that’s routinely based on the bigger is better philosophy. It’s a quiet movie set amongst the serene landscape of the Midwest but it’s also chocked full of some of the best comedy and character acting 2013 had to offer. Centered around a father who’s convinced he’s won a subscription agency sweepstakes and the son that reluctantly agrees to accompany him to claim the prize, the film’s real charm is the director’s ability to turn a nonsensical plot into a plausible this-could-be-your-family sort of tale. Bob Nelson pens a whip-smart screenplay that blends together with a crisp black-and-white setting to deliver a hilarious and heartfelt road trip for audiences of any age. – Three and a half out of four stars
Bruce Dern (Best Actor)- Dern has a long and storied career lasting more than 50 years, but his turn as the aloof and yet deeply caring patriarch in the film, Woody Grant, is sure to be the role he’s most remembered for. With wispy gray hair and wide eyes, the actor convinces the audience that his character may very well have more of a point to his stubborn behavior than he lets on to. Given the near perfect performance, it’s hard to find a reason why he shouldn’t win Best Actor honors.
June Squibb (Best Supporting Actress)- At 84, Squibb’s first Oscar nomination positions her as the third oldest nominee in the Supporting Actress category and she would be the oldest to ever win the trophy. Her role as Woody’s fiery, quick-witted wife is a spectacle to behold and she lights up the screen with an energy that balances Dern’s vacuous husband, creating great chemistry amongst the pair. While younger actresses typically fill the roles of older women, Squibb proves that with nearly 60 years of experience, she’s still has what it takes to leverage herself amongst the competition.
12 Years a Slave
After wallowing in the gutters to explore the life of a sex addict in 2011’s Shame, Steve McQueen returns to the historical drama for his third go as director, this time tackling the story of Solomon Northup, an African American born a free man, tricked into captivity and sold into slavery.
Other than an absurd sex scene at the beginning of the film, the memoir-based screenplay is almost entirely by the books; which provides for a solid story but one that’s also void of any frills. The director takes great care in portraying the horrors of slavery through grotesque wounds and echoing screams but not so much through Solomon’s story itself. The main character barely gets distinguished from any other plantation worker and the film slogs along uneventfully for the better portion of its running time. Slave works great as a documentary but not so much as a feature film. – Two out of four stars
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Best Actor)- The relatively unknown Ejiofor brings more than a decade of acting experience to the table but that’s not something you’d necessarily guess given the small amount of acting he does compared to the large amount of screen time he’s given. As Solomon, Ejiofor’s performance is comprised mainly of facial expressions that get old fast and the dull script, for his part, certainly doesn’t help things. It can’t be overlooked that his nomination was likely based on the heavy subject matter of the movie and that leaves his chances of winning at slim to none.
Lupita Nyong’o (Best Supporting Actress)- Like Barkhad Abdi of Captain Phillips, Nyong’o isn’t just a first time Oscar nominee, she’s also a first time actress. Given that, she takes on a challenging role as Patsey, a young slave lusted after by her owner who finds a sort of father figure in Solomon. Though she has less screen time than Ejiofor, she has more of a dramatic part and ends up being the primary character the audience can connect with. Her final goodbye as Solomon leaves the plantation a free man is heart-wrenching but the overall performance leaves her steps behind other talent in the Supporting Actress category.
Michael Fassbender (Best Supporting Actor)- A lead actor in McQueen’s first two films, Fassbender takes on a supporting role in Slave– that of plantation owner Edwin Epps, who’s supposed to be the more brutal of Solomon’s two owners. That doesn’t come across as clearly as it should in the film but Fassbender still manages to craft a fascinating portrayal of a delusional man driven to fits of rage more so by his own wife than by his slaves. It’s a career best for the actor and his first Oscar nomination but it may not be enough to stand out in the competition.
Dallas Buyers Club
Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s first Best Picture nominee is an entrancing story of overcoming the odds in a world that seems to be looking the other way. Set in 1985, the same year Rock Hudson died from AIDS complications, the film draws on the story of Ron Woodroof, a newly diagnosed victim of the disease who takes matters into his own hands by smuggling drugs over the US/Mexican border when the only current FDA approved medication used to fight the virus is found largely ineffective.
With spot-on production and performances, it’s unfortunate that the director also uses his film to lobby for social and political change in the contemporary gay rights scene, which by all accounts, wasn’t a part of Woodroof’s story. – Three and a half out of four stars
Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor)- There’s been some controversy over the way Woodroof was portrayed in Club but, regardless of the exact details, McConaughey goes all in as the man who used his desperation to live to start a highly successful business and then to fight for the rights of AIDS victims across the country. Woodroof was a reckless character but one that also wasn’t able to sit around and watch his life deteriorate and the actor conveys the contrasting senses of composure and urgency to great effect. If a performance this long in the making and this inspiring doesn’t warrant an award for Best Actor, I’m not sure what does.
Jared Leto (Best Supporting Actor)- Leto portrays Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman who meets Woodroof in the hospital and eventually becomes both a close friend and business associate. The character’s been credited as a composite and is the strongest example of Vallée’s inclusion of a personal agenda but whether or not that was necessary, Leto completely disappears into the soul of an outwardly cheerful and inwardly troubled individual. As the Fantine-type character of Club, the actor easily wins over the hearts of his viewers; something he might just do for Academy voters as well.
Eric Miller is a marketing professional with experience in creative writing, journalism and corporate communications. He has been writing in some way, shape, or form for nearly all his life with plans to eventually publish a novel or screenplay. He is also an entertainment enthusiast with the latest news on movies, pop-culture, and events. A born and bred resident of the Baltimore Metropolitan area, he enjoys visiting the Inner Harbor as well as traveling the country, watching movies, and experimenting with mixed drinks. He is currently a member of the Sundance Institute, American Film Institute, and Maryland Film Festival.