Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's Easy to Be Cynical About the Oscars: Here's Why You Shouldn't Be

It is easy to be cynical about the Academy awards. When you look at everyone’s predictions this week (including mine) you will see that very few people will argue merit as a sign a film will win the Oscar. It will all be about precursors and who has or has not won in the past. The reason people who predict the Oscars talk about those things is simple – merit is only one thing that comes into play in the Oscar season, and the most difficult to quantify, since everyone has different opinions. But patterns have certainly emerged in how the Academy votes over the years. They don’t often “think for themselves” – films and performances that won a lot of precursor awards are the ones that usually win on Oscar night. Who already has an Oscar at home certainly comes into play with them – especially in the acting categories. Would Amy Adams have any shot at beating Cate Blanchatt on Sunday if Blanchatt didn’t already have an Oscar and Adams wasn’t on her fifth nomination with no wins? No. Would Sandra Bullock be a legitimate threat to win had she not already won just a few years ago for The Blind Side? Yes. Would Jennifer Lawrence be one of the biggest locks of the night for American Hustle had she lost for Silver Linings Playbook last year? You bet. But she didn’t lose – she won. And she’s 23, one of the biggest stars in the world and so I highly doubt the Academy will give her a second Oscar at this age. Having 2 nominations by the time you’re 23 is amazing – having 3 and an Oscar already, like Lawrence does, seems like she has enough. And isn’t Lupita Nyong’o beautiful and talented? Yes. So Lupita will win. Which I’m fine with – after all, I think Lupita actually completely deserves it on merit alone. But I’m not naïve enough to think that’s the only reason she’ll win. Michael Fassbender could have, I think, make a real play for Best Supporting Actor – or at least made the season more competitive – but he decided not to campaign this year after the festival circuit – whereas Jared Leto was everywhere. Add in the fact I’m not sure if the Academy really wants to give another white actor an Oscar for a movie about slavery while not rewarding the film’s black star the year after Christoph Waltz won for Django Unchained – and Leto becomes an easy winner.

What happens in this race will affect future years as well. I’m convinced Amy Adams becomes an instant frontrunner if she ever gets nominated a 6th time. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to build his reputation of being oft-overlooked – so again, a 5th nomination for him in the near future, and he could well become a shoo-in. It won’t really matter if their next nominations aren’t their best work. Paul Newman won for The Color of Money, John Wayne for True Grit, Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, Henry Fonda won for On Golden Pond, Geraldine Page won The Trip to Bountiful, etc. These are all actors who probably “deserve” at least one Oscar at home – but I don’t know too many people who would argue that the films they won for are their best work. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and Adams and DiCaprio will actually deserve their eventual wins – but there’s a good chance they won’t. Although they are roughly the same age, DiCaprio is just now entering the prime of his career in terms of when actors win Oscars, while Adams is at the tail end of that prime time for actress. Don’t believe me. Ask Julianne Moore or Glenn Close – who at one time were like Adams, always someone the Academy thought they award “next time” – and never got around to (Close was nominated 5 times between 1982 and 1988 – and then not again until 2011. Moore was nominated 4 times between 1997 and 2002 – and hasn’t been nominated since). The sad truth in Hollywood is once a woman hits 40 (if she’s lucky), the number of quality roles they get offered drops dramatically. The same is not true for actor – just look at the past 10 Best Actor winners – Daniel Day-Lewis, Jean Dujardin, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis (again), Forest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jamie Foxx and Sean Penn (again). Most if not all were older than DiCaprio is now.  The last 10 Best Actress winners? Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Sandra Bullock, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotrilard, Helen Mirren, Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank and Charlize Theron. There are a few older than Adams (Streep, Bullock, Mirren) – the rest are younger.

I could go on of course. I could list the great directors who never won a Best Director Oscar like Stanley Kubrick or Robert Altman of John Cassavetes or Alfred Hitchcock or Howard Hawks – whose films have become known as some of the greatest ever made, and the films that often beat them have largely been forgotten. It’s rather shameful that only 1 woman has ever won the Best Director – and only two times in history has a non-white director won – and both of those went to Ang Lee. Or that Steve McQueen is only the third black director to even be nominated – after John Singleton and Lee Daniels. Never mind the fact that the Academy has never given the Best Picture of Director Oscar to a film in another language – meaning the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir and many, many other of the greatest filmmakers in history have to settle for a “Foreign Language Film” Oscar – if anything at all. For those who think this is all a new phenomenon that the Oscars used to be based on merit alone, please be advised that you’re wrong. In 1936 for example, they did away with the entire Academy voting for the nominees, and went with just a “select committee” of prestigious people in the industry instead – who then all promptly nominated themselves. There are other example of course – too many to name.

So after nearly 1,000 words on why it’s easy to be cynical about the Oscars, how can I possibly defend them? The answer really is rather simple – the Oscars matter, not in terms really of who wins and loses but because they still inspire passionate debate about movies – a debate that matters. That debate rages on long after the year is over. Head online and you’ll still find people arguing about Crash vs. Brokeback Mountain, Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan, The English Patient vs. Fargo, Dances with Wolves vs. GoodFellas, Titanic vs. L.A. Confidential. You’ll still find people bitter about the wins by American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind or Driving Miss Daisy – and almost all of them will mention how the Academy shamefully ignored Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do the Right Thing that year. People still debate the older winners as well – maybe not with quite the same level of vitriol and hatred – but you can still find places that will argue over How Green Was My Valley and Citizen Kane – or The Grapes of Wrath and Rebecca, etc. The Oscars set the parameters of the debate that we have at the end of the year – without them, all the other awards groups, as well as the critics top 10 lists, etc. probably wouldn’t exist. But they do exist – because the Oscars are big business and everyone wants a taste. Some of these groups are horrible, and worthy of no discussion. Some are great. That’s the way things are. But I think the debate that is inspired every year – about what we value in film is important, and that is at least partly due to the Oscars. 

But there is another, simpler reason why I will always love the Oscars. As a teenager who was just starting to get interested in film, looking back at film history was daunting. Where does one begin to start exploring 100 years of movies? As a teenager back in 1997-1998 I started in three places. The first being the AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies List. The second being Roger Ebert’s annual top 10 lists dating back to 1967. The third being – The Academy Awards. With my book of movie awards in one hand, and my Maltin in the other, I looked up the films that had been nominated in years past and starting picking the ones that sounded interesting. I started seeing everything that had been nominated in the early 1990s on back. Would I, a 16 year old male, normally have rented Merchant-Ivory films like Howards End or The Remains of the Day? No – but I did because they had been nominated. And I found I loved them.

And because I started watching all the Oscar nominees, I got interested in the films by directors who had been nominated in other years. I loved Secrets and Lies – so I went back and watched other Mike Leigh films like Naked and Life is Sweet. I loved The Last Emperor, so I watched other Bertolucci movies like The Conformist or Last Tango in Paris. Loved Annie Hall – saw Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanors and everything else Woody Allen has ever made. You get the idea.

The Oscars, although they get things “wrong” more often that they get things right still does a great job of nominating some great films and performances every year. Not everything they nominate is great – obviously – but if you want to see a quality selection of films, there are worse things you can do than pick a year at random and watch all the Best Picture nominees. As a teenager with no idea where to start looking at the films of the past, the Oscars gave me an in – gave me a place to start. And that’s just what I used it for - a jumping off point. But once you’ve fallen in love with Alfred Hitchcock or Billy Wilder or John Huston or Elia Kazan or John Ford or Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola or Woody Allen, it became impossible to stop. Just like Ebert’s great movies series encouraged me to start exploring Godard or Bergman or Fellini or Kurosawa or Mizoguchi or Renoir or Antonioni – I didn’t stop when I had seen Breathless and Persona and Seven Samurai and Sansho the Bailiff and Grand Illusion and L’Aventurra. I kept going with those filmmakers. The Oscars did the same thing with classic American films.

So that is why I love the Oscars. A teenager like me today has an even more daunting task ahead of them in terms of diving into cinema history – after all, there are nearly 20 years more of film to explore, including pretty much the entire filmographies of Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne, Michael Haneke, Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Steve McQueen, Alfonso Cuaron, Sofia Coppola, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan and Terrence Malick (who when I started falling in love with films had only directed 2 – and nothing for 20 years. Now he has directed 6). Many teenagers won’t care about these filmmakers or their films – hell many adults don’t. But some will. And so a teenager like me will start looking at the Oscar nominations in the recent past, and fall in love with some of these filmmakers. Then delve deeper into cinema history – and end up down the rabbit hole like I did. The Oscars get a lot of things wrong – but I’ll always love them for helping to introduce me to great films and filmmakers – and for continuing the debate about what it is we love about film. We want the Oscars to mean more than they do – which is a fancy way of saying we want them to award our favorites. That’s natural. But the truth is, the Oscars already matter plenty – no matter how often they’re “wrong”.

The 2013 Oscar Race

I haven’t written that much about the Oscar race this year – other than my nominee and winner predictions. I started several times to write about “Oscar Bloggers”, but always stopped because I really didn’t know what to say (for the record, I read In Contention by Kris Tapley and his excellent contributors and Mark Harris over at Grantland, and that’s about it - and little in the recent Vulture about Oscar bloggers, which barely mentions those two, makes me feel I’m missing anything special by anyone else). I don’t know if Oscar bloggers hurt the race (I don’t think they help much) – but on a certain level I’m glad they’re there. They do ensure that a spotlight is shined on films that aren’t $200 million behemoths about superheroes and fighting robots. I just don’t really feel the need to subject myself to 6 months of (mostly) meaningless blather and predictions – where a different film is anointed each week as a Best Picture contender. The good ones – and Tapley and Harris are both very good – know that they don’t really have an impact on the race, and don’t try to have one. They’re more about tracking the season rather than shaping it – and it helps that both are great writers. (By the way, if you haven’t read Harris’ Picture at a Revolution about the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967 - Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Doctor Doolittle and the winner In the Heat of the Night – do it now. It’s a great read – and I cannot wait to get my hands on his latest book – Five Came Back – about five Hollywood filmmakers and their lives and careers after WWII.)

Anyway, the reason I haven’t written much about the race this year is simple – unless something about the race really fascinates me, I really don’t feel I have much to say. Last year was fascinating for example – the momentum that Argo built from the moment the nominations came out, and Ben Affleck was snubbed for Director, truly was interesting. Going by Oscar history, Argo shouldn’t have had a chance to win – no director nominated, fourth in total nominations; it wasn’t going to win an Acting Oscar, etc. Also, it was mainly a thriller – a con job movie not unlike The Sting from 1973, which won the Best Picture Oscar, but unlike pretty much every other winner. Last year was also an ugly season – with Zero Dark Thirty being swift boated before the race really started, and some ugly things being said about Lincoln. Again, what was fascinating is how questions of “historical accuracy” killed Zero Dark Thirty, hurt Lincoln, but didn’t affect Argo – which had more issues with historical accuracy than either of the other films. I was also fascinated how people could call Argo and Silver Linings Playbook – the “obvious crowd pleasers”, while dismissing Lincoln as a movie people respected but didn’t love – even though it made significantly more money at the American box office than either of the other two. In short, last year was a fascinating year, and as such I wrote about it more often. This year, not so much.

On the surface that may seem somewhat odd. After all, for the first time really since 2005, when Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, I think there is a legitimate question as to what is going to win Best Picture this year. Will the Academy go with 12 Years a Slave or Gravity? Does American Hustle still have a chance? Will these films split the vote and a dark horse come in for the victory (this, by the way, never actually happens but gets trotted out every year as a “possibility”).

Personally, I think it’s 12 Years a Slave or Gravity – American Hustle peaked too early, and despite the love from the actors, I just don’t see it as a real threat anymore. And that in itself is odd, because American Hustle fits better with the last three Oscar winners than either 12 Years a Slave or Gravity does. It is a feel good movie, full of great performances. It may be meaningless, but it makes you leave the theater feeling good. It also has the advantage of being written and directed by someone they feel is “overdue” and has at least one (Adams) and perhaps two (Cooper) nominees they also wouldn’t mind giving Oscars to – and stars one of the most beloved stars in movies today in Jennifer Lawrence. Out of all the nominees, American Hustle seems more like a film like Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, The Artist or Argo than anything else – and they all won with ease in the last five years. So why does it feel like American Hustle is already an also ran – and faces the real possibility of being one of those films (like The Color Purple or Gangs of New York) nominated for 10 Oscars that goes home completely empty handed? I would love to think that the Academy agrees with me – and thinks American Hustle is little more than an entertaining mess (those previous winners mentioned are all much better than American Hustle in my opinion, even if none of them made my top 10 list at the end of the year). But I’m not that naïve – the Academy and I have overlapping tastes to be sure – 5 of the 9 Best Picture nominees are in fact on my top 10 list this year – but we haven’t agreed on a Best Picture winner since The Departed in 2006 – and before that Schindler’s List in 1993. Winning an Oscar for Best Picture is about sustaining buzz through the long haul, not making a huge splash, and then dying out – which is what American Hustle did this year. At this point there have been so many “American Hustle is overrated” think pieces written that I don’t think it’s possible to still call the film over rated – divisive may be a better word. And divisive films don’t win Best Picture.

This leaves us with 12 Years a Slave and Gravity duking it out for the top prize. Due respect to the other 6 nominees, but they don’t really have a chance. The Wolf of Wall Street is too controversial, Nebraska too slate grey, both visually and emotionally, Dallas Buyers Club too much of an indie actors showcase, Philomena too much of a British indie actors showcase, Her skews too young for the big prize, and Captain Phillips too much of a straight ahead thriller. Films like them get nominated every year, and lose. In the era of 9 and 10 Picture nominees – which comes with the preferential ballot - winning means building a consensus and not being hated by too many people. These films – as great as they are (and for me Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street are the two best of the nominees) – just don’t have that level of support.

What is strange however is how I think no matter what wins between 12 Years a Slave or Gravity that it’s going to mark a departure from the type of films the Academy historically gives Best Picture Oscars to – not just in the last few years, but throughout their 85 year history. This is easier to see with Gravity – which is short for a Best Picture winner – at 91 minutes, it would tie Marty (1955) for the shortest best picture winner ever – and when you factor in the end credits for Gravity are far longer, the actual movie itself would be shortest. Along with Marty, only Annie Hall (93 minutes) and Driving Miss Daisy (99 minutes) are Best Picture winners that run under 100 minutes. The film only has two real cast members – a smaller cast than any other Best Picture winner ever had. It’s also in 3-D – and while Avatar broke down the barriers for 3-D movies getting nominated – and since then Hugo, Life of Pi have won many Oscars for 3-D movies, none has won the Big Prize yet. And the film is set in space – and no film has ever won that was before. If you consider the movie sci-fi (which is a real debate), then none of those have won either. On the surface, Gravity feels like a movie akin to Life or Pi, Hugo, Inception or Avatar – one that walks away with a lot of technical Oscars – and perhaps can squeak out a director win – but doesn’t win the big prize. But it’s got a very real chance of doing so on Sunday night.

12 Years a Slave was dubbed a “typical Oscar movie” but it really isn’t one – and race is only one that determines that. Yes, it’s true that no black filmmaker has ever won the Best Director Oscar, nor ever directed a Best Picture winner. Go a little deeper, and you’ll see that only two films have won the Best Picture Oscar with a black lead – In the Heat of the Night in 1967 and Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 – and both of those films had a white co-lead (the white co-leads by the way both won Acting Oscars, and black leads did not – in fact, Sidney Poitier wasn’t even nominated for In the Heat of the Night). One could throw in Crash if you want to – Don Cheadle is, I believe, top billed – but no one in that film is a legitimate lead character. In fact, as far as I can tell the only three films without a white leading character to ever win the Best Picture Oscar are Gandhi, The Last Emperor and Slumdog Millionaire (and again, Crash I guess, since it has no lead). 12 Years a Slave may have taken some shots in recent weeks for their “It’s Time” campaign – which I am also no fan of – but the campaign wasn’t exactly wrong. The only film even partly about slavery to ever win the Best Picture Oscar is Gone with the Wind after all.

But I’m talking more about the film itself than its racial makeup when I say it’s not a typical Oscar film. As a director, Steve McQueen is much more Stanley Kubrick than Steven Spielberg. 12 Years a Slave is many things, but sentimental it isn’t. McQueen is more analytical – more interested in examining the characters, their pain, how they survive and the mechanisms of slavery rather than giving the audience any sort of emotional payoff. This has led some – my wife for example – to admit that the film left them rather cold. That’s by design by McQueen, and not a flaw – at least not for me. In fact, it makes 12 Years a Slave an even better film than it otherwise may have been. Despite some people (loudly) proclaiming it to be, 12 Years a Slave is far from a “white guilt” movie. But all one has to do is look at all the Best Picture and Director Oscars Kubrick racked up (zero) to figure out how the Academy feels about films like this. This is exactly the type of film that is more “admired than loved” when it first comes out, and gives the Academy room to pick something else – even if they look somewhat silly in retrospect.

Regardless of who wins the Best Picture Oscar – and if we’re reduced to being on “Team 12 Years a Slave” or “Team Gravity”, than I’m clearly the former – I do think we’ll get a much stronger Best Picture winner than anything since The Hurt Locker in 2009 – perhaps even since No Country for Old Men in 2007. That means very little. I had somewhat convinced myself that the Academy going with darker movies like The Departed, No Country for Old Men and The Hurt Locker in three out of four years from 2006-2009 (with Slumdog in between) that perhaps they were more willing to embrace darker, less conventional winners. The last three years put an end to that notion - but I still think a win for 12 Years a Slave or Gravity would be a good thing - an oppurtunity for the Academy to embrace the type of film they typically do not - even if they run for safety again next year.

But having said all that, I’m more than ready for this Oscar season to be over – in fact I’ve been ready for more than a month now. My favorite time in Oscar season is December and January – where we get new prizes from different groups nearly daily, when the critics announce their top 10 lists, and we have a real debate not just about who is going to win Oscars – which ultimately doesn’t matter – but rather on the quality of the films themselves. That’s what I enjoy most – the debate, the conversation about what we value in film. Who actually wins the Oscars is ultimately irrelevant. We all cheer for our favorites – that’s natural – but in the end, movies either last or don’t last on the basis of their merit, not on what wins Oscars. I think both 12 Years a Slave and Gravity – not to mention Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her – and any number of non-nominated films (in particular, Inside Llewyn Davis) are going to be films that last, no matter who wins on Sunday. My advice on Oscar season is always the same – relax and enjoy the show.



2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture

This week, I've predicted every Oscar race with the exception of the Shorts - which I didn't get a chance to see, so I figured why bother. We finally come to the big one - Best Picture. And below, a recap of all of my predictions. Hope this helps in your Oscar pool!

Best Picture
9. Captain Phillips
For It: It is an old fashioned thriller, with a little bit of moral complexity thrown in for good measure. On the preferential ballot they now use, being widely liked is more important than having passionate supporters – and not too many people actively dislike the film.
Against It: The lack of a director or Best Actor nomination really does sink the films chances. I feel this will probably be everyone’s fourth or fifth pick – which isn’t good enough to win.

8. Dallas Buyers Club
For It: It picked up a few surprise nominations – for Original Screenplay and Editing – not to mention some didn’t think it would break the Best Picture lineup. The Academy obviously loves it.
Against It: It still feels like an acting showcase more than a Best Picture winner. The lack of a director nomination – and the fact everyone seems okay with that - really hurts the film. It will be rewarded on Oscar night – just not here.

7. Nebraska
For It: Sooner or later, you expect Alexander Payne to have a Best Picture winner on his resume – this is the third time in a row he has had a film nominated. It has wide support throughout the Academy – and appeals to older voters, who make up the Academy’s membership.
Against It: While I don’t think it will be at the bottom of many ballots, I don’t think it will be near the top either – it feels like everyone likes one of the “bigger” films more.

6. Her
For It: If critics were voting, this would have a great chance to pull off an upset. A highly acclaimed film that would fit in well with the Academy’s current efforts to appeal to younger people.
Against It: If they didn’t find room for its acclaimed direction or its oft nominated star, the support just doesn’t seem to be there. The Academy may want to appeal to younger people, but they are by and large still an old bunch – I wouldn’t be surprised to find this one near the bottom on many voters lists.

5. Philomena
For It: It speaks to the older Academy members – who seem to be running the show sometimes. It has wide support, if not exactly passionate support, which doesn’t matter the way voting goes now. While I don’t think it will rank #1 for a lot of voters, perhaps it picks up supporting in rounds 2 and 3.
Against It: If it had picked up a “surprise” nomination or two – say for Director or Supporting Actor or Editing – perhaps it would have a chance to sneak in. It didn’t get those.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street
For It: Martin Scorsese has gone from outsider to beloved Academy icon in a decade. While there is not the pressing need to give him an Oscar anymore, they still clearly love him – and the film battled off a late release date, and some stiff opposition to become a major nominee. It speaks directly to what is wrong in America today.
Against It: There will be too many people who rank it dead last on their ballots. It may do very well in the first round or two, but after that, I suspect its vote totals to plummet. It’s a love it or hate it film, and those don’t win the Best Picture Oscar.

3. American Hustle
For It: It won the SAG ensemble award, and has four acting nominations – meaning the Academy’s largest single branch – the actors – are behind it. To many, David O. Russell is due a win. The Academy has gone lighter the past few years, and American Hustle fits in nicely alongside the likes of Argo and The Artist.
Against It: The PGA has gone 4-4 since the new preferential ballot has come into play, since they use the same one. This year there was an unprecedented tie for their award – and American Hustle wasn’t one of the two films. It seems like a small thing, but it isn’t. The buzz has quieted down a lot – had they voted in January, I think this may have had a better shot.

2. Gravity
For It: An indisputable blockbuster of a film, Gravity has wowed critics and audiences since the fall festival circuit, and has done a good job of ensuring everyone sees it on the biggest screen possible. No film this year was a bigger technical achievement. The film is on its way to several below the line wins, and Cuaron looks like a good bet for director. A tie at the PGA helps it A LOT – winning the DGA helps as well.
Against It: It would be odd for a film with only two cast members to win an Oscar. Or a film set in space. Or one that is only 90 minutes. Or one that is this reliant on special effects. Or one that is made in 3-D. The last time the Academy faced a referendum between big and small movies – they went with The Hurt Locker instead of Avatar – and while Gravity doesn’t have giant blue aliens, it’s still seen as part of the same genre. While Cuaron won the DGA award – usually a good sign that he’ll take director, and the film will take Best Picture, I cannot help but notice that the Globes, the Critics Choice and the BAFTAs all went with Cuaron for director, but 12 Years for Picture.

1. 12 Years a Slave
For It: 12 Years a Slave has been the frontrunner since it debuted – and while it’s taken some knocks along the way, it is also the one film that was seemingly in play at every possible precursor award there was – which bodes well given the preferential ballot method of voting. While many awards groups have overlooked individual achievements of the film, they always come back to the film itself – like The Golden Globes or the Broadcast Film Critics or the BAFTAs. The PGA award is a good predictor, and although the film tied there, it still won.
Against It: Does the Academy love the film, or just respect it? Is the violence too much for some? Would they rather escape, like they have in recent years, with a film like Gravity or American Hustle? Has the film taken too many shots since being anointed the frontrunner back in September? Is the fact that Cuaron seems to be cruising for a Director win, mean that McQueen’s film will be a runner-up? All good questions.

Who Will Win: An impossibly tight race – I really could see either of the top two taking it – although American Hustle is still lurking. Having said that, I think 12 Years a Slave – still comes out on top. But it will be close.
Who Should Win:
Out of all the nominees, I like Nebraska – a close second going to The Wolf of Wall Street. Out of the three that actually have a chance, 12 Years a Slave.
Least of the Nominees: In what has become a theme here, I’ll say American Hustle. Sorry, I just don’t like it all that much.

Predictions Recap
Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchatt, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Best Animated Film: Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film: The Broken Circle Breakdown
Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
Best Cinematography: Gravity
Best Editing: Gravity
Best Production Design: 12 Years a Slave
Best Costume Design: The Great Gatsby
Best Make-up & Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Visual Effects: Gravity
Best Sound Mixing: Gravity
Best Sound Editing: Gravity
Best Score: Gravity
Best Song: Let It Go - Frozen

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2013 Oscar Winner Predictions: Acting

Yesterday, I looked at the writing and directing categories and on Monday it was everything "below the line". Tomorrow, will be Best Picture. But today, it's all about the acting.

5. Christian Bale, American Hustle
For Him: They obviously really liked the performance, since he got in here with very little precursor support. They also love the film – it’s tied for the most nominations of any film, and he is the star of the show. It is a show off role as well.
Against Him: He’s the only nominee in the category who already has an Oscar, so there’s no need to reward again so soon (especially since it’s only his second nomination). Surprise nominees with little precursor support don’t usually win. It’s perhaps a little too much of a show off role.

4. Bruce Dern, Nebraska
For Him: He is old, meaning they may never get another chance to give him an Oscar. He is a previous nominee – from well over 30 years ago – and has been doing solid character work his entire career. He’s worked harder than anyone this season, and has a role in a film they obviously love. It’s a recipe that worked for Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine.
Against Him: That was supporting actor, this is lead. While Dern is immensely respected, I’m not sure he’s the type of actor they feel embarrassed that they haven’t given him an Oscar already. Much like the film itself – which will likely be shutout on Oscar night – the nomination seems like the reward here.

3. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
For Him: He is the star of perhaps the Best Picture winner, and he anchors nearly every scene in the film with his quiet, human dignity – and yet still gets a few “Oscar” moments throughout the film. Has been doing solid work for more than a decade now, and the Academy is just noticing him now.
Against Him: For some, the role is too passive (I don’t agree, but it’s a complaint I’ve heard more than once). While he did good in the precursors – he lost the major ones – The Globe, the Broadcast Film Critics Award, the SAG to McConaughey in head-to-head showdowns. This feels like he’s going to be a runner up.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
For Him: This is DiCaprio’s fourth nomination, and he still hasn’t won yet – putting him close to that ground where he’s way overdue, so that will draw some votes. He has worked hard this season since the film broke late, and he is well liked in Hollywood. The Academy would love to put an end to the silly “They always overlook Leo” narrative some drag out every year. It’s a larger than life performance – the Academy doesn’t like subtle. The Globe win helps a lot.
Against Him: Some will refuse to vote for him because they hate the film so much – they think it’s “vile”. The film perhaps came out too late – much of the narrative was already set before they even saw his film. He’s still young enough that the Academy can say “Next time…” and check off someone else’s name.

1. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
For Him: It wasn’t that long ago that McConaughey as an Oscar nominee would be considered laughable – but a string of stellar performances in smaller movies over the past few years have turned him from a laughingstock to a critical favorite. He’s won the BIG precursors in the Globe, the SAG and the Broadcast Film Critics award. He is immensely charming and well liked. Even though it’s his first nomination, some say he’s due.
Against Him: He didn’t have to compete against Leo in the SAG – because they hadn’t seen his film when they nominated – or the Globes – because of different categorization – so perhaps his impressive resume of wins isn’t quite so impressive. Is he really “due” more than DiCaprio is? In such a strong year, is the Academy really going to give two acting Oscars to one film – and isn’t Leto pretty much locked in supporting actor?

Who Will Win: Everything is pointing to Matthew McConaughey winning this prize, and I think everything fits for him. If The Wolf of Wall Street wasn’t such a divisive film, I think you’d be looking more seriously at DiCaprio, but it is, so the writing is on the wall.
Who Should Win:
To me, his larger than life performance is one of the best of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, and he deserves to win for his balls to the wall greatness.
Least of the Nominees: In such a strong year, I really don’t see how Christian Bale cracked the top five over the likes of Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Joaquin Phoenix and Oscar Isaac.

5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
For Her: She’s Meryl freaking Streep! 18 nominations, 3 wins and she chews the scenery wonderfully in August: Osage County – one of the most rewarded female stage roles in years. They love her.
Against Her: She has three wins already – and the third one was recently. If she keeps getting nominated, a fourth win is not out of the question – but they’ll make her wait a while. Some HATE the movie and the performance.

4. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
For Her: She is the probably the biggest movie star in the world right now, and she received far and away the best reviews of her career for Gravity. It’s a tricky role, as she spends so much time by herself in the film, and she nailed it. Gravity could be coming down the pipe as an unlikely Best Picture champ.
Against Her: Few recent wins are more derided than Bullock’s win for The Blind Side back in 2009. She may well have won over the haters with this performance – but even they may think one Oscar for Bullock is enough for now.

3. Judi Dench, Philomena
For Her: She fits in with the Academy’s older demographic, who obviously loved the film as they pushed it into the Best Picture race as well. She’s on her 7th nomination, and although she’s won before, it was for supporting actress – 15 years ago. If she keeps getting nominated, a second win is not out of the question.
Against Her: She just doesn’t have the buzz this year – and unless you’re old, you’re not voting for this performance. She doesn’t seem to care if she wins or loses – she barely campaigns anymore (which I love, but others, not so much).

2. Amy Adams, American Hustle
For Her: She is the only actress nominated this year who has not already won an Oscar – and they like to spread the wealth. Given the fact that she’s on her fifth nomination, there will be many who feel she is overdue for an Oscar. They love her movie, which may well not win an acting Oscar anywhere – a rarity for a film nominated in all four acting categories.
Against Her: The reviews for her were mixed – even by some who loved the film. Yes, she has five nominations – but did she even come close to winning on the other four? Given her competition, is this really the best lead actress performance of the year?

1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
For Her: She has won practically everything she could win at this point – from most the critics’ awards, to the Globe to SAG and everything else. The Academy loves women in Woody Allen movies – 5 of whom have won Oscars already. Yes, she’s won before – but that was 9 years ago in the Supporting category. Many will say she is due for a second win.
Against Her: That first win means there is the smallest crack that Adams can exploit – plus as much as they obviously liked the film, they did not nominate it for Best Picture – even with more than five slots available. Of those 5 previous women who won for Woody Allen films – only one was in the leading category – Diane Keaton for Annie Hall all the back in 1977. The ongoing Woody Allen scandal could convince some voters to go with someone else.

Who Will Win: This has pretty much been locked down by Cate Blanchett since the summer, so unless the Academy is bored of hearing about her (or decides to punish her for working with Woody Allen amidst the current scandal) and decide to go with Adams, Blanchett walks away with this one handily.
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett
really is head and shoulders above the other nominees – and the only one I had in my personal top 5, so it’s an easy choice.
Least of the Nominees: I think Amy Adams makes the most of a role that is at times horribly underwritten in American Hustle. I loved her in the film – but still cannot help but think she’s the weakest of the five.

Supporting Actor
5. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
For Him: It is not a huge knock in the supporting categories to be a complete unknown. They obviously like the film – nominating it for best picture – and Abdi is great in a role that pits him against Tom Hanks – who he outdoes, as evidenced by the fact they nominated him and not Hanks.
Against Him: The lack of a nomination for Hanks – and Greengrass for director – signal weaker than expected support for the film. The nomination will help his career a lot – and that’s all he’s going to get.

4. Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
For Him: They obviously loved Hill – since he got in with very little precursor support. He’s on his second nomination in 4 years, so he’s they like him as an actor as well. His larger than life performance is one that sticks out in your mind after the movie is over.
Against Him: His character is thoroughly repellent, and Hill doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. Some HATE the film so much they won’t vote for him no matter how good he is. At this rate, Hill will win an Oscar – I just don’t think this is his year.

3. Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
For Him: Back-to-back nominations for David O. Russell films, so they obviously love him and his work. He didn’t get a ton of precursor support, but it was enough to get him in. Last year, he had no chance to beat Day-Lewis for actor, but was probably the runner-up. A make-up award for last year perhaps?
Against Him: He just hasn’t really been able to make the case for himself this year to this point – and if it hasn’t happened by now, it probably won’t. Like Hill, he’s on track for a win sometime soon – just not this year.

2. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
For Him: One of the most acclaimed actors working right now, it too the Academy a long time to finally give him a nomination. That sort of thing can work in your favor (like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote). It is a large, memorable villain role – and they love villains in this category.
Against Him: Also like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I feel he’s on the verge of becoming an Academy favorite – the first nom is the hardest to get – so they’ll think they have other chances to award him. He hasn’t work for it this year, and they like when you show you want it. He needed a big win somewhere – and it never came.

1. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
For Him: He has been a force all season – winning multiple critics prizes to go along with the SAG and Golden Globe. They like it when you show off a little in your role – and this role in the definition of showing off. This has felt inevitable for a while now.
Against Him: He doesn’t quite have the resume of Fassbender, Cooper or Hill. Some in the gay community have been largely critical of the movie, and in particular Leto’s performance. I don’t think it’s stuck yet, but I could be wrong

Who Will Win: Unless the backlash catches up to him, I think Jared Leto is a very safe bet. If it does, all bets are off, and this could go anywhere.
Who Should Win:
To me, Michael Fassbender delivered the best performance of the bunch – by far – taking a standard issue villain role, and making it far more complex than anticipated. He’s also one of the best in the biz, and deserves an Oscar by now.
Least of the Nominees: At the risk of sounding like an American Hustle basher, I’ll say Bradley Cooper – who I quite enjoyed in the film, even if I think he was out acted in most of his scenes, either by Adams or Louis C.K.

Supporting Actress
5. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
For Her: A beloved Hollywood star, who hasn’t been in contention for a long time now (not since she won for Erin Brockovich back in 2000), Roberts got solid reviews even when the film itself was all over the map. The performance is backbone of the film.
Against Her: And that is why it’s a lead role. Most in the Academy don’t seem to care about category fraud, but some do, and Roberts in the biggest example in many a year. Some HATE the film, and won’t vote for her because of that. She already has an Oscar at home, and I don’t think the appetite is there for a second quite yet.

4. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
For Her: She seemed like a shoo-in for a nomination a few years ago for her highly praised work in Happy-Go-Lucky, and then was cruelly not nominated. If this makeup nomination isn’t enough, perhaps she can be pushed further up? She delivered an excellent performance in the film that kept it from being the Cate Blanchett show.
Against Her: Her co-star is almost a shoo-in to win, and rarely do they give two acting prizes to a film not nominated for Best Picture. A makeup nomination for Happy-Go-Lucky likely seems like enough award for her this year. The nomination was somewhat of a surprise, and those rarely actually win the award in the end.

3. June Squibb, Nebraska
For Her: She’s 84 years old – if they’re going to give her an Oscar it pretty much has to be now. She has been a long time character actress, with a wealth of stage experience, and she steals many of her scenes in Nebraska. A feel good narrative for all those hard working actors out there who don’t get their big break until late in life.
Against Her: Those hard working actors aren’t really in the Academy, are they? Like the films chances in every category, it’s probably everyone’s second or third choice, meaning she doesn’t have the votes to win. They like younger actresses in this category, and this year there are two doozies.

2. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
For Her: The hottest actress in Hollywood right now, she won last year for lead, and then followed it up with an even loopier performance for the same director this year. Even those, like me, who are not entirely sold on American Hustle, loved her in it. Seriously, does anyone not love Jennifer Lawrence?
Against Her: Had she lost last year, this would probably be a shoo-in – but she didn’t. There are no other actresses in history who have won twice by the age of 23. The Academy will see it as too much, too soon, and look elsewhere.

1. Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
For Her: She came out of nowhere to deliver one of the most devastating performances of the year – a heartbreaking performance that shows physical endurance, and moments of tender innocence. She became a red carpet star at the Globes, even if she lost there, and since picked up the BFCA and SAG award. The Academy loves the movie, and will want to award at least one of the actors in it.
Against Her: She is a complete unknown competing against the hottest celebrity in Hollywood right now. They know Lawrence is no fluke – they don’t know that yet about Nyong’o.

Who Will Win: Unless the Academy really, truly loves Jennifer Lawrence, than Lupita Nyong’o wins this one.
Who Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o
is brilliant – and for me it deserves the award easily.
Least of the Nominees: I really like Julia Roberts in August: Osage County – a surprising amount in fact. But it’s a lead performance, so on principle, she gets my vote.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oscar Nominated Performances in Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese Movies

Woody Allen has now directed 18 Oscar nominated performances – with 6 of them going on to be winners (and a good chance for another win this weekend). That ranks him in a tie for 6th place overall for directors – and a tie for second among active directors. The only active director to direct more Oscar nominated performances? Martin Scorsese – who has now directed 22 – with five winners (which probably will not go up this weekend).

The other “active” leaders in this are Mike Nichols with 18 nominations, and 2 wins – although he’s over 80, and hasn’t directed since 2007, so perhaps he’s not “active”. Francis Ford Coppola with 14 nominated performances and 2 wins – although he hasn’t had anyone nominated since 1991, and given what he’s interested in doing now (which I respect), I doubt we’ll see him add to that total. Clint Eastwood with 12 nominees and 4 winners. Steven Spielberg with 12 nominees and 1 winner. And strangely enough, David O. Russell, with 11 nominees and 3 winners. Russell is a strange case because all of those nominees have come since 2010 in just three films. He keeps this pace up, and maybe he’ll catch Allen and Scorsese – not to mention the two leaders in this category – Elia Kazan with 24 nominated performances and 7 winners, and William Wyler, with a staggering 36 nominees, and 14 winners. James L. Brooks is the only other active director with 10 or more nominees – with exactly 10 (4 wins) – although they all come from 3 movies (4 for Terms of Endearment, 3 for Broadcast News and 3 for As Good As It Gets).

A few interesting tidbits about the nominees for Allen Scorsese: Of those 18 performances Allen has directed, only 5 have been for men – the other 13 were women. The breakdown for him is 2 Best Actor Nominees, 3 Best Supporting Actor nominees, 3 Best Actress Nominees and 10 Supporting Actress. Of the six winners, it’s one for Actress, one for Supporting Actor and 4 for Supporting Actress. Despite his tendency to work with the same actors again and again, only Dianne Wiest received two different nominations for his films – winning both times. The stretch of nominees for Woody Allen is 36 years – the first two coming in 1977, and the last two for 2013. 11 different films received nominations – Bullets Over Broadway received 3, Hannah and Her Sisters, Interiors, Annie Hall, Blue Jasmine all received 2. In total, Allen’s films have been nominated for 53 Oscars – good for a tie for 18th among directors – and won 11 of them. Personally, Allen has been nominated 24 times – 16 for writing (winning 3), 7 for directing (winning 1) and once for acting.

For Scorsese, it’s 12 male performances to 10 Female performances – a more even ratio than I expected. His breakdown is 7 Best Actor, 2 Best Actress, 6 Supporting Actor, and 7 Supporting Actress. The five wins are 2 for Actor, 1 for Actress, 1 for Supporting Actor and 1 for Supporting Actress. Scorsese has directed 3 nominated performances by Robert DeNiro (1 won), 2 by Joe Pesci (1 won) and 2 by Leonardo DiCaprio. The other 15 nominations went to different people, only nominated once for a Scorsese film. The stretch of nominees for Scorsese is 39 years – the first two coming in 1974, the final two in 2013. For Scorsese, it’s 12 different films – with Raging Bull and The Aviator both receiving 3, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, The Color of Money, GoodFellas, Cape Fear and The Wolf of Wall Street all receiving 2. In Total, Martin Scorsese’s films have been nominated for 80 Oscars – 3rd most all time behind Wyler and Spielberg – and won 20. Scorsese has personally been nominated for 12 Oscars – 8 for Directing (winning once), twice each for Producing and Writing.

The only actor to be directed to an Oscar nominated performance by both Allen and Scorsese? Cate Blanchatt – who won for The Aviator back in 2004 for Scorsese, and could well win for Allen’s Blue Jasmine this year.

Now for fun, I’ll rank the 18 nominated Performances From Woody Allen Movies, with only a few short words on each. Remarkably, I rather like all 18 performances, even if I wouldn’t have nominated some of them. Winners are marked with a (W).

18. Geraldine Page, Interiors (1978) – Best Actress – Page is fine in Allen’s first “serious” movie – but damn if it’s not a thoroughly depressing performance.

17. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors (1978) – Best Supporting Actress – I like this one a little bit more than Page’s, because she takes what could have been a one note role as a “vulgarian” – and turns it into something a little bit more.

16. Jennifer Tilly, Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – Best Supporting Actress – Probably Tilly’s best film work not – at least not as a lesbian in a Wachowski neo-noir – Tilly is great fun, using her voice to good advantage, but it’s kind of a one note role.

15. Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2006) – Best Supporting Actress (W) – Great in her native Spanish as a sexual firecracker – a little one note perhaps, but it’s a hell of a note.

14. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine (2013) – Best Supporting Actress – She more than held her own against the hurricane of Cate Blanchatt – doesn’t quite get the opportunity to do more than that though.

13. Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite (1995) – Best Supporting Actress (W) – Another strangely voiced comedic role, this is the best work Sorvino ever did – hilarious, and in that final scene rather heart felt.

12. Chazz Palmeterri, Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – Best Supporting Actor – Perfectly cast as a gangster, who reveals hidden artistic depths, and the disturbing lengths he’ll go to protect that art.

11. Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway (1994) – Best Supporting Actress (W) – Wiest has great fun in her second Oscar winning role for Allen as an aging, alcoholic diva wrapping poor John Cusack around her finger.

10. Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown (1999) – Best Actor – Sean Penn doing comedy is hilarious at times, but goes deeper than we first expect - he's more than a little bit of an asshole, but everyone in the movie - and the audience - cannot help but kind of love him.

9. Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown (1999) – Best Supporting Actress – A silent role, as a mute, Morton delivers an hilarious performance that I love more and more each time I see it.

8. Muriel Hemingway, Manhattan (1979) – Best Supporting Actress – She plays a teenager dating a middle aged man, and hanging out with his friends – who is the only one with an excuse to be this immature – a great performance she sadly never topped.

7. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) – Best Supporting Actor (W) – A weak willed, pathetic character – probably not quite what you would expect from Caine, but damn it if he wasn’t great.

6. Cate Blanchatt, Blue Jasmine (2013) – Best Actress – Taking on a role inspired by Blanche Dubois couldn’t have been easy, but Blanchatt is more than up to the task and nails it in a tour de force.

5. Woody Allen, Annie Hall (1977) – Best Actor – Allen’s only nomination as an actor – and while I don’t think it’s his best performance, it’s probably the best at combining his persona, his jokes and a little bit of dramatic skills – he’s always been underrated as an actor, and here’s proof.

4. Judy Davis, Husbands and Wives (1992) – Best Supporting Actress – Gloriously bitchy, this is Davis at her very best – if only the rumors were true and Jack Palance was supposed to call her name and not Marisa Tomei’s.

3. Dianne Wiest, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) – Best Supporting Actress (W) – Perhaps the most “Woody” out of all the female parts he has ever written – and Wiest nails it brilliantly as a mess of a character, who finally finds her soul mate – in Allen of course.

2. Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) – Best Supporting Actor – A brilliantly cold performance as a man who wants to protect his reputation at all costs – even murder. He should have won for this, and let Samuel L. Jackson win in 1994 for Pulp Fiction (instead of Landau in Ed Wood).

1. Diane Keaton, Annie Hall (1977) – Best Actress (W) – Could it really be anyone else? Is there a more iconic Woody Allen character than the one he based on Keaton herself, and let her play to perfection? I don’t think so.

Now, Allen has made 45 films in his career – so obviously they didn’t nominate all the performances they probably should have. The following performances at least should have been considered.

Woody Allen himself has delivered some excellent performances in his career in particular in Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), Husbands and Wives (1992) and Deconstructing Harry (1997) – which when you add them in with his nominated performance in Annie Hall really does away with the myth that he always plays the same character and I would have been fine with nominations for any of those. Mia Farrow (rightly) hates Allen’s guts – but she did great work with him in Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987) and Husbands and Wives (1992) – certainly one of which deserved a nomination (sadly, Farrow has never been nominated). On a completely different note, Gena Rowlands was brilliant in Another Woman (1988) – perhaps the best work of her career outside of a John Cassavetes movie. Scarlett Johansson was brilliant in Match Point (2005). They nominated Landau, but surely there was also room for Alan Alda for Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). Barbara Hershey may not be quite as good as Dianne Wiest, but her work in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) was also great. Since I’ve mentioned everyone else in the movie, why not Sydney Pollock for Husbands and Wives (1992). I could go on.

And now, of course, come the 22 Nominated Performances from Martin Scorsese movies – again, a reasonably solid list with only a few real head scratchers.

22. Mary Elizabeth Mastranonio, The Color of Money (1986) – Best Supporting Actress - A nearly forgotten performance by a nearly forgotten actress in Scorsese’s most forgettable movie. She’s fine, but I still cannot help but wonder how this happened.

21. Alan Alda, The Aviator (2004) – Best Supporting Actor – An obvious sympathy vote for aging actor the quite like, but never nominated before – I like to think it’s a makeup nomination for not nominating him for Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Alda is very good in the role, but it’s not a great role.

20. Paul Newman, The Color of Money (1986) – Best Actor (W) – Newman is movie star cruise control is still immensely entertaining. Still considering his career, this is the movie that won him an Oscar?

19. Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – Best Supporting Actress – Ladd adds some much needed humor into Scorsese’s one “woman’s picture” – but star Ellen Burstyn really is the whole show here

18. Robert DeNiro, Cape Fear (1991) – Best Actor – DeNiro is full psycho mode is a guilty pleasure for me every time I watch the movie. But an Oscar nominee? I’m not convinced – Nolte has another leading role, and while he’s not as flashy, he may be better.

17. Cathy Moriaty, Raging Bull (1980) – Best Supporting Actress – Moriaty does precisely what she is supposed to do in Raging Bull – smolder and exude sexuality that drives DeNiro’s LaMotta crazy. There isn’t much depth to the role however – but she plays what there is to perfection.

16. Winona Ryder, The Age of Innocence (1993) – Best Supporting Actress – I love this movie, and Ryder’s extremely subtle performance – she never lets on about how much she knows – is very good. Still, perhaps the role is a little too subtle.

15. Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear (1991) – Best Supporting Actress – Lewis is great in one of her first major roles – particularly in the film’s best scene, as DeNiro creepily tries to seduce her. I won’t argue with those who are fans – and I know there are many – but when Lewis gets the right role, she nails it. This is one of them.

14. Sharon Stone, Casino (1995) – Best Actress – Stone was a major movie star in 1995, but was rarely given a role that required much from her – but she is great in Casino, as DeNiro’s wife, who appears to be perfect at first – but has a lot of baggage she brings along with her, which sinks them all. The best performance of Stone’s career.

13. Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – Best Actress (W) – Burstyn handpicked Scorsese to direct this film – and it was a would choice, given that it lead to her one Oscar win (she should have won more). She is great as a newly widowed mother who decides to reinvent her life – and finds it doesn’t quite go according to plan. Not one of my favorite Scorsese movies – but a hell of a performance.

12. Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Best Supporting Actor – Hill is hilarious and despicable in this movie as DiCaprio’s perhaps even more depraved partner and best friend. He plays the biggest asshole imaginable to perfection.

11. Mark Wahlberg, The Departed (2006) – Best Supporting Actor – Mark Wahlberg’s role in The Departed was the only major one not in the original Hong Kong film – and he’s profane perfection in it. Some were surprised he was nominated and not Nicholson (for my money, they both should have got in) and while he’s not the best one in film (that would be DiCaprio) he is the only acting nominee – and he is great.

10. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator (2004) – Best Actor – DiCaprio probably would not have been most people’s first choice to play eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes – but that didn’t stop him from delivering an excellent performance as a man driven to succeed, and undone by his personal demons.

9. Cate Blanchatt, The Aviator (2004) – Best Supporting Actress (W) – Blanchatt nailed her Katherine Hepburn impression in this movie, and even if the movie fudges a little on how important she was to Hughes, she also delivers an emotional turn as well. Playing a Hollywood icon is tough – and she pulled it off with ease.

8. Lorraine Bracco, GoodFellas (1990) – Best Supporting Actress – Bracco’s best big screen role comes here, as the wife of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill – a gangster she knows she shouldn’t be attracted to, but cannot help herself. Bracco doesn’t descend quite as far as Liotta does – but its close, and she’s great here.

7. Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York (2002) – Best Actor – Gangs of New York is a flawed film to be sure, but I’ve never seen one in Daniel Day-Lewis’ brilliant turn as Bill the Butcher. Does he go over the top? Sure. Would I want it any other way? No.

6. Joe Pesci, GoodFellas (1990) – Best Supporting Actor (W) – This is the Joe Pesci that will be remembered forever – a hair trigger tempered, psychotic gangster who kills at the drop of a hat, and doesn’t see his downfall coming. 100 years from now, people will still be saying “What are you saying? I’m a clown?” to each other.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Best Actor – DiCaprio delivers an inspired comedic performance that I didn’t know he was capable of. There isn’t an ounce of vanity in his performance as he plays a clearly horrible person, but also shows how that can be charming. A brilliant performance by an actor who keeps getting better.

4. Jodie Foster, Taxi Driver (1976) – Best Supporting Actress – Jodie Foster’s role as a child prostitute in Taxi Driver is disturbing for many reasons – but the young Foster handles her every scene with ease. It remains one of the best roles of Foster’s amazing career.

3. Joe Pesci, Raging Bull (1980) – Best Supporting Actor – DeNiro won every award in sight for Raging Bull (deservingly), but Pesci is almost as good. The then newcomer holds his own against DeNiro is every scene – especially the “You fuck my wife” scene that is the heart of the movie. You rarely see better acting than that scene anywhere – by either actor.

2. Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull (1980) – Best Actor (W) – The weight gain is only part of why this performance works so well. As Roger Ebert said, Raging Bull is like a modern day Othello, with DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta as the title character, who screws everything up because of his jealously and rage. One of the greatest screen performances of all time.

1. Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver (1976) – Best Actor – And this may just be the greatest screen performance of all time – or at least my favorite. As Travis Bickle, DeNiro delivers a performance that ranges from quiet and introspective to delusional to violent – and yet he also lets us inside the character’s head – which is a disturbing place to be. The best performance DeNiro ever gave or that was ever in a Scorsese movie.

Overlooked Performances: As with Woody Allen movies, there are a number of performances from Scorsese movies that I think warranted consideration in the Oscar race. Including Robert DeNiro in Mean Streets which was his breakthrough role in Scorsese’s breakthrough film. Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis &  Sandra Bernhard in The King of Comedy were all brilliant – especially DeNiro as the delusional Rupert Pupkin. Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ is probably the most human Jesus in cinema history. Ray Liotta in GoodFellas somehow never got any respect for the performance, despite the fact he’s brilliant and in almost every scene. Daniel Day-Lewis & Michelle Pfeiffer in The Age of Innocence should have joined Winona Ryder as nominees – especially Day-Lewis (although they nominated him for a different, not quite as movie that year). Robert DeNiro & Joe Pesci in Casino were accused of simply repeating their GoodFellas roles, which is somewhat ridiculous. Leonardo DiCaprio &  Jack Nicholson in The Departed were both great – DiCaprio should have won Best Actor this year, and why they nominated him for Blood Diamond instead, I’ll never know. Leonardo DiCaprio & Michelle Williams in Shutter Island were both excellent in a film that many dismissed as a genre exercise because they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street was hurt by the film’s late release, as she never garnered much buzz for her excellent work. No matter – it should still make her a star.