Movie Commentary: Handicapping the Oscars

The nominees for Best Picture are a deserving lot, except for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is a bloated mess of a movie that is an hour too long and does little more than celebrate the life of one of the more heinous human beings you will ever encounter.

On the movies the Oscars unfairly ignored -- "Stories We Tell."

One of the movies the Oscars unfairly ignored – “Stories We Tell.”

By Glenn Rifkin

The Academy Award nominations are out and, as usual, there is a surfeit of surprises – of unexpected or undeserved nominations, as well as the ration of snubs that are beyond perplexing. One trend remains clear, now that the Best Picture category has been expanded: there is a clear advantage to releasing your film late in the year. All nine of the nominated films were released during or after October. This may be a chicken and egg situation borne from the history of the nominations; studios hold the “quality, Oscar-worthy” films until the very end of the year so they are freshest in the minds of voters. It has become a self-perpetuating trend and the net result is that movie-goers must suffer through the dreck of nine months’ worth of sub-par fare while awaiting the bounty of Oscar-season releases.

That means that some worthy films such as The Butler, 42, Enough Said, Rush, Stories We Tell, and Blue Jasmine were either completely or mostly ignored. Out of sight, out of mind is the theme when it comes to awards season.

That said, I think the nominees for Best Picture are a deserving lot, except for The Wolf of Wall Street, which is a bloated mess of a movie that is an hour too long and does little more than celebrate the life of one of the more heinous human beings you will ever encounter. Given the group, there is no standout sure thing. 12 Years a Slave has the edge, but Gravity, Philomena, and American Hustle could surprise. I enjoyed Captain Phillips immensely but I don’t think it has the momentum to win.

In a year with terrific performances, it isn’t a surprise that the Best Actor category has notable snubs. The five nominees are clearly worthy and it’s wonderful to see Bruce Dern get some recognition as he nears the end of an impressive career. Missing but surely deserving are Robert Redford for his incredible performance in All Is Lost, Forrest Whitaker for The Butler and Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips. And not posthumously acknowledging James Gandolfini’s wonderful turn in Enough Said is just plain sad. Given my reservations about The Wolf of Wall Street, I have to acknowledge that Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of his life in the film. A win for him would be richly deserved.

Similarly, there were plenty of rich performances among many talented actresses. I love them all but Cate Blanchett will win this, and deservedly so, for her miraculous role in Blue Jasmine. It was impossible to forget even though the film was released earlier in the year.

Barkhad Abdi in "Captain Phillips."

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips.” He should win as Best Supporting Actor, but he won’t.

For Best Supporting Actor, it is thrilling to see an unknown like Barkhad Abdi acknowledged for his stunning debut in Captain Phillips. He is tremendous in his role as a Somalian pirate and a win for him would be much deserved. But he won’t win. Jared Leto is equally stunning as a transvestite with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club and he seems to have a few lengths lead heading into the final turn.

Jennifer Lawrence is hotter than July right now and she is only 23. Look for a nod for her scene-stealing role in American Hustle. Sally Hawkins could be a surprise for Blue Jasmine. Sad that Oprah Winfrey was ignored for her star-turn in The Butler. The O lady has serious acting chops.

It is heresy, I’m sure, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Martin Scorsese. Yeah, I know he is a Hollywood icon studied in film schools around the world and the acknowledged master. But the violence of his films has always been a turnoff – though of course many are amazing pieces of work. This year he simply doesn’t deserve a nod for The Wolf of Wall Street and there were others who should have made the list. That said, my money is on director Steve McQueen, riding the critical acclaim of 12 Years a Slave.

Not having seen a single nominee in the Foreign Language Film category, I won’t offer an opinion. One personal favorite is in the Documentary Feature category. 20 Feet From Stardom is a gem of a movie about the lives of remarkable backup singers, but having seen none of the other nominees in that category, I’ll refrain from handicapping it.

Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including The New York Times for more than 25 years. Among his books are Radical Marketing and The Ultimate Entrepreneur. His efforts as an arts critic represent a new and exciting direction.

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