Can you smell it? The crappy monologue jokes. The forgettable musical numbers. Hollywood glorifying itself. Oscar time is truly upon us! And on Sunday night, we’ll finally get to see who takes home those gold statues…but I’m not here to make predictions (not yet, anyway). I’m here to analyze and pick apart those movies that were fortunate enough to get the prestigious title of “Best Picture Nominee.” Yup. No matter what happens, these films will always live in immortality on an IMDB database, joining the ranks of The Social Network, Little Miss Sunshine, and…Seabiscuit? Really, Seabiscuit was nominated? And so was War Horse. What is with the Academy’s obsession with horses?!
Well, enough about Mr. Ed lookalikes. Before the big ceremony, I thought I’d offer my personal rankings of all the Best Picture nominees. What films are worthy of winning? Are they any nominated that shouldn’t be there? I break it all down into three categories, so let’s not waste any more time. Plug in your Scarlett Johansson Operating System, grab a bottle of wine from the 1970’s, and get Sandra Bullock some space ice cream – it’s my Best Picture Rankings…worst to first!
9. Captain Phillips
I really loved the first half-hour to this film, and the set up of Captain Phillips’ character. I also loved Tom Hanks’ breathtaking performance in the final five minutes. But everything else in between stinks. Once Captain Phillips is taken hostage, the movie becomes totally and utterly uninteresting. I don’t want to watch the pirates argue for thirty minutes while the film’s best asset (Tom Hanks) just sits in the background drinking water. The conversations between hero and villain were mediocre at best. There’s no tension. Barkhad Abdi can’t carry the movie when he needs too. The middle hour is just bland. While many wanted to see Paul Greengrass get a nomination for directing, the Academy made the right call. A different director could have done wonders with this film, I’m sorry.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Captain Phillips.
One of the elements that makes a movie truly great is its replay value. Gravity is a film you see once in the theater, and that’s it. When people revisit Gravity on blu-ray and DVD, I’m positive that many who loved it will say, “Wow, that wasn’t as good as I remember.” I truly believe this film will be forgotten about in 10 years. It’s just so damn repetitive! To be clear though, I don’t dislike this movie. I admire Sandra Bullock’s performance very much, and have no problem with Alfonso Cuaron winning Best Director. The bottom line is this though: when I think of a Best Picture winner, I don’t think of people floating through well filmed space debris for two hours.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Gravity
The Worthy Middle Ground
7. 12 Years a Slave
Ironically, just like with Gravity, this is a film you watch only once, but for different reasons. It’s an experience you don’t want to go through again, but you’ll still be talking about it ten years later. It sort of reminds me of Requiem for a Dream in that sense. Director Steve McQueen does a great job, and there are moments of absolute brilliance. And while I don’t have a problem with it winning Best Picture, clearly I think several other nominees are much more deserving. Despite the high points, the film is mired with inconsistencies and an underwhelming protagonist, which I talked about in my Best Actor analysis. The story lazily wraps up in the last 15 minutes when they introduce a throw away character. I’m sorry, but that was a big problem for me. The movie is also unnecessarily repetitive. I admire McQueen’s decision not to hold back on the cruelty that these slaves endure, but this is also the film’s biggest weakness. There comes a point where it’s just like, “Okay, we get it. Now you’re just doing this for shock value. Give me a break.” 12 Years a Slave – a really good movie, just not a great one.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of 12 Years a Slave
I really don’t have much to say about Philomena. It’s a great film, and definitely worth your time. It’s tightly crafted, funny, sad, and very touching when it needs to be. The chemistry between Judi Dench and Steve Coogan is truly the heart of the film. Nothing about it blew me away, but there isn’t much to criticize either.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Philomena
5. Dallas Buyers Club
So much has been made about the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, and they’re all true. Yeah, they lost weight, but aside from that, they truly are superior acting jobs. Their chemistry in the film is so weird, but there’s just something about it that works seamlessly. I feel bad for Jennifer Garner, who’s also great, but just gets completely overshadowed. Aside from the performances, the film itself wears a little thin towards the end, but whatever. It’s all about watching two great actors just completely transform into their respective characters.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Dallas Buyer’s Club
The Crème de la Crème
I’ve always liked Alexander Payne, but he was always on the cusp of making a great film, but just never quite got there. His last effort (The Descendants) was pretty close, but it still just lacked something for me. With Nebraska, he finally did it. Payne took his trademark “Yeah, this is sad, but also a tad funny” mantra, and finally combined it with a more consistent story with characters that really pop. Will Forte hasn’t gotten enough attention, and is truly a revelation as David Grant, the son who is forced to lead his dad into ultimate disappointment. But Bruce Dern and June Squibb (both nominated) are truly why this film gets as good as it does – they are total opposites. Woody is this sad, quiet, good-natured old man, who has just a tinge of optimism left. On the other hand, his wife Kate is a fiery, cynical, but funny as all hell old fart. It’s a great script by Bob Nelson, and is simply just a pleasure to watch.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Nebraska
3. American Hustle
The fact that this is #3 on the list tells you how impressive 2013 was for film. American Hustle is why I go to the movies. It’s just a sweet symphony of awesome. The ensemble cast of Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner work so well together, I could watch them play these characters in twenty more films. Yeah, the story is a little herky-jerky at times, but whatever. It’s all about the characters. David O. Russell’s direction is perfect – subtle, grand, dramatic, but most of all, a laugh riot. Science Oven.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of American Hustle
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
I often complain about movies being too long, but when you earn it, it can be a great thing. Director Martin Scorsese had to fight to keep his three hour run time, and I’m glad he did. I’ve heard all the controversy – “It’s glorifying this, it’s glorifying that, waaaa, waaa, waaa!” The only thing Scorsese glorifies in this movie is his ability to tell an energetic, engaging story for 180 minutes. Get over it. As in any Scorsese film, the performances are going to be off the charts. Jonah Hill is frantic, Matthew McConaughey drops the mic after one scene, and Rob Reiner to me has gone completely unnoticed. But as I’ve talked about in 500 different articles, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio who gives this film its soul, delivering a performance for the ages.
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of The Wolf of Wall Street
We’ve seen plenty of animated characters, inanimate objects, and even a towel in South Park have such great personalities and emotional character arcs, but Her does it with just a voice. The most you see of Samantha is maybe a couple audio waves or whatever on a computer screen. Enough can’t be said about Scarlett Johansson’s voiceover work, and Joaquin Phoenix is the only actor I could have seen in this role. Spike Jonze writes and directs, and delivers a true masterpiece. How often do we complain about movies being nothing but sequels, remakes, adaptations, empty action slugfests, and superheroes? We want more original ideas, right? Well here it is…Her. This is the big, complex, original, “it makes me think” type movie that you’ve been clamoring for…SO GO SEE IT!
Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Her.