The Not-Oscars 2013

not-oscars-2013-best-performances-gosling-lawrenceIt’s the morning of the Oscar nominations, and I’m not upset.

This is weird. All the films I wanted to see nominated for Best Picture are. All the actors I hoped to see receive nominations for this year’s performances were. Compare and contrast to last year’s fatal omission of Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director, or 2011’s Oscar season, in which none of my ten favorite films were nominated for Best Picture — but Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was. This year, on the other hand, five of my own picks for Best Picture overlap with Academy’s. Three of my four favorite performances were recognized. All of the films from the Best Director nominees were in my Top 10.

What the fuck is going on here?

Yeah, it was a good year for movies, and thankfully, it’s a good year at the Oscars. It’s only natural that some of my favorite films aren’t represented as much as I may like, and you know what? I’m pretty okay with that.

Still, I think I can do the Academy a little better. So now it’s time for the really important awards — my picks for the films and performances that deserve more recognition than they got. Here are 2013’s Not-Oscars!

(As usual, I pick a winner and then list my four other “nominees” in descending order based on how much I liked them. Check out last year’s Not-Oscars here.)

before+midnight+argument-julie-delpy-angryBEST ACTRESS

Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is The Warmest Color
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha

Honorable Mentions: Brie Larson, Short Term 12; Amy Adams, American Hustle

Cate Blanchett is the favorite to win and has been ever since the release of Blue Jasmine, and deservedly so — the role of a broken, vodka-guzzling socialite grieving for her dearly departed husband and dearly departed lifestyle (not necessarily in that order) is a perfect showcase for a performer, blending comedy and tragedy expertly, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job with the part. It’s one of the roles she’ll be remembered for.

Meanwhile, young Adele Exarchopoulos carries Blue Is The Warmest Color, as the film’s French title The Life Of Adele suggests. The movie is about every aspect of this young girl’s life, and she eats, showers, and has sex with equal gusto in an incredibly natural performance. She’s remarkably expressive for such a young actress, and if the rumors are to be believed, she put up with quite a lot of duress thanks to the film’s director, including some very long sex scenes.

If Blue Is The Warmest Color rests almost entirely on Exarchopoulos’ shoulders, Gravity rests even moreso on Sandra Bullock’s; the screenplay lets her down with a clunky bit of dialogue or two, but that doesn’t undermine Sandy’s remarkable feat as an action heroine who’s still as capable, with a mix of strength and vulnerability, as she was in Speed almost two decades ago. One of the year’s most beautiful scenes is her Ryan Stone howling along with a Chinese stranger via radio — and despite the massive amount of visual effects, Bullock had a lot of physical work to do to master this part.

And how about indie darling Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the perfect part for her winsome indie charms in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha? She may not exactly be the millennial female Woody Allen yet, but Lena Dunham better watch her back all the same.

My 2013 winner, though, is easy — Before Midnight‘s Julie Delpy, stepping into the role of Celine for the third (and final?) time. In the past two films, Celine was a smart, thoughtful, independent woman; she’s too fully realized to be written off as a mere manic pixie dream girl, but she was in many ways the perfect woman. It was to see why Ethan Hawke’s Jesse fell for her. Before Midnight presents a new challenge for the actress — Celine is less secure, revealing a fragility and bitterness that were only hinted at in earlier incarnations. Delpy deftly shifts from the “old” Celine we (and Jesse) know and love to reveal a darker shade to the character that is still so relatable. (And she performs a large part of the third act topless, so there’s that.)

bruce-dern-woody-nebraska-profileBEST ACTOR

Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Honorable Mentions: Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station; Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

It’s by far the best year for Best Actor in recent memory, with at least ten performances that deserve Academy recognition. The biggest performance of the year has to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s in The Wolf Of Wall Street — he’s brash and bold like we’ve never seen him before, and funnier, too. His quaalude overdose is a masterpiece of excruciating physical comedy, and he delivers some of the year’s best monologues to boot. After plenty of solid turns over the past couple decades, it’s maybe the performance that finally signals him as one of his generation’s best actors.

Then there’s Chiwetel Ejiofor, who guides us through the hell of a free man finding himself suddenly enslaved. In a big, portentious drama, this is a surprisingly understated performance — Solomon knows he can’t give away the fact that he’s smarter than his masters without suffering even worse consequences. (This was the toughest category by far for me to pick a winner in, since Dern, DiCaprio, and Ejiofor were all about equal in my eyes.)

Oscar Isaac has the advantage of singing beautiful folk music to win audiences over, and his voice is indeed lovely; his turn as the titular Llewyn Davis is prickly enough that we’re never allowed to feel sorry for the downtrodden musician — instead, we realize that his bad luck is a mixture of misfortune and bad behavior. Hopefully, enough people took notice of this largely unknown actor for us to see much more of him in the future.

And, of course, there’s Matthew McConaughey, in the midst of a massive career renaissance that no one saw coming, turning in unforgettable performances in a wide array of movies over the past two years. Dallas Buyers Club is the centerpiece, as he portrays a straight man afflicted with the last disease he’d ever admit to having. McConaughey lost a ton of weight in the role (and has been uncomfortably skinny-looking in a number of other appearances over the past year), but he also resists the urge to sentimentalize Ron Woodruff; like Isaac, he doesn’t give a damn if he’s likable in the role or not.

But my favorite is Bruce Dern’s crazy old coot in Nebraska, because he is the movie. It’s a tribute to Dern as well as the screenplay that we can never tell just how “with it” Woody Grant is — he seems to simultaneously believe that he won his phony millions while somewhere, at the back of his mind, knowing it’s too good to be true. It’s a role that could have been cutesy or precious, but instead it’s just pitch-perfect all the way through, allowing us to laugh at, critique, and feel for Woody all at once. DiCaprio and Ejiofor hopefully still have many great performances in them, but this one feels like Dern’s crowning achievement after a long career.

DF-02128FD.psdBEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Joanna Scanlan, The Invisible Woman
June Squibb, Nebraska
Margot Robbie, The Wolf Of Wall Street

Honorable Mentions: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Sarah Paulson, 12 Years A Slave

The Jennifer Lawrence backlash is beginning. She can ask her fellow Oscar-winner from last year, Anne Hathaway, how to deal. Some call her scene-stealing performance in American Hustle the best part of the movie; some think she was just plain awful. It’s pretty obvious which side of the fence I’m on — I found every moment Lawrence was on screen a delight. Yes, it’s the sort of brassy, ditsy performance that award-givers love to honor — see winners like Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny or Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite, both of which were controversial picks. But there are two scenes that show Lawrence is more than just a hairdo — when Rosalyn tears up and claims that change is hard for her while, under the surface, implying that her new beau should go rough up her old one — and ohhh, lordy, that bathroom scene.

Next there’s Joanna Scanlan, who beefs up an underserved part in The Invisible Woman with her expressive face. She’s the plump, put-upon wife of Charles Dickens who gradually realizes her famous hubby is in love with a younger, prettier woman. We’re left to guess how she feels about it until the film’s best scene, when Mrs. Dickens confronts the young woman and presents her with a birthday gift. It’s the kind of supporting performance that makes you wish the movie was all about her.

And how about June Squibb, who played Jack Nicholson’s dumpy wife in Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt a decade ago, and now shows up for a livelier part in his Nebraska? While Will Forte plays the serious straight man and Bruce Dern touches our hearts with his senility, Squibb injects a welcome dose of energetic comedy to lighten the mood — she even flashes the grave of a deceased paramour. Yeah, these may be cheap laughs, but they’re good ones.

Last in this lineup of scene-stealing wives is Margot Robbie of The Wolf Of Wall Street. Like Lawrence, she’s aided greatly by a fabulous wardrobe and a juicy script, and some may think she’s just a pretty face. But in a largely amoral film, she’s the closest thing to a sympathetic character we get, and over time we really do feel for her, particularly in her dramatic final confrontation with DiCaprio. (Really, though, she’s here because she’s in what might be my favorite scene in a movie this year — yep, the “no panties” scene.)

But none of these supporting actresses had the impact Lupita N’yongo did in 12 Years A Slave. Like them, she’s a scene-stealer, but far from comic relief. Solomon Northup is such a dignified and reserved character, Steve McQueen’s film needs Patsey to be his counterpoint — and as much sympathy as we have for Solomon, it ends up being Patsey who we really feel for. Patsey suffers more than any other character, and Nyong’o sells every moment with fear, fury, despair, or whatever the scene calls for. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her for a moment, even when she’s being brutally whipped and you really want to look away. In a film populated by well-known actors like Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, and Benedict Cumberbatch, the largely unknown Lupita Nyong’o gives the performance that’s burned in our brains.

Dallas-Buyers-Club-jared-Leto-dragBEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years A Slave
Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond The Pines

Honorable Mentions: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Best Supporting Actor is the weakest race this year, yet somehow the Oscars still overlooked the marvelous James Gandolfini, who passed away last year, leaving behind a legacy as Tony Soprano. Given the tough-guy roles he’s known for, Gandolfini is an unlikely romantic comedy hero, but he sure as hell pulls it off in Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, which finds the burly actor courting Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a comedy about taking a second stab at love in middle age. The Sopranos allowed Gandolfini to show off all kinds of gifts, though menace is certainly at the forefront of our minds. His warmth and charm in this role is a nice way to cap off his career, though it’s a shame we won’t get to see more of him in movies like this.

Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender takes a page from Tony Soprano playing the villain of 12 Years A Slave. He’s a drunk, he’s a rapist, and he’s a slave owner — so, yeah, not a very nice guy. Edwin Epps is outsmarted by Solomon Northup because Edwin can’t fathom that a slave could be smarter than he is; together with his spiteful wife (played by an equally good Sarah Paulson), these two rain down an almost unbearable level of torment on their human property. Yet what makes Fassbender’s performance so special is that there’s a hint of humanity buried underneath it; we can’t merely write off Epps as a bad guy. He’s a coward and a bully and a brute, but he’s not uncomplicated. Through Fassbender, we understand how these people justified their atrocious actions, even if by modern standards they are nowhere near justifiable anymore.

A lesser-seen and lesser-known performance comes from Keith Stanfield, the young actor who plays Marcus in Short Term 12. It’s a film filled with terrific, understated performances, but Stanfield might have the trickiest role in Marcus, an angry young teenager with no place else to go. We sense the rage within, as well as a deep well of sadness and betrayal, but Stanfield keeps us on edge wondering if — or when — Marcus will finally snap and do someone in this movie harm. One moment, we’re crying for him, the next we’re afraid he’s done something terrible. There are many poignant moments in Short Term 12, but the unlikely tearjerker is Marcus’ haircut scene.

Then there’s Ryan Gosling, who starred in the overblown Gangster Squad and Nicholas Winding Refn’s surprisingly underwhelming Drive follow-up Only God Forgives in 2013. At least one of his roles lived up to its potential — the motorcycle-riding bank robber Handsome Luke in The Place Beyond The Pines. Like Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence, Gosling’s supporting performance is helped by his character’s sense of style. His clothes are a moody hipster’s wet dream, and let’s face it — this is Ryan Gosling, bleached blonde and tatted up on a motorcycle. How could he not be cool? We’ve seen Gosling play the stoic type with rage and violence bubbling just under the surface in several previous roles, so his turn in The Place Beyond The Pines isn’t exactly a revelation. But in a lackluster year for supporting males, Handsome Luke is one of the characters who stayed with me.

This year, Best Supporting Actor is the only acting category in which my pick will likely line up with the Academy’s. That will almost surely be Jared Leto, whose turn in Dallas Buyers Club is a total transformation within and without. To play the transgender Rayon, Leto doesn’t just put on a wig and lipstick and call it a day, as many actors might have. We believe that he believes he’s a woman, and Leto fully commits to the femininity without ever winking at the audience. Rayon is a larger-than-life character both in the movie and outside of it, so yes, this is the kind of performance that the Academy likes to reward even when it isn’t done this well. Dallas Buyers Club is more notable for its two towering male performances than it is as a stand-alone movie; it’s a movie about the AIDS epidemic of the eighties that under-represents the gay end of the equation, so that point of view is almost entirely up to Leto. Fortunately for us (and him), he nails it.

Alfonso-Cuaron-Sandra-Bullock-George-Clooney-Gravity-ON-set-BEST-DIRECTORBEST DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond The Pines

My five favorite directors line up exactly with my five favorite films — but not exactly in the same order. Alfonso Cuaron’s triumph with Gravity was innovative in so many ways — a pretty big risk that fortunately paid off. Steve McQueen had quite a task ahead of him when he set out to make a slave epic that dealt so brutally with those horrors, which gives him the edge over an old pro like Martin Scorsese, whose bloated (but fabulous) The Wolf Of Wall Street cost a lot of money and looks like it. I have to give props to Richard Linklater, who films walk-and-talks so expertly, using incredibly long takes that must’ve been a major challenge. And Derek Cianfrance manages to lend an epic scope to The Place Beyond The Pines, a story that in other hands could feel much smaller.12-years-a-slave+michael-fassbender-chiwetel-ejioforBEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

12 Years A Slave — John Ridley
The Wolf Of Wall Street — Terrence Winter
Before Midnight — Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, & Julie Delpy
Short Term 12 — Destin Cretton
Blue Is The Warmest Color — Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Frances HaNoah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig
The Place Beyond The Pines — Derek Cianfrance & Ben Coccio and Darius Marder
American Hustle — David O. Russell and Eric Singer
Side Effects — Scott Z. Burns
Nebraska — Bob Nelson

Though Hollywood sure loves to make movies based on pre-existing material, for once, it was a better year for Original Screenplays than Adapted ones. I don’t necessarily like the Academy’s rules for dividing them — how is Before Midnight an adapted screenplay? What was it adapted from? — but I did follow them here, because otherwise it’s just too confusing. Academy nominees Dallas Buyers Club and American Hustle, for example, are both based on real events, which doesn’t make them exactly “original,” but they also both made up a lot of the characters we see on screen. (Jared Leto’s Rayon? Not a real person.) So they’re kind of original, but kind of adapted. Whatever, they’re all pretty good.

The-Great-Beauty-cinematographyBEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Great Beauty
12 Years A Slave
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Gravity
Her

BEST SCORE

All Is Lost — Alexander Ebert
The Place Beyond The Pines — Mike Patton
Only God Forgives — Cliff Martinez
Gravity — Steven Price
12 Years A Slave — Hans Zimmer

place-beyond-the-pines-ryan-gosling-hot-sexy-tattoos-eva-mendesBEST DRIVING

Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond The Pines

WORST DRIVING

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street

BEST FIGHT (VERBAL)

Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight

BEST FIGHT (PHYSICAL)

Ryan Gosling & Vithaya Pansringarm, Only God Forgives

BEST TWIST

Side Effects

Im-So-Excited-gayBEST MUSICAL NUMBER

I’m So Excited

WEIRDEST MUSICAL NUMBER

Spring Breakers

BEST KISS

Jennifer Lawrence & Amy Adams, American Hustle

BEST DRUNK

Bruce Dern, Nebraska & Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

WORST DRUNK

Colin Ferrell, Saving Mr. Banks

ernst-umhauer-in-the-houseBEST STRUGGLING ARTIST

Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Lea Seydoux, Blue Is The Warmest Color
Keith Stanfield, Short Term 12
Ernst Umhauer, In The House

BEST SCENE-STEALING WIFE

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Margot Robbie, The Wolf Of Wall Street
June Squibb, Nebraska
Joanna Scanlan, The Invisible Woman
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler

saving-mr-banks-emma-thompson-tom-hanksBEST HUSTLER

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Christian Bale, American Hustle
Alec Baldwin, Blue Jasmine
Channing Tatum, Side Effects
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST LONER

Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Robert Redford, All Is Lost
Joaquin Phoenix, Her
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor

kristin_scott_thomas-only-god-forgives-bitch

BIGGEST BITCH

Kristin Scott Thomas, Only God Forgives
Sarah Paulson, 12 Years A Slave
Meryl Streep, August Osage County
Julia Roberts, August Osage County
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST DOUBLE FEATURE

Blue Jasmine & Side Effects
The Wolf Of Wall Street & The Great Beauty
Frances Ha & Inside Llewyn Davis
Captain Phillips & All Is Lost
Saving Mr. Banks & Escape From Tomorrow

*

side-effects-rooney-mara

2013 ROSTER

1. The Wolf Of Wall Street
2. 12 Years A Slave
3. Gravity
4. Before Midnight
5. The Place Beyond The Pines
6. Nebraska
7. American Hustle
8. The Bling Ring
9. Frances Ha
10.The Great Beauty
11.Side Effects
12.Short Term 12
13.Her
14.Blue Jasmine
15.Blue Is The Warmest Color
16.The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
17.Inside Llewyn Davis
18.Drinking Buddies
19.Captain Phillips
20.All Is Lost
21.Dallas Buyers Club
22.Enough Said
23.Mud
24.Stories We Tell
25.Fruitvale Station
26.The Past
27.The East
28.The Invisible Woman
29.The Spectacular Now
30.The World’s End
31.This Is The End
32.In The House
33.Much Ado About Nothing
34.Stoker
35.Prisoners
36.I’m So Excited
37.The English Teacher
38.Disconnect
39.August Osage County
40.Lone Survivor
41.Gimme The Loot
42.The Way Way Back
43.The Call
44.The Conjuring
45.Lovelace
46.Lee Daniels’ The Butler
47.Thor: The Dark World
48.Philomena
49.Saving Mr. Banks
50.Upstream Color
51.Only God Forgives
52.Pain and Gain
53.C.O.G.
54.Iron Man 3
55.Trance
56.We’re The Millers
57.Prince Avalanche
58.White House Down
59.Identity Thief
60.The Kings Of Summer
61.Oz The Great And Powerful
62.The Great Gatsby
63.Spring Breakers
64.Jobs
65.Computer Chess
66.Parkland
67.Post Tenebras Lux
68.The Canyons
69.Gangster Squad
70.Escape From Tomorrow

best-performances-2013-delpy-dern-nyongo-leto*

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