Film Club #14 – Oscars

Michael Prescott
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In what is set to be the final Film Club for a little while as we take a short break from the feature (we’ve got something equally exciting lined up to replace it, starting next week…), we switch our attentions to a fitting finale (for now) – the biggest event in the film calender – the Oscars.

For Film Club #14 our contributors have been asked two questions:
(1) Which nomination (from any category) deserves to win?
(2) Who/what deserved to be nominated that wasn’t?

That’s the extent of it. We’re looking at the Academy Award nominations a little differently, so expect as as always a diverse set of answers from a number of different categories. We’ve got a stellar turnout to mimic the real thing, so here are no fewer than five  separate contributor responses. Here’s our look at the Oscars…

Raks Patel

I have chosen the obvious category (Best Picture) in order to champion the film I believe should win as well as to promote a film I feel should have made the shortlist.

1. Dallas Buyers Club should win the Oscar for Best Picture. The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and given 30 days to live. Woodroof establishes a Dallas Buyers Club dealing in drugs, unapproved and unauthorised by the FDA, which help him and his fellow AIDS patients live longer and healthier lives.

Dallas Buyers Club deserves to win the Oscar because it documents a powerful and moving story, an important part of LGBT and HIV history, in an engaging way. An informative and educational film, concerned with matters of life and death, it inspires because it shows how resilient human beings can be in the face of extreme adversity. It contains a mind-blowing performance from Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, who embodies the personality and character of the man, winning the audience over and capturing their sympathy. With strong support from Jared Leto as Rayon and Jennifer Garner as Dr Eve Saks, it’s an outstanding film that truly deserves the Oscar.

2. A film that definitely deserves to be on the Best Picture shortlist is August: Osage County. The film is an in-depth portrait of a family in crisis, where dark secrets are unearthed. The film is unusual because it focuses on the women in the family – older women with real lived experience – and tells their stories. The film shows women in all their diversity and complexity.

The women are strong-willed, independent, outspoken and … damaged. The characters have light and shade, good and bad, within them, and feel very real. A dark, intelligent, funny, complex and thought-provoking drama, with an excellent ensemble cast, all giving powerful performances. August: Osage County definitely deserved to make the Best Picture shortlist.

Carl Eden

1. It’s unlikely that The Wolf of Wall Street will win Best Picture. Simply put, it’s too lurid for the committee, the competition it’s up against is too strong, and Scorsese was honoured too recently. But even so, it’s great to see a movie like this make the nominee list.

Scorsese isn’t generally considered a comedic director, but his Wall Street version of Goodfellas is one of the funniest films of the year; an excessive and high-energy satire on greed and decadence which aligns us with a monstrous lead character and almost – almost – makes us like him.

It’s a silly and outrageous film, boasting hilarious performances from Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio, the latter of which going all out slapstick. The cinematography is bold, bright and pops off the screen, and the screenplay is excellent – the boat conversation between Belfort and Kyle Chandler is a great example of airtight writing. Oscar nominees are rarely this silly and fun.

2. It’s surprising that Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish didn’t receive a Best Documentary nomination. Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, a Seaworld-residing whale responsible for the deaths of three people, using this as a jumping off point before examining the nature of orcas in captivity and criticising Seaworld themselves, who refused to participate here.

Blackfish is at times a little bit too broad in approach, but it remains effective – the collection of attack sequences towards the end is difficult to get through – and the film has a real emotional kick, as we empathise with both the fallen trainers and the whales who killed them.

This is a moving film, and one which has caused quite a stir through strong word of mouth, much to the horror of Seaworld’s PR teams, whose repeated attempts to knock the movie down only serve to confirm how close to home it hits; if there was nothing here the company would have ignored it.

Jay Gallagher

1. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is a great example of simple, homely storytelling. It is a film with few pretentions or gimmicks that wants to tell a heartfelt but entertaining story. It follows real characters on a physical and metaphorical journey and is rich in dark humour, drama and warmth. It’s an old-school film that doesn’t rely on quirks to get its message across, and though it might not be as dramatic as 12 Years a Slave or as humorous as The Wolf of Wall Street, for me Nebraska is the complete package.

Of course though it’ll be nice to see DiCaprio or McConaughey get the Academy recognition they’ve deserved for oh-so-long, we mustn’t ignore the marvellous performance that Bruce Dern gives in Nebraska. Dern is a constant in the profession; for decades he’s acted his heart out in countless films, yet many people don’t really know who he is. If you want to see a legend at the top of his game, you can’t go far wrong with Nebraska. His chemistry with June Squibb, another legend who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, is the foundation upon which Nebraska is built, and they both deserve to be awarded.

2. One film which failed to make the cut this year was Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche’s critically acclaimed adaptation of the graphic novel by Julie Maroh. It’s not that Blue… was too offensive to the sensibilities of the conservative white men who dominate the Academy (men whose presence, in my view, means a film like WoWS doesn’t stand a chance), but that it was ineligible. Ludicrous rules about release dates bar it from being nominated. I can think of at least five awards it deserves a shot at (not least Best Actress), yet daft regulations mean it’ll have to wait until next time, though even then there’s no guarantee of eligibility.

Jack Sadler

1. Something that’s been brought up numerous times in discussions of Spike Jonze’s Her is that it’s not an original story. No, it isn’t. Is there even such a thing as an ‘original’ story? But this doesn’t matter – how the story’s told is what’s crucial.

As both writer and director for the first time, Jonze has crafted a spectacular and charming love story for the modern age, centring on Joaquin Phoenix as the lonely singleton who falls for his customised Operating System (wonderfully voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Set in a near-future LA with pastel colours aplenty (visually, the film is a sumptuous treat), Her contemplates the ever-expanding role of technology within today’s society and the potential consequences if – when? – that technology becomes sentient.

It is this examination of the dichotomy between the warmth of a relationship and the coldness of tech that makes Her the intelligent, fascinating and enchanting film I believe it to be. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the script is witty and the characters are lovable – I’d have no issue with Her taking home the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay (which it has to win) and Best Picture.

Speaking of which…

2. This year, in my opinion, is one of the rare occasions when the Oscars have got it right. However, perfection hasn’t quite been reached. One glaring omission in that list of nine Best Picture nominees is the Coen brothers’ stunning Inside Llewyn Davis. A cold but atmospheric look at the New York folk scene in the 60s, it features a superb performance from Oscar Isaac in the titular role, as well as lashings of the Coens’ trademark black humour. Melancholic, wistful and beautiful, it showcases the brothers at their best.

And while I’m on the subject of snubs, the fact that Park Chan-wook’s Stoker and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha received zero nods (they deserved recognition for their acting, at least) makes me more than a little bit upset. Nevertheless, not too shabby, Mr. Oscar, not too shabby.

Michael Prescott

1. There are a number of credible shouts here: Amy Adams more than matching her excellent co-stars Cooper, Lawrence and Bale in American Hustle? The Hunt demonstrating more extraordinary Danish talent? Or how about the likes of Philomena and, even more deservingly, Before Midnight for Best Adapted Screenplay?

Each are worthy, but I’m going for Britain’s own rising star Sally Hawkins. Like many of her co-stars, her turn in Blue Jasmine has been somewhat overlooked because of the excitement surrounding Cate Blanchett’s (admittedly excellent) performance. She and the rest of the supporting ensemble – Louis C.K., Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Stuhlbarg – help to make it what it is.

Hawkins in particular shines as Ginger – the downtrodden sister of Jasmine – and her understated efforts truly do deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Lawrence and Nyong’o, though she won’t be. However after a string of British hits – An Education, Never Let Me Go, Made in Dagenham, Submarine, etc. – she’s made a big leap with this film, and with roles in Richard Ayoade’s The Double and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla to come over the next year, she’ll only continue to get bigger and better.

2. It’s an odd (perhaps even foolish) choice to look at the Best Actor category for this question since it’s a really strong lineup this year. Di Caprio, Bale, Ejiofor, Dern and McConaughey! Not even any room for Tom Hanks (correct decision)! And yet – as good as these guys are (particularly McConaughey and Dern) – room should have been made for a certain Michael Douglas.

Douglas’ performance as Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s final directorial outing, the brazen and slightly barmy Behind the Candelabra, is wonderful. It’s a testament to the film that audiences didn’t come out of the film questioning its integrity to the ‘real story’ but instead rushed to praise it for what it was.

Douglas will add his name to the great biopic performances of our time with a dazzling display as the showman that – whilst always suitably eccentric – never spills over into silliness or melodrama. Though the film itself is full of it, Douglas is nuanced when required but remains unashamedly camp, fully capturing the essence of Liberace in a remarkable and commendable manner.

About Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott