Part of the reason why the Oscars are so hard to predict this year is because voters are using different ways to assess the meaning of the word “best.” As evidenced in last year’s showdown between Argo and Lincoln, winners are no longer chosen simply because they give the overall best presentation or performance but rather, other factors come into play in determining who should go home with a trophy.
Take, for example, the “it’s time” theory, which takes into account the necessity of a certain theme or the story behind a certain actor. Example- “It’s time a movie about slavery won BP” or “It’s time Hollywood honored a movie that honestly depicts the AIDS epidemic.” In another light, “It’s time DiCaprio won an award” or “It’s time for a breakout star to overturn the race.”
This isn’t the only evaluation criteria out there but it will likely come into play when the golden envelopes are opened on Oscar night and it’s something you’ll want to keep in mind when filling out that last-minute ballot.
For now, here are the final three 2013 Best Picture and Acting nominees for your consideration:
Director Stephen Frears hasn’t had a hit film in the U.S. since 2006 but he more than makes up for lost time with Philomena, a moving drama about life and redemption that also explores the nature and role of the journalist. The movie follows the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish-Catholic woman who was forced to give up her child to adoption at the hands of a convent after conceiving out of wedlock. 50 years later, she’s able to enlist the help of Journalist Martin Sixsmith to aid in the search for her son.
While both descriptions and a version of the movie’s poster tag Philomena as a comedy, there really aren’t many laughs to be had but that’s a wise decision on Frears’ part to keep the focus on the captivatingly dramatic plot. What’s also interesting to watch is how the story switches between Philomena’s private journey to find her son and Sixsmith’s quest to produce a good story, of which the movie is adapted from.
Judi Dench (Best Actress)- Dench may not be among the most well-known actresses in Hollywood but she is amongst the elite. For those still mourning the loss of M (count me in), she’s back with her usual down-to-earth charm and suave witticisms as the titular character of the film. As the journey to find her son deepens, Dench wears her emotions on her sleeve which amounts to a gripping performance, especially when she feels the search has gone too far. The only thing keeping the odds against this Dame in the Best Actress category is the small feeling of the film as a whole compared to the bigger and louder pictures in the running.
In the 16 years Spike Jonze has been involved with film, he’s directed only four feature films, the last of which is Her, a futuristic movie about a man facing divorce who finds solace in his super intelligent and smooth-voiced operating system. While many other directors in the industry put out several films a year, it’s a given that at least a few of those won’t be any good, either critically or commercially. So when Jonze makes you wait four years for his next piece of art, you expect it to be good and, as in the past, he delivers.
The movie’s a quiet one but it’s full of humor and emotion. And emotion is what Jonze explores the most- is it really something only humans can possess or can a genuine relationship be shared between a man and artificial intelligence? The answer is ultimately left up to the viewer but Scarlett Johansson’s voice work is undisputedly some of the best in recent years. Also surprising- the curmudgeonly Joaquin Phoenix can still pull off an innocent, lovable character. Her goes a tad long at two hours but for the most part, it’s a solid nominee, albeit one on the bottom of the list.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Based on former stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s tell-all, Martin Scorsese’s romp into the Wall Street scene follows the tycoon from Black Monday victim to founding father of his own brokerage and unbelievable wealth. During that time, Belfort defrauded over 1,500 investors through a pump and dump scheme that left him with 10 counts of securities fraud and money laundering and a trip to jail. He’s not a hero but you would never guess that from the movie’s point of view.
Running at nearly three hours, the film’s overly long and too fixated on saturating every scene with explicit sex, drug use and language to be able to piece together any semblance of a coherent plot until the rushed final chapter. My main issue with Wolf could also lie in the fact that the production company bought the rights from an ex-con who, over a decade later, still owes millions in restitution or that, in all seriousness, it’s a tad creepy to know a 71-year-old man was directing this endless orgy of sex scenes but either way, it just doesn’t work.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Best Actor)- For DiCaprio, the role of Belfort lands somewhere between playing Frank Abignale, Jr. and an amped up Jay Gatsby and while you can see a bit of each here, the actor takes on a fierceness in Wolf we hadn’t yet witnessed. The problem, again, is that the bloated tale is so lacking in substance that the endless partying grows old and you get a bit tired of Leo flinging around F-Bombs like they were vowels. We see Belfort as “the Wolf” but we never get to understand how he got there. Don’t anticipate this one being an award winner.
Jonah Hill (Best Supporting Actor)- Hill portrays Donnie, Belfort’s business partner who in the film became a composite character after the real-life figure threatened to sue the production company. That gave Scorsese & Co. the opportunity to create something new and unfortunately, they chose to make him a stereotypical chubby nerd with smarts- something Hill started out as and had up to now parted ways with. While Donnie does come off as more of a dynamic character than his partner in crime, he also feels like one of the phoniest parts of the movie- and that’s saying something. An acting nomination for Hill was a stretch and a win is not at all likely to happen.
Eric Miller is a marketing professional with experience in creative writing,
journalism and corporate communications. He has been writing in some way,
shape, or form for nearly all his life with plans to eventually publish a novel or
screenplay. He is also an entertainment enthusiast with the latest news on
movies, pop-culture, and events. A born and bred resident of the Baltimore Metropolitan area, he enjoys visiting the Inner Harbor as well as traveling the country, watching movies, and experimenting with mixed drinks. He is currently a member of the Sundance Institute, American Film Institute, and Maryland Film Festival.