Saturday, February 22, 2014

Oscars 2013: The best of the rest (from Animated Feature to Makeup)

The 86th Academy Awards are a week away, and the Manifesto still needs to analyze the big four categories of Best Actor, Actress, Director, and Picture. Before that, however, we need to weed through the remaining races that we've yet to cover. These may not be the sexiest categories, but the winners get a statuette all the same, and the Manifesto prides itself on completeness.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

NOMINEES
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

WILL WIN
Frozen. It's a crowd-pleasing Disney musical that racked up $381 million (and counting) while delighting viewers of all ages. Good luck topping that one.


SHOULD WIN
I've yet to see Ernest & Celestine and The Wind Rises (the latter just received a theatrical release this weekend, though not in a theatre near me). My thoughts on The Croods are here; it's a pleasant enough movie with some nicely choreographed action sequences, but it's ultimately crippled by its pandering themes and its refusal to take chances. It's nevertheless superior to Despicable Me 2, a limp, useless sequel that epitomizes Hollywood's abhorrent franchise laziness. I was by no means a fan of the well-regarded first film, but at least it told a vaguely original story. The sequel barely bothers with a story at all—it's really just an excuse for those dratted yellow minions to spout gibberish as a marketing lead-in to their upcoming spinoff, Minions. That it received an Oscar nomination is a black mark on the Academy.

Thankfully, the voters managed to nominate a legitimately good movie in Frozen. Disney's tale of two princesses isn't quite a classic—it plays things a bit safe, and its strained attempts at humor exhibit neither the anarchic zip of Wreck-It Ralph nor the visual ingenuity of Tangled—but its story of sisterly affection is surprisingly moving, plus it happily topples Disney's gender stereotypes. That it also features the studio's most triumphant song since The Lion King doesn't hurt.





MY IDEAL BALLOT
Frozen
Monsters University

Ouch. Animation as a technological medium keeps getting more and more impressive, so why does each year seem to provide fewer high-quality animated movies? (For reference, my ideal ballot last year featured three animated films rather than two.) In any event, for its first two-thirds, Monsters University is a visually stunning disappointment, using a gorgeously realized setting to tell a tired slobs-versus-snobs story. Thankfully, things take a sharply unpredictable turn in the third act, and that hairpin twist salvages the movie from apparent mediocrity. Monsters University may not be as uniformly excellent as Pixar's best work, but there's enough creative genius on display to have continued faith in the studio going forward. (Translation: I'm excited for The Good Dinosaur in 2015.)

My ideal winner: Frozen.


BEST COSTUME DESIGN

NOMINEES
American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

WILL WIN
Glitz rules the day here, and there's nothing glitzier than the eye-popping outfits that adorn the sycophants who saunter through Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. It isn't quite a lock—The Invisible Woman is the type of classically mannered period piece that the Oscars tend to favor, while American Hustle rightly turned heads with its brazen evocation of '70s wardrobe—but I can't envision voters denying Gatsby's bravura showmanship.

Carey Mulligan in "The Great Gatsby"


SHOULD WIN
Come on. Did you see Amy Adams' outfits in American Hustle?

Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Bradley Cooper in "American Hustle"

MY IDEAL BALLOT
American Hustle
The Bling Ring
Blue Jasmine
The Great Gatsby
Oz the Great and Powerful

The common thread (get it?) among these five selections is that they all use costume design to enhance their story. Both The Bling Ring and The Great Gatsby traffic in celebrity-obsessed culture, with the former featuring impostors who do their best to dress like the rich and famous, while the latter delivers the real thing. Blue Jasmine uses non-linear editing to tell its tale of an aristocrat who receives her comeuppance, and the contrast in wardrobe between the two timelines is effectively jarring. Oz the Great and Powerful demonstrates how villainy can be seductive, especially when it takes the form of Rachel Weisz. And American Hustle is all about hucksters who sell an image of class and refinement, so they'd damn well better look the part.

My ideal winner: American Hustle.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

NOMINEES
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

WILL WIN
As is always the case, I haven't seen any of these nominees, so I can only base my prediction on their public reception. And the only documentary that received any noticeable publicity this year was The Act of Killing. It's apparently a daring and controversial picture that toys with documentary form, so some voters might prefer a more typical choice (perhaps 20 Feet from Stardom?), but when it comes to the Oscars, any news is good news.


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

NOMINEES
The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Missing Picture
Omar

WILL WIN
In an emerging and frustrating trend, I've only seen one of these five nominees, but that's less a matter of personal choice than a consequence of meager distribution. None of these movies was released in a theatre near me, and four of them have yet to be made available via Netflix. The one candidate I did see, The Hunt, is a worthy contender, but its tale of pedophilia and paranoia may unsettle some voters. Of the others, the only nominee with any substantial buzz is The Great Beauty, so what the hell, let's go with that.


MY IDEAL BALLOT
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Drug War
The Hunt
No

As always, I refuse to tether myself to the Academy's arcane eligibility rules; in my view, if a movie was released within the United States at some point in 2013, it's worthy of consideration. In any event, while my Netflix queue is littered with foreign films that I've yet to see, 2013 appears to have been a somewhat down year for imported cinema, with these four movies towering above the rest. Blue Is the Warmest Color needs no introduction (I'll address it at greater length when I finally get around to my top 10 list). Drug War is a rapidly paced crime saga in which the cops and robbers tend to blur. The Hunt is an eerily persuasive portrait of how groupthink and suspicion can corrode a community and destroy innocent lives. No is a delightful contradiction, a free-wheeling and gleefully entertaining depiction of a sober and troubling period in history.

My ideal winner: Blue Is the Warmest Color.


BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

NOMINEES
Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

As amusing as it would be for a body as haughty as the Academy to hand a trophy to something called Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Dallas Buyers Club should cruise to victory here.


MY IDEAL BALLOT
American Hustle
Prisoners
This Is the End

American Hustle features the greatest combover of all-time. Prisoners take no quarter in depicting the physical punishment afforded to one of its many victims. And I simply cannot resist the demonic makeup applied to Jonah Hill in This Is the End, which is somehow both lo-fi and scarily convincing.

My ideal winner: American Hustle.

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