Oscar fever has reached a fevered pitch as the fevered rivalry between Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity spreads like wild-fever… Okay, so it’s not quite that exciting of a race, though the 86th Academy Awards does have a sense of uncertainty in its Best Picture race. It’s the historical filmmaking of McQueen up against the nuts and bolts visuals of Cuarón’s work, with David O. Russell’s American Hustle looking to play spoiler.
But like in 2011 (here) and 2012 (here), I’m not particularly impressed with the slate of nominations in contention. Like those years, I’ve taken refuge in creating my own ballot and winners. I can dream, can’t I?
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Natasha Calis, “The Harvest”
Suzanne Clément, “Laurence Anyways”
Angela McEwan, “Nebraska”
Julianne Nicholson, “August: Osage County”
Mickey Sumner, “Frances Ha”
I’ve been particularly out of sync with this year’s actual Best Supporting Actress category. While the Academy selected performances from both Nebraska and August: Osage County, the cited performances from June Squibb and Julia Roberts didn’t really offer their respective pictures much to latch onto. And while Greta Gerwig garnered much of the indie support for Frances Ha, her co-star Mickey Sumner gives just as much into an underappreciated and complex character. Natasha Calis gives one of the best performances of the year in a little seen picture featuring both Michael Shannon and Samantha Morton; the unknown performer stands her ground in one of the most incredible child performances in sometime. But it’s Suzanne Clément, the sometimes friend, sometimes lover, sometimes enemy of Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyway that floored me. In the picture’s most compelling scene, the frustrations of dealing with her lover’s sexual identity reaches a boiling point where she lashes out against a waiter, the unfortunate victim of so much pent up emotional strain simmering behind her eyes.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
James Franco, “Spring Breakers”
Ben Foster, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
John Goodman, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Keith Stanfield, “Short Term 12”
The year’s supporting actor bids weren’t particularly strong though those selected here all cover a fairly broad landscape of methods. In a way, none of them really settle for a middle ground. The subdued tenderness of Ben Foster and Keith Stanfield’s performances weren’t ever going to generate much buzz but possess a refined skill for underplaying material ripe for melodrama. Meanwhile, John Goodman continues doing what he does in the Coens’ films while Jonah Hill reconfirms his vital comic presence. James Franco’s work in Spring Breakers is simply on a different level though, essentially signaling that the actor’s range extends far beyond anyone could have predicted.
Best Actress in a Lead Performance
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha”
Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”
Tallie Medel, “The Unspeakable Act”
I have a deep-rooted admiration for Short Term 12, in large part because it’s a film that I share particular experiences with. The film’s structure, narrative, and overarching style leave something to be desired, but it’s the performances that allow the picture’s lesser qualities to be elevated. It resonates and Brie Larson is a big part of allowing that to happen. All the other performances, from the behemoth that is Cate Blanchett to the microbudget newcomer performance from Tallie Medel to the somewhere in between works of Julie Delpy and Greta Gerwig, would deserve accolades on most other years. But Brie Larson broke through like no one else.
Best Actor in a Lead Performance
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Will Forte, “Nebraska”
Masaharu Fukuyama, “Like Father, Like Son”
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”
Legitimately, all of these could take it for me on any given day. All the talk early in 2013 about the diversity of performances among men were true: there are about five other performances, from Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street to the pair of lead performances in Drug War that would’ve made the cut. Ejiofor was remarkable. Who thought Forte had that kind of performance in him? Isaac anchors a Coen classic and Phoenix continues his string of impressive performances with a one-man show. But it’s Masaharu Fukuyama’s deliberately unlikable character that has resonated with me so much since Like Father, Like Son screened at the Chicago International Film Festival. As a strict father discovering that his son is not of his own blood, his attempts to reconcile that wounded relationship while forging another one is handled with such incredible delicacy. It’s a poignant and remarkably restrained performance that was not met with enough accolades - thankfully, the film may find new life as it is currently being screened in select cities.
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Amat Escalante, “Heli”
James Gray, “The Immigrant”
Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”
Terrence Malick, “To the Wonder”
Best Director, or the category with about twenty right answers. In the end, the craft on display in 2013 was of excellent quality, though much of it came from already established directors. Only Amat Escalante’s work came as a genuine surprise; a director who is leading his country with a type of deliberate and cerebral style that deserves a wider audience. Malick’s output is achieving a level of poetic lyricism that most are still struggling to catch up with. James Gray is slowly eeking his way up a pantheon of American directors who have developed a style of such elegance and formal sophistication. Richard Linklater’s efforts rarely call attention to itself, but his restrained style is a work such richly composed images and delicate camera movement. Any director could take this, but the choice was clear since I saw Inside Llewyn Davis in late October: it’s the Coen’s best film.
“In the House”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?”
“To the Wonder”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”
My top ten of 2013 has remained steady since my original list posted a few months ago though it’s as fluid in its movement as ever. If this ballot has proven anything, it’s that many of these films possess qualities that are among the best of their craft. But for top-to-bottom execution and the intangible factor of speaking to my own concerns, both personally and cinematically, the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis dominates over all. As an audience and as a critic, there tends to be efforts to condense a film’s affect to its time of release - Inside Llewyn Davis is the sort of the film that I suspect, years from now, will remain a personal favorite.
8 - “Inside Llewyn Davis”
7 - “Her”
6 - “The Immigrant”, “Spring Breakers”
4 - “12 Years a Slave”, “Before Midnight”, “Only God Forgives”, “To the Wonder”
3 - “At Berkeley”, “Drug War”, “The Grandmaster”, “Heli”, “In the House”, “Nebraska”,
2 - “A Touch of Sin”, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, “Frances Ha”, “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?” “Laurence Anyways”, “Like Father, Like Son”, “Pacific Rim”, “Short Term 12”, “Stoker” “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “The World’s End”
1 - “The Act of Killing” “August: Osage County”, “Bastards”, “Blue is the Warmest Color”, “Blue Jasmine”, “Contracted”, “The Great Gatsby”, “The Harvest”, “Neighboring Sounds”, “Passion”, “The Place Beyond the Pines”, “Prisoners”, “Stories We Tell”, “These Birds Walk”, “The Unspeakable Act”
4 - “Inside Llewyn Davis”
2 - “Her”, “Spring Breakers”
1 - “At Berkeley”, “Bastards”, “Before Midnight”, “Contracted”, “The Immigrant”, “In the House”, “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?”, “Laurence Anyways”, “Like Father, Like Son”, “Pacific Rim”, “Short Term 12”, “Stoker”