TMT Picks: The Oscars 2014
Who we think should win at the 86th Academy Awards

Like many film-lovers, we here at Tiny Mix Tapes have a complex relationship with the Oscars. It’s not nearly as embarrassing as the Grammys, but still, The Harmony Korines, Béla Tarrs, Gaspar Noes, Sion Sonos, Lars von Triers, and Kelly Reichardts of the world are never nominated. Instead, the award ceremony — which airs this Sunday, March 2 — traditionally favors weighty dramas devoid of ambiguity, experimentation, and dirty jokes. Still, we stubbornly hold onto hope that our own idiosyncratic tastes will, eventually, be validated by an awards ceremony we marginally respect — and there are always so many pretty dresses!

As usual, this year’s nominees only overlap slightly with our favorites of 2013. But it seems like maybe the Academy’s taste is evolving, or at least becoming more adventurous, leading them to embrace a philosophical romcom about human-computer love, a Hayao Miyazaki film, The Act of Killing, and even Johnny Knoxville pranking people. While we’re excited to be crushed, we’re enthused at the possibility of some of these nominees taking home a statue of a shiny bald man.

We already chimed in on the Oscar-nominated short films. And now here are our picks for the 2014 feature-length nominees. –Benjamin Pearson


Best Actor in a Leading Role:

TMT PICK: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

It’s been barely three years since the start of the fabled McConaissance, but McCounaghey’s role as a white-trashy, straight Texan who contracts HIV/AIDS might be the apogee of his striking climb out of the romcom wasteland. Post-Buyers Club, there seems to be little chance the actor will return to making bullshit like Maid in Manhattan or Surfer, Dude: on his follow-up, HBO’s True Detective, McCounaghey’s turn as an existentially spooky detective gives Counaghasseurs more thrills each week than Dallas Buyers Club did in its entirety (while relying more on actual acting than weight loss). Still, Dallas Buyers Club will probably stand alone as the only film that owes nearly everything to McCounaghey. The craftsmanship he put into Ron Woodroof’s every movement transformed an otherwise-so-so inspirational biopic into something not usually seen on the Oscar ballot (though, with 2013’s Amour, maybe it’s now a trend): a genuinely terrifying demonstration of our inevitable decay. The only relief for audiences (which may have undercut the film’s power) was our awareness that out of the same gaunt body that communicated Woodroof’s road to death, McCounaghey was finding a second life. –Benjamin Pearson

RUNNER UP: Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

Best Actor was an incredible category this year, with every nominee undergoing an improbable transformation (McCounaghey lost a ton of weight, Ejiofor lost an accent, etc.). But somehow the performance I still can’t get over is Bruce Dern’s in Nebraska. The film’s plot is simple, but Dern’s Woody, a prickly old man who’s suffering from dementia and losing his grasp on reality, is just the opposite. Old as he is, Woody is a whirlwind of misdirected energy and inappropriate candor, exasperating his wife and sons. But even when the screenplay is at its most acerbic, Dern allows us to glimpse the fundamental kindness behind Woody’s shocked hair and perpetual look of confusion. I can’t stop thinking about him driving around the neighborhood in his new car, peering out the window wonderingly as the Midwestern town and its inhabitants slide by. Nebraska’s heart and soul is reflected in that one scene. –Abigail Garnett

OTHER NOMINEES: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

TMT PICK: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Whatever individual recognition he’s gotten through the years, the solid gold of Woody Allen’s career is in his early collaborations with Diane Keaton. What’s his last movie where it felt like he had something raw and personal at stake? Whether he realizes it or not, Blue Jasmine is an abstract portrait of Mia Farrow, and it’s executed with Francis Bacon brutality (along with an unexpected degree of compassion). No surprise that it stirred up the hornets in Farrow’s bonnet. The film is fired up by a miraculous performance from Cate Blanchett. Her gestures, inflections, and reactions are consistently unpredictable, even shocking, but intuitively spot-on. The entire cast steps up to her level, bringing layers, subtleties, and fully motivated power to the film’s dramatic thrust. In the final shot, the contours of Blanchett’s face actually become misshapen by her character’s defeat. –Water

RUNNER UP: Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

Sandra Haters: Along with Gravity, she was in The Heat this year, which was terrible; she was in not just one Miss Congeniality, but two; The Blind Side; Crash.

Sandra Lovers: She acted against a green screen in Gravity and still knocked it out of the park. Somehow, being in a movie that was put together on computers diminishes a performance to people; Sandra knows otherwise. Sandra knows that acting against nothing is hard, but she also knows that she can own it just like she owns everything else and all of us. Sandra knows that all those fancy graphics and animations aren’t what made Gravity whatever it was; it was her fevered breath, frantic screaming, utter mastery. She knows. She’s not scared. –Eric Williger

OTHER NOMINEES: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

TMT PICK: Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall St)

How lovely was it to watch Jonah Hill nail this role? Admit it. We could spend hours talking about Scorsesean excess and the problematic implications of this film re: The Financial Sector [makes j/o motion], but what’s important here is Hill thoroughly shuffled off his character-actor legacy to play one of the slimiest and touchingly pitiful characters ever filmed. It’s not often a performer initially famous for slapstick comedy can pull off a meatier role without reinvention, but Hill’s work in The Wolf of Wall Street seemed effortless. –Paul Bower

RUNNER UP: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Dallas Buyers Club panders shamelessly to breeder sensibilities in an attempt to get the mainstream to give a shit about AIDS, 20 years after a time when it might have made a difference. Its wretched screenplay feels hurriedly adapted from a Wikipedia page. Even its depiction of homophobia is cartoonish and false. Jared Leto is the latest A-lister to do lavenderface — God forbid you cast an actual LGBTQueerty. Still, like Michael Douglas before him, he nails his character and then some. Seeing him channel his inner queen is like finding a lost rhinestone in a puddle of beer-and-hot-wings throw up. –Water

OTHER NOMINEES: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

TMT PICK (tie): Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

It should be easy to look away from 12 Years a Slave. Most of us probably wanted to. But the film is seductive, drawing us in with luscious cinematography, cerebral narrative details, and, of course, devastatingly articulate performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Quvenzhané Wallis, Michael Fassbender, Michael K. Williams, and Benedict Cumberbatch all, at one point or another, threaten to pause the film’s onslaught of true historical horror, to turn it into a thing of beautiful reflection instead of inescapable suffering. But Lupito Nyong’o manages to merge the two. As the slave named Patsey, Nyong’o becomes a site physically and psychically engraved with the U.S.’s history of racism and misogyny (at times even Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup seems like her witnesss, not her fellow slave). But even as the film transforms her into less an object, she is always more than just a body. It’s as if the Kenyan actress isn’t debuting on the American screen, but rather has always been there.

TMT PICK (tie): Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

Has any filmmaker, male or female, ever been more adept with actresses than Woody Allen? Similar to her onscreen character, Sally Hawkins may have had to contend with the considerable blast radius of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, but her scrappy, squeaky Ginger proves just as memorable as Blanchett’s instant classic. By putting up with Jasmine’s unrelenting self-absorption and condescension, Ginger naturally poises herself as a paragon of sympathy and unconditional love. Yet Hawkins cleverly manages to deconstruct this too obvious presentation, using subtlety to show how Ginger could be just as skilled an architect of self-destruction as her non-biological sister. Hawkins’s physical assets of a slight frame and unassuming appearance allow her to explore the inner toughness, which allows Ginger to view her predestined cycle of bad decisions with a perversely gleeful acceptance. –Jafarkas

OTHER NOMINEES: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Animated Feature:

TMT PICK: The Wind Rises

One of the most unabashedly pacifist of mainstream narrative filmmakers (his villains are never really villains, but simply misuse the world’s resources), Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song finds him dealing directly with the spoils of pre-WWI through the eyes of an ambitious young flight engineer whose dreams ultimately became the destroyer of worlds. With his trademark flights of fancy here unambiguously relegated to the world of dreams, Miyazaki delivers a slow-burning lament for the military-industrial complex while delivering the rare animated film that nobly tests the limits of sincerity rather than indulging in them. Jiro’s academic and romantic life is plagued by earthquakes and disease, yet he revels in the joy of creation and remains sober in the face of melodramatic events. And yes, you can bring your kids. –Micah Gottlieb

RUNNER UP: Frozen

Of all the categories, Best Animated Feature makes a strong case for most fundamentally flawed. It would be nice to see a legitimately interesting effort like 2012’s Consuming Spirits or 2005’s The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes sneak in one of these days, but given the market economics driving production, family films will continue to dominate this category. So why did I pick Frozen over the considerably more adult swan song from Miyazaki, TMT’s top choice? (Both of which, for the record, are Disney releases) Frozen not only became Disney’s first animated feature with a female director credit, it also offers something truly radical by smuggling a hefty dose of third-wave feminism into its Disney princesses. Didn’t catch that? You were probably distracted by the talking snowman. –Jafarkas

OTHER NOMINEES: The Croods (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson), Despicable Me 2 (Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin, Chris Meledandri), Ernest & Celestine (Benjamin Renner, Didier Brunner)

Best Cinematography:

TMT PICK: Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

Roger Deakins has been nominated for Best Cinematography 11 times, and has never won. It’s therefore tempting to think his work in Prisoners is the Academy equivalent of a gold watch — it will be seen as celebrating his career, not his most recent work specifically — yet it’s the cinematography that renders Prisoners such an involving thriller. The steely greens of the opening scene create subtle menace, while the shadows can be downright hellish. A lot of Prisoners happens in the dark, yet it’s because of Deakins we’re able to see every detail, no matter how meager the light source. –Alan Zilberman

RUNNER UP: Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki)

One can argue that Alfonso Cuaron’s mega-budget space thriller was nothing more than a special effects showcase, using the latest in industry pyrotechnics to further prove how animation has eclipsed film in its monopoly on our nervous system. Yet the boldness of its execution is hard to ignore, with fluid, lengthy tracking shots as far removed from ground control as our protagonist, lending close-ups and long shots cosmic proportions. No other film this year strove so hard to create a false sense of depth. The culmination of Cuaron’s long-standing relationship with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity adds even more to his repertoire of some of the most indelible images of 21st-century cinema. It’s Chivo’s sixth Oscar nomination; this award should be a no-brainer. –Micah Gottlieb

OTHER NOMINEES: The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd), Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel), Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael)

Best Costume Design:

TMT PICK: American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)

Of the myriad nominations American Hustle received, Costume Design is the one I really hope it wins (though I would have given it a nod for the stupendously tacky hair and makeup as well). Try to imagine the ferocious bathroom scene wherein Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence argue about who’s more “gross inside” without Amy Adams’ over-the-top sequined gown, or Lawrence’s borderline-agoraphobic housewife without her sloppy-sexy leisure wear. Or just think about that scene in which Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale arrive in the same room only to find Adams has encouraged each of them to wear a similar-looking seedy suit. None of the performances in American Hustle would have made sense, let alone been entertaining, if not for the perfectly balanced, immaculately tacky costumes by Michael Wilkinson, and their constant conflations of sex with humorous anti-climax. –Abigal Garnett

RUNNER UP: The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)

Baz Luhrmann is a terrible director. Sure, he furnishes lavish production design and knows how to film a party sequence, but with The Great Gatsby he deals with the source material in a superficial way. The last words of the novel appear on the screen, and I don’t think Luhrmann has given any serious thought to what they mean; he was too busy with the costumes. All the suits and dresses fit the characters — Gatsby’s white three-piece suit is elegant yet oddly casual, while Tom Buchanan’s stiff midnight suit makes him look like a prison warden. Every thread is carefully chosen, as if the costume designer was frustrated by Luhrmann’s dearth of insight. If there was an award for Best Nipple Tape, I’d give it to American Hustle. –Alan Zilberman

OTHER NOMINEES: The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping), The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor), 12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

Best Documentary:

TMT PICK: The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen)

There was no argument about which documentary was last year’s finest. The Act of Killing was not just superior, it was revelatory and harrowing. Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s access to the horrifying practices of Indonesian death squad leaders Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry was astounding. How surreal was it to watch mass murderers reenact torture and executions with laughter and joy? It was visceral, nightmarish, terrible, and true. When you are exposed to atrocities, the images can stay in your head for weeks. But The Act of Killing was unprecedented. The carnivalesque atmosphere of Congo and Zulkadry’s films was as revolting as it was bizarre, and their preferred method of strangling by wire made torture porn seem tame. As I write this, I can see that fat, repulsive Zulkadry in a headdress and eyeshadow, sitting on his throne and holding up a severed head. That visual will not go away any time soon. The fact that America was complicit in the atrocities or turned a blind eye was not what was most surprising. It was that these events occurred, and we have living human proof. –Ryan Patrick Mooney

RUNNER UP: None

OTHER NOMINEES: Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher), Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley, Jeremy Scahill), The Square (Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer), 20 Feet from Stardom (Nominees to be determined)

  

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