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

Best Film Editing:

TMT PICK: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)

Seamless continuity. That about sums it up. That is the apotheosis of editing. The action in Gravity, even during its measured beginning, is ceaseless. There does not appear to be a difference between the visual effects and the editing. They had to be intertwined or the film wouldn’t have been as effective as it is at creating both tension and the feel of being in outer space. In an interview with MovieScope Magazine, editor Mark Sanger discussed the intricacies of the process, and how the smallest change would require re-editing. Challenges of creating accurate spatial geography for the audience and integrating those with the astounding visuals of the film were just two of the hurdles Sanger and Cuaron faced. It took them 18 months to produce a cut in animation form — before the actors stepped in. That’s one piece of evidence, but Gravity is an incredible technical achievement in all respects, a model for effects-driven films to come. –Ryan Patrick Mooney

RUNNER-UP: 12 Year a Slave (Joe Walker)

Editing being one of the more utilitarian categories, it’s easy to see why this and Gravity made the top two. Both films are edited in a fashion that most unassuming audiences are unaccustomed to and likely were surprised by. The seamlessness of Gravity is a key aspect of its power, whereas 12 Years a Slave uses unbroken, starkly framed takes that leave no room for levity or contextual remove. Joe Walker’s editing is seemingly devoid of artifice. It’s what helps to make this film worthy of being considered among the more seminal works depicting real-life atrocity (such as Come And See or Night and Fog). It is unflinching in a way that reminds us to be vulnerable when we’d sooner steel ourselves. It’s hard framing for a hard tale, as it should be. –Willcoma

OTHER NOMINEES: American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten), Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse), Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa)

Best Foreign Film:

TMT PICK: The Hunt (Denmark)

The Academy usually plays it safe when gilding middlebrow fluff with a place in film history, and they’ve certainly sinned in their nearsightedness towards a glut of unusual foreign imports. But in a year of overstuffed, overhyped festival favorites winning global attention, we appreciated a film where Mads Mikkelsen’s hangdog handsomeness represented an alternative to his town’s alpha-male ruling class. What begins with the best of intentions becomes a nightmare scenario that transforms him into a straw man in the face of misplaced sexual and political energy. Restrained and sharply observed, The Hunt was an unusually gripping tale of moral righteousness gone wrong. –Micah Gottlieb

RUNNER UP: Great Beauty (Italy)

I mean, yeah, this might not have been the best foreign movie to drop last year, but it was definitely interesting to see such a surreal and silly continuity between greats like Fellini and Antonioni and now this modern incarnation helmed by Paolo Sorrentino. What kind of ruined this movie was the self-importance of its slipshod social commentary, with easy observations about sterile and boring Romans rolling in by the minute. However, there was something completely different and appealing about The Great Beauty, something we think will linger with us for a long while. –Paul Bower

OTHER NOMINEES: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Missing Picture (Cambodia), Omar (Palestine)

Best Makeup and Hair:

TMT PICK: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty)

In a better world Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa would be fighting it out with Blue Jasmine for Best Picture. It’s the Mount Everest of smart/dumb comedies, casting Middle America as a surprisingly benign collective straight man for Johnny Knoxville’s antics with his “grandson” Jackson Nicoll. Makeup is kind of a bullshit category in the sense that the showiest stuff is usually gonna get the recognition, but Grandpa’s transformation goes beyond movie magic: It’s good enough to prank real world people. And Nicoll is convincingly transformed into a pretty little Junior Miss in the most exquisite, laugh-till-you-fart scene of 2013. –Water

RUNNER UP: Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews)

I did not realize that was Jared Leto in drag until he had been on screen for about 20 minutes. A couple weeks before watching a ripped screener, I saw him accept a Golden Globe for his performance, but clearly I wasn’t paying attention/was modestly inebriated. Regardless of my inability to recognize a heartthrob, his transformation via that blushed pale hue and bright-red lipstick was remarkable. And apparently the entire budget for mascara was only $250. Compared to the wealth needed to turn Johnny Depp into an Indian that kind of disturbed me and make Johnny Knoxville look like a filthy old man — which was actually quite amazing — the shoestring budget for makeup artist Robin Mathews should be the tilting factor. In any case, convincingly altering gender is a greater feat than adding layers and layers of wrinkles. Full stop. –Ryan Patrick Mooney

OTHER NOMINEE: The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

Best Visual Effects:

TMT PICK: Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould)

Duh. What, did you think we were going to pick, The Hobbit? Gravity was the most awe-inspiring piece of eye-candy we saw all year, featuring brilliant effects and camera work that redefined what was possible in cinema. Say what you want about some of the more squirm-inducing monologues given to Sandra Bullock, the visual impact of this film is hard to overstate, and it’ll serve as a benchmark for those that follow. The film is immersive, and the amount of work that went into creating such a seamless visual masterpiece is daunting, and deserves every accolade it can draw. –Paul Bower

RUNNER UP: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, and Eric Reynolds)

At some point in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a curious shift occurs in the viewer’s frame of reference. Scenes that must be “real,” such as when two actors perform in a traditional set or shot against an outdoor location, start to look rendered, while the clearly CGI-laden fantasy textures of Tolkien’s Middle Earth seamlessly suture the eye into Peter Jackson’s constructed version of reality. I’m not sure if the goal of the high-frame experiment was necessarily to reconcile Baudrillard’s notion of simulacra with Lacanian film theory, but that may be its unintended consequence. While Gravity, the recipient of all but one (guess who?) of TMT’s fake Oscar votes, draws much of its effectiveness from the bleakness and blackness of outer space, Peter Jackson’s saturated world overtakes reality with fantasy. Here be motion-cap dragons. –Jafarkas

OTHER NOMINEES: Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick), The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier), Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

TMT PICK: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)

It’s difficult to imagine any writer being able to capture the complexity and nuances of a system as putrefied and corrupt as American slavery, yet John Ridley accomplished that in his adaptation of Solomon Northup’s life story. His script expertly demonstrates the range of sociological spectra found in the victims, oppressors, collaborators, and bystanders, in a way that has never before found appropriate realization in film. Using both the patois of the time and the institutional vocabulary, Ridley manages to humanize everyone, showing how both heroes and monsters can be depicted in a multi-layered palette of moral gray. Ridley may appear to have come a long way from writing gags for Martin<\cite> and the Fresh Prince, but he’s always been a smart, subversive writer able to handle the dark side of American life. –Jafarkas

RUNNER UP: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)

With each film in the Before trilogy, Richard Linklater raises the stakes of the relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). The first one is full of romantic idealism, then the second is about the disappointments of approaching middle age. Now that Jesse and Celine are in their forties, the struggle is whether they can preserve romance, and what that even means. A lot of sex happens in the movies, but rarely is there an honest attempt to show intimacy. Before Midnight deserves Best Adapted Screenplay because these lived-in characters never hit a wrong note, and that’s especially true when physical contact leads to emotional violence. Before Midnight may end on a warm note, but these characters are on the precipice of losing everything (i.e., each other). –Alan Zilberman

OTHER NOMINEES: Captain Phillips (Billy Ray), Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope), The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)

Best Original Screenplay:

TMT PICK: Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)

There’s something to be said for writing in a vacuum when every other film seems to be fishing for the pulse of a generation (any generation). One of our nation’s most prolific film scribes also is the most creatively contained. Which is what makes it such a treat when you tentatively meet the set-in-his-ways recluse half-way and find yourself in uncharted waters. Jasmine isn’t just a neurotic Woody-fascimile or one of his indelible shiksa-on-the-warpath archetypes (Judy Davis is my favorite), but a flesh-and-blood trainwreck happening in front of you. Scripts like American Hustle we’ve seen a million times. Nebraska’s vitality rests more in its cast and cinematography than its writing, which is pretty muted. Her is a strong contender, being a much more original story, but it lacks the third act follow-through that makes Jasmine so satisfying. Also, Her tiresomely stresses that aforementioned pulse-searching over characterization. It’s heartening to behold an unfettered, no-nonsense storyteller where I once saw an old guard Hollywood institution faintly echoing his former glories. –Willcoma

RUNNER UP: Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melissa Wallack)

I’m tired of Woody Allen getting nominated in the screenplay category every year, and not for any political reason – I just don’t think Blue Jasmine is all that good. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, who wrote Dallas Buyers Club, are known for exactly nothing, but no matter. There is a mastery here: the way the movie sinks into itself as Ron Woodruff – our hero – turns from a homophobe, bigot, and macho prick into a person who is all of those things but less, who is aware of himself and his judgments and makes a decision to see humanity instead of laugh at it. Characters ebb and flow, real because they are, but also because of how they are drawn. –Eric Williger

OTHER NOMINEES: American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell), Her (Spike Jonze), Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

Best Director:

TMT PICK: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

With the exception of American Hustle (am I the only one who thought this movie was an emptily flashy, boring mess?) this was not an easy choice. Scorcese made his most vital narrative film since Bringing Out The Dead, Cuarón made genre-film good on the promise of Children of Men, and Payne made perhaps the best film of his career. But Steve McQueen sticks out as a fiercely uncompromising voice that took a prestige-bait project and made it his own. He is a deadly serious film maker. Whatever story McQueen might be telling, he makes sure the raw emotions are there. A member of his audience doesn’t get a chance to reflect (or sometimes even exhale) – we just engage. Truly creative, stentorian voices such as his are sorely needed and undoubtably the reason for the season (Oscar or otherwise). –Willcoma

RUNNER UP: Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

You know that part in Goodfellas wherein Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) drives around New Jersey and gets increasingly paranoid about the helicopter that’s flying overheard? Relentless energy defines that scene, as do throwaway moments of human comedy. It’s an exhausting, propulsive climax. The Wolf of Wall Street is like that scene from Goodfellas, except it’s for the entire duration of the film. No nominated film this year has the same high-octane pacing, or sense of humor. 12 Years of Slave observes with clinical precision; McQueen has the necessary patience to unearth all the ugliness of slavery. Scorsese, on the other hand, puts us in the middle of the ugliness, and carefully implicates us in the process. –Alan Zilberman

OTHER NOMINEES: American Hustle (David O. Russell), Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón), Nebraska (Alexander Payne)

Best Picture:

TMT PICK (tie): 12 Years a Slave

Although I was impressed by Captain Phillips, loved Nebraska, and was moved in one way or another by most of this year’s nominees, nothing overwhelmed me like the gorgeous, horrific 12 Years A Slave. From a production standpoint 12 Years is nearly perfect. Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiographical account demanded total commitment from everyone involved (a huge number of people, the cast alone numbering nearly 100) and received it unequivocally. McQueen took several actors over the brink into complete monstrosity. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano all dove headfirst into indefensible characters in the service of telling Northup’s story. A who’s who of supporting players (Taran Killam, anyone?) brought John Ridley’s screenplay to vivid life, creating a terrifying mural of evil and complacency in the pre-Civil War United States. Then there’s the cinematography, so beautiful it heightens the dread and isolation woven into the landscape. And Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Northup reaffirms over and over again that every unimaginable cruelty we saw happened to a real human being. 12 Years A Slave is an imposing piece of art that delivers everything the Academy could desire for a Best Picture winner – it’s a period piece, it’s a gritty biographical drama, blah blah blah – but it also pushes back at the audience in ways most of the recent winners of the Academy’s top prize have not (when was the last time the category’s most challenging entry also was a front-runner?) That alone means 12 Years would be a landmark win. I know this was a great year and all, but really: Let’s stop goofing around and give Steve McQueen the award already. –Abigail Garnett

TMT PICK (tie): Her

Her is not a satire. A satire is not really about the things that it is about. A satire is an exaggeration. Her is the opposite — radically sincere, to a fault; awkwardly so. It skirts away from arguments and conclusions; it says, if anything, that a relationship with a computer is not significantly different from a relationship with anyone/thing else. It is detailed not by likelihood (“This is how it is going to be”) but by intuition (“I like these clothes and so this is what you will wear”). It is not judgmental; it is naive, stupid, perfect — all the same. –Eric Williger

OTHER NOMINEES: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street