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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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

  

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