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Arrival at the Oscars

26 February 2014 By Nick Salacki, Columnist No Comments

It all comes down to this!

With the 86th Academy Awards only three days away, premiering on ABC on Sunday March 2 at 8:30 p.m., we now come down to the final column where we discuss the nominees for Best Picture.

All official nominees for Best Picture are “American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” Gravity,” “Her,” Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

In the interest of saving space and time, I have trimmed down the list of nominees to five films, an amount I believe is better and more efficient and an amount that was used by the Academy up until 2010, when the list became 10 films long. Similar to almost all Oscar categories, including the acting categories, five is a good number. So I have picked my top five best films from this year’s list of nominees to discuss.

My top five Best Picture nominated films are “American Hustle,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It was a tough decision to exclude “Her” from this list, especially since the film has the Original Screenplay award in the bag.

Directed by David O. Russell, “American Hustle,” which takes place in the 1970s, is about a team of con-people (nominees Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who work with an FBI agent (nominee Bradley Cooper) and try to take down a corrupt New Jersey politician (Jeremy Renner) through an elaborate sting operation. Christian Bale’s on-screen wife (nominee Jennifer Lawrence) is an unpredictable and thick-headed woman who may just be the one to bring their whole operation tumbling down in this hilarious crime drama with breathtaking performances from the film’s entire ensemble.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, “Dallas Buyers Club,” taking place in the 1980s and inspired by true events, is about Ron Woodroof (nominee Matthew McConaughey), a sex-addicted electrician who finds out he is HIV positive and has 30 days to live. His doctors are prescribing him AZT but it is actually harming his health more than helping. Stressed for good health, Ron crosses the border to Mexico and eventually purchases massive amounts of a breakthrough drugs not approved by the FDA. With all this medication, Ron and his business partner Rayon (nominee Jared Leto) create an illegal medication distribution organization for HIV/AIDS patients, creating quite a stir with the FDA, but becoming a revolutionary and inspirational story.

Original screenplay written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, “Dallas Buyers Club” is nominated for a total of six Oscar nominations.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity,” taking place in present day, is about medical engineer/astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (nominee Sandra Bullock) and her space expedition with her partner Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). During one repair mission outside their space shuttle, space debris hits the site which sends the two astronauts adrift into space. Stone must persevere and remain strong in order to make it back to Earth safely in this epically exquisite achievement of a film.

Directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave,” taking place in the mid-1800s and based on a true story, is about Solomon Northup (nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), a violinist and free African-American man living in New York. Northup gets wrongly abducted and sold into slavery and remains stuck in his predicament for a total of 12 years. In order to return to his wife and two children, Northup must strive to survive through the rough years of hardship and torment in this brutal and brilliantly written film.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” taking place in the 1980s and ‘90s and based on a true story, is about Jordan Belfort (nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), his life’s passion for being a millionaire Wall Street stockbroker and his intense drug and sex filled lifestyle that comes along with that. With his business partner Donnie Azoff (nominee Jonah Hill) and several other businesspeople, Belfort creates his own firm named Stratton Oakmont and takes Wall Street by storm in this hilarious, entertaining and energetic adventure of a film.

After revealing these top five films, I know it in my personal and critical heart that “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” are the top two films that will be battling it out on Oscar night.

Why “12 Years a Slave” may be the perfect candidate to win for Best Picture is because of its incredible writing, all around acting and of course, the historical aspect of the film about the brutality of slavery that puts itself in front of all other films.

If “12 Years a Slave” eventually wins for Best Picture, it’s possible that some critics may say it’s because of the “white guilt thing” that’s creating controversy because the film is about the hostility and brutality of the white man and slavery in the past. This is where this film and “Gravity” differ. So in a flawed race, the Academy may feel obligated to grant “12 Years a Slave” as Best Picture.

But on the other hand, “Gravity” may also be the perfect candidate to win for Best Picture because of its gorgeous cinematography and visual effects, its tour-de-force performance by leading lady Bullock and its revolutionary and ahead-of-its-time filmmaking.

I like to compare this year’s Best Picture race to Oscar race in 2010, between Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

As a fan, I was deeply connected to Cameron’s once-in-a-lifetime visually astounding and aesthetically gorgeous epic, even experiencing what people called “Post Avatar Depression.” Despite the fact that I did not get a chance to see “The Hurt Locker,” I still believed that “Avatar” would win because of all its success, publicity and rave reviews.

“The Hurt Locker” did in fact win the 2010 Best Picture award, and in all years after, all Best Picture winners have had some historical aspect that, in one way or another, has made up most of what the film is about. An early-1900s King George VI biopic “The King’s Speech” won in 2011, a film addressing an early 1900s silent film star’s struggling transition into sound: “The Artist” won the next year and a film about the American hostage rescue in 1980 Iran: “Argo” won in 2013. It seems like historical films always have a way of becoming the big winner at the Oscars.

But this year I would like to see a change.

That is why I am casting my vote for “Gravity” as the Oscar’s Best Picture winner this year.

Not only because I feel that this film fits the role of the winner for Best Picture perfectly because of it revolutionary filmmaking and astounding story and visuals just like “Avatar,” but also to bring a change to Hollywood and balance out what I believe, and what the Academy should believe, is a Best Picture worthy film. This would be a film that possesses the perfect qualities of a Best Picture worthy film, plus, the evidence of what the beauty of filmmaking truly and undoubtedly is and what kind of wondrous future it seems to be headed in in this technologically advanced society of ours. The film like this is Cuaron’s “Gravity.”

Overall, my vote for Best Picture goes to Cuaron’s “Gravity” but I believe the Academy will vote for McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.”



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