A Bluffer’s Guide to the 2014 Academy Awards

Eilis Brennan

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Don’t know your Tarantino from your del Toro? Feel left out when your friends talk about the Academy Awards and you know nothing??

Fear not, dear reader, I’m here to help with my guide to the 2014 Oscars. I’ve got the main categories all sorted for you and what to say about each nominee. It’s the ultimate guide…in my humble opinion!

Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre), home of the Academy Awards ceremony since 2002.
Kodak Theatre (now the Dolby Theatre), home of the Academy Awards ceremony since 2002. Photo: Wikimedia

Academy Award night is this Sunday, March 2nd, and is the biggest party on the Hollywood calendar. Everyone dresses in their finest Valentino or Dior and practices their gracious loser faces. I’m looking at you DiCaprio….I know you’d sell your mother to win! But I digress.

It’s a night to celebrate the past year in film and swear your head off when your favourite director/actor/actress goes home empty-handed (No? Just me?).

On Oscar night, look over this list and be the smartest film buff in the room. Your friends will thank you for it….or hate you for being an insufferable know-it-all. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Best Picture

12 Years A Slave* – Story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York who is lured to Washington DC with the promise of work. He’s kidnapped & sold into slavery in the South. Film charts his journey back to his family. Very moving & uncomfortable film. Depicts the horrors of slavery with unflinching directness. Strong cast. Won the Golden Globe for Best Drama; has been nominated for over 350 awards.                                                                                                                                 American Hustle – Based on true story of the FBI’s ABSCAM operation in 1970’s & 1980’s. Two con artists are caught by the FBI and forced to con other artists to save themselves from jail. An ensemble film. Won Best Comedy/Musical at Golden Globes. 2nd consecutive year a David O. Russell film has been nominated in this category (Silver Linings Playbook lost in 2013)                             Captain Phillips – Inspired by the true story of Captain Richard Phillips who was taken hostage by Somali pirates. Excellent dynamic between Tom Hanks & Barkhad Abdi’s characters, no Best Actor nomination for Hanks. Outsider to win. Lost to 12 Years a Slave at Golden Globes.                                         Dallas Buyer’s Club – True story of Ron Woodroof who is diagnosed with HIV & given 30 days to live. Approved medication makes him worse so he turns to the black market to ease his pain. Surprisingly not nominated for Best Drama at Golden Globes.                                                                               Gravity – After a mid-air catastrophe, two astronauts find themselves floating in space with oxygen levels dangerously low. Lost to 12 Years a Slave at Globes. Visually stunning film, will win many of the technical awards.                                                                                                                                                                             Her – Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) has a relationship with an intelligent computer operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. A beautiful story, well directed by Spike Jonze. The Academy usually don’t give the Best Picture award to the quirky film.                                                                     Nebraska – Woody (Bruce Dern) gets a letter saying he’s “won the Sweepstakes”. He insists on driving to Lincoln to collect his money, dragging his son along for the ride. Huge underdog in the category.                                                                                                                                                                                         Philomena – True story of Philomena Lee. Depicts her 50 year search for the son she was forced to give up. Not a chance of winning.                                                                                                                                                   The Wolf of Wall Street – Story of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Magnificent black comedy with bite: fast, filthy, furious, yet controlled. Has been losing the Best Comedy awards to American Hustle all season.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón* (Gravity) – Hot favourite! Alfonso Cuarón’s first nomination for Director. Cuarón would be the first Hispanic Best Director winner. The film was such a huge undertaking that he is almost guaranteed the Oscar. Also won Best Director at Golden Globes and Director’s Guild of America. Expect tears if he wins.                                                                                                                                                   Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) – Also a first time nominee. McQueen would be the first black Best Director winner. Huge achievement to have been nominated as it’s only his 3rd film. 2nd in the odds behind Cuarón.                                                                                                                                                       Alexander Payne (Nebraska) – 3rd nomination for Best Director; was nominated for Sideways and The Descendants. Fun Fact: He’s from Nebraska!                                                                                                       David O. Russell (American Hustle) – 3rd nomination for Best Director; was nominated for The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.                                                                                                                                 Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) – The Academy love Scorsese. His 8th Best Director nomination after *deep breath* Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and Hugo. Won once for The Departed; should have won for Raging Bull, beaten by Ordinary People. (Never heard of it? My point exactly!). Ties with Billy Wilder for most directing nominations.

The next Best Director winner Alfonso Cuarón? Photo: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)
The next Best Director winner Alfonso Cuarón? Photo: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)
Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof* (Dallas Buyer’s Club) – 1st Oscar nomination. Lost 38 lbs for the role. Favourite for the award. Has won the Golden Globe and SAG awards as well. Up next for him is Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s first directing job post-Batman.                                           Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup (12 Years A Slave) – Another first-time nominee. Considered “one of the best actors of his generation”, though not many people have heard of him. Won the BAFTA for Best Actor. Awarded an OBE in 2008. You might remember him from such films as Love, Actually and Salt.                                                                                                                                                                                     Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld (American Hustle) – 2nd Oscar nomination. Won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter. Has 3 projects currently in the works: Exodus, Knight of Cups and an untitled Terence Malick film. He’s Batman….and Welsh.                                               Bruce Dern as Woody Grant (Nebraska) – Outsider for the award. His 2nd nomination, was nominated for Coming Home in 1978 in Best Supporting category. Won the Best Actor award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.                                                                                                                                                Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street) – 4th Oscar nomination: 2nd for Best Actor (The Aviator & The Blood Diamond) and has 1 nomination for Best Supporting Actor (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape). His fifth film with Scorsese. DiCaprio won the Best Actor for Comedy/Musical at Golden Globes. He’s 40 this year….really!!

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett as Jeanette ‘Jasmine’ Francis* (Blue Jasmine) – 6th Oscar nomination: 2 for Best Actress (Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) & 3 for Best Supporting (The Aviator, I’m Not There and Notes on a Scandal). Won for The Aviator where she played Katherine Hepburn. Jasmine is similar to Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire (say that & sound really smart). Won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama. No contest, it’s Cate’s award.                                                              Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser/Edith Greensly (American Hustle) – Her 1st nomination for Best Actress; has been nominated 4 times in Best Supporting Category for  Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter and The Master. Won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical. Amy will likely miss out again this year…not her time to win.                                                                                                                       Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone (Gravity) – Her 2nd Best Actress nomination, won in 2009 for The Blind Side. Carries the film and does a great job of it.                                                                                                       Meryl Streep as Violet Weston (August: Osage County) – Meryl’s 18th Oscar nomination – most in Oscar history. Has won 3 awards: 2 for Best Actress (Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady) and 1 for Best Supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer). Wouldn’t be the Oscars without “The Streep”.                               Judi Dench as Philomena Lee (Philomena) – Her 5th Best Actress nomination, never won it. Judi won the Best Supporting Actress award for Shakespeare in Love. However, she’s got something none of the other nominees has – a Tony Award. Take THAT Meryl!!

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto as Rayon* (Dallas Buyer’s Club) – 1st Oscar nomination. Favourite to take home the award. Leto almost steals the show from Matthew McConaughey. Fully embodies a complex character with humour and joie du vivre. Not just winning it because he put on a dress and some make-up, Leto is remarkable.                                                                                                                                           Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps (12 Years A Slave) – 1st nomination for Fassbender. Absolutely terrifying in the film! Has lost out to Leto and Barkhad Abdi this awards season. Should have been nominated for Best Actor for Shame, ignored by the Academy. See him in X-Men: Days of Future Past this summer.                                                                                                                                                                             Barkhad Abdi as Abduwali Muse (Captain Phillips) – His debut film and 1st Oscar nomination. Impressive performance from a first-timer. Won the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA. Fun Fact: Barkhad used to work as a limo driver in Michigan.                                                                                                           Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso (American Hustle) – 2nd Oscar nomination; was nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook last year, losing to Daniel Day-Lewis. DiMaso is highly strung and Cooper plays it very well. No chance of a win this time. Watch out for him in Serena with Jennifer Lawrence, coming out later this year.                                                                                                                       Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff (The Wolf of Wall Street) – 2nd Best Supporting Actor nomination; was nominated for Moneyball in 2012. Wears possibly the worse false teeth ever in the film.

Rayon was Jared Leto's first acting role in 6 years.  Bet he's happy he picked it! Photo: emrahozcan (Flickr)
Rayon was Jared Leto’s first acting role in 6 years. Bet he’s happy he picked it! Photo: emrahozcan (Flickr)

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey* (12 Years A Slave) – 1st nomination. The film was her first role in a feature length film. Momentum has been building for Lupita and her searing, powerful performance. Not the easiest role but she’s amazing. Lost out to Jennifer Lawrence at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs but won the SAG award. She turns 30 the day before the Oscars, would be the best present if she won. Fun Fact: Lupita is fluent in English, Spanish, Swahili & Luo.                                 Jennifer Lawrence as Roslyn Rosenfeld (American Hustle) – 3rd Oscar nomination. Won Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook last year and was nominated for Winter’s Bone in 2011. Funny and acerbic, Rosalyn is the loose cannon that threatens to derail her husband’s plan. Lawrence won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for her performance. Likely to lose out to Lupita.                               Julia Roberts as Barbra Weston-Fordham (August: Osage County) – 4th Oscar nomination. Won Best Actress award for Erin Brockovich. Understated performance from Roberts that builds to a great crescendo. Deserved the nomination for her smack-down with Meryl Streep alone!                         June Squibb as Kate Grant (Nebraska) – 1st Oscar nomination at the age of 84. Critics have praised her performance. You might recognise her from such films as About Schmidt and Meet Joe Black. Fun Fact: June will appear in the tv series, Girls this year.                                                                                      Sally Hawkins as Ginger (Blue Jasmine) – 1st nomination for Sally. Quiet performance nicely balances out Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine. Getting ignored in favour of Jennifer and Lupita. Would be a huge upset if she won.

Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong'o at the BAFTAs
Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o (in Dior) at the BAFTAs. Photo: Angel Cabrera Productions (Flickr)

 

Fun Facts to Impress Your Friends

  • The Oscar is 131/2 inches tall and weighs 81/2 pounds.
  • Due to a metal shortage during World War II, the awards were made of painted plaster. After the war, the winners could exchange their plaster award for the real thing.
  • The only sequel to have won Best Picture is The Godfather: Part II. (And rightly so!)
  • Want to be an Oscar nominee? Star in a Martin Scorsese film! He’s guided 20 actors and actresses to nominations.
  • It’s estimated that about 700 million people will watch the ceremony this year.
  • Didn’t win? Never mind, you go home with a bag of freebies worth $55,000. In it, you’ll find a lifetime subscription to TiVO, a year’s supply of wine, spa vouchers and holiday packages to Mexico, Japan & the Canadian Rockies- to name but a few. Not too shabby!!
  • If she wins Best Supporting Actress, Jennifer Lawrence will become the first person to win back-to-back acting Oscars in two separate categories (she won Best Actress award last year for Silver Linings Playbook).

 

Last year's Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair party. Photo: dalapr
Last year’s Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair party. Photo: dalapr (Flickr)

Follow The Academy’s Twitter page to stay up to date on all the happenings pre, during and post ceremony.  They will be shown live on Sky Movies from 1.30am (Monday morning here) and highlights will be on RTE 2 Monday night at 9pm.

Much Oscars, very wow! The closest I'll ever get to one of these beautys!! Photo: Flickr
Much Oscars, very wow! The closest I’ll ever get to one of these beauties!! Photo: Flickr

Anything missing? Comment below with your favourite films of the year!

(* denotes the favourite)

 

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Eilis Brennan