What to make of the Oscars?

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By Matthew Sharpe

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The season of snazzy award shows has all but ended. With the Golden Globes and Grammys behind us, most winners and losers of popular entertainment have been decided. There remains only the looming prospect of The Oscars, and all the wit Ellen DeGeneres can bring to it. The films, deemed the best of 2013 by a group of nondescript 80 year-old white men, will be awarded with glistening statues, the recipients of said statues will give long-winded speeches thanking their mother, among other less significant people, and everyone will go to sleep, feeling like they have gained something worthwhile.

Whether or not you value the relevance of the ceremony, now in its 86th year, it’s hard to deny that receiving an Academy Award is the highest esteem one can get in the film industry. And so it is with an underlying respect that we jibe at its antiquated and predictable nature. The last year has brought some excellent films, so I’ll do my best to sort the deserving nominees from the ones I predict to be the inevitable victors.

What should win for Best film – “12 Years a Slave”. I don’t think there’s any better way to validate this than by saying that it’s quite simply the most important film in years. It’s not just fantastically directed and performed , it’s necessary. Steve McQueen has directed what has been an overwhelming critical success, telling the compelling true story of Solomon Northup and his time spent in slavery. It’s harrowing, brutal and it thoroughly deserves to win.

What will probably win – “12 Years a Slave”. It’s not often I tip the film that, I feel, deserves the Oscar to actually win, but the majority of other awards the film has already pocketed, in particular the Golden Globe, gives reason to believe it will most likely pip its closest rival, “Gravity”. If not for that, I’m sure the fear from public backlash for snubbing such a racially significant film will do the trick.

What should win for Best Director – Spike Jonze, “Her”. I know what you’re thinking, Spike Jonze isn’t even nominated in this category. This is really more of a “What should have been nominated” segment then, as I truly feel that Jonze’s work on this film surpassed any other nominees. “Her” centres on a man, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who begins a relationship with a futuristic computer operating system, not dissimilar to Apple’s Siri. The main reason I feel that Jonze deserves the award is the ease with which he interprets and develops a premise that, otherwise has a lot of potential to be a flop. While a lesser director would have taken this down the route of “And then, like, the computer becomes evil and starts trying to kill him, like HAL-9000 and stuff”, Jonze turns it into something more unique. The film manages to be a poignant love story, whilst revealing a number of troubling insights about our technology-obsessed society.

What will win, however – Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”. I don’t think many people doubt the outcome of this one. While it is unusual for two films to share the Best Picture and Best Director awards between them, it happened last year, and I see no reason why it won’t happen again (possibly as a result of the Academy’s attempts to offer equal plaudits to its rival nominee “12 Years a Slave”.) Cuarón has been lauded for his technical mastery on this film, and rightly so; it’s a visual feast set in a thoroughly convincing orbital landscape. I feel like this is a pretty obvious win.

Who should win Best Actor – Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”.This was an excellent performance in a truly weighty role. Aware of how much of the film’s success rests on his performance, Ejiofor never flinched and delivered a remarkable portrayal that was engaging throughout.

Who is most likely to win though – Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”. Having already won the Golden Globe, McConaughey seems a likely bet to take home his first Oscar here for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof, an HIV-positive rodeo cowboy determined to help out fellow AIDS epidemic sufferers with illegal drugs.

What should win Best Screenplay – “Her”. I’ve already discussed the directorial genius of Spike Jonze in this film, but the writing is equally impressive. A story that could have easily been turned into a predictable, gimmicky psychological thriller about a sentient operating system instead becomes a beautifully crafted, perfectly paced drama that, despite being set in the future with a space-age concept, is as true to present day life as any film you might see.

What will win, however, “American Hustle”. Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell are being widely tipped to receive the award for their work on this comedy-drama. However, I saw it as a film driven more by character and performance than by plot, and thus not as deserving of recognition for its writing. Though I have to say that the stiff competition in the other major categories means that the Academy will most likely show its appreciation for the film here.