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The State of the Race: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

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There is no doubt that the human experience feels more isolated and isolating now than it ever has. We’re more connected yet less connected than we ever have been. Our avatars seem to thrive while our human bodies continue to live out our mortal lives.

While we are more connected to one another than ever before, the films that have captured the zeitgeist so far this year deal with isolation, survival, fear and futility.   Many of us have people we’ve known all our lives updating us on Facebook about the image of themselves they want the world to see, all filtered through the fantasy lens of happiness.  A picture of a smiling couple on their wedding day, toasting the sunset in Belize, mid-jump into a pool on a summer’s day.  Every artfully filtered alternate existence constructed on Facebook and Instagram only makes our own lives seem more dull by comparison.

Why now? What is it about 2013 that seems to be a catalyst for this kind of end of days panic? What about our lives leads our storytellers, and our critics, to gravitate towards tales of mortality on one hand, and stories of life’s satisfaction on the other? With a dynamic new President who was supposed to represent a fresh world view imbued with hopeful vitality, we should feel less afraid for the future. And yet that’s what we are: afraid.  We’ve found out that our privacy has vanished — our conversations are being logged, our movements watched, our messages monitored. We’ve seen in one year 20 elementary students gunned down by a sociopath who was nursed by the NRA’s code of conduct and carpet-bomb marksmanship.  We’ve seen yet another isolated white male open fire in a crowded movie theater, and another and another. We watched the harrowing hours following the Boston bombing — as if that wasn’t frightening enough — to witness the manhunt end on live television with eighty rounds of automatic weapons fired at the suspect who lay wounded on a boat in someone’s backyard.  All of that was okay with us because he was our enemy.  We watched it on prime time TV.

A handful of films this year ruminate on quality of life — Her, August: Osage County, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Labor Day and Before Midnight, and even The Butler in its own way. The other half represent the panicked urgency of literal life and death — 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, Captain Phillips.

In Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) says “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” That defines much of what propels the year’s most prescient stories; the difference between surviving and living.

Hovering between the two worlds are Gravity and All Is Lost. Neither can be interpreted as solely about survival. After all, both of them dwell in the metaphysical. Gravity’s heroine Sandra Bullock must find the will to live because life on earth has to mean something. It is about both survival and about finding a better way to live the life you’ve been blessed with — or, get busy living or get busy dying.  Reaction to All Is Lost has divided its viewers into two camps: those who believe it’s about how clinging to life is futile in the inevitable face of death versus those who believe it’s about how we all struggle to get through life, one obstacle at a time. An equal number of people interpret All is Lost’s ending differently.  It was left deliberately ambiguous — a mirror reflected back at the audience to decide their own fate — give up or keep going. Either way, you walk away from both of these films appreciating your own feet on the ground, the air in your lungs and the hope of another better day to come.

In Spike Jonze’s luminous, heartbreaking love story, Her, technology has evolved to be more compassionate, to relate to humans with a warmer interface.  Shot after shot shows how disconnected society is to eventually become. There are families still and their offspring to create new families. But there are also outlets for the isolated among us — operating systems that are can function as our new best friends, potential lovers, even mistresses.  Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a computer system that is supposed to be designed to fulfill his emotional needs. He doesn’t count on that system having needs of its/her own, which it eventually does. Phoenix’ character eventually starts examining his real life, or more to the point, his broken marriage. Her feels like a film about a modern crisis, a cautionary tale about how life might go for young single men who like their toys a little too much. It’s 2013 and we’re already almost there.  If there was an operating system invented right now like Samantha, millions would want to install it.  A person can have anything they dream of in our modern world as long as they can accept the notion that something unreal can be real if the imagination is powerful enough.

Llewyn Davis chases after a dream that does not belong to him. It isn’t even fate because he really does have the same chance at becoming a superstar as Bob Dylan. The only catch, he’s not particularly exceptional. His singular quest for his goal renders him impotent to the pleasures of real life — love, friendship, a family. Success is everything to him and he’s prepared to sacrifice every last thing in order to get it. The only problem is that what he wants most is an impossible dream.

In John Wells’ August: Osage County a whole family is oppressed beneath generations of madness. There is a gnawing sense of time passing, of wasted opportunities, wasted youth — women being abandoned by their husbands for younger women because older women are no longer seen as desirable.  The much needed affirmation of life never comes to the characters in Osage County. Their existence is a bleak one. They’re lucky if they escape at all. Death almost seems preferable compared to the hell they’re living. What do you do if you’re stuck in a room with people who make you feel like dying?  You walk out of the room.

Though August: Osage County is about abandoning the trappings of an unhealthy family, Nebraska is about rescuing that family — sticking together to find what little is left of a dying man. The opposite of Tracy Letts’ universe is Bob Nelson’s.  While at the end of the day the message rings loud and true: do not waste your time here by being cruel and settling, one film moves in a more compassionate direction as Will Forte lets go of what his father has done and figures there isn’t enough time left to look for more. Repair what’s there. In August: Osage County, Julia Roberts cannot survive if she does that. She will become the monster she’s been running from.

Labor Day and Before Midnight also dwell on the passing of time but they’re also about how the first spark of love is sometimes a mistake that might take a whole life to live through. Labor Day is about seizing the moment when it comes your way as both Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet’s characters are finished paying for past crimes and now long to regain all that slipped away in the meantime. Before Midnight is about a couple doing everything they can to live up to the idealized love that gripped them twenty years ago.

Finally, in The Book Thief, Death himself is a character. He longs to be human, even, because what he sees in those he takes away is everything beautiful. The film closes with this passage, among many great ones in this story:

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant. I AM HAUNTED BY HUMANS.”

We live in a world that is changing so fast many of us can’t keep up with it. How much easier it is to simply tune it out, to live out one’s days staring at a computer or smart phone, waiting for the days to pass. The Best Picture race will always thread through the collective consciousness of right now, even when they reflect backwards to those moments in our history we understand.

When Solomon Northup says “I don’t want to survive, I want to live” he might as well be erasing 150 years of history to speak to current generations who live in a much different time, a time worth appreciating, freedom still worth dying for. Northup doesn’t just speak for the African American holocaust — but for all the generations to come, anyone who squanders freedom because they’ve allowed themselves to be locked in a life they can’t bear.

Perhaps the film that can challenge Gravity or 12 Years a Slave will be different from the rest. The Butler or Saving Mr. Banks are more traditional narratives that examine true stories when our roles were more clearly defined. Will Oscar voters want to be challenged by films that push the boundaries outward? Can they really step up to the plate with 3-D and visual effects by embracing Gravity? Pete Hammond and Anne Thompson think perhaps they will.

Or will they feel the pulse of making history with the chance to reward Steve McQueen and 12 Years a Slave? It’s not just a film that give a black director the first Academy win in 86 years — it’s also the only film about slavery other than Gone with the Wind to get this close to winning Best Picture. Yet there has been some reported pushback among voters.  The films’ rivals will have to ensure that pushback turns into a full blown whisper campaign and that somehow minds will change.

Or will the Academy simply do what they’ve always done — reward the film with the least amount of baggage, the film anyone can watch without breaking a sweat? It’s still too early to say — and will probably be too early until the Producers Guild announce their nominees.

Some of the films this year have changed the way we look at our lives, our history and our future. Some have even challenged the way we view our own mortality, the limited time we’ve got left. Whether they pick up hardware on Oscar night or not makes no difference in the longterm. They’ve already made their mark — sometimes brutal, sometime glorious — touching lives for as long as our lives are willing to be touched.

Tentative Big Category Predictions

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
Gravity
Captain Phillips
Nebraska
Saving Mr. Banks
The Butler
Inside Llewyn Davis
All is Lost
American Hustle
Her

Dark Horse: The Book Thief

Also in the running
Dallas Buyers Club
Blue Jasmine
Fruitvale Station
Rush
Labor Day
Before Midnight

Still waiting for: 
Wolf of Wall Street

Director
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
JC Chandor, All is Lost
Alt: John Lee Hancock, Saving Mr. Banks

Best Actor
Robert Redford, All is Lost
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Alt: Forest Whitaker, The Butler

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Alt: Amy Adams, American Hustle

Supporting Actor
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Alt: Matthew McConaughy, Mud & Chris Cooper, August: Osage County

Supporting Actress
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Oprah Winfrey, The Butler
Margo Martindale, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Alt: Emily Watson, The Book Thief

Screenplay, Original
Bob Nelson, Nebraska
Kelly Marcel, Saving Mr. Banks
Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said
Alt: Danny Strong, The Butler, JC Chandor, All is Lost

Screenplay, Adapted
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Michael Petroni, The Book Thief
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Alt: Steve Coogan, Philomena

Still waiting: Wolf of Wall Street

70 Comments on this Post

  1. I have been thinkin about a specific scenario in which 12 Years a Slave loses in all major 4 categories where it is a strong contender, yet not the universally accepted the best! Then how many people would start screaming “racism” as usual. Remember even wearing a kimono for a performance at an award show can be considered racist nowadays. Ask Kate Perry!

    – yes 12 years a slave is a very well made movie but it could easily lose to Gravity, Saving Mr. banks, even American Hustle.. Is it possible?, definetely yes.

    – Steve McQueen is the favorite for many but he could lose to Cuaron or even Payne..is it possible? Definetely yes!

    – C. Ejiofor is good but he could easily lose yo Bruce Dern, Robert Redford or Matthew Mc C. Is it possible? Definetely yes!

    – Lupita N is praised for her performance but weird things have happened in the supporting categories. She could lose to Julia Roberts, June Squibb or even Amy Adams..is it possible? Definetely yes.

    So i wonder how would people respond to this scenario? It would be fun to watch for sure…some people around here would have a nervous breakdown;))))

  2. Bryce Forestieri

    I’m not so sure about HER and ALL IS LOST getting in for Best Picture, In buzz-terms, it feels like DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is a head of both right now. They seem to be just on the outside. I’d say AIL is even more of a longshot than HER. What I’m certain of is J.C. Chandor will not be nominated for Best Director. Also I know Sasha doesn’t predict movies she hasn’t seen, but I’m saving a spot for Jonah Hill. J.C. Chandor isn’t making the original screenplay cut either, if anything the Cuarons have a better chance, but they’re not a sure thing (unfortunately). I hope THE BOOK THIEF doesn’t remotely have that strong a showing as Sasha’s predicting.

  3. Dallas Buyers Club didn’t have much buzz at the Indie Spirits today. Since we’ve gone to a 10 picture nominating system, how many qualifying independent films have been passed over for a Best Picture nod at the ISAs and still managed to get a BP Oscar nomination?

  4. Isnt Joaquin Phoenix a stronger contender? I hope he is!!!!

    Not sure about all this love for ”Al is Lost”

  5. Hmmmm….Sasha saw American Hustle, right?

    And David O. isn’t listed for Best Director?

  6. I think the answer to my question is one – A Serious Man. And that was nominated for Best Director, unlike DBC.

  7. Gravity’s heroin Sandra Bullock must find the will to live because life on earth has to mean something.

    FIX THIS SENTENCE. NOW.

    I’m not sure what to make of the American Hustle reception. It’s positive for sure, but how positive? Les Miserables positive? Or Lincoln positive? I guess we’ll wait and see.

    I’m starting to think that Her will be the surprise third contender alongside Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. If reviews hold, it will be about as rapturously reviewed as those movies were and the Academy does like to throw in a quirky winner every now and then.

    Not really much to say beyond that. Outside of Gravity and Blue Jasmine I haven’t seen any of the major contenders this year. I’ll need to get working on that.

  8. Where’s Her in Best Original Screenplay ? I think it has a chance of not only getting nominated but actually winning it considering American Hustle isn’t emerging as a big sweeping player. I think it is between Her and Nebraska for Original Screenplay.

  9. Yet there has been some reported pushback among voters.

    Pushback how?

    Or will the Academy simply do what they’ve always done — reward the film with the least amount of baggage, the film anyone can watch without breaking a sweat?

    Which one is that this year?

    Some have even challenged the way we view our own mortality, the limited time we’ve got left.

    Is there something you’re not telling us? :(

  10. Robert A.

    Sasha says:

    Gravity’s heroin Sandra Bullock must find the will to live because life on earth has to mean something.

    m1 says:

    FIX THIS SENTENCE. NOW.

    Robert A. says:

    Are we sure it’s a typo? :)

  11. I am telling you now, I have been to TWO SAG screenings for August Osage County….leaving Julia out of your top 5 is a mistake. The talk out of both screenings was that this was her most impressive performance to date (with some arguing she was better than Meryl).

  12. I’m predicting a split with Lupita and Oprah and someone like Roberts or Lawrence taking the Oscar…

  13. August Osage County will be a BP nominee. Streep is a lock and Martindale is charming the hell out of the Q&A’s, she will be in supporting. The question is WHERE will Julia land? I think SAG ballot has her in supporting, but Oscar might out her and Streep in Lead alongside Blanchett, Bullock and Thompson. Dench is out.

  14. It looks like if anyone tops Lupita or Oprah in Supporting Actress would be Jennifer Lawrence…

  15. Bryce Forestieri

    Oh. Heroin is the drug, as opposed to heroine, for when the hero is a woman.

    Hmmmm….Sasha saw American Hustle, right?

    And David O. isn’t listed for Best Director?

    His stock is down as of that screening, actually –apparently far from a knock-out (in the AMPAS sense of the word). Some now speculate that not even a screenplay nod is a sure thing.

    ———————OT——————–

    The best film among the 1981 Best Picture nominees, Louis Malle’s masterpiece ATLANTIC CITY, is now streaming free of charge on Amazon Prime. You’re welcome.

  16. I can’t see a situation were The Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t make best picture and director. I personally am saving spots for both of those and Jonah Hill and overdue Dicaprio. Maybe the fact that Leo is staying chill and not trying for the Oscar and very few people are even predicting a nomination for him, will work in his favor. Don’t underestimate it!

    I personally hope and pray The Butler gets left off of everything. The only thing that can be considered worthy is Oprah, and even that is pushing it for me. But she has the love of the people and there is no way that she is not getting nominated. I can say though, that if she wins, I wont be terribly upset, but Im not rooting for her.

  17. Rooting for American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, two films that ruminate on the depth of corruption within our country, an issue that is now more relevant than ever.

    Sasha, question…why do you hold back from linking Obama to the very real, very concerning NSA expansions? The reason people are afraid is exactly because of the President’s “hopeful vitality” that you mentioned. If we can’t trust a man who WAS seemingly everything the country needed, how can we trust any of our leaders?

  18. And rooting against August (a tired, “squabbling family” domestic drama…how many times have we seen that?) and All is Lost (a film with nearly zero dialogue and an extremely vague/broad thematic statement).

  19. Watch out for Chris Cooper to sneak in BSA for a a delicious
    subtle turn in Osage County……

  20. Jerry Grant

    Wow, surprised to see “American Hustle” so low in the estimations! But not doubting Sasha’s judgment. It’s the best I’ve got to go on at the moment. I still predict I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.

    I would love to see J.C. Chandor get in for Director.

    I also agree that–from the trailer–Jonah Hill is looking strong for Supporting, replacing Gandolfini or Abdi. Gandolfini is a strong example of someone who will be an everlasting legend despite zero Oscar history.

  21. Bryce Forestieri

    Gandolfini is a strong example of someone who will be an everlasting legend despite zero Oscar history.

    +1

  22. unlikely hood

    How was All is Lost’s ending deliberately ambiguous? (SPOILER) He was very clearly rescued. To me that felt atonal, especially after having seen Gravity weeks before. Why should Our Man rely on others? Should I be saying “Oh, well, this proves no man is an island?” I just felt a sort of meh-ness – nothing like the soaring I felt with Gravity.

  23. Don’t understand Her getting BP without Jonze screenplay or Phoenix. If anything it would be lone screenplay. If Her got BP might as predict Jonze in director as well…and Phoenix in Best Actor.

    And not surprised SLP haters are underestimating the directors next film.

  24. Al Robinson

    “How was All is Lost’s ending deliberately ambiguous? (SPOILER) He was very clearly rescued.”

    unlikely hood,

    I saw the movie too, and I think there are actually 3 possibilities for what happens in the end:

    1. He never actually started swimming towards the surface, and he drowned down below. Seeing him swim towards the surface was only in his mind.

    2. He was rescued altogether.

    3. He breathed his last breath before he could lift his head out of the water, and STILL died.

    I think the ending is a “choose what you want the ending to mean to you” kind of ending.

  25. I think Philomena is like 2010’s The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Salve is 2010’s The Social network. I think Philomena could actually get nomination or even win major categories.

    My list for Best pic:

    12 Years a Slave

    Philomena

    Inside Llewyn Davis

    Saving Mr. Bank

    Captain Philips

    The Wolf of Wall Street

    Gravity

    Nebraska

    The Butler

    American Hustle

    I actually don’t see so much chance for All Is Lost to get into Best Pic and Director category. Although I love this film

  26. Sasha,
    Dear Leader doesn’t want us to spend time on movies and Oscar predictions. We’re supposed to be out and about convincing young men and menopausal women that they need and want pediatric dental care.

  27. I saw August Osage County at a screening today (Juliette Lewis and Abigail Breslin were there) and I think actors are going to eat it up.

    My predictions:
    Best Pic
    Best Actress (Streep)
    Best Supporting Actress (Roberts)
    Best Supporting Actor (Cooper)
    Best Adapted Screenplay

    The dinner scene got a huge reaction, the eat the fish scene got a huge reaction and IMO the best scenes in the film and most effective is when Julia’s character talks to her daughter in the car. That might be Julia Roberts’s best scene ever and the scene where Violet tells her girls about the boots. Meryl is amazing in that scene. In a perfect world they should and would get in Lead – both are deserving.

  28. Joaquin in that picture reminds me of Leonard in The Big Bang Theory.

  29. Sasha — I have been reading your site for years, and I have always enjoyed reading you. This the best piece you’ve ever done. You summed up the year in the movies — and the world — perfectly. There won’t be a better piece like this from anyone all year. Congrats.

  30. Bob Burns

    yeah… very good essay.

    these predictions seem rather evolved, settled. Wolf will probably shuffle em some, but these look pretty close to the deal.

    Imagining the late Oscar night foto of Redford, Blanchett, Leto and Nyong’o with their statues

    alienation. I am reminded of a friends story of seeing Richard Russell, earstwhile Senate lion, sitting alone eating in a nursing home. No more power, no more human connection.

  31. moviewatcher

    Disapointed that you don’t mention Blue is the Warmest Color once in this article. But otherwise, a nice piece.

  32. Pepper, it may be an isolated incident but The Hurt Locker was only nominated for best actor and supporting actor at the Spirits. Granted I think those nominations were handed to the film when it first screen loooong before it hit the festivals but it became the juggernaut and won all the Oscars.

  33. Sasha, on the side you only have Her listed for best picture. Nothing else? I think it’s a strong contender for a screenplay nomination and maybe original score. It’s just surprising to see a critically (so far) lauded film only show up in one category…and it’s the biggest category at that!

  34. Scott (the other one)

    ALL is Lost — SPOILER ALERT:

    To say the ending is ambiguous is just ridiculous, unless you are just willing to utterly fantasize about something that never happened. There is NOTHING to suggest that Redford “dreams” his rescue. There is NOTHING to suggest he dies, out of breath, when the hand reaches down to grab him. What occurs on screen is that Redford is sinking, and at the last minute he sees the rescue opportunity, and he actively swims up to the surface, and actively reaches out to make contact with the hand that reaches down.

    Saying that this is ambiguous is like saying that every ending of every movie is ambiguous because it MIGHT have been a dream of one of the characters. Is the end of the Godfather amiguous? Did Don Corleone not really die in the tomato garden, and the rest of the movie is just his dream of what might happen to Michael after his death? Is the end of the Wizard of Oz ambiguous, because it is possible that Dorothy’s balloon never takes off from Oz, and when she closes her eyes and says there’s no place like home, she just imagines the ending of her returning to Kansas? Don’t overcomplicate things that are perfectly clear.

  35. Scott (the other one)

    p.s Yes, I realize that in fact the whole of the wizard of Oz is really a dream in Dorothy’s mind when she is knocked out in the tornado. My point is simply that, narratively, the story in her mind is that she leaves Oz and returns home, and it is silly to impose a “dream” scenario on the ending of a film where there is nothing to justify it. You can make nonsense of any movie by doing this.

  36. Mark Johnson

    Not sure if anyone else has asked yet, but what are your thoughts on Lone Survivor nabbing a Best Picture nom? I didn’t see it listed in your rankings or even in your still in the running section. Do you feel it will be too rough for them?

  37. Jerry Grant

    SPOILER ALERT (re: “All is Lost”):

    Unlikelyhood and Scott, sorry, but you are wrong. Watch the movie again. Watch those last shots, and tell me what you see. A total resignation, a comfort towards death, for the first time in the entire movie. Allowing himself to sink. A bright light from above. A boat. A flash of light. An arm reaching down, and our man lifted up. It is as clearly a (Christian) symbol of death as you will ever see. Yes, it’s beautifully ambiguous, because it could *theoretically* be true that a boat comes along at the last minute. But no, that’s not what the movie’s about, that’s not the way the movie works. That would make the movie more like “Gravity”. “All Is Lost” has entirely different principles than “Gravity.” Watch the movie again and tell me what it’s aiming towards. He is an old man and he is facing death, and there is nothing he can do about it. That’s the underlying concept behind every occurrence. It is about an old man. It is not a survivor’s story. That will change your viewing of the movie.

    Further, once you open up the possibility that what you “see” in the final moments is not “reality” as such, you can open your mind to other readings of the movie of the whole. Personally, I see it as a man who is sick with cancer (the way that water rushes in at the beginning), and then must leave his home towards the hospital, and then take on a greatly compromised vessel (body), but nonetheless all the while fight fight fight work work work, because that’s what we do. That’s the spirit of the movie, and if you watch it attuned to that existential interest, it becomes a far sadder and more powerful and more accomplished work.

  38. I think Short Term 12 has a shot at 3 Oscar nominations Larson for best actress(I think she’s a lock) Keith Stanfield for best original song and Destin Cretton for best original screenplay with an outside shot for best picture

  39. David, in any other year Short Term 12 would probably get in on 10 best pic nominations. But this year there are so many great films out that if it was nominated for best original song then I’d consider that a victory. I, myself, am looking forward to Her more than anything and in a perfect world I see it getting at least 6 nominations. This year I’d be ecstatic if it got in for just best original screenplay, where I believe it has the best shot.

  40. “There is no doubt that the human experience feels more isolated and isolating now than it ever has.”

    Really? No doubt? None?

  41. I feel like a fanboy… I feel like a troll… but I also feel that if Her doesn’t get in for Best Picture and Best Screenplay over something like The Butler, I’m going to cry.

    There’s a part of me that is happy it is flying JUST under the radar. It looks like around 30% of people predict it will get a BP nomination, though very surprisingly, only 50% or so think for best screenplay. I have to say… are you on drugs? It is by far its most likely nomination (remember Eternal Sunshine?).

    In any case, to echo m1’s point, if the reviews hold up (which I just can’t imagine them not), we’re looking at a movie coming along that most people haven’t even heard of yet, and then becoming the must see critical pick right in the middle of the season. That could lead to a whole lot of traction… or it could mean too little too late.

    I’m still hoping for (nominations):
    Best Picture
    Best Director
    Best Actor
    Best Supporting Actress (x2… please… but probably not)
    Best O. Screenplay
    Best Editing
    Best Art Direction
    Best Score
    Best Original Song

    Realistically, I’m just hoping it doesn’t get left out here:
    Best Picture
    Best Director
    Best O. Screenplay

  42. unlikely hood

    SPOILERS

    I do like the alternative views on the end of All is Lost, especially Jerry Grant’s.

    I wish I could share the same thrill. I’m a huge fan of Cast Away – when people see the DVD in my collection, ask if they can borrow it because they’ve never seen it, I stare and go WHAAAAAT? – and I love 127 Hours and Life of Pi and a few other such projects, and I think Redford has long been an underrated actor, but somehow All is Lost left me…meh.

    I liked the beginning, because it suggested in retrospect that his “voice” was coming from his note in the bottle, then floating past the shoe crate.

    But…the film lost a sense of urgency somewhere along the line, maybe around the fourth “x” he drew on the map…it just felt like there weren’t enough twists…compared to other such films. Perhaps this is partly because Redford doesn’t change over the course of the film. I get that on some level that’s clever, but compared to Pi Patel and Chuck Noland and others…I feel we as the audience need a sort of comeuppance to reward our time investment. And I feel All is Lost half-heartedly attempted one (“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck”) but it didn’t feel like Redford had changed.

    I would be surprised if it got a BP nom, but if so, I guess that’s fine. I really would be shocked if Redford and Bullock both won. That would send every A-lister in Hollywood heading for the nearest 127-Hours-like script. What I consider more likely, however, is that they will, in some weird karmic way, cancel each other out, clearing the way for Blanchett and Ejiofor, or someones.

  43. Jerry Grant

    Fair enough! I love Cast Away, 127 Hours, and Life of Pi as well (and Gravity of course).

    The distinctive thing about “All Is Lost” for me is its minimalism: that quality that makes works by Beckett, Cormac McCarthy, W.G. Sebald, Kazuo Ishiguro so powerful to me. Robert Redford spoke in an interview of T.S. Eliot’s line, “There is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” (Beckett’s “The Unnameable” ends with, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”) It seems to me that Chandor was trying to evoke something more along those lines. The issue is not the sensationalism of surviving in high-stress scenarios, or survival of all, but the familiar theme of trying and working in the face of all things.

  44. - “There is no doubt that the human experience feels more isolated and isolating now than it ever has.”

    – Really? No doubt? None?

    – gosh, you’re right. With each of those hectoring, scolding, naggy little questions I felt us bonding closer and closer together with intimate warmth and companionship.

  45. Jesus Alonso

    Just finished The Conjuring and… heck, why aren’t they pushing both Farmiga and Taylor for a nom? Even a Best Picture nod would be possible, just if they tried. It’s certainly way better than plenty of the nominees of the last 10 years, and an instant genre classic.

  46. Just back from Philomena.

    IF shes nommed, I see a strong case for Dench winning. I thought she was excellent.

    Overall, the film was very assuredly done and affecting, as well. I could see quite a few noms if AMPAS goes for it big.

  47. Gather ’round kids. I have a tale to tell.

    If it were longer. 20 minutes let’s say. I would be camping out right here, annoying the hell out of you all, campaigning in vain for BLACK NATIVITY. I freakin’ loved it. I thought that I would.

    Remember last year when I was all ‘Les Mis *vomit* *vomit*’, because they couldn’t sing? Well this musical has some amazing voice talent who can act (which is the right way to cast a musical). It’s family friendly. There isn’t a thing wrong with it except that it’s too short. I need more songs. I need Forest Whitaker to sing more. His voice is amazing but you hardly get to hear it. Trust me I’m satisfied with what I got, but I want more. I don’t go to church anymore but I’m going to pray that somehow against all odds there will be a director’s cut or extended edition. If I won the Powerball, I would buy everyone a ticket (and a Coke). I want to hug it and squeeze it and make sure everyone sees it.

    Okay. Go back to what you were doing.

  48. Al Robinson

    “But…the film lost a sense of urgency somewhere along the line, maybe around the fourth “x” he drew on the map…it just felt like there weren’t enough twists…compared to other such films. Perhaps this is partly because Redford doesn’t change over the course of the film.”

    unlikely hood,

    Okay, that is a very valid observation. I guess my retort to that feeling is in 2 parts:

    1. The audience is only with this guy for and hour and a half. That isn’t necessarily long enough (in my opinion) to say that the film “kept the audience waiting for a change”.

    2. It’s hard to see how he changed since he barely spoke a word. His feelings had been shared in what he wrote in the note, but since he barely speaks, it’s hard to know how he was before things went wrong. You know, what he changed from.

  49. Al Robinson

    Okay, retort is the wrong word. I guess retort means to: say something in answer to a remark or accusation, typically in a sharp, angry, or wittily incisive manner.

    The word I’d go with in place of is: response.

  50. @ antoinette.

    i agree with everything you said. i enjoyed black nativity as well. the whole time when i was in line my family was debating should we see that or see hunger games which is clocking in around 200 million. you know the sad thing is there was only like two other people in the theater with me and my family lol. i dunno i think i made the right choice as i like supporting underrated movies like these that dont usually make a lot of money? and again, i enjoyed it.

    and you know, just for that reason alone ill buy a ticket to mandela this week as well.:)

  51. @superkk It was just me and my mom too. :( But we did go to the earliest showing.

  52. Jason Travis

    For the comments on August: Osage County- PLEASE put *Spoiler Alert!!!* before ruining key scenes, like one poster just did. It should be something that is standard- especially when these are films some of us won’t see until late December.

    With that being said, I don’t get how your Dark Horse list doesn’t even consist of A:OC- is it THAT divided??? You list a lot of other smaller movies no one will have seen, yet A:OC is a Xmas release with an ALL_STAR cast. Come on now.

  53. Jake Bart

    Sasha, I know you enjoyed it, but at this point a nod for THE BOOK THIEF would be an even more shocking turn than EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE a few years ago. At least that one had a crew with lots of Oscar history.

    And where is AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY on the list of Best Picture possibilities. I have it making it in on the bottom end of 10 nominees and I can see why some would not predict it, but not having it as a contender seems like an oversight. Are you hearing bad buzz from within AMPAS or something? I think the Actor’s Branch can push it over the line for a nod.

    In total, I could see AUGUST bagging 5 nods:
    Picture (solid chance)
    Actress (Streep is locked)
    Supporting Actress X2 (Roberts has some good buzz built, and I’m personally rooting for Martindale, great character actress).
    Adapted Screenplay (Judging from the play’s delicious dialog and the relative weakness of the competition, I’d say you have a near lock here).

  54. Like most people, I love Judi Dench. I saw “Philomena” today. It was a fine movie, and she was fine in it; however, there is no way that this performance by Dench deserves to beat that of Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine.”

  55. Pierre de Plume

    This really is a fine essay – the subject is touch to tackle. So congrats, Sasha, on that.

    I agree with those who suspect Wolf of Wall Street will become a contender.

    And about the so-called ambiguity of All Is Lost — personally, I don’t think it’s all that ambiguous. I’ll keep my own view of that to myself. I’ll say one thing: It must be ambiguous given the differences in interpretation seen here. :)

  56. I’m all about ambiguity. For a while I tried to discuss how I felt when War Horse took on a distinctly surreal tone after the fog of the gas attack cleared. The chain of events after that became more and more unlikely in order to bring them home back from the brink in ways that looked hallucinatory to me, but nobody even wanted to argue with me about that interpretation.

    The Artist is actually a better movie, in my eyes, if I believe Valentin succeeds in blowing his brains out and the final dance scene is just his arrival in Heaven. For that matter, anybody who’s seen actual vintage footage of King George VI and his mild case of nervousness in front of mic could easily reach the conclusion that the King in the movie was just dreaming up the excuse that he had a problem speaking to cover up for the fact that he was nothing but a spoiled royal whiner.

  57. Jerry Grant

    Ryan I’m assuming those are facetious examples in which “imagining” metaphorical gestures makes the movie better?

    I think “The Artist” is definitely a good example of that. It would certainly have been better with a suicide. (And wouldn’t it be great if it ended, not only with the entrance, of sound, but with the entrance of black actors, rather than white, with truly *disruptive* sound to the great silence of white early 20th c. prosperity?)

    As for “War Horse,” I’m agreeing with what might be a sarcastic observation you’re making–that there’s something rather more self-conscious about the Spielberg’s “style” of optimism in that movie. I think in fact there is. I think it’s a peculiar movie in its audacious sincerity. A.O. Scott gets at it in his 2011 review.

    But of course those movies don’t directly and obviously offer two entirely opposite endings with the exact same images in the way “All Is Lost” does. So if the commentary is sarcastic, I beg to disagree with the parallel!

  58. Jerry Grant, I haven’t yet seen All Is Lost so I don’t yet know what I’ll think of the ending. But whichever ending makes the movie more meaningful to me, that’s the ending I’ll believe. And nobody will be able to convince me otherwise because that’ll be my own interpretation and I won’t even want to argue about it. The Artist didn’t have the balls to be a better movie than the prosaic literal ending it gave us. But I do sincerely believe there was more than meets the eye with War Horse. I know Spielberg had to respect the stage production and I also know the stage production required and encouraged the audience to make a leap in imagination. Translated to screen, that stage magic is gone. But over and over the horse is referred to in terms that gave it metaphorical significance beyond its existence as a flesh and blood horse. I was not being fasicious. I was not being sarcastic. War Horse does not soar for me with a literal plonk of a happy ending. But War Horse does soar for me if I believe — and I do — that nobody emerged whole after that gas attack. The movie becomes a different thing for me after the mustard gas attack. Visually, it enters an another realm that is unlike anything that preceded. It becomes something much more magnificent to me if all the coincidences falling into place and all the surreal sunsets are only a struggle to make order of chaos with the hallucinatory visions of a dying dream. I like War Horse either way — literal or poetic — but I like it better with my interpretation of everything after the mustard gas attack being a chemically induced delusion, so that’s the way I want to see it. I don’t care if nobody agrees. Anyone who tries to convince me that any of those ending scenes are real is trying to convince me that War Horse is a movie without the guts and complex psychological ambition to be the work of genius I believe it to be. I will not be convinced that War Horse does not have that ambition and guts.

  59. Happy Thanksgiving!!! Just got back from Black Friday mania at Kohl’s, spent an hour & a half at the check out line, promise never to do it again, not for a bomber jacket, a pair of leather shoes, gloves & some other stuff I don’t really need, receipt says I saved $485, NOT, I lost $220. Looking forward to tomorrow, I’m watching Dallas Buyer’s Club & 12 Years a Slave back-to-back! And then I can get IN with the conversations.

  60. Jerry Grant

    Ryan, I 100% agree about both films. Didn’t know there are others who thought “War Horse” to be genius like I do, so I am very happy to hear it!

  61. Jerry Grant

    I also think the general artistry that pervades “War Horse” encourages us to see and think about it in different ways–even more so for “All Is Lost.” Not so with “The Artist.”

  62. It looks right now the American Hustle is out of the race in both BP and BD. Same can be true for the Wolf of Wall Street as well. So we will probably not see Scorsese and Russell in the Best Director list.

  63. Ryan,
    You haven’t seen “All Is Lost” yet? Naughty, naughty. :-)
    (It’s overrated.)

  64. Cate Blanchett — lead actress

    Chiwetel Ejiofor —- lead actor

    Lupita Nyong’o, — supporting actress

    Daniel Brühl — supporting actor

    my picks :)

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