Mar 022014

Evanston RoundTable, Feb. 27, 2014

Handicapping the Oscars is a hazardous affair. Personal friendships, political correctness, mega-bucks marketing campaigns and even lack of time – the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have just a few weeks to watch and evaluate scores of movies – all figure into the voting. Quality may be an afterthought.

Nevertheless, guessing the winners is great fun. After all, if handicappers get it wrong, who cares? They can always claim the voting was influenced by one or more of the above.

The nine movies in the Best Picture category highlight just what a solid year 2013 was for moviegoers. The nominated films were all, in part or whole, brilliantly realized stories. Which isn’t to say they were all equally good. “Twelve Years a Slave” was painful to watch and suffered at the box office. “Nebraska” had serious plot and script problems and the basic conceit of “Her” was about as plausible as grand opera.

The winner should and will be “American Hustle,” with a storyline that was intricate, highly literate and LOL funny. The movie was graced with spectacular performances, and while acting is a separate category, no Best Picture winner takes home the Oscar without strong performances. A close second is “The Wolf of Wall Street” for the three-hour roller coaster ride of adrenaline, outrageous excess and terrific acting.

The Best Actor category is, if anything, even stronger. The veteran Bruce Dern may win as a sentimental favorite in “Nebraska” – and who can begrudge a New Trier grad his moment of glory? But he seemed to walk through the movie in a daze. Is that acting or slacking? Chiwetel Ejiofor’s harrowing portrayal of Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave” was highly effective. But for sheer performance mastery, the award will go to Christian Bale as the slick huckster in “American Hustle.” Mr. Bale also benefits from the “Wow” factor, which always impresses in Hollywood: he gained 40 pounds for the role!

The only category that should be no-brainer is Best Actress. Cate Blanchett was stunning as the hopelessly unraveling heroine of Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.” But Mr. Allen has been in the headlines recently about allegations of child abuse, and the controversy could sink her chances. A safe choice would be Judi Dench in “Philomena.” She was superb as always, and it doesn’t hurt that the Weinstein Company has wheeled out its PR machine to promote the real Philomena Lee in a busy coast-to-coast promotional campaign.

But the winner will be Amy Adams in “American Hustle,” who was deliriously effective as Christian Bale’s flame. She’s already had four nominations since 2005. The fifth time’s the charm.

So… a triple crown for “American Hustle,” Christian Gale and Amy Adams. Remember: You read it here first. Or maybe you didn’t.

Edited slightly after publication to correct an error as well as clarify and improve the article.





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