by Lee Hazell
With the pedigree behind this project you can see why it’s such a favourite at the Academy. David O’Russel has long been considered one of America’s most maverick visionaries, but also one of the least recognised. With five nominations to his name, he hasn’t yet had the honour of taking a statuette home with him and American Hustle is not only a great film but one that pays homage to the most respected film makers in Hollywood history, such as Scorsese, Coppela and Altman.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Why have a Scorsese wannabe win the Oscar when you can have a Scorsese original? One of the most daringly bold and technically astonishing films of the last year, The Wolf of Wall Street has a swagger in its style that reminds you Scorsese is still the pioneer of the prestige picture. His most fast paced and thrilling film since Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street’s biggest enemy is the uncompromising nature with which it handles its polarising content. With sex in abundance, unhinged levels of drug taking and a protagonist that makes Travis Bickle look like Pope Francis, Wolfie might be too much for the old guard of the Academy to handle.
The token indie selection at this year’s Oscars will probably have to settle for a best screenplay award like all the rest have had to (if they’ve even been recognised). A charming tale of mortality and the natural tragedy of old age, Nebraska is a melancholy tale of an old man being allowed to live out one last delusional fantasy. Career best work by Bruce Dern, and gorgeously shot by Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska will probably be held back by the simplicity of its ambitions.
A film with Tom Hanks in it is does its own promotion, so beloved is he by old school Hollywood. And in this he plays a genuine American hero Richard Phillips who served as Captain aboard the MV Maersk Alabama as it was boarded by Somali pirates. That kind of flag waving is hard to argue with. The no thrills, realism of this film has in past, been successful for Katheryn Bigalowe and Ben Affleck, and I wouldn’t see it counted out here. Tom still has that sparkle in his eye that exposes the star power of one of Hollywood’s most influential actors.
This seems to be the complimentary British effort to break the predominantly American barriers with our elegantly accented charms. The tale of a middle class journalist and a working class Irish pensioner, this is one of those mild mannered culture shock films that the academy showed a weakness for when declaring Driving Miss Daisy the winner back in 1990. But I don’t think that Philomena is going to be able to win off charm alone, and unfortunate, charm seems to be what’s carrying it. It’s a shame too because I would really like to hear what Steve Coogan’s acceptance speech would be like.
Dallas Buyers Club
Sometimes performances can be enough to carry a film to Oscar glory, if they are good enough. In the Dallas Buyers Club they might be. But as well as award winning performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club is supported by some rather hefty liberal themes. And the academy is a sucker for some hefty liberal themes. The aids crisis, sexual equality, trans gender equality, even the hot button topic of healthcare. There are bound to be some protest votes that go this films way, sadly there will probably be some that go against it too.
12 Years a Slave
The bookies favourite by a country mile, any accumulator with this on it will hardly be worth the bother, but then again any accumulator without it will not be worth the bother at all. We talked about liberal themes in the Dallas Buyers Club, but unfortunately for that film, in the liberal guilt stakes, slavery trumps all. Especially when slavery is handled with both an attention to detail and an unflinching attitude towards violence, with visionary artistic creativity and incredible performances.
A technical tour de force, one of the most beautiful films ever made and an overly schmaltzy story that whacks around your head with its themes. If there is any flaw a film might have that the academy is totally happy to embrace rather than to criticize, its schmaltz. The film is also one of those anomalies, that sometimes break through the cracks, like Slumdog Millionaire did back in 2008. A great, visually astonishing film, made by a brilliant and often overlooked director, Gravity is one of the favourites, but it’s an outsider favourite.
Along with the Cohen’s, Spike Jonze is one of those directors who makes quirky, unconventional films so good, one day the Academy will finally have to give in and hand that man a top award. The critics favourite and one of the most electronically lyrical films I’ve ever seen in a mainstream production, I would love Her to make it Spike’s year. Unfortunately, I just think the competition is too strong.