2014 Oscars: Don’t Forget About Us

Films released in the first two thirds of a given year are automatically at a disadvantage when it comes to possible Oscar nominations. There are exceptions, of course—Beasts of the Southern Wild, Midnight in Paris, Winter’s Bone, for example—but the nature of campaigning rewards those films that don’t have to remain in voters’ minds very long. It’s a fickle group, that Academy.

The spring and summer, however, brought films and achievements in directing, writing, and acting that still rank among my favorites in 2013. And this week, I’m taking a break from formally writing about predictions, and simply highlighting something or someone I hope voters don’t forget. I’m not foolish or big-headed enough to say these films “should” be nominated, but if they were (like Beasts, my favorite film of 2012, was last year for Picture, Director, and Actress), it’d bring a big smile to my face.

Best Picture: Mud
Really, you should consider this list item a catch-all for the myriad of categories in which I think Jeff Nichols’ latest and best film deserves consideration. Best Picture—it’s still one of my favorites. Best Director—a no-brainer. Best Actor—Tye Sheridan is a revelation. Best Supporting Actor—the McConassaince continues. I still think it has a legitimate shot at a Best Original Screenplay nomination, but it’s looking unlikely to pop up anywhere else, including the big one, which is too bad.

Best Director: Sofia Coppola, The Bling Ring
Months after my first viewing of the film, I find myself coming back to The Bling Ring often. If not for its ill-focused final act, it’d be a mortal lock for my end-of-year top 10. Why? Coppola’s sensibilities—style, tone, and all the like—found a perfect match in this story about privileged teens who steal from the homes of their favorite celebs. It’s a subtly rich tale told with the flare you’d expect from a real auteur.

Best Actor: Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines
I did think for a while that Derek Cianfrance’s latest would come around at the end of the year, but the recent shuffling we saw at the top of Focus Features probably harmed any slim awards chances it had. Nevertheless, it’s a great film with a ton of qualities I admire a lot, such as its sumptuous cinematography, bold and challenging screenplay, and bang-up performances—the best of which being Ryan Gosling’s intense, brooding work as a new father trying to figure out what fatherhood is all about.

Best Actress: Olivia Wilde, Drinking Buddies
Are you a fan of Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies? If so, you have to—have to—first turn your praise toward its ensemble cast, led by a revelatory Olivia Wilde. She, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and the film’s other actors improvise much of the perceptive, funny dialogue that makes this such a memorable, unique film. I loved the final product, and without such pitch-perfect work from Wilde, I’m not sure that’d even possible.

Best Supporting Actor: James Franco, Spring Breakers
Of all the films and performances I’m discussing here, this seems to be the likeliest to earn a nomination. That’s not saying much, of course; Spring Breakers is a wild, wild film and Franco’s performance is simply ludicrous. But there’s a campaign afoot, and for good reason. While ludicrous, it’s a performance that’s honest, a little heartbreaking, and absolutely essential to the success of Spring Breakers.

Best Supporting Actress: Mickey Sumner, Frances Ha
While all the buzz around Frances Ha is understandably centered around Greta Gerwig (from a performance perspective and when it comes to hers and Noah Baumbach’s screenplay), one of the films most essential (and under-appreciated) elements is Mickey Sumner, a.k.a. Sophie, who’s blend of flighty and grounded qualities is good for her best friend Frances, good for the movie Frances Ha, and wonderfully realized by Sumner.

Best Original Screenplay: In a World…
Any screenplay that gives Fred “Larry, we’re gonna be fine” Melamed is already a good one in my book. What elevates writer/director/star Lake Bell’s writing here is its elusiveness. By not fitting easily into any one genre, this story about a competing father-daughter professional voice-over duo can try A LOT of things. And most of them work.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Spectacular Now
James Ponsoldt’s summer romance shares a lot in common superficially with the director’s previous film, Smashed—like the way both focus on characters whose lives are being ruined by alcohol. They differ because there’s much more than alcohol that defines those who populate The Spectacular Now. There’s a delightfully atypical romance at the heart of this film, and while its performances are essential, you can see the joy and love its screenplay births come to life on the big screen.

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