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'Her' In, Redford Out: Best and Worst of the Oscar Nominations

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens January 16, 2014 at 2:06PM

Let's start by stipulating that the Oscars have little or nothing to do with art or even how good a film is. Like any political contest, movie awards are about money and campaigning and popularity and image -- so if a good idea or vision sneaks in, what luck!
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Her

Let's start by stipulating that the Oscars have little or nothing to do with art or even how good a film is. Like any political contest, movie awards are about money and campaigning and popularity and image -- so if a good idea or vision sneaks in, what luck! But the Oscars, in particular, can be valuable in drawing attention to some terrific films and performances, even while kicking other fantastic movies to the curb. Here are the best and worst choices from this year's Academy Award nominations: 

BEST PICTURE

With nine films nominated, Her gets in. It won't win, but Spike Jonze's affecting, timely, touching take on our relationship to computers was, for me, the year's best film. Its nomination helps take the sting out of the outsized praise for the technically dazzling but souless Gravity. I'm sorry that Inside Llewyn Davis didn't make it too, but obviously the Coen brothers' film didn't register with Oscar voters.

 

ACTORS

Let's talk about stunt acting: cross-dress, gain or lose 40 pounds, behave like a drug-addled out-of control wolf, and the Academy gives you extra points for Conspicuous Acting. Not that Jared Leto didn't give an affecting performance as the transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club, but Barkhad Abdi was just as compelling as the  leader of the Somali pirates in Captain Phillips, and it's great that he got a supporting actor nomination. Presumably the voters do know Abdi is not really a Somali pirate; he's a guy who grew up in Minneapolis. But his Acting is not as Conspicuous, so he's not likely to win.

There were so many Best Actor possibilities that someone great was bound to be left out. It seems outrageous that Robert Redford was that guy. (It also seems more than a bit political, considering that he has built Sundance and championed independent film as the antithesis of Hollywood group-think.) Matthew McConaughey lost weight, Christian Bale gained it, Leonardo DiCaprio acted deranged – they're all amazing, but Redford's restrained performance in All is Lost  belonged in that group far more than Bale's fun turn in American HustleI'm glad Leo snuck in for Wolf of Wall Street, which would have been a totally different film without him. Who should win? It's crazy to have to choose between Bruce Dern for Nebraska and  Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave – but that doesn't matter because they may both lose to McConaughey. Subtlety rarely wins.

Julia Roberts' strong performance was the best part of August: Osage County, so it's  great that she got her supporting nomination. But really – Meryl Streep's howling  in Osage instead of Emma Thompson's persnickety character in Saving Mr. Banks? Ridiculous, but ... see above about subtlety.    

 

DIRECTOR

With nine Best Picture nominations and only 5 directing slots, the old argument about how a best picture gets there without a best director is more futile than ever. I'll  just note that Spike Jonze was, as they say, robbed (and got the de rigeur consolation prize: a screenplay nomination). And I'm relieved that Alexander Payne's nuanced and brilliantly quiet Nebraska and Martin Scorsese's  high-voltage and brilliantly loud Wolf of Wall Street got them into the director's category over Paul Greengrass and his more conventional Captain Phillips.    

 

FOREIGN FILM

Yay for Belgium's The Broken Circle Breakdown, one of my Top Ten of the year, and a beautiful, creative little film. It's hard to imagine Felix van Groeningen's small film about love and grief  beating  Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, Italy's eye-candy with a veneer of art,  but I hope the nomination leads more people to Broken Circle. It almost restores my faith in awards that the film got this far.

 

 BEST SNUB

Another thing that almost makes me respect the Oscars: the major snub for Lee Daniels' The Butler, an easy-listening history lesson that patronizes its audiences. Even Oprah's star power and the Weinstein Company's campaign magic didn't work to get it nominations. Sometimes the Oscar voters actually get things right. 

This article is related to: Oscar Nominations 2014, Her (film), 12 Years a Slave, Academy Awards, Gravity, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Barkhad Abdi, Robert Redford, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, Martin Scorsese, Julia Roberts, Captain Phillips, Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler , Nebraska (film), The Wolf of Wall Street , Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club, Christian Bale, American Hustle, Matthew McConaughey, Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks, Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

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