Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
Q: Due to a security flaw in Price Waterhouse's system, you have the ability to choose one Academy Award winner and disqualify one nominee. Who gets the Oscar, and who goes home empty-handed?
Dan Kois, Slate
What an exciting development! For my winner, I'd pick "Her" for best production design. So often this category rewards over-the-top garishness ("Alive in Wonderland," "Moulin Rouge!") or by-the-numbers historical recreation ("Lincoln," "The Aviator"). And both those can be real accomplishments! But it's rare that the award even has a chance to go to understated but innovative, beautiful work like that of K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena in "Her." Their eerily convincing, quasi-nostalgic view of a bespoke urban landscape was both lovely to look at and a canny extension of current aesthetic trends into the near future. It was so good! Awarding it would be a reminder, as previous awards for "Crouching Tiger" and "Pan's Labyrinth" showed, the Oscar can go to work that tells a story just as much as it can go to work that simply decorates one.
I'd disqualify "Ordinary Love" from Original Song. C'mon.
Alan Zilberman, Tiny Mix Tapes, The Atlantic
I would give Best Makeup to "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" because the movie deserves it, and it'd be great to see the Jackass guys lighten the evening. I would disqualify "American Hustle" from Best Picture because it's a bad movie that nonetheless has a chance of winning, and the night's top prize should go to "12 Years a Slave."
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Since we can't force snubs back into the race in this hypothetical scenario, I guess that leaves Robert Redford still without a hope. So I'd make sure that "12 Years a Slave" edges out ahead of "Gravity," since pundits keep suggesting the two are deadlocked. It's clearly the greater accomplishment as a whole, especially since "Gravity" will dominate the technical categories, as it should. But "Gravity" was a major cinematic achievement in 2013 so it still belongs in the category. For my stealth disqualification slot, I'd waver over Meryl Streep in "August: Osage County" (because you can't just nominate Meryl for being Meryl, people, come on, this is her worst in years) and "20 Feet From Stardom" in the documentary category. Ultimately I'd go with the latter, which I think plays like a better-than-average VH1 showcase and is just middle-of-the-road enough to win -- stealing the spotlight from another monumental achievement in 2013 cinema, "The Act of Killing."
With all due respect to John Ridley, whose work on "12 Years a Slave" is plenty worthy of the award it will (probably) win, nothing would make me happier than to see Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy take the stage on Oscar night. The trio's script for "Before Midnight" -- relegated to the Adapted Screenplay race, by the shaky Academy logic that all sequels are adaptations -- boasts the most eloquent wordplay and elegant narrative architecture of last year. (It deserves to win for that doozy of a hotel-room showdown alone.) Handing "Before Midnight" the one award it's nominated for would also allow AMPAS to retroactively honor the whole trilogy, Return Of The King-style. I don't normally go in for that kind of voting strategy, but some Oscar love for this series is long overdue.And while I'm playing God of the Oscars, allow me to give "Despicable Me 2" the "Alone Yet Not Alone" treatment and strike its Animated Feature nomination from the record. The only reason this lazy, soulless franchise extension is even up for an award is that it made an obscene amount of money; that's reward enough for a sequel everybody saw and nobody especially loved. Just as giving "Before Midnight" an Oscar would function as a salute to one of cinema's greatest ongoing franchises, denying "Despicable Me 2" a nod would send a message about the value of such paint-by-numbers sequels. Also, it would prevent those irritating Minion things from making an appearance at the ceremony. I hate those nattering monster mascots.
"Nebraska" wins best picture. "Despicable Me 2" disqualified from animation (don't tell my wife I said that).
John Keefer, 51 Deep
"Before Midnight" wins Best Screenplay! Where did "American Hustle" go? Whoops.
Andreas Stoehr, Pussy Goes Grrr
First, I would give Adapted Screenplay to "Before Midnight." It might be the best movie nominated in any category, and it's certainly a vivid reminder of how fundamental good writing is to good filmmaking. Then, I would disqualify Jared Leto from Best Supporting Actor. I'd do it for a lot of reasons, but mostly because his (mediocre) performance suggests trans women can only exist onscreen via "brave" actorly stunts, and to put it gently, that notion can go get stuffed.
Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine
Winner: "Her" for Best Picture
Should Be Disqualified: Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club."
Danny Bowes, RogerEbert.com, Movies By Bowes
There are only two categories with looming travesties this year, which isn't bad by Oscar standards. I'm using my automatic winner on Best Production Design and anointing "Her." Anything else in that category is just not paying attention, which is a particular shame because, if you were breaking down to civilians just what that Oscar is for, a good shorthand explanation would be "the attention-to-detail Oscar." The more high-profile disaster awaits in Best Supporting Actor, where we're mere weeks away from a lifetime's worth of "Academy Award winner Jordan Catalano" jokes. For his mediocre, entirely external performance as a character he has consistently misgendered (something which everyone else involved with "Dallas Buyers Club" is also guilty), Jared Leto's nomination is hereby revoked. Primarily because it was shitty acting, but the slap in the face the entire role is to trans people doesn't help its cause at all.
Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly
There are, of course, some presumptions built into this scenario -- most significantly, that the results of the awards mean something historical beyond the amusement of the moment. The main reason for selecting a winner, then, would be wanting to make sure someone in particular did or did not get to make a speech. Therefore, while I have no grand affection for the performance, and a feeling that he's likely to win anyway, I'd guarantee that we'd get a Matthew McConaughey win for "Dallas Buyers Club" simply to make sure that he can regale us with some alright alright alright craziness. And on the other end, I'd insure that Jared Leto didn't get up on stage for "Dallas Buyers Club," since his every utterance after other awards-seasons wins convinces me that he has nothing more to say that I care to hear.
Miriam Bale, New York Times
There is no doubt in my mind that the best performance of the year was Jonah Hill in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Yet, when I first saw a trailer for "Dallas Buyers Club," I giggled to a friend that Jared Leto would probably get an Oscar. That's what the Oscars are for. So it doesn't really matter who I think was best.
Peter Keough, Boston Globe, Critics a Go-Go
Winner: "Her" for Best Picture. Of these films the only one that will be seen as truly significant in the coming years.
Disqualified: Steve McQueen. Though I have admired his previous work I think "12 Years a Slave", despite being overwhelmingly lauded, fails as a drama and is at times a voyeuristic attempt to indulge liberal guilt.
Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope
How significant is the glitch? Am I able to re-enter data so that the Best Picture nominees now include "Saving Mr. Banks"? If so, I'd like to add John Hancock's abysmal piece of Mouse House propaganda so that the frontrunners in this category can be placed in an even more authentically award-trolling context; about the nicest thing I can say about either "12 Years a Slave" or "American Hustle" is that if they win, they'll be exactly as deserving of this glorious honor as "The King's Speech," "The Artist" and "Argo" before them. As for picking a winner, I'd like to see Roger Deakins recognized for "Prisoners," partly because he worked wonders with a shadowy palette -- giving Denis Villeneuve's thriller a great look to offset its gratuitous stupidity -- and partly because he's one of the greatest DPs of his generation and I'm sure it would make him very happy. Actually, I'm going to go back and use my disqualification on Emmanuel Lubezki, who is also a great cinematographer and a deserving nominee for the gossamer-smooth camera movements of "Gravity," but is also probably the biggest obstacle to Deakins getting honored. Better luck next time, Chivo.
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
Can I change the official record from 2006 to make "Brokeback Mountain" Best Picture instead of "Crash"? No? Okay, then I make "12 Years a Slave" this year's Best Picture winner. And I disqualify "Philomena," mainly out of spite, because I think maybe it robbed "Inside Llewyn Davis" of a deserved Best Picture nomination. On the other hand, maybe it prevented "Saving Mr. Banks" from getting one that it didn't deserve.
Josh Spiegel, Sound on Sight
For the category in which I have the power to disqualify a nominee, I'm taking out the screenplay for "Dallas Buyers Club." I'm not a fan of the film in general, and though neither of the film's nominated performances impress me as much as the other competition in their respective categories, I think the biggest problem with the film isn't Matthew McConaughey or Jared Leto, it's the script they're working with. For something that was in development for more than a decade, it's baffling that "Dallas Buyers Club"'s script is so lazy and filled with groan-inducing dialogue. (Even McConaughey can't make "Screw the FDA, I'm going to be DOA!" sound good.) For the category where I can guarantee a winner, I'm going with "Inside Llewyn Davis" and Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography. Granted, part of why I want Delbonnel to win is because "Inside Llewyn Davis" was woefully underrepresented at the Oscars this year. But leaving that aside, his work behind the camera was exquisite and appropriately stark. Considering that he stepped in to replace longtime Coen collaborator Roger Deakins (himself nominated for "Prisoners," which was fine work, but not my favorite of the year), Delbonnel proved himself more than worthy of bringing the Coens' skewed take on the early 1960s in New York to life.
Ethan Alter, Television Without Pity
It may just be a reaction to the rejection the movie otherwise received in the major races, but I'd hand "Inside Llewyn Davis"'s DP Bruno Delbonnel the Cinematography statue for his lovely hazy shade of winter recreation of '60s era New York… even though it would cost the Coens' regular collaborator and "Prisoners" nominee Roger Deakins yet another statue. (Then again, he's probably used to being the Randy Newman of cinematographers by now.) And while I'm prepared to graciously smile through Matthew McConaughey's anticipated acceptance speech for "Dallas Buyers Club" -- a star turn I respect in a movie I have supremely mixed feelings about -- I'm not looking forward to watching Jared Leto walk away with one of the night's first awards for his adequate-at-best supporting performance. Going by my script, Leto watches the show from home, while "Pain & Gain"'s Dwayne Johnson takes his nomination slot and Michael Fassbender takes the Oscar.
Jason Osder, director, "Let the Fire Burn"
Predictably, I have seen all of the documentary feature nominees and none of the fiction ones. Truth be told, I hardly watched any fiction films last year. It's almost like I can't remember how to appreciate them. Can one's suspension of disbelief be broken or used up? Well, different topic, but I wanted to be clear about my severe bias.
With that out in the open, I would use my disqualify card in an inverted position, allowing me to include a film. (I can do that because this game is played like Calvinball, right?) The film I would include is Lucy Walker's "The Crash Reel." It was my all-around favorite last year and I think it was under-appreciated in a strange way where popular success and the seemingly lightweight nature of the topic mask its pure cinematic brilliance. For my win, I would give "Cutie and the Boxer" the best feature Oscar. It may not be the most important doc on the list, but it is the most delightful. In my mind, it is also the most universally human film of the doc noms. Either that, or I would give Lupita Nyong'o the supporting actress Oscar. I haven't seen any of the films, but she just seems to be owning the moment in really a positive way and it would be cool to see her walk up on that stage.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
Easy. As much as I admire many of the nominees and will be very happy if Ejiofor steals it from McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of the year in "The Wolf of Wall Street" and it's baffling to me that he's not even in the conversation to win. It's a fearless, fascinating, definitive performance, his best work to date and the Best Actor turn of the year. So, presuming I can't change the nominees entirely and give Supporting Actor to James Franco, Leo is my pick. As for exclusion, another easy choice -- Jared Leto. His performance certainly isn't "bad" per se but I'm baffled by the suggestion that it's the best of the year. It's partially because I think the film and particularly his character in it is downright insulting. Rayon is a device, a character with a boyfriend whose name we never learn who exists almost solely to teach a straight protagonist a lesson about tolerance. And, honestly, I don't think Leto does enough to raise the character above a plot device for Ron to warrant an Oscar. It's a shallow film, the kind of look at the AIDS crisis that was more prevalent in the '90s and we should be beyond in today's cinema. Giving films this surface-level Oscars only encourages people to make more of them. Also, if Leto is excluded, that category becomes almost completely unpredictable. We could use a few more of those on Oscar night.
Kenji Fujishima, Slant Magazine, In Review Online
Winner I'd pick: William Chang, "The Grandmaster" for Best Costume Design, just because I think it'd be cool to have a Wong Kar-Wai collaborator win an Oscar.
As far as nominee I'd disqualify... well, I could offer all sorts of suggestions for that, but I'd really have no good reason for my choice other than something along the lines of "I don't like that nominee's work, so I don't think it deserves to be nominated." So I'm inclined to simply dodge that part of the question and express my regret that Tom Hanks didn't get recognized for some of the best acting he's ever done in the last five minutes of "Captain Phillips." Seriously, that is one of the most shattering depictions of shell shock I've ever witnessed in a movie.
It's also possible I may have just taken this survey question a bit too seriously.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter, Tribune
I pick Mr Barkhad Abdi to win Best Supporting Actor, because: a) the eerie artlessness of his performance as the khat-emboldened Muse so deftly energizes that which so sorely needs to be deftly energized, and b) I staked £22 on him at odds of 8/1 with the Irish bookmaking firm Paddy Power on 15th October. As they say around the Horn of Africa, "Hal aad nin ku baratay kaama luminnin," i.e. "No great loss without some small gain."
I pick "The Wolf of Wall Street" to be disqualified in the category Best Picture: a film so perniciously lousy that it (directly!) caused my right-side cervical lymph-node to become infected and inflamed during the course of its 179 minutes and 55 seconds. (Sheesh, even the official running-time, an opportunistically rounded-down "179 minutes," is a swiz!) "Ayax teg, eelna reeb": "The locust flew away but it left hardship."
Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
After I made certain that "The Great Beauty" won the prize for foreign film and that Michael B. Jordan had a best actor nod for "Fruitvale Station," I would wave a wand that freed the Oscars of the tyranny of the fashion and beauty industries and rid the red carpet of the stiletto-cams and mani-cams and ensure that the TV interviews asked deeper questions than "Who are you wearing?"
Richard Brody, New Yorker
No surprise here; "The Wolf of Wall Street" is so good that it's shocking -- considering the Academy's longstanding tradition of consigning greatness to oblivion -- that it's nominated at all. It's one of those miraculous convergences when -- due to good, shared, and audacious ideas as well as to deeper harmonies linking the principal creators -- the highly technical and organized world of a Hollywood movie set gives rise to palpable spontaneous inspiration on the part of all concerned, on both sides of the camera. There's no loss of control but a sense of a higher order that's all the more abstractly ideal for its intense, explosive physicality--something like what Godard called "the definitive by chance." As for the second part: I'd happily disqualify one of the nominees who's most deserving of an Oscar: Emmanuel Lubezki, who is, somewhat comically, up for Best Cinematography for "Gravity"; he should be getting one for "To the Wonder."
Piers Marchant, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Pop Matters
Can I first say how shocked I am to be largely unperturbed by the Oscar nominations this year? Yes, there are some seriously glaring omissions (*cough* "Llewyn Davis" *cough*), but by and large, the picks seem pretty sound to me. Maybe I'm just getting soft. In any event, I have to stick to my guns on my pick for Best Foreign Language Film: "The Hunt" was my favorite movie of last year. So if there were some way I could assure its winning the award and getting a modicum of attention for Thomas Vinterberg in the process, I'd have to do it.
As for my DQ, I'm not trying to gang up on the suddenly beleaguered Woody Allen, but how does "Blue Jasmine," a film that plays a direct homage to a classic piece of theater involving the emotional clash between the privileged and economically underprivileged, make the cut when it has absolutely zero ability to render its blue-collar characters in any way believable? That's, like, half the movie that gets virtually ignored. Cate Blanchett is indeed mesmerizing -- and probably deserves to win Best Actress -- but not even she can save Andrew Dice Clay from his lines.
Sean Chavel, FlickMinute
The Best Foreign Film Oscar goes to "The Hunt" from Denmark, not that close-minded general audiences give a damn about foreign film award winners or foreign films at all anyways, but at least a few more people will see what I felt was the great tragedy in cinema of the year. And I have long tired of the Academy nominating good, solid work when they should be nominating outstanding, extraordinary work that pushes the envelope -- so I'm going to disqualify Bruce Dern in "Nebraska," because even good at it he's still replaceable (key word is replaceable), the movie still would have been interesting with a dozen other old-timers taking a chance at that role, too. BTW, Can I do a write-in nomination for Redford or Phoenix, please?!
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket
As much as I loved Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine," I'd make sure Amy Adams won in the Best Actress category. I find Amy to be one of the most versatile and interesting actors working today. She has yet to win an Oscar, despite four previous nominations and one inexcusable oversight (for "Enchanted"). Her outstanding work in "American Hustle" would be the perfect opportunity for the Academy to honor her. As for the nominee I'd disqualify, I'm just going to go ahead and be controversial here. I'd boot "The Act of Killing" from the Documentary category. I realize that I'm in the minority in finding the film tasteless and offensive, and in believing that, by allowing its central figures to have fun playing mini-Scorseses, it ends up trivializing the vileness of their crimes. But that's honestly how I feel, and if it were up to me, the film would be gone from the Oscars in a heartbeat.