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The 22 Oscar Nominations We'd Most Like To See Tomorrow (But Probably Won't)

by Oliver Lyttelton
January 15, 2014 2:08 PM
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Her, Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix
Warner Bros. Spike Jonze's "Her" with Joaquin Phoenix

Best Actor - Joaquin Phoenix - "Her" 
He might have an off-puttingly odd public persona, but that doesn't mean that Joaquin Phoenix isn't making a pretty strong case for being one of the most gifted actors of his generation. The star was always alarmingly talented, but since his return from his self-imposed exile (for the documentary "I'm Still Here," it turned out), Phoenix has blossomed into a truly remarkable performer, with "The Master" and "The Immigrant" both providing stellar showcases for his skills. Unlike with Paul Thomas Anderson's film last year, Phoenix is extremely unlikely to get a nomination for Spike Jonze's "Her" this time around, if only because of the strength of the competition, but he's as deserving as anyone. It's a character just as insular as Freddie Quell, but Theodore Twombly is a much warmer presence, quietly heartbroken and desperate for connection. So much has been said (rightly so) about Scarlett Johansson's vocal performance as Samantha, and it's an impressive partnership (especially given that Phoenix was acting opposite a different actor during the shoot), but the film simply doesn't work without Phoenix's face, which is front-and-center for virtually the entire film. And despite his reputation, Phoenix makes Theodore relatable, sweet and, actually, rather ordinary. Which is in itself rather extraordinary. 

Blue Caprice

Best Actor - Isaiah Washington - "Blue Caprice"
It takes a pretty special performance to come back from scandal, and whatever his previous sins, Isaiah Washington gives that kind of turn in "Blue Caprice." The actor's barely figured in any significant work since he was fired from "Grey's Anatomy" in 2007, but Alexandre Moor's retelling of the real-life Beltway Sniper killings puts him front-and-center as serial murderer John, and reminds us all of how impressive he could be at his best. He has a thin veneer of charisma on the surface—just enough that you can believe he can lead his surrogate son into terrible acts—but underneath is a terrifying and broken man, a portrait of evil and mental illness, or somewhere in between, that's not quite like any seen before on screen. Even if the film had found a wider audience, it's likely that Washington's baggage would have prevented a nomination, but if he keeps letting the work speak for itself like this, a full-on comeback could be on the way.

All Is Lost

Best Director - J.C. Chandor - "All Is Lost"
Happily, Alfonso Cuarón looks to finally be recognized with a directing nomination last year, thanks to his bravura work on the stunning "Gravity." But it's a shame that Cuarón's success has caused the filmmaker behind another hugely impressive and ambitious survival picture to be overlooked, because J.C. Chandor's work on "All Is Lost" is equally worthy of nomination. Chandor picked up an Oscar nod for the screenplay of his first film, "Margin Call," but seems to have been out to prove that he was a filmmaker, not just a writer with his follow-up: while the financial drama was dialogue-driven, "All Is Lost" is all action with only a few spoken lines of dialogue. Chandor's clearly a fine director of actors, his experience with the previous film carrying over to a very fine turn from Robert Redford, but he's grown immensely as a filmmaker, carefully parceling out the storytelling in a clear and direct way, and despite the limited locales, constantly finding new ways to frame Redford and his surroundings. Bar some occasionally questionable effects work (probably limited by budget), the technical work across the board is incredibly strong—Chandor uses sound and music better than filmmakers with three decades more experience than he has—and he knows how to end something on an ambiguous note without it frustrating. "Margin Call" made him a promising filmmaker, but "All Is Lost" cemented him as one of our most exciting young talents.

The Past Berenice Bejo Asghar Farhadi

Best Original Screenplay - Asghar Farhadi - "The Past"
If we had to pick a favorite unexpected Oscar nomination from the last few years, we'd be very tempted by the Best Original Screenplay nomination for Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation"—an almost unprecedented nod in a mainstream category for an Iranian movie, but a very welcome one, given that it was one of the very finest scripts, and best movies, of the past decade. The director's follow-up, the French language "The Past," isn't as perfect at its predecessor, but what is? Comparisons aside, it's still a moving and deeply humane piece of work, again displaying that Farhadi is someone that anyone with aspirations to write should be paying attention to. Again playing in territory that's close to melodrama, and with a tight fat-free nature reminiscent of the proverbial well-made stage play, "The Past" might deal with some soapier subjects than "A Separation" (a wife in a coma!), but Farhadi writes every character as a fully-dimensional human being so it never risks becoming hysterical or implausible. You understand completely why every character does what they do, or says what they say, and a fascinating and rich tapestry of guilt, heartbreak and melancholy unfolds. We can only assume that Farhadi won't be nominated because it risks making his fellow nominees look bad.

ain't them bodies saints

Best Cinematography - Bradford Young - “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
It's a hugely exciting time in the cinematography world, but no one—no one—is a more promising talent right now than Bradford Young. Having broken through with the likes of "Pariah" and "Restless City," Young had a terrific 2013, with both "Mother of George" and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" looking gorgeous from the first frame to the last. It's the latter in particular which might serve as the peak of Young's stellar career to date. Terrence Malick comparisons abound for David Lowery's breakthrough feature, and that's not an unfair comparison, with Young making full use of autumnal magic-hour landscapes. But its use of darkness was truly remarkable: Gordon Willis and Vilmos Zsigmond might be more appropriate comparisons for the under-exposed, woozy half-light that much of the film takes place in. And all on 35mm, too: while some of the more exciting DoPs out there have never worked on anything except digital, it's thrilling to see someone like Young producing such glorious work with old-school techniques. Young's still not well-known enough, and the film too unlikely to make an impression with the Academy, for a nomination this year, but with Ed Zwick's "Pawn Sacrifice" and J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year" on the way, it's surely only a matter of time.

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  • Marlene Waller | March 1, 2014 10:54 PMReply

    I really enjoyed Prisoners and Her, although I didn't see all the movies. Hollywood is clearly deliberately ignoring the talent of Joaquim Phoenix. Don't understand the hype over Wall Street which was way over the top, a caricature except for the performance of the federal agent, as you stated. The choices as always are primarily politically driven.

  • Bartleby | January 26, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    Isn't it the case that Scarlett Johannson is ineligible for an acting award because she does not appear on screen? Isn't that why Andy Serkis was never nominated for Lord of the Rings or Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Or, perhaps reaching a bit, James Earl Jones for Darth Vader?

    I know I was really frustrated a few years ago when what I would argue was the best score of the 2000s decade--There Will Be Blood--was cut out because it sampled some music.

    The Academy only recently added Best Animated Feature, they need to continue to move into the 21st Century by recognizing such performances.

  • FP | January 18, 2014 2:10 PMReply

    Oliver, as always, you prove out why this is my favorite place on IndieWire. An excellent and thorough accounting of the films and performances that will stay with us long past March 3rd.

  • FP | January 18, 2014 2:02 PMReply

    Are we talking about the same MUD? Did this morph into a conversation about Misty Day and the swamp in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN? Because if you meant the MUD where Reese Witherspoon swans around in short shorts with nothing to do except look like a trailer trashy Helen of Troy as a grown man sends boys out to do his bidding, I think I recoil in horror at the idea that this is a better film than 12 YEARS A SLAVE, WINTER'S BONE, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, MEMENTO, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE INSIDER, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. The idea conveyed in MUD is, women make you do stupid sh!t. Pity that women think so highly of it.

  • suzaman | January 17, 2014 1:48 PMReply

    I called the Academy about Mud it wasnt just the best picture of the year but the past 15 years

  • Debbie | January 17, 2014 12:03 AMReply

    Prisoners had some great acting! And what about "Mud"??????? I loved that movie. And thought those young boys were awesome in it.

  • Me | January 16, 2014 1:32 AMReply

    Joaquin Phoenix? Her was a back step for him, there were moments when i thought i was watching his Jimmy Emmett character.

  • Tom | January 16, 2014 1:19 AMReply

    Upstream Color in all categories, but editing especially

  • buddy | January 15, 2014 9:54 PMReply

    The title of Joaquin's documentary was 'I'm Still Here', not 'I'm Not There' which was of course the Dylan biopic.

  • buddy | January 17, 2014 5:26 PM

    ..and they corrected it. You're welcome!

  • tracy | January 15, 2014 8:14 PMReply

    And where are the noms for the BEAUTIFULLY shot, edited, cast, written, directed acted, and soundtrack of "42" !!!!!!( Sure it's a terrible title) - but Harrison Ford deserves a best supporting nomination, Don Burgess should be a shoe in for best cinematography, and though it's been a stellar year for African American leading actors - Chadwick Boseman is incredible as Jackie Robinson! Brian Helgeland's script and direction are fabulous! ( and I HATE baseball)
    I can't stand it when films that are released early in the year are COMPLETELY ignored come awards time!

  • keifer | January 15, 2014 8:06 PMReply

    I'm hoping:

    Toni Sorvillo will get a Best Actor nomination for "The Great Beauty".

    Kristin Scott Thomas will get a Best Supporting Actress nomination for "Only God Forgives".

    Joel Edgarton will get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for "The Great Gatsby".

  • Gerard Kennelly | January 16, 2014 8:18 AM

    the Frost Nixon style war of words between him and dicaprio was easily one of the best scenes of 2013

    your friend marty chase isn't too proud to come in on that though is he ?

    ha ha ha

  • Patrick | January 15, 2014 7:53 PMReply

    BEST ORIGINAL SONG - Keith Stanfield's raw freestyle in SHORT TERM 12

  • Joseph K. | January 15, 2014 7:18 PMReply

    I would love to see Danai Gurira nominated for Mother of George.

  • Xavier | January 15, 2014 7:07 PMReply

    Only God Forgives and Stoker for cinematography

  • Glass | January 15, 2014 6:19 PMReply

    I'm listening to the Prisoners score right now and it's one of my faves from last year.

    Jennifer Lame (Frances Ha) should WIN best editing - that's the coolest cutting I've seen in a movie in so long.

  • Gerard Kennelly | January 15, 2014 5:26 PMReply

    best actor Dennis Quaid AT ANY PRICE
    best supp actor Chris Evans THE ICEMAN
    best actress Brie Larson SHORT TERM 12
    best supp actress Julianne Nicholson AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY

  • Jamie | January 15, 2014 4:28 PMReply

    My biggest disappointment this year has been Prisoners fading in the race for gold. It is still being discussed at our house and has been watched three times and will probably be watched again. Most of the films nominated tomorrow will get a once over and then consigned to history. Yes the film was flawed, but it proved what a great ensemble and director can do with less than spectacular material simply by conveying twisted lives dealing with unspeakable horror.

  • cirkusfolk | January 15, 2014 4:19 PMReply

    You forgot Dennis Quaid for Best Actor in At Any Price.

  • Gerard Kennelly | January 16, 2014 8:20 AM

    sweet music to my ears :)

  • NewYorker | January 15, 2014 4:05 PMReply

    my 22 stuff i love to see get nominated but probley won't are
    1-Best Supporting Actor-James Franco
    2-Best Actor-Michael B. Jordan
    3-Best Picture-Spring Breakers.
    4-Best Supporting Actor Jon Bernthal-Wolf Of Wall Street
    5-Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson-Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
    6-Best Actor Jason Bateman-Disconnect
    7-Best Cinemtaography-Disconnect
    8-Best Picture-Disconnect(was hopin for the film to maybe be the next Crash)
    9-Best Original Song-the song sang in Filly Brown
    10-Best Costume Design-Oz: Great and Powerful
    11-Best Actor-Mark Wahlberg-Lone Survivor
    12-Best Actor-Miles Teller-Spectacular Now
    13-Best Actress-Emma Watson-The Bling Ring
    14-Best Picture-Fruitvale Station
    15-Best Actress-Jane Levy for Evil Dead
    16-Best Actor-Chadwick Boseman for 42
    17-Best Supporting Actor-Bobby Cannavale for Blue jasmine
    18-best supporting actress Julianne Moore for either Don Jon or Carrie
    19-Best Costume Design Romeo & Juliet
    20-Best Actor Robert Redford for not All Is Lost but for The Company You Keep
    21-Best Makeeup-Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom & Oz: Great and Powerful
    22-Best Actor-Idris Elba

  • daniel | January 15, 2014 4:02 PMReply

    I hope Amy Adams gets a nomination full stop because shes adorable and a masterful actress. I'd also love to see Oscar Isaac get recognized, I love that performance. Julie Delpy would be wonderful but isn't going to happen. Also ones that are not going to happen which is a travesty are Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux who are so stunning in Blue that its almost unbelievable their lack of recognition (even at the Baftas!).

    Anyway the film I'm most annoyed about not getting any love is MUD, which is such a terrific film and I just wonder if it had come out November/December would it be getting more love? McConaughey is great, the kids are great and in my perfect world Jeff Nichols would get an best director nomination along with McQueen, the Coens, Cuaron and Linklater. HER and WOLF aren't out in the UK yet...

  • Suzaman | January 17, 2014 1:51 PM

    Mud was the best picture of 2013. Everyone who saw it knows.

  • Oscar the grouch | January 15, 2014 3:47 PMReply

    I know I'm in the minority, especially with the staff on this site, but Her and Frances Ha are easily the two most overrated films of the year. neither is terrible but they're not worth celebrating in my opinion. I personally miss pre - wild things Jonze. I guess I'm more of a Kaufman fan.

  • Kari | January 15, 2014 6:11 PM

    I agree the Her script is its weakest link (the idea is excellent but Jonze was not that great developing it).

    Joaquin on the other hand is excellent and so charismatic!

  • JZ | January 15, 2014 2:56 PMReply

    It wouldn't be a surprise if Llewyn Davis was nominated for Best Picture.
    A Serious Man was nominated, and it wasn't exactly a typical oscar bait. Neither were No Country For Old Men or True Grit and those were nominated too. The academy has started to love the Coens, and that's good. They are in a position where they can pretty much make any film they want.

  • Kari | January 15, 2014 2:37 PMReply

    I hope Joaquin still gets a nom tomorrow and I think Amy Adam's performance in it is a way better than in Amercian Hustle.

    Also, I am still shocked with the fact Llewyn Davis is not getting the recognition it deserves. Oscar Isaac is fenomenal in it.

    Oh well...

  • HONEST MAN | January 15, 2014 5:29 PM

    American hustle is painfully overrated imo

  • Dave's Deluxe | January 15, 2014 2:21 PMReply

    What you probably mean is "The 22 Oscar Nominations I'D Most Like To See Tomorrow (But Probably Won't)".

    Also, you don't need the word "Most" in that sentence.

  • Liz | January 15, 2014 7:19 PM

    "Most" is perfectly fine in the headline. It's indicating that there are more than 22 things he'd like to see tomorrow, but these are his top 22 choices. It's similar to an intensifier.

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