The Oracles return! Last year, thinking that I knew better than those bigwigs who run the OSCARs, I made my own list of worthy winners. Seeing as I know you all put more worth in my thoughts over those people at the OSCARs, I believe it is my civic duty to bring you another addition of The Oracles, bringing you all the best films of 2013 (and early 2014, I guess), and sharing with you my favourites. Note: I haven’t seen enough Animated films, foreign films or documentaries to include that category, so please forgive me on that account.
There are few rules and I have a wider range of films to choose from than the OSCARs. Therefore, I am not sticking to the nominations that the OSCARs have set and am awarding my ORACLEs to any film of last year that I think deserves it. Like last year, I try to be as unbiased as I can. For example, my favourite film of 2012 was Avengers Assemble, but I gave the ‘Best Picture’ award to the ‘Dark Knight Rises’, because I felt it was the more accomplished film and deserved the award more than Avengers Assemble. Therefore, I am not giving the awards to my personal favourites, but the winners that I think honestly performed the best in that category. In simpler terms, Robert Downey Jr isn’t going to win every award, just because…
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: THE HOBBIT – THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
There were a few tough choices, when it came to the film that had the most aesthetically pleasing scenes in 2013. Gravity is a close second, and the giant superhero blockbusters were close behind. Even Pacific Rim nearly got the win. But Peter Jackson once again proves himself the master of CGI, wowing us at every turn. His act has been cleaned up a lot after ‘An Unexpected Journey’, which was a little ropey (somehow the 2001 orcs look more impressive than the 2012 goblins). The best praise I can give The Desolation of Smaug’s visual effects is lifting a quote directly from jjames36’s blog: ‘The visual effects are fantastic. The dwarves’ barrel run, the spiders they fight, and Smaug are easy effects to praise, but so are the less obvious examples. Witness the momentary burn that appears on Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) face, the wound that plaques Killi’s (Aidan Turner) leg, the orc horde Gandalf must face and The Necromancer who commands them, amongst others.’ As jjames36 puts it, we are so amazed at the bigger spectacles that it is easy to miss the less flashy effects, the simpler details that makes the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit that little bit easier to get immersed into.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: HAPPY – PHARRELL WILLIAMS
Happy is one of the most memorable songs of the year. When I first heard it, I didn’t think much of it. I tend to steer away from songs made specifically for a film, as they always feel a little bit boxed in by the film’s themes, rather than the artist’s. Besides, like ‘Skyfall’, movie songs tend to find their way to you, eventually. And as predicted, Happy tracked me down and won me over. It is impossible not to submit to the cheerful appeal of the song and the whimsical nature of the tune. The moment it comes on, you find yourself subconsciously tapping your foot to the beat. It stays in your head for ages afterwards, but somehow never seems annoying. When a song has that kind of effect on you, it definitely deserves the award for the Best Original Song.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: HER
Her struggled to get recognised when it came to the Best Film award, as there were some mighty giants surrounding it. 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity… Her is sadly too quiet and thoughtful against these loud, brass lessons in showmanship. However, while even I would struggle to give it the Best Picture award, I have to give Her the praise it truly deserves. Therefore, I am proud to give Her the best original screenplay, as the script really brought Her to the high levels it reached. The script made the characters feel real and gave them space to perform to the best of the abilities. While Spike Jonze’s direction was the key to rounding up the art of the motion picture with the finer strokes of the brush, his script was the foundation for his work. A worthy winner.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: FILTH
This is yet another nomination I cannot believe slipped by the OSCARs this year. Sure, 2013 gave us some powerful true stories brought to script format like ‘Rush’ and ‘Captain Phillips’, and also some novels brought to the big screen have been truly amazing ’12 Years A Slave’ and ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’. However, Irvine Welsh is famous for being one of the trickiest authors to adapt into a film. Only Danny Boyle ‘Trainspotting’ has managed to pull it off and ever since, people have been trying and failing. In comes Jon S. Baird, a director I misjudged after the under-achieving ‘Cass’, and somehow gives us a coherent narrative style. While the direction deserves praise, I believe that the script should receive an award, for doing the impossible and matching Danny Boyle for Irvine-conquerors.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: GRAVITY
Scores are often overlooked in movies. I have always found this ironic, because most of the greatest films ever made can often be linked to a gripping piece of music (Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Jaws). When it comes to judging a movie’s score, I guess it depends what you want from the movie. I have to reward Steven Price’s precise conduction here, because it actually plays a vital part in the movie. In space, there is no sound. It is hardly a fact Alfonso Cuaron could breeze over, like Star Wars and Armageddon do, because his movie opens with that fact in cold, hard writing. However, would the film be as dramatic if we couldn’t hear every explosion, collision and crash? Therefore, Steven Price made a score that did the job of the sound effects team. On a second viewing, pay attention to the score and notice how expertly timed it all is. I have appreciated a score before for being dramatic and emotional, but never before have I seen a movie’s score work so closely with the actual narrative.
BEST MAKE-UP AND HAIRSTYLING: AMERICAN HUSTLE
I might not have thought as much of American Hustle as everyone else seems to, but on one score, I have to admit the motion picture was OSCAR-worthy. The make-up and hairstyling really brings the era to life. It is the finer details that really lift this project above the usual attempt at evoking nostalgia from a period piece. The hairpieces are terrifically arranged, almost becoming the visual references we have for each character. Bradley Cooper’s curled hair, Bale’s comb-over. It all works incredibly well, making us believe that we are in that decade, without over-doing it with cheesy costumes or retro visual cues. It proves that less can sometimes be more.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: THE HUNGER GAMES – CATCHING FIRE
I cannot properly convey how important costume is to the Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins depicts a future, where the media come first and foremost, turning the protagonists into reluctant celebrities. Much like on the red carpet itself at the ceremony, costumes become vital to the image of the film. And what costumes they are! Whether it is the bizarre frocks donned by Elizabeth Banks’ cuckoo character or the showy dresses given to Jennifer Lawrence and her fellow female contestants, we are amazed at every turn. But seeing as this is a Sci-Fi, the costume designers don’t even get a break for the lesser moments. There is the elitist uniform of the government soldiers and the rags of the people in poverty. Costumes represent character and the designers accomplish that challenge amazingly well.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: JENNIFER LAWRENCE IN AMERICAN HUSTLE
Maybe the most impressive thing about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in ‘American Hustle’ is the fact that the terrific actress was lumped with a rather dull role. She plays the wife of the criminal who goes out and does all the fun things, while she is left at home, complaining about his absence. However, while the character doesn’t do anything outside of the box, Jennifer Lawrence adds a spark that just makes us love the character. Comparing her to Skylar White, the heroine of Breaking Bad, who often gets a rough time from the fans, the role of ‘criminal’s oblivious wife’ even though Skylar is a fairly great character, is never too well accepted. But the madness and fun Lawrence has with the role breathes life into the character and makes her irresistible. Impossible to hate. Once again, Jennifer Lawrence proves herself one of the most exciting females in cinema.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: BARKHAD ABDI IN CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
I have said before how few Supporting Actors have impressed me this year. It is usually my favourite category and last year it brought us a powerhouse performance from Christoph Waltz. However, with the category really lacking this year, the only supporting role even on my radar is Barkhad Abdi as the terrifying realistic antagonist in Captain Phillips. It takes a great actor to stand alongside the great Tom Hanks and a massive risk on Paul Greengrass’ part to give that duty to a totally unknown actor. But would a famous face improve the role? I think it is the total mystery factor of Barkhad Abdi. The moment he steps on-screen, we have no idea what he is capable of. It adds to the tension of the moment, especially when Abdi is allowed to show the desperation of his character. Captain Philiips’ biggest crime was not really using Abdi to his full potential.
BEST DIRECTOR: RON HOWARD IN RUSH
Ron Howard wasn’t even nominated, which really surprised me, because Rush was far better than it had any right to be. Racing movies haven’t gone down terribly well, the only way writers being able to make them work is embracing the fun side of things like ‘Fast and Furious’ and ‘Need for Speed’. However, Rush became so much more than about racing. Ron Howard embraced the period and painted a picture both nostalgic and exciting. It was the smaller details that evoked the 80s, suggesting that Howard has a knack for subtlety with his work. And then there were the racing scenes. They stayed true to history, rather than embracing cliché (most movies would have changed Lauda’s choice to pull out of the crucial race), but were exciting all the same. It was the deafening sounds, the speed and relentlessness of the sequences. Howard has impressed me more than I ever thought possible from him.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: MARGOT ROBBIE IN THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
I cannot believe Margot Robbie was overlooked here. Her understated performance in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ was one of the more impressive beats of the movie (and there was a lot to be impressed by here). Again, like Lawrence, she took a fairly boring role (wife of the criminal) and injected life into it. Maybe she didn’t have as much of a spark as Lawrence had in ‘American Hustle’, but her performance was good in another way. It was the tough shell that protected her from the horrors of life with Belfort. She remained brutally strong until the very end, even somehow seeming the stronger character during a skin-crawling domestic rape scene. In a movie full of nasty characters and back-stabbing, money-grabbing stockbrokers, Margot Robbie’s character was one of the easiest people to actually like.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: LEONARDO DI CAPRIO IN WOLF OF WALL STREET
Yes, not only does the Wolf of Wall Street get my lead actress, but I am left obliged to give the lead actor award to none other than the incredible Leonardo Di Caprio. Yes, maybe Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Captain Phillips was more touching and emotional, maybe Chris Hemsworth embodied James Hunt down to the smaller character tics, maybe there are far more leads that deserve my attention. But Leonardo Di Caprio is simply a master at the top of his game. Ever since, he first appeared on the big screen he was no doubt a tremendously incredible performer. He was charismatic, able to play nasty blokes, like Jordan Belfort, and still have us in the palm of his hand throughout the whole movie. Even if you found the Wolf of Wall Street too slapstick a role for Di Caprio (however, there is something about an actor who can play a bumbling, stoned fool for moment and still appear like the most dominant man in cinematic history in the very next scene), you have to admit that overall Di Caprio deserves an award. He has never gotten an OSCAR, despite his many impressive performances, and it is about time he had one to his name. Well, here you go, Leo. Have an Oracle on me!
BEST MOTION PICTURE: GRAVITY
Gravity is a movie to be reckoned with. Best seen on 3D, or at the very least on the big screen, it grabs you from the first ten minutes and doesn’t let go until the brutal end. As Empire bluntly stated in their review: ‘you are going to like this movie’. There are several reasons I could be handing this award to ‘Gravity’. The new style of film-making is one, with the precise direction style requiring brand new technology. Gravity could be a wondrous glimpse at the future of cinema. Then there is the finer strokes of direction: the resurrection imagery, the symbolism tucked away, the little Easter Eggs… Maybe my favourite thing about Gravity though is the fact it is unlike any other nominee out there. I usually hate OSCAR films, as they are brought to the cinema for the sheer purpose of winning awards. I enjoy watching Di Caprio perform, but I don’t think it should be the sole purpose of seeing that story. Gravity changes that. It is, above all else, fun. And that is why Gravity is the easiest award to hand out this year.
Fantastic list Luke. I can’t fault you for any of it however I would have liked to see Daniel Bruhle nominated for best supporting actor for Rush
nice list luke!! well done!
Very good list. My selections would look a little different, even Visual Effects, actually (which Gravity would win, by a wide margin), but this was a fun read, no matter how it compares to my preferences.
Of course, the real point: thanks so much for the shout out!
Excellent list, Luke. I’m inclined to agree with a lot here. Really, the Academy should start consulting us. 😉
This is just fantastic Luke! Lots of Wall Street love! 😀