Monday, March 03, 2014

The 2013 Markademy Awards

Well, it finally happened --- the actual Academy just decided to crib my opinions for their awards.  Now, while you might notice that most of the Markademy Award winners don't actually match up with the real Oscar winners, I think this is the first year when all their choices were my second choices.  When everything lines up 1-2, I can hardly complain too much.  2013 was a very strong movie year and it resulted in not only one of the better Best Picture fields in recent memory (Dallas Buyers Club was the weakest of the nine and even it was a solid 3.5/5 type of film) and a strong list of acting winners.  There were no Benjamin Buttons or War Horses or Blind Sides or Tree Of Lifes stinking up the field this year; it was basically all killer, no filler.

AND YET STILL I managed to pick out a few that were under-recognized by the Academy.  These snubbed performers can take solace --- who needs a stinking Oscar when you have a Markademy Award on your shelf?  It's a distinguished tradition that dates back to 1981, and while I don't want to throw around the phrase "made for life," it's a known fact that Steven Spielberg often books dinner reservations simply by introducing himself as "two-time director of Markademy Award-winning films."  The doors just fly open after that.

Onto the awards!

Oscar nominees: Amy Adams/American Hustle, Cate Blanchett/Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock/Gravity, Judi Dench/Philomena, Meryl Streep/August: Osage County
Oscar winner: Blanchett
Should've won: Blanchett

Alterna-ballot: Greta Gerwig/Frances Ha, Scarlett Johansson/Her, Brie Larson/Short Term 12, Melissa McCarthy/The Heat, Emma Thompson/Saving Mr. Banks
My ballot: Blanchett, Bullock, Dench, Gerwig, Larson
My winner: Cate Blanchett

Blanchett gave the best performance of anyone this year, making this the easiest category of the bunch.  So, I'll take this space to discuss Brie Larson and Greta Gerwig, who would've been winners in most other years and would've been in an absolute brawl for the title this year had Blanchett not gone all pantheon.  It's too bad that this Best Actress field was loaded with huge stars in high-profile roles, leaving no room for quieter performances like Larson or Gerwig to fit in, but hopefully we'll see plenty from them in the future.

"Short Term 12" was a little-seen gem of a movie that was alternately heart-breaking, funny, warm and uplifting in equal measure, and Larson is the centre.  She's been good in smaller roles (Scott Pilgrim's ex Envy, the love interest in 21 Jump Street, Abed's coat check paramour on Community) on a lot of good projects and she just kills her first lead role.  To steal an old Bill Simmons line, if I could buy stock in Hollywood stars, I'd be heavily investing in Larson's future right now.  As for Gerwig, well, what can I say, she's awesome.  I am all in on her so-called "mumblecore" naturalistic acting style and Frances Ha (which she co-wrote) was a perfect vehicle for her.  Gerwig's involvement in the How I Met Your Mother spinoff is single-handedly reviving my interest in what seemed like a sad joke of a show.

Oscar nominees: Christian Bale/American Hustle, Bruce Dern/Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio/The Wolf Of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor/12 Years A Slave, Matthew McConaughey/Dallas Buyers Club
Oscar winner: McConaughey
Should've won: DiCaprio

Alterna-ballot: Oscar Issac/Inside Llewyn Davis, Michael B. Jordan/Fruitvale Station, Joaquin Phoenix/Her, Robert Redford/All Is Lost, Forest Whitaker/Lee Daniels' The Butler
My ballot: DiCaprio, Ejiofor, Jordan, McConaughey, Redford
My winner: Leonardo DiCaprio

Another stacked field.  That alternate ballot alone would've been a strong five contenders, even with the obligatory eye-roll at anything involving The Butler getting nominated (though Whitaker and Oprah did their best to save it).  I can only presume that Redford made it look too easy in All Is Lost, as voters just thought "oh, he didn't even speak" or "oh, it's basically just Bob Redford on a boat" when I thought such the lack of dialogue or specific lack of character made the performance even more interesting.  As for Jordan, I discussed his performance (as well as Blanchett and Sally Hawkins) back in September and despite all of the other big names, I still feel like he should've made the cut.

McConaughey was great in DBC and deservedly won, yet I can't help but notice that most attribute his win to the "McConaissance," i.e. his recent flood of interesting roles (Dallas Buyers Club, Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, the guy who had to keep Kim Novak from going totally off the rails at the Oscars, The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud and, perhaps most of all, True Detective).  The Oscar is kind of a career achievement in miniature for McConaughey's great three years…while you've got DiCaprio slugging it out and being quietly great for 20+ years, only to go home empty-handed again.  I think only now are folks starting to take in the impressiveness of Leo's resume and just how much he continues to grow and evolve as an actor every time out.

"The Wolf Of Wall Street" and "Great Gatsby" in the same year is an interesting dichotomy since Jay Gatsby is a role DiCaprio can play in his sleep and seems to generally fit what people consider to be the Leo Persona.  Jordan Belfort, however, fits that persona on paper except Leo and Scorsese take that character and systematically break it down over three hours.  Much has been made about how the film allegedly glorifies Belfort's behaviour, but only a sociopath walks away from that movie thinking Jordan Belfort is a cool guy.  DiCaprio has to make him charismatic since he WAS charismatic, hence why he got so many people on his side for so long --- he's charismatic, smart and legitimately funny, yet also cruel, short-sighted and an impossible egomaniac.  I have a feeling that if DiCaprio ends up with a Peter O'Toole or Richard Burton track record of Oscar futility, future generations will look back at this year's result as the one where DiCaprio should've won, since this is Leo running on all cylinders.

Oscar nominees: Sally Hawkins/Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence/American Hustle, Lupita Nyong'o/12 Years A Slave, Julia Roberts/August: Osage County, June Squibb/Nebraska
Oscar winner: Nyong'o
Should've won: Hawkins

Alterna-ballot: Cameron Diaz/The Counselor, Julianne Nicholson/August: Osage County, Adepero Oduye/12 Years A Slave, Octavia Spencer/Fruitvale Station, Oprah Winfrey/Lee Daniels' The Butler
My ballot: Hawkins, Lawrence, Nyong'o, Spencer, Squibb
My winner: Sally Hawkins

I would've been happy with any of the nominees winning except for Roberts (and even she was really good in her movie, except hers was in no way a supporting role).  While I personally would've voted for Hawkins for holding her own against Blanchett and breathing life into a thankless role, you can't deny the tragic power that Nyong'o brought to her performance.  It's great work, especially considering that it was basically her first real movie role, to boot.  Combine those with Squibb and Lawrence stealing every scene they're in, and it combined for one hell of a supporting actress field this year.  Pound-for-pound, this was the Academy's strongest category, and the altera-ballot candidates all just couldn't find room.  (Yeah, even Cameron Diaz.  I'll let Grantland's Alex Pappademas explain just how bizarre and great she was in the otherwise uneven "Counselor," including her big scene that steals the entire movie.)

Oscar nominees: Barkhad Abdi/Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper/American Hustle, Michael Fassbender/12 Years A Slave, Jonah Hill/Wolf Of Wall Street, Jared Leto/Dallas Buyers Club
Oscar winner: Leto
Should've won: Hill

Alterna-ballot: James Franco/Spring Breakers, John Gallagher Jr./Short Term 12, Tom Hanks/Saving Mr. Banks, Danny McBride/This Is The End, Christopher Walken/Stand Up Guys
My ballot: Abdi, Cooper, Hill, Leto, Walken
My winner: Jonah Hill

What a weird year of supporting actor candidates.  If you had told me in 2010 that you could have a totally plausible field of Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto, James Franco and Danny McBride, I would've said you were crazy.  "Okay, fine," you would've countered, "just replace Franco with a Somalian limo driver who's never acted before.  The field will get even BETTER."  As it happened, I owe my friend Anna a retroactive apology for 10 years ago in university, when I used to tease her about her love of Jared Leto and her continued insistence that the guy was a legit talent.  Fast-forward a decade and here's Leto picking up a deserved Oscar.  Anna, you've checkmated me on this one….even though I thought Hill was the clear choice for his atomic bomb of a comedic performance.  Geez, I'd barely wrapped my head around the idea of Hill getting nominated in the first place (for Moneyball) and now I have to consider him a legit threat to win?  What's happening?  How many talents have I underrated over the years?  Am I so out of touch?  No…it's the children who are wrong.

Oscar nominees: Alfonso Cuaron/Gravity, Steve McQueen/12 Years A Slave, Alexander Payne/Nebraska, David O. Russell/American Hustle, Martin Scorsese/The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar winner: Cuaron
Should've won: Cuaron or McQueen or Scorsese

Alterna-ballot: Noah Baumbach/Frances Ha, JC Chandor/All Is Lost, Destin Daniel Cretton/Short Term 12, Paul Greengrass/Captain Phillips, Spike Jonze/Her
My ballot: Chandor, Cuaron, Jonze, McQueen, Scorsese
My winner: Martin Scorsese

Another tossup since the degree of difficulty for Scorsese, McQueen and Cuaron was all off the charts.  I had to give my vote to Marty since Scorsese at his best is better than perhaps any other director in film history as their best, yet there were no wrong answers.  In fact, the Best Director contenders all made out pretty well.  Cuaron won, McQueen won an Oscar as a Best Picture co-producers, Scorsese's already a living legend, Payne already has two Oscars on his shelf and Russell got jack-all since nobody insults Lily Tomlin and gets away with it. 

Oscar nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf Of Wall Street
Oscar winner: 12 Years A Slave
Should've won: The Wolf Of Wall Street
My winner: The Wolf Of Wall Street

As per Markademy Awards tradition, the following seven are my Best Picture ballot representing the films I felt were a cut above the rest in 2013…

1. The Wolf Of Wall Street
2. Her
3. Short Term 12
4. 12 Years A Slave
5. All Is Lost
6. Gravity
7. Frances Ha

As noted earlier, WOWS is Scorsese running at his full power, which is insane given that the guy is 71 yet he's made three of his best movies (WOWS, Hugo and the Departed) within the last seven years.  My only quibble with the Wolf is that you could've probably found 15 minutes to edit out, yet man, what a film.  As noted earlier, you run the full gamut of emotions during this movie, as Scorsese alternately builds these guys up and breaks them down, yet also makes you understand why others root for them while at the same time pointing out that rooting for these crooks makes you a horrible person.  It is just an expertly made collection of nonstop energy and yet the slower scenes (Leo on the boat with the FBI agents, he and his wife in the nursery, the scene when Jordan goes full heel and attacks his wife, and the instantly classic quaaludes sequences at the country club) are the ones that stand out most in my mind.  Wolf Of Wall Street left the ceremony last night with exactly zero awards from its five nominations, and as I noted earlier in regards to DiCaprio, in the future this will seem like a snub, as strong as this year's winners seemed.

I've already discussed Her, All Is Lost and Gravity in other blog posts, and I touched on Short Term 12 earlier.  That leaves me with Frances Ha, a wonderful slice of life about a somewhat directionless early thirtysomething that, um, uh, er, in NO way hit close to home, no sir.  And as for 12 Years A Slave, well, what can you say other than it's one of the most searing films in recent memory.  I legitimately do not get the criticism that it's *too* harsh or *too* unsparing, since a version of this movie where the violence is tempered or watered-down would've been entirely contrary to the film's point, not to mention vaguely insulting.  It was a very worthy Best Picture choice and one of the Academy's better picks in recent years.

And now, my other 16 favourite films of 2013….

8. The Heat
9. Mud
10. Fruitvale Station
11. The Way Way Back
12. This Is The End
13. Nebraska
14. About Time
15. Enough Said
16. Inside Llewyn Davis
17. American Hustle
18. Frozen
19. Rush
20. I Give It A Year
21. Blue Jasmine
22. Drinking Buddies
23. In A World...

This is the category that really sets the Markademy Awards apart from any other awards show.  The Oscars may have a bunch of time-killing montages but only the Markademy Awards put the spotlight on the year's best individual scenes or sequences, even if a few were from terrible movies (coughcoughSpringBreakerscough).

22. Duncan's first day of work (The Way Way Back)
21. Tim and his father's last day together (About Time)
20. "Bitches, man" (Warm Bodies)
19. The news team battle royale (Anchorman 2)
18. Solomon stares directly at the audience (12 Years A Slave)
17. The dwarves escape the elves' kingdom via barrel, amidst an orc attack (The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug)
16. The "rocket on Danny's sweater" theory (Room 237)
15. Alien's "look at my all my shit" scene (Spring Breakers)
14. "Let's Go Fly A Kite" is played for Mrs. Travers (Saving Mr. Banks)
13. Rose Byrne's last line to Stephen Merchant (I Give It A Year)
12. Llewyn performs "Fare Thee Well" by himself (Inside Llewyn Davis)
11. The "science oven" explodes (American Hustle)
10. Marcus' rap (Short Term 12)
9. Kate's commentary on dead people at the cemetery (Nebraska)
8. The ending (Captain Phillips)
7. Cameron Diaz has sex with a car (The Counselor)
6. James Franco and Danny McBride angrily part ways (This Is The End)
5. The "Let It Go" song and sequence (Frozen)
4. "Please Mr. Kennedy" (Inside Llewyn Davis)
3. The hanging scene (12 Years A Slave)
2. Rosalyn 'explains' how it was a good thing that Irving was threatened by the mob (American Hustle)
1. Jordan, on quaaludes, tries to get into his car (The Wolf Of Wall Street)

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