Oscar Re-Do 2013

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, is the most recent movie inducted into the National Film Registry, and is generally regarded as one of the best movies of the decade. And you know what? It’s properly rated. But it’s also essentially impossible to sit through more than once. It is easily the most brutal, unflinching movie (or show) ever made about America’s original sin. And occasionally Steve McQueen’s showiness undercuts the importance of the story. But in a time when school boards and legislatures are trying to downplay the horror of history and presidential candidates are saying, “America was never a racist country,” this remains a truly important film.

So it feels a little silly to praise the greatness of Katniss Everdeen right after that. But Catching Fire remains one of the decade’s best blockbusters, a truly entertaining and (no joke) inspiring film a decade later. I’d happily add it to this list to make an even 10, or even swap out the other Jennifer Lawrence movie.

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell, American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street

Should have won: Alfonso Cuarón
Not even nominated: Spike Jonze, Her

Cuarón had already proven himself to be one of the world’s great craftsman after Children of Men, which was barely acknowledged by the Academy. But Gravity appropriately dominated this year’s nominees, with a well-deserved win here and a slew of technical trophies.

But I must once again dump on American Hustle – a fun but severely flawed movie – and demand that Spike Jonze take Russell’s place for Her, a true masterpiece.

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

Should have won: Leonardo DiCaprio
Not even nominated: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

The McConaugh-sance was a great time for movies, and the famous Texan’s Oscar win for this movie was the culmination of a great comeback story. But nothing he does as real-life HIV patient Ron Woodruff compares to just one scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, a feat of undeniable physical presence and comic timing that no one could compete with.

As time goes on, American Hustle‘s hype (which even I wasn’t immune to) looks more and more like, as my dad would say, “an Emperor’s New Clothes movie.” So while its nominations in all four acting categories is still impressive, each of those nods has an easy swap for a much better performance. So goodbye to Christian Bale – arguably the best of the quartet – and hello to Oscar Isaac. He still hasn’t been nominated in the ensuing decade, which is criminal. But he may not give a better performance than he does in the Coens’ black comedy about the Greenwich Village folk scene. As the Sisyphean singer-songwriter unable to make progress after the death of his musical partner, he’s about as weary as they come, yet still pushing on.

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Brie Larson, Short Term 12

While I greatly enjoy all the other performers, it’s really no contest. None of those I would count among their greatest performances, whereas Blanchett knocks it out of the park again in Woody Allen’s dramedy.

Brie Larson eventually went on to Oscar success just two years later in the emotional gut-punch Room. But she should have been nominated and won before then for her astonishing, ground-level work in Short Term 12, where she plays one of the last empathetic stops for troubled kids before they’re thrust into an uncaring world.

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

Should have won: Barkhad Abdi
Not even nominated: Daniel Brühl, Rush

Abdi’s life should have changed forever after being cast the Somali pirate in the Captain Phillips. And it did, sort of. But Hollywood’s racism kept him from any big roles in the following decade. He had minor roles in Good Time and Blade Runner 2049, and a recurring role in The Curse, but that’s been about it aside from indie movies you’ve probably never heard of. And it’s a real shame, because Abdi is magnificent in the film, and it’s even more astonishing considering it was his first performance.

Which is why Leto’s win is all the more disgusting. Even beyond the indignity of a cis performer playing a trans character, he’s not good in the film and generally not a good actor. (To say nothing of the allegations against him.) I’d easily boot him for Daniel Brühl, who’s been a reliable presence in everything from Inglourious Basterds to the MCU. As Niki Lauda, the determined race car driver locked in a heated – but respectful – rivalry with James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), he’s terrific.

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street

I still can’t believe this was Nyong’o’s first performance in a feature film. This is a debut as important as Orson Welles or Alan Rickman. The arrival of a major talent. A slam-dunk, 100% obviously, wholly deserved win.

So what else is there to talk about? Well, I’d swap Lawrence for another feisty blonde Long Island housewife. Margot Robbie was basically unknown to American audiences until this year. She was memorable in About Time, but absolutely iconic here as Jordan Belfort’s second wife Naomi.

American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: About Time

Not a great year for this category if American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club made it in. But at least the Academy got this one right. Her is one of the most insightful movies ever made about platonic and romantic relationships, to say nothing of society’s relationship to technology. It felt prescient at the time, but has only grown more relevant in the ensuing decade.

I’d kick out DBC for About Time, a movie that still floors me every time I see it. Richard Curtis’s best film presents a new, more romantic version of time travel in a moving coming-of-age story that has few peers.

12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street

Should have won: Before Midnight
Not even nominated: The Spectacular Now

My love for this series knows no bounds, so yes I’m honoring it yet again even after awarding Before Sunset nine years ago. It’s that good, that wise, that special.

The Spectacular Now is a much more heartbreaking look at relationships, but it should have been raised up above the flurry of YA adaptations we got in the 2010s.

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises

Should have won: The Wind Rises
Not even nominated: Monsters University

Frozen was (and I suppose still is) a legitimate phenomenon. But to me it represents the start of Disney’s autopilot era, with a focus on popular but annoying songs (more on that later) and merchandising. It’s simply no comparison to what was sold as Hayao Miyazaki’s last film. While he still had one more feature in him – which may win this year – this deeply personal biopic of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi is deeply romantic, visually stunning and often overwhelming.

And while Monsters University is none of those things, it’s still a lot of fun yet with a tremendous amount of heart. It could easily take the place of any of the mainstream nominees.

What else did they get wrong?

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
Omar (Palestine)

Should have won: The Hunt
Not even nominated: The Grandmaster (Hong Kong)

The Great Beauty lives up to its title. But Paolo Sorrentino’s reflection on a life filled with decadence can’t help but feel a little bit like “rich people’s problems.” The Hunt, though, is a terrifying story that could happen to anyone. Like The Crucible or “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” it’s a timeless allegory about mass hysteria, violent retribution and the innocent victims caught in the middle.

“Happy” from Despicable Me 2
“Let It Go” from Frozen
“The Moon Song” from Her
“Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Should have won: “The Moon Song”
Not even nominated: “Please Mr. Kennedy” from Inside Llewyn Davis

“Let It Go” was always going to win. Unlike a lot of nominees, it wasn’t some end-credits filler. It was integral to the story and a genuine phenomenon. But, like fellow nominee “Happy,” it’s really fucking annoying. “Drive your car into oncoming traffic” annoying. “Launch yourself into outer space” annoying. “Puncture your eardrums” annoying. So, the only real choice is “The Moon Song,” which may feel like a trifle but in context is rapturous.

You’ll notice this year there are only four nominees, and that’s because they disqualified “Alone Yet Not Alone,” the title track from a forgetten Christian period drama. Whatever you think of the song – it’s not really any better or worse than some of the sap they’ve nominated before or since – the disqualification is bullshit. The composer, a longtime Academy member, personally called a lot of voters and asked them to consider the song, which hardly seems unethical. But if they were going to cut it, they should have replaced it with a song that should have been there from the beginning: the delightful “Please Mr. Kennedy” from Inside Llewyn Davis.

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