Monday, June 18, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2013

The Contenders:

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

What’s Missing

When there’s a larger set of movies nominated, it’s often more difficult ot come up with movies that I think are genuinely worth bringing up. While there are certainly some nominations that I probably wouldn’t include, but the list isn’t terrible. There were some interesting horror movies in 2013, including films like Oculus that don’t really belong here and some like Only Lovers Left Alive that might (and before anyone goes there, I hated Under the Skin). No foreign movies is odd, and Blue is the Warmest Color would seem like one worth adding. Films like Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station were perhaps too small to be considered, while All is Lost may not have had enough to it. I’d also be willing to consider Before Midnight.

Weeding through the Nominees

9. I like Tom hanks, but I didn’t love Captain Phillips. I didn’t hate it, but it was another movie where I knew what the outcome was going to be going in so there didn’t feel like a significant purpose in watching it for me. It was worth it for Barkhad Abdi and for the final few minutes of Tom Hanks’s reaction when everything is over. But the movie itself was surprisingly uninteresting for a plot that should have been action-packed and exciting. Of all of these movies, this is the one I’d most like to remove from consideration.

8. I remember American Hustle more as a movie that I watched than I do the actual movie, and that doesn’t generally bode well. It’s also a movie that got a ton of nominations, and as I look back at it, I wonder why that’s the case. There’s nothing egregiously bad about this film, but it’s also not a movie that I think of as worthy of that much acclaim. It’s fine. It’s worth seeing once and that’s about it. I’d love to say that I think I’m going to catch some hell for that, but everyone I know has essentially the same opinion.

7. I think it’s possible that Philomena is a better movie than I’m giving it credit for being. It’s a good movie, and I think ultimately the story is an important one. My issue is a problem of expectations. Watch the trailer for Philomena when you get the chance. This is billed as a comedy, and it’s anything but a comedy in the real world. Sure, there are a few comedic moments here and there, but to call this a comedy is to misrepresent it in the most terrible ways. It was not what I expected, and that may have poisoned it for me.

6. Dallas Buyers Club is another of those movies that suffers from audience knowledge. You go into this knowing it’s about AIDS and takes place near the start of the AIDS epidemic, the fates of the various characters are pretty much a foregone conclusion. Like Philomena, I think this is an important movie, and one that is worth seeing, but I don’t know that it’s a movie that demands to be seen more than once. It’s good and it might even be great, but it’s not going to contend even for the top half for me.

5. What I’m going to say about Nebraska is something I feel like I’ve been saying a lot and something I’m going to say at least once more today—it’s a good movie for a single watch but I struggle to see a reason to watch it again. Bruce Dern is great in it, but it’s June Squibb who makes the movie work. It’s an odd choice for a Best Picture nomination, though, since the story is so small. I don’t object to that, and I think Nebraska might well be a great movie. I just don’t know that I neede to see it a second time.

4. Remember when I talked about a movie being good for a single watch? I feel the same way about The Wolf of Wall Street. Part of that is directly related to the length; this movie clocks in at a solid three hours, and I’m not convinced that it’s a story that requires three hours to be told. There are great moments here, certainly, but I think this could have 30-40 minutes cut from it without losing anything more than arrogance and self-indulgence. It’s fine, but there’s not enough plot in too much running time.

3. 12 Years a Slave is a movie that seems genetically designed to win awards, so it’s not a shock that it won this (and other) Oscars. It’s a movie about wrongful imprisonment, racism, slavery…it ticks a lot of boxes. It’s also a genuinely great film, so it’s not one that upsets me for ultimately winning the actual Oscar. The problem is that the title gives a lot away. We know that our protagonist is going to become a slave. We know how long that’s going to occur. The only real mystery, then, is what happens in those 12 years.

My Choices

2. I don’t always have multiple possible winners. In this case, Her is probably the best movie of its year in a lot of respects. That it’s more or less science fiction is something that works against it in many respects, but it’s also an extremely human film. As a smaller movie, one that focuses on a single strange relationship, it’s perhaps a longshot. But as a film that is looking toward something that might well and truly be a reality soon enough, there’s a sweetness here that is worth seeing. I think it’s a hard sell for certain people, but it’s a movie that is not just grand and beautiful, but important.

1. While Her may be the best or most important movie of 2013, Gravity is my favorite by a long mile. Sure, I get that there’s not a great deal of story here, but this is a film that is compelling from start to finish, even though the story is little more than someone trying to survive in the worst possible situation. It’s visually amazing, and the story never slows down, even when it does for a few moments. I like everything about this movie, and seeing this in 3D in an IMAX theater is one of my favorite-ever movie experiences.

Final Analysis


  1. Gravity was FIVE years ago!?! Holy crap.

    1. I know. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is old enough to drive. The first Austin Powers movie is old enough to drink.

  2. This is a tough list! I liked a lot of movies this year. My list is ultimately the same as yours with just a few differences.

    9) Nebraska (sorry... I just wasn't a fan, except for June Squib)
    8) American Hustle (ditto to you... I remember that I saw it, and that's it)
    7) Captain Phillips (ditto)
    6) Philomena
    5) Dallas Buyers Club
    4) 12 Years a Slave
    3) Wolf of Wall Street
    2 & 1) Her/Gravity Tie

    However, Blue is the Warmest Color and Short Term 12 are great, and either one would have been more than welcome in this line-up. I also think Oculus is a whole lot more clever than people would think. And Only Lovers Left Alive was interestly different. Fruitvale had a great performance, but it left me similarly to Captain Phillips.

    Under the Skin... don't even get me started on that pretentious piece of crap.

    1. Wow...we really are pretty close on opinions for this year. I truth, you're probably right about Fruitvale, and the missing nomination was Michael B. Jordan's and not the film's.

      I rewatched Oculus not that long ago, and it holds up. It's a very smart film that does, I think, everything it can with its premise and doesn't take it any further than the premise allows. It ends at exactly the right point and in the right way.

      And yeah, I really hated Under the Skin, and even more as time goes on because of how many people geek out over it.

  3. Nebraska was my favorite movie of that year, which doesn't mean I necessarily consider it the best. I thought Wolf of Wall Street was unpleasant to look at but couldn't stop watching it at the same time. I think 12 Years a Slave is probably a good choice for the win, though as you point out, it is definitely designed to win awards. I'm one of those Under the Skin people...I wouldn't rule that out for Best Picture of the Yea, either. Others I've recommended this movie to have been less enthused.

    1. I found Under the Skin so frustrating.

      My mom was a big fan of Nebraska. I think she was pulling for Bruce Dern as well.