A Note for Oscar Hopes

On the eve of the Academy Awards ceremony, one can only sit back and wait for the inevitable. Voting closed last Tuesday evening and is now conducted virtually, for those of the ageing Academy who can understand such  technological advances. While there are regular gripes about the winning films and performers in the main categories and loud murmurs about the expensive press campaigns and the use of screener dvds (which should not help the hopes of the incredible 3D production that is Gravity) it is worth bearing in mind that this is American cinema and studio chicanery at its finest. 12 Years a Slave is rated ‘important’ since it is both historical and socially relevant yet its episodic structure – another year, another brutal slave owner, another beating – is frustrating and heavy-handed and eventually numbing. Its claim to originality is found wanting since it was revealed that the great Gordon Parks directed an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s story for American Playhouse some 30 years ago. However its worthiness is not in question but Alfonso Cuaron should at least take the directing award. Since my personal favourite performances by Tom Hanks in both Captain Phillips and Saving Mr Banks weren’t even nominated and Robert Redford’s finest screen appearance was similarly ignored in All Is Lost, it remains for the chips to fall where they will. The bookies favour Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club but Leonardo Di Caprio is simply great in Wolf of Wall Street, another brilliant collaboration with Martin Scorsese and a project the actor personally shepherded for years. Cate Blanchett seems a shoo-in for Best Actress in Blue Jasmine, a role in which she mainly talks to herself in what might be a gloss on Mia Farrow, according to a recent Vanity Fair article (which probably started the anti-Woody tide of op-eds led by his adopted daughter’s repeated claim of molestation following the Golden Globes tribute). Sandra Bullock’s role was certainly far more physically challenging, but she too spends an entire film talking to herself. Original screenplay-wise the odds are on American Hustle, mainly because it consists of four shysters talking to each other in a way that most capitalists understand – about money – but it would be a shame to overlook Her, an ingenious and contemporary take on the eternal oscillations of love and machinery. The Adapted category has its chief contenders in the aforementioned Wolf … and 12 Years … and while the former is simply astonishing the latter has more politically correct connotations, to put it mildly. The occasional inelegance of the ceremony itself is honed by its historicism and lack of pretention, save in the Foreign Film category, which, if there is justice, should go to Paolo Sorrentino’s majestic The Great Beauty. This is an industry event, which goes some way towards explaining why people’s favourite films almost never win – Psycho, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – and why you will almost certainly never watch Crash again, if you’ve had the misfortune to have seen  it once. But, oh, what larks! Let the games commence.