Oscars: Ellen should shine brighter than films

Gary Wolcott, Special to the HeraldFebruary 27, 2014 

You'll see few surprises in the 2014 Academy Awards broadcast. The awards are pretty much cut and dried. A more interesting discussion is who's hosting. Ellen Degeneres is back.

Other than Billy Crystal, whose Academy Awards show was not quite up to his usual standards in 2012, the annual Oscar telecasts have been boring since the last time a funny Ellen hosted the show in 2007.

How bad is bad? Last year, Seth MacFarlane hosted. He's terrific as a comedy TV writer and series creator, and did the fun movie Ted. What he isn't good at is Oscar material writer and host. To put it nicely, MacFarlane sucked.

He joins a list of awful hosting picks by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Sleepwalking Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin brought huge yawns in 2010. James Franco and Anne Hathaway did the same a year later. And it's hard to fathom what possessed the Academy to hire Hugh Jackman in 2009.

You have to go back to Ellen's wonderfully warm and funny appearance in 2007. After facing scathing criticism in the past several years, it seems the Academy has taken a hint from the Hollywood Foreign Press' Golden Globes. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have played host to the program the past two years to critical raves. No doubt they have a contract that says they can't do the Oscar telecast.

Too bad.

So if you can't get Amy and Tina, go with what last worked best. That's Ellen. What's too bad is nominees that aren't as interesting, exciting or funny.

Best movie

Nine films are nominated. Five are worthy. Not that it matters. 12 Years a Slave takes home the Oscar. Period.

Are there better pictures on the list? Absolutely. The mind-blowing hour-and-a-half in space of Gravity for one. The humor of based-on-real-life American Hustle and the intensity of the also-true Dallas Buyers Club . Then there's my favorite: Nebraska.

My pick: Nebraska

The Academy's pick: 12 Years a Slave

Best actor

Bruce Dern plays one of the best performances of his career as crusty old drunk in Nebraska. A suddenly mature Matthew McConaughey also gives a career best performance as an AIDS-stricken cowboy in Dallas Buyers Club. They're my two favorites.

McConaughey is the front runner, and his real competition is Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio is good, but he's always good, and he's been better. If the vote gets close between the two of them, Dern could become a factor for a body of work. But that's doubtful. Chiwetel Ejiofor -- who is brilliant in everything and hasn't been noticed until 12 Years a Slave -- could be part of an upset if 12 Years a Slave does an award landslide.

My pick: Matthew McConaughey, though it is hard to pick him over Bruce Dern.

The Academy picks: Matthew McConaughey

Best actress

Meryl Streep is in there for August: Osage County. Oh, what a surprise. She could stand, look at the camera and do nothing and get nominated. Same with Judy Dench, who is also in the hunt for a stellar performance in Philomena. I'm not sure how Sandra Bullock got a nomination. She whines all the way through Gravity, and I kept hoping she'd stop whimpering, move out of the way and let me see more of director Alfonso Cuaron's view of the Earth from space. I loved Amy Adams, who showed a sexy side in American Hustle.

But none really has a shot. Hand the Oscar to Cate Blanchett, who was brilliant and gave last year's best female performance in Woody Allen's A Street Car Named Desire homage Blue Jasmine.

My pick: Cate Blanchett

The Academy picks: Cate Blanchett

Best director

David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese are great storytellers. American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street are most excellent films. Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave is disturbing and features some incredible acting. My favorite film last year is Alexander Payne's Nebraska. It's done in glorious black and white.

The choice is really out of this world. Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity gave those who saw it an hour-and-a-half in space. It's the closest any of us is ever going to get to being there.

My pick: Alfonso Cuaron

The Academy picks: Alfonso Cuaron

Supporting actor

Captain Phillips villain Barkhad Abdi gave an incredible performance for a first-ever shot at acting. Michael Fassbender reminds me of Burt Lancaster. The face is similar, the acting style is the same and Fassbender's voice is a dead ringer for the late great. He's one of the best movie villains I've ever encountered in 12 Years a Slave. You also have the impossible-not-to-love Jonah Hill in the mix for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Only Fassbender has a real shot at unseating cross-dressing Jared Leto, whose Dallas Buyers Club performance is barely last year's best.

My pick: Jared Leto -- barely

The Academy picks: Jared Leto

Supporting actress

Other than Sally Hawkins' Blue Jasmine work, this one has the best acting of the year. Julia Roberts showed incredible power and depth in August: Osage County. Mostly unknown June Squibb almost stole the show from an incredible Bruce Dern in Nebraska. The two with the serious shot at the statue are Jennifer Lawrence as a nagging, self-absorbed housewife in American Hustle and the also mostly unknown Lupita Nyong'o, who gave a gut-wrenching, emotional performance in 12 Years a Slave.

My pick: Jennifer Lawrence

The Academy's pick: Jennifer Lawrence

Other categories

I didn't see enough of the foreign films to make a pick, but Frozen takes the award for best animated feature. Gravity gets all the effects Oscars.

-- To comment, go to Mr. Movie's blog at www.tricityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.

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