Yep, it’s that time of year again, and has been since Christmas. We have had the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, with the inimitably imitable Stephen Fry, still the best of hosts, despite the occasionally misguided off-the-wall fancy that brings back memories of A Little Fry and Laurie. You may remember that 12 Years a Slave picked up the awards for Best Film and Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), though Gravity stole away curiously with Outstanding British Film (well, it may have been made here, but the money, cast and, above all, subject matter are resolutely American!) and Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón); Cate Blanchett, meanwhile, got Best Actress for channelling Blanche Dubois in Blue Jasmine. On the whole the goodies were well shared around, with Philomena, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, The Great Gatsby and The Great Beauty all getting a look in, though Gravity does appear to have come off best, with at least five awards. This is typical of the BAFTAs, where sweeping the board is much less common, maybe down to good old British fair play, or cool-headedness!
For this March’s 86th Academy Awards, with returning hostess Ellen DeGeneres, there are a staggering 9 nominees for Best Picture (American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street – which evidently did not impress the British Academy). The nominations for Best Actor and Actress are pretty much in line with the BAFTAs’.
Is it a bumper year then? Well, there do seem to be a number of seriously reflective and intelligent bits of film-making here; a lot of human interest, but nothing too gushy. Personally, I have only seen Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle and Blue Jasmine on the English language side, and the first is to my mind by far the best of these. It has the most elegant story arc, runs at a taut ninety minutes, and the simplicity of its emotional appeal – a woman rediscovering her need to come back to Earth, in every sense – is satisfyingly at odds with the hi-tech trappings of the screenplay. The technical bravura with which it is all executed is merely the icing on the cake, a hook to get the audience into the theatres.
American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave are undoubtedly worthy contenders. They just did not seem to me like films that cried out to be made. Whereas, in an age when we are getting perhaps a little too big for our boots technologically speaking, a film that reminds us how small we are, how implacable the laws of physics, while at the same time inspiring us with a human being’s capacity for courage and resourcefulness, is. Or maybe it’s just me.
The one omission from the above list which pains me a little is the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, which seems to have slipped by unassumingly, as overlooked and under-appreciated as its truculent protagonist. Why Oscar Isaac’s sad sack singer-composer has not been nominated for Best Actor is beyond me; surely more imaginative than yet another nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio.
So what do I predict? With some hesitation I suggest the Academy voters will offer the Best Film statuette to 12 Years a Slave, Best Director will go to Alfonso Cuarón (though I would give it to Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips and let Cuarón enjoy Best Film). Best Actress will go to Sandra Bullock (she has broken the mould, you see) and Best Actor to Bruce Dern, sentiment winning out over Bale’s fattening up and McConaughey’s skinnying down self-transformations. Which are just so much hustle.