Margot Robbie frustrates Leonardo DiCaprio's advances in "The Wolf of Wall Street," the best movie nominated for Best Picture. Credit: Paramount Pictures
Look, everyone loves predicting the Oscars. We've done that ourselves. But as science, it's up there with astrology or being on the think tank of the Creation Museum. Oscarology is more about having fun than being an oracle. So instead, we'll indulge in answering a question you never asked, namely what would we pick if we were a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? We should say, by the way, that we are not. Note: Only a few of these might actually line up with the actual winners, and then mostly by accident. We actually have good taste.
Picture Who should win: “The Wolf of Wall Street” Why: There was a lot of controversy over Martin Scorsese's latest, as some didn't feel that it clear that it founds its antihero — monstrous super-broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) — a repugnant creature of ill repute. We're not clear how much more obvious it should be that this is satire, and one that hangs its audience along with its characters, who in real life were never adequately punished for their greed-fueled crimes. The final shot — an image of an audience in thrall to Belfort's radioactive charisma — couldn't be any more clearer if Scorsese had superimposed the words "You secretly want to be him and have his ridiculous riches" onto the screen. But whatever — the future of, say, eight months from now we get what he was doing.
Director Who should win: Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street” Why: "Gravity" finds Alfonso Cuaron expanding his technique to create new (or newish) ways of moviemaking. He should probably win his Oscar for this work. But he's still got nothing on Scorsese, who's 71 years old and can still direct the hell out of a picture. He finds the perfect tone for his sin-filled romp — a deceptively light, boisterous, giddy grin that begs us to find Belfort and company's actions entertaining and even alluring. Scorsese can't stop.
Leonardo DiCaprio gave one of his best performances as a loathsome broker in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Credit: Paramount Pictures
Actor Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street” Why: As broker beast Jordan Belfort, DiCaprio just f—in’ brought it. He’s supposed to make what he’s selling — remorseless, insatiable greed — both horrifying and seductive, and he nails the tight-rope balance between the two. It’s a performance that never lets up and is always magnetic and charismatic, even as he’s playing the lowest of the low.
Actress Who should win: Amy Adams, “American Hustle” Why: Everyone in David O. Russell’s film — indeed, in all of his films — are cartoons. But as the most insecure person in a film of confident hucksters, Adams is the only one who’s human. Her character hates herself so much that she’d rather be anyone else — namely a con artist with a fakey Brit accent and side boob-heavy dresses. And she has to sell finding Christian Bale with a pot belly and toupee-and-combover ‘do sexy, which can’t be easy.
Supporting Actor Who should win: Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle” Why: The funniest cartoon in “American Hustle” isn’t scene-stealer Jennifer Lawrence, but Cooper’s tainted fed. He’s like a little boy who wants to hang with the bad kids, all while curling his hair to give him an edge that could only be seen as “edgy” in the late 1970s.
Lupita Nyong'o played a woman trying to survive in "12 Years a Slave." Credit: Francois Duhamel
Supporting Actress Who should win: Lupita Nyong’o, "12 Years a Slave" Why: Even more than lead Chiwetel Ejiofor, newcomer Nyong'o — amusingly also in the new Liam Neeson thriller "Non-Stop," in a bit part she clearly filmed before anyone had seen "12 Years a Slave" — has to show the unimaginable suffering in slavery. At the same time she shows a resilience, if one that's truly put to the test.
Adapted Screenplay Who should win: Terence Winter, “The Wolf of Wall Street” Why: Martin Scorsese has gotten the majority of the credit (or the anger) for turning a bragging memoir into a slyly satirical attack on society’s collective greed for greed. But Winter’s script is the foundation. Reportedly original cuts ran well over the theatrical three hour cut, so good on Winter for indulging in the excess of scene after scene after scene of anti-hero Jordan Belfort finding ever new and abominable ways to indulge in his every prurient whim.
Original Screenplay Who should win: Bob Nelson, “Nebraska” Why: This year’s original screenplay batch is a bit of a bust, especially as it snubs one of the best (the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis). The closest to best is the one for the Alexander Payne dramedy, which, amazingly, wasn’t written by Payne himself but by someone doing a not-bad impersonation of his work. It’s also deceptively simple: This is a film about allowing someone to live a lie, and the generosity that act can embody.
Toni Servillo played an aging playboy who doesn't want to give up the party in the Italian Oscar nominee "The Great Beauty." Credit: Janus Films
Foreign Language Film What should win: “The Great Beauty” Why: As ever, the best non-English language film of the year isn’t on this list, but there’ll be few worries if the trophy goes to Paolo Sorrentino’s expansive, melancholic yet eccentric look at an aging party boy (Toni Servillo), who uses Rome as his own personal Never Neverland. And if the Academy had a better track record at acknowledging foreign films outside of this category, Sorrentino’s prowling direction would be a lock to win.
Animated Feature Film What should win: “The Wind Rises” Why: The Academy loves a sentimental story, and at one point this portrait of a shy man who designed WWII Japanese fighter planes was to be the swan song of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”). He then came out of retirement, as he’s done before, though that doesn’t mean the 71 year old has another feature in him. But this is still one of Miyazaki’s best — an autumnal masterwork that brings all he’s learned to bear on a study of what defines an artist.
Animated Short Film What should win: “Get a Horse!” Why: Tacked onto the beginning of “Frozen,” this is almost certainly the only nominee in this category that everyone has seen. And it’s a beaut — a dizzying blend of old Disney and new technology that cribs from “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Besides, it’s a blast even before the old-timey Mickey and Minnie wind up shuffling into the world of 3-D color.
Live Action Short Film What should win: “Just Before Losing Everything” Why: The films the live action shorts committee pick are notoriously banal. (Nominee “Helium,” about a dying boy, is a real nadir.) But this is everything the category should be: a self-contained story that promises exciting work from a filmmaker (Frenchman Xavier Legrand) just starting out.
"The Act of Killing" sits down with the remorseless former members of an Indonesian death squad that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1960s. Credit: Drafthouse Films
Documentary Feature What should win: “The Act of Killing” Why: Documentaries tend to get ghettoized by the Oscars. Indeed, this is one of last year’s most impressive films, not just non-fiction ones. And it’s certainly one of the most ambitious, blending fiction and non-fiction to expose something that will make all skin crawl: The remorseless former death squad members who helped wipe out half a million in Indonesia in the 1960s. No fiction scene this year was as imaginative and horrifying as the scene where the subjects play guests at a fizzy talk show, where they talk about murders the way one would chat about flower arrangements.
Documentary Short Subject What should win: Sorry, we missed the short docs when they played. “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” sounds nice and triumphant.
Cinematography Who should win: Philippe Le Sourd, “The Grandmaster” Why: Director Wong Kar-Wai and his cinematographer Christopher Doyle broke up a long time ago, ending one of the most fruitful marriages in cinema. Wong has been dating around, and he scored a fine mate in Philippe Le Sourd, who made his martial arts spectacular (albeit a typically sad and mournful one) look almost like the good old days. Slo-mo close-ups of rain drops flying off spinning hats FTW.
Costume Design Who should win: Michael Wilkinson, “American Hustle” Why: Costume Oscars tend to go to period pieces. Research and recreations are indeed hard work, but arguably more creativity goes into creating from wholecloth the duds for characters. Technically, “American Hustle” is a period piece, being that its period was the backwards fashions of the 1970s and early 1980s. But besides just busting out bell-bottoms and Amy Adams’ much drooled-over chest-hugger dresses, Wilkinson’s work uses elaborate clothes to define each of its cartoonish characters. The characters in the film define themselves by how they act and how they look, and the sartorial work here is at least as important as the actors wearing them.
Film Editing Who should win: Christopher Rouse, “Captain Phillips” Why: Admittedly, by choosing “Captain Phillips” for editing, we’re in part rewarding it for the MOST editing. There are a ton of cuts, one just about every second, and the film sustains a sense of the hectic even when the second half is largely located inside a tiny lifeboat. We’re also imagining that editing a film by Paul Greengrass (“United 93,” the second and third “Bourne” pictures) isn’t easy. His cameras shake and weave and bob. But his editors always pound them into a shape, and one that isn’t just chaos editing.
Makeup and Hair Styling Who should win: Stephen Prouty, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” Why: Aging make-up almost never works: we direct you to, for one of ten thousand examples, the gut-busting jobs on the cast of “A Beautiful Mind” in its final stretch. So let’s give it to “Bad Grandpa”: Almost no regular person caught in the film’s crosshairs knew that the dirty old men pestering them was Johnny Knoxville — not even us when we first saw the poster, despite having seen him in the “Jackass” movies. Kudos!
Musical Score Who should win: William Butler and Owen Pallett, “Her” Why: This is easily the saddest category in this year’s ceremony: one treacly, skin-crawling, manipulative score after another. (If you didn’t think John Williams’ contribution to “The Book Thief” could get worse, you apparently missed Thomas Newman’s music for “Saving Mr. Banks.”) In this field, Arcade Fire’s emo score for Spike Jonze’s “Her” sounds like, we don’t know, Kraftwerk. But it still stinks.
Original Song What should win: “Happy,” Pharrell Williams, “Despicable Me 2” Why: We just like Pharrell Williams. (Admittedly we didn't listen to the nominees. Because we were too busy writing this article.)
Production Design Who should win: K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena, “Her” Why: There are few cavernous new worlds in the five production design nominees. But design isn’t always about designing, per se — sometimes it’s about great location scouting. To create the very near future Los Angeles, Spike Jonze’s film uses locations in both the City of Angels and Shanghai, to make the metropolis look recognizable but just slightly alien.
The sound team for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" had to create sounds for this charming fellow. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Sound Editing Who should win: Brent Burge and Chris War, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Why: We know what you’re thinking: What’s the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing? They’re actually pretty simple. As professional sound editor Martin Lopez explains in this article, the use of the word “editing” is a misnomer, as the job actually entails creating sounds, making “mixing” easy to figure out. And who had more sounds to create (we assume, as we don’t actually have the records to know this) than a movie about crazy creatures, including a fire-breathing, proud dragon.
Sound Mixing Who should win: Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro, “Captain Phillips” Why: As with the film editing category, we’re just impressed by the amount of editing required to keep this machine going.
Visual Effects Who should win: Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould, “Gravity” Why: For this category, we could go with one of those effects-heavy superhero movies or the one about a bunch of short heroes running about Middle Earth. Instead, we’re impressed with the one that’s almost entirely digital. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s work is in tandem with the technical crew; without them, it’s nothing.