I started this list on Wednesday with the craft awards (NOT technical awards, because I find no technology in Costume Design or Production Design), and now I’ve sufficiently whittled away at my ballot for the main categories. I should emphasize before going further is that not all of these are what I voted for in the Film Misery Awards, my ballot having shifted a bit since then. Maybe that’s a cheat, but it’s my ballot and I can change my mind if I want to. But yeah, onward we go!
* – Film Misery Awards overlap
** – Academy Awards overlap
*** – Film Misery *AND* Academy Awards overlap
- Berberian Sound Studio
- Blue Is the Warmest Color*
- Frances Ha
- In the House
- Mother of George
- Our Children
- The Selfish Giant*
Further Thoughts: The more I turn over each of these in my head, the more passionately I feel towards each of them. Be it the darker regions of Berberian Sound Studio and Our Children, the incredible pathos of Blue Is the Warmest Color, Mother of George and The Selfish Giant, lighter dalliances of freer emotionality like Frances Ha, Her and In the House, or the berserk insanities of Top 10 bookends Stoker and Gravity. This year offered me a lot to feel and think about, and you should know it goes well beyond just these ten, but it’s a strong batch for the sake of exclusivity. In fact, if we’re going to get even more exclusive, as well we should, I’ve highlighted what would make my ballot of five. Hopefully the Academy will repeat my gesture in the immediate future.
- Clio Barnard, The Selfish Giant
- Shane Carruth, Upstream Color
- Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity***
- Andrew Dosunmu, Mother of George
- Peter Strickland, Berberian Sound Studio
Runners-up: Park Chan-wook, Stoker; Spike Jonze, Her; Alexandre Moors, Blue Caprice; Francois Ozon, In the House; Cate Shortland, Lore
Further Thoughts: It’s always incredibly tough to wean down my Best Picture list into a Director lineup, but even so, a director lineup shouldn’t necessarily match your top 5 or so films of the year. Not every film is made brilliant specifically by its direction, but a handful offer clear and jarring showcases for directorial prowess. Carruth and Strickland both wielded the incredible might of their immense craft with discipline and jaw-dropping ingenuity. Cuaron’s work is also a gob-smacking craft highlight, but with an acute awareness and acceptance of its blunt-force trauma and spirituality. If Barnard and Dosunmu don’t deal with as ambitious material, they make up with crisply electrified and sumptuously textured, respectively, depictions of their fleshed-out, damaged communities.
- Conner Chapman, The Selfish Giant
- Paul Eenhoorn, This Is Martin Bonner
- Alden Ehrenreich, Beautiful Creatures
- Joaquin Phoenix, Her*
- Jack Reynor, What Richard Did
Runners-up: Richmond Arquette, This Is Martin Bonner; Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger; Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight; Chris O’Dowd, The Sapphires; Isaiah Washington, Blue Caprice
Further Thoughts: Right up to the end of this year, while many performances beguiled or charmed me, I was worrying 2013 simply didn’t have a male lead performance as committed as Denis Lavant’s in Holy Motors, not to hold them to that admittedly high standard. Then I found two that slammed me to the ground at the last minute. It took a 2nd viewing to fully realize the sensitivity and specificity in Joaquin Phoenix’s tender, insular work in Her, but the fierce scrappiness of Conner Chapman in The Selfish Giant floored from the word go, a performance of agitated energy and mounting pathos. In a way all my picks except Phoenix are breakouts, though not all necessarily newcomers. Eenhoorn has a lot more years on him than his compatriots, but there’s wistfulness present both in his congenial cheer and beneath-the-surface cynicism. Meanwhile Ehrenreich and Reynor navigate the teen years of their characters with infinitely self-compensating charm and less charming personal unrest, respectively, even before the extraordinary events their respective titles hint at come into play.
- Julie Delpy, Before Midnight*
- Emilie Dequenne, Our Children
- Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color*
- Paulina Garcia, Gloria
- Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha*
Runners-Up: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Sandra Bullock, The Heat; Melanie Lenz, Paradise: Hope; Melissa McCarthy, The Heat; Mia Wasikowska, Stoker; Robin Weigert, Concussion
Further Thoughts: This year I was scrambling to gather candidates for the male performance categories, but fretting over cutting down the female performance races. To think that Mia Wasikowska, Robin Weigert, Melanie Lenz and hysterical double-team work from Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy only fill out the runners up still shocks me. I suppose that can only serve to encourage the high bar my five choices elevated the category to. Admittedly Delpy has the advantage of living in the role for 18 years more, though showing the wear and tear of her relationship and her willfully frustrated professional career. Exarchopoulos has almost the opposite task, tracking the wrenching physical evolution of her character over nearly a decade, while constantly living in an amorphous emotional space. Hers is quite possibly the performance of the year, but Dequenne rivals it with the performance of last year, an equally well-charted spiral into a waking-nightmare of all-consuming depression. By contrast Garcia’s character fares better and lighter for being out of any oppressive relationship, balancing the spontaneous joys of her life and the bitter disappointments with spirit and nuance. Gerwig also manages a crisis of her social and professional life, but with a more manic submission to her self-inhibiting quirks, at once finding humor and sadness in them.
- Bobby Cannavale, Blue Jasmine
- Matthew Goode, Stoker
- Sergio Hernandez, Gloria
- Michael Polley, Stories We Tell
- Shaun Thomas, The Selfish Giant
Runners-Up: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Niels Arestrup, Our Children; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Lars Mikkelsen, What Richard Did; Sam Rockwell, The Way, Way Back
Further Thoughts: From day to day, I can see this group of five completely shifting, save for a few certainties. Top-most of those is Matthew Goode, slickly disquieting boyish charm in Stoker, walking the line of sinister and impishly sympathetic. Sergio Hernandez is quite a surprising contribution to Gloria, playing the eponymous character’s romantic counterpart with weariness and an endearingly sad lack of wit. Another supporting actor kind of obviously outshined by his lead, does represent the freest beating heart of the otherwise vicious Selfish Giant, using concern as yet another cutting-edge tool in the film’s total disarming of our emotional defenses. Meanwhile it may seem crude to nominate Bobby Cannavale for Blue Jasmine and not Cate Blanchett, but Cannavale really surprises as a Sally Hawkins’ greasy, but sweet San Francisco boyfriend. Even more suspect a nomination, perhaps, is my choice of Michael Polley from Stories We Tell. Yes, he’s a real person in a documentary, but that doesn’t automatically discount an inherent performance element to his tonally textured, obviously heartfelt work. In a year where Anwar Congo (The Act of Killing) and Robert Birgeneau (At Berkeley) put up damaged/damaging facades, now is the ideal time to rethink your definition of performance.
- Amy Adams, Her
- Nicole Kidman, Stoker
- Joanna Scanlan, The Invisible Woman
- Kristin Scott Thomas, Only God Forgives*
- Alfre Woodard, 12 Years a Slave
Runners-Up: Pauline Burlet, The Past; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Adepero Oduye, 12 Years a Slave; Emma Thompson, Beautiful Creatures; Emma Watson, The Bling Ring
Further Thoughts: Oh God, there’s just too much love to give. Again, I ache to leave out Burlet, Thompson, Watson, and yes, a rarely-better Jennifer Lawrence, along with maybe three other great performances from 12 Years a Slave. The one that did make it also had the least screentime to go on, but what a bewildering character Alfre Woodard forms in her scarce, but electrified time onscreen. Amy Adams, meanwhile, had multiple performances this year to be immensely proud of (she was a tight #6 in Best Actress for devoted work on American Hustle), but for all her Her role’s simplicity, there’s an acute fragility to her embodiment of a character moving through a relationship crisis, perhaps not-so-coincidentally right after her best friend’s divorce, one of many intimate details in the film. One performance that viewers who even saw the film may well have missed is Joanna Scanlan in The Invisible Woman, playing the stoically neglected wife of Charles Dickens wisely without an ounce of misery. Capping off the list are this year’s applicants in the character sub-category of monster momma, with Kristin Scott Thomas embracing that title with an alternating dagger tongue and crude love. Nicole Kidman’s character, meanwhile, comes upon that title by accident, subverting her usually cunning character type with wide-eyed tremor and verbal passive-aggression.
- R.F.I. Porto, Blue Caprice
- Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha*
- Spike Jonze, Her***
- Clio Barnard, The Selfish Giant
- Wentworth Miller, Stoker
Runners-Up: Blue Jasmine; Gravity; Mother of George; The Past; Side Effects
Further Thoughts: I know there’s a lot more to screenwriting than just dialogue (see Gravity in my runners-up). I’m just a sucker for writerly wit, which manifested in three of my picks, be it in vastly different ways. The starts, stops, and aggravating repetitions of Frances Ha are handled with as much perceptiveness on the page as they are by the actors. Quite the opposite are the dry, pithy musings of Stoker, a genre film ankles-deep in Hitchcock, but with characters fully fleshed out beyond banal archetypes. Not far off the sinister loony bin is Blue Caprice, but its warped mindsets are written with an unsettling conviction to them and haunting real-life connotations. Her and The Selfish Giant may not have the same sparky dialogue, but make up for it in their remarkably human sensitivity and more ambiguously fleshed out characterizations. Yes, the former goes off beats from several sci-fi novels that came before, but it develops the emotions more fully. Yes, The Selfish Giant takes its title from an Oscar Wilde story, but re-appropriates that book and title as a devastating metaphor. It’s all fascinating work than, in one way or another, soldiers into the brave, terrifying unknown.
- John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave*** (Based on the book by Solomon Northrup)
- Richard LaGravenese, Beautiful Creatures (Based on the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)
- Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, Before Midnight*** (Based on characters from Before Sunrise)
- Daniel Pennac, Ernest & Celestine (Based on the books by Gabrielle Vincent)
- Francois Ozon, In the House (Based on the play “The Boy in the Last Row” by Juan Mayorga)
Runners-Up: The Bling Ring; Blue Is the Warmest Color; The Invisible Woman; The Lone Ranger; Lore
Further Thoughts: Adaptations are a whole different animal, and often that degree of difficulty doesn’t factor into awards. Straight page-to-screen adaptations may please fans of the books, but novels (or plays) and films have a very different language to them. Sequels may be the biggest anomaly of this race, with us generally uncertain of their “originality”. I’m willing to call Before Midnight an adaptation for how it’s going off a familiar structure and familiar characters, but twisting them through new and challenging circumstances. The rest of my nominees are here for unique translations of their source material, from 12 Years a Slave‘s use of wordsmithery to convey the polarizing class warfare at the heart of Solomon Northrup’s autobiography, to In the House‘s sly commentary on adaptation of real-life event into a willfully contrived melodramatic narrative. Beautiful Creatures and Ernest & Celestine may not deliver the same hammer-smack as those films, but they take ordinary works and bring them to startling life with irony and chemistry, be it between a southern hick and witch or a teen mousette and bohemian bear.
- Ernest & Celestine***
- The Wind Rises***
Runners-Up: Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, The Painting
Further Thoughts: Speaking of that mouse and bear, it should be clear by now that Ernest & Celestine tickled my fancy (and my heart *aw*) more than any of the glib and artless studio animations this year, from Epic to Monsters University. (Hey, The Croods isn’t all that bad. It’s just mostly that bad.) Thankfully not all studio animation was tainted, as Frozen surprised us all by finally mastering the transition to CG with traditional showstoppers, nontraditional character dynamics and so glamorous beauty. In terms of absolute beauty, though, both come behind The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s suitably masterly swan song, mixing both his romantic and political tendencies to their difficult marriage to date. It’s a film I hope to revisit when it makes its way stateside, but an English language dubbing feels crass for something that’s CLEARLY SET IN JAPAN!!!!!
- The Act of Killing***
- At Berkeley
- Call Me Kuchu
- Stories We Tell*
Runners-Up: 20 Feet From Stardom; Cutie and the Boxer;We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Further Thoughts: Well this was one fine year for documentaries, which didn’t push the boundaries of their medium as much as restore a cinematic quality to it. Call Me Kuchu may be the least startling in form, but it’s just as vital a portrait of a country and those seeking their own personal freedoms in it, and it’s a way better representation of Ugandan strife than KONY 2012. More daring and brazen were The Act of Killing and Leviathan, both elevating their socio-cultural and cinematographic stunts, respectively, to the point of incisive and insightful depictions. Stories We Tell is less fierce in style, but all the more beguiling for its deepening introspection into family, memory and the tether that holds the two delicately together. The simplest technique of all, perhaps, may be Frederick Wiseman’s studied approach with At Berkeley, but it still blows me away how a 4-hour documentary about university posturing in its so-called “pre-eminence” can not only universally provide insight into the current state of universities, but be utterly gripping in that.
- The Broken Circle Breakdown**
- Child’s Pose
- The Past
Runners-Up: Omar, Neighboring Sounds, Wadjda
Further Thoughts: And here is perhaps the only ballot with scarcely any overlap to my Film Misery Awards ballot, mostly because I decided to play by the Academy rules with this one and work purely from each country’s submissions. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chile’s Gloria makes the cut on the weight of its spirit and wisdom, both of which could’ve been inert with a less respectful director behind it. It’s also not impossible for readers to have seen Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown or Iran’s The Past, both of which handle potentially contrived soap opera stories with a profound utilization of craft and a passionate attention to character, respectively. The last two films have yet to bow in the U.S., but when they do, keep your eyes well peeled. Romanian entry Child’s Pose tackles class dissonance in a way that feels obvious at first, but becomes more precociously delicate as it burns on. A much stranger work is Netherlands entry Borgman, which is less a home-invasion thriller than a blackhearted children’s fable for adults, though I imagine anyone of any age would be delighted by this more insidious jest against the upper-class, though parents should definitely approach with caution before taking their kids. I don’t deny that I may be either terribly sadistic for being willing to show such films to kids, or rather trusting of how well I think they can handle it.
So excluding those films which don’t release until later this year, here’s how the nominations fall down.
8 Nods: Stoker
6 Nods: Gravity, The Selfish Giant
5 Nods: Berberian Sound Studio, The Lone Ranger
4 Nods: Frances Ha, The Great Gatsby, Mother of George, Upstream Color
3 Nods: Gloria, Her
2 Nods: 12 Years a Slave, Beautiful Creatures, Before Midnight, Blue Caprice, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, In the House, Leviathan, Lore, Man of Steel, Only God Forgives, Our Children, Stories We Tell, This Is Martin Bonner
1 Nod: The Act of Killing, At Berkeley, American Hustle, Bastards, Blue Jasmine, The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Butler, Call Me Kuchu, Captain Phillips, The Conjuring, Dallas Buyers Club, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Invisible Woman, No, The Past, Short Term 12, Spring Breakers, To the Wonder, What Richard Did, The Wind Rises