The New Hampshire's Guide to the Oscars

By Kate Murray
On February 28, 2014

The Oscar buzz is growing louder with the Academy Awards only a few days away, and this year's nominees are a diverse group. From period pieces to futuristic flicks, a range of films and performances will be celebrated this Oscar Sunday-but who will be taking home the coveted golden statuettes? Here's a rundown of the nominees for the three major categories:

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Christian Bale, "American Hustle"; Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"; Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"; Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"; and Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyer's Club."

While all the men in the Best Actor category delivered astounding performances this season, the question on everyone's mind seems to be: Will this be Leo's year? Leonardo DiCaprio, notorious for delivering flawless performances without Academy recognition, has earned his fifth Oscar nomination-his first in seven years- for his manic performance as corrupt and drug-fuelled stockbroker Jordan Belfort

Despite this, critics have recently been picking Matthew McConaughey as a favorite to win for his portrayal of Ron Woodrof, an unlikely activist for both gay rights and HIV/AIDS patients.  Matthias Konzett, English lecturer and professor of Cinema Studies at UNH, said, "One could predict an Oscar for DiCaprio simply on the basis of industry and box office merit. However, Dallas Buyer's Club accommodates cultural diversity better with its focus on the gay community and increased acceptance of gay culture." Konzett noted that both actors have delivered a series of incredible performances over the last few years, but Oscar Sunday "always comes with surprises."

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees: Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"; Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"; Dame Judi Dench, "Philomena"; Amy Adams, "American Hustle"; and Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine."

The women up for the Best Actress award are no strangers to the Oscars. Each has been nominated at least once before, and several past winners have been nominated again. This year, Meryl Streep, who already has three wins under her belt, is nominated for the 19th time for her performance in "August: Osage County" as the monstrous matriarch of a family in crisis. Other past winners nominated this year are Sandra Bullock and Dame Judi Dench, both with one Oscar each. Amy Adams is on her fifth nomination for her portrayal of sultry con-woman Sydney Prosser opposite Christian Bale in "American Hustle." 

This year though, the hype is all about Cate Blanchett for her affecting performance of a Manhattan socialite struggling to reconcile both her past and present in "Blue Jasmine." Critics have all but discounted the other nominees in favor of Blanchett, but on the off-chance that the recent debacle surrounding "Blue Jasmine" director Woody Allen affects the film's standing at the Oscars, the award would most likely go to Amy Adams. 

Best Picture

Nominees: "American Hustle," directed by David O. Russell; "Captain Phillips," directed by Paul Greengrass; "Dallas Buyers Club," directed by Jean-Marc Vallee; "Gravity," directed by Alfonso Cuaron; "Her," directed by Spike Jonze; "Nebraska," directed by Alexander Payne; "Philomena," directed by Stephen Frears; "12 Years a Slave," directed by Steve McQueen; and "The Wolf of Wall Street," directed by Martin Scorsese.

The Best Picture category has nine nominees this year, encompassing a diverse range of films, from "Philomena," a sleeper hit about a journalist chronicling one woman's search for her long-lost son, to "The Wolf of Wall Street," a wildly filthy black comedy surrounding the stock market fraud of NYSE broker Jordan Belfort. But this year, critics only seem to be concerned with three films vying for the win: "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave." Each film brings something different to the table-"American Hustle" has 10 nominations and a cast full of Oscar-vets along with its award-worthy comedic vibe; "Gravity" excels with visually-striking special effects and the novelty of a one-woman space drama; "12 Years a Slave" has history on its side, providing a level of heart-wrenching drama that no other film can quite touch. 

Critics have been favoriting "12 Years a Slave" during this year's Oscar race, citing its brutal examination of a part of America's past that we'd rather soon forget.  Konzett agrees with the critics, saying that the film shows a unique view of the repressed history of slavery. According to Konzett, "[12 Years a Slave] will also go down in the history of cinema whereas the entertaining and well-made films of "Gravity" and "Wolf of Wall Street" will have a more short-term life of appreciation." 

However, "American Hustle" still remains a strong contender; Konzett called the film "a likely winner," noting the "high perfection that the director and crew bring to script, costume and acting." Given the range of performances and innovation built into these films, each is worthy of the ultimate prize. 

Notably absent from this year's nominees is Lee Daniel's biopic film "The Butler," which chronicles the life of White House butler Cecil Gaines, who served eight different presidents during times of hardship and change in America. The film featured a star-studded cast: Forest Whitaker as the titular butler, Oprah Winfrey as his wife, and Alan Rickman, John Cusack and Robin Williams as various U.S. presidents. 

"It is an important American film that retells national history from the perspective of an African-American," Konzett said. "It is unfortunate that Hollywood ignored this film by one of America's finest African-American directors." 

The film's snub by the Academy may be attributed to its August release date, as films released earlier in the year-pre-Oscar season-are often forgotten when it comes time for nominations. 

The front-runners for Best Picture are also racking up the nominations this year. With a combined 29 nominations, "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle" and "Gravity" each have a chance at sweeping the awards. "12 Years a Slave" has collected 9 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Costume Design and Adapted Screenplay. 

"12 Years a Slave... stands a good chance to sweep a few more awards in best adapted screenplay, production design, costume, and editing," Konzett said. Both "Gravity" and "American Hustle" have 10 nominations each, competing against one another in categories such as Best Picture, Director, Actress and Film Editing. 

"Recently, a pattern of more diverse distribution of awards has emerged so as to accommodate the multicultural and global landscape of contemporary cinema," Konzett said. "In this light, it is more likely that Alfonso Cuaron or David O'Russell will win Best Director.  Given the strong use of digital technology in Cuaron's film, almost 80 percent CGI effects, the Academy will probably award him for advancing technological standards of filmmaking in the industry.  They can always award David O'Russell, who is an excellent director and screenwriter, for Best Screenplay."

The Oscars can be hard to predict, and there are always surprises-like every instance in which Leonardo DiCaprio hasn't won-but it's safe to say that this year's competition seems fiercer than ever. 

Ellen DeGeneres will be hosting this year's Academy Awards, which will air on ABC on March 2 at 7 p.m.


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