How many Oscar Voters Picked ’12 Years A Slave’ Without Watching It?

By on March 13, 2014

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 Check out this article.  I’m glad somebody else said it:

12 Years a Slave posterI’m not sure the article should have been written based on the opinion and choices of TWO Academy voters but I agree wholeheartedly with their reasoning for not watching the film.  I think the point is valid, although it’s obviously flawed to  vote without seeing all the nominees AND for voting for a movie they didn’t see.  It was easily the least enjoyable, most agonizing, most predictable, and most obligatory 2013 movie I watched.  I was relieved when it was over, I knew I’d never watch it again, and I didn’t recommend it to anyone because I want to keep the few friends I have.  It had the most “Best Picture” pedigree of the nominees.  “Gravity” was probably the best overall movie made last year in terms of viewing satisfaction (amazing visuals and sound, emotionally engaging and powerful), but it would be hard to justify giving the Best Picture Oscar to a movie that was primarily special effects and the performance of one actor.  Besides, everyone involved with the movie has to be happy with its seven well-deserved Oscars (Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects).

While I’m on the subject of the Academy Awards (and without giving a full assessment of them):

All four acting Oscars went to the people who simply had the best roles, although I didn’t watch Streep and Roberts in “August:  Osage County.”  (It seemed too chick flicky and it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, which really works against a movie now that as many as ten can get nominated.) instance, Best Actor really came down to Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey (left, with Jared Leto) and the latter had the edge in three ways:

1) As well done as it was, and I don’t mean to trivialize slavery or Northrop’s story, “12 Years a Slave” didn’t offer us anything new and “Dallas Buyers Club” did.

2) Ejiofor’s character Solomon Northrop mostly reacted to or was victimized by things going on around him.  McConaughey’s Ron Woodruff’s actions drove “Dallas Buyers Club.”

3) McConaughey’s role allowed him a dramatic weight loss, which added shock value to his performance the way Adrien Brody’s did in “The Pianist” and DeNiro’s weight gain did in “Raging Bull.”  (I also think Brody’s believable piano fingering helped the same way it helped Geoffrey Rush win for “Shine” over Billy Bob Thornton’s indelible performance in “Sling Blade”.)

That Woodruff’s opinion of “faggots” changed in the process of making himself knowledgeable about his HIV status for his own survival (thus broadening his perspective) should not be lost on anyone as an underlying message of the film.  It shouldn’t take the specter of death for people to come to a similar understanding.

Nebraska DernEven Bruce Dern’s role and nuanced portrayal in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” (right) showed more dimension and something new compared to Ejiofor’s  portrayal, which really didn’t give him much range to work with.

Apply that thinking to the other categories and you’ll see what I mean.  In another example, I think Michael Fassbender might have even been better than Jared Leto (great in both David Fincher’s “Fight Club” and Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream”) as the transsexual AIDS patient (when was the last time you saw THAT portrayed in a Best Picture nominee?) in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  Conversely, I don’t think Leto would have been good as Fassbender as the brutal slave owner in “12 Years.”  All that’s obviously speculation but you get the point.

Cate Blanchett’s role and performance in “Blue Jasmine” were both so great that calling that Oscar in my review of the movie was easy.  The performance was so strong, the movie’s summer release date didn’t hurt her Oscars chances at all.  I’m glad Sally Hawkins (great in her Oscar-nominated role in “Happy Go Lucky”) got a Best Supporting nomination.

June Squibb, who I’d never heard of before (although she was in Payne’s “About Schmidt”), contributed proportionately more to “Nebraska” than the other Supporting Actress nominees added to their respective films, but that’s because everything about the movie was so minimalist.  She injected the movie with a welcome energy every time she spoke.  If she had been worked like a plow horse, beaten with a whip, had her eye gouged, and given an emotional soliloquy to deliver, that Oscar might have been hers.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is extremely well made in every way and difficult to fault technically but it was so derivative — think Scorsese’s own “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”, and a little bit of Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” (DiCaprio again playing a guy in New York City who acquires obscene wealth by dubious means) —  and its characters are so unlikable, I found the viewing experience ultimately unsatisfying.  As with DiCaprio’s performance in “The Great Gatsby” (and almost all his performances), his youthfulness works against him in this movie.  A more mature presence in the role would have made a difference.

Saving Mr. Banks EmmaEmma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”, left) should have replaced Amy Adams (“American Hustle”) as a Best Actress nominee.  Hers was a better role and more engaging performance than Adams’.  Thompson has won Oscars for both writing (adapted screenplay for “Sense and Sensibility”) and acting (Best Actress for “Howard’s End”) and is one of the few people in any field I like to watch being interviewed.  She always comes across as intelligent, personable, and witty.

Speaking of which, Matthew McConaughey has proved himself to be a good actor but, based on his Oscar acceptance speech, I never want to listen to him speak off the cuff again.

Scarlett Johansson gave two great performances but she wasn’t given enough to do in Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directorial debut, “Don Jon” (and it really wasn’t an Oscar-type movie), and her performance in Spike Jonze’s “Her” (for which he won the Original Screenplay Oscar) was voice-only.  In “Her”, I was distracted by the way both Johannson and Joaquin Phoenix didn’t enunciate their words clearly.  I don’t consider myself a stickler for diction and they certainly sounded natural but it still bothered me.  Pay attention to the way they speak when you watch the movie.

American HustleAs much as I wanted to like David O’ Russell’s “American Hustle”, watching it was like chewing aluminum foil.  I even watched it twice to make sure I didn’t miss something.   Except that it lacked Mark Wahlberg and Oscar winner Melissa Leo, “American Hustle” basically mashed all the main actors from Russell’s two previous (and very good) movies “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” together in one movie.  The actors couldn’t have done much more with what they were given, but the emphasis on characters, a lot of talking, and hair dos wasn’t enough to make up for the story itself.    It’s another movie that gives a nod to “Goodfellas” with, among other elements, its multi-character narration and its shooting and editing style (quick zoom and cut, quick zoom and cut), which conveys a sense of urgency.  Also, and I know this is just me but, if you title a movie “American Hustle” or (Ridley Scott’s) “American Gangster”, you’d better make the definitive film of that genre, which neither of those films are.  The movie should have instead been called “New Jersey Hustle.”  It probably would have sold more tickets with that title, given the public’s recent fascination with a state that used to be a punch line for New Yorkers.   I guess it still is.  Something else that bothered me was when Bradley Cooper’s character kept referring to places being IN Long Island.  Places are not IN Long Island, they are ON Long Island.

Watch Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” when you get a chance.  It’s my favorite movie from 2013 in terms of how easy it is to watch and I know I’ll watch it repeatedly going forward.  I like it so much I was inspired to watch Payne’s”About Schmidt”, which I hadn’t seen since it came out in the theatres in 2002.  “Nebraska” is about as less-is-more as you can get as a movie watcher and it’s a reminder that you don’t have to peel yourself off your seat after you watch a movie for it to be impactful.  I watched it a third time just to shake “12 Years” out of my head.

I always go through these love/hate opinions of the Oscars and will continue to do so every year.


March 12, 2014

I watched all the Best Picture nominees for 2013 except for “Captain Phillips.”  Tom Hanks is not a draw for me and the story, like “12 Years”, was an unappealing and stress-inducing one.  Having the real-life crew come out against the film by saying the whole incident could have been avoided if the captain simply sailed farther away from shore also contributed to my aversion.  Besides, the South Park episode “Fatbeard” effectively explained the Somali pirates weren’t evil and it was the only way they knew of to feed their families.   Here’s the episode:

I know comparing movies is very subjective, but I think 2012 was a much better year for quality, enjoyable movies.

As much as I like “Gravity”, part of me thinks of it as someone taking the most jarring moment of “2001:  A Space Odyssey” and stretching it out into a movie.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

2 comments on “How many Oscar Voters Picked ’12 Years A Slave’ Without Watching It?

  1. Jeremy Walker on said:

    Another great article Dan!

  2. Well written as always!

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