This year’s Academy Awards, which air Sunday, is a real contest in most categories. Sure, Frozen has a lock on best animated feature and best song (just ask all those parents of young kids who still can’t “Let it Go”), while Gravity is a shoo-in for the technical categories.
The rest of the race is a little more competitive. Is the best picture battle coming down to the soaring space drama of Gravity vs. the grim historical events of 12 Years a Slave? Will Matthew McConaughey take home best actor, or does recent buzz for Leonardo DiCaprio hint at a surprise? Here are our predictions, all based on a mix of scrupulous research, previous winners, personal opinion, and pure speculation.
Best actor America loves a comeback story and Matthew McConaughey is the story of the year. After coasting through endless romantic comedies and lightweight adventure pictures, he reinvented himself with a series a roles that cast his easy charm in challenging characters. Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club is the culmination of that transformation and it’s just the kind of character conundrum that Oscar loves to honor. But just when it looked like McConaughey had it in the bag, the buzz for Leonardo DiCaprio’s adrenaline-charged performance in The Wolf of Wall Street began to grow, at least as measured by the conversation on social media. And let’s face it, it takes real strength to sustain that kind of energy and compete with Scorsese’s runaway filmmaking.
By the time the Oscars air on March 2, most moviegoers will not have been able to get to theaters to see all the nominees. But thanks to the era of DVD, Blu-ray, streaming video and movies on demand, those who really want to cram for Hollywood’s big night can catch up on a bunch of the films at home.
Some of the front-runners still require a theater trip (more on that later), but for those of you who want to order in and prep for your office pool from the comfort of your own couch, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground.
The biggest talkers
“Dallas Buyers Club” picked up six nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay, but its best chances are in the acting categories, where Matthew McConaughey is a front-runner for best actor and Jared Leto is up in the supporting actor category. The two already took home Golden Globes for their performances. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
“Captain Phillips” also received six nominations, including best picture, adapted screenplay, and actor in a supporting role for Barkhad Abdi, a non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a Somali pirate. Star Tom Hanks was overlooked for his equally strong performance. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and she is a wonder as a Blanche DuBois in contemporary San Francisco. That would make fellow nominee Sally Hawkins (up for best supporting actress) the film’s Stella. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.
I love genre films: horror, science fiction, heist films, con games, crime thrillers, all those modes that entice audiences with a promise of familiar tropes and unexpected twists. Back in my high school days it was pure fan adoration and during my college evolution I embraced the subversive subtexts and mythic explorations. Today I’m a bit more discerning but no less charmed by a fresh take on or a spirited revival of a familiar genre. Those first loves never leave you completely.
Ironically, as the entertainment industry has promoted once unrespectable genres into blockbuster events, I find myself less satisfied than when they existed largely as filler to studio schedules or the domain of upstarts and exploitation producers. They weren’t always good, let alone great, but the possibility of being surprised always brought me back to find the next Terminator or Near Dark or Cronos. The budgets are bigger and the spectacle more lavish in the Star Wars and Harry Potter and Twilight and Hobbit franchises, but we’ve lost the quirks and creativity in the homogenization and gentrification of what were once outliers.
But the outliers are still there. They’re just harder to find amidst the smothering promotional campaigns of the franchises that devoured Hollywood. Here are some of the pleasures I found between the tentpoles.
With vampires becoming so fashionable it’s refreshing to find something as unsettling as Stoker, the American feature debut of Park Chan-wook. It plays like a vampire movie without a vampire. At least not in the mythic sense of the term. Mia Wasikowska is dreamy and uneasy as a teenage girl preternaturally attuned to the world and Matthew Goode is creepily calm and seductive as her Uncle Charlie. Yes, it’s an offhanded reference to Hitchcock’s take on another dark uncle-niece relationship but she’s no small town innocent. Park sculpts the film beautifully, throwing the literalness of Wentworth Miller’s original screenplay off balance with every shot. There is blood and brutality and the icy threats under silent intimidation, but done with such elegance and eerie suggestion that it feels like a dream. Or an awakening.
We know that DVD and Blu-ray are losing sales ground to digital and streaming, but the epitaphs for physical media are premature. Every year sees another crop of restorations and revivals rolling out in superb and sometimes lavish editions.
Of course there are the upgrades, the previously available classics in newly-restored editions and state-of-the-art digital remasters, but what excites me are the debuts, the films that have never been on disc before and the personal discoveries of films that, while not exactly unknown, have been largely forgotten because of their unavailability.
Here are my perfectly subjective picks for the top ten disc debuts: the greatest classics, rediscoveries, and revivals that made their first appearance in 2013.
In alphabetical order:
French Masterworks: Russian Émigrés in Paris 1923-1928 (Flicker Alley) presents of the American home video debut of five silent classics from Film Albatros, a French studio founded by Russian artists: The Burning Crucible (1923), Kean (1924), The Late Mathias Pascal (1926), Gribiche (1926), and The New Gentlemen (1928). The Late Mathias Pascal, a fabulist epic directed by Marcel L’Herbier (also released separately on Blu-ray), and Jacques Feyder’s sophisticated romantic comedy-turned-political satire The New Gentlemen are the crown jewels of the set but all entertaining and revealing examples of the sophisticated filmmaking coming out of France in the twenties. Each are mastered from 2009 restorations from La Cinématèque Français and feature newly-recorded original scores. DVD.