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Oscars 2014: Best Picture / Foreign Language Film / Animated Film | reviews, news & interviews

Oscars 2014: Best Picture / Foreign Language Film / Animated Film

Oscars 2014: Best Picture / Foreign Language Film / Animated Film

Against the odds, this year's Oscars offer up the best Best Picture lineup in years

`Do I have room in here for two Oscars?': Sandra Bullock in Oscar front-runner (or maybe not) Gravity

Here's the astonishing thing about the 2014 Oscars: for the first time in memory, there are actually three or four nominees that - dare one say it? - actually merit consideration as the year's best. Is this because films are actually getting better? That seems a perverse argument to make amid a climate when so much talent is migrating away from cinema towards TV or even the stage (Steven Soderbergh, for instance, who is in rehearsals with a play Off Broadway). But quite possibly as the tentpole franchises get increasingly generic, their opposite numbers are flourishing, as well, so that Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, can move from the gazillion-dollar realm of The Hunger Games to the singular world of David O Russell. (And getting even better as she goes:  I, for one, was far more taken by this maverick talent's work in American Hustle than I was in Silver Linings Playbook.

The result should make for an Oscar night worth watching and cheering on, especially if host Ellen DeGeneres can lift the tone above the prevailing crassness of Seth MacFarlane last year: her previous occupancy of the same gig in 2007 was pleasant enough (and Emmy-nominated) but far from vintage. No matter. With presenters ranging from Sidney Poitier - on hand for symbolic purposes, presumably, should 12 Years a Slave nab Best Picture - to Channing Tatum, Brangelina to Bradley Cooper and on to Benedict Cumberbatch, those handing out the prizes constitute as intriguingly eclectic a mix as those who are poised to receive them. Sure, one can carp across the categories. I wish Joaquin Phoenix and James Gandolfini had been cited for their contributions to the past year and there are multiple titles more deserving of a Best Picture nod than Dallas Buyers Club - a middling film defined by its two male leads. But at least Saving Mr Banks - an extended advertisement for Disney on behalf of itself - isn't up for Best Picture. There is an Oscar God after all. 

BEST PICTURE

How fun to have the evening's top prize also be one in which the winner could go any of three ways. By contrast with most years (by this time last year, Argo was a virtual lock), prognosticators are spreading their predictions across 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle, with all three films generating a specific reason why it might win. 12 Years has capital-S Significance emblazoned on every frame, which never hurts in Hollywood (see The Hurt Locker), and it's no bad thing that the film itself is actually extremely fine. American Hustle won the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble, always a good sign, and confirms David O Russell as a genuine auteur for our time whose fondness for returning to the same collaborative well recalls the screen heyday of the likes of Robert Altman.

Amy Adams and Christian BaleThat said, Gravity has the appeal of lifting itself quite literally above the potentially controversial fray of history and factual accuracy to take us into that frontier - space - that exists beyond the realm of debate, the only minor quibble extending to concerns voiced elsewhere that Sandra Bullock's lack of attire may not represent how astronauts really dress. (On that front, what do I know?) Still, there's no denying the labour of love that the movie represents for all involved, and its formidable 12 nominations make clear the esteem in which it is held. For myself, I'd be pleased to see 12 Years or American Hustle (pictured above) win, or Alexander Payne's wonderfully mordant and mischievous Nebraska, a black-and-white film in tantalising, teasing touch with the distinctly grey-shaded America in which it takes place. And in a lesser year, the surefooted Captain Phillips would have absolutely cleaned up, so it tells you something straight away that Tom Hanks wasn't nominated for one of this two-time trophy-bearer's most bruising star turns.

My personal favourite of the nine hopefuls is the one with arguably the least chance of winning: Spike Jonze's Her, a wounding yet sometimes wickedly funny meditation on the vagaries of love in the age of the metaphorical "delete" button that we carry with us at all times. And if there is a greater American actor than Joaquin Phoenix who has yet to win an Oscar, I don't know who that might be (okay, Robert Downey Jr maybe). Her is a beauty and with luck someday Phoenix will have an Oscar he can call his.  

Who will win: 12 Years a Slave if only because some topics simply cannot be ignored. 

Who should win: Her, a quiet masterpiece that may in time come to seem a defining movie of the age.

Who should have been nominated: Enough Said, a lovely study in starting anew and with one of a fine movie year's very ablest casts.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

This category always feels like a potential wild card for the simple reason that regulations require voters to see the five nominees (imagine!) rather than just voting in accordance with your trainer, manicurist, or studio chief-husband (or whomever). So maybe The Broken Circle Breakdown - a Belgian film steeped in American bluegrass - really will carry it on sentiment alone, or even Denmark's The Hunt under the theory that Scandinavia is so busy proffering some of the world's best television, why shouldn't it reach the same level of accomplishment with films? On the other hand, Italy's The Great Beauty looks, sounds, and feels like an Oscar winner and was briefly thought capable of tipping into the actual Best Picture lineup as Amour did last year. What's the Italian for a done deal?

Who will win: The Great Beauty

Who should win: The Great Beauty, though I haven't seen all five contenders.

Who should have been nominated: What happened to the history-making Saudia Arabian prospect, Wadjda (pictured above)? Is the Academy not quite as global as it likes to think?

BEST ANIMATED FILM

You have to ask? Disney candidate Frozen is heading towards the billion-dollar club at the box office, being retooled for Broadway, and has spawned an iconic song, "Let It Go", that even toddlers are belting out in their prams. The other nominees might as well stay home, which is another way of saying: Bad luck, Despicable Me 2

Who will win: Frozen

Who should win: Frozen, though Japanese entry The Wind Rises boasts the appeal of having been entirely drawn by hand. 

Who should have been nominated: These five more than suffice. 

Those handing out the prizes constitute as intriguingly eclectic a mix as those who are poised to receive them

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You explain that The Great Beauty could have been up there among the nominations for Best Film, and the nonsense of the Oscars is highlighted by the fact that it isn't, ghettoised instead in the feeble foreign language category.

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