Friday, February 28, 2014

My 2014 Academy Awards Wish List

When the 86th Academy Awards are handed out on Sunday, March 2, may second-time host Ellen Degeneres be at least as funny as Seth MacFarlene was last year, may we be spared any horrendously inappropriate "We Saw Your Boobs"-style numbers, may it be the shortest-ever telecast, and may my following Oscar dreams come true.

#1 Dream: a Best Original Song that everyone can sing along to Quick, sing a line, any line, from "Man or Muppet," the category's champ two years ago. Or U2's "Ordinary Love," which is probably this year's presumed frontrunner, if for no other reason than U2's rock & roll reputation.

Now get "Happy"!

How easy was that? The Pharrell Williams track from Despicable Me 2 isn't just the biggest hit to emerge from a movie in years; it's also a burst of euphoric infectiousness that delivers exactly what its title promises. "Happy," currently No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, caps what has been the standout year (so far) of Pharrell's already long and impressive career.

#2 Dream: 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle cancel each other out. I can't remember the last time Best Picture wasn't either a foregone conclusion or basically a two-picture show (Chicago vs. The Hours, Argo vs. Lincoln, etc.). Even when there's been a Best Picture upset in recent years (Shakespeare in Love, Crash), it hasn't been one that nobody saw coming.

In a rare twist of superior filmmaking, I enjoyed all of this year's Best Picture nominees (with the exception of 12 Years a Slave, which, to be fair, wasn't aiming for "enjoyable" and will probably take the grand prize for it), and if one of the two frontrunners must win, I'd like it to be American Hustle. That said, I'm secretly rooting for Nebraska. It may not have been long on plot, but that's life. It's the one nominated film that represented life as everyday people know it, and I'm still in awe of how Best Director nominee Alexander Payne managed to take a small story featuring minor characters and turn it into such a major movie.

#3 Dream: Jonah Hill pulls an upset in Best Supporting Actor. I'm sorry, but I just don't get all the love for Dallas Buyer's Club's Jared Leto this year. I generally appreciate his talent (Where was all his BSA buzz for Requiem for a Dream all those years ago?), but I thought his Rayon character in The Matthew McConaughey Show was underwritten, and Leto played her more like a highly effeminate gay man than a transgender woman. (See Jaye Davidson's Oscar-nominated performance in The Crying Game to see it done right.)

I'd prefer any of the other nominees to win over him. Michael Fassbender might actually deserve it for being brave enough not to give 12 Years a Slave's Edwin Epps either a heart or a soul, but I'd actually like to see Best Supporting Actor go to Hill. Even without his full-frontal scene (possibly the most unexpected thing I saw onscreen in 2013), he would have made a big enough impression as Leonardo DiCaprio's sidekick that when I think of The Wolf of Wall Street, I automatically think of the baby cub, too.

#4 Dream: People actually remember their manners and hold the applause until the end of "In Memoriam." I know it won't be easy. We've lost so many greats since the last Oscar telecast. I'd hate for any of them not to get their respectful due because the audience is too busy giving one final round to four-time nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died on February 2 of a presumed drug overdose.

#5 Dream: Before Midnight finally gets the trilogy some Oscar love. Best Adapted Screenplay is a tough one this year. At least three of the contenders are worthy, but only one could conceivably launch a semester's worth of discussions in a college philosophy course.

#6 Dream: Matthew McConaughey looks more like his old self again when he wins Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club. Here's the difference between McConaughey's weight-loss shtick and Leto's. I spent much of Dallas Buyers Club squirming in my seat, wondering if Ron Woodruff wasn't the only one knocking on death's door. Judging from his string of recent awards-show appearances, I'm still not convinced that McConaughey's 100 percent okay. That's taking the Method approach to a scary extreme.

#7 Dream: Amy Adams doesn't ruin everything for Cate Blanchett in Best Actress. I know it won't happen, but if Dylan Farrow had her way, the fifth time would probably finally be the charm for first-time Best Actress nominee Adams, whose most impressive feat in American Hustle was looking as hot as she did in a plunging neckline.

#8 Dream: Blue Jasmine wins Best Original Screenplay, and Woody Allen shows up to accept the award. Blue Jasmine was more about Cate Blanchett's performance (and Best Supporting Actress nominee Sally Hawkins') than Allen's writing, and HerAmerican Hustle and Nebraska all would probably be more deserving of this award, but I can't resist a good old Oscar-night controversy, especially since what Allen may or may not have done in his personal life more than 20 years ago has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of his work.

#9 Dream: Lupita Nyong'o gives a shout out to Sarah Paulson while accepting Best Supporting Actress. Despite her Golden Globe and BAFTA wins, I don't think Jennifer Lawrence will be the first person to win two consecutive acting Oscars since Tom Hanks did it in 1994-95, back when Lawrence was still a toddler. But when Nyong'o, who turns 31 on Oscars eve, is handing out her thank you's on March 2, I hope she doesn't forget her most-underrated costar, the one whose Mary Epps gave Nyongo's Patsey hell (and a few scars to go with it), the one whose scalding iciness provided some of 12 Years a Slave's most electrifying moments.
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