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86th Academy Awards Field Guide

Words by Declan Mulcahy

Well cinephiles, it’s that time of year again. The 86th Academy Awards are fast approaching us, this year carrying a wealth of strong competitors nominated across all categories. There have been a few surprising inclusions and shocking snubs—may we all take a moment to lament the measly two nominations for Inside Llewyn Davis—but after such a quality year in cinema every category is still jam-packed with cinematic gems waiting to earn their accolades. To help those hoping to win big themselves at their Oscar party betting pools, here’s a rundown on each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, and how they fare against the competition.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE dir. David O. Russell

Called ‘Faux-sese’ by some for its obvious borrowing from Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre, this character-centric comedy still manages to hold its own as a the crime genre film. Based loosely on a true cooperative sting run by the FBI and an infamous con artist duo, the film has nabbed ten nominations in total, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and the rare sweep of all four acting nominations. Despite the film’s slightly unoriginal style, its tight plot and strong cast have made it a formidable contender for the Best Picture prize.

 

 

 

 

 

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CAPTAIN PHILLIPS dir. Paul Greengrass

Though fairly mediocre and at times exaggerative, this retelling of a 2009 pirate hijacking is redeemed by Tom Hanks’ levelheaded performance as the captain. But with both Hanks and Greengrass snubbed in their respective categories, Captain Phillips lacks the weight it would need to nab Best Picture. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi has a vague chance at Best Supporting Actor, but major awards will be hard to come by for this film.

 

 

 

 

 

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DALLAS BUYERS CLUB dir. Jean-Marc Vallée

Based on a true story, this film follows the exploits of an emaciated Matthew McConaughey as an AIDS sufferer fighting the FDA as he distributes unapproved medication. Dallas Buyers Club has earned both McConaughey and Jared Leto—who plays his transgender business partner—their first Oscar nominations. Leto looks a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor with McConaughey holding a high chance for Best Actor.

 

 

 

 

 

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GRAVITY dir. Alfonso Cuarón

One of this year’s most talked-about films, this space-set thriller has won over many with its innovative and immersive special effects. The dialogue may be weak and the plot predictable but the buzz around the visual spectacle has given Gravity a lot of momentum. Cuarón looks to be almost guaranteed the Best Director trophy and most of the technical awards, while Sandra Bullock holds a reasonable chance at Best Actress, despite her role consisting mainly of irritating and incessant breathing.

 

 

 

 

 

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HER dir. Spike Jonze

A moustachioed Joaquin Phoenix stars in this futuristic, thought-provoking techno-romance about a man who falls in love with his sentient operating system. One of the more original and interesting films in this year’s nominee lineup, Her has earned five nominations, including for Arcade Fire’s beautifully tragic score and Jonze’s equally melancholy screenplay. Widespread critical acclaim makes these lesser awards a possibility, but the film is unlikely to impress the older members of the Academy enough for a Best Picture win.

 

 

 

 

 

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NEBRASKA dir. Alexander Payne

Greyscale and gloomily humourous, this unconventional road movie has garnered a wealth of critical acclaim. While Payne has seen Oscar gold in the Adapted Screenplay category for his two previous films, the offbeat nature of Nebraska means it isn’t a likely contender for Best Picture. Veteran actor Bruce Dern, who plays a slightly senile old man determined to claim his dodgy sweepstakes win, has earned the first Best Actor nomination of his career, which would make for a heartwarming win.

 

 

 

 

 

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PHILOMENA dir. Stephen Frears

Co-written by and starring the dry-witted Steve Coogan alongside Judi Dench who plays the eponymous sweet old Irish lady, this odd-couple comedy-drama has the pair travelling far and wide in search of Philomena’s lost son. The sadder parts of this movie are more effectively crafted than the comedy, although there are some chuckle-worthy moments among the less clever gags. Nominated for four awards, including Best Actress for Dench and Best Adapted Screenplay, Philomena is the least recognised film in this year’s Best Picture pool.

 

 

 

 

 

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12 YEARS A SLAVE dir. Steve McQueen

McQueen’s first film to earn any Oscar nomination, this film is a powerful combination of high tension and heart-wrenching emotion. The Antebellum-set drama following a free man’s kidnapping into slavery has earned particular appraisal for its cast, scoring nominations in three of the four acting categories. Up for a total of nine awards including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years a Slave is the well-deserved favourite for the Best Picture gong.

 

 

 

 

 

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREET dir. Martin Scorsese

Based on the real-life escapades of crooked broker Jordan Belfort, this biopic is Scorsese at his best, sliding into the director’s canon without coming off as unoriginal. With his fourth Oscar nomination, Leonardo DiCaprio will most likely be overshadowed by more outstanding performances in the Best Actor category. Scorsese is a more likely victor, but all in all, The Wolf of Wall Street probably won’t be earning much Academy recognition.