They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

If I Were an Academy Member...

By J Don Birnam

March 1, 2014

He thanks Mr. Birnam for the vote of confidence.

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We have talked for weeks about what “they” will pick. We also know from the 2014 Calvin Awards the solid top ten picks of the year from the BOP staff. How about a quick detour, before doing final predictions, into what this lowly Oscar prognosticator would pick for Best Picture if he had an Oscar ballot?

As usual I begin with caveats. This is definitely a solid year in which all nine nominees are good or great movies. There is no Blind Side or A Serious Man there to raise eyebrows. Thus, ranking a movie low this year feels almost unfair, as if the movie was not good, but a low ranking should not be taken as an indictment of the movie.

The more important preliminary note: what does “Best” even mean? At the heart of that question is the crux of all arguments and debates about the Oscars and awards more generally. Humans, after all, are the ones that select what is “Best.” As such, our decisions are bound to be subjective, personal, and even arbitrary. Because there is no consensus (nor should there be) about what makes the “Best” movie of the year (is it technical achievement, an inspiring story, a successful production, long-lasting historical value, critical acclaim?), any choice is likely to raise more questions than it answers and inevitably raise controversy. The Academy foisted no easy task on itself when it decided to anoint the best of the year.


So here goes. If I had an Oscar ballot, I would rank the Best Picture nominees as follows.

9. American Hustle. There is nothing really wrong with David O. Russell’s character drama, but there is something lacking to it - it is not particularly inspiring or thought-provoking, it contains little to no nested layers or deep meanings. It is superb if considered almost a slapstick comedy, but simply good if seen as a serious drama. The acting is fantastic, particularly Jennifer Lawrence’s, but in a year with so many awe-inspiring films, I would have to place this movie last on my ballot.

8. Her. Her is a fantastic movie, but this type of quirky flick is simply not my cup of tea. The BOP staff loved it, demonstrating (thankfully) much more sophistication in our overall taste than that which I possess in my own individual preferences. It is a singularly original and creative movie, with a strong emotional undercurrent, about which nothing negative can really be said. Just chalk me up as one who is much more into traditional story-telling - again, I confess a somewhat unsophisticated taste when it comes to these things. Hence, Her would be eighth.

7. Dallas Buyers Club. I wavered between placing Her and this movie at #7, but gave the edge to Dallas on the strength of the two fantastic performances that are likely to net the movie Academy Awards. The movie tells a compelling, important story about an unlikely hero. Its main flaw, to me, is its disjointed narrative. The story skips through key details of the main character’s ordeal, including exactly how he came upon different drug sources when a prior well had dried up. Instead, the filmmakers decided to focus on pulling heartstrings by emphasizing the character’s humanity, where I think viewers would have appreciated the logistical feat that the main character had to pull off. It would have been the most powerful testament of all to Ron Woodroof’s iron will and devotion to his cause. A good movie, but just a few inches shy of great in my book.

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