12 Years a Slave – Based on a true story? Check. Excellent star-studded cast? Check. The ability to make the audience feel absolutely awful? Check. Those are the only three things needed to convince us that 12 Years a Slave should win Best Picture this year. The film follows Solomon Northup, a free black man in a time where most blacks are not free, who is tricked and abducted into slavery. The film only gets more depressing as the subject of slavery is brutally put into the spotlight with horrifying depictions of whippings and lynchings. Every actor approaches his or her role with a cruel intensity to detail, and each scene is more ruthless than the next. There are only a few redeeming qualities of this film, but that may be why it is so excellent.]
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) – Going from a lavish lifestyle to the cruel hands of slavery is portrayed in Ejiofor’s character, the real-life Solomon Northup. There is a scene in the film where Ejiofor stares directly at the camera and, almost hauntingly, into the audience’s soul. How many performances can make you regret history? Even when he is being whipped or scolded for no reason besides being black, the British-born actor shows no signs of breaking character and embodies Northup. Much like when Daniel Day-Lewis won last year, Ejiofor will prove that history can repeat itself, especially on the big screen.
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) – Wait, Cate Blanchett was in a movie this year? Blanchett shines in this ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ film where she plays a former New York socialite who has become ruined financially and mentally and is forced to live with her sister in San Francisco. In a society where the rich are becoming poor quickly, Blanchett’s performance is über-realistic and darkly humorous, which seems to do well for the actresses in regards to Oscars. Woody Allen, whose scripts help his main characters fly off the page, should take victory in knowing that he created this character while Blanchett made her come to life in all of her unfortunate glory.
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) – The only thing more impressive than Matthew McConaughey’s performance in this drama is Leto’s role as the transvestite Rayon, suffering from AIDS much like McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof. Leto transforms himself into a convincing woman … who is still a man. The presence Rayon leaves on the film puts the audience in awe, almost stealing the show from McConaughey, with a down-to-earth and human role as a gay man, living in an anti-gay era. The transformation of Leto into this character alone deserves an Oscar. It is a true feat of acting.
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) – Lawrence made full use of her comedic chops with this humorous performance as Rosalyn, the wife of Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld. Although she doesn’t have the most screen time, Lawrence makes a presence with her performance as an ill-prepared wife, with a never-ending list of excuses. Rosalyn proves to be Irving’s biggest weakness due to her charm and inability to “keep her mouth shut.” It is difficult to explain what makes this role stand out, but in a film depicting a realistic con, she seems both down to earth and completely insane.
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) – The film is visually stunning and serves as an example of how to properly use computer-generated imagery (CGI). That should not go unnoticed to the Academy as they pick best director, which at this point is a battle over cinematography. Gravity was pretty, all in part to Cuarón’s attention to detail and skill of making the audience feel what space is like (hint: it isn’t as peachy as it seems). In my opinion, any director who can make a 3D film watchable deserves some sort of an award. Gravity may not have had the greatest story this year, but this award should fall to whomever completed the best vision, in this case being a CGI masterpiece.