Oscar Primer 2014: The Desolation of the Oscar’s

During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on March 2nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a few films in each installment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last installment HERE I covered “Blue Jasmine”, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”, “The Act of Killing” and “The Hunt”. This time I will be talking about “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”, “Dirty Wars”, “Cutie and the Boxer” and “All is Lost”.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” was directed by Peter Jackson, produced by WingNut Films and was released on December 13th. The film has three nominations.

–        Best Visual Effects- Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds

–        Best Sound Editing- Brent Burge

–        Best Sound Mixing- Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is the second part in the three part adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s singular book. This film works a lot better than the first one, as the first one seemed to be almost three hours of exposition. I don’t have a problem with the book being split up into three films for two reasons. Firstly after Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he went on to write the Lord of the Rings series, and in the back of Return of the King he included close to fifty pages of expanded thoughts and plot points for The Hobbit, which was used in the new films. Secondly, people complain about how it is all about the money, and that is 100% correct. Look at how much money the LOTR films made, people love this world that Jackson has created, so why not make it into three separate films! The second film was much more action focused, all leading up to the first interactions with Smaug the dragon played and voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The film’s special effects are why most people are going to watch it, that is if they are not diehard Tolkien-ites. The main attraction is Smaug the mighty dragon. He is massive and seeing him flying over the mountain of gold and breathing fire in 3-D is spectacular. Singular scales on him are so detailed you can almost touch him. Every scene has so much special effects going on, it is hard to tell when the live action stops and the VFX starts. Orcs running wild, a giant hunting bear, flying arrows, Gandalf’s staff creating a force field around him, molten steel being poured and ‘Ring Vision’ are just a few of the special effects. Apparently, to people I talk to, there was also a scene with giant spiders who fight and talk, but I saw no such scene. Although I may have missed it because I have a crippling case of arachnophobia and couldn’t watch or listen to anything when it supposedly occurred. This award is “Gravity’s” to lose, but if they slip at all, “The Hobbit” will be there to scoop up this award without missing a beat.

The Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing awards are so hard to break down, the arrows sounded real, the thundering of armies was lifelike, and Smaug’s eerie silence was deafening. To see who has a chance to win these awards, first check to see if they have a nomination in both categories. Of the ten nominations eight of them come from four films, so theoretically they stand a chance to win. Unfortunately since “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” seem poised to sweep all the technical awards, I don’t think “The Hobbit” has a fighting chance. Maybe next year when the third installation of “The Hobbit” comes out, they will win everything under the sun like “LOTR: Return of the King” did.

“Dirty Wars” was directed by Rick Rowley, produced by Big Noise Films and was released on June 14th. The film has one nomination.

–        Best Documentary Feature- Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill

“Dirty Wars” is the story of investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill uncovering how a top secret military group, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), is waging secret wars across the world. The story starts in Afghanistan where Scahill travels outside of UN controlled areas to interview a family that captured cell phone footage of the US Army killing several unarmed men, women and children. We learn that one of the men killed was a police chief who was trained by the US. Scahill soon gets caught in a web of redacted information that leads him to drone bombings in Yemen and Somalia where the US doesn’t even try to hide their evidence but still goes on the denial.

The film does a great job of showing what the causes for people becoming suicide bombers are, in order to exact revenge on the United States. People of the Middle East don’t hate the US because of their freedom, they hate them because the armies come into their neighborhoods and kill innocent civilians. One of the men in Afghanistan who lost his brother-in-law, sister and niece, cried that his family had to hold him down as he wanted to strap on a vest and walk into a US compound. That is the reality of where terrorists come from; people will only take so much before breaking. The man has a cellphone video where you can hear, but not see, American soldiers planning on how to say the situation went down to make the Afghans looks bad.

The film is chock full of bombshell revelations, but the film suffers from Michael Moore syndrome. Every scene is overly sensationalized and cut away scenes of Scahill at home or interviewed on TV is the film’s downfall. Looking at just the facts, this film is great, but it will suffer do to its over-editing.

“Cutie and the Boxer” was directed by Zachary Heinzerling, produced by Ex Lion Tamer and was released on August 16th. The film has one nomination.

–        Best Documentary Feature-  Zachary Heinzerling and Lydiaa Dean Pilcher

“Cutie and the Boxer” tells the story of Japanese immigrants living in New York that make art. Ushio Shinohara is world renowned for his paintings. He straps on boxing gloves and covers them in paint; he then punches his way across a canvas to create a unique piece of art. Ushio’s wife Noriko Shinohara put her art career on hold to support her husband and raise their son. Now that she is in her 60’s she decides she has to create her own masterpiece. Noriko paints the walls of a gallery in a comic book style called ‘Cutie and Bullie’ that traces her life and relationship with Ushio.

The film is simultaneously depressingly tragic and eternally optimistic. Ushio and Noriko have 20 years in age separating them and have spent their lives dirt poor always hoping for Ushio’s next work to sell and make them rich. Ushio was a terrible alcoholic which wreaked havoc on the family’s life. His son Alexander is now repeating his father’s actions by being both an artist and an alcoholic. Ushio plays the role of tortured artist a little too perfectly as is shown in old home video footage. There is clearly still love in Ushio and Noriko’s life as they both claim to love each other and need each other to survive. Noriko’s work is dismissed by her husband as he claims only he is the master artist, but still supports her, even if her latest piece shows the world how horrible he has been. Towards the end of the film Ushio leans over and heartbreakingly asks if Cutie loves Bullie, to which Noriko reassures him quickly that yes she does.

The film is very low key and tracks what happens when two (monetarily) unsuccessful artists live and work together and the struggles they face. It is a little too intimate to be a real contender as the fan favourite “20 Feet from Stardom” or the revolutionary “The Square” seems to be the favourites to win.

“All is Lost” was directed by J.C. Chandor, produced by Before the Door Pictures, and was released on October 25th. The film has one nomination.

–        Best Sound Editing- Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns

“All is Lost” tells the story of an unnamed man (Robert Redford) who is sailing on his boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. His boat collides with a shipping container floating in the ocean, causing it to leave a hole in the side damaging his radio and navigational equipment. What follows is a man exhausting all his resources to stay alive, including abandoning his sinking ship into a life raft until all is lost, like the title suggests.

Unfortunately in order to win Best Sound Editing, you have to at least have a nomination in Best Sound Mixing and most of the time the same film wins both awards. “All is Lost” is almost dialogue free with Robert Redford being the only actor and speaking only a handful of sentences in the 100 minute runtime. Sound is everything in this film since it was filmed in a water tank they needed to add all the elements of weather post production. The waves were terrifying and when the scenes were quiet, there was always something happening that was sonically interesting. I would be fine with this film winning, but “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” are in the lead for this category.

Frankly it is a shame that Robert Redford did not get a Best Actor nomination as it seems like he was born to play this part. Redford performed most of his own stunts, including being thrown across the boat as it capsizes, hanging off the side of the boat to patch the hole and scaling the mast pole to plug in his radio’s antenna. Redford, Oscar Isaac and Tom Hanks all got unjustly left out of nominated group. Furthermore the categories Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score and Best Sound Mixing all should have listed “All is Lost”. While it is not a perfect film, “All is Lost” is the reason why making movies is still such an exciting and groundbreaking art!

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.