Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

February 27, 2014

CALLERI: One sure thing, and a tough best picture race highlight Oscars

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — “12 Years A Slave” was thought to be a shoe-in for the best picture Oscar, although not by me, but along came “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” “American Hustle” and “Gravity” to upend everything. They are all nominees and their presence on the list of nine motion pictures makes this a very difficult competition.

One problem I have with “12 Years A Slave” is that director Steve McQueen, a man in love with sadomasochistic interpretations of human behavior, forgot what his movie was about. He turned it into a series of tableaus about abject cruelty and let the emotional underpinnings of his story slide. Michael Fassbender’s plantation owner became more important than the title slave, Solomon Northup.

Martin Scorsese’s fiercely alive “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is three hours of juiced-up cinematic energy, with an outstanding performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as a corrupt, amoral financial advisor. Rarely, has a movie this long felt so short.

“American Hustle” is a frisky comic romp about a con game, and “Gravity” has an opening 20-minute catastrophic incident in outer space that is truly masterful filmmaking. The problem is that there’s still a little more than an hour to go, and the movie becomes labored.

Technically, “Gravity” is solid on every front, which will be borne out on Oscar night, but thematically, not much happens. The surprising thing is that “Gravity” is now the frontrunner for the Oscar, which is why the category is so difficult to call. I don’t think it’s earned that position.

The other five nominees are: “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” and “Philomena,” none of which has a real chance, but all of which could be a spoiler. Missing from the list is the great “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Its omission is made more confounding because there can be 10 nominees in this category.

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