Oscar 2014 rundown: Best Picture

If there’s one thing I take seriously, it’s awards season. There are few things I enjoy more than the Academy Awards, a glorious night of all things film. This year, the Academy chose nine films for contention for the illustrious Best Picture Oscar. Because seeing movies is expensive in Chicago, you likely haven’t seen all nine nominees (the cheapest it could be done in Chicago would be for $81). Because I care, I’ve seen all of these films for you and ranked them in order of best to worst.*

*I am not the Academy, a film critic or anyone important, I just like watching movies and saying things about them to my friends – well, mostly Twitter. Take this list at your own discretion.

1. “12 Years a Slave” There is no film better than Steve McQueen’s absolutely gutwrenching drama. “12 Years a Slave” is based on the true story of Solomon Norfolk, a free man from New York sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofort’s performance is guaranteed to make you cry at least two to five times. If Lupito N’yongo does not win an Oscar for her role, all Oscars heretofore are meaningless. If you can only see one film that’s nominated this year, it’s this one, hands down.

2. “Dallas Buyers Club” It’s the cinematic counterpoint to last year’s best documentary nominee “How to Survive a Plague,” “Dallas Buyers Club” shows the brutal reality that was living with AIDS in the late ’80s. Matthew McCaunaughey plays an arrogant, self-important, homophobic AIDS patient who forms an unlikely team with Rayon (played by Jared Leto) to sell memberships to the Dallas Buyers Club – a a pseudo-legal way to sell illegal drugs not yet approved by the FDA proven to treat AIDS to victims by selling them memberships. Leto’s work as a transgender woman is outstanding, and the runaway favorite, deservedly, for best supporting actor.

3. “Nebraska” Probably the most beautifully shot film of the bunch, Nebraska is full of sprawling black and white shots of the plains and small towns. Will Forte takes on a still comedic, but much more serious role than those of his past (this is certainly no McGrubber) and is in good company with the great Bruce Dern. Dern plays the very disconnected recovering/not recovering alcoholic who believes a Publisher’s Clearing House promise for $1 million is true, ignoring the fine print. Forte, who plays one of Dern’s sons – the other played by Bob Odenkirk – goes on a road trip from South Dakota to Nebraska to claim his “prize.” Dern’s wife, played by June Squibb, is the stand-out role of the movie, full of sass and a take-no-s— attitude.

4. “Her” The real winner here? The comeback of high-waisted pants in our future. A divorced Joaquin Phoenix is lonely and depressed, and finds love and compassion with his operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. While “Her” might not cause tears like “12 Years a Slave” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” it causes a deeper, more existential sadness and loneliness. If your computer won’t love you in the distant-not-sodistant future, who will? For all you hip kids with your “indie rock,” Win Butler from Arcade Fire did the score, and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s sings the “Moon Song.”

5. “Captain Phillips” Have heart problems? Don’t see “Captain Phillips.” This film, like last year’s Best Picture winner “Argo,” manages to keep things extremely tense even though the viewer knows how the story ends (it’s not a spoiler alert that Captain Richard Phillips lives, he wrote the book about this incident). Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks; therefore, he delivers a predictably strong performance as the captain of a shipping boat that gets boarded by Somali pirates, staying impressively calm throughout. Barkhad Abdi as Muse is one of the breakout actors of the year.

6. “Philomena” This might seem like a feel-good movie, but it’s not, I promise. If it were, it would be at the end of the list because I hate feel-good films because I hate feeling good. Dame Judi Dench has ascended into adorable old lady territory, but really that’s all right. Another based-ona- true-story film, Steve Coogan plays a journalist who helps Philomena (Dench) find her son who was taken from her and adopted by an American family. If you like journalism and realizing how messed up the Catholic church can be, this movie is for you.

7. “Gravity” Alfonso Cuaron’s technical masterpiece this year is visually striking and the first 3D movie to not make me want to throw up. I’m usually admittedly against 3D, but “Gravity” makes the viewer look and feel like they’re in space with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. However, it would have been better if Bullock and Clooney weren’t there. In a film full of suspense and breathtaking shots of the abyss of space, acting falls flat and at times nearly ruins the film. How Bullock is nominated for Best Actress floors me.

8. “The Wolf of Wall Street” In a word: quaaludes. “Wolf of Wall Street” does a good job of making the viewer feel like they’re just as coked up as Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and associates, but as a multidimensional Oscar-worthy film, it falls flat. The film illustrates the height of power and excess in Wall Street in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but on the questionably-legal side of penny stocks. I’m a big Leo fan (still mad he wasn’t even nominated for his role in “Revolutionary Road”), but this isn’t the role for which he should or will win an Oscar. By no means is this a bad film, it’s certainly a fun and eye-opening watch, but it’s not an Oscar-winner.

9. “American Hustle” Do not be fooled – this is not a good movie. Maybe I didn’t get it, maybe I’m not the film connoisseur I’ve pretended to be all this time. The story was weak at best. It had something to do with something to do with a fraudulent scam, a New Jersey mayor, Louis CK never finishing a story about ice fishing, and Jennifer Lawrence playing a manic-depressive housewife fairly well. Oh and PSA: when taking about one’s relationship to Long Island, it’s ON not IN.