Once upon a time, I thought the Academy Awards was everything. Each annual ceremony brought a new gauntlet of strategy, prediction and anticipation. I celebrated like it was my birthday when Entertainment Weekly's Awards Edition arrived in the mail. In my downtime, I'd study past winners and nominees, logging and archiving and memorizing titles as if they were part of a great religious scripture. If not perfect, I felt in my heart that the Oscars were sacred somehow, a majestic coronation founded on high esteem and respect.
On March 21, 1999, this feeling of unflinching loyalty disappeared forever. When Shakespeare in Love defeated my beloved Saving Private Ryan (a film that absolutely changed my perception of movie violence) for Best Picture, I felt betrayed. There I was, a 17-year-old cinephile hosting an Oscar party for my friends, shocked that all my surefire predictions had been suddenly trumped by a goddamn revisionist melodrama. It was on this fateful night that I realized a core truth: That bald-headed, gold bastard was pure trouble, and believing in his value was a masochist's delight.
Part of the problem was my naïveté. The Oscars have been disappointing people for years, especially those who express interest in films residing outside the small box of the mainstream. But with the advent of the Internet and social media, the entire Academy Awards experience has become even more boring and trite. Studios begin campaigning for their films in Septemeber at high-profile film festivals like Telluride and Toronto and don't stop until March. It's an exhausting media cycle, one that makes plenty of online Oscar bloggers look like fools more than once a year with their flipflopping.
This year's Oscar gambit has been especially seedy. The whole Woody Allen vs. Mia Farrow throwdown has been a black eye for Cate Blanchett, although she still looks to be the favorite in the Best Actress category for her viperous turn in Blue Jasmine. Throw in the various kerfuffles over The Wolf of Wall Street's suspected glorification of stock-trader debauchery and you've got enough hifalutin posturing to turn even Oscar's greatest allies soft in the head.
Even worse, this year's nominees are all relatively safe. I had hoped Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) or Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) would sneak into the acting categories to spice things up, or, at the very least, James Franco (Spring Breakers). But, alas, none of those scenarios came to fruition.
This started out as a prediction piece, so maybe I should actually take a stab at some predictions. But there will be a few caveats. As Matthew McConaughey accepts his Best Actor Oscar for the pandering and brutish Dallas Buyers Club on Sunday, March 2, his fascinating True Detective character Rust Cohle will be unloading a storm of philosophical fury while trying to solve what seems to be a never-ending string of murders on HBO's best television show in years. This is the McConaughey performance we'll be talking about long after his turn as a racist self-righteous rodeo hand with HIV is long forgotten.
As previously mentioned, Blanchett looks to be a lock for Best Actress, and that sounds about right considering hers is a titanic role of self-deception and depression. The less said about Jared Leto the better, but he looks to be a lock for his flashy method turn in Dallas Buyers Club (Oscar disappointment incarnate). Supporting actress is a bit more of a crapshoot, although I truly believe justice will prevail and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) will defeat Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle).
Speaking of American Hustle, David O. Russell's scatter-brained Scorsese rip-off, it seems destined to ride a wave of momentum to a Best Picture win. Knowing my luck, it will defeat far worthier opponents like The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.
Still, after all these years, I'm throwing my purest hopes into one particular race: Best Director. If Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) can become the first Latino to win the award, it will be a historic moment, an honor worthy of his virtuoso space adventure that is so much more than a visual-effects spectacle.
I'm sure disappointment awaits me, but despite my varnished opinion of Oscar, I still hold out hope they might get it right. Truly a fool's errand.