Sudhish Kamath presents a peek at films nominated for Best Picture/Best Director

What a sad night (or morning for us in India) it will be for cinema and for television watching if the grossly overhyped American Hustle takes home the top prize for Best Picture or Best Director as many are predicting. Especially, in a year of glaring omissions — Inside Llewyn Davis, All Is Lost, Before Midnight, to name a few.

There may be nine Best Picture nominees, but only five of them have Best Director nominations, of which only three have Best Editing nominations, of which one has no Best Writing nomination. Which makes this a two-way race between American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave for the big prize. And most likely, they will both win one of the two top prizes. Here’s a closer look at the five big nominees (Best Picture and Best Director).

American Hustle

David O Russell’s con comedy is an undoubtedly fun film, really well-written and finely performed, all right. But... Well, it’s just your regular predictable con comedy with a twist you can see coming from a mile. How are they even going to describe it at the Oscars without making it sound silly? A stylistic portrayal of the shortage of underwear in America of the Seventies, set against the backdrop of fake hair? That ice-fishing story was the only thing that kept us guessing and we never got to know how that ended? Just because it has the David O Russell treatment? Take any genre, add dysfunctional family drama. And look, it’s different.

The only reason to applaud is not because this film got as many nominations as it has, but because the Academy has finally recognised frivolous comedy as a legitimate genre. Most likely to win Best Picture.

Gravity

Alfonso Cuaron’s seamless space survival drama defied so many filmmaking conventions with its long gravity-defying takes and minimal use of cuts. We sat and watched this marvel of filmmaking in complete awe — a film mostly inhabited by just a couple of astronauts in spacesuits. Cuaron’s triumph lies in how he channelled our fear of space and letting go, and drew empathy from the characters despite those enormous suits. It was visually the most stunning film of the year and is certainly going to win for Best Cinematography, but lack of a Writing nomination suggests that the Academy wasn’t that impressed with the content of the film to give this any chance with Best Picture. It would be a pleasant surprise if it wins Best Director.

Nebraska

How cool it would be if this delightful little black-and-white film by Alexander Payne won Best Picture! Nebraska is the underdog of the category, least likely to win, but probably the strongest in terms of content. It has endearing characters, switches mood from dark to light effortlessly, and makes us smile all through the journey of an old man who believes he’s won the sweepstakes and makes his son take him on a road trip. The warmth in these icy portions of the world is just the kind of stuff goosebumps are made of. A well-deserved nod for both Best Picture and Best Director. If only an indie could win the big prize!

12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen will most likely win Best Director for his powerful and hard-hitting film on slavery. Because, this is just the kind of film the Academy wants to honour to show that it cares for serious issues.

This is a film that is difficult to watch. McQueen captures the years and the depth of suffering through the emotional and the physical scars and yet gives his protagonist so much grace and dignity, a feat that seems impossible given the situation he is thrown in — kidnapped and sold as a slave for 12 years, away from his family.

It may not win Best Picture but it is safe to bet to McQueen for the Best Director prize.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

If the Academy is willing to give a fun film the big prize, they ought to give it to Martin Scorsese and The Wolf Of Wall Street instead of American Hustle. Simply because it is the most politically incorrect and irreverent film to have ever got as many nominations. But given how many pages have been dedicated to how the film has glorified Jordan Belfort and everything wrong with American greed, the prospects of this film winning the big two prizes are quite slim. Also, the three-hour running length and lack of an Editing nomination validates the theory that this will not win Best Picture or Director. If it does, let’s hope we hear some hardcore swearing in the Thank You speeches. (The film had over 500 swear words, after all!)

THE OTHERS

Thanks to the opening up of the Best Picture category to accommodate more deserving films, these four films made it too but do they stand a chance at all?

Captain Phillips

Since when did a standard black-and-white hostage action thriller become Oscar material? That too, third-world pirates taking on first-world ship!

Dallas Buyers Club

This was a complete Matthew McConaughey vehicle and while it did pack in a superlative performance of a lifetime from the actor, the lack of other big nominations indicates this doesn’t stand a chance.

Her

Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance is undoubtedly one of the best films of last year and won hearts around the world with its plot of man in love with his Operating System. But indies are cursed.

Philomena

Another token indie to get nominated, Philomena is about a mother in search of her son who was taken away from her 50 years ago. Chances of it winning any of the top prizes: Remote.