BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”
It takes courage to adapt a story like that of Solomon Northup’s autobiography “12 Years a Slave” into a modern-day feature film. It’s a brutal tale that examines one of the most shameful periods in American history with the unflinching objective eye of history. It would have been easy to blend the story into something more digestible for the movie-goers seeking a tamer story of American redemption and all-lessons-learned, but acclaimed screenwriter John Ridley pursued the original text with tenacious verisimilitude, delivering a timeless epic of the human spirit that is justifiably appalled at the societal conditions that formed it.
— Ryan Koehn
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Spike Jonze, “Her”
It is not usual that the genres “drama,” “romance” and “sci-fi” are all listed to describe the same film. That’s because “Her” is not the usual film. Forget police states and killer robots: “Her” presents a dystopian future that is much more probable; a world where everyone is too wrapped up in technology to form human connections. Both furthering this problem and proving it invalid, hopeless romantic Theodore finds genuine love in the unlikeliest of places. The script and story by director Spike Jonze give us an offbeat adult fairy tale, custom designed for this generation.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “The Act of Killing”
As hauntingly beautiful as it is stomach-churningly ugly, Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” stands out as not only the best documentary of the year but also as one of the strongest contributions to its genre. The film follows former military death squad leaders in Indonesia as they recreate some of their most memorable killings on camera. The subjects embellish their acts of murder with dance numbers, dramatic dialogue and nods to old-fashioned American gangster films, effectively reimagining their bloody history as a glamorized dream. Although difficult to watch, “The Act of Killing” is brilliantly crafted and unprecedentedly truthful.
— Grace Lovio
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: “Let it Go” from “Frozen”
Despite the inescapable tone-deaf beltings of the “Frozen” hit “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel, its quality as a song is undeniable. Menzel performs the song with such emotional vigor and gusto, which works wonders in conjunction with the changes in the instrumentals’ tempo and the heartfelt lyrics that listeners empathize with. They function as a whole to captivate the ears and hearts of the listeners.The prevalence of this song within the lives of “Frozen’s” audience as well as the musical quality of the piece as a whole earn “Let It Go” the Daily Californian’s pick for Best Original Song.
— Joshua Gu
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: “Her”
Performed by Arcade Fire and composed by Owen Pallett and Will Butler, the original score for “Her” provides an emotionally stirring range of bellowing strings, a melodic piano and blaring synthesizers to fill the void of a woman’s face in man-to-OS love. The band’s work provides a transcendental tenor that envelops both the complexities surrounding Theodore Twombly’s love life and the development of Samantha’s endearing identity (or rather, endearing software), proving to be the most commendable nominee from the A&E staff. But forget operating systems — this 40-minute-long score could make you fall in love with anything.
— Tiffany Kim
BEST DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
Steve McQueen didn’t pull any punches when it came to “12 Years a Slave.” The British director, known for a more artistic form of filmmaking, with slow moving pieces like “Shame,” adapted his style for a mainstream audience in a film that was unapologetically brutal. McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” is the pinnacle of the slave narrative — his retelling of Solomon Northup’s experience as a freed-man-turned-slave is the only way to honestly portray one of the worst institutional crimes of our nation’s history. If McQueen wins, he’ll be the first black filmmaker to win an Oscar for Best Director. Here’s to hoping history gets made Sunday night.
— Lynn Yu
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”
Outer space confounds mankind. It taps into our wildest fantasies, yet it is entirely real. Stripped of storyline and character development, “Gravity” is criticized for exactly what makes it great. The film represents a new breed in space porn, one only possible with today’s technology and IMAX 3-D theaters. One of pure aesthetics. The camera delicately pans across planet Earth, races with shrapnel buzzing by at a bullet’s speed and hovers on infinite blackness. “Gravity” pulls at our deepest desires: to escape, to experience the unknown, to better understand our own existence. More than anything, though, the film is damn beautiful.
— Anna Carey
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: “Frozen”
While Pixar typically leads the pack for Best Animated Feature Film, the company’s contender was blown out of the fjord by Disney’s biggest release of the award season — “Frozen.” Led by a powerhouse ensemble cast of Broadway alumni (Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and the incomparable Idina Menzel), “Frozen” has all the elements of a classic Disney film — detailed scenery, a lighthearted sidekick, a simple-but-complicated love story and the iconic ballad. Without Pixar, people thought Walt Disney Animation Studios was left out in the cold, but maybe the cold never bothered them anyway.
— Rosemarie Alejandrino
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Rayon first appears on screen in a hospital gown at Dallas Mercy Hospital. She is full of poise and sass but is profoundly complex. Rayon is a transgender individual living with AIDS, yet she is the character with whom it is easiest to identify. It is Jared Leto’s delicately nuanced performance that allows Rayon to creep into the deepest corners of our hearts and minds. He creates a character who struts down the street with class but also uncomfortably contorts her paper-thin body in front of the mirror. Leto’s is the performance of a lifetime, making this year’s Best Supporting Actor race no race at all.
— Anna Carey
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Lupita Nyong’o’s American debut couldn’t have occurred in a better movie or with a better cast. Her portrayal of Patsey, a young slave girl forced to do the bidding of the frightening Master Epps (Michael Fassbender) in “12 Years a Slave,” is an anchoring presence in a movie filled with tumult and chaos. The Kenyan newcomer is in a competitive field for supporting actress, which includes Jennifer Lawrence and Sally Hawkins, but her compelling and heartbreaking turn is a performance well and above any of her fellow nominees’ performances. Compared to Nyong’o, no one else deserves the award.
— Lynn Yu
BEST ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE: Leonardo Di Caprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
In a movie that is so vehemently unapologetic, Leo’s performance as Jordan Belfort does not shy away from the grittiness prevalent underneath the glitz and glam of excess. Sure, he plays the suave, rich man like we a ll know he can, but it’s the uglier moments that make his performance captivating: The bug-eyed drug ingestions, the microphone poundings to the head after an uproarious speech, the surrenders to sexual temptations, the screaming matches with his wife. His committed and powerful portrayal provides insight into the life of extreme luxury while still perfectly illuminating the devastation that it could cause.
— Taran Moriates
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
There’s a scene in “Blue Jasmine” in which a sweating Cate Blanchett emerges from her room with a bottle of vodka. “I really need to study,” she says slowly, her entire body trembling with the weight of dangerous fantasies and frustrating misfortunes that have followed her from New York to San Francisco. Blanchett, who plays Jasmine, a fallen Upper East Side heiress, reveals the subtleties of vulnerability, agitation and sheer tragedy with just a furrow of her eyebrows, a quiet hair tuck behind the ears and a deliberate, tight-lipped smile. Her astounding performance communicates emotional deterioration, desperation and the beauty of delusion.
— Addy Bhasin
BEST PICTURE: “Wolf of Wall Street”
Ignore the controversy that surrounded “The Wolf of Wall Street” since the moment it was just a paperback memoir from the notorious white-collar criminal Jordan Belfort. It’s an excessive sex- and drug-fueled guilty pleasure that is just fun to witness. No one actually condones even a fraction of Belfort’s behavior but watching Leo ride the highs and lows of the stock market (and cocaine) is something that audiences can get behind. Scorsese proves that age has no bearing on his ability to craft addictive dramas with a spark of the insane. It’s pure, engaging entertainment — an energetic aberration from what normally takes the Best Picture gold.
— Ryan Koehn