Tonight is the night that countless film fans simultaneously live for and dread, one that delights and breaks hearts in equal measure. While most of the big awards are basically signed, sealed and ready for collection ahead of the big night (hi Jared Leto, cis man in drag playing trans*, and Cate Blanchett), the Academy Awards still offers up a few surprises now and then. Right now, the biggest uncertainty is Best Picture – will 12 Years a Slave triumph in the face of a voting board primarily made up of crusty old white men, or will Gravity benefit from that predictable unease? We won’t entertain the terrifying possibility of American Hustle winning any awards. For those who prefer the written word to the big screen, or for those who just wish to brush up on some of the finer details of the work at hand, adaptations remain a driving force in the industry and offer up some fun reading lists. So here are the books to read in the aftermath of the Oscar mess, because believe me, there will be blood (now there’s a movie that was robbed by the Academy).
American Hustle (10 nominations)
David O Russell’s latest film has been a little divisive of late, with many wondering if it’s truly worthy of all that hype (spoiler: It’s not), but it’s riding high with 10 nominations (tied for the most of the night with Gravity) and could do well on the night. While the film itself plays fast and loose with the real life details, the story of the Abscam sting in the late 1970s is one worthy of further reading, if only for an insight into the rampant political corruption of the time. Robert W. Greene, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, offers a detailed account of events with his book The Sting Man, published over 30 years ago and now available on Kindle.
Captain Phillips (6 nominations)
Paul Greengrass’s intense account of real life events has been seen as one of the more snubbed films of the year, with both the director and its leading man Tom Hanks missing out on nominations. It can take some comfort in being the 2nd highest grossing film of the Best Picture nominees after Gravity, and in its newcomer supporting man Barkhad Abdi receiving a nomination. The book on which its nominated screenplay is based, A Captain’s Duty, has been the subject of much debate after many of Phillips’s crew members disputed his claims. It’s worth checking out if only for an intense if deeply flawed account of events.
Philomena (4 nominations)
Really, it’s hard to believe so many doubted this movie’s awards potential given the backing power of the benevolent ruler Weinstein (even though his other big contenders of the year flopped in comparison) but it has all the makings of an Oscar film: Heart-wrenching true story, warm and witty script, Judi Dench’s presence. Steve Coogan, who wrote the script as well as starring in and producing the film, has come a long way since Alan Partridge, and referring to him as an Oscar nominee is nothing if not chuckle inducing (given that both he and Armando Iannucci have nominations, surely it’s only a matter of time before Chris Morris gets one too?) Philomena Lee and journalist Martin Sixsmith’s account of her heart-wrenching life and the loss of her son is a good starting point to follow her continuing journey for justice.
12 Years a Slave (9 nominations)
Let’s be honest: In a good and just world, this film would be sweeping the board on the night. Steve McQueen’s impeccably made film is a rarity in the industry – a film about slavery from the point of view of the slave made by black film-makers. Truly, the industry should be ashamed that it took this long. Sadly, we don’t live in such a world and the idea of a film winning on merit and not campaigning is a strange one to the Academy. If nothing else, Solomon Northrup’s account of his ordeal is necessary reading for all, and available very cheaply, so there’s no excuse for missing out. And yes, Bibliodaze is officially Team Lupita Nyong’o.
The Wolf of Wall Street (5 nominations)
Martin Scorsese’s latest film has been both his most commercially successful and arguably his most controversial, with many claiming that the 3 hour marathon of swearing, dirty dealings and coke orgies glamourizes the pursuits of real life Wall Street maestro Jordan Belfort, a man who still owes the victims of his scams millions of dollars. It’s not a pleasant world and it’s not one for the faint hearted, although the assumption that it condones Belfort’s world is debatable. Scorsese faced many of the same accusations upon the release of Goodfellas. I hesitate to link to Belfort’s books since I really don’t want him to make any money from his efforts given his inability to pay back those who scammed, but it’s a judgement call many will make so decide for yourselves. He’s written two books on his obscene wrongdoings and says what happened in real life is far worse than what Scorsese shows. That’s terrifying. It’s also kind of terrifying that Jonah Hill is a 2 time Oscar nominee, but I digress.
August: Osage County (2 nominations)
I have to get this out of the way: I seriously disliked the film of August: Osage County. It was a neutered and horribly misjudged take on the pitch black comedy and relentlessly merciless melodrama of Tracy Letts’s play, one that cut out an entire hour of the script yet still felt overlong. The bite was gone, the smothering claustrophobia of the source material blown apart with clumsy directing and weirdly upbeat music choices. The saving graces of the film came from about 40% of the ensemble cast, and I do not include Meryl Streep in that. She’s wonderful, I get that, but in this film she verges on Foghorn Leghorn at times, her accent wildly exaggerated and her performance more suited to the stage than the screen. I only really like Julia Roberts as an actress when she’s playing against her America’s Sweetheart persona, and here she does it masterfully with all the coldness and tortured complexities the role calls for. My advice is to avoid the film and read the play instead.
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (3 nominations)
Tolkein’s classic has been divided into 3 parts for the big screen, with many other stories from Middle Earth added for necessary padding. As expected, the nods are for the impeccable technical work, although this does mean Lee Pace’s fierceness misses out. Weirdly, there’s no hair and makeup nod either. You’d think Pace’s wig would be a shoo-in if nothing else (American Hustle also missed out there – a nomination it would actually have deserved – but Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa made the cut. Huh).
The Great Gatsby (2 nominations)
While Baz Luhrmann’s long awaited adaptation of what many consider to be the greatest American novel of the 20th century did much better at the box office than expected, many critics questioned whether or not the director missed the entire point of the novel. Regardless, the novel is definitely worth your time. Oh Leo, you’ll get your Oscar one day. Just not this year. McConaughey’s got that wrapped up.
We’ve all got those films we’re rooting for and those snubs we’ll rant over for many years to come (how did Pacific Rim miss out on tech nominations? Why is Jennifer Lawrence nominated for what may be her weakest performance in years? Who did the Coen Brothers pee on to warrant an almost universal snub for the best reviewed film of the year, Inside Llewyn Davis? If Bono wins Best Original Song, I may riot!) but that’s part of the fun. Make sure you prepare for the night accordingly. I’ll be live-tweeting from my own account (@Ceilidhann) so come join me to see how it all goes down.