Rating the Oscar films (2013)

37 feature films were nominated at the 86th Annual Academy Awards - not counting the 5 foreign films. I saw 26 of them, and I thought it would be fun to put them all in order, from best to worst, so I've done exactly that...



This was a great Oscar year. When it comes to Oscars, great equals diverse. The fact that I've got everything on my top list, from documentaries to animated movies, from science fiction to period pieces, is such a big plus in my book. Any time the Oscars can be something other than stale award-begging dramas, I'm good with it.

Gravity was at the top of my Best of 2013 list, so it's no surprise that it made the top of the Oscar list too. As soon as my expectations was scaled down to the proper level I could enjoy this kick-ass ride for what it was. And I've been enjoying it countless (actually 3) times since. I had high hopes for American Hustle, even though I'm not a big fan of the director. It met my expectations to the fullest, and even surprised me a few times. It's such a blast to watch, and not just because of the partially exposed chicks in their flashy garments, no, the story is fun and the movie is a kick-ass ride. And yes, I deliberately use that term again. Good characters, a good story, and good filmmaking can be a kick-ass ride too. I can't for the life of me figure out why some people don't like this film.

Prisoners was something else. A story that could have been dealt with in a 40 minute TV episode, and yet works perfectly in this 2,5 hour long, complex, murder-mystery come character study. The kind of movie that makes you sit quietly in the dark for a few moments after it's over. All is Lost may only work for someone like me - you know, a rough and chiseled adventure-seeking type (that's really funny if you know me) - but so be it. Can you tell a story about a single character, who doesn't speak to anybody, who's stuck on a deteriorating boat for almost 2 hours, and make it entertaining? I say yes.

20 Feet from Stardom was an utterly charming documentary about backup singers. It had laughter, tears, music, and a great historic perspective. Demanding more from a movie would just be diva behavior. Despicable Me 2 was not as good as the first one, but those minions are cute, so leave me alone. Dirty Wars was an angry film about USA's questionable foreign policies, from a reporter with both feet on the ground. Entertaining and enlightening.

1) Gravity
2) American Hustle
3) Prisoners
4) All Is Lost
5) 20 Feet from Stardom
6) Despicable Me 2
7) Dirty Wars



I almost gave up on Peter Berg's story about a team of soldiers caught behind enemy lines, before it really got going. Good thing I didn't. Once you get past the opening 20 minutes of bullshit macho military masturbation, Lone Survivor tells a really fascinating and visceral story about survival, and it is SO brutal! August: Osage County is not the kind of film I prefer to watch, but I enjoyed the hell out of this crazy story about a crazy family, and I was able to ignore Meryl Streep's cartoon-overacting and just focus on the many good performances. What can I say, it just worked for me.

Captain Phillips worked too. There wasn't anything wrong with it per se, it just didn't get to me. Sure there was that killer final scene, but everything up to that left me a bit meh. I'll give it another chance soon, though. Philomena was a sweet story. The film has a slightly condescending attitude towards its subject, and perhaps the ending should have had more bite, but the core story worked well, and Steve Coogan and Judi Dench are fabulous in the leads.

Dallas Buyers Club was a good, important story, with great performances, but a few problems. It drags in the middle, and its worldview, which casts the FDA as the bad guys, lacks perspective and insight, and does the struggle of the AIDS afflicted patients no favors. Star Trek Into Darkness was a good-looking, big budget extravaganza, also full of problems. Chief among them: Why waste so much energy pretending it wasn't the Khan story? The Square was fine, but it was out of date, the second it was finished. The Croods had sweet characters, a few clever ideas, and a fun story, but the opening 20 minutes were rough. I tune out when I'm watching this kind of animated movie - it means nothing to me. Luckily The Croods ended up bringing it home.

8) Lone Survivor
9) August: Osage County
10) Captain Phillips
11) Philomena
12) Dallas Buyers Club
13) Star Trek Into Darkness
14) The Square
15) The Croods



Iron Man 3 is a Marvel film. That's all I have to say on the subject. Frozen is a musical. I find this kind of film almost unwatchable, so even though it had some spunk, good characters, and a funny sidekick, it also had singing.

Her felt like a passive-aggressive love letter to all womankind, from a little man, who has been burned one too many times. And it's about 40 minutes too long. Having said that it's an amazing story to pull off, and the world is intriguing. The bigger issues bubbling below the surface, deserve a more weighty film, though.

I'm going to sound like a colossal dick now, but I found 12 Years a Slave to be a bore. No doubt about it, slavery was (is) an appalling and ugly chapter in human history, but I know that. It's a history lesson I didn't ask for, wrapped in a guilt trip I don't need. I can't even watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon without wondering about the plight of that large black woman. Trust me, the issue has registered. Perhaps we need some movies that shed light on this subject from a different angle, rather than preaching to the converted, like this movie does.

As cute as Cutie and the Boxer is, I just didn't buy it as a documentary. Perhaps that's unfair, perhaps everything is straight up and legit, and I'm just overly critical. Perhaps not. That doubt is no good when you're watching a documentary.

What the hell were the producers of The Lone Ranger thinking?! Seriously, what were they thinking? How can you spend so much money on something so meh!? The best thing I can say about the film, is that at least it's not Wild Wild West bad. It's quite a bit better than that, actually.

16) Iron Man 3
17) Frozen
18) Her
19) 12 Years a Slave
20) Cutie and the Boxer
21) The Lone Ranger



The Great Gatsby perfectly illustrates why CGI is not the way to go for everybody. Nothing here looks real. Baz Luhrmann should be painting raw pictures with a ragged brush, not waste his time making something that looks like any other CGI drenched movie. As for the story, the mystery of the first half hour had potential, but when we find out what Gatsby wants the film turned into dullsville.

There's a slight chance Nebraska is just not for me, but I found it endlessly annoying. And I just wanted to run Bruce Dern off a cliff. The Act of Killing just plain didn't work. It was supposed to make mass murderers repent, but it ended up advertising how awesome it is to be a killer and get away with it.

The Wolf of Wall Street, also had moral issues, and also seemed unaware of its own failures. On top of that it was too long, and when it wasn't straight up bad, all it did was copy better films. The Grandmaster was a piece of shit. Now, I know the US version I saw was heavily altered, but I have a feeling it wouldn't make much difference which version I saw.

22) The Great Gatsby
23) Nebraska
24) The Act of Killing
25) The Wolf of Wall Street
26) The Grandmaster



There was a handful of titles I didn't have time to get to, or they weren't available to me. These were: Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Wind Rises.

There was also a few titles I just didn't care about: Inside Llewyn Davis (yes, I know, but I'm not a Coen fan, they get no special favors from me), The Book Thief, Ernest & Celestine, The Invisible Woman, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Also, I didn't get a chance to see any of the foreign movies. Yes, I'm aware of the irony: One of them is from my own country.


That's it. Naturally I reserve the right to change my mind when it comes time to do the 2014 top/bottom lists, but until that sweet time, here are the final words on the 2013 Oscars: It's not rocket science.


The Effects of the Best Picture Oscar Movies

Last year the team behind the visual effects for Life of Pi won an Oscar for their work, pretty much while they were in the middle of a bankruptcy, because the visual effects industry is one tough business to be in.

During the past year the industry has been in revolt. There's talk of a union, or perhaps a trade organization, and putting an end to unfair and crippling tax-breaks. A lot of very heavy issues plague an already insecure industry, slave to a never-ending cycle of technology upgrades and notorious low profit margins.

While I have a problem with the over-reliance on CGI in some Hollywood films, I'm a HUGE fan of a) credit where credit's due, 2) paying people properly for their work and 3) a sustainable visual effect industry, where talent and not random tax breaks determines who stays in business.

Back when Life of Pi was up for an Oscar this image (or variations thereof) started to circle the internet:

This year, also around Oscar time, visual effect maestro extraordinary Todd Vaziri put this image up on his blog:

Images DO speak a thousand words, don't they?

As fun as these images are, they're also a bit obvious. Of course an effect-driven film will look silly without effects, much like a musical would look odd with long stretches of silence, where the songs should be. But here's the thing: Every film these days uses visual effects. Well, virtually every film. A collapse of the visual effect industry won't just hit those big superhero movies, it'll hurt across the board.

So I've dug up these examples of the effect work done in some of the non-effect movies nominated for a Best Film Oscar this year. Everyone knows that Gravity wouldn't look like much without its effects, no need to go any further into that, but what about the other films?


A sweet little story about a sweet old British lady buzzing off to the US to find her son, no need for effects there, right? Wrong. The job included numerous digital backlots and faking Washington DC.

Effects below by Union VFX.

Dallas Buyers Club

Now here's an example of a good old-fashioned movie, salt of the earth type stuff. No bells and whistles here, and surely no effects either, right?

Actually this low-budget, fast-paced production was apparently forced to fake quite a few locations. On top of that, numerous fixes were required to clean up continuity errors and match pick-up shots.

Effects below by Fake.

American Hustle

Faking period New York required a ton of work, and apparently the visual effects team (from Zero VFX) had to remove reflections in sunglasses from pretty much the entire freakin' movie! They also had to do a complete reconstruction of the Plaza Hotel:

Captain Phillips

Okay, so SEAL team parachuting and busy aircraft carriers are obvious effects (but still cool, of course).

But an element often overlooked in the heat of battle: The monitors. Some guy had to sit there and not only add images to every monitor, but also figure out what those images should be. (That guy was Chris Lunney, according to the FX Guide article.)

Effects by Nvizible Visuals Effects.

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave also required heavy post-production augmentations to establish the proper period look, and of course the gruesome whipping sequence had some VFX assistance as well.

Effects below by Wildfire.

The Wolf of Wall Street

The opulent nature of the movie lends itself to over the top effects work, so The Wolf of Wall Street features quite a few obvious (though not necessarily bad) effect shots. It also features some pretty invisible work, though.

Here are some examples of how The Wolf of Wall Street would look, without effects, from Brainstorm Digital, ScanlineVFX and Method Studios.


Okay, I lied. I couldn't help but include some examples from the Oscar-winning Gravity after all. Let's say they make up for the fact that I couldn't find any examples from Her or Nebraska.

Here is Gravity sans effects, courtesy of Framestore.


I'm not the right person to get into the whole union / tax-break VFX discussion, other far more knowledgeable people can handle that, but this much seems obvious to me: Considering how much film studios rely on visual effects, how much they use effect shots to promote their films, and how much money big effect films make these days, the studios need to treat the creators of those images properly. It's as simple as that.

If you keep kicking the guy who carries you on his back, he will eventually dump you in a ditch and find something better to do.