Best Picture Profile: Philomena

philomena

Directed by: Stephen Frears
Written by: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope
Produced by: Steve Coogan, Tracy Seaward, Gabrielle Tana
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Philomena is about Martin Sixsmith, a journalist who has just been fired by his employer. Hoping to redeem himself, he takes on the story of the titular character, an old woman separated from her child for several decades after she was taken away from her when she was still inside a Catholic convent. As they go on with their search, they are led to go to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena go together to look for her son as they challenge each other’s beliefs.

Before the nominations were announced, I was admittedly skeptical about the chances of the film getting nominated for Best Picture not because it looks bad to me (I haven’t seen the film yet during the time), but because it feels like a story that’s too small and intimated to feel Best Picture-material. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the Oscars have a tendency to go with films that are not necessarily small. So it was my surprise that this film got in the nominees for Best Picture. And after watching the film, I’m retaining my perception of the film: it’s a film that feels really small yet intimate. It is not a critique, but rather a mere observation.

I appreciate the fact that it remained as sincere to the core of the material as possible. While the film as a semi-glossy visual feel, the film did not try to sugarcoat the story. It felt sincere and heartwarming despite the film’s attempt to sprinkle some scenes with humor. That, I owe the director for skilfully planting humor and drama in an alternating manner that is not disruptive or annoying. I have seen films that both succeeded in drama and in humor, but fails to properly put transition between the two. Luckily, the film has found a way of smoothly weaving these two elements. I know some find the mix of the two detrimental to the film; I was fine with that.

However, I find some scenes a bit awkward. I am not much of a fan of the flashback scenes as well as the reliance of the film on archival/home video footage style shots. While I see the flashback scenes as a necessary part of the film, the archival footage-type shots feels like an attempt to make the film close to realty so that audience can easily empathize to the story, but in the end fails because it was the one that is disruptive to me, not the humor in the script. It may seem that I am defending the humor of the script, but for me, it helped define the character of Philomena as a character that can charm and at the same time create a sense of warmheartedness and a down-to-earth attitude. Philomena’s humor as a character establishes a person with more dimensions, and I appreciate that.

PhilomenaThe film is also has intelligently mounted visuals, giving the film a distinct visual appeal through its interesting cinematography, providing strong colors to highlight the tension despite the calm, and smooth editing. The music by Alexandre Desplat is also exquisite, delivering an enchanting feel to every scene, elevating the film’s emotional power by highlighting scenes with subtlety and control.

However, I felt that the film is not really best picture-material, but more of a good vehicle for the actors to act and for the film to tug hearts. I do not deny that the story has a strong emotional punch, but one strong qualifying factor for me to say that a film is best picture-material if it actually works as a film in itself and not just reliant on a specific aspect.

I cannot see the reason to mention Philomena as a great film aside from Dench’s performance which is quite great. The role might seem easy, and Dench surely charms her way in the film, giving a relaxed dramatic performance that occasionally hints on comedy. There are scenes of brutal honesty, though, that brings her performance on a higher level. She delivers both the drama and the comedy that the performance requires. The result is a beautifully delivered portrayal of a mother longing to see her long lost son. I do think it is not much of a stretch for Dench given her more challenging roles before, but what we have here is still a strong dramatic performance from this great actress. 

Coogan does fine as the eager journalist who questions Philomena’s faith the same time he questions his. It is not really a demanding role, given that much emotional weight is given to Dench’s titular role, but he provides a sturdy control of a restrained character. There is underlying doubt to himself, and Coogan shows it well by giving subtle hints to this emotional turmoil.

Again, as much as I have warmed with his film, and while I do think it is a really exciting character study, I am not seeing the film’s higher value outside its central performance. The film makes for an interesting journey, and it does have its emotional impact that is quite visible and felt, but it lacks significance that makes a film fit to be called ‘best picture-material’. I kind of loved it, but not enough to make me scream “best picture!” for it.

For this, the film gets:

4

Agree or disagree?

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INTRODUCTION – Best Motion Picture: 2013

Without further ado, the next yer will be 2013.

Something must be said about this year. Not only this had one of the tightest race for the Best Picture in recent memory (three frontrunners – 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity), but also one of the most unpredictable set of nominees (this was the year when Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, among many other films, almost made it as a Best Picture nominee).

Aside from the frontrunners, the rest of the nominees include an action thriller about a pirate attack, a biopic about a homophobic man-turned-drug dealer for AIDS cure, a sci-fi romance drama about a man’s relationship with an OS, a black comedy about an old man thinking he won a million dollars, another biopic about a devout Catholic woman in search for her son, and probably one of Martin Scorsese’s most polarizing work – a comedy about money, drugs, and sex.

There you go. So, here are the nominees:

slate

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

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Which film would win this one?

The arrangement of the profiles will be by lottery, then the last profile would be the Best Picture winner, 12 Years A Slave.

Would I go with the Academy’s choice? Or would I go with an another nominee? Make your predictions now!

FINAL PREDICTIONS! (for the 86th Academy Awards Nominations)

Here is my fearless forecast of the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards!
(Those in bold are my predicted nominees. Entries are arranged by the strongest chance of getting nominated.)
The leading contenders for Best Picture - 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle.

The leading contenders for Best Picture – 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle.

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BEST PICTURE (I’m counting NINE nominees):
Safe Bets:
1 – 12 Years A Slave
2 – American Hustle
3 – Gravity
4 – Nebraska
5 – Captain Philips

Shaky, But Likely the Ones to Complete the List:
6 – Her
7 – The Wolf of Wall Street
8 – Inside Llewyn Davis
9 – Dallas Buyers Club

They Could Knock Down the Shakier Ones:
10 – Philomena
11 – Saving Mr. Banks
12 – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
13 – Blue Jasmine
14 – Rush

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
15 – Before Midnight
16 – Blue is the Warmest Color
17 – Fruitvale Station

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BEST DIRECTOR

Safe Bets:
1 – Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
2 – Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave
3 – David O. Russell – American Hustle

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – Paul Greengrass – Captain Philips
5 – Spike Jonze – Her
6 – Alexander Payne – Nebraska
7 – Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
8 – Joel & Ethan Coen – Inside Llewyn Davis

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BEST ACTOR

Safe Bets:
1 – Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave
2 – Bruce Dern – Nebraska
3 – Tom Hanks – Captain Philips

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
5 – Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
6 – Robert Redford – All is Lost
7 – Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
8 – Christian Bale – American Hustle
9 – Forest Whitaker – Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
10 – Joaquin Phoenix – Her
11 – Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station

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BEST ACTRESS

Safe Bets:
1 – Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
2 – Sandra Bullock – Gravity
3 – Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
5 – Amy Adams – American Hustle
6 – Judi Dench – Philomena
7 – Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
8 – Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
9 – Brie Larson – Short Term 12
10 – Julie Delpy – Before Midnight

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Safe Bets:
1 – Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
2 – Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave

Fighting for the Slots:
3 – Barkhad Abdi – Captain Philips
4 – Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
5 – Daniel Bruhl – Rush
6 – Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
7 – James Gandolfini – Enough Said
8 – Will Forte – Nebraska
9 – Tom Hanks – Saving Mr. Banks

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Safe Bets:
1 – Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave
2 – Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
3 – June Squibb – Nebraska

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – Oprah Winfrey – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
5 – Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
6 – Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
7 – Octavia Spencer – Fruitvale Station

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
8 – Jennifer Garner – Dallas Buyers Club
9 – Sarah Paulson – 12 Years A Slave

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Safe Bets:
1 – American Hustle
2 – Nebraska
3 – Inside Llewyn Davis
4 – Her

Fighting for the Slots:
5 – Blue Jasmine
6 – Gravity
7 – Dallas Buyers Club
8 – Saving Mr. Banks

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
9 – Enough Said
10 – Frances Ha
11 – Fruitvale Station

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Safe Bets:
1 – 12 Years A Slave
2 – The Wolf of Wall Street
3 – Before Midnight
4 – Captain Philips
5 – Philomena

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
6 – August: Osage County
7 – Short Term 12
8 – The Spectacular Now
9 – Blue is the Warmest Color

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Safe Bets:
1 – Gravity
2 – Inside Llewyn Davis
3 – 12 Years A Slave

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – Prisoners
5 – Nebraska
6 – The Grandmaster
7 – The Great Gatsby
8 – Her

Longer Shots, But Still Possible:
9 – Captain Philips
10 – Rush

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BEST FILM EDITING

Safe Bets:
1 – Gravity
2 – 12 Years A Slave
3 – American Hustle
4 – Captain Philips

Fighting for the Last Slot:
5 – The Wolf of Wall Street
6 – Rush
7 – Nebraska
8 – Inside Llewyn Davis

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BEST SOUND MIXING

Safe Bets:
1 – Gravity
2 – Captain Philips
3 – 12 Years A Slave
4 – Rush

Fighting for the  Last Slot:
5 – Inside Llewyn Davis
6 – All is Lost
7 – American Hustle

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
8 – Lone Survivor
9 – Pacific Rim
10 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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BEST SOUND EDITING

Safe Bets:
1 – Gravity
2 – Captain Philips
3 – Rush

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – All is Lost
5 – Iron Man 3
6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
7 – Pacific Rim
8 – 12 Years A Slave
9 – Lone Survivor
10 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Safe Bets:
1 – Gravity
2 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Fighting for the Slots:
3 – Pacific Rim
4 – Star Trek Into Darkness
5 – Iron Man 3
6 – Elysium
7 – World War Z
8 – The Lone Ranger

Longer Shots (The Rest of the Shortlist):
9 – Oblivion
10 – Thor: The Dark World

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Safe Bet:
1 – American Hustle

Fighting for the Slots:
2 – Dallas Buyers Club
3 – The Great Gatsby
4 – The Lone Ranger
5 – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
6 – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Long Shot (The Rest of the Shortlist):
7 – Bad Grandpa

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BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE

Safe Bets:
1 – Gravity
2 – 12 Years A Slave
3 – Philomena

Fighting for the Last Slot:
4 – The Book Thief
5 – All is Lost

6 – Captain Philips
7 – Rush
8 – Her
9 – Monsters University

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Safe Bet:
1 – “Let It Go” – Frozen

Fighting for the Slots:
2 – “Young and Beautiful” – The Great Gatsby
3 – “My Lord Sunsine (Sunrise)” – 12 Years A Slave
4 – “The Moon Song” – Her
5 – “Amen” – All is Lost
6 – “Atlas” – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
7 – “Monsters University” – Monsters University

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
8 – “Shine Your Way” – The Croods
9 – “Sweeter than Fiction” – One Chance

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Safe Bets:
1 – 12 Years A Slave
2 – Gravity
3 – American Hustle
4 – The Great Gatsby
5 – Saving Mr. Banks

Possible Spoilers:
6 – Her
7 – Inside Llewyn Davis
8 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Safe Bets:
1 – Saving Mr. Banks
2 – American Hustle
3 – The Great Gatsby
4 – Inside Llewyn Davis
5 – 12 Years A Slave

Possible Spoilers:
6 – The Invisible Woman
7 – Lee Daniels’ The Butler
8 – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Safe Bets:
1 – Frozen
2 – The Wind Rises
3 – Monsters University
4 – The Croods
5 – Ernest & Celestine

Possible Spoilers:
6 – Epic
7 – A Letter to Momo

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BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Safe Bets:
1 – The Act of Killing
2 – 20 Feet from Stardom
3 – Stories We Tell

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – The Square
5 – Blackfish
6 – Tim’s Vermeer
7 – The Armstrong Lie

Longer Shots, But Possible Spoilers:
8 – Cutie and the Boxer
9 – God Loves Uganda

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BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Safe Bets:
1 – The Hunt – Denmark
2 – The Broken Circle Breakdown – Belgium
3 – The Great Beauty – Italy

Fighting for the Slots:
4 – The Grandmaster – Hong Kong
5 – The Notebook – Hungary
6 – Two Lives – Germany
7 – Omar – Palestime
8 – The Missing Picture – Cambodia

Long Shot:
9 – An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker – Bosnia & Herzegovina

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Comments and discussions below!