By Robin E. Simmons

Everyone has an opinion about movies. That’s one of the reasons we love talking about them. You don’t have to be anyone special to share an opinion. We all bring our experiences to the theater. And of course, movies are a reflection of who we are. They are not a trivial, insignificant part of our lives. No. Movies matter because they are part of our shared human experience.

It’s easy to forget that in spite of all the hype, the Academy Awards© are nothing more than the movie industry slapping itself on the back and promoting itself on a global scale. So easy to forget it’s show business. Hooray for Hollywood!

Here are some thoughts about the main award categories and my personal picks of movies that deserve even more attention. These are NOT my predictions of the winning films and actors. If only it were so.



I thought “Her” was about 30 minutes too long, but I was fascinated by the premise of a Siri like smart phone app on steroids in the near future. It’s my pick as best original screenplay (Spike Jonze) and seems like a shoo-in for Academy voters. What especially worked for me was the idea that our technology creates the illusion of connecting but is actually driving us apart. Not sure about the high waist pants of the near future, though.

12 Years a Slave

The horrific experience of freeborn black Solomon Northrup, adapted by John Ridley (from Northrup’s original, published account) squeezes all the horror and emotion possible from the harsh, harrowing story. I wasn’t crazy about the finished film. It seemed more than a tad heavy-handed and preachy. But that is not to denigrate the screenwriting of Ridley. His words and images pack a powerful wallop, even if it plays with ideas and images we all already know.

THE WIND RISES. © 2013 Nibariki - GNDHDDTK

I think the Academy is enamored of Disney’s “Frozen” and that it’s a done deal to get the Oscar© nod. However, even with all the 3D computer enhancement, it pales in comparison with Hayao Miyazaki hand-drawn, old school film that beautifies the life of the Japanese Zero war plane designer and all that it implies. This is an adult film that plays like a dream and does not stay away from serious matters. But I fear my choice will not be reflected by the Academy. I hope it’s not the final masterpiece from Miyazaki, as he has hinted.

20 Feet From Stardom

I loved “The Square,” the documentary on the Egyptian Revolution. We spent several hours with director Jahane Noujaim at PSIFF and cannot deny that her powerful film is redolent with relevance. However, for sheer joy, I have not seen a better documentary than “20 Feet From Stardom” about little known, to most, background singers. Hard to predict what Academy voters will do in this category. Who knows, they may get über serious and pick “The Square,” my second choice. But my top pick is memorable and filled with humanity. It’s also about the healing power of the human voice. I like that. But “20 Feet From Stardom” is worth seeing and savoring. The exuberant sound track is crystal clear, superbly mixed and could stand-alone.

The Broken-Circle Breakdown

Some great foreign films in the 2013 nominations, but this love story — from beginning to end — really connected with me. Who would ever guess that the ups and downs of a Belgium blue grass band would be so intoxicating and poignant? The wonderful sound track is a plus and the science versus religion riff at the end is startling to say the least, but it fits.

NOTE: This Friday, February 21, there’s a live Q&A with director Felix Van Groeningen and star Veerle Baetens following the 6:30 showing at Cinemas Palme d’Or in Palm Desert.

Jared Leto

This is a sure thing as well as my choice. Leto, like Blanchett, is a sublime chameleon. No other candidate comes close to what Leto does on screen. Heart wrenchingly real. Astonishing to watch.


Squibb is not on screen a lot of the running time, but when she is, you cannot take your eyes off her. She’s been around and understands what her salty character is all about. She plays it is flawlessly. No visible acting. No pretense and nothing fake. Just being.


Dern has been around for a long time and he is well liked by the mature Academy members. I think bookies and most critics favor Matthew McConaughey, but my Best Actor choice is Dern for his wonderful inhabitation of an irascible Midwesterner who recognizes his mortality and no longer needs a filter. The bleak Nebraska landscape is perfectly reflected in his lined, bemused face — and voice. Don ‘t miss this perfect comedy/drama that finally ends on a grace note.

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett’s nuanced performance as the bewildered spouse of a convicted and jailed Bernie Madoff-like con artist has been deservedly lauded. No amount of bad press about director Woody Allen’s decades old familial issues will harm her chances. I think she will likely get the Oscar©. She is also my pick for the best female performance of 2013. But this is a hard one to choose. I was equally taken by Sandra Bullock’s sublime, emotional turn as an astronaut in trouble. Although acting is not truly a competition, Blanchett’s performance lingers long after final fade out. And isn’t that the real test?

Alfonso Cuaron

The huge technical accomplishment of filming “GRAVITY,” especially in 3D, is a glimpse of the future of filmmaking. This cinematic breakthrough, perhaps a quantum leap, is a reminder of how our fast changing technology can support the art of filmmaking. For me, no film comes close in its staggering directorial achievement. And surely no 2013 movie had a more powerful mojo that allowed us to suspend disbelief in this most unlikely of scenarios. Cuaron is at the top of his game.


Seriously, is there a 2013 movie that even comes close to the power of “GRAVITY” to elicit wonder, thrills and awe? When final tallies are counted, this global hit will probably be a billion dollar earner. It is that rare thing — a critical and popular movie that connects with a global audience because — if truth were known — this emotional and spiritual film taps into universal feelings we all have about our lonely, terrifying and ultimately — hopefully — transcendent journey across the cosmos.

What are your picks?