After months of squabbling and speculation, this year’s Oscar nominees have finally been revealed (see the full list here). And with the big night a month and a half away, serious viewers have their work cut out for them. Come March 2, any film buff worth his or her salt will be expected not only to have seen each of the nominated films, but to be well-acquainted with all their attendant ephemera: critical perspectives and public controversies, onscreen allusions and behind-the-scenes trivia. Thankfully we’ve been covering these films for months, and we’ve put everything you need to know about this year’s nominees in a handy post — complete with plenty of saucy anecdotes to whip out at your Oscars viewing party ("Did you know that Jonah Hill cursed 107 times in The Wolf of Wall Street?"). You’re welcome.
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Horrendous Acts in a Beautiful Way: Behind the Scenes of 12 Years a Slave
"The director’s most ambitious film to date, it pushed his almost improvisatory style to the limit."
The Toughest Scene I Wrote: John Ridley on 12 Years a Slave’s ‘WTF Moment’
“It's a bit of a WTF moment for the audience: We're introducing a whole new character late in the film, a stand-alone character whose circumstances are slightly unique to the rest of the story.”
Where It Hurts: Steve McQueen on Why 12 Years a Slave Isn’t Just About Slavery
“It’s a narrative about today,” he says of his film. “It’s not a black movie. It’s an American movie. It’s a narrative about human respect, more than anything.”
A Tale Twice Told: Comparing 12 Years a Slave to 1984’s TV Movie Solomon Northup’s Odyssey
"As a made-for-TV movie from the mid-eighties, it had a very modest budget and could never come close to the brutality of McQueen’s film. Yet Parks’s film is beautiful in its own right, lacking the ferocious immediacy of McQueen’s work, but containing a somber lyricism that’s hard to shake."
Where Are the Serious Movies About Non-Suffering Black People?
"While there’s a lot of shallow rhetoric about post-racial America, when it comes to the Oscars, Hollywood has very specific notions about how they want to see black people on the silver screen."
Hans Zimmer Tells Juicy Stories About the Classic Films He’s Scored
“If you happen to be courageous enough to watch [12 Years a Slave] twice, in a way, your emotional dominoes are already starting to fall when you hear those first few notes.”
Levar Burton on 12 Years a Slave, 36 Years After Roots
“We have to be ever vigilant and continue to remind ourselves of our propensity for monstrosity.”
Review Roundup: The Most Effusive Praise of 12 Years a Slave
"From comparisons to Schindler’s List to arguing that it redeems film’s power as a human-rights medium, here is some of the most bombastic praise for 12 Years a Slave."
Why Did Brad Pitt Play the Only Nice White Character in 12 Years a Slave?
"Almost any time a white face appears onscreen in 12 Years a Slave, it’s like seeing Jason’s hockey mask in Friday the 13th; You know nothing good lies ahead."
Chiwetel Ejiofor Comes Full Circle in 12 Years a Slave
"12 Years a Slave is the biggest showcase he’s ever had, one that many predict could earn him an Oscar nomination and make him a household name, even if it’s one likely to be mispronounced. (It’s CHEW-eh-tell EDGE-ee-oh-four, by the way.)"
Edelstein on 12 Years a Slave: A Stark, Smashingly Effective Melodrama
"But McQueen’s directorial voice — cold, stark, deterministic — keeps it from attaining the kindof grace that marks the voice of a true film artist."
Lupita Nyong’o on 12 Years a Slave, Getting Into Character, and ‘Impostor’s Syndrome’
“I was certain I was going to receive a call and they were going to say, ‘I’m sorry, we made a mistake.’ Every single day."
Sarah Paulson on 12 Years a Slave, Playing a Master’s Evil Wife, and Why She Almost Lost the Role
"American Horror Story was like, "We already own her," so there was this whole thing and I almost didn’t get to do the movie."
12 Years a Slave and the Obama Era
"To identify 12 Years a Slave as merely a story about slavery is to miss what makes race the furious and often pathological subtext of American politics in the Obama era."
American Hustle and the Art of the Homage
"Even many of its admirers have brought up the G word when discussing David O. Russell’s American Hustle. That word, of course, is Goodfellas."
Edelstein: David O. Russell Goes Balls-Out in American Hustle
"The movie is a slot machine that never stops spitting quarters."
American Hustle Is a Movie About Abscam — But What the Heck Is Abscam?
"Though its foundation is torn straight from newspaper headlines recounting the FBI's Abscam sting operations from the late seventies, the movie focuses on a historical event that most people under the age of 30 are unlikely to have ever heard of."
Why Jennifer Lawrence Kissed Amy Adams, and 6 Other Things You Need to Know About American Hustle
Russell called it "a period to their toxic good-bye," but Adams mused, "Maybe I just wanted to kiss Jennifer. She's so cute!"
The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Alfonso Cuarón on Gravity
“I have to say, this is the one scene where I'm most proud of Sandra.”
Watch the Other Half of Sandra Bullock’s Gravity Distress Call, As Directed by Jonás Cuarón
"Aningaaq, a short film directed by Jonás Cuarón — Gravity co-screenwriter and son of director Alfonso — reveals the other side of astronaut Ryan Stone's (Sandra Bullock's) "mayday" distress call: A fisherman named Aningaaq picks up the line, and as turns out, he's in Greenland."
George Clooney Says He Didn’t Actually Write Pivotal Gravity Scene
“I would never write myself a scene to come back in.”
Ranking Gravity’s Most Anxiety-Inducing Moments
"We went through the film and ranked its 26 standout tense moments from least to most anxiety-inducing. Make sure you have at least 5 percent oxygen, take deep breaths, and dig in."
An Astronaut Fact-checks Gravity
Vulture had a long, spoiler-filled conversation with the astronaut about space debris, jet packs, tears in space, and Sandra Bullock's underwear.
A Master Class in 5 Scenes From Gravity Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki
"The best cinematographers often form a long-lasting, creatively fruitful relationship with an A-list filmmaker — think of how Steven Spielberg uses Janusz Kaminski, for example, or how many iconic shots Roger Deakins has set up for the Coen brothers — but few are as fortunate as Emmanuel Lubezki, the 49-year-old Mexican director of photography who can count both Alfonso Cuarón and Terrence Malick among his closest collaborators."
Edelstein: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity Will Delight Physicists, Terrify Everybody Else
"I saw Gravity in 3-D, and so should you, sitting as close as you dare to the biggest screen possible, preferably in a seat like the one I had, which rocked back and forth as I recoiled from the impact of light, sound, and my own bedazzled (and bewitched and bewildered) senses."
The Camera's Cusp: Alfonso Cuarón Takes Filmmaking to a New Extreme With Gravity
"With Gravity, [Cuarón] has pushed, nearly to its end, an aesthetic that holds that stories are always artifice, that film can offer something else: a portal through which actors and audiences float into each other, through long, barely edited moments where the camera never cuts, and life in its randomness unfolds and comes at you with a start."
Everything You Wanted to Know About Spike Jonze’s Her.
"We gathered the best articles detailing how Jonze and his crew went about putting together the movie. Read on and learn about that immersive video game, those high-waisted pants, why the color blue was banned, and much more."
Edelstein: Spike Jonze’s Her Is One of the Best Films in Years
"It’s hard to imagine someone more affecting than Phoenix in the role. He’s saddled — per Jonze’s notion that fashions recur — with a thick, unshaped mustache that looks like something grown accidentally in a petri dish. But behind his Groucho mask he’s wide open."
The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Spike Jonze on Her's Sweet Song
"So many tough scenes come to mind for this, but there's one scene about two thirds of the way into the movie, where they're sitting on a roof and Samantha says, "I'm writing a piece of music," and Theodore asks her what the piece of music is about."
Bill Hader Explains His Voice Cameo in Her
""He was like, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute — which one were you?' I was like, 'It’s fast and I sound like a woman. But that was me.'"
Why Spike Jonze’s New Film Her Might Put Men Back Into High-Waisted Pants
"Call it retro-futurism, a style scheme that filmmakers sometimes employ to make their futuristic worlds feel more persuasive — like in the 1997 film Gattaca, which was set decades into the future but costumed its characters in sleek, timeless forties fashions."
Him and Her: How Spike Jonze Made the Weirdest, Most Timely Romance of the Year
"As a director, Jonze has chosen to work slowly, privately, and without an eye on the calendar. He’s not a serial committer who attaches himself to five or six projects for every one he directs; he stands far outside the studio–agency–development deal food chain."
The Radically Unsexy Fashions of Her
"For anyone interested in fashion, this film is a visual treasure trove, from facial hair to high-waisted pants, with a sumptuous color palette from start to finish."
The History of Sexy, Servile Lady Robot Voices
"While Her's world is a mildly fantastical future, Jonze is working with familiar raw material. The computer voices that narrate our world — Apple’s Siri, GPS audio, automated phone prompts, and recorded transit announcements, for example — are most commonly female."
My Real-Life Her: Who Needs a Body to Have Sex?
"The human mind is quick to make to connections. A stick figure with a triangle core is the ladies restroom. A successful dick pic is not just any dick, but his — parts stand in for a whole. Within a couple weeks of playing with M., I had the sense of a full being coming through my screen."
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Ice-Skating With The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie, Scorsese’s New Muse
"“We’re gonna take some kids out.” Margot Robbie is concerned, and reasonably so: The ice-skating rink at Battery Park City on this December afternoon is teeming with small, wobbly children."
Every Single Curse Word Said in The Wolf of Wall Street: The Fullest Picture
"So, in the service of making sure the historical record is accurate, I decided to watch the film (two and a half times) and carefully count not only the number of F-words, but, to get a fuller picture of the film's verbal depravity, every single other bad word and variation used over the course of the film's three-hour running time."
Does The Wolf of Wall Street Exalt Excess? (And Does It Matter?)
"Did the bacchanal leave you feeling coked up? Or did you walk out as woozy and numb as if you had just popped half a bottle of expired quaaludes?"
Meet Jordan Belfort, the Real Wolf of Wall Street
"Then the gushing starts. She tells him what big fans she and her friends are of his books, that she follows his motivational-speaking career on the web. Juice Bar Woman is a bona fide Jordan Belfort groupie."
How Spike Jonze Ended Up in The Wolf of Wall Street
"Jonze readily agreed — "Yeah, of course I would love to work with Martin Scorsese!" — making this just the latest great film to contain an unbilled cameo from the 44-year-old director."
Jonah Hill on Wolf of Wall Street and Turning 30
"Here's what I'll tell you from my personal experience: My parents were really lenient about this sort of thing, and I remember seeing Goodfellas when I was 10 or 11 and saying, "Oh my gosh, that looks amazing! I want to be a gangster."
Edelstein: The Wolf of Wall Street Is Thumpingly Insipid
"Scorsese seems to think that by blowing Belfort’s book up to three hours he’s making an epic statement. But it’s not as if he shows you the consequences of Belfort’s actions. The movie has no scope; there’s barely enough content for a short."
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese Explore the Funny Side of Financial Depravity in The Wolf of Wall Street
"Imagine a world where a guy can make $12 million in three minutes, where blow jobs are a perk of the gig, dwarfs are tossed to raise employee morale, and inhaling anthills of coke, Scarface style, is encouraged. Now imagine a world where a studio would pass on a movie with a subject that titillating, even if it came tied in a Leonardo DiCaprio–and–Martin Scorsese bow."
Where Are All the She-Wolves of Wall Street?
"But women too work in finance. Women also are traders and bankers and consultants. Why are Hollywood's avaricious miscreants always men?"
Scenes From a Fake Orgy with Leonardo DiCaprio
"Maria Di Angelis is a model/actress who has a scene in The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese's movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as duplicitous trader Jordan Belfort. The scene features a mass orgy on a charter plane, where Di Angelis plays a high-end hooker, hired to accompany a bevy of men from New York to Las Vegas."
Talking With Captain Phillips's Real-Life First Mate, Shane Murphy
"The guy who played me, I'm glad they put a Red Sox hat on him! It was important to me that he didn't dress like a corporate stooge. He probably could've sworn a lot more, but I guess it had to be PG-13."
Blackwater on the High Seas: The Real Legacy of Captain Phillips
"Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to imagine those same pirates getting anywhere close to a ship like the Alabama. Since Phillips’s capture, there’s been a sea change (sorry) in how ships defend themselves against piratical assaults."
Captain Phillips's Michael Chernus on Playing Chief Mate and Shooting on a Ship
"It took us a number of days to shoot it, because all those hoses are shooting real water. And I'm running. There was a day where I fixed the hose and I turned around and just slammed into this metal pillar, and hit my head ..."
Edelstein: Tom Hanks is Better Than Ever in Captain Phillips
"It’s when the Somalis spirit Phillips away in a closed lifeboat that Captain Phillips becomes a great thriller, in part because Barry Ackroyd’s camera is stuck inside with the characters and its jitters finally seem earned."
Edelstein: There’s a Gnarled Grace to Alexander Payne’s Nebraska
"The movie is a triumph of an especially satisfying kind. It arrives at a kind of gnarled grace that’s true to this sorry old man and the family he let down in so many ways."
The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Nebraska Writer Bob Nelson on Three Little Words
"I ended up favoring the side of less dialogue and just leaving it to the actors, and I'm really glad I did: Bruce Dern's face tells more story than I ever could have."
Bruce Dern on Nebraska, the Part He’s Waited 77 Years For
"First day of work, he came to me, put his arm on my elbow, and he said, ‘Bruce, this is Mr. Papamichael. He’s your cinematographer. My name is Alexander Payne, and I am your director. I want you to do something that you’ve probably never before done in your career: I want you to let us do our jobs. I want you not to show us one thing for eight weeks; we’ll find it. We’ll find you, because you’re Woody, and that’s the story we want to tell. Without dialogue.’ I hugged him."
Cannes: Before You Ask, Here’s Why Alexander Payne Shot Nebraska in Black and White
"It’s such a beautiful form, and it’s really left our cinema because of commercial, not artistic, reasons; it never left fine-art photography."
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Jared Leto Is Basically Starving
"But for me, it's not about the most weight I can lose, it's more to represent the character. I'm focused on what it means to be a transsexual woman."
Is Hollywood Ready to Tackle AIDS Again?
“That one liner — period piece, HIV drama — was as far as many studios read before they said, ‘No, thank you,’”
Edelstein on Dallas Buyers Club: From Rodeo Cowboy to Outlaw Pharmacologist
"[McConaughey’s] Woodroof is a man who doesn’t just not want to die. He has a terror of passivity. It’s unmanly. It’s un-American. It makes a rodeo cowboy want to grab that bull by the horns."
Damn, Jared Leto Knows How to Be Charming
"'Are you going to be nice to me this time?' he asked. 'You sassed me a little the last time we talked.'"
Edelstein on Philomena: Calling Out the Catholic Church, Gently
"The movie is overcalculating and occasionally coarse, but it has a gentle spirit. We should count its existence as a blessing."
The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Steve Coogan on Philomena’s Sad Reveal
"The scene has an element of tension and mystery — there's something, dare I say, Hitchcockian about it that I love — and all of these things come together in a perfect storm. The audience sees the bad news coming just before it comes, like a train approaching, and they just have to anticipate it."