Hibernian Writers: Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy

KEVIN CONROY was born in Dublin and is currently living in Kildare, has worked in U.K., Germany, Swaziland, South Africa, U.S. and Ireland as a teacher, professional engineer, manager in multinationals, executive coach and organisational psychologist.  His work has been published in The Moth, Southword, Burning Bush II, Writing4All – the best of 2010, Boyne Berries, The Blue Max Review and erbacce. Selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2014, he was a prize-winner in Trocaire & Poetry Ireland Competition 2012, published  in  their  pamphlet ‘Imagining a Just and Free World’.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My family motto is Maireann a scríobhtar  and my early published writing was adventure stories in Our Boys. Poetry didn’t fit with being an action man in Arbour Hill boxing club. It was for exams, except for one embarrassing performance on the school stage of Pearse’s “The Fool “. Years later I fell in love and poured derivative love poems into my journal. One escaped and was sent to the girl who is now my wife.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

It was more “uncovering” than “discovering”. Slowly from Yeats, Kavanagh, Heaney to Robert Frost. Ger Quinn was a great teacher in U.C.D.’s part-time evening courses. I read Frost’s Collected Poems, Prose, Plays cover to cover. I discovered that a poem is not only putting technically excellent marks on a page or sounds in the air, but expressing the poet’s identity. It is an invitation to a person’s unique world. Concordance and authenticity is revealed (or not) by reading more of his/her work. Ever since, I read a poem first in order to see if I’ll reread it. The realisation that a poet is revealing his/her identity in every poem is one of the challenges for poet and reader. Currently, I come back to poems where something mysterious is emerging out of the author’s worldview that I recognise as having a truth that “resists the intelligence almost successfully.”  Kimberly Campanello’s “Orange on the Horizon” is an example.

What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

I considered writing poetry a solitary thing, a secret thing. Not consistent with the persona of a business man and engineer. Then Maggie Hurt Smith persuaded me to perform in public in the Twisted Pepper, Abbey St., Dublin. They clapped!  the Moth published my first poem and I discovered that an editor (Rebecca O’Connor) can be kind and helpful! And I chanced my arm elsewhere with success. But it was being selected as an emerging poet in Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2014 that gave me permission to say I write poetry.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

It’s between Dennis O’Driscoll’s hilariously witty performance in Dún Laoghaire’s Poetry Now Festival (2003?) and Kimberly Campanello with composer Ben Dwyer on classical guitar in the Joyce Centre, 2014.

Kimberly voiced strange eerie sounds from her sheela-na-gig work, the room’s reverbational acoustics intensifying the effect. It was like the poet was communicating without words across time into an Irish past of the lost and disallowed, bypassing controlling powers with poetry that bridges to music. It was when I realised the source of great poetry is not necessarily words but vocal sound and visible marks.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

First – Dennis O’Driscoll’s “Dear Life” is a must – the title typically having double/triple meanings. I was M.D. of Oral B Labs living in Naas where Dennis lived. His work drew me in, at first, because he wrote about life at work – giving me ‘permission’ to do so too. When I came to know his utter conviction of the importance of poetry and what it can do in a technological world, I read everything he published and found an extraordinary person not only intelligent, witty, playful but deeply knowledgeable and widely recognised in the literary world. He would stop and chat about art (he was a Hon. Fellow of the RHA)and poetry on the street and, even though I didn’t know him well, he sent me books to read with a gracious note when I was recovering from an operation. His poetry has too often been bracketed as Larkinesque and language that is “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor”. Well, “Dear Life” poems such as  “Fabrications”, “Spare Us”, and “Our Father” are a testament to his lyrical quality. How beautiful is his praise for a God whose “special is//a sun-melt served on/a fragrant bed of/moist cut-grass; yesterday, a misty-eyed moon…drafting a summer dawn…/ profligate horizons,/ lofty skies, beyond which/other universes stack up..” and the wonder of the Big Bang – “the attention-grabbing/voicemail he recorded/ on day one: an opening/gambit that came out/of nowhere…bang /in the middle of nothing/…..the illuminated manuscripts/of galaxies, over which lovers/pore in the dark nights/of their infatuated souls.” This is lyric. There is his humour  in “Spare Us” and the bright intelligence of a poet holding contradictions in a single thought to disturb the meanings while keeping the poetry. Both the cold eye of domestic realism and the wonder of beautiful lyricism are there in his poems.

His poetry has metaphors and concerns deep into our current living working world, with humour and an edge that goes (cuts?) deep. This is a lifeline for me who teaches Technology Management knowing that both the physical and so-called social technology fused by business is taking over what philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls the life-world. He reaches that simplicity on the far side of complexity and includes the redress that calls for wonder and lyric.

Secondly, I would keep my Frost collection because his work lets me in as a writer of poems in a way that the unique perfection of poets such as Seamus Heaney don’t.  (However, his essays in The Redress of Poetry and collaboration with Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones are lasting influences).  Frost’s delight in ambiguity and his wisdom keep drawing me back to his work. He said poetry gives us “a clarification of life”, “a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget”. It is a universal art form across all cultures and the “sound of sense” has a vocal music uniquely human.  His “For Once then Something” has that imaginative mystery that fascinates me.

I have built my own anthology of top favourite poems. It has forty-eight poems including C.K. Williams, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Muriel Rukeyser, Enda Wyley, Rhoetke, Elisabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Peter Sirr, Charles Bukowski, Donald Hall, Maggie Hurt Smith, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot. It is difficult to choose the third collection, but since I find that my current influences are mainly contemporary women poets, I choose Kimberly Campanello. Not her poetry collection, but her PhD thesis  “Writing the Sheela-na-gig: Semiotic Complexity, Ekphrasis, and Poetic Persona in the Poetry Collection Strange Country” .  Strange Country will be published by The Dreadful Press in October.

Kimberly’s work has drawn me into a world where the permissions of poetry fed by the apophatic free the imagination. Poetry that points to the inexpressible by referring to what it is not, honouring it with wonder and never-ending questions, aware that ultimate realities cannot be apprehended directly. But they may be pointed towards – “that great absence /In our lives, the empty silence /Within, the place where we go /Seeking, not in hope to/Arrive or find.” (R.S. Thomas)

This includes witness and redress for what is lost, disallowed, excluded.  Her work also interweaves art into ekphrastic poetry that involves a personal encounter with the piece of art that triggers vulnerability to uncertainties and possibly the unconscious. Iconographer Helen McIldowie-Jenkins has published my ekphrastic poem, “The Gilded Arch”, on her website. My interest in painting and icons leads me down this path, even though the change of direction may mean ‘emerging’ becomes ‘groping’ poet.

Kevin Conroy reads as part the Hibernian Writers group at the launch of The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work: An Anthology of poetry by Hibernian Writers on Tuesday 20th October at The Teacher’s Club.

Hitting the ReBoot button: Darklight returns after one year hiatus

Fifteen years since its first foray into Ireland’s arts festival scene, Darklight is back with a three-day programme celebrating independent creativity in digital media and film. Philip Cummins caught up with both festival director Nicky Gogan and Darklight board member / Le Cool Dublin publisher Michael McDermott to talk about the festival’s origins, those must see events in this year’s programme and Darklight’s most illustrious board member, director Lenny Abrahamson.

Darklight Reboot: The 2014 Darklight festival is ready to reboot.

Darklight ReBoot: The 2014 Darklight festival is ready to reboot.

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland on 8th April, 2014. To read the original, please click here.

Darklight has been a stalwart of the festival scene for fifteen years, so in a way it’s a survivor of the festival scene in Ireland, but it’s still also one of those ahead- of- the- curve festivals.

BUZZING with excitement at the launch of this year’s programme of events in Smithfield’s Block T- described as Darklight’s HQ for the festival’s duration- Le Cool Dublin publisher Michael McDermott, a fresh appointment to the board of Darklight, is keenly aware of how far both Darklight and the Irish film industry have traveled since the festival’s inception, fifteen years ago.

“Darklight started at a time in the late 90’s when people in Ireland didn’t yet fully understand what exactly “digital” meant. Here, in Smithfield, we’re just around the corner from Brown Bag Films, which, in 2014, is now one of the leading animation studios in Europe and a studio that employs 250 people. So I think that Darklight has shadowed and supported the growth of digital industries in Ireland in terms supporting creativity, technology and the intersection between technology and film. It’s always been one of the more experimental and ambitious festivals out there. We had a hiatus, last year, and the idea around the ‘Reboot’ element of this year’s festival is to engage with a new, young, fresh audience to maintain Darklight’s relevancy.”

And a reboot it is: this year’s edition of the festival certainly feels bigger, stronger and faster, anchored as it is in five of Smithfield’s cultural focal points: Smithfield Square, Block T, The Lighthouse cinema, The Generator hostel and Third Space café.

The programme, too, mixes the old and the new: Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas receives a screening in the festival’s 100 seat Cinemobile on Smithfield Square, while more pioneering work, such as New Irish Experimental Docs, will also be screened in Darklight’s Cinemobile.

Darklight will screen Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in the Darklight Cinemobile on Smithfield Square.

Darklight will screen Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas in the Darklight Cinemobile on Smithfield Square.

Certainly, the genesis of the festival and its origins are fresh in the mind of Nicky Gogan, Artistic Director and co- founder of Darklight.

“My friend Susie and I founded the festival in ’99 and it started out as a digital festival at a time when we were paying attention to what festivals like Resfest and Onedotzero in London were doing. Eventually, we thought “Why can’t we do that over here?

“The focus of the festival is different every year: sometimes it’s more U.S. focused, other years the work that we feature is more European focused. It really depends on what exciting creative events are happening around the world, which cities are blossoming with new and exciting work that features the intersection between gallery work and feature work.

“The central points of the festival, though, are Digital Storytelling and What’s Up Doc. Discussing the ideas and the medium is just as important as what’s up on the screen, so there will be two roundtables on the Friday and the Saturday that are free. All the filmmakers that will be in Smithfield during the festival will take part.”

Of course, that intersection between experimental gallery work and feature films couldn’t come at a better time; this year, 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, who won the Turner Prize in 1999, netted this year’s Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards, sealing his reputation as one of the most exciting feature filmmakers in the current era.

“Absolutely”, agrees McDermott. “And I think another good example of that transition in this year’s programme is Forsyth & Pollard, Darklight 2014’s Artists in Focus. Forsyth & Pollard started out in the experimental, installation sphere and have now crossed over into feature work. They directed 20,000 Days on Earth, the Nick Cave documentary that premiered, recently, at Sundance.

“I think that the value of installation work is more appreciated, now, in terms of the aesthetics and the ideas that installation work can bring to feature films. So Darklight, I think, is great at blurring boundaries between those two spheres of film and creativity. I also think that by the time cinema- going audiences see 20,000 Days on Earth in late summer / autumn of this year, you’ll be reading about the Nick Cave documentary in The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times. Darklight has Forsyth & Pollard discussing 20,000 Days on Earth and showing excerpts from 20,000 Days on Earth several months before the mainstream media, so in that sense the festival is, again, ahead of the curve.”

Closer to home, of course, is director Lenny Abrahamson, who through Garage, What Richard Did and the upcoming Frank has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge from these shores for quite some time. The Dubliner is also on the board of Darklight and Gogan’s praise of the What Richard Did director couldn’t be higher.

Frank director Lenny Abrahamson is a member of Darklight's board.

Lenny Abrahamson, director of Frank (above) is a member of Darklight’s board.

“Lenny’s just a really creative and generous man. He’s a great touchstone when it comes to programming, but he also has an international focus towards discovering new film. He’s always travelling with his work and he’s always discovering new films and new filmmakers. From a programming perspective, he’s great and he’s the only active film maker on the board. Crucially, he’s also very industry focused, so he has a great balance between the international outlook and creative side of the festival, but he also has a focus on the Irish industry side of it.”

Despite Lenny Abrahamson’s continued success in the medium, many young, aspiring filmmakers have, no doubt, been forced to leave our shores in search of opportunities abroad, impacting on the amount of home-grown talent in the Irish film industry. Despite these realities, Gogan is optimistic for the future of Irish filmmaking.

“During Darklight 2012, we showed exclusively Irish films – milestones in terms of the DIY nature of the films. We showed no films that had a logo attached. It was amazing to see the amount of collectives, the amount of groups that are coming together to make films in a DIY, home-grown fashion. Now, two years on, a lot of those filmmakers have garnered awards and acclaim, so that’s great; it’s great that there’s still a strong, grass-roots of filmmakers growing and blossoming.

“Obviously, emigration has meant that a lot of young, fresh, talented filmmakers are leaving the island. It’s terribly sad and upsetting and there could very well be a lost generation of filmmakers. But I was part of that too: during the early – mid 90’s, I went to the U.S. and it was a great experience. My hope is that those who leave will learn new skills, work in different areas and then come home and apply all of those skills and experience that they’ve learned abroad. It’s important to keep that youthful energy in the industry.

“I’m very much a glass half-full person, so I think the future is bright for the industry and bright for Darklight.”

Darklight runs from 24 April – 27 April in Smithfield. For the full programme of events, visit darklight.ie. For tickets, visit entertainment.ie/darklight.

Sons and Mothers: What is it about Best Actor Winners and Tributes to their Mothers?

Long before 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen celebrated the women in his life during his Best Picture acceptance speech at this year’s Oscars, the trend of actors celebrating women in acceptance speeches- particularly mothers- has always been in vogue, writes Philip Cummins

Sons and Mothers: Jared Leto, Leo Di Caprio and Bradley Cooper all poses with their respective mothers at this year's Oscars

Sons and Mothers: Jared Leto, Leo Di Caprio and Bradley Cooper all pose with their respective mothers at this year’s Oscars

OVER THE DECADE, it became parodic for American pop stars- Britney Spears- esque pop tarts, and the like- to accept worthless awards, such as the MTV VMA’s, and to gush endlessly about their indebtedness to God. Not only was it toe- curling, ham- fisted, American- style cheese of the highest order, it was also a sign of how inarticulate the current crop were at acceptance speeches, dedicated, largely, to an inanimate being.

Fast forward some years later and, while the trend of thanking God hasn’t quite let up just yet, the trend of American actors thanking their mothers is quite astounding, bringing to mind Sally Field’s hilarious quote from last year’s Oscars about Tom Hanks; asked about what it was like to work with an intense method actor such as the incomparable Daniel Day Lewis, the maverick actress joked “I’ve worked with method actors before: Tom Hanks still calls me ‘Mama’!”.

Here are five actors who publicly announced just how important and inspirational their mothers were to their success.

Kevin Spacey – Best Actor for American Beauty

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Best Actor for Capote

Clint Eastwood– Best Director for Million Dollar Baby

Anthony Hopkins– Best Actor for Silence of the Lambs

Jared Leto– Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club

House of Laughs: Watch Kevin Spacey’s hilarious- and frighteningly accurate- impressions of some of history’s best loved actors

House of Laughs: Will the Real Kevin Spacey please stand up?

House of Laughs: Will the Real Kevin Spacey please stand up?

DRY, DEADPAN, ICE- COOL: just some of the adjectives that one could associate with the inimitable Kevin Spacey.

The two- time Oscar winning actor whose performances in Se7en, The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential and American Beauty saw him cast in some of the most memorable and iconic films of the 90’s, has an on- screen personality every bit as distinctive as that of Jack Nicholson or James Mason.

Fitting, then, that Spacey is one of the most brilliant and frighteningly accurate mimics alive. Don’t take my word for it; check out his impressions of Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, Jack Lemon, Johnny Carson, Katherine Hepburn, Al Pacino and John Gielgud, to name but a few, as well as his much- fabled impression of Christopher Walken.

Oscars 2014: My Predictions

Announced last Thursday, the 86th Academy Award nominations may have thrown up clear favourites to take home statues, though there are still some pick ’em categories that remain difficult to predict. 


For the full list of nominees, click here

Best Picture

There are many two horse races in this year’s list of nominees and Best Picture is no exception.

Firstly, let’s get the list of those movies that won’t win Best Picture out-of-the-way: Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Her, Philomena…indies don’t win Oscars. More often than not, the Screenplay awards awarded to independent pictures as a consolation prize, be it Juno, Lost In Translation, Sideways, The Descendants.

Paul GreengrassCaptain Philips, undoubtedly one of the year’s best pictures, may be too close to Argo, last year’s big winner, to pull off the big win of the night.

Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street will be, I predict, the big loser of the night.

Though Gravity and American Hustle lead with the number of nominations, it is doubtful that either films will take home Best Picture: besides the fact that comedies and sci- fi never fare well at the Oscars, American Hustle may be, visually, at least, to close for comfort to Argo, while Gravity might have enough in the way of conventional narrative and three- dimensional characters for traditionalists and purists.

It will, then, be 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen‘s brilliant, unflinching and powerful drama, that will clean up Best Picture. Last year saw two slavery epics- Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained– lose out on Best Picture, which fares well for 12 Years A Slave.

Prediction: 12 Years A Slave


Best Director

12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen

An exciting if somewhat predictable list, this year’s race for Best Director is defined by a split between innovation and old- school storytelling.

Martin Scorsese is unlikely to win for The Wolf of Wall Street, his first picture to be shot in digital, which has divided audiences and critics.

Undoubtedly a Scorsese- calibre film maker, David O. Russell has successfully reinvented himself as the ultimate actor’s director after a career- lull some years ago. For the second year in a row, following last year’s excellent Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has secured Oscar nominations for his cast in every possible acting category. I wrote about Russell’s surge to greatness last year.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Alexander Payne is unlikely to win Best Director for Nebraska, a long- time project that finally came to fruition for the Omaha director.

All of which leaves Alfonso Cuarón and Steve McQueen: the Kubrick- like innovator who helmed Gravity and the old- school storyteller who gave us 12 Years A Slave, respectively. Given that the Academy awarded last year’s Director gong to Ang Lee for Life of Pi– the film that they said could never make it to big screen- the Academy may decide to award Best Director to Steve McQueen, making him the first black person to win an Oscar for Best Director.

Prediction: Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave 


Best Actor

Much more diverse than it looks on paper, this year’s Best Actor category displays a refreshing blend of performances that are heavy on physical articulation, operatic monologue- driven scenes, subtle nuances and comic punch.

Originally written with Gene Hackman in mind, Bruce Dern‘s performance as Woody Grant- an ageing boozer who thinks he’s won the sweepstakes prize- in Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska has drawn rave reviews since it first played to critics.

Christian Bale‘s performance in American Hustle as Iriving Rosenfeld, a flamboyant Bronx con- man turned FBI snitch, feels, at times, dangerously close to a Robert De Niro pastiche, though he somehow manages to balance Rosenfeld’s bravado and vulnerability and Bale retains a presence during scenes with Bradley Cooper‘s showy, manic performance as FBI agent Richie DiMaso.

In Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers his most natural and unlabored performance since his career- best turn in Steven Spielberg‘s Catch Me If You Can. DiCaprio oozes charisma as Jordan Belford, a stockbroker whose life unravels as the stakes get higher and higher.

All three actors, however, are merely making up the numbers in a category which, as ever, is a two- horse race. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey, both of whom have delivered career- best performances in 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, respectively, are touted as favourites and rightly so.

The brilliance behind Ejiofor‘s excellent performance as Solomon Northup is his innate understanding of the role of the actor as a storyteller: every mood that director Steve McQueen reflects in 12 Years A Slave– his masterpiece, surely- is foretold on Ejiofor‘s face and physical posture. When Solomon is a free man in New York, he strides confidently through city; when he is enslaved, his posture is shrunken from, no doubt, hours- on- end spent picking cotton. Similarly, Ejiofor projects the mood of each scene on his face, through which we see Northup’s fear, hope, desperation and, at times, acceptance of his cruel and unjust fate.

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club

But it’s Matthew McConaughey‘s extraordinary performance as Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club that has emerged as a clear favourite. Playing an electrician and sometime rodeo cowboy who contracts HIV through sexual contact with an infected woman and, subsequently, smuggles medications unapproved by the FDA, which are shown to be effective towards his condition, this is Matthew McConaughey as you’ve never seen him before.

Recalling previous Best Actor- awarded performances, such as Nicholas Cage‘s turn in Leaving Las Vegas and Robert Duvall‘s portrayal of Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies, it is McConaughey‘s refusal to play Woodruff as anything other than what he is that is most commendable about his performance. Shedding almost 50lbs for the role, this is not an Oscar for physical transformation: this is an Oscar- winning performance, surely, for an actor who has, over the past four years, been assembling a portfolio of work that has established him as one of the finest character actors of his generation. Dubbed “The McConaissance”, I wrote about Matthew McConaughey‘s unprecedented transformation from Rom- Com pin up to accomplished character, last year, which you can read here.

Prediction: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club.


Best Actress

This year’s Best Actress category features four previous Oscar- winners: Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator), Sandra Bullock (Best Actress for The Blind Side), Judi Dench (Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love) and Meryl Streep (Best Supporting Actress for Kramer Vs. Kramer and Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice and The Iron Lady).

Amy Adams‘ performance in American Hustle would have easily won had the year not featured so many remarkable performances. Oozing sex appeal, contrasting the range of emotions and characteristics of both her character and her character’s alter ego, personifying 70’s New York and bridging the gap between her character in American Hustle and her character in The Fighter- her first feature with director David O. Russell- Adams’ performance is nothing short of terrific and undoubtedly the most appealing aspect of Russell’s, ultimately, flawed feature film.

Making the most of what is a physical role and a role in which her character has few lines, Sandra Bullock‘s performance in Gravity is unlikely to score high with Oscar voters. A performance that will rank high is Meryl Streep‘s solid performance in August: Osage County, though voters may feel that the actress has won more than her fair share of plaudits, down through the years.

Similarly, Judi Dench‘s performance in Philomena is solid, reliable and nothing short of what you expect from the veteran actress; again, however, there might be a feeling that Dame Judi’s trophy cabinet may topple over.

The clear winner must be, of course, Cate Blanchett, who has never been better than in Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine. When I left at the end of a screening of Blue Jasmine, last year, I knew that Blanchett was certain to win the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The sheer genius of Blanchett’s performance as Jasmine Francis is how consistent her performance is with the central dichotomies of Allen’s film; she plays, effectively, A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Blanche Dubois, albeit Blanche Dubois for the SmartPhone generation; Jasmine moves from New York to San Francisco- east coast to west coast; Jasmine’s sister is named ginger; her fortune changes from riches to rags.

Cate Blanchett gives the performance of her life in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine

Most remarkably about Blanchett’s performance, however, is that like those central dichotomies discussed above, Blanchett somehow manages to slot- in seamlessly into a Woody Allen film without falling into the of pastiching a Woody Allen character from Allen films of the past, which seems to be a recurring trait for male leads in Woody Allen movies: they always seem to be imitating Woody Allen (consider Kenneth Brannagh‘s performance in the much- underrated Celebrity); there are, of course, notable exceptions (consider Sean Penn‘s magnificent performance in Sweet And Lowdown).

Prediction: Cate Blachett for Blue Jasmine.


Best Supporting Actor

If characters win Oscars, then there has been, for the past 25 years or so, two particular types of characters who have come good in the Best Supporting Actor category: previous winners have portrayed characters that either a), personify pure evil (think of Joe Pesci‘s performance as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas; Gene Hackman‘s performance as Little Bill Daggett in Unforgiven; Javier Bardem‘s performance as Anton Chigurrh in No Country For Old Men), or b), personify quirky and comic characteristics (think Jack Palance in City Slickers; Martin Landau in Ed Wood; Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire; Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine; Christopher Plummer in Beginners).

This year’s nominees, broadly speaking, fit in to both of the trends discussed above: Barkhad Abdi‘s dynamic performance in Paul GreengrassCaptain Phillips is an integral part of that film’s artistic success. Similarly, Kilarney native Michael Fassbender‘s role as a Bible- bashing plantation owner, who develops an infatuation with one of his slaves, is nothing short of spellbinding.

On the other side of the spectrum is Bradley Cooper’s role as FBI agent Richie DiMaso, whose manic energy provides many of the comic highlights of David O. Russell‘s American Hustle. Nominated last year in the Best Actor category for Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper is the dark horse in this category.

In between the sadistic and the comic is Jonah Hill‘s nuanced, versatile performance as Donnie Azoff, a man who quit his job in a furniture business to join the rat race on Wall Street in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. Playing a part that isn’t a million miles away from Joe Pesci’s Tommy in Goodfellas, Hill’s character is not only unpredictable, but in a sense represents the narrative arc of the entire film; he is a disciple of Jordan Belford’s and, therefore, has learned to be ruthless and reckless from his master. Hill’s second Oscar nomination- his first nomination coming from an equally impressive performance in Moneyball– Hill has proven his ability to hold his own against experienced, season leading men such as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The anomaly in this category is, of course, Jared Leto‘s performance in Dallas Buyers Club. Playing Rayon, an AIDS positive transgender woman, Leto’s character is central to the development of Matthew McConaughey‘s Ron Woodruff, a homophobic HIV positive patient who is initially hostile towards Leto‘s Rayon, though eventually forges a bond of friendship throughout the course of the film.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

For sheer imagination, the transformative nature of the role and the power of the subject matter at hand, the smart money is on Jared Leto to take home his first Oscar from his first nomination.

I believe that it will also be the first time in almost ten years that the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscars have been award to actors from the same film, the previous case being Clint Eastwood‘s Mystic River, which saw Sean Penn and Tim Robbins take home Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

Prediction: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress

Like the Best Supporting Actor category, this year’s Best Supporting Actress nominees highlighted performances that are notable for their comic injection into otherwise dramatic movies.

Londoner Sally Hawkins, who has previously delivered remarkable performances, most notably in Mike Leigh‘s Happy- Go- Lucky, has earned her nomination for her performance s Ginger in Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine. Effectively playing Stella Kowalski to Cate Blanchett‘s Blanche Du Bois, Hawkins is reliable, funny and, most importantly, naturally locks- in with Cate Blanchett.

Jennifer Lawrence, last year’s Best Actress winner for David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, consolidates her reputation as the most naturally gifted actress of her generation. Lawrence’s performance as Rosalyn Rosenfield never feels overshadowed by the remarkable performances by the stellar cast of American Hustle, not least Best Actress nominee Amy Adams or Best Actor nominee Christian Bale, with whom Lawrence shares many scenes as Bale’s on- screen husband.

Best Actress winner Julia Roberts is unlikely to score her second Academy Award for August: Osage County, a movie in which the veteran actress’ character carries much of the dramatic weight of the film, while also proving to be a catalyst for some of the movie’s more light- hearted, comic relief.

Similarly, June Squibb‘s performance in Nebraska, her second performance in an Alexander Payne movie (she previously played Jack Nicholson‘s on- screen wife in Payne’s 2002 drama- comedy About Schmidt), is unlikely to bring the 84 year- old actress Oscar glory, though her hilarious performance as Bruce Dern‘s foul- mouthed wife is one of the high- points of Payne’s Nebraska.

Lupita Nyong’o in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave

All of which leaves the field open for Lupita Nyong’o, whose brave performance in 12 Years A Slave is one of the highlights of what is, overall, an outstanding achievement in film. It is through 31 year- old Nyong’o‘s character, Patsey, that the vulnerability of the slaves is most evident and it plays well against the underlying hope and strength projected by Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Solomon Northup. In a particularly brutal scene, the horror and torture endured by those enslaved on plantations in America echoes throughout each of Nyong’o‘s screams.

Prediction: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years A Slave

Best Adapted Screenplay / Best Original Screenplay

While many Adapted Screenplay winners have also won Best Picture, the Adapted and Original Screenplay awards have, typically, been a consolation prize for indie / art house / left- of- the- field drama / comedies that don’t have enough clout to win Best Picture. Previous Adapted Screenplay winners in recent years have included Silence of the Lambs, Schindler’s List, Forest Gump, Traffic, A Beautiful Mind, Brokeback Mountain, The Descendants and Argo.

Previous Original Screenplay winners have included The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Fargo, Good Will Hunting, American Beauty, Almost Famous, Lost In Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Milk, Midnight in Paris and Django Unchained.

This year’s Adapted Screenplay nominees consist of a healthy mix of memoirs  adapted to the big screen, such as 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street.

Stories will always win, rather than sympathy towards the difficulty in getting the text to the screen. And while The Wolf of Wall Street might be seen as a zeitgeist era story, Philomena a story for the heartstrings, Captain Philips one for it’s sheer dynamics, Before Midnight dialogue- heavy third instalment to a series, it will no doubt be 12 Years Slave that wins in this category.

Adapted from Solomon Northup’s memoir of his time in captivity on a cotton farm, 12 Years A Slave is outstanding for simple reason that it is- remarkably- the first movie in American film history to the take the topic of slavery from the point of view of a slave. For this, no doubt, it’s a shoe in.

Prediction: John Ridley for 12 Years A Slave

Best Original Screenplay

As open a field as there is in this year’s Oscars.

King of the Original  Screenplay category, Woody Allen will always be a favourite, though recent allegations made against him by his adopted daughter, Dylan, may split voters right down the middle for a win for his screenplay for Blue Jasmine.

A consolation for its escape from Development Hell, Dallas Buyers Club might well scoop this one, but the smart money is on Spike Jonze’s Her, his first, spirited attempt at stepping out of the shadow of Charlie Kauffman. An art house, indie- flick will never win best picture, but will always take a screenplay award. By winning with Her, Jonze will have finally caught up with ex- wife Sofia Coppola, who won her original screenplay award for 2003’s Lost in Translation.

Prediction: Spike Jonze for Her