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Hold off on the applause, "Wolf of Wall Street." The odds of a Best Picture win aren't looking good.
Hold off on the applause, "Wolf of Wall Street." The odds of a Best Picture win aren't looking good.

An idiot's guide to the 2014 Oscar Best Picture nominees

After a month and a half of buzz, conflicting awards results and Hollywood gamesmanship (some that made the bizarre Best Original Song nominee "Alone Yet Not Alone" a nominee yet not a nominee), yes, the Oscars are finally happening this Sunday night.

It’s one of the closest races in years – maybe since "Crash" and "Brokeback Mountain" in 2005 – so there’s actual drama going into the evening (other than the usual question of who will degrade E!’s Mani-Cam the best).

So as a little refresher for your Oscar parties and betting pools, here’s a quick guide to the big nominees (my picks are coming Sunday), listing off why or why not each movie has a chance – and a question to either start conversation or drive your friends away with. 

"12 Years A Slave"

Why it will win: I mean … it needs to win, right? It’d be like "Schindler’s List" losing to "The Fugitive." Ever since its premiere at Telluride, Steve McQueen’s painfully powerful third feature has been pegged as the frontrunner. It’s a movie that certainly feels important (it’s now apparently being used in some schools), something the Academy loves.

Putting aside things like social importance and merit, it’s just a brilliant piece of art, one that’s certainly challenging and punishing but also filled with beauty and humanity. It pushes hard, but McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley find just how hard to push without making the film an exercise in endurance.  

Why it won’t win: Nobody loves "12 Years a Slave." People respect it, admire it and find it "important," but it feels like the film that you should put your vote down for, but maybe not want to. The head says to vote for "12 Years a Slave," but the heart … ?

Interesting/annoying party question: "Without using the words ‘important,' ‘necessary' or 'What are you; a racist?' explain why '12 Years a Slave’ is the best movie of the year?"

"American Hustle"

Why it will win: Consider it the anti-"12 Years." Yeah, it’s mes…

Frank Almond speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker luncheon Tuesday afternoon.
Frank Almond speaks at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker luncheon Tuesday afternoon.

Violinsanity: Almond talks about his newly recovered Stradivarius

After about two weeks of likely astronomical stress and separation anxiety, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster and recent high-profile heist victim Frank Almond seemed soft-spoken, relaxed and easy at the Milwaukee Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon Tuesday afternoon at the Newsroom Pub.

The acclaimed violinist was the featured guest at the luncheon, fielding questions about the recent highly publicized armed robbery that left him without his on-loan million dollar 1715 Lipinski Stradivarius violin, and several screenwriters with a new script idea to pitch (Potential title: "It’s a Strad, Strad, Strad, Strad World").

Thankfully, the violin – appraised around $5 million – was recovered by police and returned to Almond unharmed. So unharmed that the violin was back in action Monday night at a concert event at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in Brookfield. An event program coincidentally dedicated and focused on the history of Almond’s 300-year-old instrument. Seriously, Hollywood, it’s written for you.

After a brief introduction from BizTimes executive editor and contributor Steve Jagler, Almond took the MPC-branded podium and made some brief comments. He thanked the police for their help in finding the culprits and, of course, the violin. He also thanked the press – even those parked at his house – for understanding that he couldn’t be super open about the case.

Then began the meat of the luncheon: a panel interview with Almond, led by WISN-12 reporter Terry Sater, Journal Sentinel assistant entertainment/features editor Jim Higgins and Bonnie North from WUWM. The interview was followed up by questions from the crowd of 20 to 30 intrigued press club members.

Almond talked about the two 19th century violin bows also snagged in the robbery (worth a paltry combined $50,000) and the worries about the tuning and beautifully crafted sound of the violin going astray after the incident, especially in the freezing weather.

He once a…