Dan Krisch
Dan Krisch ()

I would like to thank the Academy. At first blush, this year’s crop of Oscar nominees might appear to have no connection to the law, but do a little digging and you’ll unearth some fascinating legal issues – from admiralty law (“Captain Phillips”) to mail and wire fraud (“The Wolf of Wall Street”).

While I’m no match for A.O. Scott or Owen Gleiberman when it comes to Oscar predictions (this column was written several days before the March 2 ceremony), 2014 might just be the year when the Academy passes on the tinsel and lays down the law instead.

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi: “Captain Phillips”

Bradley Cooper: “American Hustle”

Michael Fassbender: “12 Years A Slave”

Jonah Hill: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Jared Leto: “Dallas Buyers Club”

And the Infernie™ goes to . . . .

Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club. Bradley Cooper’s perm deserves an honorary Oscar and Fassbender put the dread in Dred Scot as a sadistic plantation owner, but transgender issues are the next gay marriage: Connecticut passed legislation in 2011 protecting gender identity and expression and suddenly the T in LGBT is getting a great deal of legal attention. Besides, every lawyer should empathize with Leto’s character who, in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, has to clean herself up and don a conservative suit to earn money (albeit by begging it from her father).

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Hawkins: “Blue Jasmine”

Jennifer Lawrence: “American Hustle”

Lupita Nyong’o: “12 Years A Slave”

Julia Roberts: “August: Osage County”

June Squibb, “Nebraska”

And the Infernie™ goes to . . . .

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle.” While I would love to give the award to Squibb for the most unexpected F-bomb in movie history, anyone who can clean a dead squirrel with a Bowie knife on-screen (as Lawrence famously did in “Winter’s Bone”) scares me too much not to vote for her. Besides, “American Hustle,” aside from being loosely based on the real-life ABSCAM case, is a lawyer’s delight: bursting with sleazy criminal schemes and full of characters angling for jail, divorce, a personal injury suit, or possibly all four at once.

Best Actor

Christian Bale: “American Hustle

Bruce Dern: “Nebraska”

Leonardo DiCaprio: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Chiwetel Ejiofor: “12 Years A Slave”

Matthew McConaughey: “Dallas Buyers Club”

And the Infernie™ goes to . . . .

Bruce Dern, “Nebraska.” Dern’s brilliant and subtle performance anchors a two-hour meander through the Midwest that plays like a law school hypothetical. Dern launches a quest to claim a sweepstakes prize after receiving a marketing letter from Publishers’ Clearing House (unfair trade practices); leaves home several times in order to walk from Billings to Omaha to claim the prize, but is detained and returned to his wife each time (involuntary civil commitment); his sons steal an air compressor that they think Dern lent to his ex-business partner 40 years earlier (replevin), but that actually belongs to an elderly couple (burglary and larceny); and one of the sons, played by underrated Jenna Maroney-impersonator Will Forte, punches the ex-business partner in the face (assault). There’s even a darkly humorous exchange between Dern’s wife and sister-in-law about the fictional difference between rape and sexual assault. From a legal perspective, Nebraska has it all.

Best Actress

Amy Adams: “American Hustle”

Cate Blanchett: “Blue Jasmine”

Sandra Bullock: “Gravity”

Judy Dench: “Philomena”

Meryl Streep: “August: Osage County”

And the Infernie™ goes to . . . .

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine.” Mrs. Madoff meets Blanche DuBois in Woody Allen’s masterful mash-up of the effects of white-collar crime on its beneficiaries. As she descends into madness, Blanchett is sexually harassed by her dentist boss, confronted by her sister and brother-in-law (a shockingly good Andrew Dice Clay) over her husband’s theft of their investment funds and nearly tricks Peter Sarsgaard into marrying her – and, all the while, Blanchett maintains a façade of nouveaux riche entitlement that should remind every lawyer of their biggest nightmare of a client. Bravo, Ms. Blanchett, you’ll never just be Galadriel to me again.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaron: “Gravity”

Steve McQueen: “12 Years A Slave”

Alexander Payne: “Nebraska”

David O. Russell: “American Hustle”

Martin Scorcese: “The Wolf of Wall Street”

And the Infernie™ goes to . . . .

Martin Scorcese, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Just cause … HE’S SCORCESE.

Best Picture

“American Hustle,” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” “12 Years A Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

And the Infernie™ goes to . . . .

“12 Years A Slave.” While a small part of me agrees with my lovely wife that “Her” deserves the award for the best use of high-waisted pants since Teddy Roosevelt straddled a horse, “12 Years A Slave” tackled the most divisive legal issue in American history with power and grace, while never flinching from an honest depiction of slavery’s brutality. Cicero may have been right that the law is silent in times of war, but the Civil War ultimately was a triumph of our constitutional system over legalized inhumanity. And while other forces besides slavery pushed our country to division and combat, “12 Years A Slave” reminds us that the forms of the law should never trump its ultimate purpose – to secure freedom, dignity and civil rights for every person, everywhere.

Daniel Krisch is a partner at Halloran & Sage LLP in Hartford, where his practice focuses on appellate and civil litigation. His e-mail address is krisch@halloran-sage.com and you can learn more about him at www.halloran-sage.com.