2015 OSCAR BEST PICTURE OVERVIEW

As is my custom, I watch all of the films that are nominated for best picture.  It is a good practice for me, because I enjoy movies and sometimes I see great films that I otherwise would have never known about.  A good example is last year’s Nebraska.  This blog post is a quick review for each.  I will make some predictions for winners in the major categories in a separate blog later this week, as well as a blog about some of the themes and key concepts I noticed with Oscar’s nomination.oscars-2014-logo-slice

I’ll go ahead and say now that none of these are child safe films, but Selma, Imitation, and The Theory of Everything are safe for teens.  The Grand Budapest Hotel has a lot of crassness in it.  American Sniper is profane, violent and disturbing.  Whiplash and Birdman are vulgar.  In general, however, the movies this year are decidedly less explicit than were last year.

So here we go with the overview, in alphabetical order.

American Sniper

So much has been written about the politics of this movie that it is hard to separate it as a film, as art, apart from the politics.  I actually feeling like the director, Clint Eastwood, was making an anti-war film with this as the main character becomes less of a person and more of a machine the longer he is involved in the war.  The movie seems to me, in a very real way, to be an attempt to portray the horrible situation of the war for the soldiers we ask to serve, for the people in the countries we operate, and for the families of loved ones back home.

As a film, American Sniper is outstanding.  It stands toe to toe with the rich tradition of Hollywood war movies, and this is indeed a war movie.  Eastwood does a masterful job of telling the story through visuals, and also through what is not said.  Bradley Cooper proves with this film that he deserves to be ranked among the best actors in Hollywood.  I liked this movie, and see why it was nominated.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I hated this movie.  There is not a single character in this movie I liked.  I can’t understand why Michael Keaton is nominated for best actor, and I can’t see why Emma Stone is nominated for best supporting actress.  Just about any college sophomore could portray Emma’s entitled, self-absorbed, and loathsome daughter and Keaton looks like something from community theater.  Seriously.  Ed Norton is a good actor, but he is stuck in a horrible film.  The only reason this movie was nominated was because it is about actors, directors, Hollywood and New York, and Oscar loves movies about movies and actors. There is no way Birdman can win.  No way.  If it does, I will write a strongly worded letter to someone.

Boyhood

I have a problem with Boyhood.  I like the movie, and it tugs at my heartstrings because it was practically filmed in my backyard, but there is such a strong line of fatalism in the movie that it is hard to really get behind.  Linklater is truly one of the greatest directors this side of Spielberg, and I admire what they did with the twelve year vision for the movie.  The problem is that the movie lacks the elements necessary for a great story, in other words, there is really no plot.  The aforementioned fatalism, combined with a nearly three hour length, and I just don’t think it can, or should, win best picture.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is very good.  Cumberbatch is outstanding, and so is Knightley and the supporting cast.  At times the dialogue, for me, though, doesn’t match the level of the acting or the plot, yet that is not enough to ruin it.  I highly recommend the film as both a bit of history–wartime history and social history–and as a look at actors excelling in their craft.

Selma

What is great about Selma is the living history of many of those involved in the events, as well as the acting of David Oyelowo.  I cannot believe he didn’t get nominated for best actor–seriously, that was the greatest snub of the year.  By the end of the film Oyelowo had me convinced that he was Martin Luther King, Jr. There are two great flaws, though, with Selma.

One, the rest of the acting doesn’t measure up.  Whoever played Coretta Scott King needed some acting lessons.  It was sad, truly sad, to watch her alongside Oyelowo, with him in all his glory and then her lost as a goose.  Even Oprah Winfrey, as wonderful as she is in her small part, can’t keep this movie from drowning in a sea of under performers.

The other problem with Selma is the direction of the movie.  It doesn’t know if it wants to be, as its name tells us, a biopic of the events of Selma during the struggle for civil rights or if it wants to be a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Because of this, it divides its time in uneven ways that takes away from a complete picture of either. Because of these inconsistencies, I just don’t think it should win, although I understand why it was nominated.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

If Birdman is the worst movie in this list, The Grand Budapest Hotel is just a notch better. Let me rephrase that.  It is not that the Grand Budapest is a horrible film, it is that it simply doesn’t belong in the same breath with these other wonderful films.  The only saving grace of Budapest is that the acting is top notch, and the dialogue is crisply written.  The problem here is the convoluted, twisted, and contrived plot.  The movie just makes no sense, even as a satire.

The Theory of Everything

Theory is really a love story.  If you look closely in the credits you will learn it is based off the memoir of Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane.  As a love story, it falls short of reaching the heights it needs to in order to capture the viewers heart.  When the credits roll I think less of Stephen and Jane than I did when the movie began, and feel that they both behaved rather selfishly, as it pertains to love and affection.  I probably shouldn’t feel this way, but that is where the movie leaves me.

In addition to that, the movie is difficult to follow chronologically.  If one did not pay attention to the cars, hairstyles, and clothing it is easy to fall under the misconception that the entire first hour and half of the movie are supposed to happen in 1963, which they don’t, but there is no way of knowing that, really.  I don’t know if it is a side effect of the same problem, or if it is a different one, but it was also hard to follow the significance of Hawking’s academic career, ideas, theories, and such.  It very much felt like those making the movie only knew Hawking was a brilliant physicist who didn’t believe in God, but they didn’t really know what it was he actually postulated.  In fact, the most lucid explanation of his work comes not from him, but from Jane at dinner in a weird, and mocking, usage of peas and potatoes.

Now, these issues aside, the cinematography was amazing.  The uses of color in different moods produces a vivid viewing experience that is beautiful to behold.  And the acting!  Oh dear, Redmayne is unparalleled in his portrayal of Hawking, and Felicity Jones is every bit his equal as Jane Wilde.

Overall, I really liked the film and highly recommend it.

Whiplash

This is probably the best movie that has no shot at winning.  Yeah, think about that statement for a moment.  Whiplash is a very good movie, with superior acting–Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are fantastic on screen together, and I love how the movie moves along with very little dialogue.  It is sad, but I don’t think this movie can win because of its art house feel, yet it deserves a fair hearing. The great thing about Whiplash is that everyone can relate, in someway, to the plot of the story–the kid who gets pushed really hard, and that pushing almost breaks him apart, and in the process he has to choose what kind of person he is going to become.  Whiplash captures this essence of growing up in a way most coming of age stories miss altogether.

Plus, the music is great.  If they’d had CD’s of the soundtrack in the theater lobby, I would have bought one right there.

oscar image from collider.com

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