I watch The Oscars because Firecracker does. I don’t think they choose the best movies made in a certain year, but they choose some of them. But we always try to watch all the best picture and actor/actress contenders. Here are my thoughts on the bunch, in no particular order:
Having read Kyle’s biography, I found the movie fabricated and simplistic, though Bradley Cooper’s performance was excellent. If Selma gets slammed for poetic license, this one ought to as well. It’s a glowing portrait of an elite soldier, cut down while he was trying to help other veterans wounded inside and out, but much is fabricated. The story Kyle told in his bio did not need embellishment with sniper duels and hunting pychos who drill holes in children’s heads to make it compelling.
This movie surprised me the most. JK Simmons as a brutal conductor and music instructor who takes a talented jazz drummer into his conservatory band was more gripping and fascinating than any of the other movies this year, including the war movie. That says a lot. Simmons was amazing, but good luck defeating Cooper and Cumberbatch with their promo campaigns and fan base.
I was very surprised that direct Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, did not get nominated. They turned history into a compelling and prescient story, and they couldn’t use any of MLK’s real speeches because they are owned by a media conglomerate. You don’t notice. Writer Paul Webb’s script and Oyelowo’s stunning performance distract from that. The LBJ story felt like unnecessary tension; I like Tom Wilkinson a lot, but his New England accent kept breaking through and I couldn’t see him as Texan at all. It was quite glaring.
The imitation Game
This is a badly written Oscar-bait movie built around Benedict Cumberbatch’s excellent portrayal of Alan Turing, the genius who cracked the Enigma code, built some of the earliest computers, and was tormented to suicide by the British government for being homosexual. It’s a story that needed to be told, but the World War II story of cipher cracking and espionage was condescendingly spoonfed to the audience. They made it seem like Turing came up with the idea to not let the enemy know when you crack their ciphers! This is only a Picture nominee because they need 10 of them.
This was a refreshing change of pace, but it’s still a Hollywood story about Hollywood, however quirky it may be. Michael Keaton gets a role he can chew on, and does a great job. It’s a hilarious, painful, and touching story well told, and Emma Stone shows great talent in her supporting role as his daughter. The unbroken shot feels like showing off, but this is great storytelling and a story that is easy to like. It lacks the substance of the other nominees like Selma, Sniper, and IG, but it’s unforgettable and full of great performances.
The 12 year experiment of filming a young actor from age 6 to 18 makes a great story out of everyday life, and its naturalism lays the artifice of Hollywood bare. Patricia Arquette is excellent, and deserving of her nomination. The story is unexpected and emotional without falling into cliche, though I found one section pandered politically to the left as much as Eastwood’s loving paean to the Iraq invasion pandered to the right.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
My favorite of the bunch. It’s been on cable and I’ve had the pleasure of watching it again and again, but it came out so long ago that its chances are probably hurt. Wes Anderson’s best movie yet, he sets his story in the everyday life of a fanciful hotel on the brink of the fascist slaughters that led to World War 2. Some criticized setting a comedy during the time, but he doesn’t shy from brutality, and tells a hilarious, heartfelt, sentimental story of the civilization destroyed by hatred, with unforgettable characters (Willem Dafoe’s brutal henchman being my favorite). Even if you don’t like Wes Anderson’s other films, this one is never boring or overly twee.
The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne’s performance is uncanny, and the story of the famous astrophysicist and his family as he deteriorates with motor-neuron disease is made incredibly compelling. This is how you make a biopic. It is direct, it does not inject storylines, though it does simplify his life. My bet for the best actor win, though JK Simmons was incredible as well.
I thought this was a better story and film than some of the BP nominees. Reese Witherspoon disappears into her character, a woman devastated by loss who goes on a grueling trek to purify herself of self-destructive tendencies. She is not an easy character to like, which made me like the movie more. Laura Dern is great as her mother, but I’ve seen her do more, and think this is one of those “she deserves one” noms. Which brings me to:
Into the Woods
This was boring and horrible, and Meryl Streep gets a nom for this? Just make a Being Meryl Streep Oscar already. She’s great, yeah. But this musical felt like a Disney TV movie that dragged on and on.
A good adaptation, and Rosamund Pike was great as Amazing Amy. I’d give Witherspoon the nod over her role in this one. Fincher made a by-the-numbers adaptation with a few inspired bits of casting, and made the third act reveal a Marilyn Manson video that just felt ridiculous.
This is the Polish entry for best foreign film, a contemplative, character-driven story about an orphan who becomes a nun, then learns she has an aunt: a morose, drunken ex-judge who sent people to prison camps for defying the new socialist government. Set in the ’60s, the horrors of World War II are not long past, and as they seek the graves of Ida’s parents, we spend time with two enthralling characters as we revisit the ugly history of the last century.
The story of two wrestler brothers who made it to the Olympics again in 1988 with the help of John E. DuPont, a creepy, uber-rich wanna be who lives in the cold shadow of his mother. This should have been a Best Picture nominee. What it lacks is a chapter between the end of the Seoul Olympics and the tragic ending, but that still makes it a better film than many of the nominees. Channing Tatum’s performance was at least on par with Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell’s, and the story was fantastic. I wonder if the DuPont family put the kibosh on the Academy Award for best picture nom?
Still need to see Foxcatcher, Still Alice, and The Judge. The weekend will be a busy one… but right now, my choices and bets are as follows. (Choice is who I’d vote for, bet is who I think the academy will pick).
Best Picture: I choose The Grand Budapest Hotel, the Academy picks American Sniper
Best Actor: I choose Eddie Redmayne, the Academy picks Michael Keaton
Best Actress: I choose Julianne Moore, Academy picks Julianne Moore (I have not seen Still Alice; I love Julianne Moore)
Best Supporting Actor: I choose JK Simmons, Academy picks Robert Duvall
Best Supporting Actress: I choose Patricia Arquette, Academy picks Meryl Streep (because she needs her Oscar for singing this time)
Best Animated Feature: I wish The Lego Movie had been nominated, it was so much better than it had any right to be. The Academy picks How to Drain Your Dragon 2 (tee hee). Like with the snub of Fantastic Mr Fox, the Disney/Dreamworks machine gets wins for predictable remakes of the same old story over and over. (I loved UP until the ending, which was just awful writing. Remember kids, we can only solve problems by killing people, even in a whimsical film about a flying balloon house…)