The Best Picture Nominees [Reviews]

The Oscar Nominations were announced a few weeks ago, and I’ve finally had a chance to catch the few I still hadn’t seen. I’ll break down each of the major contenders and my thoughts on them. I’ll just go right down the list, in alphabetical order.

American Sniper

American SniperNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, Best Adapted Screenplay- Jason Hall, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

The problem I have with this film, besides Clint Eastwood’s trappings as a very mediocre filmmaker, is that he just kind of skims over everything. Like a pebble skipping on a pond, he glides just above the surface, dropping down to hit on an important thing every so often, but never really diving into the meat of the story until it hits the end of its run, but by then it has lost too much momentum to really make a splash. You’re left with the sense that there’s more to tell, and probably in the hands of a more nuanced filmmaker would have heard a better story.

But to Bradley Cooper’s credit, and despite Eastwood’s restrictions, he’s able to pull a deep, resonant performance of a man plagued by the horrors of war. There was one scene where a fellow soldier is praising him as a hero, and doing so in front of Kyle’s (Cooper) son, and the little that Cooper does in that scene speaks volumes. Cooper’s performance really deserved a better film.

Predicted Wins: 0 wins. If it does win, it will be for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, but it’s up against Interstellar and Birdman.

Birdman

Birdman OscarsNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone, Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Best  Original Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

There was a theme in my favourite films of the year, and in my Oscar predictions (which will go up in full on Saturday the 21st), and that’s me siding with riskier material. The ones don’t follow the well-worn path to Oscar, and still turn out great and leading the pack.

Iñárritu’s direction is fantastic as he leads us down into a self-referential world of what it is to be an actor, that knows full well what it’s doing, has complete control of what it is doing, but never slides too far into overt parody.

Keaton masterfully anchors the cast, but never runs away with it, allowing his supporting cast room to fully develop and be their own entity and find their own voices. He leans on them, without using them as a crutch to bolster his own performance, and that brings out the best in everyone involved.

That fucking jazz score, though. What the hell?

Predicted wins: 1 win for sure, and that’s Keaton. The film has stiff competition in every category, going head-to-head with Boyhood.

Boyhood

Boyhood OscarsNominated For: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Ethan Hawke, Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Best Director: Richard Linklater, Best Original Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Best Editing.

Linklater is filmmaker who can say a lot when he says next to nothing. There’s no profound statement to be made here. There’s no hook to grab you. It’s just the story of this kid growing up. It’s not dissimilar to his breakout film Dazed & Confused (my all time favourite film) in that respect. What he does is, at the same time, present a wide focus of a narrow scope. We’re seeing Mason grow up, and we’re given this 12 year window into his life, but we’re not seeing big dramatic contrived events. It’s just this kid, and his experiences on how he becomes who he is as an adult.

It’s a film that speaks to the things that shape who we are. Boyhood flows very smoothly, never doing a harsh cut to the next stage in Mason’s life. Linklater opts to not caption each year, rather let the events clue you in to what’s happening, which pulls you into the story.

Predicted wins: 5 of its 6 nominations. This will be the big winner this year. Only Ethan Hawke will keep it from being a clean sweep, but he’s up against J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Hardly Hawke’s fault.

The Imitation Game

Main Quad_AW_[26611] Grand BudapestNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actress: Keira Knightly, Best Director: Morten Tyldum, Best Adapted Screenplay: Graham Moore, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

There are two films that I would knock out of contention right away, and this is one of them. It’s a very well made film, don’t get me wrong, and I liked it. I really did. But it’s just so by the numbers. The stock bio-pic is just so well-worn at this point. Sure it’s a well made film with fantastic performances. But really that’s all it has going for it.

Cumberbatch and Knightly give fantastic performances as Alan Turing and Joan Clarke, respectively. Matthew Goode and Mark Strong are just as noteworthy in their supporting roles. They just can’t get me over on this one as a whole piece of cinema. There’s just a sense of laziness to it.

Predicted Wins: 1 for Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s not the best in any of its categories, but that’s its strongest category.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Imitation Game OscarsNominated For: Best Picture, Best Director: Wes Anderson, Best Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hair Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

Anderson’s a director who is teetering dangerously close to falling off the Tim Burton cliff into self-parody. What saves him is that he’s actually just really fucking good (unlike Burton). The beauty of this film certainly overpowers the omnipresent quirk factor. And the beauty of this film is more than just the aesthetic. Everything comes together to work so well together to make a really great film.

I have spoken out against this film, but that primarily has to do with that first statement. I worry how long Anderson can maintain. He’s already starting to wear on me. I dislike having to begrudgingly say that it’s a good film, which circles back around to fueling a bit of animosity towards it. But it is, in fact, a well oiled machine of a film where the amount of things right with it is only eclipsed by the amount of things not wrong with it. The cast is precise, to the point that I could imagine this as an expertly rehearsed stage play and not even know the difference.

Predicted wins: I don’t seeing it picking up more than 2 of its 9 nominations, and that would Production Design and Costume Design. It could be a spoiler for Cinematography.

Selma

SelmaNominated For: Best Picture, Best Original Song: “Glory” by John Legend and Common

It would be easy to dismiss this as a by-the-numbers bio-pic, which I addressed in my entry for The Imitation Game, but I’ll leave that for people who haven’t actually seen the film.

Gone from Selma are the sweeping parallels between what happens in the narrative timeframe and the flashbacks to the subjects youth. Gone is trying to dissect the person to view them in the grand scheme of things. What we are given is an examination of a pivotal moment in a pivotal era of American history, and the pivotal man behind the moment. A more intimate think piece on the civil rights movement. It doesn’t attempt to deify or demonize it’s subject. It just wants to examine that moment in time and let us, the audience, sit with it. To the film’s credit, despite the existence of true heroes and villains in the film, it refrains from condescending finger-wagging.

Should it have been nominated for more awards? Certainly. Can I go through each category it should have been nominated in and replace a less worthy nominee with Selma? Certainly. But here we are.

Predicted wins: 1 for Best Original Song. It may be a consolation win for getting screwed over, but its chances for Best Picture are weak.

The Theory of Everything

Theory of EverythingNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, Best Actress: Felicity Jones, Best Adapted Screenplay: Anthony McCarten, Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson

It speaks volumes when I could copy past a review, change a few names, and no one would notice.

That said: Everything I wrote for The Imitation Game, just change a few names.

To be fair, I would have made that joke had Theory of Everything come first and Imitation Game second. But the alphabet being what it is…

Predicted wins: 1 for Best Original Score. Redmayne is Keaton’s biggest competition, but Keaton’s slowly pulling ahead into a comfortable lead.

Whiplash

Whiplash OscarsNominated For:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Whiplash would be nothing without the powerful performances by Miles Teller and Simmons and wonderful script Chazelle provides them. Chazelle makes several sloppy directorial decisions that definitely hinder it from being an overall stronger contender, and is certainly the weaker of the 8 Best Picture nominees. But the examination of artistic passion and how that’s brought out in the two men and the stark contrast in their approaches really drive the film home. You can read my full review here.

Predicted wins: Definitely 1 for J.K. Simmons. He’s a lock. I wouldn’t be surprised if it picks up Sound Mixing, for that final scene.

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