My own personal Best Picture Oscar party

2015/04/06

So for the first time ever, I decided to view all the Academy Awards’ Best Picture nominees. Here’s how they shook out.

But first, some context. I am not particularly impressed with what tends to impress the Academy. For me, intelligent, entertaining popcorn fare such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or “Edge of Tomorrow” represent what’s exceptional about American cinema more than the art-house affairs the Academy prefers. That’s not to say I dislike these movies — I like them quite a bit. They’re just not … exceptional.

All right. On with the list.

8. Boyhood

Boyhood_film

Its audacious approach to casting — using the same 1/2 dozen or so primary actors across about a decade of filming — is why it’s here, elevating a merely competent film to excellence. It’s a fine film, but a bit too leisurely and pedestrian.

7. The Theory of Everything

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It’s a good, warm biopic, showing the softer side of famed professor Stephen Hawking. Lead actor Eddie Redmayne’s Best Actor award is well-earned. But biopics like these are a bit too standard.

6. American Sniper

american_sniper

Great film, if full of many of the usual war film tropes. But it stumbles in my countdown by feeling a little long despite not actually being long. Title character Chris Kyle’s stateside rehabilitation gets short shrift in favor of the more formulaic war scenes and makes the whole film less than it might’ve been otherwise.

5. The Imitation Game

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Solid combo of biopic and social commentary with a great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. It unfortunately shortchanges the story of Alan Turing’s persecution in favor of the admittedly more compelling war story.

4. Selma

Selma-Movie-Poster

So powerful, and so honest. It does what Spielberg’s “Lincoln” did as well by focusing on one aspect of a long and complex social issue. My being a black man born from members of the last generation to endure Jim Crow made this film resonate all the greater. The fact that it was so well made only solidifies its position on the list.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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I actually have to dock this film a few points because it’s just another Wes Anderson movie: Quirky, watchable, outrageous. Nothing special other than the fact that it IS another Wes Anderson movie, and one where he’s at the absolute top of his game. Great fun.

2. Birdman or [The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance]

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Visually inventive with its edited-as-a-single-shot presentation, but the story was a little obtuse. After a killer setup as a foil to Michael Keaton’s protagonist, Ed Norton just vanishes, one of several aspects that just don’t quite pay off by the time the enigmatic ending arrives. I wanted to love this movie and it wouldn’t quite let me.

1. Whiplash

Whiplash - 2014 - tt2582802 - Poster

Well-shot, acted and written from start to finish, this film crackles with energy. A complex character study that harrows the viewer, it has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. Believe the hype: J.K. Simmons didn’t get his Best Supporting Oscar as a “lifetime achievement” gimme, he straight takes it like his character takes the legs out from under his student-victims. Fantastic movie and, for my money, the ACTUAL Best Picture of the Oscar nominees.

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