Yessss! It’s that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen! Time to see how just right or wrong Hollywood is at assessing itself over the last year. It’s the Oscars!!!
I’ll get the lesser categories out of the way before debating the big kahuna. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ll bold the films I discuss that I have seen, which may or may not affect my credibility when discussing different categories. And keep in mind that these are not the films which I think are going to win. It’s the films that I think should win. If I ran Hollywood, here’s how things would go.
Best Sound Mixing – The most technical of these would have to be American Sniper because of the battle scenes. I saw this film in IMAX, and the sound was jacked way up, so my ability to catch subtleties was quite low, but the sound was well done. The runner-up would go to Birdman because of the mix on the rooms they were in, trying to synch with what the camera position was, to not have voices and noise appear out of place or disorienting. What should have been up for at least a nomination was Selma. How this got overlooked may be because it isn’t a film that necessitates outstanding sound mixing, but the scene of the night march where the police attack the protestors was so well-mixed that I was actually looking behind and around me in the theater because I thought there was something going on between patrons. Interstellar was probably good, too, but I didn’t see it.
Documentary Feature – Don’t count on me for this one, because I only saw Virunga, and while the film was well-done, the likelihood of it beating a film about Edward Snowden or Vietnam is low. It’s odd that two of these movies are about photographers.
Makeup – Only three films up in this category, but the clear winner has to be Guardians of the Galaxy. Foxcatcher’s makeup contribution is really just to one character, and the makeup on Tilda Swinton in Grand Budapest, while good, isn’t as much of an impact as what is going on in Guardians.
Costume Design – I’m a bit perplexed with what Vice is doing in this category (didn’t seem special to me). Budapest has such a strong visual style that the costumes link straight into the seamless flow. Mr. Turner, a period piece, is done very well. The other two are based on fairy tales, so by rule, they have to be crazy with the costumes. Edge towards Maleficent, based on what I’ve seen.
Cinematography – Even though I didn’t really like Birdman, I was set to give this to the film because the camera work in it was extremely athletic. Then, I saw Ida, and all that went out of the window. Ida is stunningly gorgeous and rightly deserves this award. In some instances, this is a study in the rule of thirds. Characters’ heads are often down at the bottom of the screen, and perspective lines draw the eye exactly where the director wants us to look (even if that isn’t the action of the scene). Intentionally shot in 4:3 aspect ratio. So impressive. Third would be Budapest, for some of the delightfully playful camera work. Turner is beautiful but seemed a bit muddied (Kim maintains that this was on purpose, given Turner’s work, but I disagree). Unbroken should not win, nor be nominated, for any award. Ever.
Production Design – This is a hard one. Imitation Game and Turner are both period pieces, very well done. Budapest is an alternate universe period piece, elegantly crafted. Interstellar is this year’s Gravity. Into the Woods is a fairy tale. All have a distinct style. However, two can depart from reality (Budapest and Woods), since there is fantasy at work, while two have to try to be as close to reality as possible, and one is trying to be technically realistic. My heart goes with Budapest, as the created world is so engaging, with second place going to Turner (which to me did a slightly better job at maintaining period than Imitation).
Original Song – I couldn’t care less about this category. The song up for Selma has absolutely nothing to do with the film’s actual soundtrack (which is 1960s) and was jarring when played over the ending credit sequence. “Everything Is Awesome” does make me smile, however. Can I vote for that because it was fun? Yeah, I can (my list, right?). But best song tends to suck the air out of the room when the Academy feels the need to showcase each song throughout the broadcast. Great moments for a bathroom break.
Original Score – Again, the movie that should at least be nominated (if not win) this category isn’t even up – Birdman. Jazz drumming to a persistently moving, uncut shot? That one moment where Keaton and Norton walk by the drummer, and diegetic sound becomes non-diegetic but doesn’t miss a beat? Masterful. Is it not up because it was a single instrument score instead of orchestra? Maybe. I don’t recall anything of greatness out of the music in Imitation or The Theory of Everything when it came to sound. I’d go with Budapest for what it contributed to the film, with Turner second (much less obtrusive yet more appropriate than Imitation).
Documentary Short Subject – Saw none of these. Current betting odds have Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 as the favorite.
Short Film, Live Action – Same for this. Odds are on The Phone Call. What’s up with suicide hotline movies?
Short Film, Animated – Only saw one of these, Feast, but it’s Pixar, so you couldn’t place a safer bet if you tried.
Film Editing – Things have become so spastic with editing in the digital age that when someone stops editing, it’s a big deal. If you approach film editing as how best to tell a story from various shot perspectives, the LOSER in this category is Boyhood (actually, that would go for writing, directing and acting as well, since this has no story). Sniper only gets this right during the away scenes, because the home front scenes are so poor on many levels (directing, acting, editing, writing), so you can’t give credit for getting things half right. That leaves Budapest, Imitation, and Whiplash – all great movies. However, Whiplash is more character study, and while parts of the movie get more intense because of the precision of the editing, other parts are more straightforward, and the acting does the heavy lifting. Imitation’s editing is a little more paint-by-numbers. Winner: Budapest.
Visual Effects – Not going to waste your time – it’s Guardians.
Sound Editing – Read: Sound Capturing / Manufacturing. This I give to Birdman because of how hard this must have been working with a constantly moving camera (and therefore constantly moving sound capture which needed to stay the hell out of the cameraman’s way). Interstellar and Hobbitzez gets honorable mentions for created sound to mix in with capture, as I’m sure there had to be a ton. Again, fuck Unbroken.
Animated Feature – One of the greatest animators of all time, Hayao Miyazaki, retired last year, and his The Wind Rises, while nominated, didn’t win. This isn’t surprising, given the film’s subject matter. Now, this year, another director from Studio Ghibli, the person who started the studio and discovered and hired Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, who, in my estimation, is superior to Miyazaki, is up for his last film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. I won’t be able to see it until after the Oscars, and I’m already biased towards it anyway, so I’d love to see him win. He won’t though. How to Train Your Dragon 2 should win. It’s a good movie (better than Big Hero 6), but I’d so love it if Takahata won. My guess is that he won’t even be in the audience. But, to whomever wins:
Best Foreign Language Film – I heard Leviathan was good. Didn’t get a chance to see it (where’s Force Majeure?). I’m not saying Ida was an outstanding film, but it’s so flipping gorgeous, I don’t really care.
Adapted Screenplay – My category!!! Yay! Sadly, I’ve read none of the literature these films are based on. However, I’ve heard so much about how Imitation, Sniper, and Theory got things “wrong” (which is normal) that I’m dissuaded to choose them. And since Whiplash doesn’t have a shot at much, and I liked it so much, I’ll vote for it.
Original Screenplay – Grand Budapest Hotel!!! I can’t choose anything else. That film was so much fun. Honorable Mention goes to Foxcatcher (which, from what I read, should really have been up in the Adapted Screenplay category).
Best Supporting Actress – The thing I liked most about Birdman was Emma Stone. And yeah, Patricia Arquette was good in Boyhood, but that’s largely because she was acting with an emo golem, so of course she looked better. Knightly was good, but she was so minor. And someone needs to stop nominating Streep every time she’s in something. Some may cry “blasphemer!,” but I don’t really care. Did you see Mamma Mia? Let it go … let it goo-ooo … I won’t be upset if Laura Dern wins. She’s good in anything she’s in. I’m just not ever going to see Wild.
Best Actress – Since I only saw two of these films, I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment. But Pike was scary as hell in Gone Girl. I’d never be upset to see Cotillard win anything, because she’s brilliant. So is Julianne Moore. I didn’t really see Jones’s character as a lead role, so I’m not sure why she’s up for this category.
Best Actor – It’s pretty obvious that Redmayne is going to win, and he should, because the job he had to do was very difficult, and he did it well. However, it’s sort of like whenever we have a movie about someone who’s handicapped, if they get it, then the race is over before it starts. I always think of Daniel Day Lewis and My Left Foot for things like this. Carrell was creepy-eerie, Cumberbatch was outstanding, Cooper played a character rather than a hyper mess (see his last two David O. Russell turns). And Keaton was, well, Keaton. They all did well, but what Redmayne had to do to be that character was harder work than all four other actors combined.
Best Director – The sad thing is that Linklater is going to get this award for essentially the same reason why I give the award to Redmayne. It’s not a good film, but it took so much to do that people will recognize the effort. Anderson and Miller told much better stories through the works they made, without doubt, and Tyldum told the “important” story. If technical prowess was the order of the day (which it was last year with Cuaron), then Inarritu would get it this year.
Best Picture – I saw all of them, so I’m going to rank them, worst to best (some of this may sound familiar from my Christmas watch post, since I saw about half these films during that time):
8. The Theory of Everything – So boring. So didn’t care. And actually, if you live through a similar situation (which I emphatically hope you do not), and your wife takes that good care of you, and you leave her for your physical therapist, what hope does any other marriage have? I realize she wasn’t an angel with her encounter with the young Colin Firthy guy (and the dramaticness of Hawking getting violently ill when the infidelity occurred because no bad deed goes underscored), but she stuck by him through a lot of stuff and gave up so much. And he left her! Yet the marriage in Sniper stuck together. Work the math on that one.
7. Boyhood – Again, this is not a good movie. There is no protagonist. There is no plot. If you want to look at it pragmatically, it says that people make bad choices and tend to either repeat them (the mother) or choose to not remedy them (the father), even if there are others who rely on them (the children). So, everyone’s fucked. At least in the interim, we can play a little Wii Sports or take up photography. The best part about the film, for me, was what I considered the punch line. It is towards the end of the film, and Mason is packing up to head off to college. He returns to the kitchen to find his mother crying. She says, taking off her glasses, “This is the worst day of my life” and explains that what she’s been doing for the last 20 years was trying to raise the children and do what she thought was right. Now, both of her children are leaving, off to have their own lives, leaving her alone to meander into old age. At that point, I looked over at Kim and said, as I often do, “I’m so glad we don’t have kids.” This is by no means meant to offend those of you who do have kids. But I think those that do have kids measure out their lifespans in radically different ways from those of us who don’t (especially women). That my life hasn’t been tied or relegated to caring for another individual has allowed me to do pretty much what I want. I’m very happy about that. So, this movie reinforced my happiness in my life choices, which I don’t think was what Linklater was going for.
If this video is a broken link, it's because of copyright trolls (which is why I could only get the Spanish subtitled version).
6. Birdman – Previously, I compared the no-cut camerawork in this film to the far superior Russian Ark. But the pretentious, “hey-whiz-bang-look-at-me” approach the film takes is so irritating that it is off-putting. Aside from Emma Stone and the soundtrack and the technical aptitude of how this was shot, it came up lacking. And it could have been more interesting. The whole point of the play that Riggan was adapting, Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love,” given the people flitting around in this movie, there could have been an exploration on a meta level of the meaning of love. But the characters are so shallow or not fully thought through (which is ironic given that Mike is all about working on character initially) that what could have been an insightful investigation is hijacked by headlong changes of camera direction. So, I like Birdman like I admire beautiful dancing.
5. American Sniper – I’ve seen way too much on how Cooper’s Kyle is not like the actual Kyle, but that’s not Cooper’s fault. That’s Eastwood’s fault. And the whole fake baby is just noise. I did care about this character, and I do think this would be a great double feature with The Hurt Locker of two men in specialized, dangerous positions who can save lives and have immense guilt about leaving their brothers to fight without them when they return home. That no one else he fights with is fleshed out and the home front scenes are tired clichés is Eastwood’s fault. And Eastwoood knows how to direct, so I’m not sure how this got off track. But the combat scenes are jarring and well done, and I admire seeing Cooper really act rather than channel a crazy person, and that might also be Eastwood’s doing (in fact, given what I know about how Eastwood directs actors, I’m sure of it). So, the good things were good, and the bad things were bad. But not everything was bad, so that’s good.
4. The Imitation Game – This is a group of people who really believed in the project they were working on and wanted to tell this story. Whenever you see Benedict Cumberbatch talk about this movie, he’s not talking about this movie. He’s talking about how important Alan Turing was. It is a well-done movie, but there isn’t anything earthshattering about it – it’s competently done. Cumberbatch acts very well. It’s not mind-blowing, but it tells a good story.
3. Selma – I didn’t want to see this movie. It’s one of those “I heard this one already.” But, I couldn’t go see the other seven and not go see it. So, I went, and I’m so glad I did. This is very similar to The Imitation Game in its execution – famous person working against evil with lives on the line. Lasting legacies. And both films dealt with a situation that had a sense of urgency. But oddly enough, I felt that urgency more in this film than I did in Imitation. Imitation was so localized to the lab where they were building Christopher that we rarely saw the devastation going on in the outside world. But we were constantly confronted with the direness of actions in this film. Juxtapose the scene where King goes to see Cager Lee in the morgue after his grandson has been killed with the scene in the warehouse where Peter is told by everyone that they cannot stop the attack on his brother’s convoy because then the Germans will know something is up with the code. One person dead. One person going to die. Cager and Peter deeply affected. Which scene seemed more real? Which did you invest in emotionally the most? That’s why Selma’s better. Moments like that.
2. Whiplash – The problem with this world is mediocrity and just skating by on doing ok. Every human being has the potential of being something truly amazing. So few actually reach that potential. But in order to achieve that potential, it must be relentlessly pursued. And sometimes, it is necessary for someone outside of oneself to push one on. It’s a rather age-old quandary – is it necessary to suffer for art? Can one be great without having to overcome obstacles in order to reach higher levels? That question is posed in this film. Someone asked me if I thought the film was like Black Swan, where a person goes crazy in her pursuit to be the best. I’d say no – Andrew stays defiantly sane in the face of Fletcher’s onslaught. Sacrifice does not mean madness (although realistically, there is some teetering here). I really appreciated the ideas this film dove deep into, and the performances were riveting. This is not an incredibly technical film (really, the opposite of Birdman), but very well done.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel – I know this isn’t going to win. I don’t care. This is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. And, I’m not a Wes Anderson fan. I usually find him too pretentious, too Birdman-y. And I’ve read other reviews where people say the same thing: “Gee, normally don’t like his stuff, but loved this film.” Not sure what he finally had click in this one that he didn’t have going in, say, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but whatever it was (maybe the limited use of Jason Schwartzman? Zing!), I hope it stays clicked over. I think it’s criminal that Ralph Fiennes was not nominated for best actor. The job he does in this is delicious.
And there you have it. Most of my picks won’t win, but I don’t really care. Take that, Academy.