Every year when January rolls around, I wait in excitement for the announcement of the Oscar nominations. I’ve made it a habit to watch all the Best Picture nominees before the big event, and then I stay up all night to eat popcorn and watch the show with my sister (it starts at 2AM in Denmark — yes, I’m dedicated!).
This year, I thought it’d be fun to write down my thoughts about each Best Picture nominee. I won’t be giving out stars, but I will say that my favorites were Boyhood and Imitation Game.
There wasn’t a dull moment in American Sniper, and as an action movie, it definitely did its job. I think it would’ve worked better as a purely fictional story, though, instead of being “based on true events”. It doesn’t send a message that I agree with, and I do understand why some think it comes off as propaganda.
Acting wise, Bradley Cooper did a great job. I commend him for gaining all that weight and bulking up to really get into character. It certainly helped; he looked like a completely different person. I also thought he gave the character of Chris Kyle some much needed depth. Unfortunately, when the writing isn’t there, there’s only so much you can do through acting. I was expecting the movie to focus much more on Chris having trouble adjusting to being back home. Instead, he seemed fine after a couple of meetings with other veterans. Was that really it?
After hearing all the praise about this movie, my expectations were high. Very high. Probably too high, because I never really felt that Birdman measured up. I did enjoy how unpredictable it was, though, as well as the social commentary and the shots of Broadway. I also liked the way that it was filmed, which was especially powerful after Sam’s outburst at her father. Because the camera didn’t cut away from her afterwards, we got to see her realize what she had just said.
Ultimately, this movie would be nothing without its very talented cast. From Michael Keaton to Edward Norton and Emma Stone, everyone gave a convincing and nuanced performance — even in the smaller parts, like Naomi Watts’. Is Birdman the best movie of 2014? I would have to say no. Does it feature some of the best performances of 2014? Without a doubt.
The tagline is “12 years in the making”, and this movie literally was. It was filmed over 12 years with the same cast, which I found very fascinating, as it allows us to watch the children grow up on screen, right before our eyes. I’ve read a few complaints about the movie having no plot. But in my opinion, that’s the whole point. It’s about life, and life doesn’t have a plot (getting deep here, I know). It’s about a boy’s journey from childhood to adulthood and everything that comes with it — all the people and moments that shape him and ultimately make him who he is. It’s not perfect; it’s real.
The movie is accompanied by a soundtrack that plays like a musical timeline of all the big hits from each year — from Gaga to Gotye and Coldplay to Arcade Fire — which is a great touch. I’ll end with this quote from the movie: “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel
What an odd, yet charming movie. Visually, it is just beautiful and should definitely win the Oscar for Production Design. Ralph Fiennes gave such a great comedic performance, I was surprised that he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor. His comedic timing was brilliant. And what a treat seeing all those different actors — everyone from Bill Murray to Owen Wilson made a cameo. However… a big part of the movie seemed like style over substance. I enjoyed the friendship between Gustave and Zero, but overall, the story was missing something. Maybe the characters felt too cartoon-ish to really connect with? It’s not a movie that I’ll remember 10 years from now, but the production is stunning.
The Imitation Game
This was the first one of the nominated movies that I watched, and it definitely set the bar for the rest of the nominees. The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, a hero who was denied his rightful place in the history books because of his sexuality. Benedict Cumberbatch is incredible as Turing — his first Oscar nomination, but definitely not his last. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke with fire and compassion and is also very deserving of her nomination. The puzzle scene at the end is especially good, not to mention heartbreaking.
Thanks to the great pacing, the movie never loses steam, and flashbacks are seamlessly weaved into the main story. Speaking of flashbacks, Alex Lawther blew me away with his performance as the young Alan Turing. I dare you to watch the “Christopher is dead” scene without getting goosebumps. Overall, a fascinating and tragic story that left me infuriated with the treatment of Alan Turing (and others) during this time period.
This review offers the perfect quote for this movie: “Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.” Selma is an important history lesson, a story that needs to be told and retold because — although we have come a long way — it is still relevant today. The movie packs a punch and is both inspiring and infuriating. Complemented by the many strong supporting roles, David Oyelowo is perfect as Martin Luther King Jr.; he gives an honest portrayal showing MLK’s flaws and insecurities and even recreates his speaking voice flawlessly. The final speech at the end of the movie gave me chills… How Oyelowo wasn’t nominated for Best Actor is beyond me. I was also disappointed to see Ava DuVernay’s name missing from the Best Director list. The Oscar nominations this year have been very white (and very male)… Here’s to more diversity next year.
The Theory of Everything
This is a movie with a great beginning and a great end — but, sadly, a lackluster middle. It focuses on the relationship between Jane and Stephen Hawking and how his disease affects this, but it continuously feels like we’re only scratching the surface. We see Jane struggling but still standing by her husband through thick and thin, which I was hoping the movie would delve deeper into. I would’ve also liked to see more from Stephen’s professional life.
Despite this, what ultimately makes the movie so enjoyable is the music and the acting. While I was expecting a biopic about Stephen Hawking, I actually got a movie about both Stephen and Jane Hawking. This speaks volumes for Felicity Jones’ portrayal of Jane, which I was very impressed by. Eddie Redmayne also gives a phenomenal performance. He plays a very convincing Stephen Hawking, and his transformation is heartbreaking to watch. If he wins the Oscar for Best Actor, it will be incredibly well-deserved. This may turn out to be the role of his career.
The tension throughout Whiplash was top-notch. The drumming was so intense that I had to remind myself to breathe at times. J.K. Simmons played his role as the world’s biggest asshole to absolute perfection, and Miles Teller’s definitely got a bright future ahead of him. However, despite the great acting and impressive drumming, this movie wasn’t for me. Maybe I just wasn’t able to be objective about how music was presented: like a sport. It wasn’t about emotion or passion, it was only about being the best. I realize that this was deliberate, but it’s still one of the reasons why the movie didn’t resonate with me.
In the end, Andrew finally got what he wanted — the approval of his teacher. He “made it”. The question that I was left with was… Was it worth it?
Did you watch any of the Best Picture nominees? Which one was your favorite?
Photography credit: Love From Ginger