Every year, I try to see all of the films that have been nominated for the top six Academy Award categories – best picture, director and actor/actress in lead and supporting roles. Usually by the time the nominations are announced I’ve already seen quite a few of the films – not the case this year. Out of the fifteen films that were nominated for these categories I’d seen only one which was ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ way back when it was released last spring.
I was a little surprised that I was in this unenviable position although not totally shocked. I think in general, 2014 was a really lousy year for films. I really am an avid moviegoer but I can’t recall more than six or seven that I went to the theater to see after last year’s rush to see the nominees. The major studio releases just didn’t interest me enough to make we want to shell out fifteen bucks for a film and some popcorn even though it’s one of my favorite things to do. I think a lot of other people felt the same way because I read that last year was one of the worst in terms of ticket sales. What was really interesting this year was that the Academy apparently shared my opinion because very few of the major releases were nominated for anything except for technical awards.
Out of the fifteen nominated pictures, the majority of them were not shown originally at the giant multiplexes in our area but at the Cedar Lee theater which screens mostly independent and foreign films. Some of them moved to the larger theater chains after the Oscar contenders were announced but not even then for some of them. Also, quite a few of them didn’t even open here until very recently – ‘Two Days, One Night’ two weeks ago, ‘Still Alice’ just yesterday.
I did like the fact that there weren’t any films this year that totally dominated the nominations – there were quite a few last year that were up for several of the major categories. I do think that this is warranted occasionally – some films really are incredibly well made and well acted – but it seemed last year that quite a few good performances were sadly overlooked. This year, in contrast, the Academy definitely spread the wealth – there are quite a few films that are nominated for only one or two acting awards. There are also two which were nominated only for best picture and no performances which I find a little puzzling.
So, here we go from the general to the specific. Listed below are the fifteen nominated films and my thoughts on them for what it’s worth. There are some mild spoilers…
American Sniper – this was the one film that I really had to drag myself to see because the entire subject matter just looked totally unappealing. I have to say that it was worse than I imagined it would be. I thought it was way too long – really didn’t need to see an hour and a half of Bradley Cooper shooting people from a rooftop to get the antiwar message. Sure that it would have been a difficult film to make technically but I don’t think it deserves a best picture nomination.
Birdman – I did like this film but can’t say that I loved it. I really enjoyed the scenes where they were putting up the Broadway play, especially the ones showing friction between Edward Norton and the rest of the cast, but I didn’t care as much for the ones where Michael Keaton’s Birdman character was flying around Manhattan. I thought the single shot concept although not new – Hitchcock did it in Rope in 1948 – was very interesting. The performances were uniformly good and I’m glad that Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone were nominated.
Boyhood – The concept of making a film over twelve years is really a very interesting one and for the most part I think the film holds together well. Both Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are very good as the parents but I agree with my friend Tim who thought the biggest weakness of the film was Ellar Coltrane who plays the boy. He was much more appealing in the earlier scenes than he was as a teenager. He wasn’t bad in the role but wasn’t very interesting either.
Foxcatcher – I think this is a well made film although not a lot of fun to watch. You get a feeling of dread right from the very beginning which is for good reason. Good performances by Steve Carell, fellow Denison grad, and Mark Ruffalo.
Gone Girl – I liked the first hour of this film until the big surprise is revealed then it kind of jumped the shark for me – found it totally unbelievable after that especially in the storyline with Neil Patrick Harris. Rosamund Pike did a good job in the lead but I think there were better performances in her category.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – A fun film and unmistakably Wes Anderson with the quirky characters and situations. I’m surprised that there were no acting nominations for this because it’s a hard genre to do well. Visually interesting as well especially in the hotel scenes. Can’t say I loved this one but it’s definitely worth watching.
The Imitation Game – By far my favorite film this year. Outstanding performances in general, especially Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley who truly deserved their nominations. It’s very suspenseful, even though you know going in that England isn’t going to lose the war, and ultimately tragic. A film that really makes you think about the consequences of the persecution and marginalization of people because of their sexual preferences which continues to this day.
Into The Woods – I discovered that I really don’t like the music of Stephen Sondheim after watching this movie – I couldn’t wait for it to end. Talented cast with great singing voices, especially Emily Blunt who was particularly good, but ultimately a disappointment for me. Meryl Streep did a nice job as the witch but I’m not sure she’s deserving of a nomination.
The Judge – It’s a toss up for me whether this film or American Sniper was my least favorite this year. Truly awful pretty much all around with a poorly conceived and unconvincing plot and irritating acting. Robert Downey Jr. deserves special recognition here in a performance that seemed both phoned in and obnoxious at the same time – a shame because I usually enjoy his work. I’m not sure why Robert Duvall was nominated for this role – playing the same curmudgeon that he’s done countless times before.
Selma – My second favorite this year. I thought this was another film that did a good job of creating suspense even though you know that the march from Selma to Montgomery takes place. I was disappointed that David Oyelowo didn’t receive a nomination for best actor for his performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. – think he did a terrific job. You’d never guess that he’s an English actor although that’s true of many of the leads – Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth and Carmen Ejogo as well. I understand the film has taken some heat for depicting Lyndon Johnson as not being supportive of equal rights – think they did it to build up the suspense – but I think this has to be taken as a work of historical fiction and as such I think it works well.
Still Alice – I think this is the performance that’s finally going to give Julianne Moore her first Oscar win. She is really terrific playing a linguistics professor who’s diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Good supporting cast in this film as well – even Kristen Stewart for a change.
The Theory Of Everything – Eddie Redmayne did a tremendous job in portraying Stephen Hawking in this film – he definitely deserves his Oscar nod for best actor. The film itself was good but not great – there were others that I liked more that I think should have been up for best picture. Definitely worth seeing though to see Redmayne in action. Good supporting cast in this as well.
Two Days, One Night – Marion Cotillard gives a really good performance as the lead in this film – it feels like you’re watching a real person rather than an actor in a role while watching this film. Sadly I don’t think she has a chance of winning because she’s going against Julianne Moore but a nice job nonetheless.
Whiplash – I was going into this film expecting to really dislike it – I’d heard that the scenes with J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller were pretty hard to watch and they definitely were. The end of the film does make up for it though at least for me – don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give anything away. I predict that Simmons is going to win the Academy award for best supporting actor and deservedly so.
Wild – This one was kind of a surprise for me – I’d heard almost nothing about it until the nominations were announced. Definitely not a film with a lot of action but the more you get to know the characters the more you want to watch. I thought Reese Witherspoon was good in the lead but I was really impressed by Laura Dern’s portrayal of her mother.
Finally, if it was up to me, here’s who would win on Sunday night:
Best Picture – The Imitation Game
Best Actor – Benedict Cumberbatch
Best Actress – Julianne Moore
Best Supporting Actor – J.K. Simmons
Best Supporting Actress – Keira Knightley
Best Director – Alejandro G. Iñárritu