Daniel: 2014 was a fantastic year for film. No matter which way you cut it, very deserving films were going to miss out on the Oscars. What’s interesting this year, given so many films that could realistically be nominated, is that Best Picture only consists of eight nominees for the first time (as opposed to 9 or 10) in recent years. In this excellent year, I honestly can’t argue with the nominees. Sure, there were some films I loved that didn’t make it, but there’s truthfully not a bad movie in the bunch. I definitely liked some more than others, and not all of them (5 out of 8) will make my Top Ten of the Year, but it’s hard to make an argument for any film that could replace one of these nominees.
Tyler: I agree with Daniel. It was an exciting year for moviegoers and movie lovers. This is a good bunch of films, and while the other categories of nominees are all filled with solid performances, direction, or technical achievements, there are a few that could be replaced or argued against. Two on this list would I not be OK with winning, while the rest are fully worthy of the nomination.
Daniel: The highest grossing film on the list this year and a hotbed of controversy, American Sniper – to me – was not worth the fight. Now before you all freak out on me, I really did like the film. Bradley Cooper’s performance certainly captured PTSD more realistically than any film I’ve yet seen. He did a powerful job showing the different personalities between war life and home life. The intensity of war, the tough calls from behind the rifle- it was all pitch perfect. Still, it was all too quick for me. The intensity immediately cut to something else. It never sunk in for me. It was all too fast for me to really feel the power of the moments that needed time. Nevertheless, American Sniper is a fantastic depiction of modern war, and easily deserves a spot among this bunch. But let’s not talk about that fake baby.
Tyler: I loved this film, and honestly, for the reason Daniel critiques it, I praise it. Cooper’s intense and true portrayal of PTSD, as well as the juxtaposition of war life and home life was poignant and significant. The quickness of the film was needed to highlight the blur of war, and the struggle that soldiers and their families must go through during transitions.
What fake baby?
Tyler: Birdman was a singularly immersive experience. From the opening moments, I was enraptured by almost every element: Keaton’s (dare I say) breakout performance, the single-take conceit, the seamlessly woven play within a film, and the slow psychological burn that underpins everything we see. Each performance was spot on, though not all are nomination-worthy. This film will battle for Best Director as well, and I think it may deserve both awards (as well as Keaton’s Best Actor nod). However, no other film on this list tries to do what this one accomplishes, nor possibly leaves such an impact.
Daniel: A tour de force, a unique creation, and a film unlike any other nominated this year. I feel that I need to see Birdman a second time to truly appreciate it. As it’s presented in one single take, the film is fast-moving and complex. It’s almost deceptively complex–a simple premise about an actor making a redemptive play. Unbeknowst to everyone else (including him), he’s of course on the brink of a psychotic break. This is probably the best-acted film of the year to be sure, with each of the main characters pretty equally messed up in their own ways. I left the theater unsure of what to think. Undeniably enjoyable but challenging and full of ideas.
Daniel: A powerful concept perfectly executed. The best compliment I can give Boyhood: it feels absolutely real. The acting’s not the best, the story’s not the most original, but somehow everything in the film feels familiar and true. Boyhood truly feels like you’re watching a boy grow up, discovering life and what it all means. It hit me near the end, as Mason drove to college for the first time, that we, the audience, had truly watched him grow up right before our eyes. There’s a powerful catharsis with Boyhood, watching a kid simply living life. Films like this don’t come around often.
Tyler: I love coming of age films. Stand By Me, Super 8, The Goonies, The Sandlot, The Way Way Back, and the countless others that I’m snubbing here. Boyhood stands among the greats, not only for Linklater’s directorial achievement and 12-year vision for the project, but because it does what many of the others don’t do: focus on the everyday. Most are about a single defining moment or period in a boy’s life: a summer baseball team, the dead body, the treasure hunt, the alien invasion, first love. This is about all the moments, the good and the bad, the significant and the mundane. The performances of Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are standout, particularly Hawke’s semi-absent, but utterly loving father. My only qualm is its length, but that’s what you need to tell the story of a boy’s life.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Tyler: I’m going to agree with what Daniel is about to say about the style of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Wes Anderson’s filmmaking brilliance. He is possibly my favorite director (which we’ll talk about in another post), but this was not the film to be nominated. I’m wondering if this will be as Daniel described in the Oscar primer a few weeks ago: Anderson’s time to get the Oscar, not necessarily for this particular film, but really for his body of work. This is an exquisitely shot film, as always. I was completely excited to see it, but it took three viewings to get through it because I fell asleep twice. And I don’t fall asleep in movies.
Daniel: “Wes Anderson Style.” What more could a director ask for than for their films to be immediately recognized simply from their style. The Grand Budapest Hotel somehow feels like the culmination of Anderson’s stylistic tendencies, right down to the aspect ratios the film employs. Every single frame, as with all of his films, is perfectly orchestrated and designed. For me, while I can appreciate a film executed exactly as intended (a tough thing to accomplish), it’s hard to compare to a film like Boyhood, that feels completely real. This film, intentionally, is not believable, and thus just doesn’t stick for me personally. The Grand Budapest Hotel is simply not my style, and while I have major respect for a filmmaker like Anderson, this is my least favorite of the nominees here.
THE IMITATION GAME
Daniel: The Imitation Game has all the right pieces of a good Oscar movie – historical drama, wartime, a persecuted subject – but it feels like it’s simply going through the motions here. Yes, it’s well acted. Yes, it’s put together well. What sets this film apart? For me, very little. There was nothing unexpected from this film. I found myself bored, knowing what was coming next at each and every turn. I respect the craft of the film very much, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint anything bad about the film of course. For me, The Imitation Game is a fine film with little to be remembered for.
Tyler: This is a World War II film about cracking the enigma with Benedict Cumberbatch playing a savant whom no one understands. That’s it. It was very well done, well acted, with a brilliant score. But it wasn’t as much about the story as the not-so-sub-subtext, which feels like a bait-and-switch, and a not-so-honest one at that. It was an enjoyable film, but it doesn’t feel Oscar-worthy to me.
Tyler: I was riveted by Selma, from the bombing early on to the frenetic, emotional riots and brutality throughout. This move easily deserves its place on this list of nominees, if only to balance out The Imitation Game‘s shortcomings. The acting is superb from all angles (every actor is British, except for Common and Oprah), the music accents everything emotionally, the story is relevant and impactful, and they didn’t have to hit anyone over the head with the message of peace and equality. It does it on its own without being underscored by epigrams at the end.
Daniel: Ah Selma. The most argued about film in this Oscar season. I certainly believe it deserves to be in this lineup. Selma is an excellent, eerily well-timed film. David Oyelowo’s performance was powerful and commanding, along with the rest of the cast. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of peaceful resistance is still so affecting. For most of my life, the Civil Rights movement always felt historical–before my time. It was unnerving to watch the struggles of MLK and their protesting and know that the message is just as relevant today. Selma, while not a perfect film, couldn’t have come at a better time.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Daniel: What a surprising little film. I went into The Theory of Everything expecting a nice biopic about a genius. I did not remotely expect to be so moved by the romance of it all. From the start, I knew the ending. The relationship was doomed to end. Yet, the journey was so impacting. Eddie Redmayne perfectly captures the fear, confusion, and devastation of a descent into paralysis. Going in, we know we’ll be wowed by Redmayne. Felicity Jones on the other hand, was a shock. Her performance as Jane, the neglected lover and caretaker, was so surprising and pitch-perfect, selling the romance and heartache of it all. I was immediately enamored by The Theory of Everything. So simple yet so grand.
Tyler: Another film that we knew would be nominated from the get go. I didn’t need to see it to know that it would sweep the big nominations. Redmayne was completely charming, believable, and empathetic, acting with his entire body, and especially his eyes when he can no longer speak (but we’ll go over that in another post). As a whole, this was a beautiful, wholly engaging film, from the lush cinematography to the rich score and the inspired acting. It easily deserves its place on this list.
Tyler: I had to pick my jaw up from the floor at multiple points throughout Whiplash. It was a deeply dark and disturbing film, but one that also probes the depths of passion and perseverance. This isn’t an inspirational film, but it is a film that readily delves into the dark corners of the drive to achieve greatness, not necessarily for the love of the creativity of art, but for the notoriety of that greatness. I loved the film, but I would have to think twice before getting ready to sit through it again, because it brought me to a dark place. The opening scene, however, is maybe the most precise and concise piece of characterization I have seen in a long time.
Daniel: Whiplash grabs a hold of you and never lets go. More specifically, J.K. Simmons does. In my favorite performance of the year, Simmons plays Terrence Fletcher, a prestigious Jazz Ensemble director. Fletcher tortures his students mentally and physically, breaking them down to mold a perfect sound. Whiplash explores the lengths an artist can go to in order to reach perfection. One of the best lines of the year: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” You would think the film would demonize this attitude, but by the end, you’re not sure if you disagree. The tense, powerful climax leaves you questioning if you would do it differently. How far would you push yourself to accomplish your dreams? For artists, for dreamers, for creators: I can’t tell you how affecting Whiplash is.
Daniel: Boyhood will win, but this will be a nail-biter.
Tyler: I’m sticking with my “Will Win” pick, because of Birdman‘s technical and acting prowess.
Should’ve Been There:
Daniel: I think Gone Girl should’ve had more love than it did.
Tyler: I don’t think that there are any films that should replace these. I would have taken out Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game, but I don’t know that I’m ready to add new ones. I had favorite films that were on the list, but not necessarily Best Picture films. Maybe Guardians of the Galaxy or Chef, for fun, but they’re not on the technical level of their would-be peers.
Sidenote From Daniel: In the Oscars Primer I discussed how precursor awards good stats to let you know who will win the award. Three weeks ago, I would’ve told you that Boyhood had Best Picture in the bag. I still think it will win, but Birdman has won a few key precursor awards, most notably the PGA award. Every PGA award-winner has lined up with Best Picture for seven years. That said, Birdman missed out on a Best Editing nomination, and every Best Picture winner since 1981 has been nominated in that category. Either way you cut it, one of those records is going to break this year. My money is on the seven year PGA record breaking, rather than the 23-year Editing nomination record.