8 movies made it to the dance.
8 films that register a notch above the field because of their cinematography. their group acting. their direction. their message. their ability to inspire awe, move emotions, and cause conversation.
8 stories rise above the hundreds released in 2014 vying for the best picture award of a little man named Oscar.
i used to love film more. i even created a spreadsheet of all the best picture nominations since the beginning of the awards to track my progress in seeing all of them. somewhere along the way, though, i discovered the beauty of television.
Lost lead the way and, somewhat embarrassingly, 24 helped suck me into the world of seasons instead of sequels. Breaking Bad took me through a character’s life. his motivations. his desires. his transformation as a person in a way that 2 hours of film just cannot capture. movies took a backseat because they were too short. they resolved too quickly. the characters weren’t deep enough. the medium no longer able to instill anticipation. i let movies become an afterthought. a nothing to do on a friday night event.
until this year.
they announced the 8 films, of which i’d heard of maybe two. i sighed at the decline of film and wrote it off as a waste of time. a movie about MLK, a cocky drummer, a burnt out actor, a little boy, Stephen Hawking (science? bleh), and another Wes Anderson film just didn’t sound exciting. i’ll pass. maybe after February 22, i’ll see the best picture just to reinforce the disintegration of film and the overpowering genius of television.
but then a friend said Birdman will blow your mind.
another friend said, Whiplash, best picture by far.
Richard Linklater, director of Boyhood, was on the WTF podcast talking about his film.
American Sniper’s trailer played every three commercials during the NFL season.
these became must watch. i devoured them in about 4 or 5 weeks, pushing two, sometimes three movies into a week. going out on weeknights and even going to movies by myself. it wasn’t a question of will i see these films, it was how fast can i see all these films?
on Sunday, i completed the viewing of all 8. i watched some that were up for smaller categories – best actress (Gone Girl), best actor (foxcatchter), etc – wanting to have an opinion on every category. the Oscars did their job, sucked me in, and took my money.
i’ve ranked the films in order from 8 – 1. 1 being the best picture of 2014 in my opinion. i welcome your insight, thoughts, or overall hatred towards my opinions.
disclaimer: i don’t take points away for violence, swearing, or sex. all three of these are a part of life, and i accept that. surprisingly, other than swearing, most of these don’t bother this violence or sex scenes to entertain. unless pertinent to my opinion, i’ve removed the overall story elements in favor of succinct opinions. if you haven’t seen a film and don’t know much about it, just click the movie title to jump over to the website.
oh. also… SPOILERS…
8. THEORY OF EVERYTHING
i didn’t know Stephen Hawking had a sense of humor. he is a physicist obsessing over where life begins, and yet he’s funny. i’m not sure why these things should be mutually exclusive, but there we are. Eddie Redmayne played a young French Revolutionary in Les Miserables and somehow managed to put that off to become a brilliant britishman and portray Professor Hawking reminiscent of how Daniel Day Lewis pulled off Christy Brown in My Left Foot. i’ll law down on a pile of rubbish in his honor. well done, boyo.
Theory is a story of human commitment, of love that surpasses physical condition. as one friend said, Jane is a superhero. she cares for, loves, and remains faithful while she watches her husband deteriorate, mostly unable to help with their three children.
despite divorce, it lets you walk out of the theatre feeling happy and amazed at the life of one of the smartest men of our generation. that’s really all it offers, though. a look at a life i thought was boring and am refreshed to find out there’s something more there. while the makeup was stunning at time, it failed to adequately age any of the characters. i was left floundering to figure out the timing of events, and while Eddie was mind blowing, the rest of the cast was average compared to its competition.
David Oyelowo got snubbed. in most other years, Oyelowo gets an oscar nomination for his captivating portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. i squirmed in my seat throughout Selma, uncomfortable at the idea that humans could do that to humans. the terrors Selma displays and the realities of how our world responds to awful things wasn’t eye-opening, but it was a side of the Civil Rights Movement that hasn’t been portrayed much in cinema – in large part because MLK is an American folk hero to many of us. Selma changes that. it takes a caricature and makes him human. from fearless leader, to a man just trying to do God’s will in a broken world.
Selma touches on MLK as a human, but doesn’t dive in unabashed, and that’s where it lost me. it presents an idea of MLK that i longed to connect with, but dissolved into a documentary biopic more than something to discuss, ponder, and think deeply on. what it says is simple: racism is disgusting, and we still aren’t out of it.
6. AMERICAN SNIPER
there’s this moment where the Sniper – Chris Kyle – is looking down the sights of a sniper rifle at a little boy and a woman. he thinks he sees a grenade being passed between them and running at his squadmates as they move up the road. he’s forced to decide if he should fire and kill this enemy, or if the boy is just a boy running around.
this is the crux of the entire trailer, and it echoes throughout the film. what does it mean to go to war? what does it mean for your wife? your son? your brother? do you ever come back from war? when have you completed your duty?
American Sniper portrays war as an awful evil. something that ripples through every relationship, every decision, every moment of a soldier’s life. even when Chris is home, he’s at war. he hears gunshots, mortar explosions, and orders shouted. when he’s there, he’s never comfortable just doing his job – he’s looking for one more thing to accomplish. one more way to save his squadmates lives. one more way to make it all stop and protect America. something shown as noble, but horrendous.
Sniper falls short of best picture because of the old hat nature. perhaps that is unfair. perhaps that is cold hearted, but war is war. director Clint Eastwood has an obsession with capturing this reality of war, whether it’s current, or scenes of The Great War, it’s still the same message: war is atrocious. while it’s a new and compelling window to view this concept.
here’s a stick. here’s a round thing with some fabric stretched across it. make music. GO!
in theory, drumming is about as exciting as a toddler with a spoon and his mommy’s pan collection. noise. noise. noise.
Whiplash made me care not only about drums, but about jazz – something i hadn’t thought about since i read Toni Morrison’s book of the same name. in a lot of ways, the movie can be reduced down to jackass teacher v. jackass student. Whiplash shows the sacrifice of an obsession to be the best at something, and the potential payoff of that obsession. it captures the complicatedness of reaching beyond your upbringing, and making your father proud to another level. one that leaves typical college students’ desires on the cutting room floor.
JK Simmons – yeah the guy that’s in all those Farmers commercials – shreds. like, it’s a shame he doesn’t get more roles, shreds. like i don’t understand why you’re known for insurance, shreds. he takes jackass and turns it into mentor. he takes obsession and turns it into a drive to push others beyond their limits. he takes insanity and makes it acceptable if it means achieving legendary.
4. GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
most movies have a similar feel. a compelling element of realism captured for us to witness and feel emersed. Director Wes Anderson mostly says screw that in his films. Budapest starts with a man revealing to the audience that he was told a story, from a story teller, who learned the story from a bellhop, which told him this story over dinner.
immediately Budapest gains merit with me because it explores the element of storytelling. it breaks a fourth wall – or perhaps a fifth wall? – and adds the reality that most great tales are passed on, not created, and then, of course, it creates a crazy story.
Anderson tends not to believe in typical performances or assumed dialogue. he creates this weird arms-length feel to everything with a matter-of-factness that can be offputting, not allowing the viewer to fully immerse themself in his world. yet, that’s why the opening works so well. i’m going to tell you a story, that was told to me by a man that was told the story by a bellhop over dinner, and the dialogue suddenly feels very natural, and the acting captures this feel and sucks you in.
in a lot of ways, Budapest climbs the ranks because of its uniqueness. it doesn’t feel like the other movies feel. it moves through scenes, and sets that have a look of storybook rooted in reality, letting realism fall away and sweeping you into another world. to accomplish this while still being set in our world is quite a feat.
Budapest also gains ground by being entertaining, something a lot of oscar nominated films forget about. to be a great film, you must entertain audiences, and Budapest does this by taking the heist element of Ocean’s 11 and mixing in themes of love, friendship, legacy, and warmth in a quirky narrative. beautiful on all the levels.
3. IMITATION GAME
oh right, yes there was a cast around him. i’d forgotten. Cumberbatch takes Sherlock, added a stutter, incorporated a complicated life of secrecy, and a drive to outsmart the world in a way Sherlock only fantasizes about between cases.
Game sets Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) up as slightly off, someone who doesn’t fit in. whose intellect puts him ahead of the class, and in a world far removed from social cues, and social requirements. it creates an image of Alan that develops from a cock-sure twenty something, to a man with friends he not only cares about, but cares what they think of him. Game depicts the transformation of a person through one of the most horrific time periods of this world’s life.
and then it spits in his face.
if Selma made me uncomfortable and disgusted in humanity, Imitation Game made me want to violently strike out. with pills of hatred, humanity wrecked the life of someone on the level of Hawking. on the level of Einstein. on the level of something greater than you or me, and people like us forced him to blow it to pieces.
Imitation Game entertains through suspense, and engulfing audiences in World War II to a degree that hasn’t been explored to date. MI6 comes to life rather than a playful Bond joke, and it’s this intrigue that carries the movie to the point of social commentary that isn’t preachy. it doesn’t scream from rooftops that treatment of homosexuals is wrong, or deserve this that or the other. Game simply says here is a gay man greater than than the sum of British’s greatest minds, and here is how humanity wrecked him for being different.
this movie will disappoint you. it doesn’t have explosions. it lacks suspense. it doesn’t pose a world altering threat. it simply just is. and within that is something magical. something that captivated me through two hours and forty-four minutes of life.
shot over twelve years with an evolving script, Boyhood depicts a life both foreign to me – my parents are still together, and were a lot more hands on in their upbringing – and incredibly relatable. it captures simply – a thing foreign to film these days – the transformation of a boy through moving, his mom’s abusive boyfriends, and a real father that shows up at his convenience until the end of the film.
boyhood captures a broken family through ups and downs, and it captures life as it is. Linklater, the director isn’t exploring something life shattering, he’s exploring the passage of time and the effect it has on all of us. whether we’re a mother prone to abusive relationships due to self worth issues, or a daughter that just seeks to slip through untouched and unphased. it captures family as it is, and moves it through time in a way that is both familiar and yet looks through that familiarity with a different lens.
throughout it holds this promise of a life unlived. of something that can still be changed, or discovered. of a life trapped in brokeness escaping to something greater. or maybe it doesn’t escape into something greater. maybe it just is what it is, and maybe that’s OK. maybe sometimes life is a simple thing we get through, savoring the goodness despite the badness.
add to it the unique nature of shooting a film over 12 years, workshopping the dialogue and being able to take advantage of scenes rooted in those years not because they’re contrived but because that’s just what is available.
when it was over i wanted to cry, but i couldn’t. there was no reason to. i just had this sense that crying would be the right thing to do. a mourning for the moments passed and the friendships forgotten, but a celebration for how they all formed me in some way.
if you can explain the trailer and its relationship to the actual movie, you’re one step ahead. i’ll give you a cookie for being a genius.
90 percent of the films is shot in one take. you’re literally the camera – a fly on the wall – experiencing this backstage look at forgotten actor trying to build and leave a legacy. add on the layer of family dynamics, wanting to connect with his daughter, his ex-wife, his current girlfriend. then there’s the layer of can you leave a legacy in film, or is true acting on the stage? the layer of identity, and in acting (or any medium) is there more living than in your real life?
this doesn’t need to drag on. it’s simply the best, most complete, and innovative film. from the acting, to the cinematography, to the writing, to the set design, to the highly bizarre way it entertains and keeps you yearning to see these characters connect and wake up out of their lives. it’s oddly mesmerizing, leaving you discussing for days, and giving you dreams of flying through New York.
there you have it, those are my rankings. a lot could be argued between 3 – 8. depending on my mood, i could mix it up and still feel good about them. in the end, it comes down more to what you value in a film, and how any film executes that value. when it does so sublimely, that’s when it takes home your top seed.
all pictures were taken from http://oscar.go.com/. visit them for more information on who’s nominated, and watch them on ABC on Sunday, February 22, 2015.