Academy Awards

Best Picture Nominee: Whiplash

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whiplashCast:
Miles Teller
J.K. Simmons

I honestly had never heard of this film prior to J.K. Simmons winning the Golden Globe for Supporting Actor. Since this film hadn’t been on my radar for long before the Oscar Nominations were announced, I had no idea what to expect when I saw this movie. I had read a basic synopsis, but that’s all I knew.

Whiplash is the story of Andrew(Teller), who wants to be the greatest drummer of his generation. His teacher (Simmons) is verbally and mentally abusive, in what he sees as the only way to drive students to greatness.

This film was painful to watch – but not in a bad way. Everything about the movie is so well done, and the acting and emotions are so raw that you can’t help but feel everything Andrew feels in the film. There were times when I felt myself cringing and not wanting to watch what was coming next, because I felt so bad for the character.

Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher, is so cruel that I flinched every time he started berating his students on screen. Simmons plays it so well that I completely forgot every other character he’s played and only saw him as Fletcher. He terrified me, and I was only watching him on screen. It’s easy to see why he won the Golden Globe, and he’s currently my favorite of the Supporting Actor nominations (though I have yet to see Foxcatcher, so I can’t speak for Mark Ruffalo’s performance yet, which I’m sure is great as well).

So far this is definitely my favorite of the Best Picture nominees (and since I only have Selma yet to see, I doubt that will change). With Boyhood and Birdman in the running, I’m not sure that it will win, but it’s definitely my favorite. If you like jazz music and drumming, and films about perservering through obstacles, then I highly recommend this one.

Rating: 9.5/10

Favorite Moment: I actually can’t describe my favorite moment here because it’s the final scene, but it’s very well done and validates everything else that comes before.

Ranking:

1. Whiplash
2. The Theory of Everything
3. The Imitation Game
4. American Sniper
5. Boyhood
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Nominee: Boyhood

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Cast:
Ellar Coltrane
Patricia Arquette
Ethan Hawke
Lorelei Linklater

BoyhoodBoyhood has been on my list of films to watch for months before the Oscar nominees were announced, though I had no doubt of it’s nomination given all that I was hearing. The idea that they filmed this over the course of 12 years fascinated me, and I couldn’t wait to see how it worked on film.

I enjoyed the movie, but didn’t love it. It was interesting, and I enjoyed getting to see the characters age on the screen, instead of seeing a series of actors portraying the same role at different ages. The only way you could even judge the passage of time in the movie was through the aging of the characters, since there was very little other reference points to tell you time was passing. At times I found this frustrating – I wanted to know exactly how much time was passing between scenes – but in a way it was also refreshing; how much time was passing didn’t matter so much as the simple fact that time was indeed passing.

This movie certainly isn’t one for viewers who enjoy action. The film is simply about the life of a boy, and there isn’t any action taking place. There’s no plot at all aside from life and growing up. Given that the film was nearly three hours long, this meant that at times it felt very slow, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was ever bored.

The performances were fantastic. I enjoyed the entire cast, and Patricia Arquette definitely deserves her Oscar nomination; her performance was possibly my favorite in the film.

Overall this film wasn’t one of my favorites, though I suspect it has a good chance of winning Best Picture.

Rating: 8/10

Favorite Moment: I loved the brief scene of the Harry Potter midnight release party. I really miss those days.

Ranking: 

1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game
3. American Sniper
4. Boyhood
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Nominee: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Cast:
Ralph Fiennes
Tony Revolori
Jude Law
Edward Norton

Grand BudapestI saw this movie for the first time on a flight from JFK to Shannon, Ireland. I had heard so many good things about it I really wanted to see it. However, I ended up unable to stay awake to pay attention to the entire film. I blamed it on the fact that it was the middle of the night, and I was on a plane.

Since The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for an Oscar I decided I needed to give it another chance, since I couldn’t fairly review it for my blog if I hadn’t even been awake throughout the entire movie. I discovered that I honestly wasn’t much more interested in it the second time around than I had been the first. Maybe I just don’t get Wes Anderson, but I just did not enjoy this movie nearly as much as the people writing all the reviews I had read. I felt the exact same way about The Darjeeling Limited when I finally watched that as well.

There were some very humorous moments, and the cast was terrific. It just felt jumpy and hard to follow at times. Anderson does some great things with setting up comedic shots – scenes that are funny without any word of dialogue – such as when Zero visits the prison for the first time and the audience expects the huge gate to slide open, when instead a small door to the left opens. Little moments like that are great. But on the whole I just had a hard time getting into this film and I don’t understand it’s Oscar nomination.

Rating: 7/10

Favorite Moment: My favorite moments were the subtle humor moments like the one described above, as well as the shootout in the hotel, where everyone just starts shooting.

Ranking: 

1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game
3. American Sniper
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Nominee: American Sniper

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American-Sniper-Movie-PosterCast:
Bradley Cooper
Sienna Miller

Over the past week or so I’ve found myself wondering if the Academy still would have nominated American Sniper for Best Picture had they known the controversy it would create once it was released. I’m going to go ahead and state up front that I have no interest in debating the morality of war, and how it relates to American Sniper. That is not the purpose of this review, and therefore I will not address it.

However, in full disclosure I will state that I personally feel that, whether or not you agree with our government and their actions overseas, I do believe that the soldiers who are actually following orders and fighting on behalf of their country deserve respect. They miss holidays and birthdays, sacrifice time with loved ones, health (both physical and mental), and their lives and for that they deserve respect, not ridicule and distain.

American Sniper is based on the memoir written by Chris Kyle. I have heard many complain that the film glorifies war, but I actually had the opposite interpretation. I thought it showed the impact war has on those involved – this wasn’t a movie about war itself, but about the men who fight, and the people they leave behind. You could see the effect it had on the soldiers – even Kyle wasn’t immune to the mental toll of performing his duty. I feel like everyone is getting bogged down in arguing over whether or not the film is glorifying war and killing, while missing an opportunity to open a dialogue about mental health and veterans.

(Update: I was able to express my thoughts on some of the controversy of the film a little better on Facebook this morning. I find reactions to American Sniper increasingly frustrating. Last night I met a man who knew Chris Kyle during the war, and he spoke of how grateful he was to Kyle and rest of his SEAL team for every thing they did for the Army guys at a time that was “like the Wild West,” as he put it. I think while everyone complains about this movie, they’re forgetting that it’s not fiction, it’s about real people and in my opinion, those people still deserve respect. I also think all those who are criticizing it are just picking it apart and failing to see the bigger picture – that this isn’t a movie about politics or right vs. left, about whether war is right or wrong; it’s a movie about the men and women who fight, and the people they leave behind. It’s not about “Murica!” it’s about how hard it is for soldiers to just return to their every day lives after the things they’ve seen and done. Instead of dishonoring those soldiers, their families, and the sacrifices they’ve made, we could be using this film to open a dialogue about how we can better support our veterans both physically and mentally when they return home.)

While I don’t feel that the film glorifies war, I was disappointed with the use of the term “savages” in the film. I only picked up on two specific scenes in which this occurred, but it still stood out and felt wrong, especially because it wasn’t always used in a context where they were referring to just the enemies they were fighting.

The film also felt choppy at times. I couldn’t decide if the abrupt transitions between Kyle’s tours and his time at home were intentionally edited in such a way as to emphasize how unsettling it could be for the soldiers going from war back to their peaceful lives, or if it was just an artistic choice. If it’s the former, then it was effective; if it was the latter, then it makes very little sense.

Looking at the film objectively, it was well done, though I’m not sure I would have chosen it for a potential Best Picture nominee had I seen it before the nominations were announced; I really don’t expect it to take home that prize, and not just because of its controversial nature.

Bradly Cooper’s performance, however, is definitely deserving of the recognition he has received. I do believe this is probably his best performance to date, far outstripping the performances for which he has previously been nominated. He completely threw himself into the role and there were times where, if I hadn’t been able to see his eyes, I may not have recognized him. No matter what your personal opinions about this film may be, the fact is, Cooper’s performance is incredible.

In all honesty, given the competition in the category I don’t expect him to win either, but this is the first year I’ve really believed he deserved the nomination. It’s not that any of his other performances were lacking, but they were roles performances I would expect from Cooper, whereas this was something else entirely. I’ve loved him ever since the first episode of Alias, but if you had told five or 10 years ago he would be nominated for an Oscar for a role like this, I may have laughed in your face (particularly after The Hangover came out). However this role proves that Cooper truly is a great actor, not just a pretty face.

Rating: 8.5/10

Favorite: I’m not sure that I have a favorite moment exactly, but the scene where Kyle is on the phone with his wife just as they come under attack was well done – though I did find myself wondering if it would actually have been daylight in both places.

Ranking:

1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game
3. American Sniper

Best Picture Nominee: The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of EverythingCast:
Eddie Redmayne
Felicity Jones
Charlie Cox
Harry Lloyd

The first time I saw a trailer for The Theory of Everything I knew it would be a Best Picture nominee, and I would have bet any amount of money that Eddie Redmayne would be nominated for Best Actor. So there weren’t any surprises there when the nominees were announced. The movie depicts the life of Stephen Hawking without focusing on his work and accomplishments; instead the focus is on his life and relationships, primarily his relationship with his wife, Jane.

I really enjoyed this film. I am not a science person at all – in fact it was my worst subject in school. Therefore I really appreciated that the movie focused on the human aspect, not on the science. This felt like a very human film. I really loved the moments of genuine humor in the film, which balanced the more dramatic moments. I want to say that this movie had a lot of heart, but then it sounds like I’m saying it made an effort to do something it didn’t accomplish. Rather I think it accomplished quite a deal. A lot of heart and emotion went into the making of this film, and I think that showed on camera.

The entire cast was fantastic. Eddie Redmayne is the standout of course, because his performance was practically flawless. He truly became Hawking. I recently discovered the 2004 made-for-TV movie Hawking, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, and I was amused two actors who have played Hawking are now up for Oscars in the same category. As much as I love Cumberbatch, I must say that Redmayne’s performance in the role impressed me far more. Where Cumberbatch’s acting is precise, Redmayne is just a little more fluid and better for the role.

Felicity Jones was beautiful as well and was not at all overshadowed by Redmayne – if anything she would occasionally steal the screen from him. She is certainly deserving of her best actress nomination, and while I haven’t yet seen all the performances in that category, she is my favorite so far. I also really enjoyed Harry Lloyd and Charlie Cox. I like both actors and hadn’t realized they were in this film, so that was a pleasant surprise.

If I had any criticisms of this film it would be that it seems like in the last hour and a half they fast-forwarded through time to get to the ending they wanted, while the spent much more time on the earlier years of the Hawkings’ relationship. This made the pacing feel a bit off, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

Rating: 9/10

Favorite Moment: There some truly wonderful moments in this film. One of my favorites was a brilliant Doctor Who reference that I don’t want to spoil for fans who haven’t yet seen it.

Ranking:

1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game

Best Picture Nominee: The Imitation Game

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The Imitation GameCast:
Benedict Cumberbatch
Kiera Knightley
Mark Strong
Matthew Goode
Allen Leech

I must confess, prior to hearing about Benedict Cumberbatch being cast in this film I honestly knew next to nothing about Alan Turing, which is a shame considering we have him to thank for much of our digital technology. I still know little about him, so I really cannot comment on the historical accuracy of this film. I also must admit that I may be a little biased, as I am a big Cumberbatch fan, but I really thought this was a brilliant film. The entire cast was wonderful and I’m excited it’s been nominated for so many awards. I have a feeling it’s chances of taking home many of them are slim considering the competition, but it definitely deserved it’s nominations.

The Imitation Game is the story of how Alan Turing created a machine that could crack the Enigma code the Germans were using during World War II. Thanks to his efforts – and those of his team – the war probably ended much earlier than it otherwise would have. Instead of becoming a hero however, Turing was eventually arrested for being homosexual and forced to undergo chemical castration. He died two years later and only recently has the British Government given him pardon.

The film spends most of its time on Turing’s contributions to the war effort and Cumberbatch’s performance was excellent. At first I was concerned that Turing’s apparent confidence and arrogance would make him just another version of Cumberbatch’s more famous role, but soon the differences between them emerged and I completely forgot about Sherlock. Turing’s confidence wasn’t arrogant so much as he simply had trouble with social interaction. There was a lot going on under the surface of this character, and Cumberbatch played that well.

The supporting cast was terrific as well. Kiera Knightly and Cumberbatch stood out of course, but I enjoyed all the performances in this film. I was pleasantly surprised to recognized Allen Leech among the cast – I hadn’t realized he was in the film, but I really enjoyed his performance as well. And Matthew Goode is great at making you hate or love a character and in this film he does both.

Rating: 9/10

Favorite Moment: I wasn’t thinking about my review when I watched, so I didn’t specifically choose a favorite moment although I loved Knightley’s first scene, where she practically has to fight her way into the examination hall because she is a woman. Knightley and Cumberbatch had great chemistry on screen and I enjoyed nearly every scene they had together.

Nominee Ranking:

1. The Imitation Game