American Sniper

Oscars 2015 – My Picks

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Last year was the first year I actually watched all of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars aired, and I really enjoyed having an opinion on who I thought would take home awards. Not only that, but I was right about most of the awards. This year is much harder though. I think the categories are much tighter, and it’s definitely going to be harder to pick the winners for the major categories. Adding to that, this year the Actress categories are much more spread out, and I haven’t had enough time to see all of those performances. But I will do my best based on what I do know, and then we’ll see who actually wins Sunday night!

Patricia ArquetteBest Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette
Laura Dern
Keira Knightley
Meryl Streep
Emma Stone

I have not seen Wild, so I can’t speak for Laura Dern’s performance, though I do know she’s a great actress.  While I love Emma Stone, I don’t really feel that her performance stands out as deserving of this award over the other women in this category. However, I really think this award belongs to Patricia Arquette. I thought she was one of the best performances in Boyhood and one of my favorite parts of the film. I will be really disappointed if this award goes to anyone else.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall
Ethan Hawke
Edward Norton
Mark Ruffalo
J.K. Simmons

This category is a really hard one to choose from, as all are terrific actors who gave great performances. In my opinion Duvall is probably the only one I’m sure won’t win – not because his performance was lacking in any way, but because I just think the other four have a really high chance of winning and it’s hard to pick a best between them. However, my favorite by far is J.K. Simmons. He was absolutely fantastic in Whiplash. He’s my pick to win, though I think you could also make a really strong argument for any of the others.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard
Felicity Jones
Julianne Moore
Rosamund Pike
Reese Witherspoon

This is another hard category, but this time because I haven’t yet seen three of the five performances being nominated (I hadn’t even heard of Two Days, One Night before the nominations came out). However, I think we can cross Rosamund Pike off the list of likely winners; like with Duvall above, she gave an excellent performance but I think the others are probably more likely candidates. While I loved Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything and think she’s very deserving of an award, I suspect this one may go to Julianne Moore.

Michael KeatonBest Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carrell
Bradley Cooper
Benedict Cumberbatch
Michael Keaton 
Eddie Redmayne

I might as well just start every category off with “This is a really hard one…” because they all are. Again, all the performances in this category were excellent. I’m slightly biased towards Benedict Cumberbatch because I love him, as well as Bradley Cooper (who did give his best performance to date) but I suspect neither will win this one. Steve Carrell gave a fine performance in Foxcatcher, but I just don’t think it’s one that stands up against some of the others in the category. While Birdman wasn’t my favorite of the nominees, Michael Keaton gave a fantastic performance and I think this is his year.

Best Directing

Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

I honestly don’t know who is going to win this category and I hesitate to pick one name. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be either Alejandro G. Iñárritu or Richard Linklater because their films felt the most original and innovative of this year’s nominees. I loved the concept and execution of filming over twelve years, to show the actors actually aging and I loved the way Birdman felt like one fluid shot through the whole film – though I suppose that speaks more to the cinematography than directing. If I had to pick one I would go with Linklater here, but I definitely could be wrong.

Still7.JPGBest Picture

Whiplash
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game
Selma
American Sniper
Boyhood
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Last year when I walked out of the theater after seeing 12 Years a Slave I was certain that film deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. I never once doubted that it deserved it, or that it would win. There is no clear front-runner in my mind this year. I know who will likely win based on reviews and other evidence, but I’m not sure any film is a clear winner for me. Whiplash is by far my favorite, and I think it’s one of the best in the category even though I don’t think it will win. And American Sniper stuck in my head longer than any of the other films, but part of that is due to the controversy it raised.

Judging from the evidence I’ve seen so far, I suspect this category will come down to either Boyhood or Birdman. Both were original stories told in unique ways, and even though neither one was a film I particularly loved, I see why they made it into the category. While I easily could be wrong, I am going to pick Boyhood as the winner this year because I think the story and the film itself resonates with a wider audience than Birdman. 

So there you have it, my picks for this years Academy Awards. I’ll be tuning in Sunday night to see how many (if any) I chose correctly.

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

Oscar Season is here!

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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 24 hours, you probably heard that the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced yesterday.

Last year I watched all nine Best Picture nominees and had so much fun doing so, I decided to do it again. This year I’m also going to try to watch as many films from the other categories (particularly animated and documentary features) as I can as well.

from bbc.co.uk
bbc.co.uk

This year I’ve also been trying to pay more attention to the film industry in the months leading up to the nominations being announced, and I have to say I wasn’t surprised by any of the Best Picture nominees, with the possible exception of Whiplash, which I only heard of for the first time when J.K. Simmons won the Golden Globe Sunday night. I even managed to see The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel  already, though I’m going to have to watch the latter again, as I was only half awake while I was watching it (it was during the middle of the night on a transatlantic flight).

There were a few I was surprised didn’t make the cut, particularly Foxcatcher, which managed to receive nominations for Supporting Actor, Lead Actor and Director, but didn’t get an actual Best Picture nomination. Part of me suspects that the Academy just couldn’t live with nominating a Channing Tatum film for an Oscar (and if so, I can’t say I blame them). Despite my general lack of interest in anything Tatum stars in, I do plan to see Foxcatcher, since it is up for the other three major awards.

I know there was a lot of outcry yesterday about the Academy not nominating The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature. I have to be honest and say I don’t have a lot of opinion either way about that one in particular. I actually fell asleep in the middle of the movie. It was cute and fun, but I just didn’t love it as much as the rest of the world seems to. Maybe I missed something?

I would love to give you my early predictions, but I don’t feel qualified to speak on which will win since I’ve only seen two films so far. From what I’ve heard – and it’s success so far this award season – I think Boyhood stands a fairly good chance at taking home the Oscar, but I’ll be able to give a more definite opinion once I’ve seen everything else.

So watch this space over the coming months as I review all the Best Picture nominees and as many other nominated films as I can.