Martin Luther King Jr.

Best Picture Nominee: Selma

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Selma PosterCast:
David Oyelowo
Carmen Ejogo
Tom Wilkinson

Selma tells the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in the small Alabama town, and the struggle to get equal voting rights for African Americans following the Civil Rights act.

This film is a hard one to review, because I don’t want to offend anyone and I know the subject of Selma’s nominations is controversial enough since it didn’t receive any acting or directing nominations. I believe this is a powerful film, and an important one. Every person in America should see Selma and be reminded of where we came from, and how we really should be much further along today than we are. We’ve come a long way, but as recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere in the country have proven, we still have a long way to go. Selma does an excellent job of making the figures in the Civil Rights struggle real and human, and the performances every actor gives is outstanding. It really is a great film.

However, I’m not sure it’s a Best Picture. While the writing and the acting were terrific, there were a lot of technical aspects to the film that really bothered me. There were some interesting choices being made for camera angles which worked in some cases but in others just felt like bad composition, or like the actors weren’t making their marks. There were also a lot of scenes where the lighting didn’t seem right at all – I hate when films try to use less lighting for nighttime scenes and it just ends up making it hard to see what’s going on.

In addition to those aspects, the subtitles taken from FBI records were distracting and annoying, at least for me. I understand the point they were trying to make – to highlight the extent of FBI surveillance on Dr. King and his associates – but every time they popped up on screen it took me out of the film entirely. They distracted me from what was going on, instead of enhancing the onscreen action. Perhaps if they had faded to black then put the text up as part of the transition, or just something different it would have worked better.

While I really thought Selma was a good movie, and in many ways I enjoyed it more than Birdman, Grand Budapest Hotel, or Boyhood, I just don’t think it stands up to the rest of the films in the category. While I may not have enjoyed the other three I just mentioned as much as Selma, I do believe they were more creative and original. I feel the same way about American Sniper. Both are good films which I would recommend to anyone, but they don’t really take any chances or stand out from the crowd as far as cinematography goes. Selma was a little more original than American Sniper – and would likely have a better chance at winning than Sniper – but neither one will be taking home that trophy.

Rating: 8.5

Favorite Moment: There was a scene where, after the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery ends tragically a young man says he’s had enough and wants to gather up weapons to go back. He is told (by Andrew Young I believe, I never caught the character’s name in the movie, but looked him up on IMDb) that this not the answer, that it will only lead to even more lives lost. The actor playing Young (Andre Holland) delivers that speech so well, it’s possibly the most impressive performance aside from Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. King. 

Ranking: 

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