Pre-Oscars 2014

As I’ve done for the past three years, I’m getting self-important (just like the Academy!) and posting an overlong list of my thoughts on the Oscars! This is coming in just under the wire, so I’m not going to waste much time on a preamble. While I did manage to see all of the Best Picture nominees, I missed out on more of the acting awards than I would have liked. Also, apologies for how terribly unpolished this is, I might go back to clean it up later.

Odds and Ends
  • As is often the case, I didn’t see any shorts, documentaries or foreign films. I’m the worst. This year it’s all I could do just to see the Best Picture nominees in time.
  • I don’t have major thoughts on the sound categories and some of the other “minor” awards. There’s a reason that the people who work in those areas are the ones who do the voting. I’m certainly not qualified. Also, I haven’t seen as many nominees.
  • That said, if I’ve seen all or most of the nominees, I’ll still try to give it a go. After all, I’d have to pick someone if I was filling out a ballot for a contest or something.
  • I have seen a whopping ZERO of the Best Animated Feature nominees. Had The Lego Movie been nominated, I still would have seen Zero. My wife saw Big Hero 6 though, and said it was good, so let’s go with that one.
Best Costume Design
Grand Budapest Hotel or Mr. Turner? Probably the former, as I feel this is an award that it can win.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Will Win: Foxcatcher
Should Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Why: I don’t know why. I guess Foxcatcher wins because Steve Carell’s nose is the most memorable thing about that movie. Of course, Nicole Kidman’s schnoz didn’t even get a nomination for The Hours though she did win a Best Actress award. The way I see it, why not give Guardians some love? I had a ton of fun with that movie, even if it follows the same “Marvel on Rails” formula as most of the other movies in the MCU when you take the time to think about it.
Best Production Design
Will Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Why: I feel like Wes Anderson’s movies should always be nominated in this category (none have been), so call this a premature lifetime achievement award or something. Budapest may be his most ambitious film, and it’s certainly the one that has received the most recognition. Still, I don’t imagine it taking home Best Picture or Best Director, so maybe it will get some “consolation” prizes in other categories. Shout out to Mr. Turner too, which may be the most beautiful movie of the bunch.
Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing
I might just say Birdman for both since Interstellar had problems just like Nolan’s last movie, The Hobbit (which is the only one of Jackson’s 6 Tolkien movies I didn’t bother to see in theaters) was apparently weak overall and American Sniper didn’t blow me away. I didn’t see Unbroken. It would be fun to see Whiplash take home a technical award or two though (see more below).
Best Original Score
Will Win: Johann Johannsson – The Theory of Everything
Should Win: Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Why: I don’t know, Johannsson wins for stirring biopic music in a film that’s refreshingly less melodramatic than I expected. He also wins for longest name using the fewest letters. Desplat has been nominated 7 times (twice this year), including for two Best Picture winners (The King’s Speech, and Argo). He hasn’t won.
Best Original Song
I know I could easily listen to all of these and pick one, but I won’t. Considering I’ve only seen Selma, I don’t really have a horse in this race. I’d say give it to Selma since it missed out on a couple of nominations or give it to The Lego Movie because this is its one shot at an award and I heard it was pretty great.
Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Interstellar
Should Win: Interstellar
Why: This is the one part of that movie that I think is inarguably strong throughout. The robots are cool, the black hole stuff is great, plus they used a lot of practical/miniature effects too, which is pretty awesome. If not Interstellar, give it to Guardians, because it was more fun than Winter Soldier and I haven’t seen X-Men or Apes.
Best Editing
Will Win: Boyhood
Should Win:  Whiplash
Why: I think Boyhood might be the big winner and there’s often correlation between the Editing and Best Picture winners. Also, I could see people voting for it because “it has to be hard to edit a movie shot over 12 years, right.” Not really though, because it’s all chronological. You’re really only editing 12 short films, aren’t you? No, because you have to seamlessly fit those 12 short films together and make sure we understand what’s happening without resorting to clunky subtitles. So there! I loved Whiplash though, and there were at least two sequences (Andrew’s race to the competition and the final performance) that are transcendent.
Best Cinematography
Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman
Should Win: Dick Pope for Mr. Turner
Why: I’ve long championed Lubezki (and fellow nominee, never winner, Roger Deakins), and I expect Lubezki to win again this year since he has the good fortune of having won before. Of course, the technically amazing Birdman also helps, but Mr. Turner is a stunning piece of work. The two films are actually sort of opposites. Lubezki’s fluid camera uses movement to sell the beauty and brilliance of its long takes. Pope’s gorgeous framing and composition are like beautiful paintings (naturally) that compel you to pause and take them in, as you would the works of art in a gallery.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: The Theory of Everything
Should Win: Whiplash
Why: I could see this going to The Imitation Game too, on the strength Harvey Weinstein. Maybe I just think voters will get lost in the biopics and the pretty great performances in them. That said, I like “little film that could” Whiplash better than any of the other nominees. Of course, I haven’t seen Inherent Vice, and I love me some PTA. Might be a fun upset.
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
Why: Because I haven’t seen Nightcrawler. Because everything else in Boyhood seems to be coming from somewhere beyond a script. Because I didn’t like Foxcatcher as much as the rest of the nominees. Because Anderson has written (and been nominated for) better (though, this really could be his best shot and I’d love it if he grabbed an Oscar).  Say what you will about Inarritu’s criticism of Hollywood blockbusters and superhero films, and his criticism of critics as well, there’s a lot going on in Birdman that makes it worth discussing and revisiting multiple times. Of course, you can blame the performances for how great it is too, if you want. We’ll get there.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Should Win: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
Why: Arquette is arguably the soul of Boyhood. The story is as much about her as it is about her son, and she sells it, man. She’s real, and her character’s growth and change feel natural the whole way through. I haven’t seen Wild or Into the Woods, but I feel like the latter is a “let’s nominate Streep” opportunity, and the former might be too underseen. I could see Knightley walking away with this (Weinstein again), but I’m pulling for Arquette.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
Should Win: Edward Norton for Birdman
Why: ARGH! This may be the toughest category for me to decide. I’d love it if either of these guys won, though I feel like this might be character actor Simmons’ one shot at Oscar gold. I don’t think either of these two has ever been better. Norton, like Keaton, plays off of his persona in Birdman, and his character, though eccentric and irritating at times, has just enough earnestness and talent to sell you. Simmons is in R. Lee Ermey Full Metal Jacket mode (Ermey wasn’t nominated though). His character plays the same note quite a bit, but he’s also given a few opportunities to show depth that make us understand why Miles Teller’s Andrew would keep trying to impress him over and over again. He’s not always awful, and may not be awful at heart. It’s a tough choice. Ruffalo is typically great, but he’ll be back someday, and probably in an even better film. I don’t know if Hawke will have another, better shot, but while he delivers in the same way Arquette does, I don’t think his realistic performance matches up to the bravura of Norton or Simmons. I did not seeThe Judge. I like Robert Duvall. I will not see The Judge.
Best Actress
Will Win: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
Should Win: Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl
Why: Everything I’ve heard says it’s Moore’s to lose (with her 5th nomination). Here’s where I have to bring up the fact that only 1 of 5 Best Actress nominees are from Best Picture contenders, while 4 of 5 Best Actor nominees are from Best Picture contenders. The “Best Pictures” of the year are the ones that feature men in the meatiest roles (4 biopics!), while the best roles for women are found in films that are smaller, less heralded, showcases. I’m not going to go critical much longer, but I’m sure that this has been a trend for a while (or forever). I’m not qualified to go placing any blame. Maybe I should place it on myself for only seeing two of the nominated performances. Anyway, that’s something to think about. So, given that I’ve only seen Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, I’ll go with Pike, of those two. Honestly, I’m surprised Gone Girl didn’t receive more love.
Best Actor
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
Should Win: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
Why: First off, throw Carell, Cooper (and maybe Cumberbatch) out and bring in David Oyelowo, Ralph Fiennes (and maybe Timothy Spall). Then, don’t award any of them, but take your pick between Keaton and Redmayne. The latter ticks all of the biopic boxes of playing a real person, with a troubled life and a disability. The thing is, he’s perfect in the physically demanding role. Keaton is also great, and the autobiographical (or at least perceived autobiographical) elements of Birdman make his performance resonate even more than it might with another actor in the role. That said, Keaton is surrounded by an amazing supporting cast, including the unsung Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan (not to mention the nominated Norton and Emma Stone). Redmayne has Jones, but that’s it. Pretty much the entire movie is on his slowly-slumping shoulders. Now, that’s not to say someone could easily fill Keaton’s role, or that Redmayne is doing something incredibly original. I can’t imagine either film without its lead. I’d be happy if either won, but I think Redmayne is going to take it.
Best Director
Will Win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Should Win: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Why: The gimmick. But honestly, I wouldn’t call it a gimmick. I’d call it a vision. This is the guy who put together this 12-year exploration of growing up in Texas (do they really say the “Texas Pledge” there?). It’s not flashy. It’s not overly stylistic. It doesn’t have great performances outside of Hawke and Arquette. Still, it all works. It all comes together. It all feels real. It all feels like life. I don’t know what kind of shelf life or historical impact Boyhood might have, but it feels like the most unique nominee and it’s all thanks to that slacker, Richard Linklater. Of course, Inarritu offers tough competition with what might be the winner for “most directed” film of the year. I still love Birdman though and I’d be okay seeing him walk away with a win. Anderson is at his most ambitious with Grand Budapest, but it’s not my favorite of his. Same for Foxcatcher and Bennett Miller. And of course, we all know that Miller (or maybe Morten Tyldum) is taking up Ava DuVernay’s spot for directing Selma. Still, like the Actor categories, I think this is a two horse race.
Best Picture
Will Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Boyhood
Why: At this point, many signs point to Birdman winning. It’s flashy and it’s about actors and (theatrical) show business. It’s also very good. Still, I’m going to stick to my initial pick (which I first decided yesterday) and go with Boyhood for all of the reasons I mentioned above. Now, Boyhood did not really resonate with me on a personal level, and it probably wasn’t my favorite of the nominees, so a part of me worries that we might look back on it as a languid 3-hours of “just okay” that doesn’t stand up when removed from the context of its production. Or, we just see it as a weird experiment that didn’t really bring about any changes in how movies are made, but at least got people’s interest in 2014. That’s not such a bad thing, though I hope it’s remembered more fondly than that.
As I usually do, I’ll conclude by ranking the Best Picture nominees. I managed to see all of them this year too!
8. The Imitation Game – I liked Cumberbatch, even if one could draw multiple lines from Sherlock to Turing. Still, it felt like there was something missing from this one. Maybe it’s a product of being a biopic, but it felt like the film was telling when it should show and showing when it should tell regarding what was going on in Turing’s group.
7. American Sniper – the first 25 minutes are a prime example of classical, by-the-book filmmaking. Seriously, just watch how Eastwood gets Chris Kyle from the rodeo to the Middle East. It hits all the necessary beats, not wasting any time. I don’t think it goes as far as it might in exploring the effects of war on the man himself, even if it does give us plenty of other examples. It rides a sort of line where it’s hard to tell exactly what it wants to be all about. Still, it’s a HUGE success of a film. Something tells me that Americans were excited by a movie with the word “sniper” in the title (with apologies to Tom Berenger).
6. The Theory of Everything – Redmayne is perfect, as I said above, but I can’t help but feel that the thrust of the film is simply watching to see how he plays the deterioration of a brilliant man’s body. In my opinion, it’s not as emotional (or artful) as something like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I will say that I’m not surprised master documentarian James Marsh managed to put together a straightforward biopic.
5. Selma – This is a superb example of a “limited time” biopic, focusing on just one part of King’s life. Oyelowo (Danny from Spooks all grown up!) is great and it packs at least a couple of emotional punches that managed to move me toward anger or tears. I feel that way with a lot of Civil Rights films though, wishing I could’ve been around at the time to do something, but wondering if I would’ve had the courage, conviction (or upbringing) to actually do it. Everything is nicely subdued here (with the exception of Tim Roth and co., though these southern bigots may actually have been that cartoonish), and we’re given a look at King as a man and as a practical leader of others. Sure, he’s an icon, but he’s also human, for better or worse.
4. Boyhood – I may have picked it to win Best Picture, but like I said, it didn’t really resonate with me as much as some others. It has a documentary-esque quality, and it’s less about actual narrative and more about the narrative of life and time. The things that happen to the characters in Boyhood happen to a lot of other people, to varying degrees. There are lows and highs and growth and change and time keeps moving.
3. Birdman – of all of the nominees, this is the one that left me with the most to ponder. Not only was it a technical marvel, but the questions it raises (and embodies) about art, truth and criticism, not to mention about what actually happened at the end of the film are the stuff that spawns film theses.
2. Whiplash – This is a nice, tight two-hander and both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are great. You feel Teller’s frustration, and you fear Simmons’ wrath. As the film progresses, you just get more and more engrossed in the struggle while Teller transforms into a man obsessed (not unlike his instructor) and Simmons becomes more of a beast. There are some contrivances and some moments where you might question Teller’s decisions, but ultimately, for such a small film, it’s hugely satisfying.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel – I’m an unashamed Wes Anderson fan, and even if this isn’t my favorite of his, there’s a lot I love about it. I love the nested structure of the introduction and the changing aspect ratios. I love the throwback stories and characters that feel like they could be out of a film from the 30s or 40s. I love that Anderson is stretches to deal with some ideas (namely WWII fascism) that his typically insular films haven’t touched before. He does it in his own way though, which could be seen as diminishing history, but which I see as more of a creative re-purposing. Use of the Wes Anderson acting company lightens things up a bit (maybe too much at times), but focusing the story on Anderson newcomers Tony Revolori and the superb Ralph Fiennes keeps the story fresh. I must say, I haven’t seen this one since April, much earlier than I saw any of the other nominees, so it’s possible that had I watched it in proximity it might be lower. Still, I have fond memories of it and I’m pretty sure it belongs in the top 3 for me.

1 thought on “Pre-Oscars 2014

  1. I didn’t see you posted this! How accurate were your predictions?

    I haven’t gotten around to Selma yet (I will this summer for sure to see if it’s good for class), but I can promise you that today’s mind cannot imagine a segregationist more cartoonish than some of the genuine articles.

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