I'd Like to Fire the Academy

The Academy Awards came and went once more.... and I can't help but feel that some mistakes were made yet again. Some were big (Eddie Redmayne beating out Michael Keaton when Redmayne only showed us one aspect of Stephen Hawking,) and some small (Big Hero 6 really??) But the one race I'm really left thinking about is the biggest one: Best Picture. Or to be more precise, the recently gaining momentum of Birdman, beating out the critically acclaimed and previous favorite, Boyhood. I can't help but feel like I've seen this kind of matchup before. The year? 2011.. where the best movie of the year, aka The Social Network lost out to the safe period piece The King's Speech. Am I comparing Boyhood and Birdman to The Social Network and King's Speech? Only partly. You see this time, in 2015... The Social Network of the year (Boyhood) loses out instead to the BLACK SWAN of 2015 (Birdman). Yes, the best film is losing to a far artsier and interesting film this time than before...but I don't really think that makes it any less of a mistake. Birdman is a movie for artists. Boyhood is a movie for everyone... which quite honestly might be the reason the out of touch Academy couldn't find themselves rallying behind it. Besides, there's nothing more the Academy loves than themselves... so I should have known this film which celebrates the craft of acting and building a career in their field would have won them over. But alas. In any event, as per my custom... here are my thoughts on all of the Best Picture nominees.

BIRDMAN. I previously wrote about Birdman here when it made #10 on my Top Ten list of 2014. I liked this movie, I did. But again, I admired it in the same way I loved Black Swan. A fascinating watch about how far an artist will go for their art. It's got an awesome score throughout, fantastic cinematography, pitch-perfect editing, great performances, and it's got that whimsical thing going on for it. But no, it was not my favorite film of last year.

BOYHOOD. I previously wrote about Boyhood on my Top Ten list here where it made #5. While it was my personal fifth pick (and lower than fellow nominee Whiplash,) Boyhood was the movie that I absolutely felt should win Best Picture. Richard Linklater just GETS life, and his 12-year labor of love Boyhood is absolute evidence of that. This movie is nothing more than a series of vignettes of one boy's life from young boy to young man. But the way they are presented to us is much like our own remembrance of significant events in our own youth. This movie attempts to speak to its audience in such a personal way, by relating special moments of one boy's life that shaped him... moments that you find aren't too different from instances in your own life. Shame it only walked away with one award.

THE IMITATION GAME. I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to! Great performances, combined with drama and surprising moments of humor and warmth. Still, it's a little bit "by the numbers British period piece Oscar bait."

AMERICAN SNIPER. Ditto the last entry. I'll see it eventually, but for now here's Kent's review.

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. If any movie this year is The King's Speech, it's this one. Likewise, both lead actors of the films took home the Best Actor prize. I wrote about The Theory of Everything previously HERE. I just felt like this movie kept me at arm's length the entire time by showing more of a portrait of Stephen Hawking's circumstances than who he was and what made him tick. Since this was based on his wife's novel I felt that they should be a little more straightforward that it's her story. Had they done that, it might be more distinguishable than your everyday biopic.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL I watched this movie twice (the second time out of generosity for the movie's sake) and other than some awesome production design and some entertaining performances... I really don't know what all the fuss is about. The plot seems simple enough at first, but then gets more and more convoluted as each minute wears on. Perhaps that's the point as this is supposed to a far-fetched story one tells to another. But...somewhere along the way it lost me. BOTH times. Sorry, Wes fans. It was really nice to see Ralph Fiennes in a lighter role for once and you can tell he's just eating it up. Clearly the cast love being in this movie, I just wish as an audience member I could say I loved watching it.

SELMA.  For me, Selma is kind of a mixed bag. It was funny to me when one of the presenters last night mentioned that Selma showed us the man that Martin Luther King Jr was, not the hero... because I felt completely the opposite. Certain aspects of his personal life were glossed over as much as possible to have him remain a hero when if we saw how he struggled with it, he could have actually seemed human. But I can't deny the film was gripping, anchored by David Oyelowo's lead performance. My issue is this: I understand the civil rights movement was a horrible time in history and people behaved abhorrently, but I just feel like 12 Years a Slave handled the subject matter a bit more delicately in showing that these horrible behaviors were a product of their respective times. 12 Years a Slave showed the good and bad in humanity in both races, meanwhile I checked my clock in Selma to see when a kind caucasian person actually showed up into the movie... and well, it took 1.5 hours for that to happen (and then they were subsequently killed by other caucasian people.) It just felt a little gratuitous to me. But again on the plus side, this movie had gorgeous cinematography. Should have been nominated there.

WHIPLASH. Whiplash was my personal favorite among the nominees and my first review for it can be found HERE. I saw it almost a year ago when it won best of fest at Sundance and since then has remained the film to beat in my eyes. I'm not surprised it wasn't given more serious consideration because its intensity isn't really something those safe Oscar voters go for. But this movie is absolutely electric and keeps you on your toes the whole time. It truly is one of the most intense movies I've seen in years and it's about a jazz band for goodness sakes!

As for the other categories? I have seen all of the best actress performances save Reese Witherspoon's in Wild, and while I LOVED Marion and Rosamund's performances, Julianne Moore in Still Alice is the clear winner here. I'm not a big cryer in movies, but her realistic and nuanced performance of a woman facing Alzheimers really stuck with me and had me teary eyed throughout. I'm ecstatic that JK Simmons won supporting actor even though he faced some strong competition in Edward Norton and Ethan Hawke. I loved all three of those performances, but JK was simply amazing in Whiplash. Supporting actress... well I'm not really sure why every critic claims that Patricia Arquette was the heart of Boyhood, because I think if anyone was it was Ethan Hawke. She gives a good performance that certainly required a lot of dedication, but I think Emma Stone in Birdman probably edged her out.  Other thoughts? I'm happy Interstellar took home a prize, but wish somehow Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could have shared the award since the vfx in it were some of the best I'd ever seen. The animated film was sure to be a bummer any way you sliced it since The Lego Movie was snubbed, but Big Hero 6 out of all of them certainly isn't oscar worthy. I wish Interstellar could have won for its amazing score...can't say I even remember the score of Grand Budapest. I was torn on the best editing prize... though I think Boyhood could have been tighter and Whiplash was edited to perfection, I can't help but think that the 12 year accomplishment of editing for Boyhood deserved some recognition. But sadly what many critics believe to be a masterpiece and the best film in years walks away with just one prize... and one I'm not really convinced should have been the one it locked down. So all in all, thank you Academy for a nice case of deja vu.


Sarah said...

Every year I watch the Academy Awards, I am more and more convinced that Hollywood is actually the eternal version of high school and it is all a popularity contest because if I had been the one to choose, the outcome would have been different. :) I guess we all have our favorites.

Johanna said...

If Sarah had seen the Independent Film Awards, she would be even more convinced that they are stuck in Hollywood.

It's a weird popularity contest and everyone sees differently and sometimes there should just be ties. But I've only seen that happen once, so there you have it.

steph wanamaker said...

hi Emily I feel the samw way about Grand Budapest! I love Ralph Fiennes but I just didt get it! Same with Birdman and I knew it was going to win as movies about show business always do lately Argo, The Artist
But you have to see the Imitation Game It is a piece of history everyone should know about! I was moved to tears by Benedict and Keira great too! They both deserved to be nominated! This is the first time Benedict has shown such vulnerability in a movie!

Funzi159 said...

I've read your review with interest. I'd like to watch some of the movies in this list, especially because I'm not fond of modern cinematography, but sometimes they still make good movies (sarcasm sign). However, Michael Keaton, aka "There is only one Batman", truly deserves any possible award. Even if he didn't get this one from the Academy, he wins in the hearts of much more people the Academy could ever gather at the red carpet! :) Michael Keaton rules!