NOTE–Because I am by nature a contrarian, I have included two films not actually nominated. They are highlighted in bold
Take all your old home movies, sprinkle in multiple lousy father figures, add a dash of pretentious folk music and Ethan Hawke trying to Trojan horse a music career, and you get Boyhood.
Bring several pots of coffee if you intend to finish this lumbering leviathan. It clocks in at 166 minutes that could be spent doing more exciting things. Like cleaning tile grout or reviewing your old tax returns.
This movie was nominated for one reason-the novelty of taking twelve years to film a movie.
Watch it and you’ll feel like you’ve been there more than a decade with the cast as well.
I call this Wes Anderson movie #328. Excellent Broadway on steroids level visuals and Ralph Fiennes gives a clever, peculiar performance. But for me, quite unspectacular and painstakingly slow. If you’ve seen other Anderson movies, just change out the color palettes and you have GPH.
But dammit, the symmetry is hard to look away from.
8) The Imitation Game
Who knew the father of the computer would’ve been alive for fifty more years and delivered unknown advancements to computing technology had he existed in a time where sexual preference wasn’t punishable by law?
While this is both haunting and shameful, Benedict Cumberbatch plays the tormented Alan Turing with the same care and attention to detail that employed used by NASA pilots to dock with the international space station.
While the unknown nature of Turing’s compelling story may drive the film, outside of Cumberbatch the film is just another British period piece, complete with the prerequisite Keira Knightley casting and Winston Churchill references.
While perhaps not the best picture, this is a film that needs to be seen. So many of us of a younger generation have no clue the life and death battle that Martin Luther King, Jr. and those that stood with him had to undertake to be treated, well, like a human being.
The film, starring David Oyelowo as the embodiment of MLK, places you in the flashpoint of his struggle -the march from Selma to Montgomery. And this is where the film grabs you. You are in the fight. You feel the hate. You feel the pressure on your chest.
The film boasts a few moments of dark levity, but otherwise stays laser focused on its mission–this was terrible, it happened, and a brave minority met the challenge head on.
I am admittedly a hard sell when it comes to giving biopics the best picture and this film didn’t change my mind.
6) American Sniper
Cooper’s charm, balanced with his slowly worsening mental anguish from the horrors of war is his best performance behind his turn as Pat in Silver Linings playbook.
The primary reason this can’t be a best picture is that, while avoiding terminal jingoism and presenting an unfiltered look at the cost of sending men and women to battle, the movie is simply very good and not great.
What do you do when you’re strange? Apparently, you take on a career as video journalist that hunts for horrific accidents and violent crimes to sell to news outlets.
The film is excellent, but Jake Gyllenhaals’s performance as Louis Bloom is the best by any actor or actress of the year. Bloom is equal parts social misfit, soulless sociopath and relentless entrepreneur.
Yet, while your eyes tell you he’s as much a covetous, remorseless villain as American Psycho’s Patrick Batemen, you will undoubtedly find yourself doing the strangest thing…rooting for him almost every step of the way.
The likability that Gyllenhaal infuses into this dastardly voyeur, this golem spawn from the human desire to acquire more both in terms of wealth and respect, is creative magnificence.
Watch for yourself and see if you don’t somewhat admire, even to the point of disbelieving laughter, the lengths to which Bloom will go to capture what we desires.
And while most will truthfully say “I’d never do that,” no honest viewer will be able to say it’s not wickedly fun to watch him Bloom do otherwise.
4) Theory of Everything
Most people will hear about this movie and dismiss is it as the movie about the smart dude in the wheelchair that sounds like a speak and spell . Just another movie about someone with a physical or mental illness, a cheap Oscar grab.
While not entirely incomprehensible, that would be like skipping a tour of the Grand Canyon because it’s just another large hole, or never reading I Am Legend because it’s only a story about vampires.
All three of these would be a crime against your soul.
Theory of Everything, as is often the case with most great stories, is at its core a love story, an intimate experience of film.
You see, Theory of Everything, like the man it chronicles, Stephen Hawking, is multilayered, complicated brilliance.
The movie portrays love as a passionate longing that can exist between two people and also between the mind and our burning desire to understand why, and how that love can evolve over time, often for the better.
Love is nebulous but possesses concrete meaning. Love adapts but does not always abandon its former constitution.
Brilliantly filmed and directed, the film’s impeccable pacing and lighting give it a tightness and a fairy tale quality that is rare in dramatic film.
And certainly not least, Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking is charming beyond all expectation.
He is not an alien genius to be placed on high and worshipped from afar, but rather a highly intelligent man who loves others and thought, and receives more love,than many of us could hope to find in two lifetimes. Redmayne ensures Hawking stays what he should be – excruciatingly, wonderfully human.
J.K. Simmons is a buzz saw as jazz instructor legend Terrence Fletcher. He has been programmed to carve out perfection, regardless of the emotional wreckage he leaves beneath the sawdust.
You will leave this film both scared to death and secretly curious as to what would happen should he ever teach your kid. Kind of like having Hannibal teach little Sally or Johnny at culinary school. They might get eaten, but they might also graduate and successfully start their own five star restaurant.
The fun is in the guessing.
Miles Teller. Go ahead and memorize the name. He’s basically Vince Vaughn if Vince Vaughn could do subtlety. He masterfully takes the role of Andrew, an aspiring Jazz percussionist, and over the course of a 107 minutes believably transforms him from an anxious, fearful beginner to a confident, forceful first chair drummer that had rather die than lose his spot. He goes from push mower to farm grade tractor.
Andrew attempting to play at a competition after a major accident, blood spilling onto the drums as he defiantly yells away the instructor, is a scene that is worth the price of admission. alone.
If Michael Keaton had suffered malaria during the filming of the second Batman, then during the most terrible throws of his illness he attempted to produce and star in the Glass Menagerie, and then somebody filmed it…
And then he developed real super powers, and then Ed Norton and Zak Galifanakis both showed up and egged him on while both giving Oscar worthy performances…then you’d have Birdman.
Part fever dream. Part memoir. Compete perfection. Birdman grabs you from the opening and makes you question just what the hell kind of movie you’ve stumbled into?
Is it a swan song from one of the better comedic actors of our time? Is it a fantasy, some kind of Beetlejuice on both steroids and Xanax at once? Maybe even a drama? Or perhaps simply the greatest dramatic performance of an actor who’s perfected the gritty comedian in so many movies before.
Whatever kind of fantastical cornucopia of laughs, scares, and tears Birdman is, it is near perfect.
The helter-skelter score and the quick cuts, zooms and pans dance a tight waltz with the cast’s dynamic performances and a script that gleefully walks a tightrope above a chasm of naive madness.
But instead of a train wreck, all this insanity paints a rich portrait, a dizzying composition that leaves you dying to know – what really happened to the Birdman?
1) Gone Girl
David Fincher’s tale of twisted love, resentment and revenge grabs you by the hand, then the heart, then the throat and does not let go even after the final credits role.
Perhaps only Hitchcock’s Psycho could keep pace with twisting a viewer inside out and eventually over their head.
Gone Girl carefully takes its time gently creating a spark of dark curiosity early on, then bellows and adds fuel to the flames until it’s bright burning tips mutate the curiosity to horror and disbelief.
We are left to wonder – just what the hell am I capable of?
While Ben Affleck plays the accused and some times aloof husband well, the film belongs to Rosamund Pike and her role as his wife, Amy Dunne. Without giving away too many spoilers, she is akin to Glen Close’s Alex from Fatal Attraction, only substitute your entire life for the rabbit she wants to place in the boiling pot.
Even better, she makes you think, if only for a few delicious scenes, maybe the boiling pot is called for.
Gone Girl, the definition of captivating and inescapable, with a weight that you welcome onto your cognitive shoulders, is the best picture of the year.