Academy Awards Sub-Quest: 2015 Best Picture Nominees

I don’t want to just watch a bunch of random films as part of my Film Quest each year, and like most every movie lover, I like to make my own picks on who should win each of the Academy Awards. Because I don’t like to make those picks without seeing everything, I’ve taken both agendas into account when building my list of movies to see this year.

Up to this point, I’ve seen all but one of the 2015 nominees for Best Picture. Here’s how they rank out for me and my thoughts on each:

American Sniper (85)

This was a great war film, and the detractors on either side who claim it sends the wrong message are missing the point. Anyone who has an issue with factual inaccuracies in the film are either unaware of how this is standard fare for “true stories” in Hollywood, or they’re conveniently brushing those aside to make their point more strongly. Does the film glorify killing? Not any more than most other action films, and unlike a lot of other action films, the gravity associated with the act of killing is also put on display, significantly so. Bradley Cooper does a great job of showing the emotional toll taken. Where this film continues to succeed is where it shows how war not only affects those who fight, but their families back home as well – before, during and after deployment. Despite that, this isn’t an anti-war film, either. It doesn’t preach either extreme, it simply portrays both aspects in a strong way. Anyone who feels it weighs too heavy in either direction is coming in with their personal bias.

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Boyhood (85)

On its surface, this film doesn’t seem to have a strong plot driving it along, but as a character study is where this film really succeeds. Never before has a film taken a child actor and shown them grow over the course of more than a decade, evolving the character along the way, and Richard Linklater did a phenomenal job with the task. For as much as this film focuses on the child, its the supporting performances showing us how the parents are evolving which is the more interesting aspect of the film. I don’t agree that Patricia Arquette deserved even a Nomination for her performance, but I’ll admit to not have watched her closely enough to determine if there were nuances I wasn’t picking up on. I might also be biased because I didn’t like the character. I’m making it a point to see more Richard Linklater films starring Ethan Hawke, because whether it’s BOYHOOD or the “BEFORE” trilogy, they’re typically a succeess.

The Theory of Everything (87)

When I heard that performers from this film were up for both Best Actor AND Best Actress, I was confused and in a bit of disbelief. How could another actor do enough in any scene to have a memorable performance, acting across from Eddie Redmayne’s nominated performance of such a complicated and nuanced character? Watching the brilliantly-told story and Felicity Jones’ wonderful performance made me a believer.

The Imitation Game (88)

As someone who studied Artificial Intelligence in college and at one point gave consideration to attempting to make that part of my career plans, you can believe that I hold Alan Turing in high regard. Because of that factor and the side story presented in the film to show the social injustice he endured, not to mention the great performances, this film carried considerable weight.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (90)

I’ve been a huge Wes Anderson fan since the late 90s when luck caused me to happen onto BOTTLE ROCKET on VHS at my local Blockbuster Video. Nearly 20 years later, Anderson has certainly defined his own style, and I continue to enjoy the fruit of his labor. It’s something of a modern day fairy tale, with great dialogue being delivered by some of the finest actors in Hollywood, or at least making actors seem as though they deserve that praise. For a variety of reasons, I have a hard time avoiding repeated viewings of The Grand Budapest Hotel, stopping on it whenever I notice it’s being shown on HBO and taking the trek to its completion unless duty otherwise calls. I don’t often purchase movies to own – as of yet I only have 3 Wes Anderson films on any physical media – but I suspect that once I finally notice that The Grand Budapest Hotel is no longer available through HBO Go, I’ll be adding a fourth to my collection.

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Whiplash (92)

I would not have been disappointed if this great character study had won the Best Picture Academy Award. Both the student and teacher were soooo well developed that it was a great pleasure watching their personalities unfold on the screen. The story was well crafted, with exposition points scattered about throughout the film, feeling naturally placed. Nothing felt forced or unnatural. I totally disagree with people who didn’t like the ending, as I saw it a completely different way than some of them did. I tend to think that the detractors of how WHIPLASH ended were just trying to be overly critical. The people I watched the movie with saw it the same way I did, which is why I’m confident in saying that the ending of the film has the punch the film needed after a great journey. The casting of Miles Teller (a great young actor who already knew how to play the drums) and J.K. Simmons (a great actor who already knew music conducting) was perfect, a better pairing I can’t imagine.

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Birdman (94)

This movie was so enjoyable and so good on so many levels, I was afraid it didn’t stand a chance of winning Best Picture. I wasn’t even holding my breath. Michael Keaton did a great job of giving considerable depth to the character. It wasn’t just a great script. I went into the movie thinking that it was semi-autobiographical, given the parallels between Keaton’s experiences with the BATMAN franchise in the 90s, and his character’s experience with the fictional BIRDMAN franchise. His performance totally took me out of that mindset. All of the other performances in the film were top notch as well, bar none. Everyone was on top of their game, including the director, Alejandro Iñárritu, and whoever was in charge of editing the movie. For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s edited in such a way that it feels like you’re following the characters through one continuous shot for almost the entirety of the film. I could rave on about how well the special effects and fantasy segments were meshed in, or how the play-within-a-movie aspect was creative, but at that point I might as well write an entire review.

So now I just need to see SELMA to see where it fits!

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