Before I try to predict the results that will unfold on Oscar Night, I wanted to count-down the nominees from least deserving to most deserving. So here goes…
8. Boyhood: Yes, the film that’s been 12 years in the making should be applauded for having been completed, and offering us slices of life. But aside from accomplishing the feat of making a film over 12 years, I don’t think it’s exceptional as a piece of filmmaking or writing. The glimpses of human interaction and relationships are endearing, yes, but the development of the characters leaves a lot to be desired. The parents’ characters revealed more personality, more dimension, and saw more of a journey than Mason’s. The ‘boy’ in Boyhood is not an interesting person at all from what the film gave us. It didn’t tell us anything about him as a person, apart from throwing us scraps of him being interested in art, and him not wanting to have short hair, maybe. He just drifted along his growing years, with little or no reaction to the life that was happening to him. Fine, maybe he was supposed to be a boring person, but that’s the thing—being boring as a person and being boring as a character are not the same thing. Boring people can turn out to be deeply intriguing and engaging characters. Mason was not that.
7. Selma: The film that’s being called one of the most snubbed by the Academy this year is not all that great. It’s an interesting retelling of events of the Civil Rights Movement and the march from Selma to Montgomery, lead by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. It even tugged at our heartstrings, and gave us gut-wrenching moments depicting the racial atrocities against the African Americans. However, it didn’t tell a very compelling story, it didn’t bring about the depth of Dr King’s struggle, it didn’t reflect the intensity of the internal conflicts he was probably dealing with, and it didn’t feature extraordinary performances. Sometimes, a movie is just not as great as what it represents.
6. American Sniper: This film is exceptionally made, with excellent editing and cinematography, telling the story of an American hero getting sucked into the war on terror and out of a normal, family life, and out of emotions associated with being mentally sound. The film depicted how Chris Kyle was deeply affected by 9/11, and through Bradley Cooper’s excellent performance, we believe that the guy turned cold inside, and could kill even a kid without batting an eyelid. It was disturbing to see how he couldn’t seem to conduct himself at a children’s party back home. Yet, at the end of the film, he seems more at peace, willing to embrace normalcy, he seemed happy to be with his wife, being affectionate, etc. Till then I was waiting to see the transition towards that, so I felt like we just skipped to the part where he was getting better, and then just died. The revelation of the death through text on the screen also made me feel like we were being deprived of an appropriate climax.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel: This was definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. I thought it was engaging, entertaining, but wasn’t stupid even in its slapstick humor bits. It showed us developed characters, excellent performances, and brilliantly written and directed situational comedy. The fantastic production design was the icing on the cake. The journey through the film was fulfilling in every sense. I would definitely put it in the top-five.
4. Whiplash: This year’s gem, Whiplash is simple in narrative, and scope, but tells the story of two very interesting characters. Andrew’s resolve to succeed as a musician and Fletcher’s unreasonable high standards and ruthless methods combined to bring about a wealth of emotions from the characters which enriched every moment of the film. The characters were realized with perfection by JK Simmons and Miles Teller (who’s one to look out for, might I add). The screenplay was well-paced, steadily moving forward, and the editing was what brought every moment together in the most effective way possible. The climax especially had some of the best editing I’ve ever seen, and had me at the edge of my seat through that mindset-changing performance.
3. The Theory Of Everything: It’s one thing to make a biopic and have an extraordinary actor or actress play the protagonist, telling a compelling story of a significant personality in history. It’s quite another to tell the story of two individuals and the roles they had in each other’s lives as friends, lovers, spouses, co-parents, and then divorcees. The years of Jane and Stephen Hawking together are beautifully woven together in this film based on the book, My Life With Stephen by Jane Hawking. With a screenplay that brings together the many years they lived together and apart, through different stages of his ALS and her desperation to want more from life. The relationship between the two is flawlessly depicted, as it transitions from love to friendship and mutual admiration and respect. The Theory Of Everything is a movie that could not have been excluded from this list. I only wish it were getting a fair share of the due it deserves.
2. The Imitation Game: AlanTuring’s story had to be told, there’s no doubt about that. The story of an unsung hero, who helped save countless lives and the world from additional years of despair, who was unfairly persecuted, because of the ignorant world he lived in, had to be told. But to bring that out in a picture, depicting every part of that man with finesse, and every moment of his journey and his desperation with beauty and grace, is extremely commendable. From developing in depth some of the supporting characters even, to infusing the tense moments of World War II and the looming deadline, with bits of humor and endearing qualities is what makes this film so complete in every way. It almost made it to number one for me.
1. Birdman: The brilliance of the fast-moving Birdman lies in the rapid, yet seamless shift in perspectives, realized through outstanding direction and cinematography. The story of a washed-up star, holding onto any and every shred of his stardom or what he can salvage of it is fascinatingly told with moments of craziness and dark humor. The protagonist’s life story unfolds with limited glimpses into the personal and professional choices he made, bringing in his ex-wife and daughter to contribute to the exposition. The supporting characters are woven into the primary plot with perfection, telling us who they are in just the right proportion. The performances are exemplary, with the theatric moments drifting into reality and delusional bits. The fantastic elements of the film add to the unique quality of protagonist’s state of mind, through the ingenious condensation of time in a flawless screenplay. This is definitely the best picture of the year, in my opinion.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
The performances by leading as well as supporting actresses nominated this year, are all about economy and restraint in delivery, and about conveying more with less, as realistically as possible. That made it a difficult choice to make, but from Marion Cotillard’s raw desperation to save her job in Two Days, One Night, and Felicity Jones being able to hold back on the histrionics playing a woman caring for her wheel-chair-ridden husband; from Reese Witherspoon’s channeling her inner search for meaning and pouring it into her Cheryl Strayed, and Rosamund Pike depicting craziness in the most chillingly calm manner possible, it was all terrific. This year, however, it had to be Julianne Moore for me. Her ability to convince us, with every element of her being, of the protagonist drifting in and out of lucidity, while suffering from Alzheimer’s, with just the right bursts of frustration, made it nothing short of extraordinary.
5. Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
4. Felicity Jones, The Theory Of Everything
3. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice Should Win
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a very strong performance in The Imitation Game, one that would easily put him above the rest, maybe even above the exceptional work by Michael Keaton in Birdman. However, despite the depth behind Cumberbatch’s expressions and words, and the crazy behind Keaton’s everything, there’s nothing to beat Eddie Redmayne’s very strong, very physical, very expressive, and vocal portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything. The coldness in Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle, and the calmness in Steve Carell’s delivery in Foxcatcher are also rather commendable.
5. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
4. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
3. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
1. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory Of Everything Should Win
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE & ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
The idea of ‘quality over quantity’ is particularly reflected in the Academy’s nominations for supporting performances every year, and it’s something I respect and admire. However, this year, I don’t quite see why certain performances made the cut in these categories. For instance, Laura Dern’s nomination seems to have come out of nowhere. Mark Ruffalo even. He’s good in Foxcatcher, yes, but there was nothing in that performance that would make me put him in the top five of the year. Likewise with Ethan Hawke; he just had to act like a guy talking to the next guy in the most ordinary, everyday fashion, throughout Boyhood.
On the other hand, Patricia Arquette, who had to do a bit of that too, also had to show us depth through tough times, fear, anxiety, sadness, and emptiness in her performance as the mother in Boyhood, which she executes extremely well. Keira Knightley’s performance was perfectly restrained even through bursts of euphoria or bouts of anger, and that’s really amazing. Emma Stone did similar justice to her role in Birdman. Robert Duvall tackles the role of a sick, old man, holding onto his pride and legacy with just the right kind of arrogance, carrying out physical performance as naturally as possible.
While JK Simmons takes arrogance to another level altogether, in his turn as the asshole music conductor in Whiplash. His would be the performance to beat this year, as it is indeed the best in the supporting bunch. Even Edward Norton’s amazingly effective freestyle delivery of arrogance doesn’t quite get there. Meryl Streep is, of course, outstanding with whatever she does, even as the witch in a terrible fairytale mash-up musical adaptation.
5. Laura Dern, Wild
4. Meryl Streep, Into The Woods
3. Emma Stone, Birdman
2. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
1. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game Should Win
4. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
3. Robert Duvall, The Judge
2. Edward Norton, Birdman
1. JK Simmons, Whiplash Should Win