Category Archives: List

Notes on the 2015 Oscars

Oscars 2015

Best Picture

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash

So here we are, on the day of the 87th Academy Awards, and the Best Picture category is not entirely locked up. Frankly, it’s a great feeling. It seems that it’s come down to the two “B” movies: Birdman and Boyhood. Between the two, my preference would be with Boyhood, but I would truly be happy with either film taking home the award. They’re both audacious and creative original works, both the kinds of movies that filmmakers should strive to make in the future. In the end, I do think the Academy will favor the pure spectacle of Boyhood and award it Best Picture.

My Prediction: Boyhood
My Vote: Whiplash
Overlooked: Gone Girl

Best Director

  • Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • Boyhood, Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
  • The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum

While I’d be happy about either Birdman or Boyhood taking home Best Picture, Best Director simply must go to Linklater. He’s had a sensational career and his 12 year dedication to Boyhood absolutely needs to be recognized this year. The rest of the nominees are worthy, with the exception of  Morten Tyldum for his muddled and disorganized biopic The Imitation Game. While Ava DuVernay’s snub has been widely publicized, it’s worth mentioning one more time just how much more qualified she is than Tyldum in this category.

My Prediction: Richard Linklater
My Vote: Richard Linklater
Overlooked: Ava DuVernay (Selma)

Best Actor

  • Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton in Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Of the major categories, this one is up in the air more than any other. Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking is great and likely to earn him the Oscar but I still get the sense that Keaton or Cumberbatch could pull an upset. I feel that Carell and Cooper, who took on daring and transformative roles, might have a better chance most other years but this year’s field of Actor nominees is particularly competitive.

My Prediction: Eddie Redmayne
My Vote: Michael Keaton
Overlooked: Miles Teller (Whiplash)

Best Actress

  • Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore in Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Unfortunately, I only had a chance to see two of these five movies (Girl, Theory) , so it’s a difficult category for me to discuss in depth. Still, it seems that Moore is a lock for Still Alice, which still hasn’t opened in any theaters around me. I’m pleasantly surprised to see Pike nominated for such a multifaceted and haunting role, certainly one of my favorites from last year. Jones did a fine job but I wouldn’t exactly call it Best Actress quality work.

My Prediction: Julianne Moore
My Vote: Rosamund Pike
Overlooked: Scarett Johansson (Under the Skin)

Supporting Actor

  • Robert Duvall in The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
  • Edward Norton in Birdman
  • Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

J.K. Simmons has done good work for years as a character actor but his performance in Whiplash is undeniably electric and there’s little doubt that he’ll take home the trophy. If it weren’t for Simmons, I would love to see Norton win for his memorably haughty performance as Mike Shiner in Birdman. Ruffalo is a nice addition but the nominations for Duvall and Hawke feel somewhat arbitrary.

My Prediction: J.K. Simmons
My Vote: J.K. Simmons
Overlooked: Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
  • Laura Dern in Wild
  • Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone in Birdman
  • Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

This one seems to be Arquette’s to lose, although Stone has a long shot for her terrific work in Birdman. She may not win this year but if she continues to choose roles this good, I imagine she’ll have an Oscar still in her future. This is Streep’s 19th nomination, so at this point, it’s safe to say that she can expect to be nominated any year that she chooses to be in a film.

My Prediction: Patricia Arquette
My Vote: Emma Stone
Overlooked: Elizabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip)

Here’s my rundown of the “non-major” categories:

Best Animated Film

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

My Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2
My Vote: – [I didn’t see any nominees] Overlooked: The Lego Movie

Best Cinematography

  • BirdmanEmmanuel Lubezki
  • The Grand Budapest HotelRobert Yeoman
  • Ida, Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
  • Mr. Turner, Dick Pope
  • Unbroken, Roger Deakins

My Prediction: Emmanuel Lubezki
My Vote: Emmanuel Lubezki
Overlooked: Nicolas Bolduc (Enemy)

Best Documentary Feature

  • CitizenFour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

My Prediction: CitizenFour
My Vote: CitizenFour
Overlooked: Life Itself

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Ida (Poland)
  • Leviathan (Russia)
  • Tangerines (Estonia)
  • Timbuktu (Mauritania)
  • Wild Tales (Argentina)

My Prediction: Ida
My Vote: Ida
Overlooked: Force Majeure

Best Original Score

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat
  • The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat
  • Interstellar, Hans Zimmer
  • Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon
  • The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson

My Prediction: The Theory of Everything
My Vote: Interstellar
Overlooked: Antonio Sánchez (Birdman)

Best Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
  • “Glory” from Selma
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

My Prediction: “Glory”
My Vote: “Everything Is Awesome”
Overlooked: “Yellow Flicker Beat,” Lorde

Best Visual Effects

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

My Prediction: Interstellar
My Vote: Interstellar
Overlooked: Snowpiercer

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • American Sniper, written by Jason Hall
  • The Imitation Game, written by Graham Moore
  • Inherent Vice, written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Theory of Everything, screenplay by Anthony McCarten
  • Whiplash, written by Damien Chazelle

My Prediction: The Imitation Game
My Vote: Whiplash
Overlooked: Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)

Best Original Screenplay

  • Birdman, written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
  • Boyhoodwritten by Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcherwritten by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotelscreenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • Nightcrawler, written by Dan Gilroy

My Prediction: Birdman
My Vote: Birdman
Overlooked: The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

My Top Movies of 2014

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is at it again with yet another highly stylized and highly entertaining piece of filmmaking. While his previous film Moonrise Kingdom was more intimate and smaller in scale, Hotel finds Anderson at his most grandiose, leading a stellar cast throughout various time periods (cleverly represented in aspect ratio changes) and set pieces that feel more intricate as the film progresses. This is a fun, old-fashioned caper with a brisk pace and a smart balance of whimsy and melancholy.

9. The Babadook

The Babadook

If I’m being honest, most horror movies just don’t scare me and I feel I have to give ample credit to those that do. The Babadook was a genuinely frightening experience for me, which I attribute most to my level of engagement in the story and the level of investment that I felt with the characters. Instead of going for jump scares and cheap thrills, director Jennifer Kent instead builds up an uncommon amount of dread and creepiness that kept me glued to my seat.

8. Mistaken For Strangers

Mistaken For Strangers

A bit of a bias here: I do love The National, the band that is the focus of this rock-doc, but I think even people who has never heard their music will still find plenty to enjoy. It serves as a video diary for the band’s 2010 world tour but also functions as a relationship study between lead singer Matt and his brother Tom, who directs the film during his time as a roadie for the band. Strangers is packed with an awkward brand of humor that’s right up my alley but it also delivered a heartfelt ending that I found to be surprisingly moving.

7. The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

I doubt there was a bigger surprise this year than The Lego Movie: what good things could we really expect from another film based on a toy franchise? What surprised me most is how co-directors and screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were able to take the themes of creativity/practicality and individuality/conformity that are inherent in Lego building and translate them to a story that’s this funny and this insightful. The visual style here is also exceptional, which employs unique computer animation techniques to give it the feel of a stop-motion animated movie.

6. Enemy

Enemy

Jake Gyllenhaal starred in two great films last year and while Nightcrawler may feature a more memorable performance, Enemy has stuck with me more with each repeated viewing. It’s an engrossing and often times bizarre mystery tale that actually deserves the David Lynch comparisons that are applied too often to other films in its genre. Rather than giving tangible clues or contrived resolutions, director Denis Villeneuve instead guides us through a psychologically satisfying portrait of a man at odds with himself.

5. Boyhood

Boyhood

2014 saw the completion of Richard Linklater’s 12-year production that may just be one of the daring experiments ever attempted in American cinema. Given its background, Boyhood was destined to achieve notoriety since its inception but the biggest surprise is how small the movie feels in comparison to the scope of its narrative. By focusing on the seemingly insignificant moments of life, Linklater creates an organic and wholly unique portrait of American life that is effortlessly engaging and memorable.

4. Gone Girl

Gone Girl

David Fincher’s ruthless and faithful screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel was the cinematic equivalent of a car crash that you just can’t ignore. Fincher dug deep into the well of depravity to bring forth this cold and calculated masterpiece, which also doubles as the most awkward date movie of the year. Rosamund Pike gives one of the year’s very best performances in a turn of jaw-dropping audacity, intensity and nuance, while Ben Affleck proves that he’s capable of a delivering a memorable performance when the material is just right.

3. Life Itself

Life Itself

The Roger Ebert memoir Life Itself is a tribute to one of the most iconic and prolific American film critics of all time. If it isn’t obvious by now, Ebert is a huge inspiration to me personally (the name of this blog is a reference to one of the many books that he wrote) and it was a joy to see his life commemorated so purely on screen. Whether you’re completely unfamiliar with his work or a big fan like I am, this documentary is well worth your time.

2. Selma

Selma

While many of last year’s biopics came across as timid or short-sighted, Selma stood tall. This is a masterful work of focus and confidence from director Ava DuVernay about the Selma to Montgomery marches during the 1960s. What surprised me most about this film is how even-handed the narrative is throughout, especially during scenes of protest and violence. Even more refreshing is the passionate performance by David Oyelowo, which truly captures the essence of Martin Luther King, Jr. without veering into a glorified impression of him.

1. Whiplash

Whiplash

The most electrifying film of the year takes all of the student-teacher cliches that you may expect and gleefully throws them out the window. Featuring two spellbinding performances by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Whiplash is the most feverishly intense movie about music performance that I’ve ever seen. Like a drummer gradually speeding up a snare roll (as heard during the film’s title sequence), it builds with an uncompromising level of power and precision to a finale that left me shaken and speechless.