Best Picture

87th Academy Awards Nominations AnnouncementThis year, one of eight nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies when it receives the Academy’s greatest honor: the Oscar for Best Picture.  Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include Lawrence of ArabiaKramer vs. KramerPlatoonForrest GumpCrash12 Years a Slave, and many more; needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:

WINNERWhiplash

2. The Theory of Everything

3. Boyhood

4. American Sniper

5. Birdman

6. The Imitation Game

7. Selma

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

Best Actor

Best Actor NomineesAlthough you will likely recognize each and every Oscar nominee in the Best Actor category this year, four of the five nominees are receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. The only veteran to the prestigious ceremony: Bradley Cooper (receiving his third consecutive Oscar nomination this year). Despite the fact that Cooper was stellar in American Sniper, there are two other actors that will be duking it out on Oscar night, meaning the winner will be taking home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

RedmayneEddie Redmayne proved in 2014 that he is a rising star in the film business and will be a force for years to come—his breakout performance in The Theory of Everything (portraying Stephen Hawking) was absolutely captivating. Although the other nominated acting performances this year were brilliant and deserved of critical acclaim, nothing compares to the physical demands required of Redmayne for his portrayal of Hawking. With every passing moment after the character is first diagnosed with ALS, Redmayne handles the physical deterioration with meticulousness. The best way to explain the complexities of this performance and Redmayne’s superb acting comes from my post earlier this week about The Theory of Everything: “He manages Hawking’s real-life mannerisms almost effortlessly, and with every bodily hunch and contortion, Redmayne evokes a visceral likeness to the British theorist in ways never thought possible.” Redmayne was incredible, and his performance in this movie will go down in film history as one of the most remarkable portrayals of a physically disabled character since Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (side note: Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his aforementioned performance—here’s hoping that Redmayne will join him in that elite fraternity). Redmayne has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

KeatonLeading up to the Oscar ceremony in two days, critics and experts have been torn in their Best Actor predictions between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton (it is considered the tightest race in all of the acting categories). Even though I am personally hoping for a Redmayne victory, there will be no disappointment from me if Keaton ends up taking home the coveted statue. Michael Keaton rediscovered his own personal acting career with a tour-de-force portrayal in Birdman of Riggan Thompson, a once-relevant film actor turned Broadway performer hoping to attain critical success again. If it were not for Redmayne’s incredible performance this past year, Keaton would blow the rest of the nominees out of the water—in most years, this performance wins an Oscar 99.9% of the time. Keaton depicted his character with outstanding dynamism, exuding a magnificent blend of serious drama and black comedy. He is miles away from his Batman days with this painstaking depiction, and I hope this newfound Keaton comes back in the near future with equally magnificent performances. Keaton has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

AMERICAN SNIPERBradley Cooper has established himself as the most decorated actor in the business in recent years (this is his third consecutive trip to the Academy Awards for an acting nomination), and although his performances in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) were unmistakably deserved, I would argue that his portrayal of the real-life Chris Kyle in American Sniper is the greatest of his career. In order to more accurately inhabit the late-Navy SEAL (the most lethal sniper in American military history), Cooper notably consumed 6,000 calories per day, while also lifting weights—his physique in the film is representatively colossal. Bradley Cooper’s physical transformation is only part of the noteworthiness of his role—he additionally delivers a rigorous, inspired performance as a brooding man with hidden vulnerabilities. Chris Kyle will forever live on as a legend in the hearts of America (except Michael Moore—but nobody cares about him anyways), and Cooper’s depiction of Kyle in American Sniper does the late-SEAL complete justice on the screen. Bradley Cooper has been previously nominated twice in acting categories at the Oscars: Best Actor (Silver Linings Playbook) and Best Supporting Actor (American Hustle). 

  1. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) 

CarellIn Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays the real-life multimillionaire John du Pont, the heir to the E.I. du Pont family fortune, who recruited US wrestling Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz to train at his family’s Foxcatcher Farm. As the ill-fated story goes, du Pont murdered Dave Schultz in cold blood in 1996. If you have not seen this film, you really need to—it will not be the most amazing movie you ever see, but it is well worth it for the acting performances alone. Channing Tatum is astonishingly good, as is Mark Ruffalo; however, Steve Carell is the showstopper. The character of John du Pont is inexplicable, menacing, and gripping, but not in ways that make anyone feel physically intimidated by him—instead, he is just flat out creepy! Carell, the career funny man of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame, is completely unrecognizable in this role (in fact, according to Entertainment Weekly, Carell spent five months with an Oscar-winning makeup designer to develop du Pont’s look prior to shooting). Carell wholly submerges himself into this complex dramatic role, and the result is one of the better performances I have ever seen—I almost wish this year’s category were weaker because Carell would surely take home the Oscar. Carell has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

CumberbatchIn the Best Picture-nominated film The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the real-life British cryptanalyst—Alan Turing—who led a team during World War II that cracked the Nazis’ infamous Enigma code. In my opinion, The Imitation Game as a whole is vastly overrated. Although I do contend that it is a good film, it is far from great. Part of my feeling that the movie is merely average is due to Cumberbatch’s performance. In parts of the film (specifically when the war is over and Turing is being punished—by chemical castration—for being gay), Cumberbatch boasts riveting acting abilities—in these scenes, the unearthing of Turing’s cold vulnerabilities is done so in an emotionally fueled manner. However, in the bulk of the film, which deals with the actual cracking of the Enigma code, I was not overly blown away by his performance—it did not leave me in awe whatsoever (i.e., it simply was not memorable to me). I do admit that Cumberbatch is a great actor (I was immensely impressed with him in 2013’s August: Osage County), but for me, his spot amongst the others in this category is more deserving for Jake Gyllenhaal, who I believe was gravelly snubbed by the Academy this year for his role in Nightcrawler. Cumberbatch has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actors snubbed in this category: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Jack O’Connell (Starred Up), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Tom Hardy (Locke), Brad Pitt (Fury), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

This year (just like last year), nearly every single writer nominated in this category will be attending the Academy Awards for the very first time. In fact, the only writer in this year’s group that has ever been nominated before is Paul Thomas Anderson (he has received three previous writing nominations), nominated this year for Inherent Vice. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:

Damien ChazelleWINNER: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Damien Chazelle (also the director of Whiplash) adapted this screenplay from his screenplay for a short film of the same name. Chazelle has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)

Anthony McCartenAnthony McCarten adapted this screenplay from Jane Wilde Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. McCarten has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Jason Hall (American Sniper)

Jason HallJason Hall adapted this screenplay from the autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, co-written by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwan, and Jim DeFelice. Hall has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)

Graham MooreGraham Moore adapted this screenplay from Andrew Hodges’s book Alan Turing: The Enigma. Moore has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice)

PTAPaul Thomas Anderson adapted this screenplay from Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. Anderson has previously been nominated for three Academy Awards in writing categories: Best Original Screenplay (Boogie Nights and Magnolia) and Best Adapted Screenplay (There Will Be Blood).

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 8 – American Sniper

American Sniper - BP

Sniper6American Sniper is a biographical war drama directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay, adapted from the book of the same name, by Jason Hall. The film tells the true-life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), America’s most deadly sniper in history (160 confirmed kills, according to the United States Department of Defense). During four tours in Iraq, Kyle’s marksmanship quickly earns him the nickname “Legend” among his American comrades. All the while, however, his ever-growing reputation of being the most lethal sniper has garnered the close attention of the enemy, and the insurgents have put a price on Kyle’s head. With a budding family back home that misses him and a war that demands his contribution, Kyle must reconcile what is most important in his life.

Sniper4More so than I ever could have expected, American Sniper has been met with a challenging combination of critical/box-office acclaim and social controversy. Some critics have labeled it merely “right-wing” propaganda, Michael Moore has spoken out against snipers in general, and even Seth Rogen caused a stir. Everyone seems to have an extreme political/religious bias about the film’s depiction of Kyle’s life and legacy, and I do not dare allow this blog to become a forum for my political thoughts in this heated debate. I will only say this—it was a harrowing tale of war and the consequences that flow from it, but it made me proud to be an American. I appreciate every single soldier that has ever and will ever devote his or her life to protect our freedom.

Sniper3Now, on to the analysis of the film. Although Clint Eastwood has had some missteps in his career as a director, American Sniper was most definitely a journey back to the top for the 84-year-old Hollywood staple. In 2012, Zero Dark Thirty became (in my opinion) the gold standard for modern warfare films. It was realistic, in the most daunting and terrorizing ways, and the lead performance by Jessica Chastain (the best actress in Hollywood) elevated it to an unreachable height. The closest thing I have ever seen in my life to that of Zero Dark Thirty’s cinematic pragmatism regarding war is American Sniper (although Zero Dark Thirty is still a superior film). It is a story of a real-life figure (told through his own eyes), and Bradley Cooper delivers the single greatest performance of his career. That says a lot about where Cooper ranks among the modern greats considering his Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Chris Kyle is now his third consecutive Oscars nomination. Every year, it seems Bradley Cooper becomes better and better, and in this movie, he pounces on the opportunity to be hailed as the most premier American actor on the circuit. With veteran direction from Eastwood and an acting performance for the ages by Cooper, the valiant story of this American hero is thrust upon our social conscience in a way that evokes all of the most patriotic emotions out of us—it is the textbook manifestation of wrapping yourself up in the Stars and Stripes.

American Sniper, a box-office smash that has accumulated over $361 million in worldwide theater receipts, is a movie that will stay with me for a long time, and it is fully justified in receiving a spot among my Top 10 films of 2014. After viewing it in theaters, I knew this movie would be among the two or three best films of 2014. But it ended up at No. 8. Why? Sniper2Sadly, it is because of that fake-baby scene that I am sure you are all familiar with at this point, whether you have seen the movie or not. In my conversations with friends and family, most are astounded at how a single scene like that can automatically drop the film’s ranking on my list so drastically. My reasoning is simple: something like that in this day in age (with a $60 million budget) is absolutely unacceptable. Sure, I understand the predicament that the filmmakers were innocently plunged into—the first baby had a fever that day and the back-up baby was a no-show. But you are Clint F’n Eastwood—get another baby!!! Stop production for half of a day and track down a baby—ANY BABY! By cutting corners to get the scene shot (i.e., settling for a plastic doll), Eastwood and the entire crew of filmmakers on set bastardized an otherwise classic picture. In 20 years, nearly everything about this movie will withstand the test of time and continue to dazzle its viewers; yet, that scene will still be there, and it will stand as a reminder of the cringe-worthy choice that the filmmakers made. Maybe you do not agree with me. Understandable. But watching Bradley Cooper blatantly moving his thumb in this scene (click now to see for yourself) to move the baby’s arm in order to make it look like it is an authentic human being will stick in my mind for ALL of the wrong reasons. Bad move, Clint.

Sniper5All baby criticisms aside, Cooper and his unbelievable portrayal of Kyle outweighs any mistake that the filmmakers could have made, and this is definitely a film that will go down in history as one of the most epic tales of true-life heroism during an American war. American Sniper is rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.

American Sniper trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bP1f_1o-zo

Academy Award nominations for American Sniper:

Best Picture (Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper, and Peter Morgan, producers)

Best Actor (Bradley Cooper)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall)

Best Film Editing (Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach)

Best Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman)

Best Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Birdman
  3. Fury
  4. Calvary
  5. Interstellar
  6. Gone Girl
  7. The Lego Movie

Best Sound Mixing

Best Sound Mixing Nominees

The Oscar for Best Sound Mixing is awarded to a particular film featuring the finest and most melodious sound mixing and recording. The award is usually presented to the film’s production sound mixers and re-recording mixers. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Sound Mixing:

Whiplash2WINNERWhiplash (Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley)

  1. Interstellar (Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker, and Mark Weingarten)
  1. American Sniper (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin)
  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga)
  1. Unbroken (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Ronald Judkins)