My Review of the 87th Academy Awards

 

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A15Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show. But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you. I really enjoyed the look of this year’s show. I could not get over the backdrop that the presenters walked out from to the stage. It looked like an old-school movie theater and included vintage-clothed ushers—it was awesome!! As I have stated in years past, the Academy Awards simply cannot continue lasting 3.5+ hours. By the time it finally gets to the final six awards or so (which are usually the ones people care about anyways), everyone in America is dead tired—yes, that includes me, the giant film fan! I did greatly enjoy Neil Patrick Harris as the host (as I suspected I would), and his vast experience as a showman paid large dividends to the quality of last night’s ceremony. However, his attempt at comedy did not live up to the “gold standard” that Ellen set last year (PLEASE BRING ELLEN BACK).

This year’s Oscars, like most years, had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (Tie: The show’s opening number AND Julie Andrews)

A7As I predicted about a month ago, Neil Patrick Harris utilized his time during the traditional “monologue segment” to sing and dance—it did not disappoint. NPH performed a song called “Moving Pictures,” a fantastic ode to the movies over the years that spark an undeniable imagination in each of us as viewers of cinema (the song was penned by Robert Lopez and wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez—the couple took home the Oscar for Best Original Song last year for “Let It Go” from Frozen). The song poked some harmless fun at Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and included a fantastic cameo from Into the Woods star Anna Kendrick. One of the funniest parts of the musical number was Jack Black, rising from the crowd to the stage to perform hilariously cynical lyrics about the film industry, only to have Kendrick throw her Cinderella slipper at him for ruining the moment. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the usual joke-filled, completely oratory monologue.

A5Also, let’s give a round of applause for Julie Andrews. When it comes to musicals, Dame Julie Andrews is the best to ever do it! This year is the 50th Anniversary of the iconic film The Sound of Music, and Lady Gaga delivered one of the best musical performances of the night in her tribute to the film’s best songs. Julie Andrews (the star in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) long ago set the bar extremely high for what a musical performance on the silver screen should look and sound like. She is one of the greatest actresses in film history, and her presence (and validation of Gaga’s performance) was amazing.

Worst Moment: (Sean Penn’s “green card” comment)

A14Last night Sean Penn brought some actual racism to the show. When announcing the winner of the night’s biggest award (Best Picture), Penn preceded his reading of Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name by stating, “Who gave this son-of-a-bitch his green card?” Although Penn and Iñárritu are friends (Penn acted in Iñárritu’s 2003 film 21 Grams) and Iñárritu later called the joke “hilarious,” it was a bit too much. Although some people knew of the two men’s history, most probably did not, and this makes for plenty of material for critics to blast the Oscars for racism.

Most Endearing Moment: (Tim McGraw’s performance)

A16Tim McGraw performed “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” the final song ever written by country-music legend Glen Campbell (the song was nominated for Best Original Song). Gwyneth Paltrow introduced McGraw by telling the story of Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell wrote the song to tell his family that the one silver lining to his bout with Alzheimer’s is that he will not be able to feel the pain of his loved ones. His family was in attendance, and McGraw delivered one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the entire night.

Most Boring Moment (Neil Patrick Harris’s Oscar-prediction gag)

87th Annual Academy Awards - ShowAt the beginning of the show, NPH teased that he is amazing at predicting the Oscars. He then introduced a briefcase that had been locked and overlooked by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that tabulates the Oscar ballots. He picked out past Oscar winner Octavia Spencer from the crowd to “keep an eye” on the briefcase box during the show (which she awkwardly accepted to do), and every so often, NPH continued to discuss the locked box containing his predictions. At the end of the show, he had the box opened, revealed his predictions (which were 100% spot on about all of the night’s most memorable moments), and the crowd half-heartedly laughed along. Although it sort of had a funny ending, the gag went on way too long, and the ridiculously long ceremony should have cut that completely from the script—it was an utter waste of time.

The Most Awkward Moment: (The “Dress Covered in Balls” Lady and NPH’s subsequent, ill-timed joke)

A13When Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry were announced as winners in the Best Documentary – Short Subject category, I could not help but laugh. My amusement had nothing to do with the film but everything to do with Perry’s dress and star-struck demeanor. The two won for their documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, a film about a very serious, touchy subject. Perry, dressed in a black gown that was covered with giant black pom-poms, stood on stage gawking at the stars and awkwardly waving to them. I felt bad about my entertainment with her as she then announced that the film was special to her because her own son committed suicide. It then got noticeably serious in the room. That was until NPH returned to the stage and could not help but to poke fun at Perry, stating, “It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that.” Although Perry had just dropped the suicide bombshell on everyone, it was still ridiculously hilarious (which I admit I felt bad about, considering her revelation on stage). NPH’s double entendre was one of the best jokes of the night, but it sort of came at a less-than-opportune time.

Best Joke: (Poking fun at John Travolta’s infamous “Adele Dazeem” moment)

A17The best joke from the entire show was poking fun at John Travolta for his horribly memorable mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name (aka Elsa from Frozen) at last year’s ceremony. Neil Patrick Harris made a hilarious reference to Travolta’s mistake by stating that Benedict Cumberbatch is “the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.” I literally fell on the floor laughing. Then, as Idina Menzel came to the stage to announce the winner for Best Original Song, she brought out Travolta for a bit of playful revenge, introducing him as “Glom Gazingo.” Even though Travolta completely blew his chances for redemption (by weirdly stroking Menzel’s face and acting, well, like John Travolta), it was still the most hilarious moment of the night.

Worst Joke: (NPH’s A Million Ways to Die in the West reference)

A19While introducing Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain as presenters, Neil Patrick Harris referred to the two actors’ film successes, while additionally stating his own: he mentioned that he is the guy that pooped in his hat in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Some people laughed, while others did not—I was a proud “did not” laugher. For me, the joke sucked because it forced me to remember that A Million Ways to Die in the West actual was a movie that was made and that I had personally wasted nearly two hours of my precious life watching it—terrible memories, for sure.

The Most Honest Dude in the Room: (Mat Kirkby—Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short)A11

During his acceptance speech for winning an Oscar for his live-action short The Phone Call, writer/director Mat Kirkby was hilariously honest about his giddiness for winning a coveted Academy Award. Kirkby, a native of Suffolk, UK, stated, “I’m particularly happy because this now means I can get a free doughnut at my local bakery, the Pump Street Bakery.” His funny, but honest speech is a reminder that not all of the Oscar winners are multimillionaire film stars—some of these “little guys” are simply happy to be there and revel in their victory in many ways. The name-drop, however, is sure to land Kirkby more donuts from his local bakery than even he expected. A12The owner of the British bakery was later quoted as saying, “I think an Oscar win deserves more than one free coffee or doughnut, so we’re definitely going to be giving him free doughnuts for good now, as a thank you for the mention.” Looks like Kirkby’s honesty earned him a deserved treat!

Best Acceptance Speech: (Paweł Pawlikowski—the director of Ida)

A4For the very first time in Academy Awards history, a Polish film received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film; thus, writer and director Paweł Pawlikowski had plenty to be pumped about. He gave a heart-felt speech, that included genuine emotional sentiment and some comedy, and it was the product of a man that was sincerely appreciative of the award he was simultaneously hoisting on the big stage. It had all of the same elements that other great speeches over the course of the night contained, but for me, I was most impressed by Pawlikowski giving the greatest “F.U.” to the orchestra’s “play-off” music (although he did not do it whatsoever in a rude manner). I have long been a critic of the Academy’s direction to the orchestra to cut off speeches that it deems too long because in my opinion, these speeches are not the actual cause of the horrendous length of the ceremony—instead, it is the structure of the ceremony in general by the Academy. The orchestra tried to play Pawlikowski off of the stage, and after a while (when he had not stopped thanking people) they quit. Then, shortly after, the orchestra tried again, and it was only at that point that Pawlikowski finally wrapped up. Winners of these “not-so-significant” awards are never allotted much time anyways, and if the Academy is going to recognize these winners, it needs to show the same amount of respect for them that it does for winners of awards like Best Original Score and the like. Kudos, Pawlikowski.

Best Musical Performance: (The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome”)

A10You may not believe that The Lego Movie was the best movie of the year (and you would be correct). You also may not believe that it was the best animated feature of the year (which would be debatable, but that view is clearly warranted). But I will wholeheartedly disagree with anyone that believes The Lego Movie was not one of the five best animated movies from 2014—it absolutely was. Despite the snub, “Everything Is Awesome” was still nominated for Best Original Song, and the performance that accompanied this nomination was by far the highlight musical moment from the night. Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island both brought their respective A-games, and their performance brought an amazing “fun factor” to the traditionally buttoned-up Oscars ceremony. A6The performance included Questlove on the drums and a cameo by Will Arnett as Batman (his character in the film), and the Lego Oscars that were simultaneously handed out to various stars in the crowd added a perfect childlike flare. It was, pun clearly intended, AWESOME!

Worst Musical Performance: (Maroon 5 performing Begin Again’s “Lost Stars”)

A3I have seen Maroon 5 live in concert, so I have firsthand knowledge that lead singer Adam Levine is an impeccable performer outside of the studio. With that said, last night he sounded terrible. Now let’s be honest, I am not Simon Cowell—I simply do not know the technical intricacies of “singing.” But like most laypeople, I know when something sounds blatantly off-pitch and horrendous; unfortunately, that was Adam Levine last night. The performance was restrained and boring to start off with, and the dreadful vocal performance did not help its cause whatsoever. With amazing musical performances from the “Everything Is Awesome” collective, Jennifer Hudson, and Lady Gaga, Levine’s performance stands out—and NOT in a good way!

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 Director

Best Director NomineesIn this year’s Best Director category, only one nominee is receiving his inaugural Oscar nomination (Morten Tyldum). The other four directors have combined for ten previous Academy Award nominations; however, only two of those ten nominations were in the Best Director category (Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Babel and Bennett Miller for Capote). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Boyhood8Richard Linklater is an American filmmaker with credits that include Dazed and Confused (1993) and the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight). Linklater has already garnered 31 Best Director awards at various film festivals and award shows for his work in Boyhood. Linklater was previously nominated twice at the Oscars in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset and Before Midnight).

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)

Birdman2Alejandro G. Iñárritu is a renowned Mexican filmmaker—he is the visionary behind the celebrated “Death Trilogy” (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel). Iñárritu has been previously nominated for four Oscars: twice for Best Foreign Language Film (Amores perros and Biutiful) once for Best Director (Babel), and once for Best Picture (Babel).

  1. Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Bennett MillerBennett Miller is an American film director—he previously directed Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011). At the 67th Cannes Film Festival in May 2014, Miller won the Best Director award for his work on Foxcatcher. Miller was previously nominated in the Best Director category at the Oscars for 2005’s Capote.

  1. Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Morten TyldumMorten Tyldum is a Norwegian film director, renowned internationally for his critically acclaimed, BAFTA-nominated thriller Headhunters (2011). Tyldum has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Wes AndersonWes Anderson is an American filmmaker—he is the creative genius behind movies like Rushmore (1998), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Wes Anderson has been previously nominated for three Oscars: Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Best Animated Feature for Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).

Best Original Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay Nominees

This year, similar to the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every singe nominee will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time in a screenwriting capacity. Only two writers out of the nine nominated writers have received Oscar nominations previously: Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

Dan GilroyWINNER: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Dan Gilroy has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Richard Linklater 2Richard Linklater was previously nominated twice at the Oscars in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset and Before Midnight).

 

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo (Birdman)

72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press RoomAlejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award in a writing category.

 

  1. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (Foxcatcher)

Foxcatcher writersE. Max Frye has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. However, Dan Futterman has been previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Capote (2005).

 

 

  1. Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Wes AndersonWes Anderson has been previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay twice: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actor NomineesThis year’s category features five very familiar faces. Other than the veteran Robert Duvall (receiving his sixth Oscar nomination), the other four men have varying experience at the Academy Awards, escalating from zero previous nominations (J.K. Simmons) to one (Mark Ruffalo) to two (Edward Norton) and to three (Ethan Hawke; only one previous acting nomination). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

JKIn my opinion, J.K. Simmons delivered the most extraordinary acting performance of any kind in 2014. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of my “Best Supporting Actor” ballot simply because of Simmons’s tour de force in Whiplash as Terence Fletcher, the conductor of New York’s most prestigious music school. Fletcher is totalitarian, bullying, and without any charismatic quality, and Simmons breaks free from his seemingly charming persona (as depicted in most of his films) to breathe life into this despotic conductor—for the sake of cinema, Simmons thrives in this newfound “asshole” role. Never once did I say, “I just cannot buy into Simmons as this tormenting, crass character,” which would be easy to do considering he is the Farmers Insurance guy. From the moment Fletcher stepped into his first scene, I was completely on board with Simmons’s harrowing portrayal. He owns every single scene that he is featured in, and I would watch Whiplash (an absolutely spellbinding film unto itself) over and over again just to see Simmons. His terrifying nature in this film had me on the edge of my seat, and this is almost exclusively due to one of the best acting performances of the past decade. Simmons has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Edward Norton (Birdman) 

EdIn Birdman, Edward Norton plays Mike Shiner, a volatile method actor that is hired at the last minute to play a key role in failing actor Riggan Thompson’s Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. This movie is about as odd as it gets, but it succeeds in more ways than one—one of those ways is via Norton’s hilarious performance. Shiner is one of the cockiest SOBs you will ever see on the big screen, and Norton delivers this not-so-subtle swagger with ostentatious vigor. Some of the film’s most hilarious scenes are a result of Norton’s spirited performance. During the Broadway show’s preview before opening night, Shiner gets so “method” that he actually gets drunk (his character is seen drinking alcohol in this particular scene) and embarks on an inebriated rant in front of the crowd. In another scene, he is supposed to be pretending to engage in “coitus” with Naomi Watts’s character, but instead of “acting,” Shiner attempts to actually have intercourse with her on stage. These scenes are downright hilarious, and Edward Norton’s performance is spot-on. With a long career featuring amazing performances, this is by far one of his best. Norton was previously nominated for Best Actor for Primal Fear (1996) and for Best Supporting Actor for American History X (1998).

  1. Robert Duvall (The Judge)

BobDIn The Judge, Robert Duvall portrays the titular “judge.” Judge Joseph Palmer, a respected man in a small town, is thrust into a nightmarish whirlwind as he is arrested and charged with murder. Robert Duvall is clearly one of Hollywood’s most enduring performers, and with a career (spanning over 50 years) full of memorable roles, the 84-year-old veteran adds another spectacular performance to his already incredible filmography. Judge Palmer is a complicated character. He has just lost his wife, is suspected of murdering a local man, and is battling illness—this is by far the most trying time in his life. I could not imagine anyone else making this performance work as well as Duvall. In recent years, he always plays the smart-mouth, grumpy character well, but it is in the most emotional of Judge Palmer’s scenes that Duvall most flourishes. I was not a massive fan of this movie, but I was more than impressed by the way Duvall carried the story throughout. Robert Duvall has been previously nominated five times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for Tender Mercies (1983). 

  1. Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) 

MarkIn Foxcatcher, Mark Ruffalo plays the real-life Olympic champion Dave Schultz. I enjoyed Foxcatcher (not as much as I was hoping for, though), and it is most due to the remarkable acting performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Carell plays the consistently mysterious and disturbing John du Pont and Tatum plays the macho, but unassuming Mark Schultz; however, the most intriguing character is Dave Schultz. He is by far the most levelheaded of the film’s main cast, and Ruffalo portrays the character amazingly. According to Ruffalo in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the physical and emotional preparation for Foxcatcher was intense: “I’ve never done anything harder in my life[.] I’ve never been pushed more. It was literally blood, sweat, and tears on this movie. Every part of it.” In some of the most vexing scenes of this movie, it is Ruffalo who delivers the most truthful of performances, and it is part of the reason Foxcatcher is so good from an acting standpoint. Ruffalo was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right.

  1. Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

EthanIn Richard Linklater’s 12-year epic Boyhood, Ethan Hawke portrays Mason, the divorced father of Samantha and Mason, Jr. Boyhood is an unbelievable film, but I have Hawke in last place in this category because I do not agree with his nomination. Yes, he gives a great performance, but it was nothing memorable in my opinion—he is merely serviceable in his role. Fresh off of his Oscar nomination for 2001’s Training Day, Hawke’s performance in those initial scenes (filmed first back in 2002) is stellar. He is everything you would expect from an Oscar nominee. However, like his acting career since 2002, his performance seems to go downhill throughout the rest of the film. It never borders on a “bad” performance, but it is not anything that sticks out as Oscar-worthy. He seems like he is just playing Ethan Hawke, which is not compelling enough for me to believe his inclusion in this category is justified. Although Hawke has received two Oscar nominations for screenwriting, his only previous nomination in an acting category was for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: Shia LaBeouf (Fury), Jon Bernthal (Fury) Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up), and Chris O’Dowd (Calvary)

Best Cinematography

Best Cinematography NomineesBirdman3The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen. The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

WINNER: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Emmanuel Lubezki)

  1. Ida (Lukasz Zal & Ryszard Lenczewski)
  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman)
  1. Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
  1. Unbroken (Roger Deakins)

Best Supporting Actress 2014

Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Last year, three of the five Best Supporting Actress nominees were Academy Awards rookies. This year, two of them are (Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone), and two others are only receiving their second nomination ever (Laura Dern and Keira Knightley). The other nominee is Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Arquette1Patricia Arquette gave the most surprisingly powerful performance of 2014 in Boyhood. Arquette plays the matriarchal Olivia, essentially raising her kids Samantha and Mason, Jr., all on her own. The film may be titled Boyhood (even though the first two-thirds of the movie should be called Girlhood), but Arquette gives an influential voice to women everywhere regarding “motherhood.” For Olivia, her single-parent circumstances make for an inherently uphill life struggle, and Arquette movingly portrays her character’s anxiety and heartbreak—this is most obvious in the scenes that capture the end of various failed relationships due to her partners’ physical abuse, alcoholism, and the like. In real life, Arquette had her first child at only 20-years-old, and the life experiences that flowed from that situation allowed her to give a proficient performance regarding the priority of being a parent and the many emotions that so radically change over the years. Arquette’s portrayal of Olivia was spectacular, and the vivid life that Arquette breathed into Olivia over the 12-year filming process was amazingly coherent and matter-of-fact. Arquette has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Emma Stone (Birdman)

Stone1In Birdman, Emma Stone plays Sam, the daughter of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a struggling film actor looking to stage a comeback on Broadway. Sam, recently out of rehab for addiction issues, acts as Thompson’s assistant. Although her attitude throughout the film is nonchalant and flagrantly detached, she is the one who truly cares for Riggan emotionally—this is why she turns out to be the sole voice of reason for Keaton’s complex character. Stone has a filmography filled with some of my favorite comedies (e.g., Superbad, Zombieland, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), but I have never really considered her a preeminent “actor.” Sure, she is fantastic in these funny roles but can she really “act”? Turns out, she can! Emma Stone is one of the best parts of Birdman, and it is that distinct voice and speech pattern that we all recognize from past performances that gives her character the invigorated audacity that it deserves. Birdman was a difficult movie for actors because of the “long-take” nature of the photography, but Stone accepted the challenge and owned her role. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the filming challenge, she said, “Every day was complicated. Every day was hard, but it also is the best feeling ever whenever you get to the end of the day.” Stone has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Streep1In Into the Woods, Meryl Streep plays the Witch in the silver-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical. Desperate to reclaim her youthful appearance, the Witch tasks the Baker and his wife to find three items that are needed for a special potion that will break her horrifying curse. Streep’s character has some of the better songs from the musical (e.g., “Stay with Me” and “Last Midnight”), and she ultimately gives the best performance of the film. Not only does Streep have the most superior acting quality of the entire cast (which she utilizes marvelously here), but she also has one of the finest vocal sounds. She demonstrates tenacity by embedding gravitas and trepidation into her character, and this is manifested by Streep’s spectacularly talented vocal bravado. Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record eighteen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

  1. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)

Knightley1In The Imitation Game, Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the real-life cryptanalyst who joined a team, led by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), tasked with breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II. I did not find The Imitation Game to be that great of a movie, and moreover, I did not find Knightley’s performance to be particularly memorable. The history of Joan Clarke as a member of Britain’s code-breaker squad during the Second World War is monumental for multiple reasons (particularly because she broke the glass ceiling in the process as the sole woman on the project), and it was a thrill to see this storied woman receive a voice on the big screen in a film that focused mostly on Turing. Other than providing the physical screen manifestation of this true-life character, Knightley did not do much else. Her emotion seemed forced throughout and her elocution of the dialogue was merely serviceable; for me, all Knightley provided was one more reason why I believe she is an overrated actress. Knightley was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth Bennett in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. 

  1. Laura Dern (Wild)

Dern1In the Reese Witherspoon-acted/produced film Wild, Laura Dern portrays the real-life Bobbi Grey, the late mother of the lead character Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). Bobbi’s death from cancer is the event that sends Strayed into a frenzy, causing her to eventually venture 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. From the commentary on Strayed’s memoir that inspired the film’s production, it seems that Bobbi was an incredibly influential and important figure in Strayed’s life, and her death truly did affect Strayed in unimaginable ways. I wish her character had gotten the screen time to account for this key role in the main character’s life. Yes, we see multiple scenes with Dern raising her children and eventually suffering from cancer, but it was something short of average for me (like the entire movie, for that matter). Dern is a talented actress (the daughter of Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern), but I do not believe she was able to make her mark on the limited time she had on screen. I found it difficult to engage with the character, and the average performance made Wild even less enjoyable than it already was. Dern was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in Rambling Rose (1991).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar)

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 10 – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman - BPBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a black comedy directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu with a screenplay by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo. The film follows Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), an actor with a wavering career (famous for portraying the superhero “Birdman”) who is looking to stage a comeback by directing and acting in a Broadway production. In the final days leading up to the show’s opening night, Riggan must battle himself as he attempts to reconcile his family and his career.

Birdman2Despite the fact that each of writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s previous four feature films (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel, and Biutiful) was nominated for Oscars in a range of categories, Birdman is personally my first encounter with the critically acclaimed Mexican filmmaker. Although none of Iñárritu’s films have won big on Oscar night, that is bound to change in just less than two weeks. In Birdman, Iñárritu has constructed one of the best original screenplays in the past few years, and this unique storyline flat out works on so many levels. It is an unparalleled, comeback-within-a-comeback story. Its lead character Riggan Thompson is making a comeback on Broadway after years of dormancy following his refusal to play the superhero “Birdman” in a fourth installment of the superhero series. Birdman8All the while, actor Michael Keaton, after leaving Tim Burton’s Batman franchise in between the second and third films, has endured years without commercial or critical success and is making an acting revival of sorts in his Birdman role. Considering this casting decision and Iñárritu’s storyline, I figured Birdman would ultimately be too clever for its own good—I imagined it would be way too cheeky and a bit too heavy-handed in its attempt to be self-aware. Ultimately, I was wrong. Yes, it was cognizant of its meta-like approach, but the meticulous filmmaking style of Iñárritu and his witty script allowed the movie to hurdle high above its own cliché barriers to make the story entertaining and mesmerizing. Additionally, the comedic aspects of the script are genius. From Edward Norton and Michael Keaton’s back-and-forth during a rehearsal once Norton’s character is first hired, to the scene of Keaton walking around Times Square in nothing but his white underwear, Iñárritu understands the humor he is trying to evoke, and he does so incredibly well.

Birdman3Part of the allure of Birdman is the way in which it is shot—it is absolutely masterful filmmaking. The movie appears to take place in one continuous long tracking shot. The “long take” has long (pardon the pun…I assure it was unintended) been my favorite filmmaking technique, and when one is done well, it is nothing short of exquisite. In the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and the film-editing team carefully created the illusion of a single take throughout the film’s entirety—they utilized sleek, unsuspecting cuts during horizontal pans and close-up shots on the cast. The result is a film that plays out like a suspense thriller, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as the unpredictable plot is shot “continuously.” The technique is choreographed and audacious, and it will be one of the most remembered aspects of Birdman for years to come. With its deft photographical magnetism, Lubezki will surely earn his second Oscar win for cinematography (his first was for 2013’s Gravity).

_AF_6405.CR2Considering the single “long-take” design for the film, each actor had to consistently be on his or her A-game. Michael Keaton was incredibly superb in his complicated role as the ego-driven, but lost-soul-like Riggan Thompson, and even though he may not win the Oscar for Best Actor (ain’t NOBODY beating Eddie Redmayne this year), it will long stand out (deservedly) as the magnum opus of Keaton’s career. Birdman4The supporting performances in Birdman were also superlative. Both Emma Stone and Edward Norton received Oscar nominations for their roles as Thompson’s daughter and Thompson’s Broadway co-star, respectively, and these accolades come as no surprise. I will discuss Stone’s role in more detail later today in my “Best Supporting Actress” post, but suffice it to say, her performance as a recovering addict is cerebral, and as the sole voice of reason for Riggan Thompson, Stone plays the part of his daughter dexterously. Birdman5Norton nearly steals the show with his performance as Mike Shiner, an acclaimed Broadway star that Riggan is forced to hire at the last minute, just days before the show’s premiere. Norton plays the “pompous asshole” character as scrupulously as possible, and his brilliant acting brings out the most hilarious of the film’s moments—during the show’s preview, Shiner gets drunk and tries to have actual sex with a co-star on stage! Check out Birdman. Everyone has been hyping this movie up for months, and it comes better than advertised. Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJfLoE6hanc

Academy Award nominations for Birdman:

Best Picture (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, and James W. Skotchdopole, producers)

Best Actor (Michael Keaton)

Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton)

Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Best Sound Editing (Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock)

Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga)

Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo)

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

  1. Fury
  2. Calvary
  3. Interstellar
  4. Gone Girl
  5. 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)