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 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)

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 6 – Boyhood

Boyhood - BPBoyhood is a drama written and directed by Richard Linklater. Filmed over a 12-year period, Boyhood charts the physical and emotion growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a young boy growing up with divorced parents.

Boyhood8Boyhood is a masterpiece. Hands down. The incredible feat that Richard Linklater achieved in creating this film is astounding, to say the least. After assembling his main cast (Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Jr., Lorelei Linklater as Samantha, Patricia Arquette as Olivia, and Ethan Hawke as Mason, Sr.), Linklater proceeded to film Boyhood on a consecutive basis for 12 years, filming each year for a three to four-day period. This technique is absolutely unheard of, but Linklater makes it work in the most intriguing ways possible. For starters, his script surprisingly flows seamlessly, notwithstanding the movie’s intermittent filming and 165-minute duration. And when I say, “flow,” I do not mean in the way that most great scripts flow because Linklater’s storytelling techniques are far from orthodox. Most Linklater films (especially his Before trilogy, starring Ethan Hawke) seemingly have no plot—he builds his story upon dialogue and commonplace circumstances. Therefore, even though Boyhood seems at times as if it meanders with no distinct end in sight, Linklater is constantly keeping the viewer engaged with events and conversations that everyone can relate to—this is his version of “flow.” Boyhood6Linklater embeds into his film scenes that the average American will understand and connect with—adolescent complexities, familial arguments and fights, and house parties. In these everyday, communicative depictions, Linklater crafts a 3-hour plus film that never has a dull moment—it is masterful filmmaking, and it will forever go down as Linklater’s magnum opus.

Boyhood3The film is titled Boyhood. And boy (no pun intended), does it depict “boyhood” in the most amazing way. In most films, the physical progression of a particular character is usually portrayed via several actors or incredibly intricate makeup/visual effects. In Boyhood, Linklater’s 12-year production supplies a natural development for each of the characters—this is one of the more amazing features of his masterwork. It is incredible to see the film’s lead character Mason progress from an elementary boy with baby fat to a freshman in college with facial hair. Boyhood4During those 12 years, Mason endures all of the customary experiences of childhood, battling divorced parents and witnessing domestic abuse, all the while. This is portrayed with such realism, and the actual physical growth of Ellar Coltrane gives the touch of authenticity that makes the film achieve something picturesque. Speaking of the film’s pragmatism, a film-enthusiast friend of mine (known here only as “DPJ”) described its depiction of “boyhood” perfectly: “the thing Boyhood does exceptionally well is that it hits on all those key points of growing up that all men remember vividly. High points and low. The fact that it took 12 years to make is in my view actually the lesser achievement.” Boyhood2This is absolutely true. The childhood experience of a guy includes so many traditional experiences—playing with friends, talking to girls, going to parties, having your first drink, falling in love for the first time, leaving the nest—and the ways in which Linklater displays those on screen is as matter-of-fact as it gets. Some of my favorite parts of the movie were the cultural signposts throughout the years—Mason goes to a release party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, plays Nintendo Wii, and goes to an Astros game to watch Roger Clemens pitch. These scenes breathe life into Linklater’s remarkable time capsule.

Boyhood7In terms of acting, the theme of physical and emotional progression is further manifested. Ellar Coltrane goes from being a six-year-old with limited acting skills to an 18-year-old with extraordinary abilities. The same can be said for Richard Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei (who portrays Mason’s older sister). The key performances, however, came from Mason and Samantha’s divorced parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Ethan Hawke, in my opinion, was only serviceable in his role, but he does execute it quite well (although I do not believe his Oscar nomination is justified). Patricia Arquette is the clear highlight of the film (as I wrote a few days ago), and it is more than evident that the veteran actress delivered a tour de force in her role as Olivia. Boyhood is rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

Boyhood trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0oX0xiwOv8

Academy Award nominations for Boyhood:

Best Picture (Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, producers)

Best Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke)

Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette)

Best Director (Richard Linklater)

Best Film Editing (Sandra Adair)

Best Original Screenplay (Richard Linklater)

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

  1. Blue Ruin
  2. American Sniper
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Birdman
  5. Fury
  6. Calvary
  7. Interstellar
  8. Gone Girl
  9. The Lego Movie

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)