Review: My Ballot and Countdown

NomineesWith my third annual countdown in the books, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past few weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 14 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about (my personal ballot), and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 87th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Whiplash

Actor in a Leading Role: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Actor in a Supporting Role: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Actress in a Leading Role: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

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

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)

Best Production Design: Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis (Interstellar)

Best Sound Mixing: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley (Whiplash)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Best Original Screenplay: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

  1. Whiplash
  2. Locke
  3. Nightcrawler
  4. Starred Up
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. Boyhood
  7. Blue Ruin
  8. American Sniper
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Birdman
  11. Fury
  12. Calvary
  13. Interstellar
  14. Gone Girl
  15. The Lego Movie

 

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)