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

 

Best Actress

Best Actress NomineesOf the twenty actors and actress that are nominated for Oscars in acting-specific categories, only four have actually ever won an Academy Award. Two of those four are currently nominated for Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard); therefore, I guess you can say this is the most accomplished acting category of the bunch this year. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

PikeAlthough she is not considered by experts to be in the hunt for the Best Actress Oscar, I still believe that Rosamund Pike gave the best performance by an actress in all of 2014. In Gone Girl, Pike plays “Amazing” Amy, a contemptuous wife who is reported missing by her husband on their fifth wedding anniversary. Pike is not particularly well known to American audiences, but I have been particularly familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End. Her claim to fame has long been key supporting roles, but in her inauguration as a true leading lady, Pike was on fire! The thing about Pike’s character is that she is one of the most complex women you will ever meet on screen. Thus, Pike had to evoke so many emotions at once to maintain her character’s inexplicable duplicity. I mentioned in my post earlier this month regarding Gone Girl that at times I found Amy “incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight,” but at other times I could not help but to desire “bashing (figuratively) her head in.” Pike nailed the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” nature of Amy flawlessly, and she is most deserved of my vote for Best Actress. Pike has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

MooreIn Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the titular character, a renowned linguistics professor who is shocked by an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before I get to Moore’s performance, let me briefly digress about my feelings towards her. For me, Julianne Moore is the equivalent to Tom Brady—she is wicked awesome (apropos to Tom Brady…New England…accent…get it?) at her trade, but for some reason that I cannot specifically point to, I just do not like her. With that said, I absolutely respect her ability to act (much like I respect Brady’s unparalleled ability to drop dimes on the gridiron). Okay, back to Still Alice. Moore’s portrayal of Alice in this film is heartrending. Despite the disease’s gradual diminishment of the physical capacity of Alice’s mind, she never ceases to fight. Moore depicts this relentlessness in soul-wrenching fashion, and at all times, she masterfully evokes the perfect combination of agony, vulnerability, and optimism. She is the odds-on favorite to take home the Best Actress Oscar, and if she in fact does, it will be a warranted honor. Moore has previously been nominated four times for Academy Awards: twice for Best Actress (The End of the Affair and Far From Heaven) and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights and The Hours). 

  1. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

JonesIn The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones plays Jane Wilde-Hawking, the ex-wife of Stephen Hawking. Jones’s performance will likely get overlooked in years to come (due to Eddie Redmayne’s likely Oscar victory this Sunday), but her innate portrayal of Jane was one of the more refreshing parts of the film—I loved Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, but Felicity Jones sufficiently held her own. The film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, so therefore, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Her performance differed in the first third of the movie compared to the last two thirds, but only in the substance of her character, not in terms of her acting skills. In the first third, she beautifully portrays the sheer innocence of love between Wilde and Hawking—it is charming, and she wonderfully delineates Jane’s adoration for Stephen without resorting to heavy-handedness. In the final two thirds of The Theory of Everything, she masterfully manifests the conflicted love and distress of the couple (considering Stephen’s ALS progression) with raw emotion—it is a perfect execution of Jane’s critical complexities. Jones has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)

CotillardIn Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer. After returning to work from taking time off (due to an emotional breakdown), Sandra is laid off. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she is thrust into a position where she must approach each of her co-workers (one by one), and plead for them to vote for her to retain her job. The catch: if they decide to vote for her to stay, they must forfeit a €1,000 bonus. I wrote about this film on my “Honorable Mentions 2014” post, and aside from a solid screenplay, I credited Cotillard’s performance for the success of the movie. The story is as realistic as it gets (everyone can imagine being in a scenario like this), and Cotillard’s pragmatic approach to her portrayal is spirited and inspired. Her character is both sensible and wrought with emotion, and Cotillard gives a bravely humanistic voice to this troubled woman. Cotillard admitted to Entertainment Weekly that a second read-through of the screenplay was just the motivation she needed for the role: “When I read the script a second time I saw all the little beautiful details of her journey.” The veteran actress evokes subtle nuances in the exposition of her character, and it is definitely an exceptional performance worthy of Oscar praise. Cotillard was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in La Vie en Rose (2007). 

  1. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

WILDIn her self-produced film Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays the real-life Cheryl Strayed, a woman so distraught by her mother’s passing that she ventures to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. During most of the film, Cheryl is the only character on the screen. This makes for the perfect opportunity for Reese Witherspoon to take full control over the direction of the film because its success hinges upon her performance. Although Witherspoon engrossed herself into the role with affecting command, I simply did not buy into her performance. It was unfortunate for me because I really do love Witherspoon as an actress—I greatly enjoyed her in Walk the Line and her portrayal of Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne’s Election is one of my favorite acting performances of all time. However, she did not convince me in Wild that she was channeling an Oscar-worthy performance. If you did enjoy her role in Wild, it is not an outlandish thought—most critics and cinema experts expect Witherspoon to challenge Julianne Moore for the Oscar. Witherspoon was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Walk the Line (2005).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Emma Roberts (Palo Alto), Dakota Fanning (Night Moves), and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida).

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 14 – Gone Girl

Gone Girl1 Gone Girl is a film directed by David Fincher with a screenplay, based on the novel of the same name, by Gillian Flynn, the author of the book version. The film examines the marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick reports to the police that Amy has gone missing. Amy is a renowned public figure due to a series of children’s books written about her by her family, and her disappearance causes a tumultuous media frenzy. With cameras and the police constantly causing stress upon him, Nick finds his story of a harmonious marriage to Amy on the verge of collapse due to his mendacity and peculiar behavior. Everyone suspects Nick of killing his wife; thus, the big question is: did he?

Gone Girl2For those of you that follow my blog annually, you will know already that Gone Girl was ranked No. 1 on my list of movies that I was most anticipating during the fall film season. Notwithstanding its position on my year-end list, the movie still lived up to the hype (thus, its No. 14 rank says less about the success of Gone Girl and more about the strength of the year’s other movies). I was most intrigued by Gone Girl because of its lead-man behind the camera, David Fincher—I am a devout fan of anything he is involved with. Not only are many of his pictures part of my personal film collection (e.g., Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but also I am a committed fan of the Netflix original series House of Cards, which is executive produced by the visionary. Gone Girl is well constructed by Fincher, and its subtle hints of dark humor, ominous tone, and inimitable inscrutability are all obvious elements of a classic Fincher film. Although I do not believe this is in the top five of Fincher’s filmography, it is still a movie that I greatly enjoyed and will continue to watch over again for years to come. Gone Girl5

Many of you that have seen Gone Girl (and even some of you that have not) have probably additionally read Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. I happen to be one that has not, which is why I was elated that she also penned the screenplay for the film adaptation; this direct and significant involvement in the film’s construction leads me to believe that anything that was vitally important and of note from the book would be included in her script. At times, the dialogue was awkward, though, but the talent of the film’s actors helped make it flow as best as possible. Having known nothing about the plot going into my viewing of the movie, I was blown away by her ability to craft the preeminent thriller. The movie’s twists and turns were never foreshadowed in any sort of heavy-handed way, and for that, the climax was as surprising as one could imagine. Gone Girl3

Back in August when I wrote about my expectations for Gone Girl in my fall preview post, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the performances by an anomalous assortment of actors and actresses that were cast in the various roles. Casting Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson, Missy Pyle, and Emily Ratajkowski was a bold move, and those casting decisions paid dividends—everyone played their part spectacularly, and I can finally say that I was not brutally annoyed by the creator of the horrendous Madea character. Also, it is definitely worth noting that Missy Pyle, in her role as Ellen Abbott (a TV host depicted in the same vein as the ever-despicable Nancy Grace), was incredibly spot-on in her performance—it was brilliant.

Ever since The Town, I have become more and more impressed with Ben Affleck’s acting abilities (in addition to his superb filmmaking talents), and I felt like he serviced his character well. It was not a performance that blew me out of the water, but it was well acted enough to make me engage with Nick. Gone Girl4The highlight of the film was Rosamund Pike. I have been familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End, but in her debut role as a true leading lady, Pike absolutely killed it. She was in rare form, evoking so many emotions at once out of a single character; at times I found her incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight, and at other times I wanted to bash (figuratively) her head in. Amy is an incredibly complex character, and Rosamund Pike gave, in my opinion, the year’s most outstanding performance by an actress—her Oscar nomination is quite deserved. Gone Girl is rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

Gone Girl trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esGn-xKFZdU

Academy Award nominations for Gone Girl:

Best Actress: (Rosamund Pike)

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

  1. The Lego Movie