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 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).

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

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

Damien ChazelleWINNER: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

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

  1. Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)

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

  1. Jason Hall (American Sniper)

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

  1. Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)

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

  1. Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice)

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

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 5 – The Theory of Everything

 

The Theory of Everything - BPThe Theory of Everything is a British biographical romantic drama directed by James Marsh with a screenplay, adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Anthony McCarten. The film follows the romantic relationship of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his ex-wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones)—it examines the intricacies of their love story as Stephen embarks on the greatest scientific discoveries of his illustrious career in the wake of his shocking diagnosis of motor neuron disease.

Theory 5This movie is magnificent. I was completely unaware of James Marsh’s previous work, but after researching his career in film, The Theory of Everything does a complete 180° from his usual work. Marsh made his career as a documentarian—in fact, he won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his film Man on Wire (2008). Even though he is a critically acclaimed documentarian, I sure hope he continues to venture into films like The Theory of Everything because he has created a superlative, emotionally evocative drama. This film thrives off of its supreme acting (Redmayne and Jones were unbelievable—I will get to them soon), and Marsh excels in his ardent direction of his two stars. Anthony McCarten also delivers an exceptional screenplay that gives the film’s stars plenty to work with during their scenes. It is adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir about her life with ex-husband Stephen, and this would tend to imply that the story (which inherently includes their separation) might be biased in her favor; however, McCarten pens the story from a more neutral perspective, and this allows the viewer to come to his/her own conclusion regarding Stephen and Jane’s history.

Theory2Although The Theory of Everything was met with generally universal acclaim, some critics complained about the fact that the film explores romanticism more so than the scientific greatness of Stephen Hawking’s life. However, this exploration of Hawking’s life is a substantial reason why I loved this movie so much. Biopics are great—I really do enjoy them; but they can get monotonous quickly as they attempt to cover every single aspect of someone’s life. That is why I so greatly enjoyed Marsh and McCarten’s storytelling point of view. With such an esteemed scientific career, Hawking’s tale could have easily been made into a 2 ½-hour illustration of his theoretical findings—but instead, The Theory of Everything makes Hawking’s career work the backdrop for a tried-and-true love story. Theory1This is a part of Stephen Hawking’s life that does not get much exposure; in fact, I knew nothing of this chapter in Hawking’s story. The depiction of Hawking and Wilde meeting for the first time, dancing under the stars, and falling in love is unmistakably beautiful—with Marsh’s direction and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme’s photography, the delineation of this emotionally charged pas de deux is charming beyond words.

Theory3The most remarkable element of The Theory of Everything is its acting prowess. The story is marvelous, the direction is excellent, the cinematography is affecting, and the musical score is quite possibly the greatest in recent memory, but the acting steals the show. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver two of 2014’s most poignant performances. Eddie Redmayne is the odds-on favorite to take home the Oscar for Best Actor this year (he definitely has my vote—stay tuned this week for more on that), and an honor of this stature is most deserved. An underrated aspect of Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is in the first third of the film (before the motor neuron disease begins to affect Hawking’s physical abilities). Redmayne breathes into Hawking an unparalleled charm, and the mix of effervescent humor with his incomparable intellect allows Redmayne to make the brainy scientist seem more relatable to the average person. But as the hype suggests, Redmayne earns his keep via his incredibly realistic depiction of Hawking during his life post-diagnosis—Redmayne packs a memorable punch, akin to Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in My Left Foot. 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’s performance is a complete inhabitation, and it will go down film history as one of cinema’s most astounding performances.

Theory4Felicity Jones also gives a notable performance in her role as Jane Wilde-Hawking. Her performance will likely get overlooked in years to come, as Redmayne clearly made the biggest mark, but I have always believed in Jones’s instinctive portrayal of Hawking’s dedicated wife—I applaud the Academy for rewarding her with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Given that the film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Jones succeeds in the last two-thirds of the film as a wife living a conflicted life of love and distress (given the circumstances that she and Stephen have been thrust into with the ALS diagnosis), and with raw emotion, she brilliantly reveals the fateful complexities of a once ordinary relationship. In the first third, however, I loved Felicity Jones the most. The portrayal of the utter innocence of love between Hawking and Wilde is charming, and Jones absolutely nails the role of a girl besotted with adoration for Stephen—she does not do so in a heavy-handed way, instead portraying Jane with more level-headed practicality. The Theory of Everything is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

The Theory of Everything trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Salz7uGp72c

Academy Award nominations for The Theory of Everything:

Best Picture (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, and Anthony McCarten, producers)

Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne)

Best Actress (Felicity Jones)

Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Anthony McCarten)

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

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

 

 

Best Original Score

Best Original Score Nominees Johann+Johannsson+Theory+Everything+Premiere+eocuGB4PLOPlThe Oscar for Best Original Score is awarded to a musical composer for the best body of musical work in the form of underscoring for a particular film. This is perennially one of my favorite Academy Award categories because in my opinion, music is essentially what makes or breaks a film. A movie is just a bunch of images and words, but with the addition of a musical score, the film develops feeling and emotion in a way that better connects with the viewers. This year’s nominees include two composers with deep roots at the Oscars (Hans Zimmer & Alexandre Desplat, the latter of which earned two nominations this year) and two other nominees earning their first nomination (Gary Yershon & Jóhann Jóhannsson). Between the two previously nominated composers in this year’s group, they have received a combined 15 nominations in the Best Original Score category, winning one of those (Hans Zimmer for The Lion King). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Score:

WINNER: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)

  1. Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)
  1. Gary Yershon (Mr. Turner)
  1. Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game)
  1. Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)