Best Picture American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Selma, Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, American Sniper tells the story the “deadliest sniper in American history,” former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. The film centers on his struggle with the realities of war and the difficulties of maintaining a relationship while one’s life is in constant danger. Cooper definitely gives a gripping, intensely layered performance and Eastwood is a very talented director. I believe, however, that in addition to the controversy surrounding the discrepancies between how the actual Chris Kyle said he felt in his memoir and how the film portrays his behavior, the fact that Kyle is the only character depicted as anything more than one-dimensional will prevent this film from taking home the gold.
The Imitation Game tells the heartbreaking tale of Alan Turing, the genius who began the process of inventing the modern computer and who cracked the German Enigma Code during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch continues his streak of playing a socially awkward genius ––see “Sherlock” and The Fifth Estate––under the direction of Morten Tyldum. Though this biopic is excellent, I didn’t find it as exceptional or interesting as some of the other nominees and would be very surprised to see it win.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) stars Michael Keaton in a role that could very well be an exaggerated version of himself. Keaton plays Riggan, an actor best known for playing the superhero “Birdman” and who attempts to rekindle his career by starring in a Broadway production. The film is filled with surrealistic sequences, some of which may just be Riggan’s daydreams. Alejandro G. Inarritu directs the film brilliantly and all of the actors put in truly impressive performances. The only shortcoming of this film is that it didn’t see a huge release, so audiences may not be as familiar with it as they are with some of the other nominees.
Selma is the third of four nominees based on true stories. Directed by Ava DuVernay, it tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.––expertly played by David Oyelowo––as he leads the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Though it is both powerful and was released during a time where the events of the Civil Rights Movement feel exceedingly relevant, its lack of nominations in any other categories and the modest hype surrounding it probably mean it won’t be a winner.
Boyhood is my pick for this year’s Best Picture. The film tells the story of a young man’s coming of age from 2002 to 2014. This may not seem so impressive at first, but its innovative director Richard Linklater chose to do something truly remarkable in his execution of the story. Instead of using similar-looking actors who were progressively older or some combination of prosthetics and computer graphics to mimic the aging process, he filmed the movie over the 12 years it took place. From 2002 to 2014, stars Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater were documented as they naturally aged. The story is a really powerful portrayal of coming of age in the modern world, and is reminiscent of Francois Truffaut’s masterpiece The 400 Blows. I think the pure scope and technical dedication behind this film will result in its win.
The Theory of Everything is the final true story on this year’s list. It portrays the story of famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and his marriage to Jane Hawking. The story is a powerful one, as we see Jane and Stephen struggle as his Lou Gehrig’s disease progresses. Stars Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne give truly wonderful performances. Still, I just can’t shake the feeling that this film doesn’t demand the same level of attention as some of the other nominees.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest Wes Anderson film to be released and, as is the case with most Wes Anderson films, it is more of an investigation into the worlds of specific characters than it is the telling of one, unified story. It’s a truly exceptional movie—one that left me with a warm and beautiful feeling in my stomach at its conclusion. This is another frontrunner for a possible winner as it has a lot of critical support; many see it as the current jewel in the crown of an already quite impressive career for Anderson. Interestingly, it is his first Best Picture nomination. I’m not certain it will be his first win but I do have a feeling it is likely to take home the trophy in the more technical categories it’s been nominated for.
Whiplash is an upsetting film. It stars Miles Teller as Andrew, an ambitious young drummer who is beginning his career at Shaffer, the best music school in the country. He studies under the cruel and brutal Fletcher, played masterfully by J.K. Simmons. The film is all about ambition and vengeance. It is cutthroat and psychologically disturbing. Still, it suffers from the same flaw as Birdman: its release may have been too narrow and there just isn’t that much hype surrounding it.
Best Actor Steve Carrell for Foxcatcher, Michael Keaton for Birdman, Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game. Though all of these actors turned in strong performances, Bradley Cooper and Eddie Redmayne probably have the highest odds of bringing home the Oscar. While Cooper dealt with some very real emotional difficulties in playing a traumatized soldier, Redmayne impressed with the powerful physical work he had to go through to perfect his role as Stephen Hawking.
Best Actress Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl, Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Reese Witherspoon for Wild and Julianne Moore for Still Alice. If Pike doesn’t win this award I’ll be shocked. The dichotomy in her performance is both stunning and horrifying in the best possible way.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, Laura Dern for Wild, Keira Knightly for The Imitation Game, Emma Stone for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and Meryl Streep for Into the Woods. Actress in a Supporting Role should go to Patricia Arquette. I wanted to take the time out to commend Arquette for her work in Boyhood. Though she isn’t technically the main character of the film, her struggle is truly one of the most emotionally compelling parts of a film rife with poignant scenes.
Best Director Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game. I’m stuck between Anderson and Linklater for this one. Both are true auteurs who genuinely deserve the award. Anderson deserves it for his ability to create an entire world that feels fully realized and totally plausible in its own quirky ways, while Linklater deserves it for the incredible vision required to make a film over 12 years instead of trying to find tricks around it. The Oscar could honestly go to either of them.
Adapted Screenplay Writing Jason Hall for American Sniper, Graham Moore for The Imitation Game, Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice, Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything and Damien Chazelle for Whiplash. The award should go to Paul Thomas Anderson for his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. I was honestly stunned that the film wasn’t nominated for very much else, but it’s a funny and weird story of a pot-smoking private investigator who gets pulled into a vast conspiracy theory. It’s not a play on noir so much as it is a total uprooting of the genre from one generation to the next, and it’s a lot of fun.
Original Screenplay Alejandro G Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Richard Linklater for Boyhood, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman for Foxcatcher, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler. Original Screenplay should be given to Nightcrawler. This is another movie I’m surprised wasn’t nominated for more, especially considering the enormous physical transformation lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal underwent for his role. Few films that have come out in the past several years have made me leave the theater feeling as unsettled as Nightcrawler did. This unforgiving analysis of local news’s “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality—as well as of what ambition can do to a person—deserves any gold that it can get.