86th Academy Awards: Best Picture Rankings   Leave a comment

best pic 2014

Now that I’ve finally seen this year’s line up, it’s time to do the obligatory rankings of the Best Picture nominees. Last year, Michael Haneke’s Amour is my top pick while Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables is my least favorite of batch 2011. Now with nine nominees again, this is how my Best Picture ballot will look like from least to best.

09. PHILOMENA
Director: Stephen Frears

An old woman’s 50-year journey to find her son taken from her when she was serving in a convent, Philomena is probably a film that’s easy to dispose. It’s one that’s safe and straightforward and funny and predictable even channeling all of that at once. Yet one can find himself easily falling to all of it. Call it the charm I guess. It’s not a film for serious movie critics (nor those who consider themselves as such) since it’s sappy and plays by the book. The screenplay and the whole film suffers from some tonal inconsistencies, but the main issue I had with this one is it’s reluctance to tackle topics (like that of one’s atonement, the issue of sexuality and religion, forgiveness and redemption) that were present, yet sacrificed for laughing device or some witty one liners. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of things that worked here. Judi Dench, despite being physically miscast (those close up shots of her convinced no one that she’s only 65 years old), tugs your heart and makes you root for her in this journey. Even Steve Coogan worked an effective relationship with Dench here, and their banters made this less painful. This is one movie that works more effectively to a certain audience (obviously not me), but I can’t deny the appeal that it has. I do think that this will be one of the films that will be forgotten in five years tho. 2.5/5

08. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

A biopic dealing with an AIDS patient set in the mid-80s screams “OMG serious!”, and indeed it is. However, it took me quite some time to settle in with the whole film, as I’m no fan of this straight from the awards bait book approach. The whole approach was so safe and monotonous, and I wonder how it would have fared if it would have dug deeper given this interesting topic. What elevates the film though are the fearless performances of its two leads. Matthew McConaughey, whose filmography the last two years puts most actors to shame, is really undeniable here. The commitment goes further than the weight loss, and he deserves all these nominations he received for this. Jared Leto, on the other hand, lives and breathes Rayon. One can accuse his character of being baity, but it is his quieter scenes that inhibits how fantastic he is in this film. The chemistry between these two leads is what makes this whole thing better; otherwise, it’s just a decent but serviceable output. 3/5

07. NEBRASKA
Director: Alexander Payne

Let me start off by saying that Sideways is my top film of the 2000s and that Election is there near the top of my 90s lists, so Payne will always have a place in my film loving heart because of those two. With that said, he comes back this year to take us all on a road trip all the way to Montana, Nebraska to join an aging father with his son to claim the million dollars that he won from a sweepstakes raffle (that’s what he said!). I really don’t know what to make of this film. On one hand, it’s nice to see a father-son dynamic that is complex and heartwarming. I believed every minute that was shown of Woody and David’s interactions. The old man’s insistence and the son’s reluctance but that he still gave way for his father’s dreams to happen. I also happen to like both Bruce Dern and Will Forte in here. But everything else seemed like it was taken out of the sitcom context. Every delivery and every punch line was dictated that it sounded at times robotic and forced. There’s rarely anything left to discover with all the other characters (especially those in Nebraska) once they’re done spewing their lines. The only sane person in it is Kate Grant, but even June Squibb (who was a fucking hoot! That cemetery scene I tell you is damn hilarious) whose delivery is right on the spot sometimes succumbs to this character weakness. To be fair though, Payne managed to introduced the place of Nebraska as a character quite well (miles better than what he did to Hawaii in The Descendants), but this whole film feels like a cop out. I’m aware that it’s difficult to follow your most critically praised work, but this isn’t even a follow up. I fear that we’ve seen the best in Payne already because Nebraska is such a lazy offering. If anything though, I guess my main take from this is that it’s better than his weakest output to date, The Descendants, so I hope his next one follows an upward trajectory. 3/5

06. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Director: Steve McQueen

Compelling. That pretty sums up this two hour plus journey of Solomon Northup as he clings to his survival (not in uncontrollable situations from the seas nor in space) but for freedom as he was abducted and forced into slavery during the pre-Civil War. Director Steve McQueen first two features were mostly cold and while those attract human responses, I don’t think he mellowed down the way he did here in this film. It was a tough pill to swallow not only in terms of the violence portrayed but the fact that you know it really happened. Probably something about the raw storytelling as you all see the horrors of what these slaves have to put through. I have to say though that I wish McQueen lessened more of the lingering shots of Ejiofor’s face, since I think they already did a mighty fine impression of the horrible situation he’s been into. Speaking of which, Chiwetel Ejiofor is aces here. His performance stands out in a sea of “me, me me” performances this past movie year. As the main anchor of this film, he was able to convey the big scenes but maybe even moreso effective in his quieter ones. I find the online reaction to Lupita Nyong’o’s performance a bit too much. She was really good here, but it’s not as relevatory as what I was probably expecting. The same can be said about Michael Fassbender who is one inch closer from being a caricature here, though his commitment to the role is commendable. A lot has been talking about Brad Pitt’s character here, and it’s hard to go against it since it really has happened and his character do exist. I’d probably say that I understand the commotion over his character’s inclusion, but it’s a situation that no one from the film people can really do control. I particularly like the costume design of the film; all these little details actually worked for me. I also didn’t see the point of the opening scene, but that’s just me nitpicking. 12 Years a Slave is a competent effort from Steve McQueen that will surely give you an emotional one two punch. 4/5

05. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Director: Paul Greengrass

Reminds me a lot of Zero Dark Thirty last year, Paul Greengrass is really a master of all these blockbuster thrillers no? He knows the perfect balance of satisfying the commercial audience while providing topnotch effort into it. It’s pretty much a straight by the book suspenseful output, but I love how Greengrass paid too much details into it. The characters weren’t simply black and white, and I appreciated that we got a glimpse of the Somali pirates prior to the attack. Sharply edited and boasting of great technical achievements, this is as intense as one can get. If I have to nitpick though, they could have trimmed down the last act by at least ten minutes. Like Zero Dark Thirty last year, it is lovely to watch but went a bit longer since you know what’s gonna happen. Tom Hanks was sensational here, and his last 30 minutes or so sealed the deal for a pretty low key performance at the start of the film. He was on fire this, and he should have been nominated for the Oscar. Barkhad Abdi was great as well considering this is his debut film performance. This is an adventurous, thrilling, and engaging time at the movies. 4/5

04. AMERICAN HUSTLE
Director: David O. Russell

So… this was really fun. The movie opens with the disclaimer that “Some of this actually happened”, and that pretty much signals how crazy this is gonna be. Sure the plot could have been tighter, and I won’t take it against you if you didn’t like it that much because of that, but then there’s the characters to root for! In a year where the critics basically liked everything (and I mean everything except Diana), it’s nice that a film lives and breathes through its characters. J.Law was a hoot and Russell continues to give roles that are more mature for her age, yet she nails them with her wit and delivery. The same happens for Bradley Cooper who’s sporting a perm (which I called The Cooperm) here. Srsly you have to watch out for his Louis CK impersonations in the end. It’s tough for lead star Christian Bale to stand out in a sea of over the top big characters, but I felt that he held his own and is just as deserving as the others. Jeremy Renner got the shortest part here, but I thoroughly enjoyed his turn as well. He counterbalances the craziness of the other characters. But this film’s MVP is definitely Amy Adams. It’s like she broke out of her shell once again and showed another facet of her as an actress. It says a lot that her two best performances (this and 2005’s Junebug) are characters on different ends of the stick, and yet she ‘s both fantastic in them. I think this is my favorite of Russell’s last three Oscar efforts as I felt that he finally pins the atmosphere of his story smoothly (a big part goes to the film’s awesome soundtrack). There’s a lot that I liked about the film and is definitely one of 2013’s best offerings. 4/5

03. GRAVITY
Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Gravity is certainly one of the most memorable and best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Having the pleasure of watching it in IMAX makes it all the while better. And it just delivered. All these intricate details that took Cuaron years to finish is all worth it. It was captivating to watch and it is one that the experience will speak for itself. Watching it in the small screen though reminded me of the issues I have (which I assumed would be compensated by the marvelous movie making experience) which is the weak screenplay. I know it’s best to shut up since it’s a film whose themes are more contemplative in nature, but in this particular instance, the continuous and repetitive misfortunes she had were tiring as well. But hey, that’s just me. Aside from that and the overpowering (re: deafening) score, it is an adventurous film watching experience that deserves all the love it receives (albeit too much hyperbolic love). Oh and Sandra Bullock carried this in a career best performance. That scene of her barking while crying? That’s golden for someone of her caliber.  I’d always be in love with Children of Men and will consider it as Cuaron’s finest still. 4/5

02. WOLF OF WALL STREET
Director: Martin Scorsese

2013 was known as the year of survival movies — thanks to Captain Phillips and Robert Redford in the middle of the sea or Sandra Bullock stuck in space. But that wasn’t the only recurring theme of last year. There’s also the notion of the American dream as shown in films like Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” up to Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” Martin Scorsese tackles the same niche though it is more biographical in nature by focusing on the story infamous Wall Street figure Jordan Belfort. The less said about the story of the film or of Belfort’s life is probably better to maximize your enjoyment of the film. Running at exactly 183 minutes, Scorsese’s latest entry did have some length issues in it, though it’s the other way around. It was clear that there’s lots of parts that were botched up from the movie, and it would have been more compact had it been given a longer running time. But those three hours we got were clearly the most energetic and entertaining for this year. As opposed to a lot of other comedic films this year, this did not suffer from any tonal shift and was focused in its approach. Sure the drugs and the sex and the nudity might overwhelm you, but it did not forget to incorporate its commentary. Marty, at 71, seems like he still has a lifetime ahead of him with the way he injects energy into this film. Leonardo di Caprio, now more known (at least in the online community) as the man who badly wants that Oscar, gives his career best performance here. It’s one that relies on charisma and he wasn’t running out of it. I like how he just immersed himself and got lost with the character of Belfort that it clearly shows he had so much fun in this role. His physical commitment to it is also commendable with all the demands of the character. Jonah Hill, though more reactionary, was the perfect buddy to di Caprio and they share a natural chemistry. Heck even Matthew McConaughey’s five minute role was put into maximum use here. I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve seen a new star born via Margot Robbie. She played this role with so much sass that it’s more impressive that she held his own to Leo. The film’s way of depicting a society that is willing to swallow and inhibit a man’s success despite knowing that it wasn’t the best road to success is indeed chilling. This is the type of picture that’s more enjoyable to watch on the big screen and the most entertaining time I had at this movies this year.  4.5/5

01. HER
Director: Spike Jonze

I guess I’ll begin by warning you that a lot of what you’ll read might be pure hyperbole since I really loved this film. Love it because it’s one that strikes a personal connection with me. It was funny, sad, and heartfelt, sometimes prompting all these emotions at the same time. Spike Jonze has this really intriguing approach of building a world and sucking you in it. It’s a world that is just so creative and imaginative and as Joaquin Phoenix’ Theodore falls into this scenario, it’s one that he was optimistic about, but when it hits him and he starts to entertain the notion that this might not be forever, it’s really devastating. I’ve always been a sucker for characters that deal with loneliness and desolation and how they live their lives from there and rebuild relationships, and this was it. And boy was this really great to look at. It’s not as if Jonze just introduced a world, he lets us feel it more by giving us this visual spectacle to look at. The production design, and the cinematography go hand in hand here. Don’t you just love the color palette they used? I’m living for Joaquin Phoenix’ costumes too, and if I can only dibs my way to use it as the perfect Halloween costume. Speaking of, Phoenix was marvelous here. I love him in The Master, but this is a totally different platform and he made this work. Scarlett Johansson, despite no physical appearance, managed to flesh out a living character. And Amy Adams is probably having her career best year between this and American Hustle. The rest of the ensemble were really good too from Rooney Mara to Olivia Wilde and Chris Pratt. I also like how it’s some sort a statement to this current age of modern technology and how despite all these advancements in these innovating times, the raw physical connection has its way of sticking it out. “Her” struck a very intimate personal place in my life, and not only do I think that this will be my favorite film of the year, it’s also one that I think will be one of my all time favorites.  5/5

Whew that was overwhelming. Anyway, have you sen all best Picture contenders this year? What are your favorites? And yes, Inside Llewyn Davis was robbed, but more than that, how would you rank this year’s batch?

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

 

 

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