87th Academy Awards: Best Picture Rankings   2 comments

 

bp 2015

Before the Oscars bestow their list of winners on Monday, it’s time to rank the Oscar Best Picture nominees for film year 2014. Unlike in 2012 and 2013 though though, it’s the first time that the Academy nominated only eight films for the top award. It’s a pretty good batch as a whole, though I have lots of reservations with the films in it, and how I wish Gone Girl made it over some of these clunkers in this batch. Anyway, here are my rankings:

IMITATION

08. THE IMITATION GAME
Director: Morten Tyldum

In first of the two British Oscar-contending films this year, this one is about one of Britain’s uncelebrated heroes of his time. Alan Turing has a very interesting story to tell; his team was able to crack the “unbreakable” Enigma leading to a World War II victory. The achievement would be of no value though as he was prosecuted for his homosexuality. What could have been a narration of such story was put to waste with the film’s very pedestrian treatment to it. Hackneyed dialogue, cliched treatment, and uneven focus on the story made the whole film totally disengaging. As if that’s not offensive yet, Benedict Cumberbatch’s campy portrayal is equally eye-roll worthy. With subtlety not existing in his dictionary, Cumberbatch spits every syllable of every word in every line as if it’s his last. Leave it to the sublime Keira Knightley to save the film, together with Alexander Desplat’s score. What might be the biggest missed opportunity here was the film just glossing over a part of Turing’s life that deserved the most attention. Oh well.

2.5/5

theory of everything

07. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Director: James Marsh

The second of the two British-Oscar contending films this year, this one is about celebrated science figure Stephen Hawking. His name, probably more known because of The Big Bang Theory above many other reasons, has an equally compelling story to tell, and director James Marsh milked it for all its worth. Theory completed the handbook of how to do an Oscar-baity movie 101 highlighting the romance and the disease and the drama in succession. I have to say that I was initially hooked but easily worn out by the film’s cinematography using endless filters that really doesn’t offer much except to inform us that hey they really do have lots of filters. The film does a successful job of reminding us that it’s the British cousin of A Beautiful Mind, and if you digged that one, chances are you’d really enjoy this as well. Unlike Cumberbatch in Imitation Game, the only thing I appreciated about the film is Eddie Redmayne’s completely dedicated performance as Hawking. There is more than just the physicality of the role that he embraced which made it work. He might not be my pick for Best Actor at the Oscars, but one can’t deny that he did justice with his character.

2.5/5

american sniper

06. AMERICAN SNIPER
Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood, except for that Best Director nomination, is back to Oscar’s good graces with his latest effort. American Sniper is based on the life story of Chris Kyle — known as the deadliest marksman in the US military with 255 bodies credited under his name. Aided by Bradley Cooper’s intense performance of Kyle, he manages to carry the whole film in his shoulders in spite of the noticeable flaws in the writing. While Eastwood delivered on the technical aspects further escalating the tension and making us feel the nitty gritty of it all (the whole sandstorm part in particular), the film weakens every time it shifts to Kyle’s own personal dilemma of dealing with his PTSD. I wasn’t even bothered by its by the numbers approach nor Eastwood’s political (or apolitical, depending on how you view it) favoring of his own take on militarism in the film. American Sniper could have been a more affecting film had it managed to strike the balance of both, but where one aspect Eastwood delivered, the other lacked. For what its worth, it’s still a solid, if not a bit pedestrian, and decent tribute to someone others consider as a figure of their American hero.

3/5

birdman

05. BIRDMAN
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

There’s a lot of things I loved about Inarritu’s Birdman. As for starters, there’s Michael Keaton’s comeback performance. And Edward Norton’s larger than life character. Then there’s the dark absurdity of the whole film which easily grabs your attention. Plus, the one long take approach of it. Lubezki’s cinematography and Antoio Sanchez’ underrated scoring are also top notch. While all of these seem to mesh out well to create a masterpiece, it still feels a bit underwhelming and not that exhilarating cinematic treat for me. The film has been too self-absorbed to the point that its ‘mocking’ of portraying Hollywood is as foolish as its portrayal of such. Birdman for me is a case of the individual parts being better than its sum where the gimmick hasn’t really stayed that much for me.

3.5/5

selma

04. SELMA
Director: Ava Duvernay

What makes the experience of cinema fascinating is when you witness a story, that in no way, shape, or form involves you, but touches your heart with what it presented to you. That is what Ava Duvernay did with Selma. On the outside, one might consider it as another general biopic advocating the human triumph, but what makes Selma much more sophisticated is that there is a raw sincerity with the lines, and the portrayals, and the technical peaks that it is definitely on a higher pedestal. What Duvernay accomplished here is to flaunt her cinematic potential while retelling a story whose effect aligned with the personal journey of the people during its time. Also, David Oyelowo’s snub will easily go down as one of the worst ever in Academy history. Selma is sensible and sincere that you can’t help but be affected by it.

4/5

the grand budapest hotel

03. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Director: Wes Anderson

It’s really difficult to pin down Wes Anderson films since there’s a lot that we can discuss about his efforts, but I guess let’s start with the obvious. In true Anderson fashion, this one is probably his most deliciously looking film ever. One thing I’ve always appreciated about him is how he builds his own world and that it elevates the whole movie watching experience. In here, the Budapest hotel isn’t merely a background because it’s a star of its own with its use of wide space and set. And can we talk about Milena Canonero’s costume design here? ASTONISHING. With that said, the real deal here is Anderson’s storytelling. I’ve felt that it was his own homage to arts in general. His take on loyalty, passionate love, death, first love, and friendship among others was written with both poignancy and silly humor. Plus, of course that ever reliable ensemble with Ralph Fiennes front and center. Budapest is funny yet tragic, charming and whimsical, and a very delightful movie experience. 

4.5/5

WHIPLASH

02. WHIPLASH
Director: Damian Chazelle

A year after his short film of the same title won the Short Film Jury Prize award at last year’s Sundance, Damien Chazelle translated “Whiplash” into a full length feature film and has made the festival rounds from Sundance to Cannes and Toronto the past few months. The film tells the story of aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) who undergoes training under notorious jazz conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) who has an atypical way of mentoring his students. The film did not waste any opportunity to build the intensity as we’ve seen from the interaction of Andrew and Terence in the opening scene. And there’s no stopping from there. Well crafted for the most part, particularly its creative, albeit really showy, editing and the musical score which heightens the tension further. Chazelle directs this with such precision making his audience feel the same discomfort that his characters feel, and his screenplay did not box the people as simply black and white; instead he composed them as larger than life ones — probably juxtaposed with the characters’ ambitions. J.K Simmons was every inch scary as the foul mouthed, no holds barred perfectionist maestro and there’s a level of brutality that his presence exudes. Rhythmically in sync though was Miles Teller, who should be given equal credit as he plays to Simmons’ level letting his Andrew be intimidated yet inspired with his verbal abuse. Whiplash is a painful reminder that greatness is no easy feat and that it literally takes blood, sweat, and tears to be achieved.

4.5/5

boyhood

01. BOYHOOD
Director: Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater’s 12 year in the making masterpiece is as ambitious as one can get, but the simple and organic approach in its depiction of a slice (is it even just a slice?) of life is certainly one of the most emotionally affecting movie watching experience I’ve ever had. This film follows the life of a kid, Mason, for 12 years as he experiences the highs and lows of his life. It wasn’t really alienating per se since Linklater is very much self-aware that Mason and everyone around him are as ordinary as us or the people around us. Its depiction of “life just going by” is probably one of the least pretentious yet most effective I have ever seen not because of the statement that it leaves, but by refusing to dictate such. There’s a line in the film mentioned by Patricia Arquette where she said “I just thought there would be more…”, and that perfectly sums up the film for me – that the experiences and the time that already passed by can either be a memory of what we were before and a reminder of what have become. Despite running for 165 minutes, I would have been more than fine to see two to three more hours of it. Its use of pop culture references (Pokemon! Harry Potter! Lady Gaga!) and music (Coldplay! Aaliyah! Family of the Year!) is a highlight to this experience as well. In the end, more than the achievement of such a “stunt” project (if one can even call it that), what makes Linklater’s Boyhood every inch effective and memorable is that it was able to capture the accuracy of one’s growing up beyond its literal meaning. The feelings you invested in these characters are too much and too deep that you just don’t want it to end. Well in my case, I really don’t.

5/5

How many have you seen from this year’s batch? Which are your favorites? And who would you be rooting for come Oscar night? Talk to me about it by tweeting me: @nikowl

 

 

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2 responses to “87th Academy Awards: Best Picture Rankings

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  1. My Ranking

    1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (A)
    2. Selma (A)
    3. Whiplash (A)
    4. Boyhood (A-)
    5. Birdman (A-)
    6. The Imitation Game (B+)
    7. American Sniper (B)
    8. The Theory of Everything (C)

    With the exception of Theory and Sniper, I am fine with the nominees, to a certain extent. What infuriates me are: a) with such a good year, we could have easily had a headstrong 10 nominees, but the pesky nomination system completely screwed it up, and b) better films are obviously under the Oscars’ radar, but they still went with a few mediocre choices (Gone Girl and Nightcrawler, for example).

    And I don’t know if it is just me, but Theory feels like the most undeserving Best Picture nominee since 2009’s The Blind Side (a serious headscratcher up to this moment).

  2. I’ve seen…3

    1) Birdman (A+)

    2) The Grand Budapest Hotel (A-/B+)

    3) Boyhood (D)

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