The Academy Awards are right around the corner and I’m sure theaters will rerelease some of the nominees. Lucky for you, I’ve ranked them in descending order so you don’t waste your time. These are my opinions based on perceived quality of story and direction, not on whether a story is “important,” “true,” or “should be told.”
There’s nothing quite like Birdman; it’s a surreal trip through modernity as a washed-up actor tries to make sense of his life’s accomplishments with one last shot at creating something truly, sentimentally artistic. Beyond the thematic content, the film never stops moving and never breaks at the end of a scene; it utilizes tracking and follow shots the entire time as Emma Stone, Zack Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, and Michael Keaton draw you in with impressive performances. The juxtaposition of raw reality with the abstract gives it a new depth, an inside look at a tortured soul struggling to accept the social-media revolution as the new way of the world. It’s so uniquely captivating that I cannot imagine another film touching it.
Whiplash follows a young jazz drummer attending an East Coast conservatory in pursuit of greatness. This film is by no means a directorial feat, but the story is so clean and simple I daresay it’s flawless. It vibrates that yearning we all have to be and do something great; to exceed any and all modest ambitions while illuminating the sacrifices one makes to do so. Jazz instructor and Farmer’s Insurance spokesman J. K. Simmons predicates his philosophy on the belief that “The most dangerous two words in the English language are: ‘Good job,’” and in punishing the lead with this unique mentorship, you can’t help but exhale and say “holy shit” once it’s all over. Of all this year’s films, none has caused a greater emotional, anxious involvement than Whiplash. It’s a low-budget film without a nominated actor, so although I believe it deserves to be in the conversation against Birdman and Boyhood, I doubt that it will be.
#3 Theory of Everything
Theory of Everything surpassed my expectations by a mile. The story itself might not be too far from what you can imagine, as we are for the most part familiar with the great Stephen Hawking, but it offers at heartfelt look at his struggle with two transcendent performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones and two hours of spellbinding cinematography. For a film chalked with melancholy conflict, it never fails to bring a hopeful smile, tackling questions of life, love, causality, creation, and humanity’s unrelenting assignment of meaning to it all. Its only fault is falling too far into melodrama and the all too familiar structure of a biography: life’s purpose, relationship, life’s purpose v. relationship, conclusion. For that reason, I can’t imagine it’ll win Best Picture, but I’d be surprised if neither of the performances win Best Actor or Actress.
The film has got some serious hype, but to be honest, I don’t really get it. Boyhood is a 12-year, chronological, coming-of-age film that was no doubt a massive undertaking. One cannot help being touched by such ubiquitous elements of childhood drama as this slow-moving piece fills an almost three-hour runtime, but the 12-year shooting of the film is, in my opinion, the only reason this film would (and probably will) win the Academy Award. I mean, how do you not champion a man willing to put this much effort into its creation? However, due to the reality that most people’s lives don’t fit an arc, the film falls flat far too often, so while I sat through it I was only pulled from scene to scene with “Oh, look, he’s a bit older now. That’s neat.” With most coming-of-age dramas, the main character struggles to find a comfort in his own skin (Blue is the Warmest Color), but this one doesn’t find a problem with that and the only real conflict is his mother’s inability to marry a man who doesn’t devolve into a complete alcoholic, which is more or less out of his hands. The main character and his sister pull a Benjamin Button and become worse actors as they get older. I’m sorry for coming off as a hater, but if it weren’t filmed over 12 years, I doubt this film would get a second glance.
#5 Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m only putting this movie in fifth place because I honestly don’t know how to compare it to the others. It’s a story of a legendary concierge finding friendship in his protégé, who—like himself—is a bit of an outcast, but it’s difficult to compare because it’s Wes Anderson; the guy is on another level. He continues to create these fantastical films with set designs straight out of a dream, so if you like one, you like them all and Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his best to date (and highest-grossing). He’s picking up steam as almost all his films are critically acclaimed, but there’s not a chance he’ll win Best Picture…yet.
#6 The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game tells the story of cryptanalyst Alan Turing and his attempt to crack the “Enigma” code used by the Germans during WWII. Benedict Cumberbatch gives an excellent performance, and maybe this is the curse of all ‘genius’ movies, but everything was so expected that I felt like I was watching A Beautiful Mind with a different cast and no schizophrenia. The story of Alan Turing is a fascinating one on paper, but placed into a film, it struggles to create some sort of “stakes” out of a team of code-breakers, especially when the main character doesn’t seem to care too much about humans. Maybe it’s because I don’t like Keira Knightley; she’s the same in every movie! She has no range whatsoever!
Selma was pretty good, I mean, it couldn’t have come at a better time, but it was exactly what I thought it would be. If you have a rudimentary knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, you know—beat by beat—how this one goes. At the end I just felt like, “Yep, that’s what happened.” And I heard all this talk of how they presented King as a “multidimensional” character with “all his flaws,” but honestly, it seemed like he was just as human and politically frustrated as I thought he’d be, and they tiptoed in fluffy socks through the issues of infidelity. The acting was superb, the speeches were excellent, it’s an important story that should be told, but I thought Remember the Titans was a more heartfelt portrayal of race relations.
#8 American Sniper
This film shouldn’t even be nominated—not because I have any gripes with how it paints our soldiers and the conflicts in the Middle East, but because it sucked ass. As much trouble as I thought I’d have with Bradley Cooper playing this role, he actually did a great job. I had high hopes when I first saw the trailer, saw it was directed by Clint Eastwood, and was let down so hard I thought something was wrong with me. It’s defended as an important portrayal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that is absolutely a grave issue we all need help understanding, but Clint botches the delivery and runs the same conflicts into the ground over and over (by telling, not showing) to such a degree that you become completely detached from what should’ve been a memorable tribute to a veteran. This film tried to be The Hurt Locker and failed miserably. They must be nominating this as a favor to Clint Eastwood.
My Realistic Predictions:
Best Picture: Boyhood
Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Best Actress: Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything
Best Original Screenplay: Birdman
Best Writing Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash