I am most disappointed that there were only 8 nominees this year. All of these films are worthy of their nomination but this category should have also included Foxcatcher, Gone Girl and Interstellar. Plus Nightcrawler and Still Alice could have been in the mix as well. It was a great year for movies and for the first time in quite a while I think there are at least 3 films that could legitimately win best picture.
American Sniper – This is the most commercially successful of the nominees. It’s “The People’s Champ” but it’s also one heckuva movie. Stirring. Compelling. Emotional. Intense. Bradley Cooper turns in the best performance of his career and Clint Eastwood shows that he is absolutely still an elite filmmaker. Fake baby or no. Who cares? This movie was outstanding.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – I can’t say enough about this brilliant film. Alejandro González Iñárritu has such a clear, cinematic vision and uses the camera to tell a fantastic story. Brilliant performances all around, and not just from the nominees. Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan are all great. It is the highlight of Michael Keaton’s career and the best film I saw this year.
Boyhood – Did I mention what an extraordinary achievement this movie is? Oh, what’s that? Only a million times? Then make it a million and one. Because there has never been a movie made like this before and there never will again. It’s not perfect. It has plenty of flaws. But Richard Linklater had a jaw-dropping idea and somehow, someway he pulled it off. Incredible.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – I wish Wes Anderson made a movie every year. I love his work. He keeps getting better and better. This is the best film he’s ever made and that is saying a lot. It’s no wonder great actors love to work for him and they keep coming back picture after picture. Anderson’s scripts are so crisp, his style so distinct. With our megaplex theaters filled with one homogenized Liam Nieson action flick after another (Hey bad guys, stop taking Liam’s stuff!), Wes Anderson is so refreshing. He knows how to tell a story and he does it his way. It also doesn’t hurt that with a Wes Anderson film you know Bill Murray is going to show up somewhere.
The Imitation Game – This is probably the most complete movie of the nominees. It is so solid on every level with no low points. I think what will keep it from winning is the lack of anything truly spectacular. You could argue Benedict Cumberbatch is spectacular, but in a year of such great performances by lead actors, his isn’t quite on par with Keaton, Redmayne or Cooper. But all in all, this is a really intelligent, enjoyable film.
Selma – I gave my initial response to the Selma “snub” here. It was before I saw the film so I was just commenting on the inconsistency of nominating a film for Best Picture but nothing else. If it was one of the best pictures of the year then what was it that made it so great? The acting? The writing? The directing? No nominations in those categories. But then I saw the movie and it all became clear. This is a great film. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. David Oyelowo is excellent. The direction of Ava DuVernay at times achieves brilliance. But there are also times that I wished I was getting more from Oyelowo’s performance and there were times DuVernay’s direction was amateurish, looking very much like a director with only two feature films under her belt. She showed she just might have greatness in her and with more experience it will be released. What makes Selma such a powerful film is how it all comes together at the end. My wife said as we were leaving the theater that she didn’t know what she thought about the movie until it was over. I know exactly what she means. Selma is a little like a cake in the oven. Halfway through it smells good but it doesn’t look like it’s coming together. But once it’s had time to set the finished product is outstanding. But, like with a cake, it’s difficult to identify how good the eggs, milk or sugar are on their own. You just know together it all tastes good. With all the talk about snubs I’m glad that the Academy didn’t throw out the Selma cake simply because the individual ingredients blended together so well.
The Theory of Everything – I think this is the weakest of this year’s best picture nominees. It has its moments and some very good performances but as a story I struggle with what the point was. I commented more on this in my Best Actor prediction here. Eddie Redmayne is probably going to win the Oscar but overall I wouldn’t have had a problem leaving this one off the list.
Whiplash – This on the other hand is incredible. I am so glad it was nominated. In other years this is the kind of movie that misses the cut because it’s such a small, low-budget movie. But thanks to J.K. Simmons’ blistering performance as Terrance Fletcher Whiplash was impossible to overlook. I saw it twice and it only was more impressive the second time around.
OSCAR WINNER: Boyhood
SELBY PICK: Birdman
It will be difficult for the Academy to separate Linklater’s achievement as a director with the film itself. I think Birdman is the best picture this year and The Grand Budapest Hotel a close runner-up but Boyhood was historic. The Academy will put their stamp of approval on a film that went beyond groundbreaking. What Linklater did with Boyhood will never be done again.