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Monday, July 20, 2015

Best of 2014

7 months after the end of 2014, I'm ready to unveil my top 10 list! The delay has given me time to catch up on lots of good films from last year. I found last year (like most years) a really strong year in cinema if you knew where to look. There were lots of good foreign films and, despite what the Academy Awards looked like, movies made by or focused around women.  Of the 63 movies I saw last year, here are the ones that rose to the top!

Since I hate to leave them off, here are my #16-25 in alphabetical order, all movies well worth watching: The Babadook, a gripping Australian horror film; Beyond the Lights, a hugely entertaining musical drama with a breakout performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the rare special effects film with lots of ideas up its sleeve; Gone Girl, David Fincher's much-discussed thriller; Le Week-End, a film at turns caustic and touching which reminded me of an older version of the Before Sunrise movies; Mommy, a crazy Canadian melodrama from the young director Xavier Dolan; A Most Wanted Man, a smart thriller with Phillip Seymour Hoffman's last major role; Night Moves, director Kelly Reichardt's low-key thriller about environmental activists; and The Overnighters, a moving and surprising documentary about a pastor caring for workers in North Dakota.

Runners-Up (These 5 almost made it!):

Calvary: A funny and moving film about a good Irish priest (the excellent Brendan Gleeson) doing his best to minister to a town of wayward souls. It has a dark Irish humor and heart that I love.

Dear White People: The great and rare combination of really sharp satire and a cast of characters that the audience cares about. This film follows four black students at an Ivy League college, taking on ideas of racism, identity, and campus culture.

The Immigrant: I didn't love the subplot with Jeremy Renner's character, but large portions of this historical drama were among the most beautiful and moving of the year. Chief among its virtues is the luminous cinematography and and enormously powerful performance by Marion Cotillard as a woman clinging to her goodness and dignity in a tough new world. I hate to leave this one off my top 10.

Life Itself: Roger Ebert is near and dear to my heart, one of my guides as a film-loving teenager in the 90s. This documentary perfectly captures his life, his influence, and the happiness he found at the end of his life.

Wild: Beautifully filmed and fully focused on one woman's personal journey, I was completely immersed in Wild. In my mind, director Jean Marc-Valee took a big step up from his more-awarded Dallas Buyers Club. It even inspired me to take a 3-day hike!

Now on to my top 10:

10. Two Days, One Night: The Dardenne Brothers are masters at creating realist portraits of working-class residents in Europe. This is one of their best, starring Marion Cotillard as a factory worker facing modern capitalism as she forced to beg her coworkers for her job.

9. Leviathan: It's long, it's Russian, and I wasn't bored for a second. Leviathan is about family and class struggles in modern-day Russia and it has the scope and feel of a great novel. Beautifully shot and full of deep emotions, it had one of the most powerful endings of the year.

8. Selma: Director Ava Duvernay's skillful and moving historical drama will be remembered for years to come. Centered on David Oyelowo's riveting performance as Dr. King (let's take a moment of silence for his missing Oscar nomination....), the movie also uses its ensemble incredibly well, showing how many people were crucial to the civil rights movement.

7. Ida: The Academy crowned Ida the best foreign language film, and I agree. A quiet movie about a young woman in 1960s Poland preparing to be a nun, finding out she's Jewish, and spending time with her worldly and haunted aunt. Ida features two great performances, some of the best cinematography of the year, and two characters that haunted me for weeks.

6. Love is Strange: A beautiful film about community, family, love, and aging, Love is Strange focuses on two older men (Alfred Molina and John Lithgow) finally getting married and navigating tricky family relationships. The movie keeps a delicate tone that builds and culminates in its incredible ending sections.

5.Whiplash: The most thrilling and tense movie of last year, this is about a driven drummer and his domineering teacher. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons work magic together, and the movie hooks you from the first scene. Director Damian Chezelle gave one of the best debuts I've seen in a long time.

4. Birdman: After winning Best Picture and Best Director, we saw the inevitable backlash against Birdman. It's perhaps not the deepest movie of the year, but man is it a lot of fun. I love backstage dramas, and every single cast member is perfect. Throw in the incredible single-take cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, and you have a real winner.

3. Under the Skin: This mix of science fiction, performance art (part of this was filmed "undercover"), and modern art film is certainly not to everyone's taste, but give it the time and it will haunt you. It's about.... well, an otherworldly being (Scarlett Johannson) experiencing modern life. I think it also has much to say about being human, being a woman, and the ways we look at and experience one another.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel:  Grand Budapest contains the heaviest themes director Wes Anderson has ever done, but its pulled off with his assured and light touch. Anderson's meticulous style is a perfect match for this wartime comedy/drama of old manners, new threats, and the memory of things past.  Ralph Fiennes is absolutely perfect, robbed of an Oscar nomination.

1. Boyhood: From the moment I saw it, I  knew this would be my number one film of the year.  Director Richard Linklater broke new ground in fiction cinema, in filming the same actors over 12 years, letting the audience watch the passage of time before our very eyes. A landmark in film history, and emotionally stunning in the best, most natural way. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2015- First half of the year

I've had a bit of a hiatus on the blog, so here's some thoughts on some 2015 releases, many of which are essential viewing. I can't remember the last time I saw two early releases I loved as much as my top 2.

In order of my preference....

Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie is absolutely as awesome and amazing as you've heard. Weird, thrilling, and filled with wall-to-wall action, this is one of the best theater experiences I've had in a long time. My usual problem with action movies is their muddled action sequences that exist just to have some cool tricks. Director George Miller does an incredible job of showing the stakes of each sequence and helping you know exactly what's going on, no matter how weird things get.  Whether you rate Mad Max as groundbreaking feminism or just kick-ass girl power, it's great seeing Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as an amazing action heroine. I could go on and on about everything I loved about this movie, but it's best to go in fairly fresh.


Grade: A

Ex Machina

I've thought about Ex Machina a whole lot since I saw it a few months ago. It's a parable about a eccentric billionaire (Oscar Isaac) testing his lifelike robot (Alicia Vikander) on a naive young man (Domnhall Gleeson). The movie has many twists and turns, and its expert in the way it plays with the expectations and sympathies of the audience. After some great indie and foreign performances (A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina), Alicia Vikander becomes a star here, absolutely nailing a tricky role. Oscar Isaac is more than her equal, playing a megalomanic as chilled-out-bro. See it with someone who like to talk- I promise you it will lead to many discussions!

Grade: A

Inside Out
As you probably know, Inside Out has the high concept of taking place largely inside the mind of a young girl going through a life transition. The main characters in her head are Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and they are joined by Fear, Anger, and Disgust.  It's a great concept and Pixar has a lot of fun playing with the ideas of how emotions are formed and change as we age. I especially loved the forays into other character's minds and into the land of dreams. That said, it didn't quite hit the (admittedly high) Pixar pinnacle for me. I think the idea is so strong that it becomes a little harder to connect on a human level with all of the goings-on.  While it was consistently funny and clever, I think the Toy Story films are a little more moving and honest about the process of growing up and letting go. You can probably ignore my criticisms, though, because it's still a really terrific movie. The standout for me of the movie was sadness as played by Phyllis Smith (The Office). Her voice is perfectly matched to the character, and she ends up being the most important character in the film. Another triumph for Pixar.

Grade: A-/B+

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

After winning both the audience award and the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, Earl seemed to arrive with weaker reviews and box office than expected. It's certainly a very "Sundance" movie, in the sense of being small, quirky, obsessed with other films, and a wee bit twee. Yet I think it owns its vibe and pulls it off with charm. Perhaps it's because I (or my teenage self) identified with Greg (Thomas Mann), a kid making it through high school based on his love of film. He and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) spend their days making parody films of classics until they befriend Rachel, a girl diagnosed with cancer. It definitely has a young adult novel feel, but in a really entertaining and lovely way, touching without being overly sentimental. If the movie was called Me and the Dying Girl, I would have really loved it.  Unfortunately the African-American Earl comes across as a two-dimensional character, existing more to teach Greg lessons than to be his own character. I also really loved the parental performances by three great TV performers, Connie Britten, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon.

Grade: B+

While We're Young

As someone in my 30s, caught between the characters in this movie, I could easily relate to director Noah Baumbach movie's culture clash comedy of a couple in their 40s (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) befriending a hipster couple in their 20s (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried). I REALLY LOVED this movie in the first 40 minutes or so. It absolutely nailed the way the character's talked, the idiosyncrasies of urban life, and the social anxieties of adult friendships. Unfortunately, the second half becomes pretty schematic, getting too tied up into a who did what story involving a documentary film being filmed by Driver's character. I wish Baumbach had the courage to just let his characters be and interact, just as he did in 2013's Frances Ha (one of my favorite films of the past few years). It's not that the rest is terrible, it's just not up to Baumbach's best work, including the first half of the movie.  

Grade: B (First half A, second half C+)

Love and Mercy

This biopic of Brian Wilson is split into two halves, once with Paul Dano as Pet Sounds-era Wilson and one with John Cusack as post-300 pound yet still troubled Wilson in the 1980s. I'm often slightly underwhelmed by biopics, preferring those that get really abstract (I'm Not There) or focus on a finite part of the story (Lincoln, Capote). Love and Mercy lands somewhere in the middle. While it does only focus on two short periods of Wilson's life, its story of downfall and redemption is still easy to map from the beginning. While I liked Cusack as the older Wilson and especially Elizabeth Banks as his love interest, I did think the earlier scenes were more interesting. The movie does a great job of giving us a sense of how Wilson's unique mind led both to the creative musical experimentation of Pet Sounds and to his troubles surviving in the music business and the world. Paul Dano is really great as the young Wilson, digging deep into the character.  A good movie you'll probably like even more than I did if you enjoy biopics.

Grade: B


Another hit from Sundance, Dope is a story of a trio of 3 nerdy smart kids, living in a troubled inner-city neighborhood.  They inadvertently get caught up with some local drug dealers, and hijinks ensue! If you can picture a mash-up of Boyz in the Hood, Ferris Bueller, and Superbad, you'd be somewhat in the ballpark of Dope. That's fun in a lot of ways, but also a little disconcerting. The tone of the movie shifts so much its hard to really get your handle on it, even while you're enjoying the experience. I think I preferred it most in its Bueller moments, having fun with the heists without getting overly heavy or over-the-top with its teen gross-out humor. The best part of the movie is the central trio (Shameik Moore, Tony Revilori, and Kiersey Clemons). Whenever they're interacting on screen they have a natural chemistry that carries you through the movie. Let's see more movies like this that give great non-stereotyped roles to young actors of color. Let's just make the scripts a bit tighter.

Grade: B-/C+

Up Soon: My (Very Late) Top 10 of 2014

Sunday, May 10, 2015

2014 in Review: Best Performances

After a particularly long post-Oscar hiatus, I'm back with a wrap-up of 2014 (yes, even though we're almost halfway through 2015).   I'll start with my favorite performances of last year. Look for my Top 10 of 2014 soon!

Best Actress

Martion Cotillard (The Immigrant)

For my money, the two best performances of last year were given by Cotillard, in The Immigrant and in Two Days, One Night (which landed her a nomination).  I debated between which to pick for my nominations, but in the end went with The Immigrant. Cotillard plays a Polish immigrant exploited and forgotten when she gets to America. Cotillard never lets her character succumb to victimization, though, playing a fierce integrity and passion throughout the movie. The scene in the confessional booth is one for the ages.

Essie Davis (The Babadook)

The Babadook is an Australian horror movie that plays on both supernatural horror and the everyday horror of having a child you can't understand and sometimes don't like.  Without giving spoilers, let's just say actres Davis (unknown to me before this film) has to play an incredible swath of emotions and volumes.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights)

Mbatha-Raw is simply luminescent in this highly enjoyable and moving melodrama which didn't find the audience it should have.  She plays a R & B singer who hits bottom and finds her own way out.  I can't wait to see what else Mbatha-Raw has in store as an actress.

Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Moore won an Oscar for this performance, and she's incredible as always. As Alice, a professor dealing with early onset Alzheimers, Moore uses her incredible skill to show the slow decline that happens and easily maps the emotions at each moment. While the movie around her isn't amazing, there's no denying the power of her performance.

Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

A brave, stripped-down performance from Reese, which just may be her best (give or take Election). Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, who deals with her mother's death and her own downward spiral through a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon is on screen just about every moment, and she is unafraid to show all sides of this story which is both inspiring and painful.

My Pick: Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
Second: Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Runners-Up: Emily Blunt (Looper), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Lindsay Duncan (Le Week-end), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)

Matches with Oscar: They also went with Moore, Witherspoon, and Cotillard (although for Two Days, One Night).  Felicity Jones is in my runners-up list in a very good performance. The fifth slot went to Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl, a performance I can't make up my mind on in a movie I really like.

Best Actor

Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

An all-time great comedic performance, perfectly witty and charming the whole way through as M. Gustav, a preserver of old world manners in a rapidly changing world.  How did the Academy love this movie, give it 4 Oscar wins, and yet ignore the amazing performance at the center? Inexplicable.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)

Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a smiling, amoral opportunist. Gyllenhaal is doing something very different than he's ever done before, and it's fascinating to watch, even when the script becomes too obvious.

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

What an amazing comeback for Keaton! Playing on his past as Batman, Keaton gives a kinetic, physical performance that carries you with wild abandon through the film. I was rooting for him all through Oscar season.

David Oyelowo (Selma)

Is there more intimidating figure to play than MLK? I think not, and Oyelowo does a flawless job. Without simple physical or vocal mimicry, Oyelowo gets at the thoughtful soul of a man leading a movement. Another performance inexplicably overlooked by Oscar.

Miles Teller (Whiplash)

JK Simmons got most of the acting attention for Whiplash this year, but Teller is just as integral to the success of Whiplahs. As a driven young drummer, Teller throws his blood, sweat, and tears (literally.... all of these) into this character.

Runners-Up: Jesse Eisenberg (Night Moves), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Alfred Molina (Love is Strange), Jack O'Connell (Starred Up), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything),

My Pick: Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Second: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Matches with Oscar: Just Keaton.  With so many great performances to choose from, Oscar went a little bland this year. Redmayne is on my runners up list. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) was good but not great, Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) pretty good in a terrible movie, and I found Steve Carrell the weakest performance of the three men in Foxcatcher.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

The movie is called Boyhood, but it wouldn't be 1/10 as affecting without the mother's story at its core. Arquette plays Olivia, a struggling single mother with questionable choice in men.  She loves her children fiercely, but also follows her own path towards fulfillment. Arquette's performance, filmed over 12 years, digs deep into the joys and pains of motherhood.

Agata Kulezca, Ida

Few characters were as fascinating to me this year as Wanda, a judge in communist-era Poland reconnecting with her niece and digging up a painful past. Kulezca plays the hard exterior well, and gradually reveals the pain underneath.

Rene Russo, Nightcrawler

The best scenes in Nightcrawler all involve Russo as Nina, a jaded news producer who falls into a strange alliance with Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom. It's the kind of career redefining performance that should lead to a renaissance for an actress many had forgotten about.

Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Is there anything Swinton can't do?  In the sci-fi Snowpiercer, Swinton is equal parts Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher as Mason, an authoritarian figure so ridiculous she's chilling.  She also gets perhaps the best line of the year: "Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe."

Naomi Watts, Birdman

You could literally fill this whole category with the women of Birdman. My favorite was Naomi Watts as an actress dealing with her egotistical actor partner (Edward Norton) while getting a big shot on Broadway. Watts has been one of my favorite actors since Mulholland Drive, and she delivers another riveting performance here.

Runners-Up: Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Laura Dern (Wild), Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Emma Stone (Birdman), Marisa Tomei (Love is Strange)

My Favorite: Patricia Arquette
Second Place: Agata Kulezka

Matches with Oscar: Just the winner (Arquette).  Oscar went with my runner-ups Emma Stone (Birdman) and Laura Dern (Wild). They also picked Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), who was strong in an unremarkable role, and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), who was good in a role that ends up being a bit one-note.

Best Supporting Actor

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Hawke and director Richard Linklater go hand in hand, and this might be Hawke's best performance. His character starts out as the prototypical absent disappointing dad, but soon morphs into something much more complex, showing how kids aren't the only ones that change over 12 years.

Edward Norton, Birdman

Norton gets some of the biggest laughs of the year as vain actor Mike Shiner.  Norton has never been this funny before, bouncing his character off Michael Keaton's with effortless grace.

Tony Revilori, The Grand Budapest Hotel

In his major movie debut, Revilori is charming as lobby boy Zero, the mentee to M. Gustav. His young charm and physical performance are right at home in Wes Anderson's world.

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

The best moments of Foxcatcher belong to Mark Ruffalo's Dave Schultz, the wrestler pulled into the Dupont dysfunction by his brother Mark. Ruffalo's performance keeps the movie naturalistic and grounded, making sure we see the real brotherly love and not just the prevading creepiness that consumes so much of the movie.

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Simmons dominated the awards circuit, and it's easy to see why. His music teacher Terrence Fletcher is a terrifying character, ripping through his students' ego and dignity in the search for greatness. A great standout role for this longtime character actor.

Runners-Up: Zach Galifanakis (Birdman), Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-end), Charlie Tahan (Love is Strange), Tyler Perry (Gone Girl), Peter Saarsgard (Night Moves)

My Favorite: Edward Norton
Second Place: Mark Ruffalo

Matches with Oscar: 4! All but Revilori. Oscar went with Robert Duvall in The Judge, a movie I have no intention of seeing. A rare instance where Oscar gets a category almost exactly right.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Liveblogging the show

The Show (Latest Updates up Top)


Actor to Redmayne. Wished it was Keaton but happy for Eddie. He's so happy!

McConaughey is looking so greasy!

Julianne Moore for Stil Alice! 17/22. Finally she's an Oscar winner.

Best Picture to....Birdman.  Loved this movie.  Yes, I loved Boyhood even more but I don't begrudge this.  There's gonna be a nasty backlash tonight/tomorrow.

Some great speeches tonight though. My final results were 18/24, probably my worst showing ever.... There weren't really huge surprises, just several close races where I picked the wrong way.


Director to Inarittu for Birdman.  I think I'm 15/19 now. Second year in the row a Mexican director wins (after Cuaron for Gravity). /16/21


Original Screenplay to Birdman.  A good category and a good choice. Looking like some Birdman wins coming up.... Director, probably Picture, maybe Actor? 12/17

Adapted Screenplay to The Imitation Game. If Redmayne wins, all the Best Picture nominees will win something.  I wish Whiplash would have won here. 13/18


Scarjo- love the dress but I miss her younger, voluptuous look.

Lady Gaga as Maria- so weird and unnecessary!! Stop now.

But seeing Julie Andrews is amazing.... does she ever age?

Score to Grand Budapest for Alexandre Desplat. 8 nominations and 1st win. Love the score! Didn't pick it though. 12/16. So many for Grand Budapest!


Glory performance. Just amazing. Tears here.  This better win best song....

And it does.  Whew. 12/15.  John Legend gives a heartfelt speech daring to make a statement.


Editing to Whiplash. A sign Boyhood is definitely an underdog for Best Picture now. Missed this. 10/13.

Terrence Howard.... a little intense there introducing the movies.

Documentary to Citizenfour. 11/14.  Issues a thank you to Edward Snowden!


Why don't they just do a song while they show the people?


Production design to Grand Budapest. 9/11 now, and another for Budapest!  I'm not a big fan of how they are not actually showing examples of the nominees when they read the nominations. Don't you want to see the production design?

Cinematography to Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman! Second year in a row to a truly amazing film artist. 10/12


Visual Effects to Interstellar. 7/8. I predicted this but really think it should have gone to the Apes.

Animated Short to Feast. 8/9 now.

Animated Feature to Big Hero 6. Another miss for me, so 8/10. Most were picking How to Train Your Dragon 2.


Guys- NPH was pulling out a wedgie as he walked out!

Sound Mixing- Whiplash! 5/6.  Let's keep shutting American Sniper out.

Sound Editing- Spoke too soon. Goes to  American Sniper. 6/7. Let's keep it there, voters.

Supporting Actress. Patricia Arquette. 7/8.  What a speech and gave us the best moment so far- Meryl Streep with her "You go girl!"reaction.


Live Action Short: The Phone Call. I saw this one.  Great performance by Sally Hawkins.  5/5.

Doc Short: Crisis Hotline. I didn't pick this one, so my first loss. 5/6.  What a fun dress on the winner!

Oh Gwyneth.... why have you become so annoying. You were great in Shakespeare in Love. Tim McGraw singing this Glen Campbell song.... unimpressed.


Chiwetel has glitter in his beard!

Foreign to Ida.  See it everyone! It's on Netflix Instant. 4/4.

Everything is Awesome.... that was awesome.

Also, we've noticed that Eddie Redmayne's wife looks constantly uncomfortable.


Costumes and Makeup both to Grand Budapest. So happy Wes Anderson is getting recognition- and he looks so thrilled.  I'm 3/3 right now (like many people I'm sure).


NPH nailed the opening song!  What the people wanted... an old fashioned opener.

Not sure Oprah was a big fan of being used in the joke....

Supporting Actor to J.K. Simmons of course.  Kind of a weird speech from him. 1/1

Presenting Grand Budapest and American Sniper together.... very weird juxtaposition.

Adam Levin with "Lost Stars" from Begin Again. I think if Glory hadn't come out, this might have won best song.

Red Carpet Coverage

We start off with the red carpet coverage. A rainy night so actors are all worried about their looks.

First impression- Rosamund Pike looking amazing. Surprisingly, the only nomination from Gone Girl.

Conversation in my living room. Both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones (Theory of Everything) are really toothy. Can either close their mouth?

Julianne Moore.... one of my all-time favorites.  Soon to be Oscar winner.  I wish she had won for Boogie Nights..... or Magnolia.... or Far From Heaven.

Marion Cotillard. What a class act and great actress. My favorite of the best actress nominees.

Chris Pratt.  This just reminds that Parks & Rec is ending this week..... sniff sniff.

The red carpet always leads to inevitable..... is their [wife/husband/partner] famous?

Lupita Nyongo is wearing 6,000 pearls. This also reminds me of her amazing win and speech last year for 12 Years a Slave.

Reese Witherspoon looking great. Wild was a very underrated movie this year.  Also, promoting the hashtag #askhermore.  YES!!! Ask them about their work, not just their dresses.

Naomi Watts. Loved her in Birdman and even more in Mulholland Drive, one of my favorite movies (and performances) ever.

Bradley Cooper talking about how much Chris Kyle's family supported the movie. Could one problem with American Sniper be that..... they were too deferential to Chris Kyle's family? There was a more interesting movie to be told from that story.

Why does Lady Gaga sound like she is from another country? It appears she'll also be performing in a "Sound of Music" tribute..... could be kind of fun or a disaster.

Final Predictions

I've mulled over these for a while, and made my best guesses!

I've listed the nominees in order of my preference and then put up predictions, the runners-ups, and who should really be in the category.

While a few of the major categories are locked up, overall this is a very difficult year for many predictions. I usually get somewhere between 19-21 out of 24 correct. I'll definitely be lucky if I break 20 tonight.  So much the better. Here's to an exciting Oscar year!

Best Picture
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
American Sniper

Will Win: Boyhood
Could Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Here: Under the Skin

For the second year in a row (after last year's 12 Years a Slave/Gravity match up), a too close to call race for Best Picture. My head says to go with Birdman, which won the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild, and Directors Guild awards, often predictors for the big prize. Boyhood won BAFTA and just about every critic's prize, though, so I'm holding out hope my favorite holds on.... 

Best Director
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Will Win: Alejandro Inarritu
Could Win: Richard Linklater
Should Have Been Here: Ava Duvernay, Selma

Another extremely tough call. Probably not smart to predict a split, but I'm guessing that Inarritu's showy directorial work may win out here, even if Birdman loses best picture.

Best Actor
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Could Win: Michael Keaton (and it's close!)
Should Have Been Here: Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Another really tight race between Redmayne and Keaton. This category was chock full of great contenders before nomination morning, and somehow they passed over many of them.... I would have loved to see Fiennes, David Oyelowo (Selma) or Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) take any spot except Keaton's.  I'm hoping Keaton can pull this out over Redmayne, but the Academy doesn't typcially reward comedic performances in Best Actor.

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Will Win: Julianne Moore
Could Win: Reese Witherspoon
Should Have Been Here: Lindsay Duncan, Le Week-end

This is actually a terrific list of actresses.   Julianne is one of my all-time favorites, and while hers is only my third favorite performance of the nominees, I'll be happy to see her take this. I'm mostly exceedingly thankful Cotillard got in for an amazing performance. For my money, Marion Cotillard gave the two best female performances of the year, in Two Days, One Night and in The Immigrant.

Best Supporting Actor
Edward Norton, Birdman
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

Haven't Seen:
Robert Duvall, The Judge

Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Could Win: Edward Norton
Should have been here: Ben Mendelsohn, Starred Up

I absolutely adore the 4 performances that I've seen in this category, and any would make a great winner.  It will certainly be J.K. Simmons.

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Laura Dern, Wild

Haven't Seen:
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Could Win: Emma Stone
Should Have Been Here: Agata Kulesza, Ida

Arquette will win this, easily, and it's a great performance.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
American Sniper

Haven't Seen:
Inherent Vice

Will Win: The Imitation Game
Could Win: Whiplash
Should Have Been Here: Wild

I think they will want to award The Imitation Game somewhere, and this seems the obvious place.  Watch out for Whiplash though.

Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Here: Love is Strange

I think this is a tight 3-way race, and I'm tempted to pick Birdman.  Having nominated Budapest for so many awards, though, I think they'll want to award Wes here for a beautifully written screenplay.

Best Cinematography
Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
Ida – Lukasz Zal & Ryszard Lenczewski
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Robert Yeoman

Haven't Seen
Mr. Turner – Dick Pope
Unbroken – Roger Deakins

Will Win: Birdman
Could Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should have been here: Under the Skin

This will easily make two wins in a row for Lubezki, one of my favorite film artists.

Best Foreign Language Film

Haven't Seen:
Wild Tales

Will Win: Ida
Could Win: Wild Tales

Ida is the most well-known and it's terrific, but this could also go to Wild Tales or Leviathan. 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Foxcatcher
Should have been here: Snowpiercer

Noses and wrestling injuries, whimsical characters, or sci-fi megahit?  A category that could go any which way. I'm guessing they'll pick the more varied looks of Budapest over the prosthetics of Foxcatcher.

Best Original Score
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game

Haven't Seen:
Mr. Turner

Will Win: The Theory of Everything
Could Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should have been here: Gone Girl

I remember watching The Theory of Everything and thinking "this sounds like an Oscar-winning score," so I'm going with that. It's in a tight race with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Best Original Song
"Glory,” Selma
“Everything is Awesome,” The LEGO Movie
“Lost Stars,” Begin Again
“Grateful,” Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me

Will Win: Glory
Could Win: Everything is Awesome
Should have been here: ?

A fun category! The first three songs are all great, and important to their movies.

Best Animated Feature (Haven't Seen Any)
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Could Win: Big Hero 6
Should have been her: The Lego Movie, of course

Best Film Editing
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
American Sniper

Will Win: Boyhood
Could Win: Whiplash
Should have been here: Selma

Best Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Haven't Seen:
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Into the Woods
Should have been here: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated Short
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Will Win: Feast
Could Win: The Bigger Picture

Best Live Action Short
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call

Will Win: The Phone Call (I saw this one!)
Could Win: Boogaloo and Graham

Best Documentary—Short (Haven't Seen Any)
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

Will Win: Joanna
Could Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Best Sound Editing
American Sniper

Haven't Seen
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Will Win: American Sniper
Could Win: Interstellar
Should have been here: Whiplash

Best Sound Mixing
American Sniper

Haven't Seen:

Will Win: Whiplash
Could Win: American Sniper
Should have been here: Under the Skin

Best Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Will Win: Interstellar
Could Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Should have been here: Edge of Tomorrow

Best Documentary — Feature (Haven't Seen Any)
Finding Vivien Maier
Last Days of Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Will Win: Citizenfour
Could Win: Virunga
Should have been here: Life Itself (A surprise snub.... I guess the Academy doesn't like film critics)

Best Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel (The only one I've seen)

Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Into the Woods
Should have been here: Selma

So, all in all I'm predicting:

4 for The Grand Budapest Hotel (Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costumes, Makeup)
3 for Boyhood (Picture, Supporting Actress, Editing)
2 for Birdman (Director, Cinematography)
2 for Whiplash (Supporting Actor, Sound Mixing)
2 for The Theory of Everything (Actor, Score)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Blogging the Oscars: It's All Relatives

Oscar weekend arrives again, along with my favorite blog post of the year, the family Best Picture rankings! My mother-in-law Barb has been doing this for 6 years, and the rest of the crowd for 5.  Welcome back to the blog my wife Emily, brother Jason, sister Sarah, and brother-in-law Tyler!

Looking back, here are the team winners from past years:
2009-The Hurt Locker
2010-Black Swan
2011-The Artist
2013-12 Years a Slave

This year we had some very clear opinions. Every single member put the same movies in the top 5 and the same 3 movies in the bottom 3.This is also probably our most consistent year ever, with no movie more than 3 spots apart on anyone's list.

It's also interesting that the movie (American Sniper) that has made more than the other 7 nominees combined ranked in the bottom 2 for all of us. The two lowest grossers, Whiplash and Boyhood, were big hits with all of us. As H.L. Mencken said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public."

As you can see, there was also a whole lot of Boyhood love. Keep reading for some great write-ups from the whole gang.

MovieBenEmilyBarbSarahTylerJasonAverage Rank
5Grand Budapest3435544.00
6Imitation Game6666686.33
7Theory of Everything7777766.83
8American Sniper8888877.83

Here are our picks for the other categories. Simmons and Arquette are just about as locked up with this crowd as with the Oscars, while the Keaton/Redmayne race leans heavily towards Keaton from where we sit.

Richard Linklater, Boyhood: Ben, Emily, Sarah, Tyler, Barb
Alejandro G. Innaritu: Jason

Michael Keaton, Birdman: Ben, Emily, Tyler, Barb, Jason
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything: Sarah

Julianne Moore, Still Alice: Emily, Barb, Jason
Reese Witherspoon, Wild: Sarah, Tyler
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night: Ben

Supporting Actor
J.K. Simmons, Whipalsh: Emily, Sarah, Tyler, Barb, Jason
Edward Norton, Birdman: Ben

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood: Everyone

Original Screenplay
Boyhood: Emily, Barb, Sarah, Tyler
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Ben, Jason

Adapted Screenplay
Whiplash: Everyone


This film year started out a little slow, but we ended up with a really strong crop of nominees and 5 movies I really love. I don’t recall if there’s ever been a time when my two favorite movies of the year are duking it out for Best Picture.  So, while I absolutely adore Boyhood and really want to see it win, I won’t begrudge any awards going to Birdman, another great film.

1. Boyhood
Those few who are more lukewarm on Boyhood tend to ask the question, “Would it be as powerful if it was shot as a normal movie?” Well no, and that’s a lot of what I love about it. The perfect marriage of form and content, Boyhood makes the audacious move of filming the same actors over 12 years and giving us something we’ve never really seen in a single fiction film: time truly passing by. Observing characters, both children and adults, age on screen led me to such an emotional response as they moved through life in what seems like an instant. As I watched, I was almost unbearably moved at the smallest snippets of dialogue, meaningful looks, or reappearance of a minor character. Boyhood is one for the all-time best lists.

2. Birdman
I love backstage dramas, surrealist comedies, and great cinematography that includes bravura tracking shots.  So how could I not love Birdman? From start to finish, I was giddy with excitement.. The great cast, led first and foremost by Michael Keaton in a once-in-a-lifetime role, is constantly thrilling to watch bounce off one another throughout the breathless air of this movie. While the art vs. commerce ideas may not be particularly novel, it didn’t bother me a bit as the approach and filmmaking surrounding the thoughts was so thrilling.  There’s already a growing backlash against this film, which will probably reach a fever pitch if it beats Boyhood for Best Picture. That’s too bad, because Birdman is one of the most idiosyncratic and entertaining nominees we’ve had in a long while.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson was finally embraced by the Academy, without losing any of his distinctive vision. The Grand Budapest Hotel is an astonishingly beautiful movie, made up of intricate moving parts that all work together perfectly. The script is clever and moving, the production design exquisite, and the performances great across the board. I couldn’t love Ralph Fiennes any more in his role as M. Gustav (why oh why didn’t he get a nomination??). On a second viewing, even the nesting doll structure I didn’t love the first time totally worked as it highlighted the movie’s poignancy and themes of connecting to the past. TGBP is about a lot, chief of which is the “faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity.”

4. Whiplash
Whiplash is such a tightly controlled, suspenseful, well-made movie, it seems like it should be a model for film school students. This story of a dysfunctional master-protege relationship was intense and gripping the entire way through, led by towering performances by J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. It also has one of the best endings of the year, a tour-de-force sequence that will have you debating cruelty, learning, and greatness for a long time to come.

5. Selma
Ava DuVernay directs Selma with a controlled and powerful hand, giving us many movies at once: a portrait of a heroic (but not sanitized) leader, a political horse-trading drama, and the sweeping sense of a social movement. The most powerful scenes in Selma for me are the marches, where we understand the stakes, know the main players, and feel as if we are there with those fighting for incredible social change. I also love David Oyelowo’s performance, going for subtlety and emotional embodiment rather than showy speeches. I thought the King/LBJ scenes weren’t quite up to the same level, not because of issues of historical accuracy but simply because I wanted to get back to the scenes of the movement.  Selma is another movie where all the elements work together to form a powerful and coherent whole. It’s a movie that beautifully illuminates the past and connects it directly to our present.

6. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is a solid, well-made movie, enjoyable to watch and telling an entertaining and important story. Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent actor, and he brings life and vitality to his role as Alan Turing. It’s also a little standard, feeling more like an “Oscar” movie made 15 years ago than anything that adds anything to today’s cinematic landscape. In a year of invention, it’s hard to hold this up as one of the best movies of the year.

7. The Theory of Everything
I liked the first half of this movie, showing the love story of Jane and Stephen Hawking, and how that love adapts at Stephen’s first glimpses of his disease. As the movie progresses, it makes the typical biopic move (mistake, in my opinion) of rushing through years to get to the “important” parts, and I became less and less interested. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are both very good in their roles, and it’s an interesting portrait of an unconventional marriage, but it’s not a movie I have any desire to watch again.

8. American Sniper
Oh boy. I hated this movie more than any Best Picture nominee I can remember. I do think Bradley Cooper was good in it, but he seems on loan from a movie with more ideas and nuanced characters.  If you want to wave a flag, worship a sanitized “hero,” and not think too hard about international issues, this is the movie for you. I’m hoping this one leaves the theater empty-handed on Sunday.

Should Win:
Picture: Boyhood
Director: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Actress: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, Birdman
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash


Happy to be back for another Academy Awards on my favorite blog! It was an interesting year at the movies. Here are my thoughts:

1. Boyhood
A beautiful, history-making film and major achievement for Richard Linklater, a director with a knack like no other for portraying time and change and human relationships. Fantastic performances by the brilliant Patricia Arquette and the ever-charming Ethan Hawke.

2. Selma
A powerful telling of a tumultuous moment in our nation’s history. Like many, I was bothered that the Academy overlooked Ava DuVernay. David Oyelowo (also overlooked) captured Dr. King’s spirit so well without feeling like an impersonator. And that song (“That’s why Rosa sat on the bus/That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up”) – a sobering reminder of the long way we still have to go.

3.  Birdman
A thought-provoking magical realist exploration of identity, (alter) ego, and what’s-it-all-for. While some of the fancy long-take camerawork was lost on me, I know people who notice these things were very impressed. Superb performances by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
A joy to see Wes Anderson’s delightfully quirky and artful style of filmmaking recognized as one of the best. It really is. A funny and poignant film with truly awesome production design and attention to every detail. I agree with Ben that it would have been fun to see a Ralph Fiennes nomination.

5. Whiplash
A troubling yet fascinating examination of drive, becoming the best, fulfillment of dreams(/egos), and one crazy brand of No Excuses teaching and learning. J.K. Simmons was terrifying. Also, this movie had one of the most interesting endings of the year.

6. The Imitation Game
A sad story about the brilliant Alan Turing—well-played by Benedict Cumberbatch, even if his character’s social incompetence felt a tad overdone. Within this male-dominated bunch of Best Picture nominees, Keira Knightley’s mathematical genius character, Joan Clarke, was a breath of fresh air.

7. The Theory of Everything
An engaging film about the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking, and quite a performance by the talented Eddie Redmayne. While this was an enjoyable watch, the story plodded a bit, repeatedly hammering certain themes over the viewer’s head (“Did you get that? God and Science.”) That said, I still liked it.

8. American Sniper
If you have an aversion to guns, this movie will probably not sit well. Yes, we need to be talking very seriously about the toll of war on veterans. No question. But do we have to glorify guns and dismiss any question of the ethics of shooting lots of people in the name of “doing one’s job”? Troubling were the bizarre moral messages, the use of a blatantly plastic baby, and the scene in which our protagonist shares a sweet and intimate moment with his wife in the kitchen, pointing a (loaded?) gun at her and telling her to “drop her drawers”. Oh boy. The acclaim this movie has received is confusing to me. Let’s hope that it at least has some redeeming value as a conversation starter.

Who Should Win:
Picture: Boyhood
Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Directing: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash
Original Screenplay: Boyhood


In past years, I’ve been very torn with how to rank the nominees. This year, the films are divided up into two very distinct catergories. Category one is the “wow, I loved this movie and would be happy if it won”. Category two is “I just can’t see how this is best picture material when compared to the others in category one. The first four on my list are category one and the rest fall into the second category.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on this years Oscar nominated films!
1. Whiplash
From the opening scene until the unbelievable finale, this movie had me  from the start. The physiological warfare waged by Fletcher coupled with Andrew’s all consuming desire to be the best makes for a riveting two hours. Enough has been said about J.K. Simmons and I couldn’t agree more with all of the accolades being given to him; I’m happy that he is going to come away with the Oscar. He is the new hardest working man in show business, I took a look at his credits and he has a whopping 24 new projects since Whiplash alone! My favorite moment at the cinema this year is the finale of this film. The moment when Fletcher goes from trying to screw Andrew to realizing that he is witnessing possible greatness is just magical and I could watch it over and over again.
2.  Birdman
Between the incredible one shots, seamless editing and astounding acting from everyone in the ensemble, this movie is simply amazing. Watching the actors play off of each other while still maintaining the feel of the film is not a small task but Inarritu is up to the task. Michael Keaton is magical in his role of a former megastar trying to be revelant. My second favorite moment at the movies this year is the scene where Riggan walks through Times Square.

*I have to caveat here, I really can’t decide between Whiplash and Birdman as my favorite film of 2014, but I’m under strict instructions that no ties are allowed!
3. Boyhood
Someone on Facebook wrote a pretty scathing review of Boyhood and they posed the question “if you didn’t know that this was filmed over 12 years and that it was a favorite to win Best Picture, would you think it was great?” I thought about this and for me, the answer is a resounding yes. I actually saw it when it first came out, before it started to gain steam and talk for the Oscars. Linklater pulled off an amazing achievement with his dedication to over 12 years to make this film. The brisk pace at which the movie flows, even thought it’s two hours and forty-five minutes demonstrates how well the script was written. The performances are excellent, the script is extremely relatable and the movie leaves you feeling great. My friends who have children absolutely adore this movie and to me, that’s a glowing endorsement because the movie rings so true for those who have or are going through raising a child.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson has pulled off pure movie magic once again. He is a true visionary and there is no one else like him doing movies today. I loved the sets, the fairy tale type story and especially the cast. I really wished Fiennes would have gotten a nomination, as he was incredible. The rest of the cast is awesome, I especially like the always bringing his A game creepy Willem Dafoe.

5. Selma
Selma was a very well directed, acted and written film. I learned a lot about that moment in time regarding racial relations and MLK that I’m pretty sure wasn’t thought in my history classes. Oyelowo was fantastic as MLK and I’m still shocked that he wasn’t nominated for best actor. I really liked this film and it almost made my top four, but I just couldn’t justify it as better than those ranked above it.

6. The Theory of Everything
I read that when Stephen Hawking screened this film, he cried and said it was “broadly true”. Based on my research on some of the other films ranked below this one, they can’t say the same thing. I thought the film did Hawking justice and obviously Redmayne was unbelievable. I enjoyed learning about Hawking and his wife Jane’s life together and then apart. Overall, it was a movie that I left feeling good about, but I just can’t see it as the best film of the year.

7. American Sniper
I read the book of the same name a few years ago, so I generally knew what to expect from this film. Eastwood directed one of my all-time favorite war films, Letters from Iwo Jima, so I knew he had the chops to translate the story well. Cooper nailed the role of Chris Kyle and Eastwood’s direction was what was expected. It’s shot pretty straightforward and technically looks and sounds great. However, to me it’s a pretty standard war film and this is another one that I just can’t wrap my head around it being a better film that the others above it in my rankings.

8. The Imitation Game
I love Cumberbatch and he played Turing as perfectly as you’d expect from an actor of his caliber. Other than that, it seems like a really standard story that’s almost like a made for TV movie with the production values of a big budget film. I remember thinking as the credits rolled that this was a good movie, but not great. Keira Knightley was fine in her role, but it almost felt like she was just playing herself. Alan Turing is such an important character in history, but just because the subject is so important doesn’t make a film great.

Those are my brief thoughts on each of the films nominated this year. Best of luck to everyone on Sunday.

Should Win:
Best Picture: Birdman
Best Director: Inarritu, Birdman
*Another caveat…if Boyhood wins best picture, Inarritu wins. If Birdman wins, Linklater will win for directing
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Best Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash (Gone Girl got robbed!)
Best Original Screenplay: Grand Budapest Hotel


1. Boyhood
Richard Linklater is one of my favorite directors, and the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight movies among my top movies of all time, so when I found out about this project, I was beyond excited, and it did not disappoint.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a movie so poignant and all the characters so realistic.I appreciated so much how real the story was, focusing in on the little details and moments that make up our lives, both as individuals and as members of a family. The dialogue was spot on- one scene that really stands out for me is when tween Mason goes to hang out with the older boys drinking beer and messing around with a saw.  Nothing really happens, but the way all the boys interact was such a perfect portrayal of the awkwardness of trying to fit in and prove yourself.    I also loved the end scene when Mason goes to college and rambles in sort of an escalated Linklater-y way about philosophy to impress the young lady.  I can’t wait to watch this one again.

2. Whiplash
I don’t think I”ve ever really seen any movie exactly like Whiplash before- the editing was pitch perfect and intense the whole time.  Both Miles Teller and JK Simmons were phenomenal.  I don’t know how to explain how I felt during the movie, other than completely riveted and engaged in the story, while at the same time thinking a lot about what it means to be truly devoted to a craft.

3. Birdman
Another original, fun trip to the movies.  The story wasn’t my favorite of the year, (I liked Emma Stone in it a lot, but I didn’t feel super invested in the father/daughter relationship parts) but the acting, score, and cinematography almost made up for that flaw for me. Loved the supporting characters, especially Edward Norton.  The drum soundtrack and long shots were so cool.  

4. Selma
Very powerful and moving snapshot of a true American hero- how depressing that six times more Americans saw American Sniper than Selma.  Very good movie about a man that we all grow up learning about from a young age....yet don’t really know as much about as we should.   I’m really sad that David Oyelolo did not get nominated- what an ambitious role to play and he did so masterfully.   Some parts of the movie were pretty hard to watch given recent current events, like the shooting of the young man Jimmy Lee Jackson, who was also Tamir Rice/Trayvon Martin/Oscar Grant- the list goes on and on.  An inspiring and sobering look at what has been accomplished so far….and how far we have still to go.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Probably my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Royal Tenenbaums.  There aren’t any of his movies that I don’t like, because I feel like what he does (great set design, cinematography, quirky characters, dry humor, fun soundtrack) he does so well.  But Grand Budapest tried some new things; felt much darker.  At some points it reminded me more of a Tarantino movie, and it worked well for me.  In a lot of ways, Anderson movies are hard for me to rank in with other ones because they are just kind of their own thing.

6. The Imitation Game
A well made, old fashioned Hollywood thriller.   Very engaging and fascinating story (why didn’t we learn more about Turing in school?)  I thought the performances were solid and Cumberbatch was both awkward and endearing.  I know that Hollywood  always takes liberties with true stories but I felt a little disappointed after doing some of my own research to learn about some things in the movie that really made Turing look worse than he was  (like his willingness to essentially commit treason by hiding the Russian spy to protect his own identify...a part of the story that had no basis in history).

7. The Theory of Everything
I thought that the performances in this movie were excellent by Felicty Jones and Eddie Redmayne.  But I overall felt a little bored.  Usually in biopics, I wish there was more focus on relationships and less on career.  In this movie I felt the other way..I just didn’t feel like the story was interesting enough to hold my attention.

8. American Sniper
Things I liked about this movie:  Bradley Cooper’s performance. Things I did not like about this movie- everything else.I could write a lot more than I will about my issues with American Sniper, both on a political  and moral level and a cinematic level, but I’ll just say this- it could’ve been a lot better with a big dose of nuance-- both in its overly simplistic portrayal of “good guys and bad guys” in war, as well as the cheesy dialogue and one dimensional characters (as I mentioned above, I think Bradley Cooper did a good job given the script, but all the other characters were very flat).    At least the fake baby provided for some moments of comic relief.  

Should Win:
Picture: Boyhood
Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Actress:  Reese Witherspoon, Wild (caveat-I haven’t seen “Still Alice” but heard Julianne Moore is amazing..)
Supporting Actor:  J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Director: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Original Screenplay: Boyhood
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash


1. Boyhood
This year I did not have a distinct favorite as I often do. There were a number of films I really liked, but I don’t think any of them would make my personal all-time top 50, or maybe even top 100 (and I’m not a cinephile who has seen everything like Ben).
I really did enjoy Boyhood. I don’t think the gimmick (am I allowed to call it that?) really creates a more accurate or deep portrayal of growing up, but it does give a sense of the memory of growing up, showing both the big moments and some really trivial ones. I loved the ending where Linklater makes fun of his own style in his more idiosyncratic films (some of which do make my top 50). While it has some flaws, it is overall a great achievement.

2. Selma
This year there are a number of historical films (all in fairly recent history), and all with accuracy problems, as “based on a true story” often is. I think Selma is the least Brian Williams-y of the historical films this year, so I found it problematic that it faced such harsh criticism for what some see as too much emphasis on the role of the activist relative to his friend the president. I didn’t see LBJ as the antagonist of this film. This film didn’t have to create some evil man who gets his comeuppance; the antagonist here is a large chunk of the American citizenry, or “political reality” if you want. LBJ had some different concerns from MLK but they were fighting together here. This film does a great job at taking a story that has been mythologized as a “and then we all overcame evil together” and shedding light on the political realities of how the sausage was made. This is the same concept that I loved about Lincoln, and like Lincoln it focused on one very specific event. In Selma this look at political realities is not just limited to the Oval Office, it also does a nice job showing the fractures and frictions within activist groups and between individual protestors, who don’t necessarily treat MLK himself as infallible. The direction was assured but didn’t blow me away (or get in the way) but I still can’t believe David Oyelowo was passed over.

3. Whiplash
Whiplash is kind of like last year’s Philomena, in that it is a rather conventional storytelling about an unconventional person who isn’t “important” enough for their film to automatically get recognized by the academy (see: math guys below, King’s Speech, etc.). I really enjoyed watching this film and was pleasantly surprised that it was nominated since it doesn’t fit the Oscar mold and was done as an incredibly indie production. I thought the acting (especially J.K.) and the direction were great. These scenes about a drumming class have an intensity that many films cannot recreate with actual life and death scenarios. While the ending might be a little contrived, I honestly didn’t predict it going that way, and I left the theater very exhausted but giddy.

4. Birdman
While this wasn’t the movie about drumming, the (not nominated) percussive soundtrack was the backbone keeping the constant energy of the film. While I’ve seen this rather basic story and these themes a hundred times, the performances and the quasi-single-shot style creates in the viewer that gnawing “butterflies” feeling of performing live theater, making the film a different kind of thriller, where you are right there on this man’s last chance.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I find all Wes Anderson films to be a treat. I think he is unfairly criticized by people who confuse distinct style with a lack of range, or people who can’t see past the hipster aesthetics (he created) to the humor and human characters that really hold his films together. While this isn’t my favorite film of his, I liked that he is reaching out further into other genres, incorporating elements of his heist films (Bottle Rock, Mr. Fox) and great escape film (Moonrise) into a fantastical mad romp.

6. The Imitation Game
Ever since I first learned the story of Alan Turing, both his achievements in mathematics/computer science and his incredibly depressing (and politically relevant) personal story, I have been saying they need to make a well-produced film so the world knows who he is and what he did. Not surprisingly, this film mostly ignores his (earlier) contributions to computation theory and his (later) contributions to the philosophy behind artificial intelligence to focus on his contribution to the war effort. I thought this part of the movie was decently done and created a nice narrative structure, but I was very disappointed with the personal characterizations of Turing. While I hear he wasn’t the easiest person to work with, it was unnecessary to turn him into some gifted loner genius stereotype. It also was unnecessary to create a “twist” by having a concurrent story of an investigator digging into his personal life where in reality he was very forthcoming and straight about his personal affairs.

7. The Theory of Everything
This movie is supposed to be about a well-known mathematical genius with a disabling disease. While it was fine to watch, nothing about him being a mathematical genius was integral to the film like it was with the Turing one, and the exploration of the disease and his coping felt rather flat to me and the material has been mined much better before (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for example). I know it was based on a book by his wife about their relationship, and that is certainly the best part of the film, but I felt like it tried to overgeneralize the relationship, try to hard to show it was just a regular domestic drama, instead of trying to uncover some find truth by drilling into the details and reveling in the specific dilemmas and triumphs faced by this couple.

8. American Sniper
In a scene detailing the next Call-of-Duty-videogame-like mission, a commander explains they have a problem with an enemy sniper. Chris Kyle asks if it is Mustafa (the character Eastwood invented from a real rumor about an Olympic sniper to simplify all the competing sides, the regional/religious/ethnic/political differences, shifting allegiances, and mission creep into a single bad guy) was the sniper giving them trouble. The commander, who isn’t allowed the luxury of this worldview, responds with something along the lines of “if you kill him, he can be whoever you need him to be”. This scene is the only hint I got of what could have been a great film. I would expect the director of Unforgiven to be able to craft a film that explored the inner torment of a man dealing with his relationship to violence. I would expect the director of Letters From Iwo Jima to be able to craft a film that with a nuanced view of soldiers in relation to the war they are fighting. Instead, the psychological elements are unbelievably shallow and the realistic motivations of soldiers is replaced with chickenhawk Bush-apologist talking points, removing any emotional or  intellectual impact. On top of that, the film is simply poorly paced and not even Bradley Cooper could save the dialogue. I think the only reason this film is a hit is because it reframes our messy war as a simple morality tale, where we can cheer on John Wayne as he blows away the savages and continue on our way. While the need for such a narrative is understandable for someone in a position like Kyle, we, the viewers (the citizens of this country), have no excuse. Clint tried to tell the story of a war hero but ended up creating one of the most cowardly films I’ve ever seen.

Should Win:
Picture: Boyhood
Director: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Supporting Actor:  J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Original Screenplay: Boyhood
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash


I am honored to be part of the Oscar Blog for my sixth consecutive year. Traveling to D.C. for the Oscar weekend with Ben and Emily is one of my favorite trips of the year. With the exception of American Sniper, I enjoyed all of the nominated pictures this year.

1. Boyhood
By far my favorite picture of the year. What an unbelievable accomplishment by Director Richard Linklater. How extraordinary to watch the same cast over a period of 12 years. The journey of this family as they navigate life, pitfalls and all, is something I think most of us can relate to. An outstanding cast with particularly strong performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke.

2. Birdman
An all-star cast, and possibly Michael Keaton's best work. An aging former superhero struggles to find his identity by producing a Broadway play. Throw in egos, family dysfunction and a cast of quirky characters and you have a pretty entertaining movie. Much has been said about the cinematography in Birdman. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and his team, produced a single-shot film made up of hundreds of shots. Pretty impressive. Although I loved this movie, I saw a lot of people with puzzled looks, scratching their heads as they left the theater.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Well, Wes Anderson has really outdone himself with The Grand Budapest Hotel. I was totally swept up in this wild ride. Fun, quirky and visually stunning. Ralph Fiennes was brilliant.

4. Selma
What an excellent movie. The choice to focus on a short period of time surrounding the historic march from Selma to Montgomery allowed for a more in depth look at the significant people, events and emotions of one of the most historically important times in the Civil Rights Movement. David Oyelowo gives a powerful performance as Dr. Martin Luther King. Shame on the Academy for snubbing both Oyelowo and Director Ava DuVernay!

5. Whiplash
First let me say that J.K. Simmons scared the hell out of me! I can't even watch those Farmers Insurance commercials anymore. That being said, I really liked this movie. Does the end justify the means? What is the price of perfection? I don't mean to make this movie sound too deep because it wasn't. I just really liked the drumming.

6. The Imitation Game
What a fascinating story! I must admit, I knew nothing about the Enigma Code, cryptography or Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley were both outstanding. What a sad and tragic ending for such a brilliant man.

7. The Theory of Everything
Another fascinating story I knew nothing about. It was often difficult to watch the slow physical decline of the brilliant Stephen Hawking. What struck me most in this movie was the profound love and devotion his wife, Jane Wilde Hawking, had for her husband and the emotional and physical toll this journey had on her. Outstanding performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

8. American Sniper
Not my favorite movie, although I thought Bradley Cooper was excellent and deserving of an Oscar nod. Although the movie touches briefly on PTSD and the effects war has on families, it is basically a movie that makes a hero out of someone who thoroughly, and in his mind justifiably, enjoys killing people.

Should Win:
Best Picture: Boyhood
Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Director:Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Original Screenplay: Boyhood
Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash

Thanks for reading.  See you back next year!