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Best Picture Nominees In Review

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: What to Watch Before Sunday, Feb. 22nd

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Boyhood (2014)

By Julie Oatfield /// Staff Writer

Whether or not you’ve seen Boyhood, its premise alone gives you a feeling that it’s got a good shot at winning Best Picture. Hailed as revolutionary for its simplicity, the film’s reflection of American life today has captured audiences’ (and the Academy’s) attention. The timeframe used in Boyhood allows for character development to be captured in a rather novel way.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t pursue this opportunity, keeping the characters in a stagnant story instead. Random moments of nostalgia stand out far more than anything else in the film. The family endures divorce, long-distance moves, and the emotional roller coaster of college years: plenty of sensitive experiences familiar to viewers. While the film might be relatable to college-aged students and their parents, the viewpoints of the Academy decision-makers are what matter at the Oscars.

Although the detailed progression of American life over the past couple decades could be embraced, there could just as easily be a desire for a story with more interesting characters. Mason, the protagonist, is distant and dull. He’s not a lonely prodigy like Matilda, an adorkable wallflower like Charlie, or an angsty outcast like Holden Caulfield.

Instead of taking a unique opportunity to keep Mason and his big sister, Samantha, as dual protagonists, Boyhood focuses solely on Mason’s story and loses the chance to provide two perspectives and an intriguing, changing relationship over time. Overall, Boyhood proved to be a moving, thought-provoking experiment, and that’s enough to give it a good chance of bringing home Best Picture this year.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

By Eva Goellner /// Social Media & Website Manager

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be the underdog of this year’s Best Picture category at the Oscars. Anderson has been nominated for three Academy Awards in the past, and has walked away empty-handed every time.

This year, along with being nominated for Best Picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel is nominated in eight other categories. With those odds, it’s likely that Anderson will walk away from the Academy Awards with at least one win, but the question is: which one? The movie is stereotypical Wes Anderson: it’s got an overwhelmingly pink color scheme, has quirky characters that provide great inspiration for Halloween costumes, and a storyline that is convoluted, with dark undertones, and is charming in a way only Anderson can pull off.

That being said, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the encapsulation of Anderson at his very best, which is why this film has been nominated for so many different awards this year. The combination of Ralph Fiennes’ outstanding lead performance, the utter perfection of every imaginable stylistic element of the film, and the unanticipated emotional honesty of the characters makes this film worthy to sit among the Oscars’ contenders.

Whiplash (2014)

By Katie Naphas /// Features Editor

Going into Whiplash, I didn’t know what to expect. Believe me when I say that this movie lives up to its name in the worst of ways. If you’re in the mood for two hours of emotional abuse and intensive drumming, this is the movie for you. If you’re not—well—best of luck. And take some aspirin. Although both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons did their roles justice, the fact remains that the movie lacked a basic emotional pull. Neither Andrew (Teller) nor Fletcher (Simmons) were remotely likable or sympathetic and the dynamic between the two of them was disturbing at best. However, Whiplash had some of the nicest shots of spit, sweat, and blood that I’ve ever seen, so I have to give it credit for that.

Ultimately, Whiplash felt like it was trying too hard to be a jazz band version of The Social Network (trust me on this one), and it didn’t even manage to do that well, with a predictable finish and an overall uninteresting plot. The main actors’ performances are outstanding and Oscar-worthy; the movie isn’t.

The Imitation Game (2014)

By Allie McRaith /// Features Editor

The Imitation Game follows Alan Turing (exceptionally portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch), the Brit who’s responsible for decoding the German Enigma machine during World War II. Socially uncomfortable and speaking with a stutter, but full of conviction in himself and his ideas, Cumberbatch’s Turing is every bit the genius expected behind the “universal machine.” Turing is well-known to mathematicians and computer scientists, and therefore The Imitation Game can be criticized as offering no new information to those familiar with his story. However, as a result of this movie, his story has been brought to the forefront for everyone else. Necessarily, of course, the story tinged by the lens of historical hindsight. The only woman on the team, Joan Clark (Keira Knightley), endeavors to bring the injustices women faced when trying to do a “man’s job.” Additionally, Turing’s sexuality is vaguely alluded to throughout, but only confirmed towards the end when he is arrested.

While obviously not comprehensive of Turing’s entire life, The Imitation Game pulls the viewer along the emotional ride of trying to crack the codes before time runs out—a process that occurred every 24 hours when Enigma was reset. It is worthy of a watch, though not of the Best Picture Award.

Selma (2014)

By Katie Naphas /// Features Editor 

Selma doesn’t shy away from the comparison that’s been drawn between the events of Ferguson et al. and the Civil Rights Movement. Violence in the film tends to mirror famous photos and videos of recent political protests and serves as a reminder that black people continue to face violence every day.

However, there’s more to the film than keeping uncomfortable historical events relevant. Selma emphasizes Martin Luther King Jr’s humanity. It undeifies him and focuses on his fears, relationships, and hopes. MLK is at the center of the film, of course, but other integral members of the movement are showcased—given names, faces, voices, stories—and their roles in the events are at the fore. The representation of a very real community beyond MLK is there, the implicit and explicit brutality is there. Selma isn’t a film that you turn to when you want to cheer up your friend who’s just been dumped, but it has a timeless quality about it and it’s beautifully acted, directed, and scored.

Alongside Selma’s cast of relatively unknown actors are celebrities such as Oprah and Common, whose brands are minimized so  that the movie successfully pulls the audience away from the thrill of Hollywood and back to the historical events that transpired at Selma and their implications. If you aren’t already mad about the state of the world, you will be after watching this.

American Sniper (2014)

By Julie Oatfield /// Staff Writer

Over the years, a number of American war films have been honored by the Academy. American Sniper is looking to carry that tradition. Director Clint Eastwood’s latest film portrays the experiences of Navy Seal Chris Kyle as he becomes U.S. history’s deadliest sniper. The film provides glimpses into the physical, social and mental ravages of war from Kyle’s perspective, showing their long-lasting effects both on the battlefield and at home. The scenes set in Iraq are intensely personal: the audience looks through Kyle’s weapon with him. The victims in the crosshairs are strangers to him, and perceived anti-Americanism is their only backstories.

Back in the States, Kyle’s stoic personality, intensifying with PTSD, splits viewers’ sympathy and support away from Kyle towards his wife. Though the film is dynamic and presents a multi-faceted story that has sparked debates nationwide, it fails to show a fresh perspective. The Hurt Locker explored nearly identical themes in more unique, captivating ways. For this reason and many others, it isn’t likely that American Sniper will win the Best Picture Award.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

By Eva Goellner /// Social Media & Website Manager

The Theory of Everything tells the awe-inspiring story of Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane Hawking, as they fall in love and learn to cope with Hawking’s degenerate illness together. Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, this Best Picture nominee is a tearjerker. It is also an undeniably compelling piece of cinema on many counts.

Both Redmayne and Jones have been nominated for their incredibly strong lead performances, but Redmayne’s complete embodiment of Hawking is especially impressive as he was faced with the challenge of convincingly portraying the physicist through the different stages of the manifestation of his disease. His portrayal is very much akin to Daniel Day Lewis’s role in My Left Foot (1989).

To emphasize the emotional drama of this film even more than the acting already does, composer Johann Johannson created a score that both inspires hope and induces uncontrollable tears in viewers as an accompaniment to the film. It’s the layers of these many different elements that make this film deserving of its nomination for Best Picture.

The Theory of Everything checks a lot of boxes; its cinematography is just as impressive as its acting and its score is just as remarkable as its writing. With all that this film’s got going for it, taking home the Oscar could very well be on the horizon for The Theory of Everything.

Birdman (2014)

By Katie Naphas /// Features Editor

By far the trippiest of the Best Picture nominees, Birdman took magical realism (coupled with oftentimes painful self-awareness) to unbelievable heights. The characters of the film, namely protagonist Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), occupy a world that’s like ours in most every way but somehow seems to be taking place in an alternative universe.

Celebrity culture exists, and it exists to a fault. Ouroboros runs rampant. Characters consume each other and become what they consume, the world consumes media and media consumes the world. It goes on and on.

The film builds to a point where reality is so interchangeable with the surreal events occurring that it frankly becomes incredibly uncomfortable. Birdman is morbidly cartoonish: for every funny moment, there are ten others that are squirm-inducing. It’s an instant post-modern classic. I’m probably going to be recovering and attempting to unfold Birdman for years to come. I came out of it with a headache yet I wouldn’t change a thing about the movie. Birdman, in the vein of so many found object art pieces, took familiar aspects of reality and our cultural history and turned them into something wholly its own, championed by Keaton.

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