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2015 Best Picture Nominations: Worst to Best

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For once, I decided to go out of my way and make sure that I saw every movie that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Being a student and lover of the medium, I believe that it’s difficult to determine which film is “better” than all the others in a certain aspect unless one has seen them all in order to compare them. While the Oscars are no stranger to playing politics and awarding less-deserving winners, this will not be a list of predictions on which film is going to win the big one. (If the film I think is going to win ends up victorious, there will be a follow-up article on why that was a mistake and how this mistake is part of a larger problem in Hollywood. However, that’s only “if” a certain movie takes home Best Picture. I really hope I’m wrong.)

What this will be is my personal ranking of each of the eight nominees and why I placed it where I did. I’m glad to say that most of these films ranged from good to great, but a few surprised me because when watching them without any preconceptions, I could not understand how they garnered so much praise.

Mind you, this is all subjective, so I’m by no means claiming that anyone who likes or dislikes any of these movies is not as smart or has poor taste. If a film can affect you in a meaningful way, that’s a wonderful thing. It just doesn’t mean that I have to like it too.

Due to the large number of movies, I also won’t be able to go into as much detail as a normally do when writing a film review.  If you want to know more of what I have to say on any of these movies, post a comment down below, and I’ll do my best to reply as promptly as I can.

Before I jump into the list, I’d like to give brief attention to some other great movies I saw this year that I feel have been overlooked and deserve more adulation than they’ve gotten. I’d like to include Snowpiercer, The Babadook and Under The Skin, but unfortunately, I have yet to watch any of them yet…but I’m hoping to change that soon.

Nightcrawler-movie-posterNightcrawler

How Jake Gyllenhaal was not nominated for Best Actor is something I still don’t understand. If you liked the gritty and isolating tone of Taxi Driver or the intense action and pace of Drive, Nightcrawler should be on your must-watch list. A simple story is given great complexity with wonderful, believable performances from the cast, great editing and helmed by a director who knows how to make a dark comedy give an audience the chills.

Foxcatcherfoxcatcher-poster

Even though I felt that the movie began a tad too slowly, once it got into the real meat of the plot, I was thoroughly engaged. Normally I’m not very fond of Channing Tatum’s work, but all of the problems I usually have with him were absent in this film. His portrayal of a lonely and under-appreciated Olympic athlete was done very naturally, and I believed his performance every step of the way. Mark Ruffalo, as usual, was spot-on and played one of the only kind and decent characters in this film’s universe. And, of course, Steve Carell disappeared into his role in a way I’ve never seen him do. This is the kind of biopic that makes you instantly want to learn more about the real story behind the movie, and if you haven’t seen this one already, you really should see it. It’s a story that deserves to be known.

gone_girl_posterGone Girl

I went into this film with a little bit of trepidation. It wasn’t because I thought the movie would be bad. I live in Kansas City, and with the film being shot in Missouri, many friends of mine who are very talented actors auditioned to be extras, and some even ran the auditions for the studio. In the end, not a single actor from either Kansas City or St. Louis was cast in the film, nor were they ever going to because the auditions were essentially a farce. Long story short, the filmmakers took advantage of my friends as well as many others who wanted to earn their union cards and start working in the field they love.

That being said, I’ve been very fond of David Fincher’s movies since SE7EN, and Gone Girl ended up being just as great. I loved how the trailers didn’t spoil the movie because there is so much more story after where you think the climax would be, and the twist turns all expectations upside-down. Not only did Rosamund Pike deliver a breakthrough performance, but this film even delivered some better-than-usual performances from Ben Affleck and Tyler Perry, two men whose acting skills have never really impressed me.

And now the countdown begins…

boyhood8. Boyhood

Alright, I’m just going to come out and say it; without hyperbole, this is the most overrated movie I’ve ever watched. While there are a few good moments in Boyhood, that’s really all they are: isolated scenes that don’t necessarily connect with the greater story being told. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke give passable performances, but every other actor in this film is below-average to terrible.

The whole selling point of this film is its gimmick of using the same cast for 12 years to make a movie. Ambitious as that idea is, it doesn’t guarantee a good story or engaging characters. I imagine the editor of this movie had to be driven mad by trying to string all of these random shots together into any sort of cohesive narrative. I lost count at the number of superfluous shots left in this film that did nothing other than tell the audience, “Hey! Remember when this thing was a big deal a few years ago?”

Having seen some of Richard Linklater’s movies, I know that he’s capable of telling interesting stories—even ones with child actors—but if he had shot this movie over several months with different actors to play the main character at different times in his life, it would’ve received mixed reviews at best. The protagonist faces no consequences for anything that happens to him. The dialogue is laughably bad. I’ve seen and have even acted in student films with better scripts. And casting his daughter in this huge project was a big mistake on Linklater’s part.

Not only is this one of the most baffling films I’ve ever seen, but it’s easily the most undeserving film I’ve ever seen to earn a Best Picture nomination.
americansniper7. American Sniper

I went and saw this one out of curiosity, and even though I mostly liked it, I couldn’t find myself getting too into it. Chris Kyle’s story is definitely an interesting one, and Cooper and Eastwood do a good job at telling it, but there were a few elements that lost me at times…mostly the awful CGI blood.

I will say this about American Sniper though. I like that regardless of what your political tendencies might be, the film doesn’t take much of a side in portraying him as a hero or a criminal. It’s simply a look into the life of a sniper in the Navy SEALs and how that life is affected on and off duty. However, the end credits take a definite right turn and portray him as a hero. This was an odd choice since the rest of the film up until that point had not really showed its political hand and treated the story more like a retelling of Chris Kyle’s experiences.

All in all, it’s a decent movie that gives a good look at a man who led a complicated life and how difficult it was for him to be constantly readjusting to different roles. The movie is worth seeing, but I’m not sure there’s really enough there for it to be potentially considered the best film of the year.

6. The Theory of EverythingTheTheoryOfEverythingPoster-01

Did you like A Beautiful Mind? If so, then you’ll like The Theory of Everything even more because unlike John Nash, Stephen Hawking is a much more respectable person, and the movie about his life and work was made with fewer changes.

You can’t really talk about this movie without talking about Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking since it’s what really carries the movie. That’s no disrespect to Felicity Jones since she was also great, but Redmayne’s physical performance was so realistic that one could have sworn that he too had Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It has a bit of that feel-good movie vibe to it, but on the whole, I think it’s appropriate when telling a true story about a man who has made amazing contributions to our understanding of the universe even though he should have died over half a century ago and is still alive to this day.

I wouldn’t go so far as to hail it as an instant classic, but it’s easily a movie worth anyone’s time.

The-Imitation-Game_poster5. The Imitation Game

This one had what I felt The Theory of Everything lacked: a grander story with higher stakes. Like Hawking, Alan Turing was also a brilliant man who had to overcome his own very dire adversities. Not only did he have an awkward social disposition which made him a very difficult person to work with, but he was also a homosexual in Great Britain during a time when homosexuality was a crime.

All the performances were excellent, and the story that the British government had to keep secret for so many years is one that everyone should know because in spite of his problems, Alan Turing might have saved more lives than anyone else ever had before him, but even then, it came at great costs.

If you haven’t seen this movie or don’t know who Alan Turing is or what Enigma was, I won’t dare spoil it for you. I can’t say it’s the best movie of the year, but it definitely deserves its nomination.

4. Selmaselma

If there was a movie this year that truly has been snubbed by the Oscars, Selma is that movie. A brilliantly directed and edited film with a great script and amazing performances by everyone involved—especially David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.—and it only received two nominations (Best Original Song and Best Picture).

At the risk of causing a fervor, I suspect the poignancy of this film depicting how history had repeated itself in the ghastliest way imaginable in 2014. The events of Selma, Alabama and Ferguson, Missouri are made too obvious to ignore, and that can be a big turn-off for certain audiences who would prefer to not have to face the uglier side of American society.

To the Academy members who denied Selma the recognition, I can only say that I hope you’re all ashamed of yourselves. Selma was the most relevant film made last year that addressed a very serious problem in our culture and did so without resorting to turning it into a white-savior movie. Ava Duvarney deserves better than what she’s received. If she keeps on making movies—and I hope she does—hopefully one of her next ones will not be ignored just because it tells a truth that some people may not be willing to hear.

Also, as a side note, it’s pretty sad that it’s taken this long to get a major motion picture about Dr. King.  Better late than never, I guess.

grandbudapesthotel3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

When this movie first debuted in the United States back in March, I thought that this movie was going to be difficult to top, and with two exceptions, it was clearly the front-runner for Best Picture consideration. Before the nominations were announced, I was worried that this one would be forgotten nearly a year after its release, but thankfully it now is tied for the most nominations this year with nine.

I scarcely know where to begin with this movie because while it may not be my top pick, I placed it so high because there is few I can think of that didn’t work. The story was a fun and heartwarming love letter to the works of the great Stefan Zweig. Wes Anderson establishes himself as one of the few original directors working today and outdoes himself in every aspect. The cinematography and music were perfect for the madcap whodunit story. Changing the aspect ratio of the frame was a clever and not-too-obvious way of letting the audience know which period of time we’re in at a given moment. And many of the Wes Anderson regulars make appearances throughout the film, but the one cast member who shined brightest and brought the character to life was Ralph Fiennes. This is the kind of role that could have easily been ruined in the wrong hands, and Ralph played it in a way that no other actors could have done. He was equal parts intellectual, smart-ass, strict leader and pervert, and no matter what he does, he’s still endearing.

If I have nothing negative to say about The Grand Budapest Hotel, you might be wondering why it isn’t my top pick for most-deserving movie to win. My reason for picking two other movies above it was because while the remainders have small flaws at certain moments, the good parts are awe-inspiringly good.

whiplash-poster2. Whiplash

Who would have thought that a movie about a young man pushing himself to be a great musician could be this intense without a drop of forced sentimentality?

Much like The Grand Budapest Hotel, there isn’t much about this movie that could have been done better. Unlike Anderson’s film though, this one lacks all whimsy and fun. This one is gritty, bleak and frightening at times. Miles Teller’s performance is chilling enough when seeing the lengths his character goes to in order to become the kind of drummer who develops into the kind of player to which all drummers-to-be aspire.

Yet the runaway award winner this year for Best Supporting Actor is going to be J.K. Simmons, and as great as many of the other nominees were, Simmons leaves them all in the dust. He’s basically Buddy Rich if Buddy Rich taught at a music conservatory for college-aged students. Screaming and cursing at his students is the least of their worries. They’re lucky if he doesn’t decapitate them for missing a beat or playing out of tune. And as sadistic as his character is, you can’t help but become engaged with every second he’s on screen.

The rest of the film is wonderfully made, but the chemistry between Teller and Simmons is so strong that it alone was able to pole-vault Whiplash to my #2 spot.

But there is only one film that I knew would be the one to beat this year. I loved it so much that I even paid a higher ticket price at a more expensive theater just so I could see it again and take a friend.

birdman-click1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I’m sorry Howard Stern, but I can’t agree with you on this one; Birdman—with the exception of one superfluous scene—is one of the most genius films I’ve seen in years. If some people find it boring or pretentious, that’s an opinion to which they’re entitled, but even that were objectively verifiable, I wouldn’t care because this was the one movie that stood out from every other movie released in 2014, and not only was it different, but it utilized an amazing shooting technique which made everything feel as though it were happening during one long, continuous take. Unlike Boyhood, this didn’t feel like a gimmick because where Richard Linklater’s method worked to his detriment, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s method enhances the experiences by detaching the audience from the fourth wall and engulfs them into its universe.

The story is straight-forward and easy to follow, but the characters within the story add complexity and intrigue to a tale about a washed-up movie star’s attempt to prove his relevance as both an artist and a person. This could have been done very cynically if not handled properly, but the cast and crew breathe life into it and allow the audience to question our role in grander scheme of things.

Much like the previous two films, the cast is spectacular. No one gives a performance that is less than great. Perhaps it’s because I grew up viewing Michael Keaton as the real Batman presented in the flesh, but I was overjoyed to be reminded of how good of an actor he really is, and while he’s fallen on hard times and not been cast in the best films since Tim Burton’s two Batman movies, his performance felt all the more real because I believed that a part of him has actually lived the nightmare that his character lives with everyday. Eddie Redmayne might have been great, but if it were up to me, I would give Michael Keaton Best Actor because after a long and impressive career, he has finally been able to outshine himself as the Dark Knight and become a character even grander and more memorable.

If the Academy Awards are about recognizing the best of their line of work, Birdman stood alone in 2014 because it did everything that makes movies magical. It was hilarious. It was heartbreaking. It was shocking. And most importantly, it was unforgettable, and no other film from last year can rightfully make a claim to all of those feats.

Will it win? We’ll find out soon enough.

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