Our 2015 Academy Award Predictions

The day has come! With the Oscars only a day away, here are our (mostly) expert predictions in every single category. We start with the ones we admittedly know the least about to the ones we know a pretty good amount about. Guidelines: “Shoulda been here” refers to the snubbed pick, “I would vote for” refers to our personal favorite, and “The Oscar goes to…” is the favorite to win the trophy. Enjoy!

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Crisis Hotline
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

Completely (educated) guessing on this one.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Crisis Hotline

Many of the best documentaries bring little yet important niches of the world into the light and damned if Crisis Hotline doesn’t do that.

Shoulda Been Here: No clue
I Would Vote For: Can’t really judge
The Oscar Goes to…: Crisis Hotline

Haven’t seen any of them. But mark my words, my health class PSA is going to make it huge.

Shoulda Been Here: I made a health class PSA about sleep, and it was pretty fantastic.
I Would Vote For: I’d abstain
The Oscar Goes To…: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

CitizenFour

CitizenFour

Best Documentary- Feature

CitizenFour
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

CitizenFour is getting all the hype, so I definitely see it winning. Life Itself should have snagged something.

Shoulda Been Here: Life Itself
I Would Vote For: CitizenFour
The Oscar Goes to…: CitizenFour

CitizenFour feels very relevant and taps into the universally engaging subject of surveillance.

Shoulda Been Here: No clue
I Would Vote For; Can’t honestly judge
The Oscar Goes to…: CitizenFour

No comment.

Shoulda Been Here: Who knows
I Would Vote For: Citizenfour has a cool name, so…
The Oscar Goes To…: Citizenfour

Best Live Action Short Film

Aya
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
Parvaneh
The Phone Call

Another complete shot in the dark on this one

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Parvaneh

This one seems to be the consensus and the premise feels simple yet genius (Just as a short film’s premise should).

Shoulda Been Here: No clue
I Would Vote For: Can’t judge
The Oscar Goes to…: The Phone Call

Haven’t seen any of them, and neither have you most likely.

Shoulda Been Here: Nic and Sam made a dance video that was pretty killer
I Would Vote For: I’d pick a name out of a hat
The Oscar Goes To…: The Phone Call

Best Animated Short Film

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

I actually saw Feast. It was so cute! It better win.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Feast
The Oscar Goes to…: Feast

A nice, sincere little cartoon in the true spirit of Disney.

Shoulda Been Here: All covered
I Would Vote For: Feast
The Oscar Goes to…: Feast

Feast played in front of Big Hero 6 and was pretty adorable. It’s about adapting and accepting, and it’s deceptively thoughtful behind it’s comical façade. It’s also the only one I’ve seen.

Shoulda Been Here: Uhhhhhh
I Would Vote For Feast
The Oscar Goes To…: Feast

Best Foreign Language Film

Ida
Leviathan
Tangerines
Timbuktu
Wild Tales

Not familiar with Foreign Language, but I know it’s either Ida or Leviathan for the win. And Ida was nominated in another category (cinematography), so I’m giving it the win here.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: N/A
The Oscar Goes to…: Ida

I’d be a liar if I claimed to know this category, yes but Ida takes place during WWII. With the Academy, when in doubt, WWII it out.

Shoulda Been Here: Do I look cultured to you?
I Would Vote For: Don’t speak no French or nothin’
The Oscar Goes to…: Ida

Haven’t seen any of them. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single nominee in this category. Oh well. From what I’ve read Ida sounds like the frontrunner, though Wild Tales and Leviathan do have their supporters.

Shoulda Been Here: Force Majeure by the sound of it
I Would Vote For: I’d close my eyes and randomly point to one
The Oscar Goes To…: Ida

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Here’s the first real award I have anything to say about. The Lego Movie, as you know by now, was absolutely robbed in this award. Not only should it have been nominated, it should have won. Instead it looks like HTTYD 2 will be taking the trophy, even though Big Hero 6 was better in my mind.

Shoulda Been Here: The Lego Movie
I Would Vote For: Big Hero 6
The Oscar Goes to…: How To Train Your Dragon 2

How Lego Movie was shunned from this category is beyond me: I will always be bitter. Regrettably though, I didn’t get to see a bunch of animated features this year which I’m actually quite upset about as animation is one of the better categories. Anyway, I went with Big Hero 6 as it feels like a spiritual successor to some of Pixar’s better endeavors

Shoulda Been Here: Lego Movie
I Would Vote For: Lego Movie (I’m an anarchist. A very bitter anarchist)
The Oscar Goes to…: Big Hero 6

One of the biggest stories coming out of Oscar nominations (besides the lack of diversity in the major categories) was the fact that The Lego Movie was completely snubbed. I was partial to How to Train Your Dragon 2 anyway, but the fact that The Lego Movie isn’t here cements HTTYD’s status as the clear frontrunner. It could definitely go to one of the smaller animated films, like Song of the Sea, but Oscar voters have gone for the big studios in the past, so take the deserving How to Train Your Dragon here.

Shoulda Been Here: The Lego Movie
I Would Vote For: How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Oscar Goes To…: How to Train Your Dragon 2

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything

Best Original Score

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Theory of Everything had far and away the best score. It was perfect in tone, beautifully eerie and overall just really enjoyable to listen to. Theory also won at The Golden Globes. I could see The Grand Budapest Hotel sneaking this one out, but I hope not

Shoulda Been Here: Gone Girl
I Would Vote For: Theory of Everything
The Oscar Goes to…: Theory of Everything

This is one of those categories where I honestly don’t know how they compare nominees but I’d guess the Academy goes off of which score pairs with its film the best among a few other factors. In that case, I settled with Theory’s soundtrack which neatly complements the ups and downs of its protagonist’s story.

Shoulda Been Here: Gone Girl
I Would Vote For: The Imitation Game
The Oscar Goes to…: The Theory of Everything

I think this category will keep with the theme of Budapest cleaning up with the early award, but The Theory of Everything could sneak in there. Frankly this category is a little bit silly this year given that Birdman was disqualified for reasons unknown. It wasn’t and “original score” apparently by whatever cracked up definition the Academy is using.

Shoulda Been Here: Birdman
I Would Vote For: Interstellar
The Oscar Goes To…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Selma

Selma

Best Original Song

“Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
“Glory” from Selma
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss you” from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again

Again, another thing the Lego Movie should win but won’t. “Everything is Awesome” was stuck in my head for weeks. “Glory” was really powerful and great too, which is why I think it’ll win. Plus Selma’s got to get something, right?

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: “Everything is Awesome”
The Oscar Goes to…: “Glory”

I really wanted to give this one to “Everything is Awesome” but no one can deny the power of Selma’s anthem. It relates very much to its film as it ties in old struggles with recent ones while not forgetting its (grass) roots.

Shoulda Been Here: No complaints
I Would Vote For: “Everything is Awesome” (Sorry, historical value)
The Oscar Goes to…: “Glory”

“Glory” will take this one pretty much hands down. It captures Selma perfectly. I, however, would vote for “Everything is Awesome”, the incredibly catchy and subtly pensive anthem from The Lego Movie. I’m not sure if JLAW’s song was eligible, but it’s been played frequently on the radio and she’s the Academy’s darling.

Shoulda Been Here: “The Hanging Tree” (The Hunger Games)
I Would Vote For: “Everything is Awesome” 
The Oscar Goes To…: “Glory”

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

What really is Sound Editing compared to Sound Mixing? We’re not sure. But since Whiplash isn’t here, I have to go for American Sniper on this one. There are not many other awards American Sniper is due to win, so this could easily be one of them. The sounds of war are perfectly blended in to add to the chaos of the film. But you can’t completely trust me on this one. I don’t know what it is.

Shoulda Been Here: Whiplash
I Would Vote For: American Sniper
The Oscar Goes to…: American Sniper

Interstellar is comparable to Gravity: it sits in that newer category of somewhat realistic sci-fi movies grounded more in the “Science” than the “Fiction”. SFX artists for this type of movie believe that more accuracy means an overall more effective, realistic experience and rightfully so. In this cynical day and age, it’s more important than ever for space to be a beautiful yet terrifying vacuum as it is in real life rather than a backdrop for more fanciful journeys.

Shoulda Been Here: Whiplash
I Would Vote For: American Sniper
The Oscar Goes to…: Interstellar

Whiplash wasn’t nominated for some unknown reason. Sniper’s battle sounds certainly contribute to its intensity, so I think it will take the win here. Still, Birdman’s perfectly timed drum lines were pretty great.

Shoulda Been Here: Whiplash
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes To…: American Sniper

american sniper

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

And what really is Sound Mixing compared to Sound Editing? Again, we’re not entirely sure, but what I do know is that Whiplash just sounded straight up incredible. The music is blended into the film, only adding to the intensity of the film in a huge way. I really wished Nightcrawler snagged a nomination here. The way the sounds of Los Angeles are blended in to the film to add to the eeriness of the movie… too good. Still, it’s Whiplash’s all the way.

Shoulda Been Here: Nightcrawler
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes to…: Whiplash

Those. Drums. This movie was as relentless as its antagonist; practically unstoppable. I imagine it takes a lot to make musical scenes more exciting than the vast majority of this year’s action scenes and sound mixing must be a big, big part of that. For this film, music isn’t fun or artful, it’s a gruelling process of blood, sweat, trial and error. Kudos to whoever did the sound mixing to make that much clear.

Shoulda Been Here: All covered.
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes to…: Whiplash

Just like Interstellar should win everything to do with visuals, Whiplash should win every category with the word “sound” in it. Whiplash’s entire foundation is its sound and jazz, and the music was mixed to perfection. Sure, the sound and drum may not have been entirely synched up right at the end, but you can’t expect Miles Teller to drum that fast. Whiplash should win easily, but American Sniper could sneak in there.

Shoulda Been Here: Birdman
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes To…: Whiplash

Best Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Fun fact: The Great Gatsby winning this award last year won me 20 bucks last year on an Oscar Predictions bet. Anyhow, this is another one of those smaller awards that The Grand Budapest is sure to snag up. And I do agree with it winning here. Honestly, The Grand Budapest could snag up all these smaller awards and end having the most awards at the end of the day.

Shoulda Been Here: Birdman
I Would Vote For: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Oscar Goes to…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

A big part of this movie’s punch, as I mentioned before, is its dedication to fully depicting its era. It has the perfect blend of costumes, makeup and, yessir, production design. Period pieces have taken this award the past few years (Gatsby, Lincoln etc.) and so I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if this lovely piece of historical fiction seized the 2015 title.

Shoulda Been Here: No complaints
I Would Vote For: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Oscar Goes to…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

I googled what production design is, and apparently it’s “The design of the physical environment that is the backdrop to the story of the film”. I see why The Grand Budapest Hotel is the favorite here, with its popping sets and sceneries, but anything with anything to do with visuals should by default go to Interstellar, which was pretty amazing.

Shoulda Been Here: Nightcrawler
I Would Vote For: Interstellar
The Oscar Goes To…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Here are, to me, the most overlooked people in the film industry. Last year, Dallas Buyers Club won with a microscopic budget, showing the talent of these designers. This year, its Grand Budapest’s to lose. Just one of those awards.

Shoulda Been Here: Into the Woods
I Would Vote For: Guardians of the Galaxy
The Oscar Goes to…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This whole movie was just brimming with atmosphere and makeup have a lot to do with that. Movies like Budapest prove that you don’t really need a “1932” to prove its “1932”: you just need a proper dose of the right makeup some well made sets and the right amount of dialect to plant your audience in an era.

Shoulda Been Here: No complaints
I Would Vote For: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Oscar Goes to…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy should win this award pretty easily, but it’s not the Oscar type of movie. Expect Budapest to continue its sweep of the lower awards with another win here. I’m surprised Into the Woods isn’t nominated. Meryl Streep’s makeup was pretty fantastic in that movie.

Shoulda Been Here: Into the Woods
I Would Vote For: Guardians of the Galaxy
The Oscar Goes To…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

grand budapest hotel

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

The Grand Budapest Hotel had a lot of things going for it, and costuming was definitely one of them. They definitely contributed to the believability of the film. However, I was a bigger fan of Into the Woods’ costumes. I didn’t even like the movie.

Shoulda Been Here: Theory of Everything
I Would Vote For: Into The Woods
The Oscar Goes to…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

For pretty much the same reasons I outlined above.

Shoulda Been Here: Guardians of the Galaxy
I Would Vote For: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Oscar Goes to… The Grand Budapest Hotel

 Pretty much all of these visual categories are going to The Grand Budapest Hotel. Sure, Budapest’s costumes are great, but some of the costumes in Into the Woods are fantastic, like Meryl Streep’s witch gown and the stepsisters’ gowns.Shoulda Been Here: Guardians of the Galaxy
I Would Vote For: Into the Woods
The Oscar Goes To…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Film Editing

American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

This is one of the closer calls for the technical awards. Whiplash, American Sniper, or Boyhood could all end up taking the title. I loved Whiplash’s final scene, a film editing masterpiece that added so much tension and intensity just through the magic of editing. However, I do see Boyhood winning it. I mean, there is something incredible about editing together a movie that was filmed over 12 years.

Shoulda Been Here: Birdman/Nightcrawler
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes to…: Boyhood

It’s between a bunch of films that took a few months to make and a movie that took over a decade or so to craft: this is the Academy, which one do you think will win? Boyhood certainly had a lot to do to keep a good pacing and flow and it did quite a job with the entire thing. Whoever had to sift through the years of footage for this one, my cap is off to you.

Shoulda Been Here: No complaints
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes to…: Boyhood

 Really anything Nightcrawler isn’t nominated can be considered a snub. It was that good. This a pretty tight race from the sounds of it, but I have a hard time betting against Boyhood and the monumental task of editing down 12 years of footage into a single, 3 hour movie. Also I’m surprised Birdman wasn’t nominated here, given its seamless edits to give the illusion of a single take.

Shoulda Been Here: Nightcrawler or Birdman
I Would Vote For: Boyhood
The Oscar Goes To…: Boyhood

Best Visual Effects

Captain American: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

This category was one of my favorites when I saw it. A trio of super-hero movies, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Interstellar. Beautiful. I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is far and away the best one when it comes to visual effects, but Interstellar is going to win just based off of old Academy tendencies. With no Best Picture nominee here, Interstellar is the closest the Academy is going to get.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Oscar Goes to…: Interstellar

I just love how these apes move like animals first. It’s a vast improvement over the actors who did their best with rubber and prosthetics just a few decades ago. Again, this is a category where I honestly don’t know how they compare, especially in this day and age but, if it were my choice, it’d be Apes. Special effects are largely about making the visually impossible possible and I think Apes got the hardest task and made the most of it.

Shoulda Been Here: All covered
I Would Vote For: Guardians of the Galaxy
The Oscar Goes to…: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Again, Interstellar should dominate any category that has the word “visual” in it. The effects in Interstellar are mind-blowing and each scene, from the massive wave to the wormhole have absolutely dazzling visuals.

Shoulda Been Here: Godzilla
I Would Vote For: Interstellar
The Oscar Goes To…: Interstellar

Birdman

Birdman

Best Cinematography 

Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

Everyone’s talking about Birdman’s cinematography, which makes it seem like it’s filmed over one continuous take. I loved this and felt it was incredibly well done, so I don’t see anyone else taking it, especially since there aren’t too many other things I see Birdman winning. People thought it was a bit much, but to me it was perfect. Selma could have easily snagged a nomination here, but instead Ida, Unbroken and Mr. Turner snuck in there.

Shoulda Been Here: Selma
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes to…: Birdman

Birdman’s cinematography was jarring. I remember sitting in seat wondering “When will it cut to another take?” for a solid thirty minutes or so. I really love it when a good director can leave me asking how they pulled something off and I still don’t know and don’t want to know how they achieved the one-take effect. Whatever it is, I’m one hundred percent sure it’s insultingly simple.

Shoulda Been Here: Selma
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes to…: Birdman

I’m still not exactly sure what cinematography is and where you draw the line between cinematography and direction. That being said, whatever cinematography is I know it has something to do with framing shots and camera work, both of which were massive attributes for Birdman. Also, Emmanuel Lubezki, nominated for Birdman, won last year for Gravity. Take the repeat here.

Shoulda Been Here: Selma
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes To…: Birdman

Best Writing-Original Screenplay

Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler

Now we’re getting the big awards, and actually one of the most wide open awards of the night. Of the five nominees, the only one that can be easily eliminated is Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. I don’t see Nightcrawler winning either, though it was probably my favorite. That makes it a three way race between Boyhood, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I have NO idea. I’m going with Boyhood because I think it’s the most creative idea out there, though it would not be inconceivable to see The Grand Budapest Hotel snag this one.

Shoulda Been Here: N/A
I Would Vote For: Nightcrawler
The Oscar Goes to…: Boyhood

A lot of factors make Birdman Birdman. Solid directing, driven actors and a terrific overall environment. Yet I couldn’t do this one without neglecting our screenplay writer who structured the entire movie so ingeniously that I was just entirely bewildered upon first viewing. I love that. I love when a movie is like a punch in the gut. Birdman’s originality caught me off guard and I’m sure it all started with Alejandro Inarritu and company’s screenplay. And Michael Keaton’s career trajectory as well.

Shoulda Been Here: No complaints
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes to…: Birdman

This is a pretty stacked category right here. You’ve got Birdman and Boyhood, the two films dueling it out for Best Picture, Nightcrawler, which I would have voted for to win Best Picture had it been nominated, Foxcatcher, which frankly was very underwhelmingly written, and then The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is one of the most creative movies in recent years. Although Birdman has that certain meta quality and the Boyhood script created a movie filmed over 12 years, I think Budapest is the favorite here. It seems plucked out of thin air and is so entertainingly quirky that I think it will take the Oscar here.

Shoulda Been Here: The Lego Movie
I Would Vote For: Nightcrawler
The Oscar Goes To…: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Another one that is relatively wide open. If Gone Girl was nominated here, it probably would have been my vote. Instead, Whiplash is my vote, even though its status as an Adapted Screenplay is a bit sketchy. I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, but I just don’t see it. This is the Imitation Game’s best shot at winning an Oscar, and I expect the Academy to give it to them. As plain as I felt it was, the story was pretty well told. Plus it’s historical, and that’s always a plus when it comes to the Academy.

Shoulda Been Here: Gone Girl
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes to…: The Imitation Game

I said in my original review of this one that it’s tough to make a misanthropic genius likable and that Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job with it. My bad: at the time, I honestly didn’t think of how half of that was the screenwriter’s burden as well. Poor Adapted Screenplay writers have to work within the boundaries of history as well which is much harder than it sounds what with the rigorous fact-checking movies and controversies historical flicks face (Looking at you, American Sniper). In addition, the writer of Imitation had to make decoding and primordial computers riveting – and he succeeded. That’s pretty cool.

Shoulda Been Here: Selma
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes to…: The Imitation Game

This one is also very up in the air. Anything but Inherent Vice could win here. Theory of Everything won the BAFTA, Imitation Game had been the favorite before that, American Sniper has been surging at the box office and hasn’t matched up against any of these films yet, and then Whiplash has sneaked in there as a potential winner with a lot of buzz lately. I’m voting a little bit too much with my heart here, but I really want Whiplash to win and I really think that it should. Pencil in Whiplash but have the eraser ready.

Shoulda Been Here: Gone Girl
I Would Vote For: Whiplash
The Oscar Goes To…: Whiplash

Whiplash

Whiplash

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in The Judge
Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
Edward Norton in Birdman
Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

In a year with so many wide open races, three of the four acting races are set in stone. One of them is J.K. Simmons for Best Supporting Actor. He delivered one of the best performances I have seen in a long, long time. He is brutally intense and completely believable. My favorite performance of the year in any film, man or woman. Ed Norton has a very tiny chance of stealing this one, but I would be very surprised. And very disappointed. As for the other nominees, Ethan Hawke was my favorite part of Boyhood and Mark Ruffalo was really impressive in Foxcatcher. J.K Simmons is just too good though. All of the nominees deserve a win, but Simmons deserves it most.

Shoulda Been Here: Miyavi (Unbroken)
I Would Vote For: J.K. Simmons
The Oscar Goes to…: J.K. Simmons

It takes true ability on an actor’s part to get me to clench my theatre seat/couch in sheer suspense and/or despair. I love it when an actor is like a magnet that constantly draws the audience’s attention to them without one-upping any of their fellow cast members.  The saying goes that villains always get the better roles and Simmons’s role as the bitter, near sadistic conductor Fletcher is no exception. He’s the most powerful movie villain in a while and the frightening thing is that he’s just a prestigious music teacher. Simmons somehow taps into that reserve of memories we all have of strict adults that we bounced between wanting to strangle and impress.

Shoulda Been Here: No complaints
I Would Vote For: J.K. Simmons
The Oscar Goes to…: J.K. Simmons

Like Moore for Best Actress, JK Simmons is a lock to win for Best Actor here. And he should win. His performance as Terrence Fletcher, the music instructor at a prestigious New York City school is chilling and incredibly scary. I felt my stomach sink whenever he walked on screen, and all of his biting, mocking lines were delivered to absolute perfection. He had so many one line zingers that just dripped with sarcasm and so many moments of blinded rage. He gave really one of the best performances I’ve seen in my entire life. Norton was good too, and others years I might vote for him. Against Simmons he just doesn’t measure up. That being said, when is Andy Serkis going to get any recognition for his mo-cap work?

Shoulda Been Here: Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
I Would Vote For: JK Simmons 
The Oscar Goes To…: JK Simmons 

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
Laura Dern in Wild
Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
Emma Stone in Birdman
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

This is another one of the acting awards that is set in stone. This is Patricia Arquette’s award to lose. I may be the only person who didn’t love Arquette. She was good but I didn’t think she was super special. But hey, I guess my opinion doesn’t really matter. If I had a vote, I would give it to Emma Stone, who had more punch and energy than any other nominee there was. Her character was definitely the most interesting of any of the nominees. She is one of my favorite actresses, and this is definitely the best I’ve seen her. I didn’t see A Most Wanted Year but I like Jessica Chastain too, so that explains that!

Shoulda Been Here: Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
I Would Vote For: Emma Stone
The Oscar Goes to…: Patricia Arquette

She’s slain BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG all within a few weeks. Need I say more?

Shoulda Been Here: Jessica Chastain
I Would Vote For: Keira Knightley
The Oscar Goes to…: Patricia Arquette

Like Simmons, Arquette is a definite for the Oscar here. She certainly deserves it, for her committed and vulnerable role as the mom in Boyhood, a mom who was abused, left alone, and forced to come to terms with the fact that she is getting older. However, I feel like her acting wasn’t strictly speaking of the highest level. I think she’s the favorite more for the demands of the role and its innovative nature. Stone, on the other hand, is my personal favorite. She’s funny, raw, and provides some of the film’s harshest social commentary. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really have much of a shot. Go all in on Arquette here.

Shoulda Been Here: Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer)
I Would Vote For: Emma Stone 
The Oscar Goes To…: Patricia Arquette 

Best Actor

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

And this is that one acting race that is coming down to the wire. I would definitely vote for Jake Gyllenhaal if he was here, but somehow, tragically he’s not. After J.K. Simmons, hands down the best performance of the year. And how about that David Oyelowo snub? Sad. Instead my vote goes for Michael Keaton who is incredible playing essentially himself on screen. However, I’m just feeling that Eddie Redmayne takes the trophy. He was also remarkable as Stephen Hawking and would be a worthy recipient. I just like Michael Keaton a lot better. There’s also a slight chance the votes split and Bradley Cooper takes it, but that would be crazy. Very, very unlikely.

Shoulda Been Here: David Oyelowo (Selma), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
I Would Vote For: Michael Keaton
The Oscar Goes to…: Eddie Redmayne

When I think of Keaton in this movie, I can’t help but think of Mickey Rourke in the wrestler a few years ago. I say that because both actors are very much drawing from a real, resonant place: they were both jettisoned by audiences and labeled “washed-up” (Though whether they ever really lost their talent is up to you). Keaton may’ve just been playing himself in this movie but damned if he isn’t good at it; he makes for a very compelling and believable lead.  Mr. Keaton plays to both the sympathetic and the self-absorbed parts of his character and does a beautiful job of grappling with the “Birdman” persona even if he’s just confined to facial expressions or silent reactions to the voice of his ego.

Shoulda Been Here: David Oyelowo (Selma), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
I Would Vote For: Michael Keaton
The Oscar Goes to…: Michael Keaton

I’d vote For Jake Gyllenhaal over anyone in this category, frankly, but of the ones left I’d vote for Keaton in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, as Birdman’s stock has risen for Best Picture it seems like Keaton’s stock as fallen. Redmayne now looks to be the favorite after his SAG win. In my opinion, Keaton’s performance is more intense, self-aware, and darkly funny. Redmayne of course is also incredibly deserving of the Oscar after his performance as Stephen Hawking, but again, Keaton gave the better performance here. His comeback story would seem to spell Oscar gold, but Redmayne looks likely to play spoiler here.

Shoulda Been Here: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
I Would Vote For: Michael Keaton
The Oscar Goes To…: Eddie Redmayne

Still Alice

Still Alice

Best Actress

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

And the third and final acting award that is locked in stone is Julianne Moore in Still Alice. I have yet to see Still Alice but all signs point to Moore taking home the Oscar. I can’t say much about it. What I can talk about is Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. She was absolutely outstanding. She is a calculated, cold blooded animal that gives the movie so much depth and appeal. I know people who liked the movie, didn’t like the movie, but no one disliked Rosamund Pike. I’m sure Julianne Moore was fantastic, but the fact that I haven’t seen here prevents me from voting for her.

Shoulda Been Here: Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
I Would Vote For: Rosamund Pike
The Oscar goes to…: Julianne Moore

I’ll be honest: I’m following the trends here since I haven’t gotten around to seeing Still Alice. But from all I’ve read and heard, it’s pretty much her’s. It must be incredibly daunting to play an early-onset dementia patient without forcing it but Moore has owned the role and made it genuine. Plus, like Arquette, she’s swept all the major awards so I don’t really have that much of a say except that Ms. Moore can relax for most of the ceremony.

Shoulda Been Here: Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
I Would Vote For: Rosamund Pike
The Oscar Goes to…: Julianne Moore

This is the last of three acting categories that are virtual locks. Julianne Moore is going to win this Oscar, plain and simple. There’s nobody else here who really even has a feasible shot. Moore has one every single lead up award and nobody else has even shown any wisp of upset potential. I haven’t seen Still Alice, so I can’t judge Moore’s performance, but of what I’ve seen Rosamund Pike is my favorite. She was dark, psychopathic, and awesome as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.

Shoulda Been Here: Emily Blunt (Into the Woods)
I Would Vote For: Rosamund Pike
The Oscar Goes To…: Julianne Moore 

Best Director

Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman
Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mortel Tyldum for The Imitation Game

Here is another really tight race, one that I believe will determine the Best Picture winner in a way. I think if Inarritu wins Best Director, then Boyhood wins Best Picture. If Linklater wins Best Director, then Birdman wins Best Picture. I truly think Alejandro Inarritu actually did a better job, overall. His actual artistic choices were more interesting. They were bolder and had more significance. His choice to direct it all so that it looked like one take? Brilliant. Every single decision he made was absolutely genius. And the result was an incredible movie. I’m not doubting that Linklater was great, Inarritu was just incredible. Also, Ava DuVernay was absolutely snubbed. Bennett Miller and Morten Tyldum did not deserve it over her.

Shoulda Been Here: Ava DuVernay (Selma)
I Would Vote For: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
The Oscar goes to…: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

This one kind of ties in with cinematography but, yes, where all others are shouting “Linklater!”, I must side with Inarittu. Laugh at me, fine. But Birdman was just so well-crafted over all that I would never, ever be able to forgive myself if I didn’t pick it for directing. A director kind of has to command and lead the project; to drive it forward and the sheer weight of Birdman is certainly a lot to keep rolling. Alejandro Inarritu had to work through a lot of heavy material for this one and worked within the confines of (What’s supposed to look like) a single take. Without giving too much away, no film with a scene like the climax and open-ended end of this movie deserves to lose this spot.

Shoulda Been Here: Ava DuVernay (Selma)
I Would Vote For: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
The Oscar Goes to…: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

This is a really tough one. A lot of the categories this year are the tightest that they’ve been in years. On one hand, Inñáritu’s was the top prize at the Directors Guild Award for his no cuts, theatrical direction. On the other, Linklater won the Golden Globe and directed one of the most innovative concepts in film in the last decade. I think it will go to Linklater based on his innovation and the fact that Birdman looks primed to take Best Picture. There’s been a Best Director/Best Picture split for the last three years, and I think we will find this trend to continue next week. Still, this is is one of the closes categories of the night.

Shoulda Been Here: Ava DuVernay (Selma)
I Would Vote For: Richard Linklater 
The Oscar Goes To…: Richard Linklater

Boyhood

Boyhood

Best Picture

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

And here’s the big one! In one of the tightest races I can remember (even Argo vs Lincoln had an anticlimactic feel to it), it’s Birdman vs Boyhood for the prize. First I’d like to touch on the snubs. Nightcrawler definitely should have been nominated, and with only 8 nominees, it’s ridiculous that wasn’t. Same with Gone Girl. Anyhow, down to the fight. Of the two, I personally like Birdman better. I thought it was more adventurous and intense, and I would definitely watch it again. In fact, as I write this, I’m watching Birdman. Whiplash was my favorite film, so that’s why I’d vote for it. However, I think Boyhood’s going to win. I can’t give you an exact reason why. Both were great films, I’m just feeling Boyhood. It is inventive and a real cinematic accomplishment. Boyhood winning would make for a big feel good story too. No matter what, I’d be satisfied with the winner of this year’s Academy Awards.

Shoulda Been Here: Nighcrawler, Gone Girl
I Would Vote For: Whiplash, Birdman
The Oscar goes to…: Boyhood
~Vig

I’m not biased, I promise!
Okay, maybe I am. But really, I deeply respect any movie that can keep me guessing. That has little to no interest in explaining its incredibly original and smart modus operandi. The Best Picture should be the film where all of the factors, every single category, work in conjunction with one another to create an unforgettable story. Birdman’s actors compliment its complex characters; its dialogue creates its darkly comedic tone; its camerawork just allows you to breathe in the atmosphere of it all between its jolting scenes. I think the sign of a Best Picture is truly that you couldn’t take any one factor away or else the entire project would suffer and, boy, is that accurate in this case. I love Birdman. I think it’s the type of movie we need (Hi, inadvertent Dark Knight reference!) amongst the mountain of less-than-original films Hollywood pumps out today. It’s artsy and complex enough for thus snobs at the Academy yet accessible enough for viewers like you and me. If that’s not a perfect movie, I’m not sure what is.

Shoulda Been Here: Gone Girl
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes to…: Birdman

~Zach

For a few months, it seemed like Boyhood was going to breeze to the top prize at the Oscars. It racked up award after award and had all the requisite Oscar buzz. Then Birdman got on a bit of a roll, bolstered by wins from the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild, and Directors Guild. The last time a movie won all three of those awards and lost Best Picture was when Apollo 13 lost to Braveheart. Boyhood certainly has the innovation and significance to win Best Picture, but I think Birdman will continue its strong run and take the top prize.

Shoulda Been Here: Nightcrawler
I Would Vote For: Birdman
The Oscar Goes To…: Birdman
~Will

Oscar Contest

Hi viewers!

With the Oscars right around the corner, we are giving you an opportunity to win a prize! Send in your predictions for the following categories to screenwars@gmail.com. The person with the most correct answers will receive FOUR bonus tickets to any Bow Ties Cinema.

Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Original Screenplay
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Animated Feature

Tiebreaker: Length of Neil Patrick Harris’ Monologue

Good luck!

Foxcatcher

Up next is five time Academy Award nominee, Bennett Miller’s biographical drama Foxcatcher, based on the real life story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher is rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.

Foxcatcher follows the unique relationship of wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) and millionaire coach John du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark attempts to step out of the shadow of his more famous brother, Dave (Ruffalo), but du Pont, obsessed with victory and pride, becomes increasingly paranoid, leading to tragedy that no one could expect.

7.0 out of 10

The big buzz around Foxcatcher after its initial film festival release was Steve Carell’s stellar performance in a dramatic role. And in case you don’t know, “stellar dramatic performance” and “Steve Carell” don’t really go together. He was apparently so good that people were saying he was a shoo-in for Best Actor and that the film had a great chance at Best Picture. Yes, I did hear this chatter way back when. As you know, the film didn’t quite get there, failing to garner a Best Picture nod. This is largely due to a story structure that is unable to maintain intensity. However, largely thanks to a trio of stellar acting performances, Foxcatcher did get nominated for five Academy Awards, including two for acting and a directing nod (in the process, becoming the first film in 7 years to be nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture). 

foxcatcher 2

As mentioned, Foxcatcher has a really strong cast, anchored by Channing Tatum and supported by Steve Carell (well, according to the Academy, led by) and Mark Ruffalo, the latter two garnering Academy Award nominations. Tatum, known for rather silly roles (21 Jump Street, Magic Mike) or cheesy romantic roles (Dear John, The Vow), really steps into his own as Mark Schultz. He has so much determination and his character’s transformation throughout the film is evident. Ruffalo, looking totally sporting a shaved head and full beard, is at the top of his game, portraying Mark’s caring brother David as genuinely as possible

FOXCATCHER

Then there’s Carell, who has completely transformed his image with this one film. I recently watched The 40 Year Old Virgin and re-watched a few episodes of “The Office” and my goodness, how different he is. Not only is his physical transformation incredible (shout-out to Makeup and Hairstyling!!!), but his mentality is incredible. To be frank, he is a complete psychopath (as the character requires). It is not hard to be seduced by John du Pont’s false persona, one that feigns support and kindness, only making Carell’s dive in absolute insanity even more dramatic and intense to watch. Probably his greatest acting performance ever, though I say with complete seriousness that it might be a step below his turn as Michael Scott

Now, despite those incredible performances, Foxcatcher was unable to remain interesting for the entire duration of the film. It is broken up into three parts, the first an exposition that is understandably slow, the second of which is the Olympics and fall of Schultz, and the third of which rushes into a frantic, emotionally dense ending.

foxcatcher 7

 

The shift between the three parts was a bit rushed, without any build up to slur them together. For example, du Pont’s shift to absolute insanity was entirely implied rather than illustrated. In real life, du Pont did some really bizarre things. He apparently burned a den of baby foxes alive and drove around in a tank on his estate, with allegations of sexual abuse flying around everywhere. But none of this was really used in Foxcatcher, even though it could have made du Pont even crazier, making the middle section of the film all the more engaging.

foxcatcher 6

Ultimately, Foxcatcher is hindered by its poor pacing, focusing too much of the film on establishing a dark, brooding tone. And this dense, admittedly interesting tone ultimately isn’t enough to make up for the lack of progress in the story. It’s rather stale for a long period of time and nothing exciting really happens till the very ending, which (without spoiling) is tragic, and an exciting conclusion to an otherwise dull movie. However, there’s no denying the strength of the strong acting trio of Tatum, Carell, and Ruffalo. Even Sienna Miller, my new favorite actress, is in it! Yet, with such inconsistent pacing, it’s hard to label Foxcatcher as anything but a disappointment, especially with all the potential it had.
~Vig

7.0 out of 10

I have to admit I was a little surprised when Oscar nominations came out and Foxcatcher was not among the tiles contending for Best Picture. It had certainly generated the requisite Oscar buzz with winning performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, and it scored a pair of high profile nominations with Carell for Best Actor and Benet Miller for Best Director (the issues in that category are for a whole other discussion). Personally I don’t think Foxcatcher deserved to be nominated, but it certainly has some merit as a dark and cautionary film.

foxcatcher 5

Thematically it is very similar to Whiplash, a Best Picture nominee and personal favorite, in that it tackles the merits and pitfalls of controlling and abusive student-mentor relationships. We see a controlling, strong personality in John Du Pont, played by the surprisingly capable Steve Carell, contrast with the weak and underdeveloped personality of Mark Schulz, played by the surprising Channing Tatum. Despite these differences at the core of each character we also see a need to impress others and to fulfill familial expectations, a quality which bonds them but then ultimately drives them apart as Du Pont ventures further and further into the deep end.

These two performances were really what drove the movie. It was a joy to see Carell excel at a dramatic role, and he certainly deserves his Oscar nomination (though he has virtually no chance of winning and personally I think he should have been placed in the Supporting Actor category). Normally Carell is pigeonholed as the ridiculous, awkward guy in comedy films and shows, a role that he is suited for but that limits his talents as an actor. I know a lot of people who aren’t big fans of his, but I think he was exceptional in “The Office” and hilarious in Anchorman, and I sincerely hope that directors will take notice of Carell’s work and continue to cast him in dramatic roles. He certainly exceled at his creepy, off-color role as John Du Pont.

foxcatcher 1

Channing Tatum was also quite exceptional. His performance was incredibly convincing as Mark Schulz, the manipulated wrestler living in the shadow of his brother’s Olympic glory; it was so convincing in fact that I almost forgot that this is the same man who walked out of a limo at prom with doves flying out behind him in 21 Jump Street. Credit the filmmakers for taking the risk to cast comedic actors in a dramatic film.

Where I lost interest in the film was its pacing. Yes, Du Pont’s manipulation and controlling of Mark required significant buildup, but the third act of the film, it’s climax, was far too short and too rushed. The first two acts were almost entirely dedicated to building the film’s tone, a brooding and dark atmosphere, but I think it was significantly enough established within the first third. I really wish Miller had shortened the middle and drawn out the end.

FOXCATCHER

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect about this movie is that it left me with wistful thoughts of what could have been. I went home after watching the film (at Garden Cinemas, which for those of you in the massive readership haven’t been there is by far the best theater in the area, though there is some occasional noise leakage from screen to screen) and searched up some information on the real story. I found that Du Pont was even more deranged and even crazier than then film depicted. Normally we criticize Hollywood for exaggerating history, but in this case Miller went the other way. In reality, Du Pont drove a tank equipped with a machine gun across his property. He attempted to sexually assault a few of his students. He blew of a den filled with baby foxes. He paid his wrestlers to check for ghosts in the attic. Where was this in the movie? Including these elements and eliminating that dragging middle could certainly have made Foxcatcher the final Best Picture nominee of the year.
~Will

Thoughts on… 2014 Best Picture Films

This year we have seen plenty of fantastic films come out, but only eight were nominated for the prestigious Best Picture Award. Here, Will and Vig rank the eight films from worst to best.

Number 8

The Imitation Game
In a year of great biopics, The Imitation Game was definitely one of the better ones. However, there’s something missing. It really doesn’t do anything to make itself unique in its story telling. It’s just another linear narration, and probably something I won’t remember in a few years. That being said, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are both really good, the latter shooting himself into complete stardom with this one role. As Will said, the ending leaves a bit to be desired, but its a solid film nonetheless. It just fails to be as unique as the films it is competing it, ultimately making it the ‘worst’ Best Picture nominee from the 2015 Oscars (Nightcrawler and Gone Girl were so much better).
The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything is a very good movie. It is incredibly well acted, with Felicity Jones scoring a Best Actress nomination and Eddie Redmayne as a co-favorite for Best Actor, and very well directed. It also depicts the real life relationship between renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde, from their romantic beginnings through the progression of Hawking’s affliction with ALS. And as we’ve seen in years past, the Academy has a predilection for classy biopics (Argo, The King’s Speech). The problem is, it’s a good movie in a year of great movies and is, in my opinion, the clear-cut lowest quality Best Picture nominee.

Number 7

The Theory of Everything

I like to lump together The Theory of Everything with The Imitation Game because they are both biopics about English geniuses and they both lack a defining feature that makes them unique. However, what makes Theory of Everything a step above The Imitation Game, is that Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are not just great, they are superhuman. The emotional value of the film has so much depth, but ultimately, it’s just not nearly as good as the films ranked above it on this list. 

The Imitation Game

If you’ve read my review of this film, which I’m sure most of the world has, then you know that I have some major beef with The Imitation Game. The ending is wrong, rushed, and jarring, with the end of Alan Turing’s story and the real biting irony of it relegated to aimless epilogue text. Still, save for the final 5 minutes, it is riveting, solidly acted, and historically intriguing. It’s the better of the two British biopics, but it still left a lot on the table, including a shot at some major Oscar hardware.

Number 6

Selma
I was kinda surprised myself when I found that I ranked Selma so lowly on this list. It’s a really, really great movie. It has more emotional depth than most of the nominees this year, and its message and performances are among the most powerful I’ve seen in a long while. David Oyelowo and Ava Duvernay got absolutely snubbed at the Oscars, the former of which gives the first realistic, successful portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in his entirety. I probably could have and should have ranked this above Budapest… but something prevented me from doing so. Selma was just too forceful in its approach, I think. 
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Visually striking, deftly comical, and delightfully odd, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the real oddity in this group of 8 films. The Academy has typically shunned director Wes Anderson and his new age, quirky films, opting instead for more typical and traditional films. This year, though, voters really went for it and gave the film 9 nominations. It might edge out the rest of the nominees in terms of creativity and visuals, and it definitely should have scored an acting nomination for Ralph Fiennes, but while it certainly has many though-provoking layers, but it lacks the significance that propels other films to the front of the pack.

Number 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel
I first saw The Grand Budapest Hotel on a plane, and you know, it was not a fantastic experience for me. It was good, but I couldn’t see what everyone was buzzing about. Then, it came on HBO one day and I was able to sit down and concentrate and really appreciate how masterful it is. It is so unique in its style, extremely entertaining and pretty memorable. Not only is the Grand Budapest Hotel one of the most unique films of the year, it is, in my opinion, Wes Anderson’s best film, especially upon re-watching it. 
American Sniper
Watching American Sniper is an intense and visceral experience; Eastwood and Cooper do not shy away from the horrors of war that soldiers must face on the battlefield and the ghosts that follow them back home. Controversy over the whitewashing of Kyle’s story and their unqualified depiction of him as an American hero have somewhat overshadowed Sniper’s merits as a work of film-making (Seth Rogen compared it to the Nazi propaganda film from Inglorious Basterds), but in my opinion American Sniper remains an illuminating and shocking movie.

Number 4

American Sniper
It pains me to rank this in the fourth spot. It just feels SO much better. But when looking at the three films ranked above it, you can probably understand why it is placed where it is. American Sniper is probably the most emotional and powerful film of the year. From beginning to end, it is able to grab your attention and keep it. With all the controversy clouding the film, its hard to remember that American Sniper, just as a straight up film, is pretty remarkable. I don’t really care about the inaccuracies in the story as long as the movie is good, and that’s what it is. It’s genuinely a memorable, enjoyable film.
Selma
As I wrote in my review (which, again, I’m sure was read by millions), Selma is very much the movie of the moment. It comes at a time when racial tensions in this country are at its peak, a fact that merely underscores the inherent lack of diversity in the Academy’s membership and 2015 nominees. It boasts great performances from David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, as Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, and is largely a musing on race and inequalities in 1960s and modern America. In other years, the moving Selma might just be top dog, but 2015 is one of the strongest years for movies in recent memory.

Number 3

Boyhood

I agree with Will when saying that the next three movies are virtually inseparable (though I would most likely include American Sniper in that group). Boyhood is probably the most heartwarming of the three, and the most unique. The story of its production is incredible, and the final product is a movie that will be remembered for years to come. It never fails to be entertaining, and is an incredibly crafted story. However, it has moments of really odd dialogue and pitiful acting (ugh, the scene where the boys are drinking kills me every time). Still a really great film though. 

Boyhood

These next three movies are virtually inseparable. I would be satisfied if any of the three won Best Picture next week, for each is incredibly deserving and would definitely win in weaker years. In fact, I would put all three above 12 Years a Slave and Argo, the last two Best Picture winners. Boyhood is of course an inventive movie, having been shot with the same cast over the course of 12 years. It follows Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, as he matures and experiences all the heights and pitfalls of childhood. It is incredibly moving and equally confounding. I just wished it was better acted.

Number 2

Birdman
Being a self-proclaimed theater kid, I really connected with this film. The feeling of creating something with artistic value is incredible. And Birdman takes that idea and satirizes it, while still creating something moving and entertaining, despite how cynical and dark the movie tends to be. Michael Keaton, essentially playing himself, is absolutely tremendous and is definitely my pick to win Best Actor. Emma Stone and Edward Norton have also been overshadowed with all the talk of Keaton winning Best Actor. Innovative, technically brilliant, and entertaining, both with its drama and its hilariously written comedy, Birdman is definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while.
Whiplash
Whiplash was a bit of a surprise nominee. Vig and I had hoped that it would snag a nomination, but it seemed to be lacking the requisite buzz for a last minute push. What a happy surprise! It is incredibly intense, with each scene topping the next and each actor pushing the others. Of course, JK Simmons is the biggest draw here, and he is the favorite to take home the Best Supporting Actor award next week. He is undoubtedly the most deserving, and his performance as Terence Fletcher is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty killer too. Unfortunately, Whiplash doesn’t have a shot in hell to take the prize, even though Vig and I both agree that it has as much merit as anything else.

Number 1

Whiplash
And here we are. My number 1 movie of this year is Whiplash, a movie that was stunning both visually and audibly. The music was utterly fantastic, combining with visceral camera work to make it so engaging. Then there’s J.K. Simmons, who will win Best Supporting Actor without question and deserves it more than anyone else does. His intensity is top-notch. The delivery of his lines are perfect. Everything about his performance is perfect. Miles Teller is also really good too, in case anyone forgot. Unfortunately, Whiplash has a 0% chance of winning the Best Picture, which is a real shame because it is the most intense and entertaining film of 2015, which is saying something considering what a great year this was for films. GO SEE WHIPLASH!!
~Vig
Birdman
Yes! Birdman is my favorite movie of the year. It is biting, ironic, dark, and yet often very comical. Michael Keaton gives a career-reviving performance as Riggan Thompson, an actor struggling to shed his reputation as a sell out superhero actor while trying to create something with artistic value and meaning. I’d vote for him as Best Actor and Emma Stone as Best Supporting Actress, and the interplay between the two, with their generational gaps and differing backgrounds exploited for comedic and dramatic effect, drives much of the movie. Of course, Birdman boats a certain meta quality, with Keaton and Thompson sharing certain central qualities and characteristics. Genre-bending, innovative, and brilliantly written, Birdman is simply put the best movie of the 2015 Oscars.
~Will

Selma

Up next is Selma, Ava DuVernay’s historical drama about civil unrest in the South during the 1950s. Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, and Tim Roth, Selma is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, and brief strong language.

Selma recalls the incredible civil rights movement to secure equal rights for people of all races led by Dr. Martin Luther King (Oyelowo) in 1965. Following King and his followers in their triumphs and struggles during the violent fight to change history, Selma highlights the epic march from Selma to Montgomery that resulted in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

9.0 out of 10

One of the biggest storylines of the Academy Award nominations was Selma’s snubbing. It was shut out of the Best Director Category and Best Actor category, both of which were considered virtual locks for nominations. Public outcry followed, with many criticizing the Academy for not recognizing diversity (all of the 20 acting nominations went to Caucasian actors, and the only non-white director nominated was Alejandro González Iñárritu). The truth is the academy is almost 94% white and 76% male with an average age well over 60. If you don’t have diversity in the voters you’re not going to see diversity in the nominees. It’s high time that the Academy makeup represents the diversity that exists society.

selma 6

Selma is also the movie of the moment. Yes, it recounts one of the most historical events and periods of the Civil Rights Movement, but it is also largely a musing on modern racism and the fact that we have not yet realized the ideals King strived for. It comes at a time when racial tensions are incredibly high – with the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown embroiling the country in heated conflict—which makes it all the more powerful.

From a purely cinematic viewpoint, Selma’s snubbing came as a major surprise. The film boasts major talents, with the likes of Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, David Oyelowo, and Tom Wilkinson.

Oyelowo was fantastic as Dr. Martin Luther King. He successfully conveyed the nuances of King’s personalities and the stark differences of his public and private personas. As King, Oyelowo made grand speeches with a booming voice in front of both hostile and sympathetic crowds but also excelled at his quieter, more intimate scenes. 2014 was a big year for Oyelowo, appearing in Selma, Interstellar, and A Most Violent Year. Here’s to hoping that his success continues in the future.

selma 5

Tim Roth was also exceptional. This is his first non-Tarantino film that I’ve seen, and he played the snaky, repulsive, racist governor to perfection. Just the way he delivered his lines, with drawn out vowels and overt arrogance was fantastic.

What really held Selma together was its direction. The camera work was sweeping and precise. Ava DuVernay made some bold choices, most notably her decision to film some scenes in slow motion. It was a jarring break from the movie’s continuity but I think, given the situations in which DuVernay employed this tactic, such a sensation was exactly the point.

selma 1

Unfortunately for Selma, I think the movie ended on somewhat of a sour note. Much of the film had centered around King’s acceptance of others and inhuman willingness to overcome the inequities of society, all while not shying away from the physical and social toll that his leadership put on him and his imperfections as a man. Selma ended on a moment of triumph, with (mild spoiler alert) King and his followers arriving in Montgomery, and then logically recognized the tragic end to King’s life in epilogue text. I definitely agree with this choice; a film about King’s legacy should not end with his untimely death. However, where I draw issue is with the rest of the epilogue text, specifically with regard to Governor George Wallace, played by Tim Roth. Without a doubt, Roth’s character was vile and venomous. In the epilogue text, the film stated that Wallace was the victim of an assassination attempt that left him partially paralyzed, and said that only then he come to adopt a more accepting view of race. I don’t have the correct phrasing, but the way it read on the screen was that the movie-makers were happy about his peril and were almost looking at it as “he got what was coming to him”. It read as vengeful and acerbic, which, while absolutely Wallace was, as I said, vile and venomous, goes completely against King’s teachings of tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness. 
~Will

9.0 out of 10 

Plenty of biopics show the turning point of a movement because it’s easy. It’s easy and satisfying. There’s enough space for struggle and for resolution. But Selma does not place itself during the actual signing of any civil rights acts nor does it show a string of victories for MLK. Instead, the films opts to show a struggle which, for its purposes, is the exact thing it needs to depict.

In racial politics, Martin Luther King has, quite understandably, transcended human form. He basically relayed what 90% of the American people want for every race: stability, kindness and fairness. He took what seemed like a ridiculous movement to many racists and catalyzed into one of the biggest chunks of American history. What’s more, he did all without violence or acrimony. He upheld his beliefs for peace. For this, many have remembered King as pacifist and a god.

selma 2

Those people certainly aren’t wrong but Selma chooses a different route for King; a more human one. And while it’s probably much easier to document an admired yet controversial leader like Malcolm X’s strategic maneuvers, Selma chooses to show the personal battles King had to fight (Not resolve) to win the one against oppression. The film rightfully locks in to but one historical event and delves into the backroom politics that had to happen. Consequently, David Oyelowo’s King becomes much more of tactician than an activist for the film’s focused purposes.

Thus, we get to see all of the family moments MLK sacrificed, the fellow protestors he had to bicker with and the leaders he had to sway to ultimately launch his cause. It ain’t always pretty. While we typically knott all of the racial organizations of the era together, Selma depicts them as individual teams with their own scopes and interests that are loosely tied together. But the film largely recognizes that these turbulent moments make us appreciate the lighter ones. When we see the young activists of SNCC quarrel with the older organizers of the SLCC, it makes their compromise seem a lot more significant. Likewise, when we see all King had to do behind closed doors to secure his cause, it enhances his image as a man who was tethered to his beliefs in widespread equality.

selma 3

Plenty of historical movies regarding race are also criticized for featuring more white characters than there were present in real life. Some films have additionally been condemned for having said white characters actually save the day rather than the black figures the filmmakers claim to be focusing on. Whether you agree with this criticism or not, there’s no denying that Selma is firmly focused on black leaders and sugarcoating history to make people comfortable plays no part in the movie. The plot is rife with realistic tensions on boths sides that, again, only serve to make the somewhat infrequent moments of agreement more rewarding.

In fact, and this is an odd thing to say after I lauded the portrayal of MLK, I’m not sure whether this really should be lumped in as just an MLK biopic. King runs the show, yes, and he embodies the wishes of an entire movement but the more I recount this film, the more convinced I am that it is simply about the strength of peaceful protest. The movie is exactly what it says on the poster: Selma. Civil disobedience, speeches and marches in Selma. With King as its captain, I think Selma’s biggest purpose is to prove the power of demonstration which is quite an interesting angle after the Arab Springs, Occupy movements and moments of national unrest the past few years.

selma 4

Where does it rank amongst the other historical films of the year? Well, it’s quite a few notches above Unbroken. Just a bit further than American Sniper though Bradley Cooper certainly holds his own with Oyelowo’s (Which was criminally snubbed by the Academy) which puts it about on par with Imitation Game: a ranking I’m comfortable with. I’m certain grateful for the flurry of powerful nonfiction films but they’ve been exhausting to watch. Still, square off some time to get a front seat to the politics behind Selma.
~Zach

The Theory of Everything

Up next is a look at The Theory of Everything, James Marsh’s biographical romantic drama about Stephen Hawking. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and Tom Prior, The Theory of Everything is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

The Theory of Everything is the story of genius Stephen Hawking and the relationship with his wife Jane, as they experience Hawking’s fight with ALS together.

7 out of 10

I think I’ve said on numerous occasions before that I am a sucker for romance films. But this one was different. They all had accents, there was a lot of math and physics involved- really just a bunch of things that set this movie up to be pure boredom for me. Essentially, I was prepared for two hours of stodgy, stereotypical biopic film-making. While this was definitely true at points, The Theory of Everything proved to be a solid film, large in part to its exceptionally strong lead actors.

theory 1

The first thing I saw Eddie Redmayne in was Les Miserables where he played Marius, and was actually pretty good. I remember being impressed with how genuine he was (which I guess is what acting is). My point is, that’s the trait that most stood out to me in his turn as legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. You could tell how hard he was fighting. His humanity was still evident, despite the almost supernatural persona Hawking has grown into. Redmayne is the perfect combination of intelligent, charming and visceral in a performance that would usually be good enough to be considered a lock for Best Actor, if not for Michael Keaton. That’s not to say he won’t win, in fact I think he’s the favorite. He’s just not a lock.

And his opposite, Felicity Jones, was superb. The first thing I saw her in was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, quite a change of speed from this if you ask me, and she was kind of a throw away. I mean that entire movie was a throwaway (zing!), so I guess she didn’t really make a difference. Back on topic, I was super impressed with her performance opposite Redmayne. It would have been easy to be swallowed and forgotten in his shadow, but Jones proved to be a nice contrast, strong and cunning as Jane Wilde, and stood her ground, in turn receiving a much-deserved Best Actress nod.

theory 3

And often overlooked is the fact that the whole film is a technical spectacle as well. The cinematography is authentic and gives the film a very old fashioned British feel, using some nice color contrasts and finding moments to show off dazzling visual effects. The soundtrack is  nostalgic and gripping, adding to the poignancy the film is going for. 

That being said, there is certain something to Theory of Everything that prevents it from individualizing itself from the rest of the films this year. Especially considering that this year was heavy on biopics, you have to do something to separate yourself if you want to be remembered. With a long list of films including Foxcatcher, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Selma, Mr. Turner, Wild, and Unbroken, to be remembered requires standing out. The Theory of Everything, in my opinion, did not do that. The structure of the film was too regular– there were no risks taken with the story, the storytelling, the characters. Side note, I thought that was the same problem with The Imitation Game (coincidentally another story about a British genius in the mid 20th century).

theory 5

One of my main problems was that it was so one-sided. Once the romance wore out, our interested waned. The Theory of Everything had so much at its disposal to prevent this from happening, but instead it was all wasted. Hawking is maybe the smartest man in this world’s history and you don’t even talk about his science at all? That would have added a powerful second layer that the movie lacked behind the the relatively basic quest for a successful rom-dram. 
Alas, there’s no denying the strength of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ sintilizing performances; it gives this film exactly what it needs to be to assert itself as a good film, even if its not a great one. Though it indefinitely lacks a second dimension behind the romance, which doesn’t help considering the story is rather bland being a biopic, the direction and acting are superb and allow Theory of Everything to justify being nominated for best picture.
~Vig

7.5 out of 10

This is the first year I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees – Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and now The Theory of Everything – and in my personal opinion, it’s one of the strongest years for movies in recent memories. I thoroughly enjoyed (almost) all of the nominees, and there is no nominee that makes you scratch your head and ask yourself what kind of drugs the Academy is on. (Her? Really? [though Vig, the sappy, sentimental person that he is seems to love that one]).

I liked The Theory of Everything quite a bit more than past Best Picture Winners, namely the Academy-congratulating Argo, but unfortunately this movie comes in a year of fantastic movies, and some fantastic biopics (The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and Selma, among others). Other years, sure, The Theory of Everything would be a serious contender, but personally I think it falls in last place this year.

theory 6

That’s not to say that Theory doesn’t have its winning elements. Eddie Redmayne has a standout performance as Stephen Hawking, capturing effortlessly his character both before the onset of ALS and after. What really defined Redmayne’s performance, in my opinion, was his ability to retain Hawking’s cheekiness (it’s a British movie) even when physically crippled to the point where he can barely communicate. Even as Hawking transformed from a dashing, physically active college student into a wheelchair confined, aging man Redmayne showed Hawking’s refusal to submit to the disease. He’s a co-favorite with Michael Keaton to take the Best Actor award later this month. I personally prefer Keaton, but Redmayne is certainly equally deserving.

Opposite Redmayne was Felicity Jones. Her performance as Jane Wilde, Hawking’s first wife and the woman who cares for him for the first years of his disease, was incredibly compelling. She was alternatingly incredibly strong and heart-achingly vulnerable, able to communicate even the subtlest emotions with a simply look. Unfortunately for her, Julianne Moore is a virtual lock this year to take Best Actress.

These two leads were undoubtedly the top duo of the year, surpassing Keaton and Norton in Birdman, Cumberbatch and Knightly in The Imitation Game, and maybe even Simmons and Teller in Whiplash (which, by the way, just might be my favorite movie of the year). The chemistry between them was very alluring and very real and each complimented the other brilliantly.

theory 2

Aside from the acting, there was some very interesting camera work done here. Some shots were composed entirely in subdued hues of blue, while transition shots between scenes often reflected Hawking’s theories – latte foam was styled like a swirling black hole, for example.

My only problem with The Theory of Everything is that it was truthfully a little bit boring. It wasn’t oppressively long but was largely dearth of dynamic scenes. Yes, the film is about the evolution of Hawking’s disease and his refusal let it stop his work, and I get that that entails a slow process, but there was too often a lack of tension on the screen. Theory was also a relatively convention biopic. It failed to make a significant statement on illness, strength, or loyalty and instead seemed to be a mere retelling of Hawking and Wilde’s relationship which, while incredibly inspiring, fails to set it apart from the other biopics out there.

theory 4

Overall, The Theory of Everything is a moving and emotional – if not entirely exceptional—film about Hawking and Wilde that is carried almost completely by Redmayne and Jones, who give some of the strongest performances in recent memory. But unfortunately for Theory, that’s just not enough to set it apart from the other great films of 2014.
~Will