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
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