The Academy Awards have always been sort of difficult to me, for reasons which would require an article on its own. For right now I’ll concentrate on the issue that, every year, there’d be only one or two films that I could really get behind, and the rest would be forgettable.
(Opinionated? Well . . .)
This year, however, the tables have been turned. Out of a field of eight contenders for Best Picture there are five that I’m really hot for seeing a win. I can’t recall the last time I’ve had a deck so stacked.
But, who am I kidding? With my usual aplomb in picking winners (wanna see my “Madly for Adlai” campaign button collection?), any guesses I’d make would be whistling in the dark anyway. But, when all else fails, I have color commentary to fall back on. So pull out your betting sheets, pumpkins, and let’s take another stab at it.
Hokey Pokey, pumpkins. First up is the latest from Clint Eastwood: one of those rare interesting actors who became an equally interesting director. I personally tend to have a problem with films which attract a lot of social baggage (translate as: it’s never a good sign when Michael Moore delves into film criticism), Shaking that aside, I’m personally disappointed that this film has received more in the way of critical appreciation than, say, “Letters from Iwo Jima” (which I thought was a fine film). But, Mr. Moore aside, this film has been receiving a boatload of positive press from people who generally get these sort of things right much more often than I do. As good as it is, I’m wondering if the Academy might smell Trouble from all of the naysayers and, as a result, shy away from giving this the Big One?
(Accusing AMPAS of cowardice? Moi?)
I’ll go ahead and call this an inside track favorite. Just don’t bet the quinella on it.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Okay. It should come as no surprise that this is the film on the top of my “Oboy, I Want This To Win” List. And long time readers (all eight or so of you out there) can no doubt guess the reasons why. A superhero film done right and intelligently, and dealing with issues far and beyond just the concept of a person in a suit. A man playing a fictional superhero, to be sure, but apples and oranges. It’s good to see a director like Alejandro Gonzalez receive the acclaim he’s deserved for so long (his 2006 “Babel” is of particular quality; at least in the eyes of this commentator). Not only that but it features several of the people I enjoy seeing in a film: Zach Galifianakis and Edward Norton in particular. Plus . . . very plus . . . it stars Michael Keaton in a role which, in its execution, has brought him into some very positive attention. The idea behind the movie, an actor trying to regain professional respect after having portrayed a costumed superhero in a film some time earlier, created a sense of irony which I’m pretty certain wasn’t lost on Keaton. For his efforts, and that of Gonzalez’ direction, “Birdman” has already garnered sufficient critical applause to the extent where I suspect smiles have been prevalent in the Keaton household as of late.
It’s an old one: a film which has already received so many prestigious awards that the hags at AMPAS might decide not to award it the Best Picture statue. Which would be a shame. Here we have a lovely imaginative and original piece of work. The sort of picture which the Academy should be honoring. But it might be crippled by the success it’s already achieved.
Wow, do I love director Richard Linklater or what? I thought “A Scanner Darkly” was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Not to mention “Waking Life” and “Slacker” (and others). Plus he’s a good Texas boy, which rates highly on the Unkster’s list. A coming-of-age film about an adolescent boy in Texas? Can anyone say “personal resonance with the Unkster” here?
(Actually there’s already been a movie made about my own coming-of-age in Texas. But, unfortunately, “Un Chien Andalou” never got nominated.)
This may turn out to be Linklater’s best work to date. The bad news is that Linklater might be more eligible to receive the “Welles/Tarentino Award”, given to filmmakers who’re too unique and talented to be noticed by the Academy. If “Boyhood” does cop the statue, however, try to ignore the raucous shouts of glee from the Wolff household.
On the one hand I would like to see director Ava DuVerney at least get Best Director, if only for the fact that it’d provide a victory to the documentary makers. But any film blessed with the producership of Oprah Winfrey gets an “ouch” from Yours Truly. It’s like getting a dream shot at directing a feature film, only to find out your producer is Barbra Streisand. Or, putting it another way, it’s like being thrown a life preserver, only to discover that it’s an anchor chain. DuVernay deserves a shot at the title. What she doesn’t deserve is the schmutz associated with that sort of patronage.
(Yes, I have issues with divas. Sue me.)
I’m also somewhat surprised at the charges leveled against DuVernay regarding “historical accuracy” problems. Now we’re worried about historical accuracy in a film? Now?
(Personal note to Ava: next time choose a subject and an event at least 200 years in the past. But kudos on making it this far.)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
See how this is going for me? Gonzalez . . . Linklater . . . and now Wes Anderson. This year is choked with directors I especially like and admire. What’s a film lover to do?
I would’ve loved for Anderson (another good Texas boy) to have received Best Picture for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” or “Moonrise Kingdom”. Regrettably, we’ll see Starbucks opening up on Neptune before AMPAS awards an animated film anything beyond Best Animated Feature (in the case of the former film). And “Moonrise Kingdom” (plus “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) were far too brilliant and original to receive anything other than a compulsory nod (in the latter case).
But, given the back room maneuvering and such at AMPAS, Anderson might pull it off with “Grand Budapest” if only for the fact that, out of all the contenders, it’s the most potentially “safe” picture. Stay tuned.
The Imitation Game
With one exception (see below), I was happily surprised to see this film get a Best Picture nomination. Movies about a World War II era cryptanalyst/computer scientist usually fly very far off the Academy’s radar. But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and director Morten Tyldum is Europe’s answer to Gonzalez this year. Not only that, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s star is rising so high and fast that it’s caused alerts to appear on NATO radar screens. This combination alone could give it a shot at the statue.
But, as with “Birdman”, this film has already garnered so many impressive nominations and wins that the Academy might feel it could be passed over. Pity
The Theory of Everything
Even more than “The Imitation Game”, I was pleasantly surprised to see this film on the Best Picture list. As with DuVernay, a Best Picture win would be a victory for documentary directors (and very much deserved by James Marsh). Plus the subject of the film, Stephen Hawking, is one of my heroes (ably portrayed here by Eddie Redmayne).
But here’s where overall audience ignorance comes into play. Ask most people who Hawking was, and the best you’ll likely get is: “Dude, yeah. He’s the guy in the wheelchair who played poker with Data in a “Star Trek” episode”.
Of course the Academy would never allow audience reaction to affect their decisions.
(Pardon me. Was choking just a bit.)
I would be happy to see this film walk away with Best Picture. But it’s even more of a dark horse than “The Imitation Game”.
And speaking of dark horses . . .
On paper, a movie dealing with jazz music would seem to be a lead pipe cinch*. And not only does it feature J.K. Rowling, who’s always great to watch, but Miles Teller also bears considerable attention (on a personal note: he’s been tapped to play Reed Richards in the “Fantastic Four” reboot, so the Unkster is keeping his fingers crossed**). Plus director Damien Chazelle is someone I’m thinking is on the verge of making a serious breakout within the business.
But out of all the films on the list (with “Selma” being a possible exception), “Whiplash” has had its share of bad press, so if you’re looking for the long odds at the Academy Awards then this would be it. My call: watch the early voting and see if “Whiplash” gains any other Oscars. If Chazelle or Rowling get Oscars for their work, then I’d feel safe about writing off “Whiplash” for Best Picture. We’ll see.
*I also liked Ioan Gruffudd, so what the hell do I know?
**Yes, Uncle Mikey is going for the gold in the “Reviving Old Cliches” category. Vote early, vote often.