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A Review of 75% of This Year’s Oscar Nominated Films for Best Picture

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The awards show and the red carpet may be over, but everyone is still talking about this year’s Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture. Now you’re FOMOing and wondering, “Should I watch them? Are they really the ‘best’? Why are people so mad that Boyhood didn’t win?” Don’t worry—we got your back…for 75% of the nominees, at least.  

Every year, I make a promise to myself to try and see all of the nominees—before the Oscars. This year, I got pretty darn close, seeing six out of the eight films. Unfortunately, I did not get the time to see Selma or Whiplash, so, if you’re looking for a review of those, ask a friend. Forewarning: I am a harsh critic, so try not to get mad if I rip apart your favorite movie. It’s not personal and, honestly, I’m not a professional movie reviewer, so what do I know?

The Imitation Game

This was one of my favorite films I saw this year. (I’ve already seen it twice, dragging both of my parents to the theater separately. Thanks, Mom and Dad.) This might have to do with the fact that I am Benedict Cumberbatch’s #1 fan… Besides that, however, I thought the acting and storyline was fabulous. Cumberbatch once again does a great job playing the tortured, socially inept genius (like his character in the BBC show Sherlock). If you need a plot refresher, Cumberbatch played Alan Turing, the real-life mathematician who cracked a Nazi code during World War II, saving an estimated 14 to 21 million lives. His technology serves as the foundation for the design of the modern computer. Despite his incredible contribution to the world, Turing was convicted for being a homosexual, leading him to commit suicide. Safe to say, I was crying my eyes out at the end, watching the protagonist hit rock bottom in despair. The movie spurred many emotions of pity and anger, but it also served as a tribute to Alan Turing’s genius. It was interesting to watch this movie as a member of our generation, as I am, along with most of my peers, very liberal towards homosexuality. I wonder what members of older generations took from the movie—whether they were less affected by Turing’s conviction, as they perhaps are more accustomed to this treatment.

The Theory of Everything

Here is another movie about a tortured genius—a movie I absolutely loved, both times I’ve watched it. Once again, my judgment is a bit skewed, as I might be Eddie Redmayne’s #2 fan. (I could never replace you, Benedict xoxo.) This story is about Stephen Hawking, a physicist who wrote the successful popular science book, A Brief History of Time. 2014’s movie list seems to demonstrate that geniuses can’t also have an easy life, because, like Turing, Hawking suffers greatly. He has motor neuron disease, a disease that slowly paralyzes him over time. I thought that Eddie Redmayne did an amazing job transforming into Hawking, progressing from a carefree youth into an older man broken by disease. I thought he definitely deserved the Oscar for best actor, no matter how cringe-worthy his acceptance speech was. Felicity Jones’ performance as Hawking’s strong and selfless wife, Jane, also was noteworthy, a performance that especially spoke to my feminist inclinations. While there are many moments that evoked a few tears, the overarching theme of the film was hopeful. Finally, I must mention the costumes and score. The costume design was key in portraying the passage of time through the decades of Hawking’s life. The score is beautiful and totally will act as my study playlist this semester. However, as much as I loved these first two reviewed movies, I find it unfortunate that the two concepts are so similar. I worry that these films will cancel each other out and have their unique and amazing qualities overlooked. So, Batesies, quiet my fears and make sure you go see “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” and appreciate them individually!

Boyhood

Next up is Boyhood. This movie was filmed over 12 years, following a Texas boy with a messed up, but loving, family. What struck me most about this film was the realism—it merely tells the story of, well, life. The simple story was made up as they went along, incorporating cultural elements of the year being filmed. What makes this film so incredible is the audience’s ability to watch the main character, Mason, come of age—experiencing the innocence of childhood to awkward adolescence to striking out on his own as an independent adult. Mason is almost exactly my age in the film, so the movie particularly struck a cord with me. I laughed and cringed as I watched a middle school aged Mason skateboard with “Soulja Boy” playing in the background, smiled nostalgically as a little Mason lined up to get his copy of a new Harry Potter book, rolled my eyes as a college-bound Mason approved of his new roommate because they both liked the band “Bright Eyes.” Besides all of these little cultural references, I thought the acting was impressive, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke in particular. Arquette won the Oscar for best actress and I couldn’t help but cheer along with Meryl Streep when she called for awareness for gender equality in her acceptance speech. You must see this movie, if only for the fact that the style in which it was filmed was revolutionary. But, for our generation in particular, I know that you will fall in love with the main character and relate to all of the struggles he experiences while growing up.

American Sniper

American Sniper was not my favorite movie, but I appreciated it and was glad I watched it. It tells the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who is considered to be the deadliest marksman in US military history. The movie is extremely relevant because there is currently a court case occurring that is investigating the death of Kyle, who was murdered by another war veteran in 2013. While Bradley Cooper was great as the main character (and, holy cow, he must have put on one hundred pounds to be that physically massive for the film), I found I had to suspend my disbelief for many of the scenes in the movie. It was hard to believe that he was really able to make these incredibly far marks in the middle of a sandstorm, while also being on the phone with his wife…but who knows? Maybe it really happened. I also am not a huge fan of endless battle scenes, but that might be someone else’s favorite element of a movie. The ending, however, was very tasteful, as the director chooses not to shoot a scene of Kyle being shot by the deranged veteran. I felt that this artistic choice allowed the final memory of Kyle to be a positive one for the audience.  It was the first movie that I have seen that truly portrays the war in Iraq, which was interesting and enlightening to me as a person who has lived during the time of the war. While I was not the biggest admirer of the movie, I thought it was a wonderful tribute to the memory of this brave and dedicated soldier.

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

This year’s Oscar winner for best picture was Birdman. Okay, I most definitely missed something here, because I just did not like this movie at all. It was incredibly dark and disjointed and I thought the plot was directionless. I know that the way it was filmed was noteworthy, as it appears to be filmed in one continuous shot…but so what? And being decently familiar with the setting of New York City I kept getting caught up on details that I found ridiculous. For example, the main character, Riggin Thomson, gets drunk and then falls asleep on someone’s front stoop. Realistically, someone, most likely a policeman, would wake a sleeping drunk and make him move along. But moving on from problems with the small details, I found none of the characters particularly engaging or sympathetic. But, as the movie is classified as a “black comedy,” I assume this is the intention of the director. The ending was unsatisfying and overly ambiguous. I was especially frustrated that the supporting characters were given no semblance of a conclusion. Somehow though, my opinion is in the minority, as “Birdman” was critically acclaimed. The only redeeming part of this movie was the performance by Ed Norton, because, seriously, when does Ed Norton not totally rock?

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Finally, I absolutely loved this film. The plot is endearingly eccentric, following the adventures of a lobby boy, named Zero, and a concierge, named Gustave H. The two friends follow the theft and recovery of a priceless painting and come into contact with many unusual people and odd situations. I was lucky enough to see the movie in the theater, as this allowed me to truly appreciate the cinematography. I felt as if I was going along for a winding adventure with the main characters—almost as if I was on a 3D ride at Disney World. Ralph Fiennes plays Gustave H, giving a performance that was impressive and charming (quite the opposite from his performance as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series). The cast was star-studded with my favorite actors, including Ed Norton (again), Jude Law, and Saoirse Ronan. The film was classic Wes Anderson, strange yet enjoyable, and I recommend it to all.

It was a good year for tortured geniuses, British actors and original cinematography. Check out these films, (hopefully you’ll do better than I and watch Selma and Whiplash—John Legend and Common brought down the house with the Oscar performance of their song for Selma,”Glory,” which won Best Original Song) and you will be able to hold your own when your friends start talking about how fake the baby from American Sniper looked. 

Jane is a senior at Bates College, majoring in English and minoring in History. Outside of class, she dances ballet and practices yoga, religiously listens to Dave Matthews Band, and is a firm believer that dark chocolate acts as a well-rounded meal.
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