Oscar Schmoscar 2015

It’s Academy Awards time, and that means it’s once again time for me to weigh in with my ignorance and inability to appreciate an Oscar-worthy performance. If you’re like me, you’ll want to cram-watch a few more of the nominees in time to at least have an opinion for the awards next week. Let me help you out a bit by telling you what I thought about a few of the nominees.

birdmanBirdman

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography

Tied with The Grand Budapest Hotel for the most nominations, I was really expecting to enjoy Birdman. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former comic-book movie star who tries to make a comeback on the Broadway stage. Obviously there’s some life-art reflection going on with Keaton’s own previous role as Batman, but that doesn’t seem to be so important to the movie. Edward Norton and Emma Stone are also nominees for their supporting roles: he plays an acting divo who challenges Thomson’s ideas about the play, and she plays Thomson’s daughter/assistant recovering from addiction and trying to find a connection to her father. While I’m not altogether fascinated with movies about the art and craft of acting, I thought this might be a bit more interesting because of the superhero elements that are woven in. When the movie starts, Keaton is meditating in his dressing room, levitating a few feet off the ground. However, if there’s any true connection to the overall arc, I’m really missing it. The Birdman persona is some kind of a conscience figure and as I was watching, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a previous movie about darkness, art and a fantastical alter-ego, Black Swan (with Natalie Portman) — I didn’t really comprehend that film either. This movie has also been touted as funny — and while I see the joke, I found the humour kind of slap-sticky and juvenile. (3 out of 5)

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film FestivalThe Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hair

While having the same total number of noms as Birdman, this movie did not receive any acting nominations at all. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it more. Director Wes Anderson has a quirky style that makes the story into something like an adult’s storybook. It doesn’t hurt that the visuals, costumes, and production design really add to that feeling. From that angle I really appreciated this rather convoluted tale of a hotel manager (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy running to and from all manner of predicament after a very wealthy patron dies under mysterious circumstances. It was a lot of fun and unpredictable, and full of odd and charming characters. However, that same quirky style also made me not really care about these characters or what happened to them (when I could follow the plots). It was hard to keep track, and characters would do things for very odd reasons (which were all very rational to them, but not to me). I really hope this film does win for Production Design and Costume Design because those aspects are really fresh in this movie. As for the other major awards, I don’t really think this movie has the weight to deserve those. (3.5 out of 5)

boyhoodBoyhood

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing

Another heavy-hitter in the nominee department is this independent movie about a young man coming of age. The uniqueness of this movie is that the cast remained the same over the course of the 12 years that it took to film. Ostensibly that’s kind of a gimmick, but it adds some weight to the realism of these performances (which is probably why Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette both got noms for their supporting roles as Ma and Pa Evans — that’s not what they’re really called). The story of their blended family (the parents have split up even before the movie began) and their various ups and downs over the 12 years was normal and ordinary (almost to the point of being boring), with only a few relatively “dramatic” incidents. Ellar Coltrane, who plays the titular boy, Mason, portrays him with a very mellow attitude, quiet and thoughtful. He’s kind of an every-kid. So while this exercise in long-term film-making has been a success, I wonder what about it makes it a Best Picture contender. Is it the ordinariness? (Does it take a lot of work to look this ordinary?) I always like writer-director Richard Linklater and his style of dialogue (though I appreciated it a lot more in the Before Sunrise trilogy). I did enjoy Boyhood, but if it hadn’t been a 12-year labour-of-love, I don’t know that it would have felt as interesting. (4 out of 5)

nightcrawler1-1200x710Nightcrawler

Best Original Screenplay

I had not even heard about this movie until someone at work raved about Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance (though surprisingly he did not receive an Oscar nom). He plays Louis Bloom, a thief-turned-news-cameraman who spends his nights listening police radio in order to be the first to arrive at a crime scene and film it for the late news (oh, and he’s kind of a psychopath). Things get more and more risky as he starts to manipulate crime scenes in order to improve his work. One night he comes upon a grisly murder-in-progress and sets in motion a series of even more dangerous events. Even though I normally don’t have much opinion about good acting, I was amazed at how Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds to play this creepy guy. The way his eyes looked and the way he spoke, I had chills every second that he was on screen. The script was also very well written, mostly around creating this character who used a lot of the same business rationale and ideas that we use in our day-to-day work to explain and justify his amoral ambitions. It definitely made for a very memorable performance and a memorable film. (4 out of 5)

the-boxtrolls-imagem-2The Boxtrolls

Best Animated Feature

While I totally loved Disney’s Big Hero 6, I kind of think this movie is more deserving of the Oscar this time. Though this movie was made by an American animation studio (called Laika — I know, I hadn’t heard of them either, but they previously created Coraline and ParaNorman), it is set in Victorian England and features a primo British cast including Isaac Hempstead-Wright (who plays Bran on Game of Thrones), Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Elle Fanning (an American doing an alright British girl impersonation). The folktale-style story is about a town where every night, scary creatures called “boxtrolls” (part box, part troll — duh), come out to steal children and take them under the ground to devour them. This is, naturally, not what the boxtrolls really do, but rather propaganda spread by Mr. Snatcher — an odious, ambitious man who is trying to grab a place in upper-class society by ridding the town of boxtrolls. When Snatcher one day captures a boxtroll named Fish, that leads a young boy named Eggs to come up to the surface world to save his foster father. This movie not only contains a great blend of humour and adventure, but also a nice balance between sentiment and satire. Themes range from prejudice and the class system, to being courageous in embracing personal change. The animation has a kind of Tim Burton-esque spindliness, but it looks great, and I am amazed at how they were able to achieve some of the more complex action scenes during the climax. I think this movie is not only creative, with a literary pedigree (it’s based on a non-comic-book called Here Be Monsters!), but also fun, heart-warming, and well-meaning as well. (4 out of 5)

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