Andrea Honaker: The tight race for Best Picture
Sunday is the night of all nights for the film world: The Academy Awards. Nominations for the year’s most outstanding films, actors, directors and creative teams were unveiled Jan. 15, and the outcome is still all but certain in the biggest category, best picture.
At the Golden Globes, “Boyhood” took the win for best drama, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” snagged best musical or comedy. Meanwhile, “Birdman” took the Screen Actors Guild’s top honor of best cast performance, and “American Sniper” has seen huge box office success.
For the past several years, I’ve challenged myself to watch as many of the best picture nominees as possible before the awards ceremony. I love making my own assessments of the films and picking which one I’d like to see win and which one I suspect the Academy will choose. I usually miss seeing one or two, but this year I managed to view them all, and I really enjoyed immersing myself in such varied and unique movie experiences.
Here are my thoughts on the eight films nominated for best picture.
“American Sniper” — starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller — was an extremely well done as well as realistic film. It portrayed Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle as a flawed and conflicted man, tormented by the kills he had to make and struggling to keep his family from falling apart back on U.S. soil. It’s violent, but it’s told in an honest and well-balanced way. Cooper gives one of his best performances yet.
“Birdman” — starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone — offered up an incredible cast and a unique plot that teeters from reality to fantasy, leaving the viewers to interpret things on their own. I was impressed by the camera work and the intimate point of view it provided. But at the end, I couldn’t quite decide what I thought of the movie. It was puzzling and almost unsettling in its ambiguity, but that could be the very reason others decide they love it.
“Boyhood” (2014) — starring Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette — was innovative because it filmed the same cast over 12 years to tell the story of a boy’s life from age 6 to 18. It had some good acting performances (namely Arquette), but I’ve seen much better coming-of-age movies in recent years, such as “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Way Way Back.” To me, “Boyhood” was anticlimactic and lacking in meaning.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” — starring Tony Revolori, Ralph Fiennes and F. Murray Abraham — was zany, entertaining, hilarious and sometimes utterly ridiculous (but in a good way), with plenty of memorable all-star cameos. Director Wes Anderson’s signature storytelling methods are presented at their very finest. But a best picture winner? I think not.
“The Imitation Game” — Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley — was a fully rounded film filled with thrills, drama and a close attention to detail. It kept me on the edge of my seat and completely immersed me in the plot. Cumberbatch gave the performance of a lifetime as mathematician Alan Turing, giving viewers a glimpse of Turing’s brilliant mind as well as his personal challenges.
“Selma” — starring David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo — was a compelling depiction of one of our country’s most important history chapters. It was extremely serious and hard to watch at times, but it was also inspiring and powerful. Oyelowo did an outstanding job as King and should have been nominated for best actor. I liked the fire and passion that he gave to the role, but also how he showed King as a real man.
“Theory of Everything” — starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones — is a phenomenal movie, and my favorite of the eight best picture nominations. The life of Stephen Hawking is beautifully told and presented, accompanied by a stellar musical score. I loved watching the complex relationship of Stephen and Jane unfold, and Redmayne’s transformative portrayal of Stephen is nothing short of miraculous.
“Whiplash” — starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons — was a literal depiction of the blood, sweat and tears of following a dream. It was an intense -- and sometimes agonizing and infuriating – watch with top-notch performances from the two leads, especially Teller with his drumming skills. But, it was a little hard for me to get past the professor’s cruel actions, which I found to be extremely unrealistic.
What I’d like to see win: “Theory of Everything.” To me, this film brings the whole package and is the most Oscar-worthy. It is a cinematic masterpiece, and I couldn’t find a flaw in it.
What I predict will win: “Birdman.” Its strong acting and cinematography combined with its unique storytelling may very well have won over the Academy.
You can reach Gaston (N.C.) Gazette lifestyles reporter Andrea Honaker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @andi384 and read her blog at lifelessons.blogs.gastongazette.com.