The Oscars 2015

The Oscars 2015




23/02/15

It’s Oscars 2015 time. And rather than get distracted by the glitz and glamour of the red carpet we’ve enlisted cinephile Niall Murphy to guide us through the nominees and, more importantly, to tell us who should have won.

Words: Niall Murphy

Imagery: Pop Art-inspired posters for the Best Picture nominees using Shutterstock

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Best Picture/Director, countdown from least best to best.

The Theory of Everything

Everything that is wrong with British cinema can be found in this film, the greatest testament of the year to the dangers of seeking Oscars. In telling a true story, an illness of the week special, all attempts at artistry or originality are abandoned. Which is an old trick, but the master stroke is to make the movie about a world renowned scientist no one understands but everyone respects. Which allows the film makers to stand on their soap box and say anyone who doesn’t like the movie, doesn’t like Stephen Hawking. Maybe in fact, if you don’t like the movie, you like motor neuron disease. Maybe in fact you like black holes. Do you like black holes? Do you hate life? Do you hate existence itself? And on and on. Only slightly more sophisticated than the previous refrains: If you don’t like 12 Years a Slave you like slavery, or if you don’t like The Kings Speech you like Nazis. A true low point. For Britain, for movies, and for Hawking.

The Imitation Game (Dir. Morten Tyldom, nominated)

It feels like this movie was made by a few actor friends, the type who holiday together in the country for a few weeks and think it would be jolly good to do something about Alan Turning, and the war, and the good old days. They didn’t seem to invite any scriptwriters with them on their rural jaunt because the story as told here is plodding and lifeless. Though they do look like they enjoyed making it, so that’s something. And it’s not painful viewing. The subject matter carries it along despite itself. You would need to work very hard to make a story about codebreaking and spies and World War II completely unwatchable. And this movie does not work very hard. It’s a tragedy that British cinema is still obsessing about the war. We can only hope there is another one soon so they can get more material.

SELMA

The film that generated the most controversy, as it was overlooked in nearly every other category. Other categories have five nominees, only best picture has more. And if it didn’t, this movie probably wouldn’t have made the cut in this group either. It’s easy to call people racist for not liking Selma, certainly easier than actually making a great film. Because it’s not great. Not bad either, but not great. A lot of hay was made stateside about how it misrepresents President LBJ, as a reluctant reactor to events, rather than as a protagonist for civil rights. But it is the portrayal of another TLA, the portrayal of MLK, which holds the movie back. Perhaps due to too much reverence on the film makers part, he is a strangely lifeless and restrained figure here. Maybe that’s what he was like in private. But what the world knows for sure about him, his public passionate speeches, seem delivered here in a strangely suppressed fashion.

American Sniper

Not really a war film, more of a western. And seen as a western it is one of Eastwood’s best films, his fifth to be nominated for Best Picture. Like all westerns it doesn’t exist in a political space. If you can’t accept that you’ll hate it. And it is perhaps a difficult thing to accept. Westerns rely on you not being concerned for the bad guys, they die with impunity. And westerns rely on an unquestioning audience that allows for all Indians, an entire race, to be bad guys. So just translate that lack of concern over who is in fact the bad guy, that acceptance that bad guys get shot, to modern day Iraq. And voilá, you have the makings of a great modern western, made by the genre’s most iconic star. Or you have the makings of many arguments with mates down the pub, who will accuse you of being an apologist for neo colonialism.

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Birdman (Dir. Alejandru Innarritu, nominated)

A Woody Allen film through a Mexican lense. Which turns out to be a good thing. Set in New York, in the artsy theatre world, where everyone talks about themselves, it departs from Allen in being slightly darker in tone. It would consider itself to be very different from an Allen relationship-driven chamber piece. It would consider itself to be a deconstruction of an artists descent into madness. But though this theme is present, it ultimately fails in that aim. Michael Keaton plays crazy well, always has, and does so here. But the movie wouldn’t work without the supporting players, the flights of fancy and the ache of neurosis.

Whiplash

The hype about this movies is true. It’s a small movie that scores big. Billy Elliot with a monster in the middle. A bald, angry monster called JK Simmons. And how you feel about the movie depends on how you feel about him. However, it is a little constrained by its own internal hype – that being a successful jazz drummer is worth sacrificing anything to achieve. If you buy that, if you get what is at stake, then you won’t think Simmons is over the top. Many movies deal with this theme, the tortured genius. But it is the novelty of Whiplash that it inverts your expectations. It is actually about the sadistic torturing of genius and geniuses, from without, not within. Everyone is a various degree of asshole. And the story is told as a litany of betrayals rather than triumphs. So you’re left with no one to shout for come the offputting attempt at an inspirational finale. Yet you still don’t want it to end.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir. Wes Anderson, nominated)

It is a source of constant wide mouthed astonishment to Wes Anderson fans (a tiny minority of the planet) that not everyone likes his movies. Indeed, most people, the vast majority of the planet, aren’t fans. Don’t get him. Don’t get it. Can’t see it.
But with this movie something changed. His detractors have given up, because it seems he isn’t going anywhere. And he has slowly but surely chipped away at the doubter’s resistance. So, if his movies aren’t too mannered, his characters not too flimsy, his idea of comedy not too lazy, his stories not too beholden to his style, his style not too one note and IKEA-looking, and Luke Wilson not too nasal. Well then, if all this is true, then this is the best example of its type. The Wes Anderson type.

SHOULD WIN: Boyhood (Dir. Richard Linklater, nominated)

The cynics will say it’s just a gimmick stretched to breaking point. And there’s nothing cynics like more than everyone disagreeing with them. The argument against the film is pretty simple. If you remove the gimmick, is it any good as a movie, as a story? If everyone aged through make-up, would we care? The boy actually changes in appearance so drastically over the 12 years, can we be sure it was the same kid all along anyway? In another 12 years time, when someone stumbles over this movie on Film Four some evening, someone who has never heard of it, never read about the gimmick, will they think it’s any good? What are the chances that a gamble like this movie, a gamble that everyone will keep coming back to partake in the project, not only get finished, but also turn out to be good? Is it not a technical achievement, an achievement perhaps of human endeavour, more than an artistic achievement? Doesn’t the kid grow up to be a pretty annoying adult? Yes, Boyhood. Because it really should never have worked. Yet it did.

Honourable Mention: Bennett Miller, Best Director, Foxcatcher (nominated)

In the unusual situation of being nominated for best director, with his film overlooked for best picture. Despite the best picture shortlist being longer. If that makes sense. It suffered a backlash when people started describing it as a gay monster movie-a protagonist lusting after two lycra wearing brothers, eventually killing one of them in a psychotic rage. This criticism in itself wasn’t lethal. What did for the film is the sense the director didn’t realise this was going on in his story.

Miller also directed Capote, another film with a gay star and murder at its core, another film with high ambitions communicated through the use of very cold and stark landscapes and dull colours. So in effect, he is a good director, but of the same movie.

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Best Actor

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything.
Redmayne playing Daniel Day Lewis playing Stephen Hawking. Excrutiating. And offensive.

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game.
Sherlock Holmes cracks the enigma code. While still being a repressed, closeted, upper class English snob.

Michael Keaton – Birdman.
Beetlejuice and Batman. They came out over 25 years ago, which is shocking to think. What has Keaton been up to all this time? He should get a chance to tell us, because he should win here. He’s good in it. But very Michael Keaton. If you were alive back then, you’ll know what that means. You’ll know the Michael Keaton crazy face.

Steve Carrell – Foxcatcher.
In love with Channing Tatum, but they don’t give Oscars for that. They both wear prosthetic noses, but they don’t give Oscars for that either. Just ask Gerard Depardieu.

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper. Third Oscar nomination. He now has as many acting nominations as Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood combined. Say that to your dad if he asks who is he.

SHOULD WIN: Michael Keaton – Birdman

Best Supporting Actor

JK Simmons in Whiplash. The neo Nazi serial prison rapist from Oz (the tv show from back before tv was cool) decides to play it nasty for a change. He nails it, but the role is possibly overwritten.

Edward Norton in Birdman. Norton plays an obnoxious and pretentious Hollywood actor in a movie much remarked upon for being art reflecting life. Mere coincidence?

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher. The incredible hulk plays a hulking wrestler. And does it well. Gets to stroke and touch Channing Tatum a lot. Which is either brave acting or being plain greedy.

Ethan Hawke in Boyhood. Ethan Hawke grows old on camera. Which he has been doing his whole life. He’s the guy from Dead Poets Society, the kid, remember him? We’re all getting so old.

Rovert Duvall in The Judge. The consigliere is promoted to judge. Gets Oscar nomination.

SHOULD WIN: JK Simmons (Whiplash)

 Best Actress

Julianne Moore in Still Alice. No one would begrudge her any awards. And probably no one is going to see this film. A pretty pedestrian story about early onset alzheimers, which is a little bit better than it sounds. The film makers are big names in queer cinema, so strangely this conventional story counts as major experimentation for them.

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night. A weak year for this category, lifted by this performance and that of Moore. Not going to beat her rival, as she has won here already.

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. Her character is the only interesting thing in a dull movie.

Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything. Jones goes back to Oxbridge where she studied. Which does nothing for the reputation of British acting for being very elitist.

Reese Witherspoon in Wild. Rachel’s sister from Friends steals Jennifer Aniston’s Oscar nomination.

SHOULD WIN: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

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Best Supporting Actress

Meryl Streep in Into the Woods. They probably don’t even phone here to let her know she’s nominated. She probably just turns up at the ceremony out of habit. If people started calling it a Meryl instead of an Oscar, it would probably take off. Plays a witch. And sings. Looks like she’s having fun.

Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. Plays the obligatory shrill wife of the misunderstood genius star. Manages to make it less annoying than it is written. So she’s not the worst thing about this movie.

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. Arguably Boyhood is actually about the bad choices Arquette’s character makes, and the film could equally be called Boyfriends. But she gets a supporting nomination, and will win. She’s good in it too.

Laura Dern in Wild. The girl scientist from Jurassic Park has always been a fine actor, when not cast opposite animatronic puppets.

Emma Stone in Birdman. In the movie to produce some sexual tension. Does this. Many people think she brought more. Many people like Ms. Stone.

SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)





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