For those of you who strictly adhere to the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS) when deciding which movies to see, you’ve probably been a bit disappointed over the last few months by my lack of movie reviews. You’d think that as we got closer to Oscar night, I’d be seeing more nominated films and spreading the word about them. Well it turns out I have been seeing a lot of those films, but I haven’t done a good job of putting up my reviews (blame it on football season, the Patriots’ extended run through the football season, or just plain laziness…all are valid).
With the 87th Academy Awards (fancy name for Oscars) taking place only a couple days from now, I wanted to post a little primer to get people excited. Maybe this column will spark some debates, maybe it’ll cause you to run out to the theaters and see a few of the nominated films before Sunday evening, or maybe it’ll just get you in the mood for Hollywood’s most self-righteous night.
No matter your feelings on the topic, The Oscars will be talked about a lot in the days following the event. Don’t be the jerk who didn’t tune in.
Beyond this preview for the award show’s most important category, you can also expect a recap in the form of a running diary on Monday morning. Since Sunday is Hollywood’s night of unnecessary self-congratulations, allow me to be the first celebrity to do exactly that…
I pretty much CRUSHED IT with my running diary of last year’s Oscars (which you can find HERE). I just re-read it, and I’m still laughing at jokes that are now a year old. I’m the best.
OK so here’s the deal: I’ve seen six of the eight Best Picture nominees. I might see a seventh on Friday afternoon, but this blog needed to go up on Friday morning so you all could make your weekend plans accordingly. The two that I didn’t see are Selma and The Theory of Everything. So there’s a chance those two films are awesome. But I doubt it.
Here is how I would rank the Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen in order from worst to best:
6. Boyhood – The worst movie of the group wasn’t bad by normal standards, but it most certainly is not Oscar worthy. It was basically a three-hour gimmick where we got to see the actual actors age over 10 years in the context of a family in Texas growing and living, just like many families do. It was certainly an outside-the-box concept to film the story over a decade, but the stakes weren’t very high and it didn’t keep me glued to my TV at all. It was just OK. The plot could be boiled down to “boy moves through childhood and adolescence in a very normal way, with the usual highs and lows of a human life.” So someone please explain to me why this is considered one of the best eight movies of 2014??
5. American Sniper – Here’s how loaded the top five of this category is this year: American Sniper was a fantastic movie and it’s only the fifth best! It seems like this movie needs the least explaining out of all of them because there have been dozens of web articles and TV stories about this war story. And recent events have put Sniper back in the mainstream news (sorry for being vague, but I’d hate to spoil the ending). Even though this particular war movie focuses on a very specific person—the greatest sniper in American history—it’s still mainly about war in the Middle East. So I had to dock it points for originality. In many years, this could easily be the best movie. Bradley Cooper was fantastic and deserving of his Best Actor nod. But it didn’t hold my attention quite like these next four did.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel – These days you could lose a lot of friends simply by saying you didn’t like a Wes Anderson film. It’s not very cool or hip to dislike anything this great writer and director does. But I promise you it’s not just peer pressure that made me love Grand Budapest. In classic Anderson style, we get to see a very intricate plot dressed up in colorful, precise scenery while still feeling like we’re watching an easy-going, fun adventure. If you’re at all familiar with his previous work, then you know exactly what to expect walking into this movie. This particular tale starts off a little slow, but once you get past the opening 20 minutes, the pace picks up and you really have to pay attention to keep up. The characters and the action move at light speed. Grand Budapest follows a concierge of the fictitious hotel and his loyal Lobby Boy as they try to prove the concierge’s innocence in a murder case. Like many films from the Wes Anderson archives, the plot is almost an afterthought as the characters and dialogue take center stage. Buckle your seat belts and hang on tight as this movie speeds down the proverbial (and real) alpine ski slope.
3. The Imitation Game – Trust me, I was just as surprised as you are at how much I enjoyed this Benedict Cumberbatch starring film. Set in the 1940s and ’50s, specifically during World War II, this is the true story of how Alan Turing and a handful of England’s top mathematicians cracked Germany’s brilliant Engima code. The code is what the Nazis used for all wartime communications (where to position their troops and U-boats, where to bring supplies, the positions of the Ally armies, etc). The movie includes Turing’s life before being recruited to the top secret code-cracking sector of England’s military, and his postwar life, where he was prosecuted for being a homosexual. The reason this movie is so compelling is because of the perfect blend of the high stakes of war (this small group of geniuses seems to be England’s only hope for saving millions of lives and ending the war) and the captivating story behind Turing himself. Technology buffs will also tell you that the machine Turing created during this time period was technically the first computer in human history. Not too many movies can boast that level of importance in its story. When I exited the theater after seeing The Imitation Game, I didn’t think I’d be ranking it this high, but it’s grown on me the more I’ve thought about it. Cumberbatch was so good, I think he deserves runner up in the Lead Actor category to the man who starred in this next movie.
2. Birdman – This is the one Best Picture movie that I actually did write a review for, which you can find HERE. In a nutshell, Birdman was a fantastic independent “artsy” film that featured the shoo-in Best Actor winner in Michael Keaton and a handful of other outstanding supporting performances by the rest of the cast. The parallels between Keaton’s actual career and the fictitious Riggan Thomson are impossible to ignore, and there wasn’t a more uniquely shot movie in 2014. Please click the link above to read about the plot in more detail. It’s a must-see, and for me it almost made it to the Oscars finish line as the best movie of the year. However…
1. Whiplash – For three months I’ve been telling people it would take a miracle for any movie to knock Birdman off the top of my 2014 “best films” list. At the 11th hour, a miracle is exactly what occurred. I finally saw Whiplash on Thursday and it BLEW EVERY OTHER MOVIE OF 2014 OUT OF THE WATER. I’m not exaggerating even slightly. In fact, I went into the theater hoping not to like it that much because there’s this one particular person in my life who I hate having to admit to that he’s right, and he told me a couple weeks ago that this was the best movie he’s seen in a while. Even while trying to be stubborn about it, Whiplash lapped the field in this year’s Best Picture race in my opinion. The story follows student jazz drummer Andrew (played by Miles Teller) at America’s finest music school, Schaffer Conservatory in New York. He starts on what is essentially the Junior Varsity team of bands, but is aiming to get to the next level, the studio band conducted by the legendary Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons). Let’s stop right there with the plot because we need to talk about Simmons (who has acted in a ton of stuff, with the most notable role for me being Paul Rudd’s Dad in I Love You, Man…remember his best friend, Hank Mardukas?). In Whiplash, Simmons plays the role of the fearsome, abusive, uber-demanding teacher. And he plays it just about better than any actor in any role that I’ve seen in my lifetime. As I watched him, I laughed and trembled with fear at the same time. Teller also played his part phenomenally, I thought, but sometimes an actor and a role are like a tornado ripping through the movie and leaving destruction in its wake. That was Simmons in this particular film. He’s nominated for the Supporting Actor Award on Sunday, and I don’t think a category has been this locked up before the ceremony since Daniel Day-Lewis actually mutated into Abraham Lincoln in 2012’s Lincoln. I can’t say enough about Simmons or the movie in general. Beyond the characters, the plot was even better than you could ever imagine considering it’s a story about jazz and music school. The writer/director of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle, sets us up for the ultimate “HOLY SHIT” moment not once, but twice in the second half of this movie. And to top it all off, the final 10 minutes are the most fun you will ever have watching actors play music on the big screen. After writing all this, I really want to go see Whiplash again. Like right now. You should do the same.
And because I thought Whiplash was so amazing, I’m hoping one more miracle happens. Below are the betting odds for the Best Picture category. I just had to put a few bucks on Whiplash at 66/1 odds. I’m hoping the Academy members saw what I saw in this movie and decide to reward it in the way it deserves. Fingers crossed.
Enjoy Oscar Night!