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Academy Awards

Academy Awards

2014 was another great year for movies. There is no better proof of this than the ballot for this year’s Academy Awards. While there are many more excellent productions than the handful that are listed here, (INTESTELLAR, FOXCATCHER, GONE GIRL, THE LEGO MOVIE, NIGHTCRAWLER, and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, just to name a few) below is a look at all of the film’s that are nominated for the prestigious Best Picture award.


One of the biggest surprises on the list of this year’s Oscar-nominated films of 2014 AMERICAN SNIPER. Largely ignored by many of the other award ceremonies, Clint Eastwood’s harrowing journey into the heart of a hero earned a total of 6 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Bradley Cooper). Inspired by attacks against U.S. interests abroad, proud Texan Chris Kyle (Cooper) decided he needed to do something to protect his country. Not only did he successfully complete Navy SEALS training, but he evolved into the deadliest sniper in the history of the United States . Despite having a wife (Sienna Miller) and eventually children at home, he continues to travel back to the Middle East for a number of tours. As Kyle, Cooper gives a dynamic performance, bringing a fierce and unwavering sense of determination and patriotism to the trained killer. Eastwood’s direction continues to amaze, and his ability to bring the battlefield to the big screen (much as he did in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA) is astounding. Less about the body count that Kyle tallied and more about what it means to be a modern military man, the film is an intense and thought-provoking look at one man’s unfathomable acts of heroism.


When summed up in a simple plot synopsis, it is unlikely that anyone would be able to guess that the blistering satire BIRDMAN would be one of the best films of the year. In the comedy, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomas, a washed up actor who is looking to revitalize his flatlining career. Twenty years prior, he portrayed the title character in a trio of action flicks ingeniously entitled BIRDMAN, BIRDMAN 2, and BIRDMAN 3. Now, in a desperate attempt to reinvent himself, he stages a Broadway production of the Raymond Carver short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” in which he serves as writer, producer, and star. Keaton is certainly one of the favorites to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor this year for a performance that is easily the best of his career. He is hilarious, dramatic, and intense, crafting a character that is both flawed and complex. Supporting performances by Edward Norton, Emma Stone (who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress), Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis are also spot-on, adding equal parts of emotion and humor. As great as the performances in this remarkable film are, it is the direction by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that makes it one of the best films of the year. Giving the illusion that the crux of the production is filmed in a single, sprawling, and incomprehensible shot, the fluidity of BIRDMAN is baffling. There is never a fade to black or a jump from one scene to another. Instead, the camera rarely stays stationary, weaving in and out of locations that will a illicit a number of “how’d they do that?!” exclamations from even the most cynical of cinephiles.


There is no denying that BOYHOOD is easily the most ambitious film of the year, and may very well serve as one of the greatest feats in cinematic history. Director Richard Linklater (who is the clear frontrunner for Best Director) crafted a coming-of-age story that is unlike any other in its ambition, scope, and execution. Following the life of Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), the film chronicles his journey from the age of six until eighteen. Unlike any other story of this nature, Linklater didn’t cast a multitude of actors to portray the boy. Instead, BOYHOOD was crafted over a twelve-year span, using the same principle cast (Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Rosanna Arquette, and Lorelei Linklater) for the entire duration of filming. What could have been a failed, gimmicky experiment instead becomes an instant classic. Coltrane handles the monumental and unparalleled task with ease, molding a character that feels completely genuine and believable. Arquette (who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress) and Hawke effectively portray the difficult and often torturous task of being separated parents in today’s modern world. Enthralling and hypnotic, BOYHOOD is an unforgettable experience that will likely take home two of the most prestigious awards of the night, Best Picture and Best Director.


Of all of the films nominated for Best Picture, for me, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING struck an emotional chord unlike any other. It is fair to say that Dr. Stephen Hawking serves as one of the most brilliant minds the world has ever known. Despite his vast intelligence, there was nothing he could do to stop the tragically debilitating effects of motor neuron disease. As he lost control of most his ambulatory functions, his mind stayed as sharp as ever, and Hawking continued to work and redefine the limits of humanity. As Dr. Hawking, Eddie Redmayne (who is nominated for Best Actor) is a marvel. Not only does he twist and contort his body to match the physical appearance of his source subject, but he captures the true essence of the man himself. The film isn’t so much about his medical condition or mathematical discoveries, but rather, the relationship between he and his wife, Jane (Best Actress nominee Felicity Jones). Jones gives a star making turn that is every bit as impressive as Redmayne’s. She is one of the most strong-willed, determined, and loving characters seen in all of 2014. Her journey, while vastly different than her husband’s, is equally difficult. Juggling the responsibilities of being a wife, a mother, and a full-time caretaker, she balances the impossible tasks with intelligence and grace.


If ever there was a secret story from the annals of history that needed to be told, it was that of Alan Turing. His accomplishment is one of the greatest and most important of all time, one that saved countless millions of lives. Despite the heroism of his actions, he was persecuted and driven to an untimely end due to his sexual orientation. During World War II, the Nazis used the impenetrable Enigma Code to transmit their positions to their own military. The Allied forces knew that if they could crack the code, they’d always know the enemy’s next step, and therefor, would be in control of the war. Under a veil of secrecy, Great Britain enlisted the help of some of England’s most brilliant mathematicians in hopes of cracking the code. At the head of the project was the eccentric and socially inept Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Cumberbatch is nominated for Best Actor for his fascinating portrayal of Turing. Uninterested in trivial matters such as kindness, friendship, and camaraderie, he works day and night to solve the impossible problem. Even when fellow mathematician Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress) grows close to the bristly genius, she realizes his internal wiring is vastly different from everyone else. The device Turing and his team created was, in essence, the very first computer. The reason no one (up until a few years ago) showered him with accolades and respect, is because the project remained classified for decades. It is a fascinating and ultimately heart-breaking story that needed to be shared, and one that is brought vividly to life thanks to Cumberbatch’s performance and director Morten Tyldum’s steady storytelling.


For the past decade and a half, Wes Anderson has crafted uniquely original and entertaining comedies. Films like THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, and MOONRISE KINGDOM found ways to redefine the expectations of the genre, delivering spectacular visuals, inspired performances, and countless moments of hilarity. While the majority of Anderson’s films have been beloved within certain cinematic circles, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is easily his most popular, accessible, and accomplished film. The story itself doesn’t seem like much. In 1932, a hotel concierge named Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) takes a protege named Zero (Tony Revolori) under his wing at The Grand Budapest. The hotel, which was one of the most beautiful and illustrious in the world, has begun to lose its luster due to the impending war. Longing to teach Zero the rich history and hidden eccentricities of his beloved home, Gustave will stop at nothing to appease his guests, and dazzle his student. Like all of Anderson’s productions, the sets, scenery, and costumes are stars in their own right. There is no denying that the filmmaker (who is nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) puts is own stamp on each production, and BUDAPEST is no different. In addition, the characters, portrayed by stars such as F. Murray Abraham, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, and many more, are intriguing and hilarious. The situations presented are lovingly quirky and obscure, and yet, far more complex than they appear on the surface.


When it comes to the Academy Awards, there are bound to be snubs and surprises that disappoint and enrage. This year, David Oyelowo found himself as the actor with the dubious distinction of being unexpectedly snubbed. While he failed to hear his named called when the nominations were announced, his performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped SELMA earn a Best Picture nomination. Rather than a comprehensive, sprawling biopic, SELMA focuses on Dr. King’s desire to allow African Americans to vote in Alabama. This campaign was hindered by the local governments and law enforcement agencies, and even by President Lyndon B. Johnson as well. As a result, King and his followers staged a 50 mile march that will take them from Selma to Montegomery. What is truly remarkable about SELMA, is that for the first time in recent memory, King is portrayed as not just an infallible hero, but as a man. Oyelowo captures the essence of a larger-than-life figure who has the same hopes, dreams, flaws, and insecurities as many of his followers. The timely film subtly (and at times not-so-subtly) raises questions about race relation and how far we, as a culture and a society have come since 1964.


Every year, there seems to be “the little movie that could” that finds a way to overcome the limitations of independent obscurity, and emerges as an awards season darling. This year, WHIPLASH is that film. Miles Teller gives a career-defining performance as Andrew Neiman, a drummer who longs to be one of the best players to ever sit in front of a kit. Attempting to turn heads and make a name for himself at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, his life is changed forever when he is chosen by the fearsome Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to join his studio band. Simmons seems to be a virtual lock for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his turn as the intense and soul-crushing Fletcher. Pushing his students to their physical and emotional breaking points, he demands perfection at all times. Unconcerned by what is considered to be the acceptable parameters of traditional teaching, he is not above shouting, cursing, and even slapping his students. His controversial methods may be his way of pushing his band towards greatness, or, he may just be finding an outlet to satisfy his inner sadist. The intensity and fury exuded by Teller and Simmons results in one of the best on-screen duos of the year. Even if you are not a fan of jazz music, you’ll be glued to the battle of wits and tenacity between these two talented men.

A special thanks goes to Regal Cinemas at Destiny USA for allowing me to see this year’s nominated films.

Brian Miller

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