Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 Oscar Nominees Ranked

In honor of tomorrow's Academy Awards, featuring a slew of newfound successes and pop culture references (Lady Gaga...),  I have been working hard on trying to see every single nominee. While that didn't exactly come to fruition, I can't be blamed since not everything has been released in Central Ohio yet. I'm dying to see Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes) since its odds against Leviathan and Ida have narrowed (and because I confide in Ricardo Darín's return after starring in 2010's Foreign Oscar winner, El secreto de sus ojos).

So with only three feature film nominees unseen, I decided to rank all of the Academy Award nominees. A couple months ago it seemed like it would be a dull year in cinema compared to last year's surplus of eagerly-awaited and breathtaking shots and performances (i.e. this year's biggest snub, Mommy), but 2014-2015 turned out to be an unexpected joy for experiencing film. Tomorrow's award show is going to be a close race for many of the technical categories that I'm expecting (and rooting for) the underdogs to prevail. So without further ado (and before Neil Patrick Harris steals my spotlight), let's begin the countdown:

38.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Because one Hobbit film was enough and a reminder that more money doesn't always mean better.

37. Maleficent: Over 8 months after its release, I can finally spell it correctly. Elle Fanning was the only thing that saved this movie from being a perfect example of voiceover overkill.

36. Unbroken: A beautifully-shot film worthy of a Best Cinematography nod that tells an unthinkable tale. However, every single person that came out of the theatre muttered something along the lines of, "Meh, mediocre...Jolie didn't take any risks." O'Connell is a sight for sore eyes and an acting force to be reckoned with in the coming years (see his previous work: Skins, Starred Up).

35. Selma: Apart from David Oyelowo powerful MLK role and Oprah's opening performance, I was rather underwhelmed by this year's The Butler. The teamwork and peaceful opposition against white supremacy, though moving, has been done before.

34. Inherent Vice: Now that I have seen everything except PTA's Hard Eight, I'm always intrigued by what he has to offer. Inherent Vice is overwhelmingly full of PTA quirks and hilarious performances, but is almost indecipherable in plot and meaning.

33. Guardians of the Galaxy: From previous reviews, I was expecting a hilarious new take on superheroes. However, I was un-marveled at the action film of the summer trying too hard to updo its usual routine.

32. American Sniper: Bradley Cooper is quite deserving of his Best Actor nomination but for some reason I feel compelled to vote against this film in the sound categories. Maybe it's because of the plastic baby. Regardless, I was moved by the final sequence and was shocked by his untimely, ironic *spoilers* death.

31. X-Men: Days of Future Past: Mutants from another prequel in the X-Men franchise help save the world by convincing humans they aren't all that different. Don't fret, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult post-breakup are still entertaining.

30. Dawn of Planet of the Apes: Not having seen any of the previous remake Planet of the Apes, I still caught on and was impressively entertained by a war between apes and humans. But are they really that different? The visual effects are so stunning, it is almost as if the filmmakers wanted to blur the lines between evolving apes and the weakening human society...

29. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Scarlett Johansson is a badass and steals the screen in another blockbuster's continuation of a heroic Marvel storyline. I would rather have seen Under The Skin nominated for its visual effects, but Captain America keeps action more entertaining and mainstream.

28. The Boxtrolls: Laika Entertainment and its claymation films are always dark, yet extremely imaginative tales appropriate for all ages. Expect to see their next feature film, Kubo and the Two Strings, being released in August 2016, in the list of Best Animated Feature nominees on the 2017 Oscars roster.

27. How To Train Your Dragon 2: I enjoyed the first film more but this addition is just as fun, colorful, and adventurous.

26. Foxcatcher: An overly slow film, but an intriguing and shocking story following John E. du Pont (otherwise known as Steve Carell with the prosthetic nose) as he coaches Olympic Gold Medal winning brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. It reminded me to never try cocaine because of its addictive, life-ruining tendencies and to be weary of old, rich men who are still afraid of his mother and her disappointment. Each actor gave wonderful performances, but I'm not sure I would watch it again.

25. The Judge: Robert Downey Jr.'s well-known wit doesn't disappoint, but I'm sorry to say Vera Farmiga undeveloped character does (I'm usually a fan, I swear). The sappy tale of estranged father and son who fight but eventually come together is emotional but tries too hard to keep all of the elements of a typical small country town film.

24. Timbuktu: This was the final Oscar nominee I saw this year and it was a beautiful earthy film contrasted with the militant Islamic jihad occupation. The natives (even the crazy chicken lady) show ample resistance along with the filmmakers, who decide only to subtitle the unwanted invaders when their translations aren't fulfilled. A family is torn apart and musicians and athletes are whipped. The most compelling scene is when a soccer ball is confiscated from the kids, yet they continue to play without it, bursting with imagination and hope for an unoccupied state to return.

23. Still Alice: Watch Alice Howland's (Julianne Moore) demise as early onset Alzheimer's disease erases every part of her career and memory with her family.

22. Song of the Sea: Tomm Moore, associated with a slew of production companies, is another director that continues to create masterful animated cinema that is bypassed by much of the public due to blockbuster hits from Pixar and Disney. The Secret of Kells, nominated in 2010, was visually more deserving of the Oscar than Up. His newer film is a cute tale geared more for children, following two children that are shipped off to live with their crotchety grandmother spun with a mythological twist, a widowed father, and a fluffy dog. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes scary, and sometimes blissfully ignorant, Sea spreads a charm not easily forgotten.

21. Leviathan: Russian political conflict undermines the Story of Job, a man who learns the power of human sacrifice by having everything dear to him stripped away. Zvyagintsev previously directed The Return, which is equally allegorical and beautifully shot.

20. Tangerines: You might go into the Foreign Film category not knowing a single thing about any of them. That includes Tangerines. But what you find are films that are so well-crafted, meaningful, landscape-centric, and simple that it's hard to imagine that you'd skip right over the category with a sweep of the eye or fast-forwarding through those 2 minutes of the Oscars. Ivo, an Estonian tangerine harvester, stays behind during the Georgian conflict and ends up bringing a (dueling) Chechen and Georgian soldier back to health. What results is an important display of power and acceptance even in the rarest of places.

19. Finding Vivian Maier: To think that anyone would simply box up thousands of beautiful, unexposed photographs is preposterous. Vivian is slowly unveiled as an odd woman with an even more mysterious past, yet a beautiful artist comparable to any amazing DP or photographer alive today. My only criticisms are John Maloof's annoying editing techniques (wannabe Wes Anderson?) and his incessant need to make every line a mysterious and quotable yet interesting and already obvious story unto itself.

18. Virunga: I didn't know what I was getting into when I started watching, but what began as a cute mountain gorilla sanctuary documentary turned into a journalist going undercover to expose illegal oil drilling in the Congo. It reminded me that I need to learn French (re: Mommy) and that control over things that aren't yours yet still have money to buy doesn't make that OK.

17. Citizenfour: I assume this to be the better, and long-awaited footage (see The Fifth Estate) that surrounds the NSA link of thousands of classified documents worthy of public knowledge. If you're scared to learn that the government is wrongfully and unnecessarily watching millions of people, then don't watch this documentary. Or don't read this blog (...too late now).

16. Ida: Interesting use of 1:1 aspect ratio and black and white cinematography captures beautiful frame after beautiful frame. The story is less about Ida's Nazi past as it is about wondering what could have been. The film succinctly captures her past so you can watch it again in the same time you would watch Boyhood once!

15. Into The Woods: Great cast (except the shrill, annoying Little Red Riding Hood, please sing a pitch lower) and fun music (still obsessed with Giants In The Sky) to accompany the slightly pedophilic lyrics (I didn't notice it that much when I saw the musical). I was slightly over-musicaled but still entertained by the special effects, journey of all the characters, and of course, Meryl Streep in all her glory.

14. Mr. Turner: Breathtaking. (See Best Cinematography in my previous blog entry)

13. Big Hero 6: This futuristic San Francisco-Tokyo hybrid adventure will make you realize that Disney still has a few tricks up its sleeves. My favorite scene is when Baymax (the giant marshmallow, Michelin Man nurse/robot) is "low battery" but is obviously code for drunk. Disney is not only sneaky, but accurate. BH6 is another entertaining film with just enough sap, wit, comedy, action, superpowers, and heartwarming qualities to keep you and your children at (San Fransokyo) bay until the finale.

12. Two Days, One Night: A French take on 12 Angry Men in which a depressed teacher (Marion Cotillard) has to convince her co-workers to let her keep her job instead of them receiving their bonus for the year. It seems like a simple premise but quickly delves into the characteristics of the human condition to reveal the conflict between desire, necessity, evil, fear, and hope inside every human. Cotillard's performance is, yet again, outstanding and effortless, but her role is only one part of an otherwise good and thoughtful film.

11. Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal portrays an enigmatic seeker of the American Dream, racing from crash to conflict and filming every second. When greed gets the best of him, he develops a murderous plan that could make him sail into the spotlight. Using Los Angeles as the perfect backdrop for its creepy suspense, this gripping, smaller film rightfully deserves all the press and nomination.

10. Wild: A quiet, Reese-centric film that correctly captures the self-reflective nature of hiking. Despite the reason for taking a 1,100 mile or even a weekend hike, never underestimate its power of reconnecting with yourself and your surroundings. The connections Cheryl makes (and defends) are important in her journey of becoming a better woman. Take a night to experience her pain, endure the long journey she takes, and enjoy the breathtaking Western views and I assure you that you'll feel refreshed.

9. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: Studio Ghibli's handdrawn artwork is always a mesmerizing delight, and Tale doesn't disappoint. I consider this more of a piece of artwork than a film because there were so many times that I wanted to pause the screen and just admire the craftsmanship. Its slow and quiet nature will deter Academy members from voting for it; however, these qualities, among its subtle beauty, show depth of animation and that brawns doesn't always trump brains.

8. The Imitation Game: I think because I love puzzles that I immediately enjoyed this film. It is a crowd-pleaser that lets you enjoy Alan Turing's complex mind while also giving you a chance to defeat the Nazis. His story may end in a disheartening tale of homophobic oppression, but his successes are captured on screen with the help of a well-cast group of misfit toys (Cumberbatch, Knightley, Goode, and Leech, especially). A thrilling film with great acting, an equally compelling score, and an an acute eye for attention to detail that makes the viewer an anti-Nazi sleuth: what more could you ask for?

7. The Theory of Everything: What I imagined was going to be an Eddie Redmayne-focused nomination blossomed into a film that highlighted the lives of Stephen Hawking and his wife, played by the compelling and beautiful Felicity Jones, equally. Redmayne's debilitating transformation into Hawking is remarkable and harrowing (the dentist inside me immediately noticed his Class III jaw and other oral symptoms) and is complimented by the film's beautifully-captured scenery and score.

6. Boyhood: I had the pleasure of being in the first screening in Ohio (at the Wexner Center for the Arts) to see this film with a Q&A with Richard Linklater and Jonathan Sehring. While the film spans 12 years, a coming-of-age similar to my own amid 90's hit songs, Harry Potter releases, and hoping for new horizons at college, the actual shooting time compares to an average film (about 30 days). Boyhood is a cute, worthy story that shouldn't be critiqued for it's 165 minute running time (Linklater defended that Transformers: Age of Extinction, released the same day, has the same exact running time).

5. Interstellar: I emerged from this Nolan rollercoaster with a (non-drug induced) euphoria I have never experienced before-- ever. I had the privilege of seeing this film both in 35mm film and 70mm IMAX and still can't get enough of Zimmer's organ-filled score. All of the elements perfectly compliment each other over the almost century-long journey comparable only to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can listen to the reviews about black hole-sized plot errors if you want, or you can go experience a visually stunning film that traverses not only time and space but also the importance of family, trust, and love.

4. Whiplash: Captivated from beginning to end and blown away at the precision of the finale. The first thing I noticed was the unique editing, quickly flashing from drums to characters to bloody hands. It is impossible not to highlight J.K. Simmon's rapid fire wit and power, but the film's praise shouldn't stop there. Chazelle has crafted a well-tempoed piece that will have band members and moviegoers tapping their feet to the same beat.

3. Gone Girl: This is by far the best adapted film (that I've read and seen) from book to screen. I was weary to hear Gillian Flynn was also writing the screenplay, but she killed it. Literally. Rosamund Pike will chill you to your core and will be very upset if "that scene" (one of my Top 10 Scenes of the Year) isn't recreated tomorrow. Every cast member was perfect, Fincher and his crew kept you wanting more, and the twists and turns keep you on edge until the very final shot.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel: I could never say enough about Wes Anderson. He puts so much attention to detail, precision, and whimsy into every single shot that I need multiple viewings just to appreciate each component of his films. I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of Oscar noms it received, especially Best Picture, since it was released last March. And an officially sponsored recipe for Mendl's Courtesan au Chocolat? YES PLEASE.

1. Birdman: A tour de force on all accounts: the acting, cinematography, directing, editing, production design, screenplay, and visual effects. This dark comedy is an interesting commentary on superheroes (and jellyfish) that leaves you both satisfied and perplexed with its final shot (Oh Emma, such beady, dreamy eyes you have). A second viewing made me love it even more (I even liked Zach Galifianakis), so sit back and relax while you experience what acting and the theatre are all about.

Unseen: Wild Tales, The Salt of the Earth, and Last Days In Vietnam
Not included in the ranking: Best Original Song and Best Short Film categories
Bold for Gold

1 banana
1/2 mango or mango puree
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup pureed carrots or carrot juice (give it that BOLD, golden hue)

Enjoy with some sparkling cider or champagne to impress your guests with a bubbly delight!

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