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Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 87th Annual Academy Awards: Nominations and Analysis

Thoughts, Snubs, and Probably Wrong Predictions

By Chris Sabga

The nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards are here! And as always, there is much to discuss.

Once again, I've broken down the major categories into three sections:

Thoughts: Just my general take on the various nominations.

Snubs: What I feel got left out. I knew certain movies wouldn't make it to the Oscars, but that doesn't mean I can't personally champion them myself.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Don't make your Oscar pool picks based on my thoughts.

And the Oscar goes to...

Best Picture

"American Sniper"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"The Theory of Everything"

Thoughts: No surprises here, really. This is more or less the list I expected.

Snubs: I thought "The Judge" was a fine film. Others disagreed. That mixed reception probably doomed it. I don't know if I can call it a "snub" though, because I wasn't expecting it to be nominated in the first place.

My heart belonged to "Chef," but I knew there was no way in hell it would show up on the Best Picture list. Sometimes I think the Academy overlooks fun a little too much. I wouldn't have minded, for example, if "City Slickers" had been nominated for Best Picture back in 1991. Think about it: Was there a more purely enjoyable movie released that year? But that doesn't factor in with the Oscars, unfortunately.

Speaking of entertaining, some might be surprised by the omission of "Gone Girl," but I'm not. It's a b-movie at heart – a damn good one – but sometimes the stuffy Academy voters can convince themselves that a film is more than that ("Gladiator"), and sometimes they can't.

No "Lego Movie" either, which comes as a mild shock to many. But that's why the Academy created a "Best Animated Feature" category – to assign those movies to their own ghetto (99 percent of the time anyway). Oh, wait, "Lego" ain't there either. Oops!

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: I think this will be "Boyhood's" year.

Best Director

Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Birdman"
Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Morten Tyldum, "The Imitation Game"

Thoughts: I didn't expect to see "Foxcatcher" on this list. That's a genuine surprise, at least to me.

Snubs: No David Fincher or Clint Eastwood, but I'm not sure I was expecting either of them to show up here.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Richard Linklater will finally win his first Academy Award.

Best Actor

Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"
Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"

Thoughts: I am so happy that Michael Keaton is back in the game. He is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood and was under-the-radar for far too long. It's also nice to see Steve Carell recognized. He could end up having a career like Tom Hanks if he continues to pick smart parts.

Snubs: Where is Ellar Coltrane for "Boyhood"? Perhaps the Academy was worried that it was "too coached" or "too much of a gimmick" or whatever other silly objections they might've come up with. I think the real problem is that it wasn't a "showy" enough role. But if you sit back and think about it, it's an extraordinary performance by an inexperienced child who was basically doing this film as a summer job and had very few other roles under his belt during the twelve years it took to put "Boyhood" together.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Eddie Redmayne, because he's not really paralyzed or a scientific genius. He can also sing – but not in this movie.

Best Actress

Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"

Thoughts: I'll turn this over to my friend Lauri: "Who saw 'Two Days, One Night'? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Does Marion Cottilard REALLY deserve the Best Actress nom or are the voters just showing their snootiness? 'Oh look, we saw some obscure foreign film. Let's vote for something the general public has never heard of.'"

Snubs: One could argue that Patricia Arquette's role in "Boyhood" was leading, not supporting, but let's not split hairs here – at least she got nominated!

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Rosamund Pike. She was fantastic in "Gone Girl," and I'm glad the Academy recognized her for it.

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
Robert Duvall, "The Judge"
Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"
Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"

Thoughts: I'm pleasantly surprised – no, make that shocked – to see Robert Duvall nominated for "The Judge," which was otherwise shut out of the Oscars. It's well-deserved, though.

Snubs: I'm the only one who thinks this, but Tyler Perry's performance in "Gone Girl" was my favorite of the year. Of course, I didn't expect to see him nominated.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Mark Ruffalo. Call it a gut feeling.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Laura Dern, "Wild"
Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"

Thoughts: Congratulations, Meryl, you're nominated again. Lauri again: "The only major nomination for 'Into the Woods' was Queen Meryl???? I could just scream! Emily Blunt was SO much better."

Snubs: You mean to tell me – gasp – that Meryl Streep wasn't also nominated for her other roles in 2014, "The Giver" and "The Homesman"? And here I thought they were about to rename the Oscars the Meryls.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: Meryl Streep. Okay, no. Patricia Arquette.

Best Original Screenplay

Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Alejandro Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo, "Birdman"
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, "Foxcatcher"
Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Dan Gilroy, "Nightcrawler"

Thoughts: "Boyhood" must have been incredibly difficult and tricky to script – because so much can change in twelve years.

Snubs: Not that I expected "The Judge" to be nominated, but this is what I said about it at the time: "Despite its extended running time, it's tightly scripted. Every conversation, every line, means something and leads somewhere. That might be the most impressive feat of all." I still feel that way.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: "Boyhood"

Best Adapted Screenplay

Jason Hall, "American Sniper"
Graham Moore, "The Imitation Game"
Paul Thomas Anderson, "Inherent Vice"
Anthony McCarten, "The Theory of Everything"
Damien Chazelle, "Whiplash"

Thoughts: This could be one of the more unpredictable races. I have no idea which way the Academy will go.

Snubs: The omission of "Gone Girl" genuinely surprises me, because it was both a buzzed-about bestselling novel and one of the hottest films of the year.

Early (and Probably Wrong) Prediction: "The Theory of Everything."

Other thoughts: I'm happy to see "Ida" in the Foreign Language category. But where is "Two Days, One Night"? Lauri will be so upset!

"The Lego Movie" being left out of the Best Animated Feature race will probably be considered one of the biggest snubs of the year.

The rest of the categories and nominees are:

Best Animated Feature

"Big Hero 6"
"The Boxtrolls"
"How to Train Your Dragon 2"
"Song of the Sea"
"The Tale of Princess Kayuga"

Best Foreign Language Film

"Ida" (Poland)
"Leviathan" (Russia)
"Tangerines" (Estonia)
"Timbuktu" (Mauritania)
"Wild Tales" (Argentina)

Best Documentary – Feature

"Finding Vivian Maier"
"Last Days in Vietnam"
"Salt of the Earth"

Best Documentary – Short

"Crisis Hotline"
"Our Curse"
"The Reaper"
"White Earth"

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Alexandre Desplat, "The Imitation Game"
Hans Zimmer, "Interstellar"
Gary Yershon, "Mr. Turner"
Johann Johannsson, "The Theory of Everything"

Best Original Song

Shawn Patterson, "Everything Is Awesome" ("The Lego Movie")
John Legend and Common, "Glory" ("Selma")
Diane Warren, "Grateful" ("Beyond the Lights")
Glen Campbell, "I’m Not Gonna Miss You" ("Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me")
Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, "Lost Stars" ("Begin Again")

Best Sound Editing

"American Sniper"
"The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies"

Best Sound Mixing

"American Sniper"

Best Production Design

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"Into the Woods"
"Mr. Turner"

Best Cinematography

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"Mr. Turner"

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, "Foxcatcher"
Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, "Guardians of the Galaxy"

Best Costume Design

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"Inherent Vice"
"Mr. Turner"
"Into the Woods"

Best Film Editing

"American Sniper"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"

Best Visual Effects

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
"Guardians of the Galaxy"
"X-Men: Days of Future Past"

Best Live Action Short

"Boogaloo and Graham"
"Butter Lamp"
"The Phone Call"

Best Animated Short

"The Bigger Picture"
"The Dam Keeper"
"Me and My Moulton"
"A Single Life"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014: A Year of Unique Movies

Plus: My Favorite Film and Other Random Musings

By Chris Sabga

Let's face it: so many movies look the same, sound the same, are the same. It's very rare to watch something that truly feels new and fresh. Of course, there is a certain comfort that comes from those familiar storylines and well-worn formulas. Sometimes it's easier to just kick back and relax, to be spoon-fed exactly what you expect. I'm as "guilty" as anyone else of scanning Netflix and picking a TV movie starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Amy Smart ("12 Dates of Christmas") or a silly Christmas special with The Miz in it ("Christmas Bounty") instead of something a little more, ahem, substantial. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. It's safe and easy – and sometimes that's what we need in life.

Even genuinely good movies – such as St. Vincent, for example – tend to cover similar ground, but they do it in a way that elevates the material. My favorite film of the year – see below – isn't particularly unique, but it's the best example of "comfort food" that I can imagine.

With that said, it's exhilarating to watch movies that push the boundaries, try new things, and deliver original experiences. 2014 was a great year for that.

Boyhood: Filmed over a period of twelve years with the same actors, Richard Linklater's ambitious experiment of a film follows its young protagonist, Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane), from kindergarten to college. "Boyhood" has its critics, but there's nothing else like it. (Michael Apted's "Up" series of documentaries comes close, and possibly inspired this, but even that only chronicles its subjects once every seven years.) Any list of unique films in 2014 has to begin with "Boyhood." A full review is forthcoming.

Cheap Thrills: The premise is simple: What would you do for $200? What would you do for much more than that? "Cheap Thrills" is a violent, shocking film with no redeeming morals or values – I wish Roger Ebert had lived long enough to pen one of his scathing zero-star reviews – but I have to give it credit for being original and entertaining. Don't say I didn't warn you though.

The Grand Budapest Hotel: All of Wes Anderson's films are unique. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is about the madcap misadventures of a hotel owner and his lobby boy. In many ways, it's a throwback to older movies – but Wes Anderson gives it its own distinct look and feel. His movies can only be considered normal if they're being compared to each other.

Ida: A Jewish nun. Need I say more? Okay, I will. If I didn't know any better, I'd think "Ida" was actually made in the 1960s. This black and white foreign film feels like one of those rare cinematic treasures you're exposed to in a dusty film class.

Her: A lonely man dates his computer's operating system (think a near-future version of Windows or iOS with Siri on steroids). The movie, I'll admit, did not entirely work for me – but I can't help but admire its attempt to do something different.

Locke: Films that take place primarily in one small area have been done before – "Twelve Angry Men," "My Dinner With Andre," "Death and the Maiden," and the more recent "Buried" are among them – but it remains a brave and risky cinematic choice. "Locke" takes place entirely behind the wheel of a car. We only see the driver, Ivan Locke. He interacts with several other people throughout the course of the drive, but we only ever hear them – through his cell phone. In order for that to work, a strong cast is essential. Tom Hardy owns the screen with an intense, incredible performance, but the other actors deserve equal credit for breathing life and humanity into a series of otherwise faceless voices.

This is, I'm sure, by no means a comprehensive list of 2014's most unique films – just a few that stood out to me. But none of them were my favorite. That honor belongs to a more traditional slice of movie heaven.

My Favorite Film of 2014 – Chef: There were more innovative movies released this year – see above – and probably more "important" ones too. But what can I say? The heart responds to what the heart responds to. "Chef" made my heart sing and my tastebuds salivate. It's the kind of movie that just plain makes you feel good after you see it. I walked out of the theater floating with joy. That's an all-too-rare experience. I cherish "Chef" for having that effect on me.

Other random musings

My favorite television show of 2014 was "Gracepoint." The American remake of "Broadchurch" was billed as a ten-episode mystery event. Was "Broadchurch" better? Probably (I still haven't seen it), but there's something to be said about seeing famous American actors like Nick Nolte in a high-class miniseries. That's also why I gravitated toward the U.S. remake of "Life on Mars." Its 1970s American cop show setting and Harvey Keitel tickled my nostalgia bone in a way the original and apparently superior British version would never be able to. "Gracepoint" had its flaws, to be sure, but for ten glorious weeks, it created a fevered conversation among those unspoiled by "Broadchurch" as we traded theories about who killed Danny Solano. Honorable mention – "Forever": It's a unique blend of genres that combines a cop procedural with mystery, history, and a dash of supernatural fantasy. I hope more TV viewers give it a chance.

My favorite performance of the year came from Tyler Perry in "Gone Girl." Were there better actors and roles this year? Probably. Some of them might have even been in "Gone Girl" with Perry! But none of them made me smile the way Perry's slick lawyer did. He was, to put it in scientific terms, the man. There was no performance I enjoyed more. Will Oscar agree with me?

Of course, I saw several older movies too. Among them, perhaps because of of the shocking death of Robin Williams, "Bicentennial Man" stands out for me this year. Watching "What Dreams May Come" would have been too much to bear, but "Bicentennial Man's" futuristic setting provided an oddly comforting odyssey about life, death, and the value of both.

My biggest disappointment of the year – sorry "Gojira" fans – was "Godzilla." Too long, too slow, people I couldn't bring myself to care about even after an excess of character and plot development, and action scenes that bored me more than thrilled me. In one "titanic battle," the two beasts looked like they were having sex. No, I'm not kidding. I couldn't even bring myself to write a review afterward – that's how little I cared about what I'd just seen. 2013's "Pacific Rim" was much better in every way. Watch that instead.

On a brighter note, today marks the second anniversary of Silver Screen Surprises. Thank you so much for reading, following, and commenting over the past two years.