Monday, January 19, 2015

Oscar Season 2015: Discussion and Breakdown


So, the Oscar nominations were announced. In fact, they were announced several days ago, making them decidedly old news at this point. Oscar season brings out the worst in me. It turns me into a cynical, whiny brat, because it could be this great celebration of American film, but it's not. It's the same thing every year: another collection of tales of human exceptionality. One Man Facing Unspeakable Odds. Rewarding movies which have all the depth of Captain America but are considered "real movies" because they feature an abundance of actors shouting and/or crying. Reappropriating our love of strong leaders without considering what they might entail. It's everything wrong with Hollywood.

But as much as I wish the Oscars were different, I can't seem to give them up. They're one of the few times each year where it becomes acceptable to be obsessed with cinema. And even if they don't come close to representing the most impressive or important movies of the year, they're a fun game to play. You pick your favorites and you shout at the TV when Crash wins Best Picture. So without anymore pointless caveats, here's my take on the 2015 Oscar nominations.

I'm going to go through each category that I care about and touch on all the standard areas: snubs, surprises, etc. (You can find the full list of nominations here.) I'm not going to talk about the acting categories because honestly I just don't know enough about acting. All the nominees were solid performers; I'm glad to see Rosamund Pike nominated (even though it's the only nomination Gone Girl received); and I'm disappointed to see Jake Gyllenhaal not nominated. That's really all I have to say about acting. I will also provide links throughout to my reviews of the films whenever possible. Best of all, I will get increasingly frustrated by how overrated The Imitation Game is. Let's get started.

Best Picture
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Best Picture is always the most talked about category, and this year we get a predictable crop of four Boring Biopics With Big Performances and four Actual Good Movies. My three favorite movies of the year are all here (Boyhood, Birdman, and Grand Budapest), and Whiplash is a pleasant surprise after not being nominated at the Globes, so I can't complain too much. I haven't seen Selma, so I can only assume its historically inaccurate presentation of the 1960's is a revolutionary confrontation of racism in America or whatever (thanks, Oprah!), but the rest are vehicles for (admittedly strong) actors with barely enough writing to support them. I would have picked Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, Inherent Vice and Interstellar instead. Given the options, Boyhood is my pick.

Cinematography
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

Cinematography is the category with the most surprises this year. It's great to see a foreign film nominated outside the Foreign Language category (Ida), and from what I've heard Mr. Turner deserves all the praise it's been receiving. Unbroken was shot by Roger Deakins, (a common collaborator with the Coen brothers), so it's not a huge surprise, but becoming one of the more overhyped entries in this year's awards season. On the other end of the spectrum, Magnificent Camera Genius Robert Elswit made two movies this year (Nightcrawler and Inherent Vice), both of which featured visually stunning and technically complex compositions, neither of which made it into the nominations. Given the options I sort of have to pick Birdman, but something inside me wants to say that it's too gimmicky (everything in one shot) and Grand Budapest should win for its more nuanced approach.


Film Editing is the process of taking the hours and hours of footage shot during production and actually cutting it up into a movie. It is also one of the biggest indicators of what will win Best Picture (the two are often the same). The case for Boyhood seems hard to argue with given that Sandra Adair managed to turn 12 years of film into a coherent story, but Whiplash also had some powerful montages and I love how innovative and unique Wes Anderson is with Grand Budapest. Even American Sniper had some effective cuts which really put you in the protagonist's shoes. I'm not sure what The Imitation Game is doing here, a question which will become the overarching theme of these nominations. I would go with Boyhood, but the only wrong choice is The Imitation Game.

Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Production Design involves how the process of actually making the movie was conceived, so for example Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies feature exceptional production design not only because of their intricately designed sets and massive sense of scale, but also because Jackson decided to shoot them consecutively one after the other, something which was largely unheard of in franchise filmmaking at the time. This year there was one obvious choice for Best Production Design, and it wasn't even nominated: Boyhood. That's 12 years of planning. This is unparalleled dedication we're talking about here, and instead we get another nomination for The Imitation Game. Get out of here. Given the choices, I would pick Grand Budapest; the symmetry of the set design is just incredible.

Music (Score)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Original Score is a hard category this year because there were actually quite a few memorable compositions. Even The Theory of Everything, a movie I'm generally not too strongly in favor of, has music which is at least effective at what it's trying to do. But how the bland The Imitation Game got nominated over Trent Reznor's creative work on Gone Girl is just beyond me. That would have been my pick for the year's best soundtrack, but with the options here I have to go with Hans Zimmer's powerful and moving work on Interstellar.


And here we have all the biggest moneymakers of 2014. I don't think there's any question that this goes to the extensive motion capture work on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but I'd be just as pleased to see the "scientifically accurate" animations of wormholes, etc. in Interstellar take the award. Not sure what all the superhero movies are doing here, but I'm just glad Transformers didn't make the cut.

Makeup and Hairstyling
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy! Seriously though, if you watch the making-of featurette on the Blu-ray (no, I don't have too much free time), all those extras in the background are Real People with Real Alien Makeup on. There's green screen and CGI on occasion, but it's much less frequent than you might imagine. Forget Steve Carrell's nose; vote Guardians.


This year's nominations for Best Directing raise a series of troubling questions: Where's David Fincher for Gone Girl? What's The Imitation Game doing here? Why do I still care? Boyhood, Birdman, and Grand Budapest are all strong choices.

Writing (Adapted)
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Again, where is Gone Girl? Did it hit too close to home? Why did everyone in the Academy fall so head-over-heels for The Imitation Game? This is what's wrong with the Oscars. Rewarding movies which are beat-for-beat the same as last year's nominations. My pick would be Inherent Vice; adapting the twisted works of Thomas Pynchon is no easy task.


My faith in the awards voters is somewhat restored by the presence of Nightcrawler. This is actually one of the strongest categories this year, and I'm genuinely excited to see how it turns out.

So, that's it. If you managed to stick it out through all that (or if you used the magical power of scrolling to the bottom), here's your reward: a numerical breakdown of all the nominations received by each movie! I really can't argue with Birdman and Grand Budapest leading the pack, but by this point I think you can imagine how disappointed I am that The Imitation Game is next in line. I wish that Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, and Inherent Vice would have been given a little more love, and maybe that American Sniper and The Theory of Everything would have been given a little less. That's all for now! Thanks for reading!

Birdman: 9
- Picture
- Actor (Michaeal Keaton)
- Supp Actor (Edward Norton)
- Supp Actress (Emma Stone)
- Cinematography
- Directing
- Sound Editing
- Sound Mixing
- Writing (Original)

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 9
- Picture
- Cinematography
- Costume Design
- Directing
- Film Editing
- Makeup & Hair
- Music (Score)
- Production Design
- Writing (Original)

The Imitation Game: 8
- Picture
- Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch)
- Supp Actress (Keira Knightley)
- Directing
- Film Editing
- Music (Score)
- Production Design
- Writing (Adapted)

American Sniper: 6
- Picture
- Actor (Bradley Cooper)
- Film Editing
- Sound Editing
- Sound Mixing
- Writing (Adapted)

Boyhood: 6
- Picture
- Supp Actor (Ethan Hawke)
- Supp Actress (Patricia Arquette)
- Directing
- Film Editing
- Writing (Original)

Foxcatcher: 5
- Actor (Steve Carell)
- Supp Actor (Mark Ruffalo)
- Directing
- Makeup & Hair
- Writing (Original)

Interstellar: 5
- Music (Score)
- Production Design
- Sound Editing
- Sound Mixing
- Visual Effects

The Theory of Everything: 5
- Picture
- Actor (Eddie Redmayne)
- Actress (Felicity Jones)
- Music (Score)
- Writing (Adapted)

Whiplash: 5
- Picture
- Supp Actor (J.K. Simmons)
- Film Editing
- Sound Mixing
- Writing (Adapted)

Mr. Turner: 4
- Cinematography
- Costume Design
- Music (Score)
- Production Design

Into the Woods: 3
- Supp Actress (Meryl Streep)
- Costume Design
- Production Design

Unbroken: 3
- Cinematography
- Sound Editing
- Sound Mixing

Guardians of the Galaxy: 2
- Makeup & Hair
- Visual Effects

Ida: 2
- Cinematography
- Foreign Language

Inherent Vice: 2
- Costume Design
- Writing (Adapted)

Selma: 2
- Picture
- Music (Song)

Wild: 2
- Actress (Reese Witherspoon)
- Supp Actress (Laura Dern)

Everything Else: 1 (or 0)

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