Today is the day. The Oscars are mere hours away, and if you haven’t done your Oscar nomination homework already, you’re in for a tough battle with time. Fortunately, I’ve spent the last few months watching as many movies as I can, and present you with a last minute Oscar nomination recap.
War movies aren’t really “my thing,” which led me to see “American Sniper” only last night. Though I trust that this is a Hollywoodized version of a war movie, complete with an overemphasis on Chris Kyle’s nobility and an under-emphasis on his fiery temper and the fervor with which he killed the enemy “savages,” to me this story is more one of humanity than one of war. In true Eastwood style, “American Sniper” highlights Kyle’s upbringing as the protector of his younger brother from both school bullies and his belt-snapping father, allowing audiences to understand why he would be likely and driven to become a sniper.
The poignancy of the movie comes in Kyle’s struggle to be a husband and father, while also serving and protecting, as well as in the full range of what it means to be a soldier in war. The audience sees Kyle meet his brother, who is on a tour in Iraq. White-faced and scrawny, the Marine looks ready to implode with nerves yet still looks up to his older brother, “The Legend.” Through four tours, we also witness Kyle’s comrades lose their lives, a repetitive tragedy that brings home the horror of war.
The humanity also seeps in through the atrocities of war. An informant is shot three times as he races to stop “The Butcher” from drilling into his son’s skull. Kyle’s longtime friend “Biggles” dies just days after Chris visits the newly-engaged Navy SEAL in the hospital, a fact he finds out about when he is already deployed on his fourth tour. These moments along with the hyperbolized enemy, Mustafa– a Syrian marksman who hunts and haunts Kyle throughout the movie but is only mentioned once in his autobiography–who is shown with his wife clutching a baby, just as Kyle has left his two children at home, brings up the parallel experiences of enemies on either side of war. “American Sniper” shows the afflictions soldiers and participants in war must endure to continue their battles as well as the challenges soldiers face when they return home to a country that doesn’t want to hear their war stories.
If you’re not a Raymond Carver fan or haven’t read his “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” read it now. (This “New Yorker” version is unedited by Carver’s longtime editor, Gordon Lish, who is well-known for slashing whole sections of Carver’s works and taking credit for making his stories as successful as they are.) This is the drunken scene Edward Norton and Michael Keaton act in the first few scenes of the movie and the source material for the play performed in “Birdman.” But beyond my love for Carver, “Birdman” was a beautiful film, and my Best Picture pick until I saw “American Sniper.”
Shot in one continuous camera angle and accompanied by Antionio Sanchez’s drum and cymbal jazz soundtrack–which puts the audiences right into the tense mind of antagonist and struggling father/actor/writer/producer/human, Riggan–“Birdman” is the opposite of “Boyhood” in terms of drama. Whether it’s Riggan, who is on the edge of a skitzophrenic break, conversing with the Batman-esque character whose success, as a washed-up actor trying to launch a career into Broadway, he cannot escape, or Sam’s (Emma Stone) Oscar-worthy diatribe against her father even after she has just returned from rehab, the movie is dripping with the struggle to find satisfaction in the human experience. The mentions of twitter, the play of real versus imagined in Riggan’s episodes, and the use of Carver as the backdrop of the movie, leave the audience questioning where the boundaries of reality rest.
I really wanted to like boyhood. Movies about nothing but the lackadaisical reality of what life is really like are usually my favorite, but in Richard Lanklater’s 12-year film, to me, the drama was lost. There are moments, such as when Patricia Arquette ushers her two children away from her new husband, leaving his two children to fend off their drunken father by themselves, when the story should be at it’s peak of tension, but the next scene takes place months later, letting the suspense fall slack. “Boyhood” lulls on, and while I can appreciate the theme of “life happens during the small moments,” I have to argue that the big moments define us too. It’s really about memory and how our experiences shape it and in turn who we become, a point that is not explored in Lanklater’s film. While Lanklater is deserving of the Best Director award for bringing a cast of seasoned actors and young children together for only days at a time over a 12-year period, the Best Picture Oscar is out of the question.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Though this isn’t my favorite Wes Anderson movie, I’m a huge fan of his work, and happy to see him nominated at all. Done in Anderson’s playful, storybook style, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” tells the tale of M. Gustav (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge, as he attempts to save a priceless painting and family fortune in between the two world wars. The film is praiseworthy as much for its quirky comedy as it is for its commentary on the changing European continent.
Don’t even get me started. Gillian Flynn forgot to finish her novel, so unless the producers are searching for a sequel, I’m not sure why this was made into a movie. Even if the book torpedoed into an unfinished mess, at least the writing gave the characters depth and dimension, something Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike’s performances just couldn’t do.
The Imitation Game
If you’ve seen this movie, you know why the odds are 200:1 for Julianne Moore to win Best Actress for her portrayal of Alice Howard, the has-it-all linguistics professor, wife, and mother of three who slips into the abyss of Alzheimer’s in the film “Still Alice.” Accompanied by strong performances from Alec Baldwin (John Holwand, her husband) and surprisingly, Kristen Stewart (Lydia Howland, her daughter), Moore shines in the film.
The story is tragic but also beautifully depicted. The audience sees Alice film suicide instructions to herself for when she can no longer recognize her life. Poignant moments result when we see her first, too distracted and far gone to follow her own instructions, and then feverishly searching for her phone, which she believes she lost only moments ago, but has, in fact, been missing for a month.
With the rise of Alzheimer’s in our elderly population, the movie strikes a chord for those who have lost someone to the disease or those fearful they will someday.
The Theory of Everything
“The Theory of Everything” is an arresting version of a true story. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones bring Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane Wilde to life so well, you forget you ar watching actors portray this tragic love story. The movie highlights the power of the human spirit and mind as well as Hawking’s inspiring and amazing discoveries. But what I loved most is that it’s a different kind of love story. Hawking and Wilde don’t end up together, but through her support and their years of love, their story is a success. The film demonstrates what love and life are like in this imperfect universe.
“Whiplash” is a film as much about music as it is about relationships. The film does focus on the music, with minutes at a time devoted to Andrew (Miles Teller) drumming it out with bloody fingers and Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) conducting. Your heart beats in time with the music, and if your feet or fingers don’t tap in this movie, you’re in need of some jazz infusion in your life. Though I could have done without the car accident scene, in which Andrew gets in an accident on the way to a performance, after which he runs to the auditorium, appearing bloody, sweaty, and not ready to perform, but the scene did emphasize the relationship of two characters willing to do anything to achieve greatness.
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