Hi, I'm Nathaniel, your friend who loves movies, and who also loves, most of the time, watching the Academy Awards ("the Oscars").
(Let's pause for a moment and reflect on the fact the lay people watch the Oscars in the first place. It's a trade show. Much like are held for people in every other profession. The statues presented at the show are awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, a trade association. Why should anyone else care? Did you know that there's an award given by computer scientists' trade association every year for Lifetime Achievement In Computer Science (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_Award
)? But millions of people don't watch that as entertainment. They do watch the Oscars, though.)
Thursday morning I was shocked to learn of the Academy's making a worse mistake than having Seth MacFarlane host the show (two years ago; it was excruciating - and I had been a fan of his up until that point!): this year's nominees are Oscar Mayer-Jimmy Dean kinds of sausage festive and blindingly, dazzingly, klan-rally white. In 2015.
There's some good coverage at http://time.com/3669143/oscars-2015-nominations-white/
, and http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2015/01/15/3611958/oscar-nominations/
:The exclusion of David Oyelowo, whose portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma is haunting and astonishing and just so damn good, is a mind-boggling choice. And what about Chris Rock’s fantastic Top Five? Maybe it would have been too much to hope a comedian who appeared to be playing a role so natural it didn’t feel like acting [...]
Part of loving movies is being willing to believe in the world maybe being better than it actually is, so let's take that ride and fantasize a bit and see if we can't come up with a better slate. A few principles: (1) a film should be an overall cinematic success to be nominated in any category, so I'll be perfectly happy to bump people nominated for good work in otherwise lacking films and (2) I'll be reluctant to bump anything I haven't yet seen.Best Picture:American Sniper
: I probably would have seen this had its producers had the decency to show it in San Francisco before yesterday and I'm not willing to play the "this movie is so good we can't even let you see it" game. Bumped.Birdman
: I had good fun with this, and am still thinking about it weeks later. It can stay.Boyhood
: Looking forward to seeing this at a friend's house in two weeks.The Grand Budapest Hotel
: I think I'll really like this when I get around to seeing it. It can stay for now.The Imitation Game
: A very well-produced movie that takes way too many liberties with its historical subject. The history of my craft is important and it didn't happen that way. Bumped.Selma
: I came out of the theater last week and told the friend with whom I saw this "I've seen a lot of good movies this season but this felt like the only really great one; this would be the first film this year that I'd actually be happy to win Best Picture". During the film I actually remembered my schooling and thought "Kids these days are going to have it so much better than I did - when I was learning about the Civil Rights era we only had Mississippi Burning
to watch in class, but these young'ins are going to have this, the lucky bastards!".The Theory Of Everything
: I liked this and felt that the science was quite decently represented. It should remain nominated, and it's one of the better nominees, but I don't think it should win.Whiplash
: I should probably take some time to see this.
Having bumped two, what have I seen this year that I would put in their place? Fury
and Dear White People
. I've been fascinated with the history of armored warfare since I studied it in university and I loved seeing an actual tank movie - the first major picture depicting the subject of which I'm aware (which is not to say that I won't always have a special place in my heart for Tank Girl
). And Dear White People
, despite a few rough edges, both split my sides with laughter when I watched it and has improved me as a person (as all great art should) as I've reflected on it in the weeks since.Best Director:
Wes Anderson: I'm still looking forward to The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Birdman
's direction is the kind of flawless technical and artistic accomplishment that fascinated me back in my student film days.
Richard Linklater: I'm still looking forward to Boyhood
Bennett Miller: I haven't yet seen it but Foxcatcher
just didn't preview to me as a story told in any way other than the way I expected it to be told. Bumped.
Morten Tyldum: No matter how entertaining The Imitation Game
was, it was only a good film, not a really great film, and it just makes crap up about an important part of history and I have to hold its director responsible for that. Bumped.
Ava DuVernay clearly gets one of the two opened spots - direction is at the center of Selma
's phenomenal artistic success. For the other: Chris Rock. I saw Top Five
; it was interesting! And I think it's noteworthy for nominally being a comedy that makes the viewer think more than laugh and still be overall a successful film.Best Actor:
Steve Carell: Mr. Carell does look great in the role, but Foxcatcher
doesn't look like that great a movie. Bumped.
Bradley Cooper: Since American Sniper
only started showing in San Francisco yesterday I'll happily consider Mr. Cooper's performance for the 2015 awards. Bumped.
Benedict Cumberbatch: He's fantastic, but The Imitation Game
was much less than what I wanted from it. Bumped.
Michael Keaton: Mr. Keaton is perfect and Birdman
Eddie Redmayne: Mr. Redmayne is perfect and The Theory Of Everything
Three slots! That's a lot with which to work. First is David Oyelowo for Selma
. He's great in the role, the film is perfect, and the only real objection I can find is that since Dr. King really only raised his voice when preaching or giving a speech it might be reasonable to think "a calm, quiet dignity, occasionally broken by profound words slowly spoken" might not be all that much of a challenge as far as the craft of acting is concerned. But Oyelowo is of every scene, present and leading. For the second slot: Brandon P. Bell in Dear White People
. While the point of the movie is the understanding of one's blackness at a university in particular and America in general and all four characters deal with it in their own ways, Bell's character Troy's challenges found the most sympathy with me. Troy is stretched in wide directions throughout the film and Bell is genuine in every appearance. For the last slot: Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler
. I think it won't be long before we see Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom appear on "Twenty-Five Best Movie Villains Of All Time" lists; I found him compelling and deeply disturbing.Best Actress:
Marion Cotillard: I intend to see Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones: The Theory Of Everything
is great but neither Jones' role nor her performance had any effect on me. Bumped.
Julianne Moore: I think I might see Still Alice
depending on what I hear about it over the next few weeks.
Rosamund Pike: I didn't think that Gone Girl
excelled or the role was realistic but Pike's performance is flawless. It's close, but I'm afraid I have to bump her.
Reese Witherspoon: I've been wanting to see Wild
over the last few weeks; I'll probably get to it soon.
Perhaps I'm just a sucker for beautiful young women (aren't the Oscars centrally about that on some fundamental level anyway?) but I'm going to swap in Tessa Thompson for Dear White People
and Rosario Dawson for Top Five
. Both performances are excellent, both films are great, and both characters are likeable young women showing strength to their challenges.Best Supporting Actor:
Robert Duvall: The Judge
previewed merely okay; I'd probably enjoy it if it fit into my schedule but so far I haven't made any particular effort to see it and unless someone speaks up about it I don't know that I will.
Ethan Hawke: Still looking forward to Boyhood
Edward Norton: Birdman
's a great film and Norton is a fantastic actor (Death To Smoochy
forever!) and he's entertaining in this role but this role just wasn't all that noteworthy. Bumped.
Mark Ruffalo: From how blandly it previewed I just can't get my head around all the nominations for Foxcatcher
. Perhaps I'll get around to seeing it?
J. K. Simmons: I should probably see Whiplash
With just one slot I'm going to have to put in Dear White People
's Tyler James Williams. Black, gay, and geeky, Lionel Higgins might just have it hardest at Winchester but I felt like I related to him most strongly and I also found him rather sweet. Right up until (spoiler alert!) he cuts his hair at the end of the film; that I just can't abide.Best Supporting Actress:
Patricia Arquette: Still really looking forward to Boyhood
Laura Dern: Still thinking I'll probably watch Wild
sometime soon; I've been a fan of Ms. Dern since Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
Keira Knightley: I've liked Ms. Knightley in many other films but The Imitation Game
just didn't ask that much of her; there's just not enough of a role here for me for even a supporting actress nomination. Bumped.
Emma Stone: This role just wasn't large enough to me - we see this character in relation to her father and in relation to Edward Norton's character, but I can't remember her interacting with anyone else? The character's mother is in Birdman
; are they ever even together at any point? Ms. Stone's fine; it's this part that's just not working for me. Bumped.
Meryl Streep: Into The Woods
previewed terribly for me - what I remember from the play is human frailty and mistakes and transgression and the darkness that follows blended into and hollowing out the characters' other successes; the film looks totally sanitized of all that. Is there any reason I should see it? Bumped.
Into those three slots I'm promoting Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar
), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler
), and Teyonah Parris (Dear White People
). Foy is a revelation; so much so that it's disappointing when her character grows up and Jessica Chastain takes over the portrayal. Russo's Nina, a woman barely getting by, is all too perfect a victim for Lou Bloom. And Parris' Coco walks the tense line between careerism and blackness in modern America.
(We might need to take a moment here. Yes, I've just swapped in all four leads of Dear White People
. No, it isn't pandering. To explain why, I'd like to recall to your mind that ad campaign that ran in San Francisco a few years back: "From Folsom Street to Castro Street there's more than one way to be gay", and with the slogan were a set of seven or eight caricatures of different stereotypical appearances of gay men. Analogously, Dear White People has four protagonists whose stories in aggregate tells us that there are at least four different ways to be black, and that makes it a far better and more important film than it would be if it were simply about one character. All four performances carry the film (which means that http://www.impawards.com/2014/posters/dear_white_people_xxlg.jpg
is the far better poster for the film than http://pixel.nymag.com/imgs/daily/vulture/2014/09/08/08-dear-white-people-poster.o.jpg/a_560x0.jpg
), and I feel a little guilty putting two of the four actors in supporting roles and I tell myself that I did it based on screen time.)Best Original Screenplay:
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo: Birdman
is, underneath the great direction and great acting, a great story.
Richard Linklater: Still very much looking forward to seeing Boyhood
E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman: If the script for Foxcatcher
were all that great, wouldn't that show in the preview? Bumped.
Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness: What the heck was I doing in March and April that was so important that I didn't see The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy: The story is a good one but it's the performances that make Nightcrawler
a great film. Bumped.
Into the two gaps I'm putting David Wain & Michael Showalter for They Came Together
and Chris Rock for Top Five
. When I showed They Came Together
at my birthday party my guests were doubled over and cringing from awkwardness and embarrassment while simultaneously laughing to the point of tears. Top Five
I found remarkable for the way that even now, weeks after seeing it, I think back to it remembering that it was funny, wishing that it had been funnier, and then remember that the problem of having to be funny all the time was the central theme of the film, at which point I then rebuke myself all over again.Best Adapted Screenplay:
Jason Hall: I'll happily consider American Sniper
for the 2015 awards. Bumped.
Graham Moore: The Imitation Game
just made up too much crap to fit the stereotypical one-lone-genius-saves-the-world formula it seemed to want to tell. Bumped.
Paul Thomas Anderson: I saw Inherent Vice
, but I think I'm going to have to see it again to work through it all. That's a good sign.
Anthony McCarten: The last scene of The Theory Of Everything
was a cinematic misstep and I place the fault with the writer. Bumped.
Damien Chazelle: I really should probably see Whiplash
.Best Animated Film:
Having only seen Big Hero 6
, and thinking that it should stay nominated, I'm unclear on what to bump in order to make room for The Book Of Life
and The Lego Movie
, both of which were excellent, and I would have though would have made the list.Best Foreign-Language Film:
With embarrassment I confess that I have not yet seen a single non-English-language film released in 2014. I saw non-English-language films in 2014, but they were all from earlier years.Best Documentary Feature:
I haven't seen any of the nominees. I did see both Anita: Speaking Truth To Power
and Herman's House
, and I thought the former was excellent and am a little surprised it's not on the list. I want to see Citizenfour
and I think it's still playing in San Francisco. Oh, and I want to get around to Life Itself
at some point.Best Documentary Short:
Where would I even go to watch any of these? If they're not in a theater within reach of most Americans or available online then the Academy should think about fixing that or maybe closing the category.Best Live Action Short:
I think these can be seen at one showing at one theater downtown one day next month? Maybe?Best Animated Short:
These might also show one day next month if I'm lucky? Maybe?Best Original Score:
Alexandre Desplat: I'll be sure to listen closely when I watch The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat: I can't recall a single note of the score of The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer: I had the good fortune to see Interstellar
with a musician and as we walked to dinner afterward we both remarked on how we were pretty sure that the score was incredible, but that it was so well-integrated into the rest of the film that it never really called attention to itself. A few weeks later I was at the cineplex catching several films and between shows I happened to walk past the open door of a theater showing Interstellar. I didn't go in; I just sat right there outside the door for seven or eight minutes letting the music wash over me and giving it my full attention in a way that I couldn't when actually watching the film. It's incredible. I've listened to it several more times on my commute to and from work in the last month. I'm listening to it again while editing this essay. I think it's the most important score in a decade and I think it fundamentally advances the art of what music does for film. I have no idea what the Hollywood Foreign Press Association were thinking when the Golden Globe went to The Theory Of Everything
Gary Yershon: I barely remember the music of Mr. Turner
and I saw it only six days ago! Bumped.
Jóhann Jóhannsson: The Theory Of Everything
's music fit well into the film but didn't seem otherwise remarkable to me. Be happy with a Golden Globe.
I'm not sure what I could swap in here - I think perhaps I'm a bad listener.Best Original Song:
"Everything Is Awesome": This is probably one of my favorite songs of 2014 overall; not just in a film. I saw the film while staying at my brother-in-law's; he woke me up with it the next morning and we both just laughed.
"Glory": This is maybe just my own personal thing, but a song has to appear during the narrative portion of a film rather than merely during the credits for it to work for me. Sorry, Selma
"Grateful": Perhaps I should see Beyond The Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You": Should I see Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars": Begin Again
previewed like it would be exactly the film I would expect it to be; is there some reason I should take the time to see it?
I really wish I had something from The Book Of Life
to swap in, but the film's stronger songs were its adaptations of preëxisting pop songs rather than original compositions. Phooey.Best Sound Editing:
Alan Robert Murray & Bub Asman: Perhaps in 2015, American Sniper
Martin Hernández & Aaron Glascock: Birdman
sounded like being backstage at a theater, sure.
Brent Burge & Jason Canovas: I'm confident that there are lots of loud noises in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Richard King: The sounds of Interstellar
Becky Sullivan & Andrew DeCristofaro: I've been on the fence about Unbroken
; should I see it?Best Sound Mixing:
Whoa, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are different things? Maybe with four of five nominated films shared between the categories the Academy has a hard time telling as well?Best Production Design:
Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock: I've loved sets in Wes Anderson films since Rushmore and am really looking forward to The Grand Budapest Hotel
Maria Djurkovic & Tatiana Macdonald: In a weaker field I could see The Imitation Game
taking this; it's the strongest part of the film outside of the acting.
Nathan Crowley & Gary Fettis: Four planets, a space station, a spaceship, and the inside of a black hole, and yet everything about these sets feels real (within the overall fiction of the film, of course; perhaps I should have said that they "have realiness") and drives Interstellar
Dennis Gassner & Anna Pinnock: What I took away from the preview was that the production design might be what I most like about Into The Woods
Suzie Davies & Charlotte Watts: Yes, Mr. Turner
takes place in early-nineteenth-century Britain.
I'm going to swap in Fury
for The Imitation Game
. They take place within a few years of each other and while The Imitation Game
has spartan buildings constructed in a hurry in a non-combat area, Fury
has tanks!Best Cinematography:
Emmanuel Lubezki: Birdman
's cinematography broadens our understanding of how film can tell stories.
Robert Yeoman: I can't wait to see how The Grand Budapest Hotel
Łukasz Žal & Ryszard Lenczewski: I should think about seeing Ida
Dick Pope: Mr. Turner
was shot almost exactly how I expected it to be shot. Bumped.
Roger Deakins: Normally Unbroken
is the kind of film I'd see but I just haven't lately been in any kind of mood to watch torture. Based on the preview, though, I'm going to have to bump it - it looks exactly like I'd expect it to look from its genre alone.
Swapping in: Interstellar
's unique style primarily serves the rest of the film and only occasionally calls attention to itself for how fantastic it is - my friend and I discussing it after seeing it could remember specific shots that we liked but then said "wait, the whole movie was shot that well...". In the film's personal moments, there's a closeness to the camera that is intimate. Interstellar
's look moves the audience to awe as no other film this year did.Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
Bill Corso & Dennis Liddiard: Steve Carell, one of the most recognizable faces in American entertainment of the last ten years, looks nothing like himself in Foxcatcher
Frances Hannon & Mark Coulier: Okay, that does it, I'm going to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou & David White: I... guess they're pretty well-made-up comic book aliens in Guardians Of The Galaxy
? Are we giving credit for Groot's arborist?Best Costume Design:
Milena Canonero: Oh come on! I already said I'd watch The Grand Budapest Hotel
real soon now!
Mark Bridges: I enjoyed the costumes in Inherent Vice
and they seemed faithful to the period and the characters.
Colleen Atwood: Sure, I suppose Meryl Streep is dressed like a witch in Into The Woods
Anna B. Sheppard & Jane Clive: Should I make the time to see Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran: Other than that they're faithful to the period I didn't notice a thing about the costumes in Mr. Turner
Swapped in: Selma
. Its costumes are every bit as period-accurate as those in Mr. Turner
, and Selma
is a far better film.Best Film Editing:
Joel Cox & Gary D. Roach: See you next year, American Sniper
Sandra Adair: I haven't yet seen Boyhood
but if the task of editing a movie filmed over twelve years is as challenging as I imagine it to be I would think that Ms. Adair would win.
Barney Pilling: Now you're just making me feel bad, The Grand Budapest Hotel
William Goldenberg: You know what would have improved the editing of The Imitation Game
? If history had happened that way. Bumped.
Tom Cross: Okay, I'll try to get out and see Whiplash
Into the gap: Selma
. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish what part editing plays in the overall quality of a film, but Selma
's narrative flow is exactly right to carry its story and message.Best Visual Effects:
Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill, & Dan Sudick: I enjoyed Captain America: The Winter Soldier
and its visual effects.
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, & Erik Winquist: I enjoyed Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
and its visual effects.
Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner, & Paul Corbould: I mostly enjoyed Guardians Of The Galaxy
and its visual effects.
Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter, & Scott Fisher: We learned something new about black holes (http://www.wired.com/2014/10/astrophysics-interstellar-black-hole/
) as a result of the masterful visual effects of Interstellar
. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie, & Cameron Waldbauer: I have not yet seen X-Men: Days Of Future Past
, but I speculate that its visual effects are perfectly nice.
No swaps here, and I sort of hope this award works itself out along the lines of "the best film of those that had the best visual effects".Sorry They're Not On The List / Sorry They're Not More On The List:Hide Your Smiling Faces
(Picture, Director (Daniel Patrick Carbone), Actor (Nathan Varnson), Supporting Actor (Ryan Jones)): If Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life
can be nominated (as it was three years ago), this film which actually succeeds at doing what The Tree Of Life
attempted deserves at least some recognition.Godzilla
(Director (Gareth Edwards)): Not all science-fiction action summer blockbusters have to shrink your brain.Fury
(Actor (Brad Pitt), Supporting Actor (Logan Lerman)): The film wasn't marketed as a star vehicle but I found these performances noteworthy in demanding roles.Nightcrawler
(Supporting Actor (Riz Ahmed)): Like Rene Russo's Nina, Riz Ahmed's Rick's weakness and meekness allows him to be an almost-too-perfect victim of Lou Bloom.The Book Of Life
(Animated Picture): I saw this in a theater full of families with young children and could feel the energy of their enjoyment. It's sweet, touching, clever, and I would have thought it would be at least nominated.The Lego Movie
(Animated Picture): With product placement everywhere these days I was rather surprised to find this movie about a specific brand of toy, with an entirely brand-compatible message, that didn't actually feel commercial at all. It reminded me of all my years spent building Starship Enterprises and Lego roller coasters and all the other wonderful things not pictured on the box. Another mystery non-nomination that makes me want to see the nominated films that much more since they're supposedly better.The Interview
(Screenplay (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, & Dan Sterling)): I found this movie funny, intelligent, and geopolitically relevant. Poop in satire goes back at least as far as Jonathan Swift; I'm not sure what's up with so many folks with whom I've spoken about the film assuming that the presence of gastrointestinal punch lines makes the film stupid and trivial.Interstellar
(Director (Christopher Nolan)): Like Gravity last year, Interstellar reminds us that IMAX theaters exist for more than just NASA documentaries, Marvel superhero blockbuster, and Pink Floyd laser light shows. Interstellar is a spectacular film; it might be great, I think it's at least good, but most of all it is a spectacle. This is a film that attempts great things for movies and mostly achieves them.
So where does that leave us? We've added some diversity of color to the slate (almost entirely thanks to Selma
, Dear White People
, and Top Five
) but I don't think we even budged the needle on diversity of sex. Well crap. What's the best way for me as a fan to fix that?
If you haven't yet enjoyed #OscarsSoWhite
on Twitter (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23OscarsSoWhite
), that's worth a look. I'll leave you with some of my favorites:#OscarsSoWhite it's going to correct us by pointing out that it's really 1/16 Cherokee
)#OscarsSoWhite they won't even nominate Lego-Americans
)#OscarsSoWhite when it rioted after the national championship the news called it a "reveler"
)#OscarsSoWhite the ceremony is being held in an REI this year
)#OscarsSoWhite they have a black friend
)#OscarsSoWhite it gets off with a warning
)#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair :-(
, and if you don't get why this is funny, run, don't walk, to Dear White People
)I don't get what this whole #OscarsSoWhite thing is about. Unless my memory is shot he's green and lives in a garbage can