It’s the Oscars!
If you’ve any interest in cinema, you’ll probably have noticed that in the year of a major Martin Luther King biopic, Academy voters have delivered the least diverse slate of nominees anyone can remember. Every single one of the twenty acting nominees is white and every single director is a white man (okay, one is Mexican and one is Norwegian) and all of the 15 writing nominees are men. Given that the nominees (and indeed the winners) are decided upon by a secret ballot, there isn’t a whole lot anyone can do about this, but there do seem to be some pretty startling omissions, and Selma’s failure to get anything beyond Best Picture and Best Original Song (which somehow makes it worse) is chief among these.
Anyway, for new readers of this blog (because my delusion of readership is such that I find it necessary to subdivide my armies of followers into categories instead of, say, counting them on the fingers of a pair of mittens), every year I attempt to ensure that I have seen all the Best Picture Nominees before the Oscars ceremony itself. I first attempted this feat in 2010 (also the first year the Academy decided to nominate ten films instead of five) but couldn’t bring myself to sit through The Blind Side. I’ve not missed a movie since.
They now nominate between five and ten depending on how the voting goes and this year the total is eight, with Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel sharing the most nominations with nine each, although Boyhood is the bookies’ favourite to win the big one, despite having only six nominations in total. Even this list is overwhelmingly male and only Selma has a squeak of racial diversity about it. Every Best Picture nominee has a male protagonist and only one, The Theory of Everything, has a real female second lead (I guess you could make an argument for American Sniper or The Imitation Game). Look at the nominees for Best Actress – only Felicity Jones is nominated for starring in a film also nominated for Best Picture despite the fact that there are eight Best Picture nominees and only five Best Actress nominees!
This depressing trend aside, it’s not a bad list, although not a great one either, and at the time of writing, I have seen half of them, so watching the remaining four in the next month should be pretty easy. Here’s a quick list, with my preconceptions, review or a link to my review as appropriate.
w. Jason Hall (nominated), book Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice; d. Clint Eastwood
Bradley Cooper (nominated), Sienna Miller
This has had some pretty poisonous press from the liberal media (i.e. people like me) so I’m not really looking forward to it. I don’t know an awful lot about it, but Eastwood is certainly capable of shooting humane and tasteful movies, so it remains to be seen whether this is sanctimonious gun-loving or a clear-eyed look at warfare or something in between. Also nominated for editing, sound mixing and sound editing, but not Eastwood for director. Just outside contention for the big prize I suspect.
w. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, Armando Bo (nominated); d. Iñárritu
Michael Keaton (nominated), Edward Norton (nominated), Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone (nominated)
Marvellous, original stuff with terrific performances all-round, that manages to play games with reality while respecting the audience’s need for some kind of narrative through-line. My full review is here. Must be in contention for the sheer number of nominations (Keaton alas will be crushed under Eddie Redmayne’s wheelchair) but surely it won’t win?
w. Richard Linklater (nominated); d. Linklater (nominated)
Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette (nominated), Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke (nominated)
Linklater follows up his, apparently on-going, After series with this extraordinary experiment in film-making, shot over twelve years. My question going in is – with limited ability to plot out the storyline in advance, will the incidents which make up the material of the film be interesting enough to justify the extraordinary commitment which went into making it? Heavy favourite to win, probably on that basis alone, but Linklater has strong competition for director in the form of Iñárritu and possibly Wes Anderson too.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
w. Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness (nominated); d. Anderson (nominated)
Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Léa Seydoux, Mathieu Almaric, F Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe
Marvellous ornate fantasy, very much in its director’s signature style, but with a bit more narrative drive and graced with a sublimely deft turn from Ralph Fiennes. Who knew he had such a lightness of touch? Certainly no-one who sat through his brittle performance as John Steed in the ghastly Avengers movie (not that one). I saw this and loved it when it was first released last February and failed to review it, but it’s terrific fun, it’s story-within-story-within-story puzzle-box structure allowing it licence to play far more fast-and-loose with logic and reality without the whole edifice collapsing under the weight of its own whimsy. Again, were it not for the sheer number of nominations, I would say it had no chance at all, but with nine, and that eleven months after its first release, it must be in with a shout, surely.
The Imitation Game
w. Graham Moore (nominated), book Andrew Hodges; d. Morten Tyldum (nominated)
Benedict Cumberbatch (nominated), Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley (nominated), Mark Strong, Charles Dance
The other crippled genius biopic, but Turing’s stammer and homosexuality may pale next to motor neurone disease and a tracheotomy. Still, Turing was trying to end a war, rather than ponder the rather more abstract mysteries which occupied Hawking’s mind. I haven’t seen it yet, but advance word is that’s rather soapy and I feel it’s unlikely to compare well to the BBC film Breaking the Code with Derek Jacobi. Very much in the also-ran category for Best Picture, but might just nick screenplay if it’s very lucky.
w. Paul Webb; d. Ava DuVernay
David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Wendell Pierce, Andre Holland
This one almost flew under my personal radar. I had expected to see Foxcatcher, Big Eyes, Mr Turner, Wild and The Gambler on this list, but almost failed to notice Selma sneaking under the wire. Maybe being released so close to the deadline hurt it? Or maybe it’s all those British actors in the cast, but for chrissake, if you can’t get an Oscar nomination for playing Martin Luther King, then you wonder why you bothered trying to master the accent at all. Is it any good? I’ll let you know in a few weeks’ time. Obviously has no chance at all at winning Best Picture unless the Academy voters are suddenly seized by white guilt (which I suppose is not impossible, but I’m still picking Boyhood at our sweepstake).
The Theory of Everything
w. Anthony McCarten (nominated), book Jane Wilde Hawking; d. James Marsh
Eddie Redmayne (nominated), Felicity Jones (nominated), Charlie Cox, Harry Lloyd, Maxine Peake, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis
Hugely disappointing, a ball-less and bland script squandering an awesome leading performance by Redmayne who will surely win, but it’s very unlikely to walk away with anything else.
wd. Damien Chazelle
Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Another one which nearly slipped past me and the trailer made me fear the worst. I saw it last night and I will put my review in the next post.
A quick account of the other major categories. Best film, as noted, will be Boyhood, with best director a straight fight between Anderson, Inarritu and Linklater. Foxcatcher will likely get nothing, ditto Selma. Julianne Moore is probably favourite for Best Actress, with only Reese Witherspoon needing to bother writing a speech. In the supporting categories, things are a bit more open, as they often are. Both Edward Norton and JK Simmons have strong claims on the male side, while on the female side Patricia Arquette and Laura Dern seem to have the best chance, but it’s never wise to right-off Meryl Streep. Original screenplay I imagine will go to Birdman, although Boyhood and Budapest both have a shot. Adapted screenplay is a bit harder to call. Whiplash probably has the best chance at the moment.
My review of Whiplash will be here later today or tomorrow.