A total of 8 films are nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year, and if the Oscar prognosticators are correct, the winner Sunday night will either be a film that grossed $37 million, or a film that grossed $25 million. Whether the winner is “Birdman” or “Boyhood” or 5 of the other 6 nominees, the winner is almost guaranteed to be a movie hardly anyone saw or was interested in seeing.
Oscar elites will scream, “Wait! In time you will see our wisdom!”
Well, how much time, exactly? Thus far, time has only made the wisdom behind “The Artist,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Crash,” “Chicago,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “The English Patient” look lacking.
Are we talking Global Warming Time, where Oscar elites ensure they can die smug by asking us to look into a future no one living today will live to see? Or are we talking TNT/TBS Time, where we see if the Great Unwashed quickly catch up to greatness in a few years, like they did with “Shawshank Redemption,” which didn’t win an Oscar, by the way.
Except for “Whiplash,” and thanks mainly to video-on-demand, out here in my small North Carolina town I have been able to see every film nominated this year for Best Picture. And as has been the case for the last 15 or so years, this is a shockingly weak and ultimately forgettable crop.
From best to worst (again, keep in mind I haven’t yet seen “Whiplash”):
- American Sniper
The only timeless masterpiece (and box office smash) of the bunch. Everything a movie should be. It rattles you to your core and stays with you for days afterward. Clint Eastwood’s war classic is also the only open act of rebellion in the crop, a film that dares tell an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth to The Man.
Today, The Man is the political and intellectual Left that dominate film criticism, our media, and the levers of our culture. At 84 years old, Eastwood, ever the Iconoclast, stared Power down using his artistry to reinforce the moral certainty that we are the good guys in a righteous war against unspeakable evil. My original review is here.
- The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as Alan Turing, the British math genius and cryptologist responsible for breaking Enigma, the code used by the Nazis during World War II to communicate everything from the weather forecasts to troop movements. Turing might just be the reason we won the war. Turing was also a closeted gay man convicted of indecency by his government in the early 1950s. At age 41, he would commit suicide in 1954.
While this biopic is engaging and even entertaining (especially the first half), the Weinstein Annual Oscar Bait Entry feels so 1999. In a word, it is formulaic. If “The Imitation Game” was a television movie, nothing would be lost and no one would wonder why it wasn’t released on the big screen.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has quite the technical achievement on his hands and nudged a performance out of Michael Keaton that might and should win him a Best Actor trophy. If “Birdman” wins the ultimate prize, it will be the third film in four years about show business to do so (“Argo” (2012), “The Artist” (2011)).
Self-involved much, Hollywood?
Keaton is a marvel and so is a production that looks as though it was completed in one long continuous take. It is not all trickery. What makes Keaton’s performance so spectacular is a mesmerizing rollercoaster range of emotions required from his character in space of just a few minutes.
“Birdman” contains a number of great scenes and wonderfully uncomfortable confrontations. Edward Norton’s dead-on spoof of his own mercurial reputation is also a stand out.
My primary problem with “Birdman” is an ending that makes absolutely no sense. It took me a good half-hour to get over the ugliness of the characters and buy into the premise. Once I’m invested it then ends on a note of incomprehensible artistic pretension that doesn’t even leave a few dollars on the dresser.
Alan Turing couldn’t decipher this thing.
Because of all the emotional blackmail and crybabying I’ve had to react to over the past few months, there isn’t much left for me to say about this just-okay biopic. It has its moments. The sum of its parts, though, is a letdown given the ultimate moral triumph of the events reproduced in the film.
Re-reading my original review, it now feels generous, almost too generous. That is what happens, though, when the film’s creators and supporters poison their own legacy with division, lies, whining, and the belief that posing as victims somehow delivers automatic moral supremacy. The great Martin Luther King deserves a better movie, and most certainly deserves better keepers of his legacy.
How many “Selma” defenders will actually watch it again and again?
- The Theory of Everything
One of the biggest whiffs in cinematic history. Eddie Remayne will probably beat Michael Keaton for Best Actor, which is a shame. Remayne’s physical transformation into physicist Stephen Hawking is remarkable, and that is kind of where it ends. The rote script doesn’t ask enough of him, certainly nowhere near the level of Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot.”
Whatever you might think of his personal views, Hawking is our Albert Einstein; the greatest and most consequential mind of the second half of the twentieth century. What’s so maddening about “Theory” is that the template of the script could fit over anyone — a scholar, teacher, journalist — who managed to live a full emotional and intellectual life while being ravaged by Lou Gehrig’s disease.
When it comes to Stephen Hawking, I’m not interested in his disease or love life. That is not what makes Stephen Hawking Stephen Hawking. Take me on a tour of his mind. Help me understand the meaning and consequence of his intellect and ideas.
Imagine a movie about Willy Wonka that doesn’t give you a tour of the chocolate factory. That’s “The Theory of Everything.”
A true technical and artistic achievement that could win Richard Linklater a deserved Best Director Oscar. As a movie, though, it’s a nearly three-hour collection of vignettes, too few of which are meaningful.
All the acting awards heat for “Boyhood” surrounds Patricia Arquette, who is almost certain to win the Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as the mom with terrible taste in men. Nothing against her, but for my money Ethan Hawke’s performance as the absentee dad who finally grows up is the real stand out.
His scenes are the film’s best moments, thanks mainly to Hawke’s likable innocence and energy, which wins you over even when his character is behaving badly. Hawke’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor and long overdue. Unfortunately for him, even more overdue is the always-remarkable J.K. Simmons, who is a lock for “Whiplash.”
- Grand Budapest Hotel
Dreadful. Ugly. Pointless. Pointlessly ugly. Maybe it rallied after I shut it off after 30 minutes. I’ll never know.
Wes Anderson made one great film, “Rushmore” (1998) and one good one, “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001). The rest have been fooling twee intellectuals for more than a decade.
As far as “Whiplash,” it looks terrific and I intend to see it first chance.
How absurd in the year 2015, that a film nominated for Best Picture and never given a wide theatrical release, isn’t released on home video prior to the Oscars.
And Hollywood wonders why its business model is dying.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC