The Best Picture Race

I still consider the Academy Awards (Oscars) to be the best award show of the lot. The Academy tends to have the best track record. No one is perfect and no one can try to pick the best of the best every year with a blemish free record. There are untold amount of biases that swirl around a new movie especially during award season. Voters can get swept up in the pomp and circumstances of a contender. However once the dust settles only time will tell which movie will still be good 10+ years from now and which movies will be laughed at as a lovable loser stuck it the past. With that in mind, I’m going to try and take a step back and navigate through all the advertising and campaigning to give my honest opinion of which movie really is the best of 2014.

It should be noted I have not seen nominees Captain Phillips, Nebraska, and Philomena. However I can tell you Nebraska and Philomena’s nomination is their award. If a film that small has a chance to win Best Picture there needs to be a tremendous amount of buzz and trophies from other award shows. Sadly both are lacking in both categories.
Nominees (in no particular order)

American Hustle: American Hustle is a good movie. American Hustle is not a great movie. Part of me is sort of stunned it’s even nominated for Best Picture much less a leading contender. Then the other part of me realizes the cast is like a hand picked Oscar favorites party. (Everyone has a previous nomination. Bale and Lawrence already have a trophy at home) At best it’s a pretty good movie with weird wigs and two likable female leads. The movie centers around con artists Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Jennifer Lawrence is Bale’s nutty wife and Bradley Cooper is the CIA agent trying to catch them. Bale and Lawrence’s role are the flashiest and well done but it’s Amy Adams who delivers the best performance keeping the movie grounded. Personally I wish Adams was in the Best Supporting Actress category because that would be a no brainer. The rest of the movie is fine at best. Of all the nominees this is the best example of award season over inflation. After a year or two, or even a month or two, we’re all going to look back with the same feeling of regret that looms over the English Patient. Jennifer Lawrence’s role also needs to be addressed. She was funny and charming and I’ll admit she stole the spotlight. Does she deserve another Oscar for the performance? Absolutely not! I’ll be very disappointed if she takes home the trophy purely because she’s the It-Girl of the moment. (That already happened last year) Hopefully the Academy will see through all the glitter and wigs and realized American Hustle is just average movie with a convoluted plot and good soundtrack. 

Gravity: Gravity was a spectacular movie and tied for my favorite movie of the year. I was impressed and captivated by the space odyssey about sorrow and rebirth. I give the director credit for having the courage to feature only a single character despite the tremendous risk. Sandra Bullock proved me wrong and gave the best performance of her career. Gravity is unique and innovative. Unfortunately it’s uniqueness is what makes it a wild card and this is the one movie I’m the most unsure of how history will look back on it. On one hand, Sandra Bullock gave a very strong performance coupled with an even better screen play which leads it down the path of great movie status. On the other hand, movies that rely heavily of special/visual effects tend to expire quickly. The latest and greatest digital universe will always be outdone by the next blockbuster. I loved this movie and honestly think it’s one of the best of the year but I still have a nagging feeling that my enthusiasm might not last in years to come. While we can already see American Hustle’s over inflation, is Gravity following close behind it? Is my own judgment clouded by Bullock who I didn’t think could pull off the role so successfully? Or by the visual scope and magnitude of outer space? Or better yet by a film that dared to cast only two actors, one of which has only minimal screen time? All fare questions that I can’t answer. However I really think there is solidly good movie underneath it all the shine and spectacle that will be just as good to audiences in the future. Gravity has a very good chance at winning Best Picture which would a job well done.

Her: Spike Jonez’s quiet story about a man who falls in love with his operating system is as much a modern drama as it is a revolutionary Sci Fi look into the future. It really has no chance of winning Best Picture but I think this will be the movie that in 20 years we are still talking about and asking “How did Her lose Best Picture?” Her is tied with Gravity for my favorite movie of the year. If I had to choose one to win in 2014, the Best Picture envelope would only have three letter when opened. I’ve always been a fan of Spike Jonez because his movie are always outside the box and from an original point of view. For example, every movie where a computer gains consciousness somehow always leads to total world destruction. (See 2001: A Space Odyssey) Jonez gives us another alternative future where conscious operating systems are kind and considerate with thoughts and feelings as complex as any human. All of the director’s social and technological cometary isn’t overwhelming though. Instead it’s a pastel backdrop that frames a truly heartfelt love story. Scarlett Johansson’s voice work as Samantha is shockingly believable and layered. Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore is the every man we can all identify with who opens his heart up to an electronic devise. Amy Adams also gives a good showing as Phoenix’s (human) friend. This movie will be watched by film classes for years to come. Everything from the total lack of product placement to the deliberate costume design all left me cheering. However, to play devils advocate to myself… Her may also be the most hipster nonsense movie of all time. (Side note: the fact that Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t nominated for Best Actor is a travesty but mostly his own fault. The actor has repeatedly bad mouthed the awards in the past.

Dallas Buyers Club: Matthew McConaughey stars in this true story as an AIDS patient in the early 80’s who takes his treatment into his own hands and starts a club to gives medication and supplies that were otherwise not available. At first glance you might write this movie off as another depressing and soul crushing AIDS movie. Not true. While the story is sad, it’s more a story of empowerment and friendship. The movie is kept alive by the strong performances of McConaughey and Jared Leto. Both men are the leading contenders in their categories. Jared Leto is wonderful. WONDERFUL. He gave by far the stand out performance and deserves every award he’s won.  It doesn’t hurt their award campaign that both actors lost a tremendous amount weight to portray their dying characters. A strong true story is also a great base for any nominee. Does it deserve Best Picture though? No I don’t think so. A movie is more than two good acting jobs. This movie will get to Oscar gold via acting, not Best Picture. Side note: It also should be noted that Jennifer Garner is a bit dull as Eve the doctor. 
12 Years A Slave: Along with Gravity and American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave is the front runner for Best Picture. The movie is also based on a true story of how a free black man was kidnapped and sold into slavery. It’s a story that is historically important and very well done. Lupita Nyong’o makes her film debut and is leading the Best Supporting Actress pack with JenLaw. However, after watching 12 Years a Slave I was moved but not captivated. I don’t know how to explain it but all I can say is that I wasn’t sucked into the movie. Maybe it was due to my short attention span but it just didn’t hold my interest. If it won Best Picture I wouldn’t be upset at all. It’s a very well done movie with very strong performances just not on my personal favorites list. It will also still be as good 10 years from now. Longevity is always easier when the movie itself is set in the past. There is less to get wrong because the history is already written and known. Movie set in the current time are up against an unknown future.

The Wolf of Wall Street: I really liked the Wolf of Wall Street. Like 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club this is also a true story however that’s where the similarities end. The film tells the story of an ambitious Wall Street stock broker who makes millions off of illegal trades. This isn’t an important story that needed to be told but it was sure fun to watch. It was fun to see a well acted and well directed movie that didn’t shy away from drugs, sex and total debauchery. (I love raunchy movies) I’m not talking about a little side boob or some off camera grunting, instead there were guys lining up to fuck a prostitute out in the open office and drug fueled orgies. There’s even a quick gay orgy scene. If I had my way, Leonardo DiCaprio would win Best Actor. He gave a great performance and he also just deserves a career Oscar for something. Jonah Hill is also perfectly cast as his sleazy wing man. I’m note sure if it deserves Best Picture but it’s a fun ride. Will it hold up in 10 years? Yes. The only thing that could hurt this movie is it’s real life main character. If news were to break that he made up all of the over the top details, the film would be left looking foolish. It has an extremely slim chance of winning but odds are that it’ll be beaten.

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