The Oscars is a giant part of film culture and despite the fact that the voters are more likely to fuck things up than drunk Mel Gibson, I still feel obligated to write about it. So here’s my feelings on who should win each major category out of the nominees picked, and the nomination snubbings that turned me into a big salty bastard. Onward!
1. Best Picture
Who Should Win: Birdman or (There’s no fucking way I’m typing out the full title. The film’s called Birdman.) Out of all the films that came out this year, Birdman was the the high profile film that did the most to advance the art of cinema. It’s deliciously Kaufmanesque, and has dozens of moving parts that make it a delight to puzzle over the deeper thematic meaning of the film. All this is achieved while still being a rollicking comedy and a moving psychological drama. My runner up is Boyhood. What Linklater achieved in his twelve years of filming was remarkable, and, my own personal feelings about annoying kids aside, this is another piece of art that also manages to be highly compelling entertainment. That being said, I might cheer loudest if Whiplash wins. The blending of horror and thriller elements with a story which, at its core, is a music school drama, resulted in something very special, and the final scene was the best I’ve seen this year. Beyond that, the film’s twisted abusive relationship dynamic between Teller and Simmons was brilliant, original stuff. Out of all the nominees this year, it’s the one that hit me hardest, a significant achievement in a year that was full of films that managed to be both artistic and entertainment triumphs.
Biggest Snub: Nightcrawler. The Scorsese film Scorsese never made. Fortunately, Dan Gilroy was more than up to the job, creating a taut, memorable morality tale veiled as an amorality tale. Plus Jake Gyllenhaal absolutely slays as Lou Bloom, the titular nightcrawler (more on him later). The film this year that left me with the biggest grin on my face leaving the cinema (weird things make me happy), a superbly written and directed journey into the heart of darkness with massive entertainment value. Should be a contender for the statue.
I Might Actually Join Al-Qaeda If This Film Wins (And I’m Not An Al-Qaeda Fan): American Sniper. A very solid, upper tier war film that is highly watchable, but nowhere close to any of the other nominees. Plus that baby. That goddamn baby. “Robobaby kill. Robobaby destroy, destroy, destroy.” Well done to Bradley Cooper for acting opposite that thing though.
2. Best Directing
Who Should Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu. More love for Birdman. The direction was incredible. This was some next level shit, the director matching the bravery of the script and camerawork with bold decisions that pushed the boat out into even riskier territory. Fortunately, they paid off.
Biggest Snub: David Fincher. For about two minutes at the start of the film I doubted. The camerawork looked staid and pedestrian, the lighting uninspired, the overall palette drab and lifeless. The shit kicked off and I realized: that was Fincher’s way of visually contrasting the domesticity of the beginning of the film with the batshit insanity that came spewing out of the later parts of the film as he returns to true stylized, delicious and perfect direction. He next-leveled the style to make the film even better artistically. It was like Fincher pulling a trick from David O.Russell’s toolbox and blew me away. Nobody can touch the man technically, artistically or in terms of overall construction of gripping films. Fincher was robbed. Again.
I Will Set My Nipples On Fire If This Director Wins: Bennett Miller. Fine director, but his films are made up of beautiful parts that never combine to form a coherent whole. The only award he deserves this year is Best Rape Scene That Totally Wasn’t A Rape Scene You Guys, I Swear. Yes, I get what he was implying in the overall dynamic of the relationship, but he did so in the least subtle, most easily misunderstood as literal, and ham-fisted way possible. The attempt to be artistic actually hurt the story and flow of the film, a clumsiness that is repeated all too often throughout Foxcatcher. Very good film, but also deeply flawed. Someone needs to reign Miller back and teach him he’s a storyteller first and artist second.
3. Best Actor
Who Should Win: I just don’t know. This category is too close to call, and any of the nominees would be very much deserving. If pushed, I’d say Steve Carell. His portrayal of Du Pont went beyond just the make-up, he was genuinely creepy. The nasal voice, the sense of self-righteousness in everything, the calm portrayal of eccentricity. He had to convey the incredible weakness of a man who would never allow himself to show weakness, and was more than up to the task. But this is the toughest category to call for me.
Biggest Snub: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation was remarkable, cutting down to the lean gaunt frame of a heroin addict and sporting disgusting greasy hair that seems destined for dreadlocks. But beyond that, and similarly to my reason for loving Carell’s portrayal of Dupont, he makes the character’s duality completely believable. A bitter human-shaped mass of hate with a machine gun mouth who by all rights should turn everyone away and yet has the right tools to bend them to his will. It’s a portrayal of a man trying desperately to appear human while still showing the absolute monster lurking just beneath his skin. This was the standout performance of the year for me, and despite my dearth of fucks given for the Oscars, the lack of a nomination actually stung a little. Hopefully Gyllenhaal does get to lift a golden statue one day, because at this point, he’s owed one.
4. Best Actress
Who Should Win: Rosamund Pike. No questions asked, no quarter given. Pike took the role of a kidnapped woman with layers and layers of secrets and complexities of character to unpack, and made each layer feel believable and like the layer above it had been a natural function of it. It’s tough to get into the intricacies of the performance without entering unforgivable spoiler territory, but Pike threatens to shred everyone she shares the screen with in the same way Jake Gyllenhaal does in Nightcrawler and it takes a cast of true professionals to keep up with her. A fantastic performance, a true breakthrough, and hopefully the beginning of an era of more films with Rosamund Pike.
Biggest Snub: Essie Davis, The Babadook. Pike’s performance was the epitome of technical skill. The appeal of Davis’ work on The Babadook for me was how raw it was. She takes a character who goes to the darkest of places: greedy, abusive, developing a hatred for her own child and runs with it, never flinching, creating a character who is equal parts touching and terrifying. The film hinges on her performance and they couldn’t have picked a better actress for the job. She gives everything, and truly deserved to be acknowledged for giving the world such an incredible, devastating piece of work. A massive snub.
5. Best Supporting Actor
Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons. This is unquestionable for me. Another year, it might be Ethan Hawke, but Simmons creates an absolutely terrifying music instructor. He is bastard-coated bastard with a sweet filling of bastard and never pulls dramatic punches. When he is angry, people hide. When he is manipulative, they do whatever he wants. Physically menacing, nuanced and yet seductive, he’s everything the character needs and more. Nobody can touch him this year. If they do, I’ll put a cymbal through my television.
Biggest Snub: Ben Mendelsohn, Starred up. Nobody came close to Simmons this year. But Mendelsohn’s hard bastard with a very deeply hidden heart should have been nominated. Mendelsohn’s screen presence is massive, and he truly feels like a hardened criminal, given up to the system and yet unafraid to defy it when the need arises. He has some tough work to do in portraying the character’s softer side in a convincing way, but is more than up to the challenge, and the film has one of my favorite visual metaphors of the year in its last two minutes, perfectly summing up the key relationship of the piece, which is made all the more satisfying by Mendelsohn’s stellar work.
6. Best Supporting Actress
Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette. Boyhood was a stupid experiment, a ridiculous, farcical notion, one of the dumbest ideas ever committed to twelve point Courier font. A film that’s going to take twelve years to film, twelve fucking years? Pull the other one Rick. But It turned out that this act of complete insanity wasn’t so insane after all. A million little details went into the brilliance that is Boyhood, but one of the giant details, vital in creating a sense of continuity and simultaneously a sense of change throughout the film, was the adult leads. Ethan Hawke was stunning, and so was Arquette. Her painfully real portrayal of a mother with her own needs and fears, but who still very much loves her children is killer. We believe it when she becomes trapped by her own mistakes and when she finally pulls the trigger on escaping those traps. Every time she has a quick answer for one of her kids or has a small triumph, it feels worth celebrating. She is a part of the core of the film and the quiet grandeur of her work in this role has Oscar written all over it.
Biggest Snub: Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year. Chastain continues her string of remarkable transformations, this time shape-shifting into a hard-edged New York businessman’s wife. Her character is deadly yet beautiful and perfectly aware of it. The character’s manipulation for a good cause along with her bulletproof dedication to her family makes for a fascinating portrait, and Chastain provides a magnetic screen presence, imbuing the character who could have been one-dimensional and a sort of caricature with a fleshed-out humanity which is vital to the ultimate message of the film as a whole: learning what it takes to thrive in New York’s most violent year. Stunning work, and right up there with Arquette’s in Boyhood.