I’m not going to catch Into the Woods before the Oscars, but I guess even I won’t be rooting for Streep this time. Other than that, I managed to cover all “top six” nominees (I cheated – I saw Still Alice and Wild online) so here’s my annual overlong rambling.
My rating: A- the ultimate best of the year, B- very good, would make a decent, worthy winner, C- a nomination should suffice, D- not necessarily bad, but not award material, F- a failure.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – B. Maybe back in 1974 this would be a C, alas, this is 2014. A lovely, delightful film.
Birdman – B. I’d appreciate it more had the “real” story been less dramatic – I could live without the last turns of events for one – and at times the self deprecating stuff was too broad and not that original (Tracey Ullman should get writing credit for the anecdote about her and Streep on a supposedly doomed flight they ripped here), but overall it offers a well acted across the board, voluptuous and rather clever entertainment.
Boyhood – C. They didn't fuck up the premise. Those split seconds every time you realized a year had past and you will never see the younger versions of these people again are indeed transcendental. Other than that, it’s another blond, slim and pleasant Linklater film with a less solid script.
Selma – D. A History Chanel presentation - I guess it’s a respectable docudrama (I’m not really equipped with the knowledge to judge its historical merit). Somewhat a little too Madame-Tussaud-ish for my taste. And why is it that when a black American person is supposed to be a class act they cast a Brit?
The Imitation Game – D. The juvenile take on history and science turns this into an unchallenging piece of entertainment. The same attitude applied to the personal aspects of Turing life (his sexuality, that is) is far more problematic.
Whiplash – D. I guess I can see how sometimes hysteric, over the top representation of decades old clichés and stereotypes may be perceived as fresh and innovative. In this case, I was not impressed.
The Theory of Everything – F. It’s not a film about a great thinker nor is it about the triumph of the will over the frailty of the body. It’s not even a love story. It’s the summation by the solicitor (or should it be a barrister?) of side A (that’s Jane Wild Hawking) arguments in the court of public opinion, claiming she’s due for her share of the acclaim her ex husband got, for her selfless actions and unblemished chastity.
American Sniper – unranked. Sometimes aesthetic, thematic and formalistic criteria should be tossed aside and ideological perspective and moral judgment should be applied. Unless there’s a secret Eastwood film to be released later this year about the war from Iraqi pov, I’d prefer to abstain.
Julianne Moore – B. She’s misfortunate to be in a very mechanical, generic film, but still, no one doe’s existential frustration and fear better than her, and she does manage to rise above this very bland platform and convey not necessarily a well defined individual but rather a universally humane state of mind.
Reese Witherspoon – B. In the last decade her acting became secondary and subordinated to her real day job of being a professional celebrity, but she is actually a really good actress. And while the showcase aspect of the role is rather obvious, the self indulgent nature of the performance suits this part and the character’s need to be seen as well as the actress’s.
Marion Cotillard – C/not ranked. I’m an avid Dardennes’ fan, but TDON is my least favorite film of them. It’s too schematic and almost contrived in its commitment to the ideas it promotes (which I agree with all heartedly), and Cotillard, all earnest humanity and genuine frailty, is somehow confined by the too rigid, rather pamphletish nature of her film. And it’s a non English speaking film, therefore should be ineligible. Now – had she been nominated for The Immigrant she would've been ranked a very, very solid B in my book.
Rosamund Pike – D. From now to eternity, she’s going to be known as Academy Award nominated actress, Rosamund Pike, and I’m fine with that. Lesser performers were nominated before her. She probably couldn't have done more with the material, but still, it’s a rather poor acting turn to be canonized for.
Felicity Jones –F. Inadequate.
Michael Keaton – B. He manages to juggle all the elements of this role – the supposedly autobiographical elements and the fictional ones as well as the different states of existence of the character (being himself, acting, fantasizing) – without ever dropping the balls. He’s head and shoulders above the crowd here.
Benedict Cumberbatch – C. He’s good. He suggests a character complexity far beyond what there’s in the script. Alas – he is, very confidently, cumberbatching his way through this portrayal, and for a relatively young actor, after being in about one tv show and two and a half films, to have such a distinctive type of role and performance is alarming. It took Jack Nicholson 25 years to get there.
Eddie Radmayne – D. This should be used in acting schools to teach students the basics of playing handicapped characters. It’s a well balanced, assured turn which has nowhere to go. A pity.
Steve Carrel – D. Like too many comic actors, his approach to “serious” roles is to play comatose. It works to a certain degree and it fits the alienated nature of the film, but I saw some footage of the real du Pont, and he had a certain twinkle in his eyes, a kind of demented vitality which is sorely missing in Carrel’s performance. And Du Pont's nose was smaller.
Bradley Cooper – D. Sabin Said “Bradley Cooper is quickly becoming [one] of my favorite working actors. He finds these actively unsympathetic characters and makes them wholly charming.” And that’s good how?
Should have been: Timothy Spall’s omission is a crime against Humanity. That it’s Cooper who has a third consecutive nomination to his name this year and not Joaquin Phoenix (for The Immigrant – I haven’t yet seen Inherent Vice) is a mind boggling transgression. Overlooking Ralph Finnes is a shameful misdemeanor.
Laura Dern – B. This could have been a cliché of the free spirited, inspiring parent, so maybe it’s her somewhat quirky looks, stature and voice, maybe it’s just her pure talent, but even in this very fragmented performance she does manage to suggest a distinctive and most of all, a particular human being.
Emma Stone – B. I like her. She can be too smarmy at times (like in that Allen film), but here she nicely balances the vulnerability and the kind of maturity beyond one’s own age children of complicated familial circumstances so often possess. And she assuredly holds her own with Keaton and Norton.
Patricia Arquette – C. Her commitment to this character is evident and at times she’s very effective and even moving, but still, her acting is not the most multi layered out there and she can’t really overcome the too many weak narrative turns this film force her character to take.
Keira Knightly – D. She’s not really an actress, she doesn't convey an exceptional intelligence and in the context of WW2, her figure would make her far more suitable for a film set in Poland rather than England. Other than that she’s fine.
Edward Norton – B. It’s a cliché, but a smartly executed and intentional one, done with finesse and even sensitivity. And he obviously had a lot of fun and so did I.
Mark Ruffalo – C. As was probably said whenever his performance is mentioned, his is the most (if not the only) relatable character in this film, but still, it’s the natural personably and realness he brings which make it works.
Ethan Hawke – C. Surprise, surprise – a role for him in a Linklater’s film and it fits him like a glove. It’s a measured, relaxed performance and just like it’s too often in real life, he gets to be the cool, friend-like parent/actor which more easily draws his onscreen kids as well as the audience to his corner.
J. K. Simmons – D. I’m as big a Schillinger fan as the next guy and I’m happy for this twist in Simmons’ career, but putting aside the technical aspects of his turn here (with his stern face, imposing physicality and authoritative voice he can play this role in his sleep), he doesn't bring anything innovative or surprising to his characterization – unlike Dern’s turn, it’s a well executed stereotype, not a particular person.
Robert Duvall – D. There’s the saying about great actors that they can read the phone book and still be fascinating. Here’s a great actor very capably doing just that and it’s rather boring. A pointless nomination.
Wes Anderson – B. Woosh, it took us a long time to get here, didn't it? I’m a fan of his one of a kind vision and this is as good as any chance for the Academy to embrace one of the most distinctive current American cinematic voices.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – B. See? Once you don’t insist on dealing with GLOBALIZATION, LIFE AND DEATH, POVERTY you can make a very nice film.
Bennet Miller – B. While I found Foxcatcher lacking in fully exploring its themes and allowing enough – for lack of a better term – explanations, he does creates a remote, alienated atmosphere which in itself IS a developed theme and in a way an explanation.
Richard Linklater – C. He’s an intelligent, sensitive and humane artist and I never can really fault his take on the world, alas it is a rather limited, comfortable and privileged one - how many films about the existential self searching of white male artists (or a would be one in this case) does the world needs?
(p.s. – I do realize my commentaries about Inarritu and Linklater practically contradict each other. I’ll have to live with this notion, I’m afraid).
Morten Tyldum - D. He demonstrates dynamic cinematic flare here which is probably more than enough for most films. But not in this case.