Friday, January 30, 2015

2014 Year End Report: Personal Oscar Ballot

Below is my personal Oscar ballot – basically what this year’s nominees (and winners) would look like if I got to choose such things. I have ranked them in each category, and will offer a few thoughts as to why I choose what I did.

Best Picture
1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Inherent Vice
3.     Boyhood
4.     Gone Girl
5.     Foxcatcher
6.     Only Lovers Left Alive
7.     Nightcrawler
8.     Selma

Apparently every year, AMC theaters in America does a marathon of all the best picture nominees in one day. I would do that with this group of films. Start with Wes Anderson’s enormously entertaining comedy about the importance of not letting the barbarians wins with an idealistic hero, move into Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie about a specific moment in American history, when idealism faded into cynicism, Richard Linklater’s films brings you back to earth a little bit its portrait of the everyday, then David Fincher’s Gone Girl goes over the top and insane, before Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is cold an subdued, then chill a little with a couple of cool vampires in Jim Jarmursch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, before moving to a portrait of a capitalist sociopath in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, before be challenged and inspired by Ava DuVernay’s Selma. These 8 films capture why you I go to the movies – and I can think of no better way to spend an entire day watching all 8 back to back.

1.     Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
3.     Richard Linklater, Boyhood
4.     David Fincher, Gone Girl
5.     Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

The two Anderson’s are clearly the best directing efforts of the year for me – they control everything, even when they seem fairly loose. Linklater’s command in Boyhood is looser, yet just as confident – having to do it over a 12 year span. David Fincher goes both darker and more comedic than normal even for him – and produces the most talked about film of the year. Bennett Miller’s complete command of every frame, every moment is mesmerizing. I really do wish I had more room in the top – especially for Jarmusch for Only Lovers Left Alive and DuVernay for Selma – but I just cannot find a spot for either.

Best Actor

1.     Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
3.     Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
4.     David Oyelowo, Selma
5.     Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher

For the first time since I can remember, none of my top five became Oscar nominees this year – though I still think I’m right. Ralph Fiennes’ concierge, Jake Gyllenhaal’s sociopath, Joaquin Phoenix’s stoner, David Oyelowo’s leader, and Channing Tatum’s repressed wrestler were the best performances I saw in this category this year. I wish the Academy had realized what these actors did this year.

Best Actress

1.     Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
2.     Luminita Gheorghiu, Child’s Pose
3.     Anne Dorval, Mommy
4.     Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive
5.     Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin

Once again, my opinion clearly didn’t match up with the Academy this year - 1 for 5 (although, to be fair, I have not had a chance to see Julianne Moore in Still Alice yet). Pike’s performance is the best – but she is pushed by two unsung foreign performances as flawed mothers, Luminita Gheorghiu in Child’s Pose and Anne Dorval in Mommy. Tilda Swinton is all cool intelligence in Only Lovers Left Alive – a warm, humane presence in the film. Scarlett Johansson does a brilliant job with an inhuman character. The Oscar nominated performances are actually quite good – these are better.

Best Supporting Actor
1.     J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
2.     Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
3.     Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
4.     Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
5.     Edward Norton, Birdman

I make up for the fact that I barely had any overlap between me and the Academy in the lead categories with having 4 out of 5 here. Simmons has dominated this category all year for a reason – he dominates the film in a supporting role. Ruffalo is in many ways his opposite – very quiet, but in some ways he dominates the other characters as much as Simmons does. The lone non-nominee for me is Josh Brolin – who brilliantly goes over the top in Inherent Vice – before bringing it back in later scenes. Ethan Hawke is as natural as he has ever been in Boyhood. And finally, one of the only things I liked as much about Birdman as its biggest supporters is Edward Norton’s brilliant, hilarious performance as a full of himself, method actor (or basically what everyone thinks Edward Norton is really like).

Supporting Actor
1.     Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2.     Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice
3.     Uma Thurman, Nymphomaniac Volume I
4.     Rene Russo, Nightcrawler
5.     Carmen Ejogo, Selma

After agreeing (mostly) with the Academy on supporting actor category, I go back to not seeing eye-to-eye with them once again. Patricia Arquette is clearly the best in Boyhood – but after that are four mainly unsung performances. Katherine Waterston only has a few scenes in Inherent Vice – but they are the crux to the movie. Uma Thurman delivers a one scene wonder in Nymphomaniac. Rene Russo did get some buzz – but sadly, she didn’t get in for her great work. Finally, Carmen Ejogo’s performance was perhaps too subtle for Academy members to notice in Selma – but it is truly great,

Best Original Screenplay
1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
2.     Boyhood – Richard Linklater
3.     Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy
4.     Foxcatcher – Dan Futterman & E. Max Frye
5.     Winter Sleep – Ebru Ceylon & Nuri Bilge Ceylon

This was the stronger of the two screenplay categories this year – yet still, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the best by quite a bit. Linklater’s Boyhood is fine work – built scene at a time, for 12 years. Nightcrawler has a great screenplay – the one area the Academy recognized the great movie for. The screenplay for Foxcatcher takes a true story, and makes it something wholly different. Finally, there is Winter Sleep, which builds its portrait of a self-delusional asshole, scene by scene, for three hours – including two great conversations at their heart.

Best Adapted Screenplay
1.     Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
2.     Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
3.     Enemy – Javier Gullon
4.     A Most Wanted Man – Andrew Bovell
5.     Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

A much weaker category than usual this year – but the top two screenplays are as good as they get – the first where Anderson took a nearly unadaptable book and turning it into a great movie, and Flynn brilliantly adapting her own novel for the screen. The other three are still strong work – adapting a Pulitzer Prize winner brilliantly, a complicated LeCarre novel, and apparently a writers own short film. They just aren’t as strong as normal this year.

Best Documentary
1.     Life Itself
2.     The Last of the Unjust
3.     Citizenfour
4.     20,000 Days on Earth
5.     Rich Hill

I still need to see quite a few docs – so my ultimate opinion may change here – but these five docs are the best of the 40 I saw this year. Still not sure how the Academy could overlook Steve James (AGAIN), especially since his doc is about a beloved figure in movie history. I also don’t understand why Claude Lanzmann’s 4 hour companion piece to Shoah didn’t get more praise. Citizenfour gives a fascinating peak at Edward Snowden, although not quite the one the filmmakers think they are giving. I would love to see more celebrity docs like 20,000 Days on Earth about Nick Cave. Finally, Rich Hill gives a humane, beautiful portrait of the type of people you don’t see in movies often enough.

Best Animated Film

1.    The Lego Movie
2.    Song of the Sea
3.    The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
4.    The Boxtrolls
5.    Big Hero 6

The more I think about it, the stronger this category seems to me – hell, I didn’t even have room for How to Train Your Dragon 2 – and I really liked that movie. However, The Lego Movie was clearly the best of the year – and its Oscar snub is kind of embarrassing. Still, I love the two more unconventional picks – Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – they made, which are among the most beautiful animated films in recent years. Finally, I had more fun at The Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 then perhaps I should have – both are amazingly well made.

Best Foreign Language Film
1.     Winter Sleep – Turkey
2.     Leviathan - Russia
3.     Force Majeure – Sweden
4.     Two Days, One Night - Belgium
5.     Mommy – Canada

Honestly, this category was a little weaker than in recent years – yet I still do love all five of these movies – this could have been their lineup, had as all four were actually selected by their country for this year – but they only choose Leviathan.

Best Cinematography
1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel – Robert D. Yeoman
2.     Mr. Turner – Dick Pope
3.     Inherent Vice – Robert Elswit
4.     Birdman – Emmanuel Lubezki
5.     Gone Girl – Jeff Cronenweth
This was an impossibly strong category this year. I think Yeoman`s work, on film and in different aspect ratios, in The Grand Budapest Hotel is the best of the year easily – but a case can be made for Dick Popes painterly images in Mr. Turner, or Robert Elswit's ever roaming L.A. camera work in Inherent Vice (and he could have easily been here for Nightcrawler as well). Emmanuel Lubezki's brilliant work in Birdman is as amazing as anything he has ever done. Finally, Jeff Cronenweth does so much sickeningly good work in Gone Girl it’s unbelievable. This doesn’t even mention great work by Bradford Young on Selma, or the black and white work on Ida, the great landscapes and dark interiors of Winter Sleep – and on and on and on.


1.     Boyhood
2.     Whiplash
3.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
4.     Gone Girl
5.     Selma
Boyhood really does deserve the Oscar here – editing together 12 years’ worth of footage to make one coherent narrative must have been a mammoth undertaking. The editing on Whiplash is brilliant – creating the visceral experience that it sorely needs. The Grand Budapest Hotel has a complex structure, and some great set pieces. Gone Girl creates a sickening atmosphere. Finally, Selma does great work – both on the larger set pieces and the more intimate moments.


1.     Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
2.     The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat
3.     Under the Skin – Mica Levi
4.     The Guest – Steve Moore
5.     Inherent Vice – Jonny Greenwood

To me, there is no better pair doing music in movies than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross when they collaborate with David Fincher their work in Gone Girl is key to the whole movie, setting the atmosphere perfectly. Alexandre Desplat’s work on The Grand Budapest Hotel is more traditional – but brilliantly quirky, like the film itself. There may not be more original, ear splittingly brilliant work than that of Mica Levi on Under the Skin – the type of score that needs to be heard to be believed. Steve Moore’s score for The Guest is a brilliant play on the scores of John Carpenter – energetic, electronic, pulsating brilliance. Finally, Jonny Greenwood’s score for Inherent Vice may not quite be as original or memorable as his two previous ones for Anderson – but it’s just as brilliant, a play1970s style score.


1.     The Lego Movie – Everything is Awesome
2.     Beyond the Lights - Masterpiece
3.     Begin Again – Lost Stars
4.     Selma – Glory
5.     Boyhood – Ryan’s Song

It’s nearly a year later, and Everything is Awesome is still stuck in my head – and I don’t mind. The studio didn’t submit Masterpiece from Beyond the Lights, instead opting instead for the dull Grateful – but I much prefer this one. Begin Again is full of great songs, but I’ll take the conventional choice (as long as it’s not performed by Adam Levine). Glory is a powerful song from a powerful movie. Finally, Ethan Hawke’s quiet song is devastating.

Production Design

1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Snowpiercer
3.     Mr. Turner
4.     Inherent Vice
5.     Only Lovers Left Alive

Nothing can compare to the great work done on The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is some of the best work I have ever seen. Snowpiercer creates one memorable train car after another. Mr. Turner is great, period work – as is Inherent Vice, in a much different era. Finally, Only Lovers Left Alive has brilliant work – and no one seemed to notice.

Costume Design

1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Inherent Vice
3.     Mr. Turner
4.     Snowpiercer
5.     Into the Woods

Once again, the work on The Grand Budapest Hotel is in a class by itself. But the work on Inherent Vice comes fairly close. Mr. Turner’s period work is excellent as well. Snowpiercer had many original designs that suit the characters perfectly. Finally, aside from the embarrassing work done by Johnny Depp, you cannot fault the costumes in Into the Woods at all.

Make-Up & Hair Styling

1.     The Grand Budapest Hotel
2.     Foxcatcher
3.     Inherent Vice

I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is in a class by itself – it could win for Tilda Swinton alone and there’s a lot of great work throughout. Foxcatcher gets in for Steve Carrel – but there is more work. Finally, since they specifically mention hairstyling, how do you not go with Inherent Vice.

Sound Mixing

1.     Under the Skin
2.     Godzilla
3.     Whiplash
4.     American Sniper
5.     Fury

I don’t think any film had as complex a sound design as Under the Skin this year – which makes it one of the most brilliant works of the year. Godzilla had amazing work as well – when the monster in onscreen, and perhaps even more so when he’s not. Whiplash propulsive work is as good as that type gets. Finally, two war movies did a great job this year – American Sniper and Fury.

Sound Editing

1.     Godzilla
2.     Fury
3.     Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
4.     Interstellar
5.     American Sniper

How the Academy overlooked both Godzilla and Fury this year mystifies me a little bit. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is almost as great, and Interstellar gets this part of the sound just right. Finally, American Sniper depended on its sound editing a lot – especially in that dusty battle scene near the end.

Visual Effects
1.     Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2.     Interstellar
3.     Godzilla
4.     Under the Skin
5.     Snowpiercer

Blockbusters always dominate this category – and for good reason. The work on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best this year – but I think both Interstellar and Godzilla come very close as well. Finally, two smaller movies had great work – but are the type that will never break through. And that’s too bad.

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