Best Picture Nominee Round-Up 2015

I have been lucky enough again this year to have seen all of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees.  Because none of them got their own review, I am going to once again provide a short, one-paragraph review for all eight nominees in alphabetical order.

American Sniper:

The most financially successful movie to ever open wide in January, this is the most widely-seen nominee.  It can be political, but no matter your leanings, there’s something here to support your point of view.  Which in a way, means it feels free of political motive.  It’s got something for everyone, unless you’re tired of war stories altogether.  Controversy aside, this didn’t stand out much for me from many other Middle Eastern war movies.  It’s well-made, no doubt, but didn’t have that something special in my mind.  6/10

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance):

The most creative and daring of the nominees.  The way it is shot is fun and impressive.  The score is almost all percussion and gives a sense of purpose.  The acting is terrific, the movie is so clever it’s almost “meta” and the plot has enough mystery to keep you guessing.  Only the ending, which dips a little too far into confusing metaphor, keeps this from being a 9.  8/10

Boyhood:

A gimmick in search of a story.  The method of filming, shooting a little bit each year for 12 years, is really great and should be applauded. However, the story is pretty lackluster.  It’s just a regular kid’s life.  Some people quite liked that, but I thought it was a bit dull.  If you’re shooting over 12 years, make the story something about time.  Give it some urgency!  Boyhood has no real propulsion. 5/10

The Grand Budapest Hotel:

I love Wes Anderson movies, almost without reservations.  His latest obviously has his distinctive visual style, but feels more epic in scope.  There are even a couple of action scenes.  Sort of, if you can picture a Wes Anderson action scene.  It’s thoroughly entertaining and colorful, but it doesn’t live up to some of his best works.  7/10

The Imitation Game:

A story about both how the Allies cracked the Nazi code that led to winning WWII, and the life of the man who spearheaded the effort. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job of making Alan Turing likable to the audience, despite not being well-liked by his colleagues. And the drama side is tense and gripping.  My favorite of the nominees.  8/10

Selma:

This is not a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr.  Instead, it’s the latest in what I see as a trend of fact-based dramas that only cover a specific event or short period of time.  There’s no doubt it’s powerful, even more so when viewed through a modern perspective. Unfortunately, I found the ending a bit abrupt and anti-climactic.  6/10

The Theory of Everything:

The Stephen Hawking movie, yet actually based on a book by his first wife and told from her perspective for the most part.  It’s mostly a film about relationships and doesn’t dwell much on the science he was so famous for.  Still, a pretty emotional journey.  7/10

Whiplash:

Easily the least-seen movie on the list, Whiplash had an uphill battle with me and my general disinterest in movies about music. However, the characters were so good and the finale so satisfying that it won me over as a whole and for Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons in particular.  Simmons’ Fletcher is a performance for the ages.  7/10

 

Overall, I think these are good but not great.  They all fall in the 5-8 range, with nothing seeming a classic.  Obviously best picture nominees should all be good, but the Academy and I rarely agree on the best of the year.  Of this crop, I gave two an 8/10–  Imitation Game and Birdman.  Imitation Game was likely my favorite; I really liked the story being told and it was done very well.  If I got to select the winner, though, I’d go for Birdman.  It’s rare for a movie to try new things in today’s Hollywood.  Not only is Birdman unlike most traditional movies, its wackiness and odd choices actually WORK and work well.  I always like to see originality and creativity be rewarded, so I hope Birdman can pull off the win.  My track record of Oscar picks indicates that it will likely not, however.

With any luck, 2015 will finally deliver one of those all-time greats that are so rare these days.  I haven’t rated a movie a 9 since 2012, which had 3 of them!  Maybe I’m just getting pickier the more movies I see.

Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I’m happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I’m privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don’t see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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