by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, February 20, 2015


UPDATE: Well, it seems Cracked was absolutely right. In a move that should surprise absolutely no one in retrospect, Oscar bestowed Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore with Best Actor/Actress honors at last night's 87th Annual Academy Awards, for playing disease-ridden screen characters and/or historical figures. Moore's win is especially grating, not because she didn't deserve it, but because she's already given at least a half dozen worthwhile performances, and since this year she happened to play a Columbia University professor suffering from Alzheimer's, the Academy finally decided to give her her due. (Like Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Moore was awarded for a film people respected but didn't particularly enjoy.)

As for the rest, I guess I really shouldn't be too upset that Birdman took home top honors for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay. It is, after all, a terrific entertaiment, with stellar performances and knockout cinematography. But its meta-tale of artists under pressure is as old as Fellini's , and the illusion that it's all shot in one long, uninterrupted camera take has been pulled off before, in Sokurov's Russian Ark and Hitchcock's Rope. I'm convinced more than ever that every film today is a copy of something else, and that the only thing "original" about them is the way their stories are told.

So why didn't Boyhood win the Oscar for Best Picture? As far as I'm concerned, it was the only film released last year that broke ground in any way, this 12-year odyssey, shot with the same actors, of a boy growing up and the "moments" that make up his life. The movie may seem uneventful to the average viewer, but then again that isn't the point. (The point is: What do you do with the moments that make up your life? Do the curve balls steer you in the right direction or hold you back?) Boyhood was a labor of love for its director and actors and everyone else involved, and no other film aimed higher or accomplished more by saying so little. And that will be cherished and remembered decades from now while everything else fades into oblivion.

As for the show itself, we were attending a family function so I really didn't get to see much of it. But I managed to stick around long enough to hear host Neil Patrick Harris say of the Oscars, "Or, as I like to call them, the Dependent Spirit Awards." That pretty much summed it all up for me.

A (relatively) short one today, since you've no doubt already formed an opinion of what the Academy Awards do or do not mean to you at this point. To sum up the blog's annual stance on the subject, the Oscars a) are really nothing more than a glorified high school popularity contest, b) pride themselves on celebrating that old "independent spirit," c) sometimes rally around a unified theme, d) try to seem "edgy" and "of the moment" only to revel in time-worn clichés in the end, and e) celebrate everything that's mediocre about American film. And yet, without fail, something will compel me to tune in, at least for a bit, to see if all the tried-and-true traditions still hold. If you can resist the temptation to check out even a part of the telecast for yourself (and, let's be honest, who couldn't use a little Neil Patrick Harris fix every now and then?), then congratulations, you're a better person than I am.

So. What can we expect from Sunday's Oscar telecast? Well, aside from the usual self-congratulatory acceptance speeches and bloated Hollywood memorials, let me venture a guess and say, "more of the same." That's especially true for the following three criteria:

Surprising Snubs and Foregone Conclusions

Read any reaction to this year's list of nominees (announced January 15th) and you'll find the usual uproar over who was ignored (No Jennifer Aniston for Best Actress! No Best Director nod for Angelina Jolie!) versus those who were never expected to be nominated in the first place (Laura Dern for Wild! Inherent Vice for Best Adapted Screenplay!). You have your veterans (Meryl Streep, Robert Duvall) and your first-timers (Benedict Cumberbatch, Patricia Arquette), your comeback kids (Michael Keaton) and your sentimental favorites (Roger Deakins, him, had been nominated a whopping 12 times for cinematography without winning an award). And, of course, it just wouldn't be "Oscar" without Academy members purposely turning their backs on past favorites (cough*Amy Adams*cough*The Hobbit* cough) and/or anything that garnered too much success over the last year (seriously - no Best Animated Feature nod for The Lego Movie? Is that because of its $468 million at the box office or the fact that the climax of the movie - SPOILER! - was actually filmed in live-action?).

Perhaps no other snub this year, though, caused more controversy than director Ava DuVernay getting passed over for her work on the critically-lauded, Martin Luther King Jr.-on-the-march-to-Montgomery epic, Selma. Couple this with the fact that Selma managed to score a Best Picture nomination but nothing for its acting or cinematography and it's no wonder AMPAS has come under fire for racial inequality all over again. It's a hot-button topic that Oscar pundits like to dredge up whenever they can. Never mind that Mr. John Ridley, last year's winner for Best Adapted Screenplay (for 12 Years A Slave) is African-American, or that Ms. Lupita Nyong'o, who won for Best Supporting Actress (for 12 Years A Slave), is too. Never mind, as well, that Oscar has long since earned a reputation for failing to nominate directors whose films were also up for Best Motion Picture honors. (Ten slots for Best Picture but only five for Best Director? Hm. The math just doesn't quite work out, does it?)

That so much talent has gone unrecognized throughout the decades shouldn't come as much of a surprise, however. Because at the end of the day...

The Awards Themselves Don't Actually Mean A Thing

Quickly now: which film won the award for Best Picture last year? If you said "12 Years A Slave," congratulations again - you're a bigger Oscar fan than I am (I had to look it up). Try to recall every Best Picture of the past ten years, on the other hand - or Best Actor, or Best Song, or Best Costume Design, for that matter - and it becomes a stickier proposition indeed.

But that's just the point, see: Winning an Oscar doesn't necessarily make you "better" or more memorable than the next person. And it's hardly an indicator of how your film will be regarded twenty, thirty years in the future. (All it really means is: Academy voters watched your movie and a bunch of others, and then they voted for you - or did not - depending on their mood at the time.)

Think about that. Is the span of a single year really enough to judge how a film will stand the test of time? Sure, John Ford's How Green Was My Valley may have won the award for Best Picture in 1942, but it's Orson Welles and Citizen Kane - now widely regarded as the Greatest Motion Picture of All Time - whose countless innovations continue to reverberate in the films of today. And while Norman Jewison's In The Heat Of The Night took top honors at the '67 Academy Awards, does that make it "better" than The Graduate, or Bonnie And Clyde, nominated that same year? What about Annie Hall over Star Wars (1977)? Ordinary People over Raging Bull (1980)? Shakespeare In Love over Saving Private Ryan (1998)?

It's the same for actors, too. Just because Tom Hanks tapped out at two Best Actor wins (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, back to back), does that mean he's become incapable of giving superior performances ever since? (Absolutely not; in fact, I'd argue Cast Away and Captain Phillips as better examples of the actor's art.) Or when Al Pacino picks up a win for Scent Of A Woman, or Morgan Freeman does the same for Million Dollar Baby (or this year - fingers crossed - Julianne Moore for Still Alice), is that because they'd finally given a performance worthy of Oscar's attention? (Not at all; by then, that little gold statuette is simply validation for a lifetime of good performances if nothing else.)

I could go on. (Did anyone else realize Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You" won the award for Best Song the same year that "Footloose" and "Ghostbusters" were also nominated?) Just don't be too hard on yourself when you forget half the names of this year's winners by lunchtime the next day.

Pushing The Envelope

To reiterate my point from last year (and, to a lesser extent, from the top of this post): The Oscars, more than ever, represent everything that is mediocre about American films. Most movies these days are nothing more than carbon copies of previous movies, either structure-wise or otherwise-wise. (Even the harshest critics of American Sniper failed to mention that its war-is-hell/war-takes-its-toll central dynamic dates back to everything from The Hurt Locker to All Quiet On The Western Front.)

2015's batch of Best Pictures is no exception, but like Gravity before them, the three frontrunners - Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel - at least try pushing the boundaries of how those stories are told. Both Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman - with its high-wire cinematography, shot by Emmanuel Lubezki as if in a single camera take - and Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel - with its flip-flopping aspect ratios, to match the span of its story - are technical marvels as well as classical Hollywood entertainments in their own right. And Richard Linklater's Boyhood is the type of grand experiment filmmakers just aren't willing to make any more - shot over a 12-year period, gathering his actors together once every year to shoot scenes, so that we literally watch as star Ellar Coltrane matures before our very eyes.

Any of these films could make a case for Best Pictures That Could Actually Stand The Test Of Time. Yet even they have their detractors. That Boyhood is so matter-of-fact about its storytelling, for example (refusing, say, to kill off any characters for the sake of simple melodrama), is hardly in line with the Academy's knack for rewarding films that are much more epic in scope. Birdman might also be too "personal" a project to satiate Oscar tastes (and Lubezki previously proved his mastery of the long, uninterrupted camera take with Gravity and Children Of Men). And although I'm a big fan of Anderson's (as evidenced here and here), his quirky, uniquely idiosyncratic style of filmmaking is a talent he perfected a long time ago. I'm all for splitting the vote, however. Hey, Academy: How about Boyhood for Picture, Iñárritu for Best Director and Mr. Anderson for Best Original Screenplay? That way everyone gets a little something. And we wouldn't have to regret it in the morning.

And the nominees are... (winners have been bolded and marked with an asterisk)...

American Sniper
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) *
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory Of Everything

Alexandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman *
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory Of Everything *

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory Of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice *
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash *

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood *
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into The Woods

Jason Hall, American Sniper
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game *
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory Of Everything
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander
  Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo, Birdman *
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

Ida (Poland) *
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Big Hero 6 *
The Boxtrolls
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Song Of The Sea
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya

Citizenfour *
Finding Vivien Maier
Last Days Of Vietnam
The Salt Of The Earth

Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman *
Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel *
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
Jóhann Jóhannsson, The Theory Of Everything

"Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie
"Glory" from Selma *
"Grateful" from Beyond The Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell... I'll
  Be Me
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again

The Grand Budapest Hotel *
The Imitation Game
Into The Woods
Mr. Turner

The Grand Budapest Hotel *
Inherent Vice
Into The Woods
Mr. Turner

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash *

The Grand Budapest Hotel *
Guardians Of The Galaxy

American Sniper *
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

American Sniper
Whiplash *

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Interstellar *
X-Men: Days Of Future Past

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Feast *
Me And My Moulton
A Single Life

Boogaloo And Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call *

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 *
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

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