Well, the Oscars are about three weeks away, and I've manged to see roughly half of the Best Picture nominees. I' know I've mentioned my feelings about them one way or another, but I thought now is a good time to give you a proper review of the four films I've seen thus far. And I'll put them in order from worst to best:
I was really prepared to love Michael Keaton's return to a major role in "Birdman." In fact, I had a very long conversation with the popcorn lady at the theater right before I went in to see the film and we both decided, having not seen the film, that this might just be the best picture of the year, since we both loved Michael Keaton.
Then I saw the film and put it at the bottom of the list. This quite possibly is the worst 2014 film I've seen.
Birdman is the story of a washed up movie star (Keaton) whose biggest role was that of a superhero. Now, this Hollywood has been is trying to make it big on Broadway, sinking everything he has, his money, his talent, his writing skills into a play he not only adapts, but also directs and stars in. Of course Broadway hates him because he's Hollywood, so in spite of his best attempts, his play cast (lead by one of my personal favorites Edward Norton) his rehabbed daughter (Emma Stone) and his lawyer (Zach Galifianakis) all seem to plot and scheme against him, making his triumphant play seem like a failure before it opens.
Let's put aside the fact that this movie underscores the fact that New York and LA pretty much thinks they are the only two cities in the country...that theme is made obvious by the clash of culture between movies and culture and how those of us who aren't living in those two cities haven't a clue about what's good and what isn't. (For the record, I did like Keaton's speech to the theater critic about how being a critic costs the critic NOTHING...sure, I write movie reviews. But I do it so bad movies don't cost anyone else anything. I believe those of us who have an opinion should use it to help our fellow man. So no, writing a review costs a critic very little. But it might save those who have little from wasting what they have.) Let's instead turn our focus on what an egocentric, narcissistic, completely without point this plot is. Hey, Hollywood, yah know what's better about plays? PLAYS HAVE TO MAKE SENSE! This movie makes zero sense in the final analysis. Sure, there are great themes, (power vs. prestige, what is art, family vs. work) but they are lost, much like the viewer is, in endless, endless, ENDLESS characters running up stairs and around halls, all set to a mind rattling, annoying sound track of nothing but ad lib drumming.
I probably would have liked this movie, I may have even loved it, but the ending completely, utterly, and without conscience betrays the viewer. All the themes build to a moment, and the moment is the ending and the ending is utterly head scratching.
What does this all mean? Probably means it'll win.
3) Grand Budapest Hotel
I do not understand Wes Anderson. I've said it many times. I don't get assembling a huge cast of awesome actors and then telling a completely addled story. That said, I was excited to see Grand Budapest Hotel, a frantic, colorful story about a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy as they try to find a stolen painting in 1930's Europe. It's a very colorful, fast paced film, and I will give it points for bringing life and color to the screen. And there are funny moments. And again, Edward Norton is there. All good stuff. But the movie, for me, simply does not come together in any sort of cohesive anything.
I'm told I'm wrong for not loving Wes Anderson. Well, that means this film will probably win.
Boyhood is a family drama filmed in real time over twelve years. In all honesty, if director Richard Linklater hadn't decided to film the movie over the course of twelve years, this movie would not have been nominated. It's a nice family drama, well acted. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are solid as the divorced parents of Mason,(Played by Ellar Coaltrain.), a boy who seems to wander through life as things happen around him. Boyhood doesn't make much comment on anything, just points an unblinking camera at the family and lets it go. It's heart tugging, and it's a good movie. But the magic in this film is the fact that you see the actual actors age in real time. Ellar Coaltrain goes from being an adorable little boy and we get to watch him go through his awkward years, his thorny years, until he grows up into a high school graduate. It's really nice, one could even call it art. It's certainly an original idea. Best picture of the year? Well, I don't think so, so it'll probably win.
1) The Imitation Game.
I was so wild to see this film after I'd seen a documentary about Alan Turing. It simply does not matter what side of the homosexuality issue you fall on, Alan Turing's story is one of a hero who was treated horribly. Very reminiscent of "A Beautiful Mind" (one of my all time favorites,) this film pictures Turing (Cumberbatch) as a misunderstood, barely tolerated genius who is brought in to help the British Government crack the Nazi codes. (And not that I'm comparing homosexuality to schizophrenia, but the idea of a misunderstood genius who is socially awkward is undeniable between the two films.) Turning invents the machine that cracks the Nazi code, saving thousands of lives ultimately. (He's also known as the father of the modern computer.) Later in his life, however, he's arrested and convicted of gross indecency because he's homosexual. The movie barely touches on this, but the documentary, Codebreaker, goes into great detail the special sort of hell the British government heaped on this war hero because of his sexual orientation. The comparison to "A Beautiful Mind" might hurt "Imitation Game's" chances...but I hope not. This is a beautiful film that again reminds us that not everyone is cute and cuddly, not everyone is "normal" but everyone can contribute to the greater good and should be honored for their contributions...not judged for how they live. And, since I loved it, it doesn't have a prayer of winning!
So there you go, four reviews. I have four more films to see before the 22nd. I can't remember the last time I saw all of the movies BEFORE the winner was announced so I'm sort of excited about completing this goal.