So, the 2015 Oscars is finally here. For me, this is the most exciting and competitive Oscars to come along in a long time. The last time I was so thrilled about an Oscar ceremony was in 2008, when The Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood was going toe-to-toe. I had predicted that the former would win Best Picture, and it did.
This past year has seen an exceedingly rich harvest for cinema lovers. There are eight films competing this time. The list of nominees are: Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, American Sniper and The Theory of Everything. It's going to be a tight race.
Let me start by singling out the films that I think don't deserve to win Best Picture. Out of these eight films, four of them are standard textbook biopics that has "Oscar bait" written all over them. Selma is one of the most overrated biopics I've seen. This true story is about the turbulent three-month period in 1965, during which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. While I am of the opinion that David Oyelowo did a good job playing MLK, the rest of the players are miscast and the made-for-TV narration failed to sustain my interest.
American Sniper is a much better and more watchable film than Selma. Bradley Cooper has outdone himself. The man has gone from doing run-of-the-mill films like Wedding Crashers and He's Just Not That Into You to serious films like Silver Linings Playbook (one of his finest performances) and now, American Sniper. It's also Clint Eastwood's best film as director since Gran Torino. However, while hailing Chris Kyle as an American Hero, the filmmakers have managed to avoid some of the more unpleasant aspects of his character and because of this, we are left with a film that feels slightly lacking.
The Theory of Everything is another conventional biopic that is more elevated by Eddie Redmayne's moving performance than the narrative itself. It brings to mind the 2001 Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind, which was also about an intellectual genius trying to fight against the odds. The focus here is more on the relationship between the physicist Stephen Hawking and his former wife, Jane Wilde (played by Felicity Jones in an Oscar-nominated performance), and it's because of this that the film never quite manages to reach the heights that it aspires to. Some people may feel differently about this but this writer was left unsatisfied.
The Imitation Game has a slightly better edge over the above-mentioned films. It easily could've turned to another Selma had it not been for its intriguing storyline that deals with espionage and deception and an incredibly moving lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. A particular sequence towards the end of the film brought tears to my eyes. This is the biopic that Alan Turing truly deserved.
Now, about the best of the bunch, the 'crème de la crème' of this year's list of nominees. Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Richard Linklater is a director who has been ignored by the Academy for a long time. He is one of the few directors responsible for taking independent cinema to new heights. Boyhood was 12 years in the making and it is simply a deeply felt meditation on growing up. No other filmmaker has quite managed to deliver something like this. This is truly Linklater's masterpiece. Does it deserve a Best Picture? Definitely. Is there another film in the list that deserves it more? In my book, yes.
Which brings me to Whiplash. There is so much to say about a film that I think, belongs in the league of great cinema of the 70s such as The Godfather, Kramer Vs Kramer etc. Newcomer Damien Chazelle has crafted something that I think is the best to have come out of Hollywood in a long time. It's outstanding. It's at once gripping, technically superb and incredibly well produced. I have seen it four times already (that's more than the number of times I have felt compelled to re-watch Boyhood). It's a tough toss-up, but for me Whiplash is the superior of the two films and deserves to win in all the categories that it has been nominated in. J.K Simmons' electrifying, screen-scorching performance towers above all the other Oscar-nominated male performances of this year.
Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu has come a long way since his game-changing Amores Perros that blew the minds of a lot of cinephiles when it came out. His earlier films may have been dark and depressing, but his latest, Birdman, is a change of style for the maverick director. It gently ribs the staple Hollywood fare of Transformers and the Marvel comic book films. Michael Keaton has delivered the best performance of his career. And Emmanuel Lubezki's jaw-dropping cinematography has made the whole film look as if it has been done in a single-take and has left a lot of us astonished. If you've ever experienced self-loathing or self-doubt at least once in your life, you'll be able to relate to the traumas of Keaton's character.
Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is an exquisite gem. It has sequences that are in color and in black and white and even comes in multiple resolutions. It has the most expansive ensemble cast ever assembled. Anderson is one of the most imaginative filmmakers working today. He just doesn't do conventional. The Grand Budapest Hotel is at once a comedy and tragedy. Some of the sequences are flat-out hilarious. Does it deserves a Best Picture win? Perhaps not against such able contenders. But the people responsible for its magnificently crafted production design really deserves accolades.
So, which film are you rooting for? I'm firmly in the Whiplash camp.