WINTER GARDEN, FL–I'm taking a few days to enjoy not being in New Jersey in February with my family, so this dispatch is being typed a while early. If somehow it has become irrelevant in the interim (like if the film business suddenly vanished this week), my apologies.
So the world is going to Hell in a Buick Regal, Jon Stewart has left us bereft, Brian Williams… I don't really care… the presidential election (U.S.) is a mere 21 months away, you should just get your kids inoculated for goodness sake, and the publishing business is no doubt preparing to lose its collective mind over some new tome that is, invariably, not mine. Okay. Let's discuss what's really on our minds.
The Academy Awards.
Six nights from tonight, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences will hand out some trophies and there will be the inevitable overuses of words like "courage," "amazing," and "best crew in the business" in acceptance speeches.
I have no desire nor ability to accurately predict the winners of said statuettes, but I will be riveted to my couch, loving every minute of the interminable ceremony. I love the spectacle and the sheer goofiness of it all, so don't call my house during the Oscars. We're occupied. Or pre-occupied. Or something.
While I still object to the idea of more than five films nominated for the best picture category (that's just pandering and it's silly), I did make more of an effort to see those movies than I normally do. Eight films, and I saw seven, since I have no interest in the sniper thing, mostly because I've never seen a Clint Eastwood movie that didn't need a half-hour cut out of it simply for pacing.
So here are my impressions, for the remarkably little they're worth. Your opinions may certainly vary:
Birdman: I'm told that one either loves or hates this film, and I firmly fall into the latter category. What others saw as bold and inventive I saw as pretentious and showy. I didn't care about any of the characters, thought the shot-in-in-one-take gimmick was distracting, and had to take painkillers to undo the damage of the almost-all-percussion soundtrack. I have no problem with Michael Keaton winning for his performance, because I really like Michael Keaton and think he should have won for something else.
Boyhood: A snorefest of the highest order. Again, a gimmick that's impressive, but does not necessarily translate into the great film others believe they've seen. Instead, we get people just sort of hanging around for no particular reason and they get older as it goes on. Okay. The 7-Up documentaries are considerably more compelling, and those people are real.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: I am actually not a fan of Wes Anderson because there's only so much arch I can take before I go into painful withdrawal symptoms. But I liked this one better than most, the cast is came and it's nice the Academy is recognizing something that at least tries to be a comedy once in a while. Like most films, this one suffers from not having enough Bill Murray.
The Imitation Game: Biopics are a rough genre. If it's not a documentary–and by definition it isn't–the filmmakers will be criticized for inaccuracies that are inevitable when trying to make a piece of popular entrainment (in other words, a good movie). So this one is better than most, and suffers from the same problems as others: It's reverent without being absolutely accurate, is really made to show off a performance rather than a story, does so well, and ends up being fairly forgettable when all is said and done.
Selma: Another biopic. Sort of. The first movie to portray an actual human Martin Luther King Jr. and that is admirable. It tells a specific story without trying to be a one-stop-shop for the Civil Rights movement. It has a distracting cameo by Oprah Winfrey (probably to help it get made) and only pays a certain amount of lip service to Dr. King's flaws, which isn't a huge problem. It's compelling and watchable, if a bit slow in spots.
The Theory of Everything: Biopic. The last one on this list (again, no sniper here), and very much of a type. See everything I said about The Imitation Game above, and it'll pretty much be true. Eddie Redmayne gives a remarkable performance, as did Benedict Cumberbatch. He probably deserves to win an award. But Michael Keaton. And in this case, the odd thing: Not enough science. We're not really clear on what makes Stephen Hawking the phenomenon he became.
Whiplash: In my mind, the best of the bunch. I'm no fan of modern jazz (particularly when they try to play it too darn fast), and would rather face a firing squad than a prolonged drum solo (See: Birdman), but this film made me care and put me on edge. It's really a monster movie, with J.K. Simmons as the monster, and doing a remarkable job. Miles Teller as his terrified and singleminded protege is equally good in a less flashy role. I'll be rooting for this one knowing it has zero chance of winning the prize.
My family also, as has become our custom the past few years, saw the animated and live-action short films (but not the documentaries) nominated in those categories. (They're probably playing somewhere near you, and you should go.) It's not as interesting a bunch as last year's, but the consensus around the homestead here is that the Disney animated short Feast will win, which is okay but not as good as if A Single Life would. In live-action, we're rooting for Boogaloo and Graham, knowing that something more depressing like The Phone Call has a better shot.
Either way, after this all-too-brief sojourn into warm weather and theme parks is over, we'll be back at home, wearing lots of clothing and watching the far-too-long awards ceremony.
It's one of the best nights of the year.
P.S. If Jon Stewart's Rosewater had been nominated, it would have come in second after Whiplash. I certainly liked it better than whatever's going to win. You should find it on Netflix or elsewhere.
P.P.S. Pitchers and catchers report in four days. Spring is almost here.