The culmination of awards season takes place this Sunday for the film industry with the 87thAcademy Awards. I don’t necessarily tune in to the live broadcast every year, but I do pay close attention to which films take home the top prizes in each respective category. Whether or not I agree with who wins or who loses, I’m always curious to see which films and performances resonated most with the Academy. Now, I won’t lie, part of me pays close attention so that I can lament over those who didn’t get recognized and should have. Rarely do I agree with who gets nominated, let alone who wins, but I understand it’s all a matter of opinion. That’s why I decided to have a little bit of fun this year and pick my own nominees and winners for my favorite categories. Take this all with a grain of salt because I haven’t seen every movie that’s been released over this past year, but then again, neither has each member of the Academy. This is a list of my favorites from 2014, not a definitive list. Nevertheless, here are a few of my highest recommendations for the year.
Best Supporting Actor
My Picks: Edward Norton (Birdman), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Michael Fassbender (Frank), Michael Parks (Tusk)
Winner: Edward Norton (Birdman)
Runner-Up: Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)
And the Oscar goes to: JK Simmons (Whiplash)
Despite some stiff competition in this category, I don’t think anyone impressed me more than Edward Norton in Birdman this year. It’s hard to ignore a performance that is this manic and funny while simultaneously providing meta-commentary on the art of acting itself. In a career full of memorable characters, this might be Norton’s best to date. Perhaps the only other character in this category that was as captivating as Norton’s was of a different species. Toby Kebbell not only lent his voice to the character of Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but he did the motion capture of the character as well. The Academy has yet to acknowledge motion-captured performances in a significant way, which is unfortunate. It’s a testament to how great the performances are in Dawn that you can’t even tell there are humans providing all of the movements to the apes in the film. Regrettably, I haven’t managed to see Whiplash yet, but I’ve heard wonderful things about JK Simmons’s performance and look forward to seeing it for myself in the near future.
Best Supporting Actress
My Picks: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Emma Stone (Birdman), Renee Russo (Nightcrawler), Emma Watson (Noah), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar)
Winner: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Runner-Up: Emma Watson (Noah)
And the Oscar goes to: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Patricia Arquette seems to be the odds-on favorite given that she’s already won at the Golden Globes, Screen Actor’s Guild, and several other awards shows. It’s with good reason too, as her performance in Boyhood is one of the most subtly affecting of the year. As a single mother raising two kids, Arquette aptly portrays a parent trying to do best by her children, but struggling to always hold things together. Although it’s not the biggest or boldest performance of the year, it might be one of the most real. My runner-up is Emma Watson for playing the part Ila in this year’s Noah. Director Darren Aronofsky is known for getting emotionally charged performances out of his actors, and perhaps the most surprising to come out of his latest project was Waston’s. Particularly at the end of the film, Watson is the most emotionally raw of the entire cast (with good reason), and her vulnerability was responsible for my elevated heart rate during the Noah’s apex.
Best Original Song
My Picks: Stephen Rennicks “I Love You All” (Frank), Patti Smith “Mercy Is” (Noah), Shawn Patterson “Everything is Awesome” (The Lego Movie), James Newton Howard/Suzanne Collins “The Hanging Tree” (Mockingjay Part 1), Billy Boyd “The Last Goodbye” (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies)
Winner: Stephen Rennicks “I Love You All” (Frank)
Runner-Up: Shawn Patterson “Everything is Awesome” (The Lego Movie)
And the Oscar goes to: John Legend/Common “Glory” (Selma)
I’m not going to sit here and claim to be a music expert or anything, but, believe it or not, I’m not actually factoring taste into my selection. No song tied a movie together better than “I Love You All” from Frank. I won’t elaborate on the specifics because this song shows up right at the end of the movie, but I will say that if this song didn’t close out the final moments of Frank, I wouldn’t have liked the movie nearly as much as I did. I can’t remember the last time a song played such a significant role in concluding a story. “I Love You All” isn’t there to just set a mood or accent a scene, it completes Frank’s entire journey, and it does in a beautiful, heartfelt way. Runner-up goes to “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie because, like the song I chose as my champion, this song was also meaningful in the context of the film’s narrative. Being extremely catchy and funny didn’t hurt it either. I suspect that this award will go to “Glory” from Selma. I haven’t listened to the song itself yet, but I look forward to hearing its inclusion when I watch Selma in the near future.
Best Original Score
My Picks: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Gone Girl), Mica Levi (Under the Skin), Clint Mansell (Noah), Hans Zimmer (Interstellar), Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Winner: Clint Mansell (Noah)
Runner-Up: Mica Levi (Under the Skin)
And the Oscar goes to: Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything)
While I’m not exactly playing the retrospective win card that the Academy sometimes invokes for failing to acknowledge past significant works, I can’t pretend that being a huge Clint Mansell fan doesn’t fit into this equation. Mansell is responsible for my favorite movie scores — of all-time. I suggest you go put on a pair of good headphones and listen to The Fountain’s score the next time you get a chance and try not to be moved. Go ahead, I dare you. Mansell continued his trend of producing equally haunting and somber orchestral arrangements in Noah. It’s pretty frustrating to me that he’s never been nominated, but I’m less surprised every year. Perhaps equally as memorable were the unnerving sounds from Mica Levi’s Under the Skin score. Levi’s score will send chills down your spine, and perhaps has the most memorable theme of the year. I see that the favorite this year is Johann Johannsson’s score for The Theory of Everything. I’m sure it’s quite good, but it’s hard for me to believe anything will make me change my top two picks.
Best Animated Feature
My Picks: The Lego Movie, The Lego Movie, The Lego Movie, The Lego Movie, The Lego Movie
Winner: The Lego Movie
Runner-Up: Certainly not The Lego Movie
And the Oscar goes to: The wrong movie.
I think you probably get the gist already, but if you haven’t, what an oversight in this category. The Lego Movie is easily the best animated feature to come out in the last few years, let alone in 2014. Yes, I’m saying it’s even better than everyone’s beloved Frozen. I actually don’t think there was a funnier or more charming movie that came out this past year than The Lego Movie, and for it to not even get a nod in this category sort of hurts the legitimacy of awards shows like this. Well, that’s why I’m choosing to only acknowledge one animated feature film this year. Shame on you, Academy, shame.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
My Picks: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin)
Winner: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Runner-Up: Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin)
And the Oscar goes to: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike somehow was able to capture most of the Amy Dunne on the page in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. While that might seem like a bit of a slight, Amy Dunne is one of the most complex characters I got to know in 2014. She’s highly intelligent, manipulative, vindictive, tormented, funny, two-faced, and sinister. My expectations couldn’t have been any higher for the on-screen depiction of Amy Dunne, and, somehow, Pike rose to the occasion. That becomes even more of an accomplishment when you consider how much of the inner monologue of the character in the book is absent in the film. It wasn’t just that Rosamund Pike played the most memorable character of the year; it was that she embodied her. My very close second is Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin. As “The Female,” Johansson played the part of an alien temptress, and while it wasn’t as big of a performance as Pike’s, it was just as nuanced. I expect Julianne Moore to go home with a statue in this category on Sunday. I haven’t seen Still Alice, but as a huge fan of Moore’s previous work in films like Magnolia, The Hours, and Boogie Night, I’d have no problem with her finally getting her Oscar gold.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
My Picks: Michael Keaton (Birdman), Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Russell Crowe (Noah), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar)
Winner: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Runner-Up: Michael Keaton (Birdman)
And the Oscar goes to: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
This is another one of those huge oversight categories. Much like Pike’s performance inGone Girl, Jake Gyllenhaal is frightening as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler. Unlike Pike, Gyllenhaal was not nominated. Everything about Bloom is unsettling, and most of the credit here has to go to Gyllenhaal. Louis Bloom made me feel disgusting watching him, and I haven’t found a way to Purell my brain to forget about him yet. Michael Keaton, on the other hand, has been trading wins with Eddie Redmayne throughout awards season. While I haven’t seen Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, I can say that Keaton played one of the most sympathetic characters of the year in Birdman. It’s a very meta role for Keaton to play, and I couldn’t help but feel for him as his delusions of grandeur became more and more literal throughout the film.
My Picks: Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Darren Aronofsky (Noah), Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin)
Winner: Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin)
Runner-Up: Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman)
And the Oscar goes to: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
I actually have no clue which director will win this category on Sunday between Inarritu and Linklater. They’re somewhat interchangeable on my list to be honest. Birdman is technically proficient beyond any other film I saw this year. It confounds me how Inarritu was able to make this look like one constant long take. I was just as dazzled in the confines of a theater on Broadway as I was watching Sandra Bullock float through space in last year’s winner in this category, Gravity. Meanwhile, Boyhood is unlike any other film you’ve seen because no other film has been shot over the course of twelve years. A lot of people talk about Linklater’s gradual filmmaking technique like it’s a gimmick, but it’s so much more than that. There’s a level of intimacy, nostalgia, and development in Boyhood that no other single film has. Maybe it does feel like someone else’s family recordings, but I bet you’ve never been this invested in someone else’s home movies before. Sadly absent on the Academy’s list is Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you look at a lot of critic’s top 10 lists, this one ranks in the top three in most cases. Under the Skin is the definition of art house cinema. It’s beautiful, esoteric, and unforgettable. If this movie contained the words, “A Stanley Kubrick Film,” on its poster, you can bet it would have been a front-runner.
Best Original Screenplay
My Picks: Alejandro G. Inarritu/Nicolas Giacobone/Alexander Dinelaris Jr/Armando Bo (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Jon Ronson/Peter Straughan (Frank), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Winner: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Runner-Up: Alejandro G. Inarritu/Nicolas Giacobone/Alexander Dinelaris Jr/Armando Bo (Birdman)
And the Oscar goes to: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
The distinction made between original screenplay and adapted seems straightforward, but the list of nominees doesn’t always seem to follow the established rule, so forgive me if I mess something up. Boyhood is my personal favorite in this category. Not only is it the most ambitious and comprehensive story in this year, but the craftsmanship exhibited in the storytelling is unparalleled. The amount of commitment it must have taken to tell this story is spellbinding, but I’m sure it also benefitted from the twelve years Linklater took to shoot this movie. Birdman is a much denser tale by comparison. I loved all the layers to Birdman’sstory. Not only are there themes regarding egos, legacies, and fame, but the movie contained some very clever commentary on Hollywood as well.
Best Adapted Screenplay
My Picks: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Walter Campbell/Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), Christopher McQuarrie/Jez Butterworth/John-Henry Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow), Mark Bomback/Rick Jaffa/Amanda Silver (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Darren Aronofsky/Ari Handel (Noah)
Winner: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Runner-Up: Walter Campbell/Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin)
And the Oscar goes to: Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
You may have gathered this earlier, but Gone Girl was the best book that I read in 2014. Maybe that makes my opinion biased in this category, but I would argue that it actually makes me a tougher customer. Luckily, Gillian Flynn, the book’s author, also penned the screenplay for David Fincher’s movie. Pairing such an amazing author with a director who has proven time and time again that he can faithfully bring some of the most beloved modern novels to the big screen made for a winning combination, to say the least. While I still would recommend the book over the movie, I can confidently say that this is the best adaptation I could have hoped for. While I missed some of the psychology from the book, much of the story remained intact. It more than pleases me to see such reverence paid to one of my favorite books.
My runner-up took the opposite approach from what I can tell. While I still haven’t read the novel Under the Skin, the movie never reveals much of the story. I suspect that might frustrate a lot of viewers, but it only added intrigue for me. Under the Skin may seem like a minimalistic tale, but there’s so much lying right beneath it’s surface that I was compelled to watch it multiple times. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I understand Under the Skinyet, however, I do appreciate how its loose narrative has led me to drawing my own profound conclusions about what the movie has to say about the fabric of human nature.
My Picks: Birdman, Under the Skin, Boyhood, Gone Girl, Noah
Winner: Gone Girl
Winner: Under the Skin
And the Oscar goes to: Boyhood
Here’s the thing, if you ask me what my favorite movie is tomorrow it could change to any one of these five picks. It’s actually kind of nice not to have one de facto best picture of the year because that means it was a great year for movies.
My winner and my runner-up are pretty interchangeable, to the point where I’m going to label both as my winners and you’ll never know which was where when I started writing this (take that). Not a day goes by where I’m still not thinking about these stories. Something about Gone Girl and Under the Skin shook me to my core, and I continue to carry them with me as influences when I work on my own projects. I’ve praised both in this post, Under the Skin in its own separate review, and I hope to make a new post on Gone Girl in the future.
I’ve also praised Boyhood and Birdman in this post and on this blog. They both have received plenty of accolades already, and I expect them to receive a few more this weekend. While they might not be my top two films of the year, I’m perfectly fine with them being acknowledged by the Academy as the best of 2014.
That just leaves you, Noah. Here’s a movie that has certainly pissed off its fair share of people, and that’s really too bad. I’m not what you would call a religious person, but I did spend quite a few Sunday’s at church growing up. I don’t know how many times I was told the story of Noah and his ark, but it never really resonated with me. So why did I go see it opening weekend with a large amount of enthusiasm? Darren Aronofsky, why else? While plenty of viewers expecting a faithful interpretation of the biblical story were livid, and plenty of others didn’t go at all because they weren’t interested in a Bible lesson, I went in with an open mind and had one of my favorite movie-going experiences of the year. Aronofsky reflected more on the hedonistic and destructive qualities of humanity, and while the picture he painted certainly wasn’t flattering, it was one of the most thoughtful of the year. Perhaps this deserves a longer post in the future as well, but for now I just wanted to mention how much I appreciated the larger themes in Noah, especially those relating to the ecological footprint of our species.
2014 was a great year for movies, and I still have plenty left to watch. Here’s to hoping that 2015 has the same amount of memorable experiences in store for us.