Ranking the 2015 Best Picture Nominees
8. The Imitation Game
A surprising early favourite for best picture, Morten Tyldum’s Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game is actually a rather ordinary and safe film which mostly skips over Turing’s homosexuality (in a time when being gay was a criminal offence) in order to focus on his part in the war effort. Leading man Benedict Cumberbatch does solid work but his performance as an antisocial genius is a little too similar to his work on Sherlock. The only thing more baffling than Tyldum’s best director nod, meanwhile, is Keira Knightley getting a nomination for her seen-it-all-before performance. The Imitation Game isn’t a bad film but it’s too bland and safe to be a deserving Oscar nominee.
The most controversial best picture nominee, due to being shut out in just about all categories except this one, Ava DuVernay’s Selma isn’t quite the eye opening experience I had hoped for. Despite an outstanding leading performance from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. and a few sequences of real power, Selma is dragged down by its pacing issues; the film is at times incredibly slow, with a fondness for telling rather than showing. An important film, perhaps, but Selma didn’t hit as hard as it needed to.
6. American Sniper
American Sniper faced a lot of critical backlash because of its flag waving patriotism and the questionable reputation of real life focus Chris Kyle. Both are fair criticisms, but that didn’t stop American Sniper from being a mostly interesting and well-made war film. I’ve been harsh on Bradley Cooper in the past (I thought his last two Oscar nominations were undeserved), but he gives by far the best performance of his career in American Sniper, taking what could have been a one note character and making him, if not quite likable, at least sympathetic. The patriotism can be cringeworthy and the dialogue often heavy handed, but American Sniper is still a perfectly fine film, and Clint Eastwood’s best in a few years.
5. The Theory of Everything
Much like The Imitation Game, James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything is as straightforward a British biopic as you’re likely to get. The beats are predictable, the upper lips as stiff as they come, and any potential controversies are swept under the rug for cosy romance. Unlike The Imitation Game, however, this Stephen Hawking biopic has an outstanding leading performance from best actor favourite Eddie Redmayne. The facial expressions, the body language, the voice; Redmayne truly inhabits his real life counterpart in a way few actors have managed to do. The Theory of Everything isn’t a great film but it does have an outstanding leading performance that pushes it higher than some of its Oscar rivals.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
As a longtime Wes Anderson fan, I was ecstatic to see The Grand Budapest Hotel pick up a best picture nod (and to see Anderson himself get nominated for best director). If not quite his best film ever, The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly a strong candidate. I’ve come to expect beautiful set and costume design, witty original scripts and strong ensemble casts (Ralph Fiennes was deserving of a nomination) from Anderson, but The Grand Budapest Hotel had something Anderson’s films have been truly lacking for a while now: Heart and soul.
If Birdman does win best picture (and it looks reasonably likely), it may go down in history as the weirdest best picture winner ever. Alejandro G. Iñarritu’s black comedy drama about a struggling actor having a breakdown exists in a weird dream-like world, with entire set pieces and conversations existing in leading man Michael Keaton’s head. This is only furthered by the outstanding cinematography, as the film was famously filmed in just a few takes (I spent a large part of the film mesmerised by how it was so seamlessly cut and edited together). It seems to me that Birdman is the biggest rival for just about every major award; it could easily win best film, Iñarritu is a strong bet for best director, it is a likely contender for best original screenplay and cinematography and, above all, Michael Keaton’s terrific performance is a real contender for best actor.
When a director can take a subject I actively dislike, such as jazz and/or drumming, and make a film as thrilling and intense as Whiplash, I know I’ve seen real talent in Damien Chazelle. The music is mostly enjoyable, the editing is impeccable, and in a lesser year, Miles Teller would have earned a nomination. Ultimately, however, this is J.K. Simmons’ film entirely; his performance as an aggressive music teacher is one of the most blistering in-your-face performances since R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. The best supporting actor Oscar already has his name on it, and it shouldn’t be any other way.
One of my favourites of last year and my favourite of this year’s best picture contenders, Boyhood is a film that absolutely lives up to the hype. The most realistic portrayal of a family’s life I’ve ever seen in mainstream cinema, Boyhood does what very few films ever manage to do; it made me reflect on my own life and experiences and, in some ways, helped me to further understand them. Ethan Hawke gives a wonderfully warm performance and Patricia Arquette is a best supporting actress certainty, but the praise for Boyhood belongs to director Richard Linklater. Over twelve years, he created one of the most ambitious films ever made, a remarkable show of patience and dedication. He’s probably going to win best director, Boyhood will probably win best picture, and both are highly deserving winners.
By Harry Ford
- Posted in: Lists ♦ Oscars
- Tagged: alejandro g inarritu, american sniper, ava duvernary, benedict cumberbatch, best actor, best actress, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best films, best original screenplay, best picture, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, birdman, boyhood, bradley cooper, clint eastwood, damien chazelle, david oyelowo, eddie redmayne, edward norton, emma stone, ethan hawke, felicity jones, james marsh, jk simmons, keira knightley, michael keaton, miles teller, morten tyldum, oscars, patricia arquette, ralph fiennes, richard linklater, selma, the grand budapest hotel, the imitation game, the theory of everything, wes anderson, whiplash