So, Birdman won. Any drama to this piece already dissipates. Without sounding too bombastic, this Oscars season saw a whole host of once in a lifetime films. From Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel to Linklater’s Boyhood, it was a rare year to celebrate originality and innovation. Here’s the top eight dismissed and ranked.
8. THE IMITATION GAME.
Benedict was barnstorming as clever egg, Enigma cracking codebreaker, Alan Turing. The only issue was the barns. Bletchley Park’s war-winning huts turned the film into a feel-good summer flick, more than an elegant biopic of a true hero. More Cold Comfort Farm, what happened in the woodshed with Keira Knightley (??), than a portrait of a troubled genius. Still, great for the Cumberbitches. (https://twitter.com/cumberbitches)
7. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.
The Theory of Eddie Redmayne. His physical performance stole the show and the Oscar last Sunday. His and Felicity Jones, as Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde, raised a fairly fluffy, cutesy Cambridge film to a slow-burning global sensation. Though it is questionable whether we really needed a Hawking biopic, it shone where The Imitation Game merely flickered. Even delivering true emotional pathos as Hawking begins his descent from dancing beneath the stars to a wheelchair of astrophysics. Eton Eddie is now ready to go intergalactic himself. (http://www.buzzfeed.com/kimberleydadds/acting-royalty-meets-actual-royalty#.jgRY04qJO)
From two proper white-boy, middle-class english affairs to the unequivocal opposite end of the spectrum. Alongside 12 Years A Slave, Selma stands as a monument to modern film noir. Placing black-rights onscreen seems horribly relevant in an age where a revanchist racism appears to be seeping into the mainstream. (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120685/selma-lessons-ava-duvernays-film). Selma could have been better. So unlike 12 Years, it fails to grab the plaudits. However, Brits David Oyelowo opposite Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ, spiced up an otherwise surprisingly bland blend of Malcolm Xs and belligerent protestors. It was good, but are we to believe it will go down as the definitive Martin Luther King movie? Maybe not.
5. AMERICAN SNIPER.
While people sat down a lot and looked down trodden in Selma, Bradley Cooper was an angry Texan man named Chris Kyle. So, in Eastwood’s biopic, he simply enlists and than shoots the s••t out of a bunch of ‘I’-raquis with his enormous sniper. There is no ‘I’ in team, but Eastwood would have you believe that in Kyle, here we have the saviour of the western world against those bloody orientals. Bringing Orientalism back into vogue, American Sniper is somewhat unsavoury to a sensitive audience due to its obviously gun-ho attitude to the War on Terror. (http://www.alternet.org/culture/american-snipers-sinister-philosophy-pro-war-propaganda-wrapped-moral-truth) It seems a stirring defence of Bush’s neoconservatism that came along a decade too late. Still, Eastwood sure can direct and he transforms the battle scenes into an art form and the domestic into the dramatic via a fine performance from Sienna Miller. A surprisingly acute film.
1-2-3-4. Wow. NOT MY TEMPO. Smack. Tears. Blood, sweat, more tears and jazz drumming. An odd concoction. But one that works wonders onscreen with an extraordinary J.K. Simmons as terror Terence Fletcher, a studio band conductor who is not Glee’s Will Schuester. Simmons plays the role of the year. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo) It bears resemblance to Dallas Buyers Club as a surprise success. Years in poverty, with no financial support, director Damien Chazelle limped around before eventually being picked up by Sony after releasing an 18 min short at Sundance in 2013. Before being catapulted into the Academy Awards and collecting a statuette for Simmons, à la Jared Leto in 2014, alongside universal critical acclaim. Chazelle, drawing on personal inspiration from his time at Princeton was the man to open the lid on the myopic dystopia of mayhem that is a music academy. Now you can just take a glance at Simmons’ face to see the whole horror.
The big loser. Just look at Linklater’s face during the night. The lightly complacent confidence of the week-long run up in which Boyhood was the hype film quickly changed to appreciative recognition, abject defeat and the sour speculation of what-might-have-been. The Golden Globe leviathan failed to translate this momentum into an Oscars sweep, merely collecting Patricia Arquette’s best supporting actress award. Even this modest success was overshadowed by Arquette’s mixed, semi-intoxicated rant on equality of pay and sexism within the system. (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/oscars/oscars-2015-patricia-arquettes-acceptance-speech-for-best-supporting-actress-in-full-10063398.html) Nonetheless, Boyhood was the first of the three once in a lifetime films with which this countdown concludes. Shot over a decade, it charts the trials and tribulations of the teenage Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he bounces between salt of the earth mother (Arquette) and failed state father (Ethan Hawke). This was Linklater’s year, the cumulation of his lifetime’s dedication to taking things slow. It is hard to see him quickly popping up again in the near Oscars future. But here’s to hope.
2. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.
This film is Great. Unless you dislike deep shades of purple. It was style over substance this awards season as The GBH and Birdman swooped to aggressively scoop the majority of important awards. The Grand Budapest Hotel saw Wes Anderson’s weird and wonderful world condensed into a postcard and splashed with a surrealist ski-resort aesthetic that transcended the medium of regulation film-making. It is a riot of comedy, colour and nostalgia. GBH is in equal measure progressive and forward-thinking, as it is copiously retrospective in its eye for a now missing past. An eye-poppingly brilliant Ralph Fiennes turns his hand to humour. He displays a comedic touch and timing that almost overshadow those gloriously clipped consonants he delivers with the crisp eloquence of an Englishman. (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/la-et-mn-en-ralph-fiennes-20141125-story.html) Fiennes’ international concierge is the personification of an interwar history that the director and actor seek to distil and refine in a single character. That they achieve this is testament to their collective genius. The film features an array of prodigious talent, including an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton, a nicely nerdy Jude Law, burly Bill Murray and even George Clooney honeymoons for a brief second. It is worth a watch just for the cascade of cast.
By now, there is probably a sense of film criticism overdose creeping in. Always start with the best first is perhaps valid here. Anyway, the praises of Birdman have been expounded by others on repeat for over a week. You’d need a beak and talons to rend yourself free from the buzz surrounding director Iñarritu’s immediate modern classic. Somehow he manages to harmonise a scathing critique of Hollywood and Broadway into a cohesive, hilarious whole. It is a true feat of art that makes the Mexican a worthy recipient of best director. Birdman is an absolute hoot of a film that always avoids blaring the horn of outsider ideology, frankly feeling more meta than an outsider looking in at the ills of addiction and the evils of narcissism. Michael Keaton plays meta-man, sorry, Birdman. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/birdman/michael-keaton-interview/) The Batman of the nineties, Keaton is ideal for the role of washed-up, bleary eyed sob story of a wreck, craving the recognition of being a ‘real actor’. Like Pinocchio’s pursuit of boyhood, Keaton’s character Riggan Thomson knows deep within that he will never truly be real. And even when he does suffer the hubris of false hope there is always Edward Norton to box him back to reality wearing only boxers or Lindsay Duncan’s chilling critic. Once more a fine cast, Emma Stone’s stoner another addition, do not distract from the fact that this is an original film now writ into the folklore of Hollywood fame. Ironically…
So there we have a great, eight… Mate.