I am still waiting to see “The Theory of Everything,” and “Boyhood.” But having taken in many of this year’s Oscar contenders, I think it’s safe to say that this year’s pick is a sorry lot.
Only “Birdman” can make any claim on being original, authentic, or, indeed, even remotely about anything. It’s an interesting and dynamic film – if not a complete success, then at the very least a mostly-successful experiment. Michael Keaton and Ed Norton have great chemistry, Emma Stone is as good as always, and though it drags in the last half hour (with, in my opinion, a half-assed ‘artistic’ ending) it is by and large an enjoyable picture.
As for the rest of the litter, the only two words that suffice are utterly boring. “The Imitation Game” is the same goddamn tired old song, identical to dozens of other Oscar-bait films. (Think “A Beautiful Mind” and “The King’s Speech” combined, toss in a bit of completely anachronistic sympathy for the persecution of gays, and add a tablespoon of sappiness.) The problem with biopics is that they are typically made by people who adore their subjects – and are rarely anything other than gushing portraits of people who, though interesting, are neutered on screen to be purely sympathetic. (No pun intended, in Turing’s case.)
On that note, “Selma” is passably interesting, but suffers from the same acute hero-worship of its protagonist. MLK Jr. was, evidently, a giant among men and one of the most important (and admirable) figures of the 20th century. But, like all of us, he was also a deeply flawed individual – a mere sixty seconds is devoted to his many, many affairs, and his other shortcomings are similarly ignored. History is also re-written to provide MLK more of an antagonist (as if the antagonists he really faced were not numerous enough!) Lyndon Johnson, in reality a stalwart supporter of King, is portrayed as a grumpy, racist villain. Still, David Oyelowo turns in a great performance, and “Selma” is worth it on a slow evening.
“Whiplash” and “Foxcatcher” are both gigantic snoozefests, identical to every other movie about a promising athlete and a tough, eccentric coach. JK Simmons is always excellent, but in this clunker of a film, who cares?
“American Sniper” is a failure on many, many levels. First of all (and this is often neglected in discussions of it) – it is simply a boring film. It is a bland character study of an uninteresting man that never, ever digs beneath the surface of Chris Kyle’s life, and never seems to approach having a point or any kind of meaning. And, as has often been noted, it ignores glaring faults Kyle had – namely, that he was apparently both a liar and a racist, and that he felt even less remorse than Bradley Cooper’s onscreen automaton. Lastly, despite its creator’s insistence to the contrary, the film is blatantly dishonest about the Iraq War. In a final touch, it vilifies Iraqis – almost to a man, every Iraqi, even the women and children, are savage, demented, evil murderers who deserve exactly the fate that Kyle brings down on them.
Lastly, “The Grand Budapest Hotel…” Seriously? Really? I went in with very high hopes, and could not have been more let down by this smug, humorless and stiff disaster. Perhaps someone who has never met a British person would be amused by Ralph Fiennes’ one dimensional crook, or someone who had never seen a movie could be taken in by “Budapest’s” color and faux charm, but who else could find this anything other than a dismal, dreadful dud?
“Birdman” it is, then, for this year’s Oscars… though there are a half dozen far more deserving films which were not recognized, such as Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” “Calvary,” “A Most Wanted Man…” But then, the Oscars are never really about which films were truly the best, only which have appealed most to the tiny cadre of Academy members. Oh well…
By Malcolm St-Pierre