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Medium Dawn Felagund of the Fountain

The 2015 Oscar Post!

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

The 2015 Oscar Post!

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I started doing this last year, since discovering the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg means that I do actually get the opportunity to see many of the Academy Award nominees each year. (We live just far enough from Baltimore and DC to make it impractical to go there just to see a movie, and our local theaters don't tend to show them. Good movies being one of my great loves in life, this was one of the grievous facts of living in Carroll County.) I actually managed to see all the Best Picture nominees this year except for Whiplash, which is being ridiculously released on DVD/On Demand on Tuesday, two days after the Oscars, and as far as I know, it wasn't even at the Majestic.

I'll go backwards and start with Best Picture since anyone who actually is reading this is probably most interested in this rather than my opinion on, say, the Best Live-Action Short. (Which I do have an opinion on!) This was a really hard choice for me this year. I loved several of the nominated films. I also felt like there were a couple of nominees where I would have rather seen something else nominated. (*ahem* Wild)

It ends up being a toss-up for me between Selma and The Imitation Game. I loved The Imitation Game; after I saw it, I said it was in many ways a perfect movie for me with complicated, compelling characters, a driving plot, brilliant acting, and deep, interesting questions. Yet I find that Selma has had more staying power, and more than a month after I saw both of them in quick succession, I think Selma was the better movie. I thought that Selma did a brilliant job of showing the difference between belief in a philosophy (nonviolent direct action) and actually having to live that philosophy (i.e., send your followers into dangerous situations, telling them they cannot answer force with force, and know that they will likely be arrested, injured, or even killed). It is easy, looking at people like Martin Luther King, to celebrate their courage in standing up to injustice as they did without perceiving the balancing act and the human element that went into and often undermined their service to their movement. It is easy, in retrospect, to applaud leaders like MLK without realizing that, in the moment and with success never a guarantee, it seemed an equal or greater chance that the same choices would be judged as reckless by history.

Boyhood was my third choice. This was also my kind of movie: No real plot! Just following the very believable lives of ordinary people through the kinds of conflicts that seem enormous when you're living them but are the sorts of things that many people endure. It was the kind of movie where you can sit down and forget your own problems while watching other people struggle with theirs. The characters were believable and likable, and the acting was excellent.

Birdman is getting all of the buzz and is a favorite according to some people. I have to be up-front that the conditions under which I watched Birdman were not ideal: Comcast had messed up our Internet, and the movie (which we watched on Amazon Instant Video) stopped every thirty seconds or so. An hour and 45 minutes into the movie, we'd been watching it for two hours and fifteen minutes. I was so angry and irritated, so that may well color my judgment.

There were a lot of things I liked about Birdman. I liked how it felt constantly as though it was on the edge of madness. It was hard to tell what was imagined, what was contrived, and what was real. I liked the pervading theme of trying to bring order and a sense of self-control through imagination. (Yep! Been there!) But it also felt a little too self-congratulatory to me in its theme of "the power of movies" (and not just any movies but the worst of the derivative explosion-riddled popcorn fare that Hollywood has to offer). Likewise, its rather woe-is-us comment on how hard it is to get people's attention in the era of social media and the viral video was a little heavy-handed to me.

And there were three that I was less overwhelmed by. They weren't bad movies; they just wouldn't have made my list of the year's best. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another that I've seen getting a lot of buzz. I was entertained by it and promptly forgot about it. It just didn't click with me in the way it seems to be clicking with a lot of people. I saw it when it first came out, and I don't even remember enough about it to say anything more than this.

I watched The Theory of Everything last night, about Stephen Hawking's romance with and marriage to his wife Jane. Again, it was a good movie but, again, it felt a little too heavy-handed to me. Like, "This is the point where I'm supposed to admire Jane for her attitude of wanting whatever time she can have with the man she loves." And this is the point where I'm supposed to understand that "Taking care of a profoundly disabled husband isn't all fun and games, no matter his charm and eccentricity. It's a real pain in the ass when I'm trying to study medieval poetry and he's riding the kids around in his wheelchair and knocking shit down." And now I'm supposed to admire them both for their forward-looking polyamory, amicable parting, and recognition that other partners better met their needs. Also, there was more than I felt was needed about God and religion, like, "OMG we're making a movie about a likable atheist, so we need to make sure that the audience understands that we're not really endorsing a lack of belief in God by constantly letting believers get in tidy little quips!" I do, however, think it is hard to make a movie about a living person who is as admired as Stephen Hawking is, and the movie did an admirable job under those conditions.

American Sniper, on the other hand, didn't go quite far enough for me. I have seen interesting commentary written about the fact that the movie is a critique of hypermasculine gun culture. I think the fact that so many people come out of it thinking it is an unabashed celebration of an American hero who smoked a lot of terrists speaks to the failure of that message for all but the liberals who were primed to tease that out. I agree with the critique I've seen that the complete lack of context for the War in Iraq (as a war that was predicated upon deception) removes a lot of the nuance from the conflict between the U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi citizens. It becomes too easy to see the enemy as monstrous and U.S. soldiers as enduring sacrifice for the noble cause of eradicating that monstrosity. It also bugged me that his wife was such an annoying, nagging character, and Kyle's own struggle with PTSD miraculously evaporated once he gave himself over to the larger goal of helping fellow veterans by ... teaching them to shoot at the gun range. Psychiatric illness is rarely so tidy, so convenient, and I would have liked to have seen a more honest assessment of that. The great irony that he was killed by one of those fellow veterans at that gun range seems a mere blip after the first two hours of the movie, which don't seem to do enough to challenge Kyle's mindset (which happily corresponds with the mindsets of many who saw the movie). I've seen its message described as difficult; I'd rather go with "chameleon," in that the case can be made that it is a critique of gun culture or yet another tone-deaf war movie.

For Best Actor, I missed Foxcatcher, for which Steve Carrell was nominated, but I saw all of the others and have to go with Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game. I thought he was absolutely brilliant in this role. I kind of roll my eyes at all the fangirling that goes on where he's concerned (mostly because I think he's kind of weird-looking and so don't get the whole Benedict-Cumberbatch-as-sex-symbol thing; I feel like I have to go into hiding for saying that), but I see now that it is not undeserved, at least as far as his talent goes. I still think he's weird-looking. *goes into hiding*

For Best Actress, I missed Still Alice (Julianne Moore) and Two Days, One Night (Marion Cotillard), but of the three remaining, my vote goes to Reese Witherspoon for Wild. I think Wild was robbed. It should have been nominated for Best Picture. It was better than about half the nominees in that category and holds its own with the rest. Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed was brutally honest in that role, depicting a character who is very often unlikable in such a way that she became wholly relatable. Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl would be a close second for me; she was chilling in that role.

Best Supporting Actor ... well, I only saw two of these, but my vote would go to Edward Norton for Birdman. I couldn't help but to think that it must be intimidating to play a character who is a brilliant actor. Norton exuded this sleazy alpha-male charm that made me cringe and that absolutely drove the story in many scenes.

For Best Supporting Actress, my vote goes without a doubt to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. (I saw all the nominees here except Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.) She was by far the most interesting character in a movie that presented a cast of interesting characters, and Arquette nailed the simultaneous strength and vulnerability required a woman in her situation. A not-so-close second would go to Emma Stone for Birdman.

We missed the animated short films this year because they were at the Majestic the weekend we were in Stowe, but for Live Action Short Film, my vote goes to "The Phone Call," about a woman working in a crisis center who takes a call from a man who has OD'ed on his antidepressants and wants someone to talk to him as he dies. This short was like being punched multiple times from the inside till I just ached. It was very powerful and intense for me. It also illustrates one of the things I love most about short films: the ability to do so much with so little, an apt counterpoint to the message in Birdman.

I thought the whole live action short film category was really strong this year. I enjoyed all the nominees, and it was hard to choose (but something that feels like it has done physical violence to my emotions will win out every time for me). Bobby's vote went to "Boogaloo and Graham," about two little boys living in Northern Ireland and their pet chickens. He said it is rare that something so short can make him laugh so hard, and I agree; it was adorable and hilarious without being cutesy or sentimental. I also really liked "Parveneh," about an Afghani girl living illegally in Switzerland, who seeks the help of a Swiss girl in wiring money home to her family. "The Butter Lamp" was like putting a puzzle together to figure out what was going on, and I loved how the artistic choices just amassed until one was like, "Oooooh! Oh." "Aya" was probably my least favorite; it just didn't click or engage me the way the others did.

So there you go. I am never right about these things, so we'll see if I do any better this year. Anyone who has read this far: What were your choices? What were your favorite movies this year? (Especially those that didn't get nominated!) We're going into the dry season movie-wise, and I'm always looking for something to see me through.

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • I was really hoping that 'Guardians of the Galaxy' would do better because, dang, that movie was *fun*! :)

    Because while I adore 'serious cinema' (maybe a little too much sometimes, more than once I've been called a 'movie snob') sometimes I just want to go out and relax for a couple of hours, y'know?
    • I loved GotG! :) And I think it was better than some of the Best Picture nominees. But I knew going in that it was in the class of movie that wouldn't even get looked at by the Academy for more than the technical categories. Which is a shame. I wish they could relax in some of the categories the way they have in the animated categories.

      (I'm also a movie snob! :D)
      • To be honest, I went to see GotG expecting to sit through a scifi movie being at least entertained. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was utterly *charmed* by it!

        Apparently though, they decided to give GBH with awards. And sadly, I can't say I'm surprised that Cumberbatch didn't win either because Oscar has no balls. (Yes, I'm still bitter about 2006.)
        • I think Cumberbatch's loss was the one I was most disgruntled about. I felt like he did a phenomenal job in The Imitation Game and really brought so much emotional power to the role. He pulled me in, and while I loved Kiera Knightley in her role, Cumberbatch stole the show. The movie was mediocre without him. (He also made me a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch! :)

          Eddie Redmayne was excellent as well as Stephen Hawking, but I didn't feel like he was as powerful in his role. (Also, as my husband pointed out when we were driving home, the fact that Redmayne had ample examples of Hawking's mannerisms and speech made his job somewhat easier than Cumberbatch's, who had to create a challenging character from whole cloth.)
  • I haven't seen any of these films yet. However, I kept my fingers crossed for our movie "Ida" in the Best Foreign Language Film category.


    • I was thrilled for Ida (and for Poland! Yay mother country! :D) It was the only of the Foreign Language nominees that I've seen so far, but it was incredible: so powerful, so brilliantly written and acted. So my sincerest congratulations! :D
  • I still have several of those movies on my 'to watch' folder, so I can't comment with a comprehensive view, but I loved reading your post.

    I'm totally with you on Wild. It's a wonderful movie, starkly honest and now I'm dying to read the book. I suspect everyone would be talking about this movie if it were about a guy. Can't help but thinking about 'Into the Wild', which, in my harsh opinion, is about a selfish boy. Cheryl goes the other way around and comes out better. And Laura Dern as her mom is wonderful and could be a contender for Patricia Arquette's mom in Boyhood if we had had her a little more time on screen. Btw, PA earned my complete respect for that role, here from my single-mom chair. She was wonderful in ways that I can't still write about without getting a sting in my eye.

    Loved Still Alice (Jullianne Moore is flawless, as usual and KStew shines - she can act! who knew!). Loved Whiplash (there's already slash at AO3, lol - need to read that). American Sniper... not so much. I think it sits on the edge of the razor, it just shows and abstains from telling you what to think, which is great - I'm so done with moralizing movies... but maybe it could show a little bit more, to push it over the edge? Like Kyle's darker side, which is completely left out?

    Loved Birdman. The story in itself would be bland but the cinematography and the acting are superb. The score is awesome. I love the blend of light and dark, the touches of humour, the feeling of being on the brink of madness and the ending! :D And Ed Norton. :D

    And Wild. I need to say it again, how much I loved this movie. It has Adrienne Rich and Leonard Cohen all in one scene. :D
    • I just loved Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. I saw the movie months ago, but hers was the character that stuck with me the most. I read an article that said she was something of a lead in a supporting role. I agreed with that: The "boy" in "boyhood" is obviously the lead, but her struggles, her triumphs were the ones that felt most compelling to me.

      I haven't seen Still Alice yet, but it is on my list! Whiplash is out tomorrow, and my husband and I are planning to watch it this weekend. If I like it, I might break my fannish monogamy long enough to read that story. ;)

      I think it sits on the edge of the razor, it just shows and abstains from telling you what to think, which is great - I'm so done with moralizing movies... but maybe it could show a little bit more, to push it over the edge? Like Kyle's darker side, which is completely left out?

      Yes, I felt like it needed to go a bit further. As it stands, I feel like it confirms whatever opinion the viewer brings to the theater. My father-in-law, a firearms instructor and red-blooded 'Merican, saw it totally differently than I did, as an anti-war progressive. I felt like it wanted to say something, but it also wanted to be a blockbuster and so needed a clear enemy (the foil characters of Kyle and Mustafa felt like that to me) and couldn't be too morally messy. Kyle's complexity is lost, but I think part of that too is that he is only recently deceased (and was alive during the filming) and with a very-much-alive widow and children; it's hard to show a person in all his complexity (read: flawed) under those circumstances. (For the same reason, Theory of Everything gave a rosy picture of Stephen Hawking whereas Selma was much more honest about MLK.)

      Totally agree on Birdman. :)

      And Wild. I need to say it again, how much I loved this movie. It has Adrienne Rich and Leonard Cohen all in one scene. :D

      Yes! It was robbed by not being nominated (despite the fact that there could have been one more nominee).
      • Whiplash slash -> meh, don't waste your time. I was sorely disappointed. I didn't read the whole 14 stories that were on AO3, but those I did, well... they are predictable.
  • Try to watch Wild Tales just to see how crazy we Argentines are ;)
    • Added to the list--thank you! :) The only nominee in the Foreign Language category that I've seen so far is Ida (the Majestic gets relatively few foreign language films for whatever reason), but I'm looking at the IMDb entry now, and this looks really intriguing!
  • I didn't see all the Oscar nominees this year, or indeed even most of them, but after watching the awards the two I want to see are Whilplash and Still Alice. I was glad to see J.K. Simmons win. I've always thought he was a good actor, and he sure can play a scary son of a bitch. I remember his turn as a neonazi on Oz. Chilling.

    Julianne Moore is another favorite of mine and I know she was good in Still Alice. Few people know that Alzheimer's used to be called presenile dementia, which meant it turned up before a person got old. Then doctors didn't want to diagnose if for a while, now it's back to being a thing again. They really need to find effective treatments for it. A cure would be better but I don't see that in the offing anytime soon.

    I wasn't impressed with American Sniper but Cooper did give a great performance. I still would have picked Eddie Redmayne though. He did an amazing job, and the academy always rewards a turn as a real person, especially if it's someone with a disability.

    I read a book years ago about the Oscars and the corruption and buying votes and everything that has gone on with them since their inception but I don't care about all that. It's still a fun event and I look forward to it every year.
    • Few people know that Alzheimer's used to be called presenile dementia, which meant it turned up before a person got old. Then doctors didn't want to diagnose if for a while, now it's back to being a thing again. They really need to find effective treatments for it. A cure would be better but I don't see that in the offing anytime soon.

      Alzheimer's is probably my greatest fear. To be so afflicted would be to lose the things I value the most. I am less afraid of pain and far less afraid of death.

      I remember as a psych undergrad 10ish years ago being taught that Alzheimer's couldn't be diagnosed before death (although there were certain circumstances where a diagnosis was fairly certain) and that it wasn't deadly. I hear references now to both diagnosis and death of Alzheimer's, so I'm assuming thinking has changed on this subject.

      Anyway, to come back around to cheerier Oscar territory :D ... I remember seeing discussion of Still Alice now. It is definitely on my to-see list.

      the academy always rewards a turn as a real person, especially if it's someone with a disability.

      Ah, like they tend to vote for movies about movies! Looking at you, Birdman ... ;)

      I agree that Redmayne was phenomenal. Talk about a tough role! But I still would have voted for Cumberbatch; his performance just floored me.

      It's still a fun event and I look forward to it every year.

      Me too. :) I don't put a whole lot of stock in who wins, but it's fun to debate the choices and then see who actually gets picked. And the months between the announcement of the nominees and the actual awards are some of the best, as there is a pretty good guarantee that there will be something good in theaters (even if we have to drive 45 minutes to Gettysburg to see it! :) November through February, I'm like a kid in a candy store movie-wise. Now we're entering the dry season, but I'm hoping that renting the ones I missed will make that more bearable.
      • I agree about Alzheimers/Dementia. It robs a person of their personality, everything that makes us who we are. I think people don't die of Alzheimer's per se but of various complications.

        LOL about Birdman. I liked that movie but I don't think I would have chosen it over The Imitation Game, and Cumberbatch would have won any other year.

        That's what I like about the awards too, the pre-Oscar hype, seeing who and what is getting the buzz and how that fluctuates over the season, which movies sound like something I should seek out and which I can wait for on cable. We don't get a lot of the nominated movies here, especially the smaller independents, but a lot of times they'll play at the theaters after the Oscars and that makes the dry season more bearable.
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