My Favorite Moments in the 2014 Best Picture Nominees: American Sniper

This is quickly becoming a favorite annual tradition of mine.

Here’s how Oscar season works: from mid-December until mid-January, I go over what will and what won’t be nominated. Opinions are formed. It can get heated. Then they announce the nominations, and from then until Oscar night, it’s all about what’s going to win. And more opinions are formed. The problem is that nowhere during this do we actually stop and appreciate the films. They’re always seen through the lens of competition.

So what I do every year is, after all the analysis is done, and all the opinions are dealt with, I stop, take a minute, throw it all away, and just stop to appreciate the movies. I watch all the nominees again, and I pick my favorite moments (or elements) from each of them. The ultimate goal being to remind everyone that once you take away all the competition, the awards, arbitrary decisions of what film is better, what we’re left with is great cinema. And that’s what it’s all about.

We begin with American Sniper:

American Sniper - Title Card

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5. The fake baby

Now hold on, hear me out. This isn’t just so I can make fun of the atrociously obvious fake baby in that one home scene. There is a point here. The reason the fake baby was used is because Clint Eastwood, who is notorious for shooting fast, decided, “Who gives a shit about the baby? I don’t have time for dealing with a real one. Just put a doll in there, let’s shoot the fucking thing, and move on.” And a lot of people are making fun of him for it. You know, he’s 84, and maybe he doesn’t have an eye for these things anymore. But you know what? This 84-year-old just directed a $300 million movie. And that’s goddamn impressive no matter which way you want to slice it. So really, that’s what this entry is about. The fact that this movie managed to make $300 million at the box office. You know what the last non-sequel, non-franchise, non-Disney or Pixar film to make $300 million was? The Passion of the Christ. This movie is now one of five movies to be standalone features to make $300 million at the box office. (Standalone meaning… it’s not a Disney animated, it didn’t spawn sequels. It’s just one movie, and it made that much money on its own.) You know what the others are? Titanic, E.T., Forrest Gump and The Passion of the Christ. I’m not counting Independence Day on there, because a sequel is being developed. That’s damn impressive. So that’s what I’m honoring here. But saying that isn’t as interesting as bringing up the fake baby, is it? Look at that fucking thing.

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4. Sniper vs. Sniper

There’s a lot going on here. The guy has been brought up as a threat throughout the entire film, he’s 2,000 yards away, Kyle can’t shoot him without alerting ground troops to their presence, essentially putting all of them in harm’s way and making them sitting ducks. And there’s the fact that every minute he doesn’t take the shot is another minute for that other sniper to pick off more of his guys. And then, once he does manage to hit the guy (which is truly impressive no matter how much embellishment went into the autobiography and all of that stuff), he has to deal with the aftermath, which is the attack. And that turns it into a sequence that is way more thrilling than if it were just a regular attack. Plus, even though it’s a movie convention, I’ll admit, I was a fan of the “I’m ready to come home” conversation he has with his wife during this.

American Sniper - 1

3. The opening scene

It sets up the film perfectly. Him, sitting on the roof, perfectly quiet and still, and he’s got to cover all the ground troops. And everyone that comes out on the street is a potential target. And it doesn’t matter who it is, how old they are — if they make a move with a weapon, he’s gotta take them out. And in situations like this, he’s the only one that can see what’s happening. So it’s his decision. And if he’s wrong, it’s his ass. If he shoots a kid who wasn’t carrying a weapon, he’s fucked. And all of these decisions have to happen within seconds. And, on top of making these decisions, he has to make sure his aim is perfect, otherwise he can put his men in harm’s way. And the opening scene perfectly sets up for that. (Now, I don’t know if we need it broken up in two separated by flashbacks, but that is the biopic convention, so I’m not gonna speak negatively of it. That’s fine.)

American Sniper - 3

2. Almost shooting the kid

This moment is powerful. You’re watching this, knowing what happens when that kid picks up that gun, and it’s tense as shit the entire time. Because that’s the beauty of the situation. You know that he has to kill this kid if he’s planning on firing that weapon. And the kid has no idea how close he is to being killed. And he doesn’t want to have to kill the kid, and we certainly don’t want him to kill the kid, but the situation is here. And it’s riveting. Moments like this are absolutely thrilling. And also, this one does come back to Bradley Cooper’s performance. Because you do see the conflict within him, and the relief when the kid puts the thing down. But I don’t want to get too much into Cooper’s performance, because…

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1. “I just needed a minute.”

This is the strongest scene in the film. It comes out of nowhere. Though I guess, that can be said of a lot of the scenes in the film. As they don’t really string together as cohesively as a different kind of narrative. This one more shows you specific moments and doesn’t have the whole be greater than the sum of those parts. Either way, this moment is truly powerful, because here he is, home from duty, and yet he couldn’t go home to his wife. And it’s not that he doesn’t love his wife, and it’s not that he doesn’t want to go home to his wife, and his children — he just can’t bring himself to go home. He needs some time to sit and work some shit out before he can do that. And it’s a nice quiet moment that speaks to his PTSD way more than the scenes that follow (staring at the blank TV, choking the dog, etc). It’s also the one moment where you can’t deny that Bradley Cooper turned in a hell of a performance. Say what you will about the man and about his story, but Bradley Cooper does a fantastic job in this movie.

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