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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 2013-2014)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2013

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

Analysis:

12 Years a Slave is a movie about how a white dude helped out a black man. (That’s the message here, right?)

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a musician in Boston who is captured and sold into slavery down south. And we follow him during the twelve years hence until he is freed. It’s… harrowing.

The movie is absolutely incredible and there’s no denying this was by far the best choice in the category for Best Picture. My whole thing was — as great as it is, it’s not my favorite film in the category. Though, I’m sure that’s one of those situations that will be remedied in time. We’re only really four years removed from this one, so it feels too recent to really have a different opinion. But that’s the beautiful thing about time — things change.

American Hustle is David O. Russell doing his thing again. This one’s the most overtly Scorsese.

It’s about ABSCAM. A bunch of con artists help the FBI perform a sting operation and entrap some corrupt politicians.

People forget this movie has a plot. Mostly everyone remembers the cast and the music and all the fun scenes. But there is actually a story here.

The movie’s great, everyone likes it. But this, more than the other David O. Russell movies of this ilk, feels hollow. The Fighter felt big on energy and substance and depth. Silver Linings felt big on energy and was fine on the other two. This is big on energy and has little of the other two. I like it a lot, but seriously — there’s not much here beneath the surface. I wouldn’t take it at all, as much as I enjoy it. Wolf of Wall Street is gonna be Scorsese doing Scorsese. This is David O. Russell doing Scorsese. Solid film, but not something you vote for.

Captain Phillips is gonna devolve into some form of an “I am the captain now” joke. It’s almost impossible to not bring up that phrase when talking about this movie.

This continues Tom Hanks’ cinematic bad luck with transportation. First, he can’t get on a spaceship without some shit going down. Now he can’t go on a boat. After this — plane.

It’s about a hijacking of a cargo ship by Somali pirates, and the standoff that ensued.

This would be a decent movie on its own, but directed by Paul Greengrass — he makes it work. I had zero expectations for this movie going in, and was shocked by how much I liked it coming out. It’s really good. It’s tense, it’s well acted, and it’s anchored by a great performance from Tom Hanks, who continues to be one of the most underrated great actors in cinema.

I like this film a lot. But at best it’s a fifth choice. One of those films you love to see nominated but would never take. Those happen. The joy comes from knowing it at least got the chance to compete.

Dallas Buyers Club is an okay movie that seems better than it is because the two lead performances are astounding.

It’s about Ron Woodruff, a Texas man diagnosed with AIDS and given months to live. Refusing conventional treatment, he goes to Mexico and gets a bunch of non-FDA approved medication, which helps prolong his life several years. And he manages to illegally import the drugs and help out a bunch of other people also suffering with AIDS.

The film is all about the McConaughey and Leto performances. Outside of that, it’s just fine. Fairly by the numbers. If you look at it as just a film — it’s just fine. The weakest in the category. It may not be the least favorite of many in the category, but it’s not something that should have won. The nomination is actually the reward.

Gravity is Alfonso Cuaron’s space movie. It’s weird how simple it is and of the moment it is. This is one of those where, even at the time I was conscious that it was one of those movies that only really works right in that moment you see it in theaters and isn’t the kind of movie that holds up over time.

Sandra Bullock is in space to fix a telescope. Some accident happens with a satellite and debris starts flying into orbit. The debris flies right at her and her team and she winds up in space, alone and untethered. And the rest of the film is about her trying to get her way back to safety and, ultimately, to Earth.

It’s only 90 minutes but it’s a hell of a ride. It’s an amazing film. I know that people thirty years from now might look back and go,” What the hell? This won all these awards?” But this was quite the experience at the time and was a hell of a film. It was my favorite film of 2013, and I’ll probably continue voting for it here, even though I was well aware that this wasn’t the best choice in the category and that over time, they will have made the right decision. But now, I think I need to stick with my original decision, because it’s not like time has really passed on this one.

Her is Spike Jonze, who just makes great movies. Here’s what he’s got so far: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are, and this.

Joaquin Phoenix is a lonely greeting card writer who buys a new operating system that is designed to do just about everything you could possibly need it to do. And he ends up falling in love with it.

That’s it, really. That’s the film. It’s fucking fantastic and there’s really no other way to put it. This film will hold up. It might end up top three or even top two in this category. Don’t think it’ll ever be the choice, but it’s definitely a film you can consider taking. It’s top three for me.

Nebraska is Alexander Payne. And he makes good movies.

It’s a father-son story. Bruce Dern is an old man who thinks he’s won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes. So he sets off to (insert title here) to pick up his check. His son thinks he’s nuts, but to prevent him from walking there by himself, he agrees to drive with him. And the film becomes a sweet road trip between the two, getting to know more about them and their family history. It’s really touching.

It’s a very good film. I don’t love it, but I like it a lot. There are definitely other Alexander Payne films I’d look to vote for over this. This… probably my least favorite film in the category, but even so it’s great. I’d maybe say it ends up like seventh in the end for voting. But still, not something I’d ever take. It’s good, but it’s just not on my radar when it comes to a vote.

Philomena is a film I like a lot. Stephen Frears, written by Steve Coogan, too.

Judi Dench is an Irish woman who got pregnant and gave birth to the child in a nunnery. The nuns forced her to give up the child and live in the convent. And eventually the son was sold off to an American couple. (Because people do fucked up shit in the name of religion.) Dench, years later, tries to find her son, and gets the help of a disgraced journalist in order to find the man. And it’s this beautiful and touching portrait of this woman, and it’s based on a true story. It’s absolutely wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time. One of the real hidden gems of this decade and I’m so glad it ended up being nominated.

The film is quite good, but it falls to the back of the pack, voting-wise. The nomination is the reward. At best it’s an eighth choice for me. I like it, but I just wouldn’t go near it over my other choices. Too strong a category. Sometimes a film is just a “fourth” choice.

The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese. DiCaprio. Wall Street.

Jordan Belfort is a stockbroker who quickly learns the less legal ways of doing business and very quickly becomes very rich and lives a decadent lifestyle full of drugs and sex.

This movie is great. It’s Scorsese doing Scorsese, but no one ever said that’s a bad thing. I love this movie a lot. Would I vote for it? Not a chance. Love it, but not gonna take it in this category. At least three films I’d take over this one. This is like Casino. I like it a lot, but it’s not something that needs to be near the Oscars. Let’s just let it be awesome on its own terms.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: We can all agree that 12 Years a Slave is the right choice and the film that will hold up best over time. Not gonna argue that whatsoever. Gravity was my favorite film of 2013, and I’m in that weird gray area where it’s not quite time to really reconsider anything from the year. So I’m just gonna stick with Gravity for the time being and let the next go-around be the one where I really start to rethink everything and watch the films again with fresh eyes. You need time more than anything to reconsider, and I really haven’t had time. This, to me, feels like it just happened. And in a way, it has. So let’s keep the vote the way it was at the time and see what happens next time.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. 12 Years a Slave
  2. Gravity
  3. Her
  4. The Wolf of Wall Street
  5. American Hustle
  6. Nebraska
  7. Captain Phillips
  8. Dallas Buyers Club
  9. Philomena

Rankings (films):

  1. Gravity
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Her
  4. The Wolf of Wall Street
  5. American Hustle
  6. Captain Phillips
  7. Philomena
  8. Dallas Buyers Club
  9. Nebraska

My Vote: Gravity

Recommendations:

12 Years a Slave is essential and is gonna go down as possibly all-time essential. As a Best Picture winner, there’s no excuse. Especially not now.

Gravity is essential for the Oscar wins. Time may lessen that, but for now, it’s must-see.

Her is essential and it’s only gonna get more essential as time goes on.

The Wolf of Wall Street is essential as a Scorsese film.

American Hustle is essential as a David O. Russell film.

Nebraska is essential as an Alexander Payne film.

That’s the great thing about doing these so soon after. I can call them essential and then wait another 5, 10 years and see what time actually does to them.

Captain Phillips is currently essential. Time will probably lessen this to a high recommend, but now, I think people ought to have seen this movie.

Dallas Buyers Club is essential for Oscar buffs and a high recommend for the performances.

Philomena is a high recommend and very much worth seeing though not, as of yet, remotely essential. I still think it’s really good and a hidden gem from this year, though.

The Last Word: 12 Years a Slave is the choice and it’s one of the more solid choices of all time. No questions about that. I doubt anything else here comes close to holding up as well as this one’s going to. Amazing all around.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2014

American Sniper

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Analysis:

American Sniper is a Clint Eastwood film that started his trend of “hero” films.

It’s about Chris Kyle, an army sniper who has the most confirmed kills of any sniper in US history.

It’s — there’s a lot we can say about it, but let’s leave it at — it made a shit ton of money, and it’s a solid film. It’s not without its problems, but it’s enjoyable enough. Mostly it got on here because it made so much damn money at the box office out of nowhere. It never stood a shot at winning, though there were definitely people who thought it did. It’s bottom two for me in the category. Definitely wouldn’t think about voting for it.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is my favorite film of 2014. I fucking loved this.

It’s about Michael Keaton, as a washed-up actor who used to be a superhero, who has now put all his money into a stage version of a Raymond Carver play and is counting on it to be his ticket back. Only he can’t shake his past, the play is beset with problems, and there’s the small issue of Keaton possibly losing his sanity.

It’s kind of a Black Swan but for actors instead of ballet. Told entirely to look as though the film was shot in a single take.

It’s so good. I get that people might think it’s Hollywood glorifying actors and think it’s pretentious. I don’t give a fuck about any of that. I loved this movie and it was my favorite film of 2014. And I’m gonna vote for it because of that.

Boyhood is Richard Linklater’s (possibly) magnum opus.

He shot this film over the course of 12 years, with the same cast. It’s about a boy growing up. And every 15 minutes covers a different year in the boy’s life.

It’s a very good movie. I think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and the film was somewhat overrated at the time. Though you can’t deny the ambition of a project like this and you can’t deny that it’s an incredible achievement.

Should it have won Best Picture? I don’t know. Time will well on that. But I can say that I did like the film a lot. Though it is only my fourth favorite film in the category, so I won’t be taking it. (Again, though, with that #4 film. That seems to be a thing now, in these expanded categories.)

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s slow drive to the perfection of his aesthetic style. Every time, he adds a few more actors to his stable, he adds a few new wrinkles to the visuals, and seemingly gets closer to the film he wants to make.

The film’s a weird story within a story within a story, which tells of a young lobby boy working at the finest hotel in Europe, for Ralph Fiennes, known as the best hotel concierge in the world. And Fiennes gets mixed up in the murder of a wealthy woman, who mysteriously has left all her possessions to him.

It’s — the plot doesn’t matter. It’s awesome. This movie is so good. All Wes Anderson movies are good. This was my third favorite film of 2014. Somehow 1, 2 and 3 for me all made it onto this list. So I’ve got an abundance of choices. This also did feel like the third choice in the category, too. It had no shot at winning, but it definitely was right up there among the choices. After years of being ignored by the Academy, here’s him being wholly embraced by them. Which is a weird thing to see. I wonder if this’ll happen again or was a one-off.

The Imitation Game is a biopic of Alan Turing, who helped create a machine that cracked the German’s Enigma machine and essentially helped win World War II.

The film focused both on the creation of the machine and the cracking of the code as well as Turing’s private life, as an antisocial, homosexual man in a society that did not want him. It’s both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.

The film is very good. It’s one of those that hasn’t really held up all that well so far, and I feel like this is gonna be doomed to the ranks of forgotten nominees before long. As a film, I like it a lot, but I also don’t think it’s anything more than a solid nominee. I wouldn’t take it, nor would most people. Middle of the pack.

Selma is a film about Martin Luther King’s march from Selma, Alabama in a fight for Civil Rights.

It’s a solid film. I don’t love it, but it’s well made and well-acted. My least favorite film in the category, though I’d probably take it over one or two of the other nominees. Still, it wouldn’t get very far in the voting for me, just because I think a better film could have been made about the subject matter. It just feels okay and not great.

The Theory of Everything is a biopic of Stephen Hawking and his fight with ALS while also… you know, doing all that smart stuff he did.

The film also deals with the romance between him and his wife, because all these biopics need that romance angle. It’s a pretty by the numbers biopic, but ultimately turns out to be a pretty solid film. Overall, good but not great, and bolstered by two great lead performances. Bottom of the pack, and bottom two or three for the category. Not something I vote for, but the kind of film that populates these extended categories.

Whiplash is a film that came on quietly throughout 2014 and by the time it came out, was perhaps the most acclaimed film of the year. Or at least the one that most people were excited and passionate about.

Miles Teller is a jazz drummer who joins an elite conservatory group and a famous teacher, who is notorious for his… methods.

This film is definitely my tempo. It’s so fucking good. It was my second favorite film of 2014 and were it not for Birdman, I’d have voted for this without hesitation. This movie’s so fucking good.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Birdman for me. My favorite film of 2014 was nominated, and I’m taking it. That’s been the case for pretty much every year going back to 2009, save one. When your favorite film of the year is nominated, you take it. This category has the added bonus of having #2 and #3 nominated too. Which is nice. It’s too recent to really reconsider anything, but even so, this one has four top ten films for me. Still taking Birdman, though.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  2. Boyhood
  3. Whiplash
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  5. The Imitation Game
  6. American Sniper
  7. Selma
  8. The Theory of Everything

Rankings (films):

  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  2. Whiplash
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Boyhood
  5. The Imitation Game
  6. The Theory of Everything
  7. American Sniper
  8. Selma

My Vote: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Recommendations:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a Best Picture winner and is currently essential.

Whiplash is essential. For Oscar buffs, and for all film fans.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson, and therefore essential.

Boyhood is gonna go down as an essential movie (most likely), and currently, it’s very essential.

The Imitation Game is already almost forgotten. It’s a very solid film and I recommend it highly, but it’s not essential nor do I think it’ll ever be essential.

The Theory of Everything is essential for Oscar buffs, otherwise a high recommend with a good lead performance.

American Sniper is Clint Eastwood, making it worth seeing. It’s a solid film that made a shit ton of money. Currently close to essential, but over time it’ll probably just become a solid to high recommend at best.

Selma is a solid film. I don’t love it, but it’s good. I’d say solid to high recommend, and we’ll see what happens to this over time.

The Last Word: Too soon to call. But Birdman, I think, was a good choice. I want to see what time does to this. Boyhood may turn out to be the best choice here, it may not. I don’t know. Let’s see how it goes. For now, I think they made a fine choice. Maybe there will have been other fine choices as well.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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