Every year there are notable omissions, but this year’s Best Picture nominees are a pretty fair bunch. Predictably so, every film deserves to be there, but there can only be one winner. Without further ado, here’s my personal ranking of all eight Best Picture nominees.
8. The Theory of Everything
James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic is about as by-the-books as they come, but it’s still a great affecting look into one of the most influential men in the scientific world. Propelled by an outstanding performance by Eddie Redmayne, the film delves deep into his marriage with Jane, played by the excellent Felicity Jones, and how his disease affected their life. It’s your typical well-done British biopic, but don’t let the biopic cliches keep you away.
I’m shocked that David Oleyowo isn’t being recognized for his work as Martin Luther King Jr. This film couldn’t have come at a better time, too (and would’ve gained a lot more traction had screeners been sent out). It’s relevant, poignant, and resembles a time not so different from the one we are in now. Ava DuVernay handles the film with delicacy, but she isn’t afraid to pull back the curtain and show us the behind the scenes look at blacks’ fight for voting and equal rights. Her direction is impeccable, with great attention to detail and sweeping moments.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
While not as charming as his last feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel seems like the culmination of everything Wes Anderson has done thus far. With all of his signature quirks and quips, the film is a joyride from beginning to end. It’s a hilarious tale that never lets up, bolstered by Ralph Fiennes’s charismatic Gustave H. Beautiful cinematography and production design solidify Anderson as one of the finest indie directors of his time.
5. American Sniper
The biggest box office hit and most controversial film of the bunch, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is his best film since Unforgiven. A brutal look at the life of Chris Kyle, a sniper in the Iraq war with over 200 confirmed kills, American Sniper goes deep into Kyle’s psyche, showing the harrowing effects of war. It’s a moving yet tense film, with scenes back home juxtaposed with breathtaking war scenes. Bradley Cooper flexes his muscles as Kyle, offering a performance that asks so much of him and lets him deliver on every level.
The “little indie that could,” Whiplash is a treat. It’s a tense psychological glance into the pursuit of perfection, and what you sacrifice for it. What’s great about Whiplash is that it never succumbs to music indie drama cliches. This is a movie that is supposed to make you uncomfortable, and it sure does thanks to JK Simmons’s performance. The best villain of the year, his creative insults and brutality scare the viewer, but they don’t scare Andrew in his pursuit to be an excellent drummer, and he’s sure to gain the recognition he deserves come Oscars day.
3. The Imitation Game
The trailer for The Imitation Game makes it seem like this year’s The King’s Speech, and in many ways it is. It’s Weinstein’s darling, a British biopic about an influential man in history who overcame obstacles, but the similarities stop there. The Imitation Game avoids what made The Theory of Everything just okay by trusting its performers and interweaving plotline. There aren’t any wasted scenes, every scene is carefully calculated, like Turing himself. It’s very well-directed and scored, but would be nothing without Benedict Cumberbatch, who turns in a beautiful and remarkable performance that gives the film the emotion needed.
Birdman is insane, and I love it. The film never misses a beat and is firing on all cylinders for its two hour run time. Innaritu gives the film such an infectious rhythm that you’ll be tapping your feet the whole time. Michael Keaton delivers the comeback of the year as Riggan, a washed up actor staging a Broadway play. It’s a reflection of Keaton’s career while also being something completely new. Supporting roles courtesy of Emma Stone and Edward Norton keep it afloat, and Birdman features my favorite sequence of the year: Riggan parading through Times Square in his underpants.
By now you’ve definitely heard of Boyhood’s 12-year shooting time span, and how Ellar Coltrane literally grew up on screen. While many are dismissing its gimmick, there’s no denying the beauty behind Boyhood’s simplicity. It’s such a low-key, unique film that is a wonder to watch unfold on screen. Boyhood stresses the importance of those moments that define us, that make us who we are, and it’s the best coming of age tale this century. Linklater’s attention to detail helps him nail those moments with little details, quirks, or a line of dialogue that we know is important. Boyhood will be different for everyone who watches it, but the universality is what unites every viewer. Whether you’re Mason, his sister Sam, or his mother (the amazing Patricia Arquette), everyone can relate in a different way. There’s such beauty in its universality that it almost transcends the limitations of film. We might even forget we’re watching a film and not a child’s home videos. What Linklater has done is fantastic, and it sounds impossible, yet the script allows the film to grow just as its protagonist does, delivering one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen.