The Not-Oscars 2014

not-oscars-2014-pelon-mommy-russo-nightcrawler-gyllenhaal-force-majeur.jpgOnce again, it’s Oscar time.

This year’s race is gearing up to be one of the least predictable in recent memory. For every race that has an all-but-guaranteed winner (Julianne Moore, Best Actress; J.K. Simmons, Best Supporting Actor), there are as many that are truly up in the air — some with not only two possible winners, but several. Best Actor? It’s anybody’s guess whether it goes to Eddie Redmayne or Michael Keaton, and an upset by Bradley Cooper isn’t out of the question. Will the Academy reward Richard Linklater’s assured hand at shepherding Boyhood, a 12-year-in-the-making indie that’s full of genuine emotion and about as naturalistic as film can be, or Alejandro Inarritu’s brash, attention-grabbing stylings in the seemingly editless celebration of artistic ego Birdman? We’ll have to wait and see.

The big prize, Best Picture, is up for grabs, too, in a way it hasn’t been in ages. Boyhood was once the clear front-runner, then American Sniper made a killing at the box office and snatched up a surprising number of nominations. But not so fast! Birdman gobbled up awards from the DGA, the PGA, and SAG, making it the film to beat. And you should never underestimate Harvey Weinstein, who, as usual, is gunning desperately, cloyingly hard with his down-the-middle The Imitation Game, which boldly saves all the most fascinating details of Alan Turing’s life for the title cards at the end of the movie. Can we count out The Grand Budapest Hotel? Maybe not, given that ties only Birdman in nominations, and those who love Wes Anderson love him a lot. Even expected also-rans such as The Theory Of Everything, Whiplash, and Selma have at least some chance if the major contenders split the vote enough.

So there’s real suspense at the Oscars this year — for me included. The gold could either go to my very favorite film of the year, or this could be another massive disappointment, with a slicker, emptier production crowding out more deserving fare, like recent years that brought us such dubious Best Picture winners as The King’s Speech and Argo. Here we have clanging Hollywood ego (Birdman) battling conservative patriotism (American Sniper) up against sentimental indie humility (Boyhood) versus Harvey Weinstein (The Imitation Game). Which of these factions will emerge as most dominant in the Academy?

That’s a question for Sunday evening, but for now, it’s time to examine the true best of the year, across the board — those that were nominated, those that should have been nominated, and those who never had a chance.

Here are my Not-Oscars for the 2014 year in cinema!

(As usual, I pick a winner and then list my four other “nominees” in descending order based on how much I liked them. Check out last year’s Not-Oscars here.)

Jake Gyllenhaal plays an unscrupulous news cameraman in the thriller NightcrawlerBEST ACTOR

Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory Of Everything
Jack O’Connell, Starred Up
Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year
David Oyelowo, Selma

Honorable Mentions: Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar; Johannes Kuhnke, Force Majeur

My Best Actors for 2014 all feature men whose constrained exteriors contain (or strive to contain) something awesome or fearsome within. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is the sinister, sicker cousin of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort from last year’s The Wolf Of Wall Street; both are origin stories about unrepentant American villains, but not the type you’ll find in a Marvel movie or a Jason Bourne film — the kind you might cross paths with on the streets of New York City or Los Angeles. Many called DiCaprio’s performance the best of his career, and he was rewarded with an Oscar nomination (but not a win). Sadly, Gyllenhaal can’t claim the same, though his work in Nightcrawler is undoubtedly a career highlight thus far. It’s not just a physical transformation, though how a normally very good-looking leading man inhabits this too-skinny, weasely-looking creature of the night is beyond me. Gyllenhaal allows Bloom to be a true sociopath, spouting off sound bites he’s memorized off the internet to pass as a real human being. He’s one of the best bad guys we’ve seen on screen this century, not because of the depths of his depravity or any one particularly heinous act, but because of how much he reminds us that in today’s America, those who reap the rewards are often those who play dirty.

Eddie Redmayne, who could very well take home the Oscar this year, is infinitely impressive in The Theory Of Everything, conveying so much while able to say and do so little as the ALS-afflicted Stephen Hawking. Jack O’Connell, very good in the Oscar-ignored Unbroken, gets so much more to do as the outraged teen criminal fighting to survive in a bad man’s world in Starred Up. Oscar Isaac is cool and calculating as a businessman who won’t give in to his base desires for vengeance and violence, despite enormous pressures from his wife, his employees, and an unknown enemy. And as Martin Luther King, Jr., a man we all know plenty about, David Oyelowo makes a real character out of an icon while still pulling off the reverence and dignity associated with one of the world’s greatest freedom fighters.
kristen-stewart-still-alice-julianne-mooreBEST ACTRESS

Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Anne Dorval, Mommy
Lisa Loven Kongsli, Force Majeur
Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Honorable Mentions: Jessica Chastain, The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby; Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida

My 2014 roster of Best Actresses is a group of very unhappy wives and mothers. It’s a crime that Julianne Moore doesn’t have an Oscar already; fortunately, that almost certainly stands to be corrected this year for her fine work in Still Alice. While her role as an intellectual grappling with memory loss may not even be amongst her top five best performances, that’s more of a testament to her stellar work over the past few decades than any shortcomings of the film. (This isn’t just a Lifetime Achievement Award gussied up as an award for Still Alice, as sometimes happens, but it is another example of Oscar rewarding a terrific actor a little too late.)

Julianne Moore would face more competition from Anne Dorval’s fabulous and complex portrayal of a suffering single mother in Mommy if the film were a bona fide 2014 release, but instead it fell into the awards season nether-region. Lisa Loven Kongsli was adept in bringing both the comedy and the pathos putting up with a cowardly husband in Force Majeur. Kristen Wiig went darker than ever as one of two suicidal siblings in The Skeleton Twins, but still provided ample laughs in a sing-along with Bill Hader. And as the missing mastermind Amazing Amy, Rosamund Pike’s ice-cold turn in Gone Girl conjures up one of 2014’s most memorable screen characters, a figure who will prompt feminist discussion and debate for years to come.

suzanne-clement-mommy-kylaBEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Suzanne Clement, Mommy
Laura Dern, Wild
Rene Russo, Nightcrawler
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Carrie Coon, Gone Girl

Honorable Mentions: Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year; Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

My 2014 Best Supporting Actresses are women in (or soon approaching) middle age, grappling to accept what is versus what used to be. Mommy begins as a mother-son story, and at first, doesn’t seem to have much room for Suzanne Clement’s Kyla; it’s hard to grasp exactly how she’ll fit in to the story of conflicted mother-son Die and Steven, and for a while, she doesn’t. But Kyla turns out to be an instrumental observer in the events that unfold. Kyla stammers and stutters, failing to express herself in the manner she intends to, but Clement brings everything we need to know across — and more. Mommy is a love triangle of sorts about a mother, a son, and another woman, but Kyla is in many ways the heart of the story, even if technically she has the smallest arc.

It’s a testament to how good Laura Dern is, always, that her role as Reese Witherspoon’s mom in Wild feels like the essential soul of the movie; it’s a nice tribute to Cheryl Strayed’s real mom, who inspired the journey that inspired the book. Dern was happily, and somewhat surprisingly, nominated for her efforts — Rene Russo was not so lucky, but her comeback in Nightcrawler was a sight to behold; her news producer Nina displayed ball-busting bravura and feminine fragility in equal measure, and I can only hope it’s the first of several more late-period performances we’ll see. Patricia Arquette, the most likely Oscar winner this year, plays second-fiddle to her on-screen offspring, much like Laura Dern in Wild. By the end of Boyhood, young Mason’s story is just beginning, but it’s a troubling passing of the torch by his mother, who grapples with what her life has amounted to as her youngest heads off to college. And as Ben Affleck’s faithful twin in Gone Girl, Carrie Coon provides the moral center in an otherwise morally fucked tale of vengeance and marital artifice, and plenty of comic relief, too.

antoine-olivier-pilon-mommy-steve-bed-robeBEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Antoine Olivier-Pilon, Mommy
Henry G. Sanders, Selma
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Honorable Mentions: Edward Norton, Birdman; Martin Short, Inherent Vice

If there’s a common thread between my Best Supporting Actors this year, I don’t know what it is. They range from quite young to very old, from good-natured to truly terrifying. They are boys and men, fathers and bachelors, teenagers and senior citizens. My very favorite is Antoine Olivier-Pilon as Steven, a teen who is sweet-natured and sensitive one moment, bursting with rage and violence the next. Ultimately, Steven is confused, and we are allowed to shift our feelings about how Die should deal with him from one scene to the next. But Olivier-Pilon nails Steven’s child-like vulnerability and also his rambunctious joy, aided by the likes of Celine Dion and Oasis on the soundtrack.

Henry G. Sanders, an actor previously unknown to me, did so much with so little in Selma. He’s certainly not a name many would recognize, and has only one showcase scene — but I felt more for his grieving character than anyone else in Selma, and I wished more of the film focused on these individual civilian stories (and less on the Oval Office). Ethan Hawke reteamed with Richard Linklater for Boyhood in a role that, like the Before Sunrise series, is partially based on the direction his own life took over the course of twelve years, but also managed to show us a wiser paternal side of Hawke than we’ve seen before. Mark Ruffalo was solid in Foxcatcher, an enigmatic and elusive film in which the two main characters more often than not left us wondering what they were thinking; but with Rufalo’s Dave Schultz, we know exactly where this solid meat-and-potatoes dude is coming from, and the scene in which he’s coerced to lie in a documentary about his “mentor” shows us just what he’s made of. And what’s left to say about J.K. Simmons, undoubtedly an Oscar winner after this weekend, as the jazz teacher who’s as menacing as Freddy Krueger? Not much, but I can’t deny that he made the movie. A long-unheralded character actor gets his just desserts at last.

gone-girl-rosamund-pike-amy-dunne-pen-twistBEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn
Enemy — Javier Gullon
Frank — Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan
The Double — Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine
The Theory Of Everything — Anthony McCarten

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Mommy — Xavier Dolan
The Skeleton Twins — Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman
A Most Violent Year — J.C. Chandor
Nightcrawler — Dan Gilroy
Whiplash — Damien Chazelle

(I don’t subscribe to the Academy’s ruling that Whiplash was an adapted screenplay. As usual, the distinctions between Adapted and Original are largely ridiculous.)

BEST SCORE

Enemy
Gone Girl
Under The Skin
Nightcrawler
Interstellar

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Ida
Under The Skin
Inherent Vice
Gone Girl
Nightcrawler

Ida, with Dawid Ogrodnik and Agata Trzebuchowska

2014 Roster

    1.    Boyhood
    2.    Mommy
    3.    Gone Girl
    4.    A Most Violent Year
    5.    Nightcrawler
    6.    Enemy
    7.    The Skeleton Twins
    8.    Coherence
    9.    Frank
    10.    Maps To The Stars
    11.    Ida
    12.    The Double
    13.    Inherent Vice
    14.    The Theory Of Everything
    15.    Force Majeur
    16.    Whiplash
    17.    Edge Of Tomorrow
    18.    Starred Up
    19.    Pride
    20.    The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Her
    21.    Still Alice
    22.    Selma
    23.    Obvious Child
    24.    Wild
    25.    Under The Skin
    26.    The Babadook
    27.    Guardians Of The Galaxy
    28.    Foxcatcher
    29.    Snowpiercer
    30.    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    31.    The Lego Movie
    32.    Birdman
    33.    Blue Ruin
    34.    The One I Love
    35.    Dear White People
    36.    The Fault In Our Stars
    37.    Interstellar
    38.    Into The Woods
    39.    22 Jump Street
    40.    Only Lovers Left Alive
    41.    Unbroken
    42.    American Sniper
    43.    Life Itself
    44.    Godzilla
    45.    They Came Together
    46.    What If
    47.    Night Moves
    48.    Happy Christmas
    49.    Veronica Mars
    50.    Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    51.    Venus In Fur
    52.    Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
    53.    A Most Wanted Man
    54.    Chef
    55.    Neighbors
    56.    Grand Piano
    57.    The Drop
    58.    The Rover
    59.    Noah
    60.    Listen Up Philip
    61.    X-Men: Days Of Future Past
    62.    We Are The Best!
    63.    Palo Alto
    64.    Bird People
    65.    Love Is Strange
    66.    The Imitation Game
    67.    The Purge: Anarchy
    68.    Locke
    69.    Non-Stop
    70.    Nymphomaniac
    71.    This Is Where I Leave You
    72.    Stranger By The Lake
    73.    Bad Johnson
    74.    Transcendence

*

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