With little more than two weeks left before the Oscars, is it worth it to view all eight? Even for those of us who think this was a great year for movies, eight by Feb. 22nd may be pushing it. To help you decide, I’m including short reviews for the nominees I’ve seen so far (two left to go).
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Pros: Originality, great acting, artistry, entertainment
Cons: Can be too quirky for some; everyone won’t find it funny.
Pros: Ambition; you have to hand it to Richard Linklater for trying on something of this scale.
Cons: Gimmicky choices, mediocre acting, dull script. Very long, with supposedly subtle insights that are generic rather than thought provoking. I’m Dazed and Confused about why most of the scenes were worth depicting, and why the film is garnering so much praise given its lack of character development.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Pros: Strong acting, convincing portrayal of theater life, originality, wonderful transitions
Cons: The touches of magical realism can be off-putting to some. May require an interest in theater, especially backstage drama.
Review: Riveting. Intense. Captures the high stakes of a competitive music program and asks interesting questions about how far a teacher can push a talented kid. (Obviously, few to none would support how far this teacher goes, but the question is still an intriguing and relevant one.)
Pros: Acting: J.K. Simmons is brilliant, and newcomer Miles Teller gives an effective, understated performance. A beautifully paced, streamlined film.
Cons: Stressful to watch. Possibly limited in terms of whom it reaches; may require an interest in the arts, teaching.
Review: Intense, with an impressive performance by Bradley Cooper. I have some issues with the film’s accuracy and politics. I typically dislike Clint Eastwood films, but thought this a fitting choice for him (close to a Western in its values, characterization). Overall, I thought it a good film despite all of my reservations about its message.
Pros: Much stronger than most biopics, with poignant, subtle depictions of Chris Kyle’s suffering—and by extension, that of other veterans. Draws viewers into the conflict zones, causing us to experience fear, stress, and moral confusion.
Cons: Some repetitiveness in the portrayal of his tours. A lack of nuance in many respects: Some demonization of the Iraqis (carefully chosen bad guys—even a long-term sniper rival). A one-note development of his family. Careful avoidance of the rationale for American presence there. Not a single portrayal of a wrong target hit (unbelievable with all of those kills). Glorification of a controversial figure. Why didn’t Eastwood, given the issue with Kyle’s fabrications in the memoir this film is based on, not to mention the director’s own inventions, just loosely base the movie on Kyle’s story? The tribute to veterans is heartfelt and moving, but the glamorization of this particular Navy Seal and lack of doubt about the justice of our involvement are concerning. War is never as clear-cut as Eastwood would like it to be.
The Imitation Game
Review: Fascinating story. Surprisingly quick paced given the subject matter. Poignant portrayal of the loneliness of a genius (Alan Turing) in a time period in which his homosexuality and socially awkward nature were poorly understood. The kind of biopic that makes you Internet research as soon as you get home.
Pros: Fine acting from Benedict Cumberbatch—so far, I’d give the Oscar to him or Cooper. Just a good movie altogether. The one I would recommend to the broadest audience; I can imagine few who would dislike it. There have been some objections to the film’s biographical accuracy, but unlike in American Sniper, the complexity of the portrayal makes it clear that Turing was not easily pinned down, that all of this story has not been told.
Cons: The story of Turing stuck to me afterward, but the movie hasn’t as much as I thought it would. I would have changed the proportions a bit, as Turing’s suffering due to his sexuality is given emphasis but not fully developed until near the end of the film.
There you have it! My highly opinionated reviews….Feel free to disagree with me.