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2015 Oscars: Results, Recap & Opinions

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Oscar Fallout and Recap 2015

(Hold on to your butts!)

Welcome one and all to Oscar Night 2015 when the Academy Awards will be doled out by Doogie Howser M.D. in an attempt to surpass Ellen’s “internet breaking” effort of last year.  As with every Oscar award season, perception, conjecture, and theories abound when it comes to who will actually win.  There are a few foregone conclusions, there are some tight races, but I can posit with some certainty that we will have at least one major surprise and plenty of controversy (I’m looking at you John Travolta!).

The Red Carpet Observations

1) Does it matter who Kevin Hart brings with him anywhere?  All women tower over him.

2) Boyhood’s director Richard Linklater and supporting actor Ethan Hawke get early featured love by interviewers, and Hawke shows much more excitement and charisma than his director.  Perhaps Linklater is bracing for disappointment?

3) Dakota Johnson and mommy dearest, Melanie Griffith, are shown video footage of her years ago as a little girl at the Oscars in what I’m sure was #50shadesofawkward.  Thanks for the reminder of young innocence turn softcore porn, Mr. red carpet coverage man.  Lara Spencer’s follow up to push Melanie into watching 50 Shades of Grey made it even worse.  Is there some kind of bounty on Johnson and Griffith tonight?

4) Andy Samberg got invited to the Oscars?  I guess he can thank Adam Sandler for the invite?

5) Did everyone remember how Steve Carell was nominated for best leading actor for Foxcatcher?

6) Marion Cotillard is a beautiful woman, but she wasn’t wearing a beautiful dress.  #plainjane

7) Michael Keaton and Birdman director Alejandro Iñárritu seem to have a bit more positive energy about being present.  Too bad Keaton is dwarfed by Lara Spencer.

8) Rosamund Pike looks killer in that hot red dress of hers! 

9) Nice guy Eddie Redmayne admits to bringing the wretched British weather over to LA.  I appreciate the honesty.

10) I really like Anna Kendrick’s dress, but really, her look overall because despite her youth, she tends to give off a much more seasoned class to public appearances like this.

11) Lady Gaga fake holding an Oscar – yeah right.  Well, maybe I shouldn’t mock her seeing how they gave Cher an Oscar.  #anythingispossible  BTW, does she plan on doing some dishes tonight with those rubber gloves?

12) Jimmy Kimmel is dressing down for the Oscars.  #mailingitin

13) Wow!  What kind of future-alternative dress is Naomi Watts wearing?  I guess I like it, but wouldn’t figure her to rock that kind of look.

14) Chris Pratt’s a cool dude, but there’s no way anyone should be rebooting Indiana Jones for any reason.

15) Reese Witherspoon wants more questions asked to her on the red carpet other than the designer she’s wearing.  I respect that.  But, that goes away if Legally Blonde 3 is ever announced.  

16) Jennifer Lopez wearing a remix of the only kind of dress she knows how to wear: plunging v-neck down to her belly button.  #pass

17) What did Scarlett Johansson do to her hair???

18) Adam Levine still needs a shave.  You know, I heard Gillette is the best a man can get.

19) Taya Kyle is present at the Oscars representing Chris and American Sniper.  She’s still not sharing any proceeds of her husband’s book with the families of fallen service men and women like Chris had reportedly requested prior to his death.  #anymorelawsuitsagainstthekyleestate?

20) Faith Hill and Tim McGraw don’t look like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

21) Kerry Washington looks really cute tonight.  We need to see her in some more movies so hopefully Scandal won’t Black Snake Moan her from the rest of Hollywood.

22) Robin Roberts making an embarrassing moment with Captain America himself Chris Evans regarding his date wasn’t horrible, but never presume anything regarding the relationship between stars and their +1’s at these events.

23) Patricia Arquette seems a frumpy hot mess.  Didn’t she learn anything from Jack?  You gotta wear sunglasses if you do a line before sitting through the Oscars.

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And Now, the Show …

Oooo, Neil Patrick Harris starting off right away referencing the “white-washing” of this year’s nominations before launching into his introductory song and dance.  His impromptu duet with Anna Kendrick as Cinderella was a nice little surprise, but Jack Black’s interruption representing the cynicism of Hollywood wasn’t as satisfying.  I get that they were going for the magic vs. mud, but as far as opening musical numbers go, Hugh Jackman’s remains the gold standard.  Also, Anna Kendrick is a much stronger singer than Neil, so it was good, but not great.

Best Supporting ActorJ.K. Simmons for Whiplash – First award of the night is not a surprise by any means.  He was the hot choice for this category and I really liked his acceptance speech even if he kind of threw his own kids under the bus a bit.  Also, I liked Neil Patrick Harris’ State Farm Commercial reference to this victory.

Liam Neeson’s aside regarding the nominated films this evening and their separation from the blockbusters like comic book films irked me a tad.  I understand that he didn’t necessarily write the lines, but he did agree to read them, and it was somewhat hypocritical seeing how American Sniper was one of this past year’s big studio blockbusters.  Excellence achieved in blockbusters is no less prolific than those “worthy” of recognition by the Academy because people don’t just go to see those cinematic adventures because they’re fanboys and girls.  They go because those films are great fun, well, at least the good blockbusters are.

Chris Pine and J-Lo present best costume design.  You must hand it to this show for always being able to pair some of the most random duos. 

Best Costume DesignMilena Canonero for The Grand Budapest Hotel – Another disciple of Wes Anderson’s reaping the rewards of art house film proximity.  This was the year for indie films and Wes Anderson is a marquee champion of the little guys.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling– Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier for The Grand Budapest Hotel – The only thing that you could bank on in this category was that it wasn’t going to Guardians of the Galaxy for every reason I mentioned above.

Best Foreign Language FilmPoland’s Ida – This victory was obviously a surprise for the winner, but he sure didn’t run out of people to thank as he went well over his wrap up time and kept going, and going, and going, and going …

Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island perform Everything is Awesome.  This might have been a highlight of the show for some viewers out there, but I would have preferred the song exactly how it was performed from the movie, minus The Lonely Island.

Best Live Action Short Film– Mat Kirkby and James Lucas for The Phone Call – Foreigners will have their moment on Oscar night!  Orchestra be damned!

Best Documentary Short Film– Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry for Crisis Hotline – An interesting black, pom pom dress selection for one of these ladies.  It DOES take a lot of balls to wear it!  I respect them for being aware of very brief time to speak their acceptance.

Neil Patrick Harris may be in need of a little life preserver with his joke tie-in with David Oyelowo.  David’s reaction may have salvaged it, but a tidal wave of meh seems to be rising at this point in the show … and to get the energy back up, he shows back up on stage in tightywhiteys with what I presume is a well placed sock.  Yes, acting IS a noble profession.  Thank you, Neil.  

Best Sound Mixing– Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley for Whiplash – Even more indie love for perhaps the most indie film amongst all of this year’s nominees.  This may go down as the most awkward acceptance 

Best Sound Editing– Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman for American Sniper – This is certainly my first surprise of the evening because the indies were really putting the petal to the metal.  Winning a category like this might be an indicator for bigger victories for American Sniper because having “Academy Award winner for best Sound Editing” as the only label on the cover of this movie when it releases on retail would be awkward.

Best Supporting Actress– Patricia Arquette for Boyhood – Not a surprise here as she was getting the love for this win well before NPH (Neil Patrick Harris) started rehearsing for the Oscar show.  Patricia had some important things to say about wage equality for women.  I’m pretty sure what the world, not just this country, needs is wage elevation for the poor. 

Best Visual Effects– Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher for Interstellar – I honestly thought this was going to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes just for the Andy Serkis factor, but Chris Nolan’s overlooked space adventure comes away with a little hardware.

Anna Kendrick and Kevin Hart actually made a very cool pairing to present an award.  And yes, Anna IS bigger than Kevin.

Best Animated Short– Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed for Feast – This animated short really was a neat, entertaining tale of a pet’s perspective of its master’s relationship gone wrong.  Thank you Dipson theatres for letting me see it before learning about it for the first time during the Oscars.

Best Animated Feature– Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli for Big Hero Six – Was anyone surprised at Fall Out Boy’s big comeback platform taking this category?  The country of Japan sure wasn’t as this film enjoyed a 6 week reign as #1 at the box office.  There was plenty of love for the Mickey Mouse corporation in this acceptance speech.

Best Production Design– Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock for The Grand Budapest Hotel – Yet another slam dunk for the art house, Wes Anderson and style over substance. 

Best Cinematography– Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman – Finally, one of the so-called considered favorites of the evening actually wins an award.  When you have practically zero cuts in your film, all you have is framing and camera work and that’s all cinematography baby!

“In Memoriam” sequence presented by Meryl Streep.  This is always a difficult moment during the show which is important for its recognition, but I’ve never understood why anyone in the live audience would applaud for some of the bigger or more popular names as if their passing was more tragic than any other.  They are dead.  They have not won an award.  So please, take this moment to be somber and respectful and keep your inner fan boy or girl in its seatbelt.

Best Film Editing– Tom Cross for Whiplash – The little film that could keeps racking up the victories.  If there wasn’t full on confirmation of indie love tonight by now, we are officially there now.

Terrence Howard’s presentation of Whiplash, The Imitation Game and Selma is the first live train wreck of the evening.  Travolta may be in the clear.  Could it have been drugs, alcohol, overacting, or perhaps he actually was THAT emotionally moved by the films he was talking about?  Terrence is a good actor, but he’s not that good.  Maybe he’s still pissed about being replaced by Don Cheadle as Rhodie’s War Machine?

Best Documentary Feature– Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky for Citizenfour – A documentary about shadow government and praise for Edward Snowden in Hollywood?  Good thing I discovered it existed in the first place tonight.  #wherearethedocumentaryscreenings

NPH may have completely redeemed himself with the “Benedict Cumberbatch is what you get when you ask Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.”  And THEN Idina Menzel presents best song WITH John Travolta and the two have awkward fun at each other’s expense.  I wouldn’t exactly call it one of Tosh’s “web redemptions,” but it comes really close.

Best Song– “Glory” John Stephens (John Legend) and Lonnie Lynn for Selma – First of all, who knew Common’s real name was Lonnie Lynn?  Common and Legend make a great acceptance speech regarding social justice.  We ARE an over-incarcerated country, so whenever I hear stories about American money (private or government) being exported for ANY charity reason, I ask why can’t that money stay to help people HERE in THIS country: the homeless, the poor, the disenfranchised, the uneducated, the hungry. 

Lady Gaga performing My Favorite Things and other songs from The Sound of Music does the legacy of Julie Andrews proud.  She produced a clean operatic voice for every ballad and kept it classy the whole way.  I must say this was a big surprise, but an even BIGGER surprise was Julie Andrews herself coming on stage to congratulate her.  As powerful as the performance of “Glory” was, this moment was easily the warmest and most emotional of the evening.

Best Original ScoreAlexandre Desplat for The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson acolytes know how to suckle from the power teet as this fine little hotel continues to rack up the gold left and right.  I personally would have liked to see this award go to Hans Zimmer for Interstellar because even if the audience got confused by the plot or the theoretical science, there’s no denying the emotion of his score.  The Academy sees it otherwise.

Best Original Screenplay– Alejandro Iñárritu and company for Birdman – I’d like to note how the director thanked his cast entirely by first name, except for “Mr. Norton.”  Hollywood likes a shiny mirror put up in front of itself; even if it isn’t pretty; even if it isn’t nice.

Best Adapted Screenplay– Graham Moore for The Imitation Game – This is a HUGE shocker!  And historians are rolling up their sleeves right now as this script was maligned for its historical inaccuracies.  I feel bad that Graham wanted to kill himself when he was younger, but if he wanted to make Alan Turing’s story about his sexuality, then he should have done exactly that from the first frame of the film and NOT slide it in at the very end as a footnote.

Best Director– Alejandro Iñárritu for Birdman – Major score #2 for Iñárritu.  With two major victories in the bag, is Birdman set up for a clean sweep the rest of the way?  This kind of film needs a director on cue and on his cast at all times because quite frankly, they were on, at all times.

Best Actor– Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything – Eddie is gleefully enjoyed to accept this award and regardless of whatever politics were at work, or whoever’s “time it was,” no one could deny the power of his performance in this film.  It was transformative.  It was undeniable.  I almost thought Birdman’s momentum was going to carry Michael Keaton through to the other side, but Redmayne was both the unstoppable force and the immoveable object. 

Best Actress– Julianne Moore for Still Alice – One classy lady gives an equally graceful and humble acceptance speech.  She’s had an amazing career and gave an amazing performance in this film.  People had been talking up her victory for weeks

Best PictureBirdman – And that’s all she wrote!  Check out my review right here if you possibly needed any additional reason to check this movie out.  It was fun, artsy, had social commentary and Michael Keaton maybe having real life super powers?  No one can be told.  You have to see it for yourself.

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Conclusion

Another successful evening of Hollywood showing the world how awesome it is all wrapped up and I must say that I was more surprised than not at the results.  I was surprised that The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash won as many awards as they did, but I am absolutely stunned that pre-Oscar night darlings Boyhood and American Sniper took home only 1 award each!  Equally snubbed was Selma, but apparently the real reason for that was untimely logistics during the submission and campaigning process for the production.  Birdman deserved ultimate victory as it took a number of major categories, and it was just plain great in every aspect of filmmaking.  As for the Oscar show itself, yes it’s a LONG show, but Neil Patrick Harris did an adequate job as host with several moments of peaks and valleys throughout.  I wouldn’t say he surpassed Ellen in any regard, but I also wouldn’t say he is undeserving of a second opportunity next year or any other in the future.  I don’t disagree with any of the victors save for the firestorm that may culminate over The Theory of Everything’s victory for best adapted screenplay. 

As I’ve said in my reviews leading up to this night, this past year was an “indie” year and with that, “indie love” was certainly represented at the Academy Awards.  Despite this year being a down year in terms of tickets sold and money made, I felt this year’s nominees were superior to last year’s overall.  This coming year will be a big time comeback for Hollywood as The Avengers and Star Wars will almost exclusively make all the difference.  

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Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

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Facsimile of History

[Continuing our 2015 Academy Award Roundup]

A Film Review of The Imitation Game

 

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen to another World War II dramatic period piece because 1) why not? 2) it is always difficult to ignore during award season and 3) The number of brilliant individuals whose singular contributions to this highly romanticized global conflict is seemingly endless as their tales continue to enter the mainstream.  I have an admitted fatigue with WW II films because they’ve become just as predictable as zombie films, are more concerned with glorifying heroism (and violence) than anything else and between movies, TV and video games; I’m just sick and tired of seeing Nazis in any capacity.  Enter The Imitation Game, a film that tells a story of British mathematician Alan Turing who invented a machine that broke Nazi Germany’s Enigma codes which was instrumental in turning the tide in the Allies’ favor in the European Theatre.  Unlike American Sniper, this is not a war film that takes the audience to the front lines, but rather gives us a glimpse into the technical and strategic think tanks that have essentially made the evolution of war infinitely more efficient in its brutality than the use of sticks and stones.  Expect lots of dialogue, a minimum of action and a healthy regimen of expert acting.

One more thing to expect is a significant amount of criticism regarding the “facts” of this film and the manner in which they are portrayed.  Quite frankly, historians are foaming at the mouth to bite into the multitude of inaccuracies made for the purpose of enhanced drama and I am shocked, SHOCKED, to learn of this scandalous situation.  Actually, I am not.  I would like to think that those who frequent the cinema often enough would be aware of the truth regarding “reel” history, but for those who accept everything they see and hear as the absolute truth, let me make this abundantly clear.  Film adaptations (Hollywood or otherwise) are works of fiction.  They are not documentaries which are indeed works of non-fiction and should therefore be viewed as entertainment first and secondly, as an invitation to research actual recorded history should the story peak one’s interest. 

Although The Imitation Game credits biographer Andrew Hodges’ book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” as the basis for its screen story, this film has no interest in simply recreating a series of bullet points in Turing’s life.  Even if the creative license at work by director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore has been stretched beyond acceptable limits, it is still a work of fiction.  Perhaps critics are frustrated that the possible slander of Turing’s legacy, as suggested by moments in the film, is the lasting impression that will be absorbed into the global culture’s zeitgeist.   My suggestion is that if this film’s offenses are that outrageous, and then address the situation with a documentary that calls out the inaccuracies by concerning itself with being educational about the facts.  Sniping at it from the academic pulpit without something more productive behind the criticism will be met with apathy and that’s usually the way any controversy regarding the entertainment industry’s mucking up of history plays out.

Thus, accepting this screen story as fiction, The Imitation Game gradually unveils its true message through a series of flashbacks in Alan Turing’s life that most frequently visits his active Enigma work at Bletchley Park.  Brought up to be a intellectual from boyhood, Turing’s apparent weakness as a human being turns out to be social interaction and as often as this story highlights the tragic effects of his personality quirks, it also provides moments of genuine comedy which forced me to laugh out loud in the theatre on more than one occasion.  The interesting aspect of this story is that although it is primarily concerned with the human effort put into cracking Enigma, it does have secondary and tertiary agendas at work.  As the story progresses, we realize that it has much more to do with Turing’s personal life, the moments that shaped it and the possible reasons for his rabid desire to do what most deemed impossible outside of surviving and ultimately winning the war against Nazi Germany. 

The story’s perspective also flashes forward periodically to Turing’s life post WW II and the police investigation regarding his personal affairs.  These moments are amongst the most contentious for the historians and a bit for me due to the aforementioned third agenda regarding sexuality that seemed to come out of nowhere.  The final moments of this film are literally spelled out for the audience via superimposed text which explains the aftermath of Turing’s death.  Because the previous ¾ of the film had not been actively pursuing this angle in Turing’s life beyond mild hinting, this dénouement felt a bit awkward in how it was shoehorned in considering the seriousness of its message.  This last minute curveball dilutes the message of tolerance and I wonder if this film would have been better served had these moments were cut all together.  Tolerating Alan Turing as a character was framed within the concept of him being an intellectual elitist and an impersonal narcissist.  His redemption was a genuine ignorance of other people’s feelings and opinions and the effort he made to bridge the gap of understanding (much like the effort that was not reciprocated to him by British society at the time). 

This film is an entirely dialogue driven drama and one of its weaknesses is its ability to connect the film’s most interesting moments (anything involving Turing at Bletchley) to the devastation of WW II.  There are a couple of action scenes that show subs, ships and tanks at various fronts, but they are very short vignettes to remind the viewer that a war is in fact going on, but it isn’t lasting and not particularly satisfying for action junkies.  There is also one scene that shows Turing himself riding a bicycle through a recently bombed part of a city, but again this plays the role of one of those “reminder” scenes.  Playing the balancing game between action and dialogue scenes is never an easy task, but at the end of the day, the editor can only mix in whatever footage has been captured (or CG generated) in the first place.  In the case of this film the only reliable change in tempo or scenery throughout are the flashes to the different points in Turing’s life. 

An excellent cast was assembled to support the protagonist in this story as contributions from Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode and Keira Knightley deliver respectable performances, but such is to be expected from these veterans.  This film (like American Sniper and The Theory of Everything) is one that ultimately boils down to one performance and its singular journey; namely Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.  If you missed him in Star Trek Into Darkness or the Sherlock TV series, The Imitation Game is an excellent opportunity to see this actor produce an absolute tour de force when it comes to dramatic acting for the silver screen.  As an introvert, Turing isn’t a particularly interesting character, but then he is forced to work with his colleagues and Cumberbatch revs up his awkward charm and sharp comedic timing.  The regal nature of his baritone voice easily establishes and maintains Turing’s intellectual domination in every scene.  However, where Cumberbatch truly shines is in every scene where Turing meets with heartbreaking failure, frustration or defeat.  Cumberbatch takes every ounce of negative energy to heart and channels his reaction so personally that the audience feels it in every tear he sheds.  Those believing Benedict Cumberbatch to be nothing more than a character actor with robotic tendencies are in for a rude awakening upon the screening of this film.

Few WW II films have shown less combat scenes during its runtime than The Imitation Game, but fewer have shown the little people behind the scenes that developed the technology, research and strategy that was clearly the difference between victory and defeat.  The code breakers at Bletchley may not have spilled blood on the battlefield, laid waste to an enemy platoon with a machine gun or piloted a single bomber into the heart of the enemy stronghold, but their efforts and Turing’s in particular, saved England.  Despite some of the historical inaccuracies, I found this film to be entertaining enough at telling aspects of Turing’s life.  The production could certainly have benefitted from more focus in its narrative, but it remains to be seen how much the audience will care when Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance resonates so profoundly.  However, when you factor in the historic faux pas and the multitude of hidden messages that are heavily back loaded towards the film’s final act, I couldn’t say that this film has a realistic chance at winning Best Picture.  It is a good film that deserves the viewer’s consideration for the outstanding performance of Benedict Cumberbatch.

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