I’ll be honest; I have not seen every Best Picture Nominee just yet. Both Boyhood and Selma have eluded me. Whether it is before or after the ceremony, I will view them and maybe those viewings will have an impact on what I am going to say. Or maybe they won’t. (If anything, I believe Boyhood has the better chance of creeping up my rankings, but I’m not fully prepared to say it would breech the top of the list.) And for that I can confidently continue.
The idea of Oscar Bait recently came up in a discussion I was having with a few friends. One of said friends had never heard the term before and seemed confused by it. As we all know, movies that are released later in the year, around November and through December, are vying for an Oscar nod. It’s Oscar season and producers want their films fresh in the minds of the crotchety voters who hold the fate of the film in their withering, mostly white, hands.
Anyway, Oscar Bait is very real, and we were privy to a good list of it this year, The Theory of Everything, Wild, The Imitation Game, and Cake (which saw no nominations) to name some. Not to say that these aren’t good movies or good stories at that. The Imitation Game tells of Alan Turing and enigma. Without Turing, World War II might have a different outcome. The Theory of Everything gives us a look into the life of one of the greatest theoretical physicists ever to live, Stephen Hawking. They are stories that we should be more familiar with, but when it comes to the Oscars, these films are pandering pieces that hope to guilt the voters into casting their ballots for them, (much like 12 Years A Slave did a year ago).
The best way to truly spot Oscar Bait is to trust the gut feeling you get when you see it. These films are the guys at the bar who stand there waving their money in front of the bartenders face. They make sure you know they’re there.
I’m not here to bash these films, because for all intents and purposes I’ve enjoyed those that I have seen, but I am here to bring our focus to the few movies that deserve the statuette.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a fantastic look at a pained, tortured artist trying to make a comeback. It hits on a very central theme in Hollywood for a lot of actors and reminds us that no one is invincible. The film is also shot and edited in the unique style of a single shot. There are no cuts in the movie, modeled after its subject matter, a Broadway play. Michael Keaton, who plays Riggan Thomson, was once the infallible star of the Birdman franchise. We meet him when he is near the bottom, but is climbing his way back up by means of a Broadway play he has written and is directing. The uniqueness of it and the incredible performances within it push this to the forefront of my Oscar list.
Second is Whiplash. An all too realistic look at what it can take to make it in this world. We have had coaches or teachers who can fly off the handle or get in our faces because they want to push us to be what they know we can be. J.K Simmons in the role of Terence Fletcher takes that feeling to the edge and shoves it off. He berates and belittles his students and uses fear to push them. (We knew he could play this part with ease after his portrayal of Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man franchise) Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, the student who takes the brunt of Fletcher’s abuse. His performance is real and honest. You want him to succeed, but you also feel his internal struggle when he is asked to out Fletcher and his abusive ways.
Clint Eastwood has done it again with American Sniper, balancing the politics of war with the Hollywood footprint a film needs to sell. Chris Kyle is an American hero who is considered the deadliest marine in American history. Eastwood tells his story in the most real way he can, bringing you onto the battlefield, including you in the blindness of the sandstorm Kyle and his men get caught in. I was surprised by this movie and how much I enjoyed it. On the outside it has the look of a cookie cutter movie, but there is a lot of heart in it.
As of late, Hollywood has become obsessed with stories of war. The Hurt Locker took home an Oscar for Best Picture in 2009. Lone Survivor was an all too real look at Marcus Luttrell’s story of facing Taliban in Afghanistan. American Sniper is a dark horse for the win, but it deserves all of the recognition it receives.
Finally, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I watched this movie late last night in preparation for this article and was not disappointed. I enjoy Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking — the calm, quirky, dark humor that he brings to the screen is relatable but removed enough that you don’t feel forced to laugh. The feeling just comes naturally. The film is much like Mendl’s pastry’s Gustave H., (Ralph Fiennes), enjoys so much; it is fast-paced with intricacies other storytellers might lose track of, but Wes Anderson is able to tie it all together in the end. The film is snappy and tests the depths of human emotion with a casual, confident style. Even if you are not a fan of Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel can make you a believer.
As for who will win, I have a difficult time deciding between Birdman and Whiplash, but ultimately I believe the Academy will side with the unique struggle that is Birdman. However, I am usually wrong on this subject. I side with what I feel should win and generally my ideals do not line up with those of the Academy’s. (Namely with Her. Damn that should have won Best Picture.)
If The Theory of Everything does happen to win… I’m done with the Oscars forever. Please don’t do that to me.
Steve Pipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV. Follow him on Twitter @stevepipps or check out his website stevenpipps.com.