Academy of One: Best Picture 2014

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

As in 2015, the 2014 Best Picture race is reduced to eight nominees out of a possible ten. It’s a real detriment in a year marked with films that had great female leads, that those films didn’t get a larger share of the love. The Best Picture race is stacked with films about men, prominently starring men.

Let’s get right down to it and dig in to see if we can’t inject some much needed equality into these proceedings. Here are the nominees as they stand.

  • American Sniper

  • Birdman

  • Boyhood

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • The Imitation Game

  • Selma

  • The Theory of Everything

  • Whiplash

As I read and reread this list, I’m struck that the reason the Academy went to a possible ten Best Picture nominees isn’t present. There are no wide release blockbusters on this list.

I don’t count American Sniper as a blockbuster for the simple statistic that it didn’t make its money until after the Oscar nomination came through. Also based on the popularity of Chris Kyle and his story, there is only a small bump it could have gotten from the nomination. It was always poised to be a big box office draw.

There’s another thing that’s equally as interesting about this list. There could easily be ten nominees. Here are the films I think are possibilities to fill up the ranks.

  • Beyond the Lights

  • Gone Girl

  • Nightcrawler

  • Snowpiercer

  • Wild

Beyond the Lights is a fantastic meditation on breaking out of the shadow of other people. Both characters face pressures from their parents to be what they never could, but is it what they really want? Superbly directed, beautifully acted, these characters are fully realized and we root for them to find happiness.

Adapted from the book of the same name, Gone Girl, doesn’t lose a beat of the thrilling tale told from two perspectives in the transfer from page to screen. It helps that David Fincher is behind the camera keeping our hearts pounding through this tale of lust and betrayal.

Speaking of dark thrillers and fame seeking, Nightcrawler, which follows Jake Gyllenhaal’s ambitious tabloid journalist is pitch black. Our skin crawls as Louis prowls the night looking for his next big break.

Like many of the best post-apocalyptic sci-fi films, Snowpiercer represents a microcosm of the society humanity can’t seem to shake. There’s plenty of action, but the pathos of this film is what makes it stand out and elevates it beyond just a genre film.

Wild tells the story of a woman who goes to the extreme to try and save herself from her grief and self-destruction. It’s a beautiful exploration of the self and an even better example of woman vs. nature/human nature.

So, my list includes more films than I have spots for. I’ll have to remove some weak contenders to add a few of mine to the list. Here’s that group of original eight again.

  • American Sniper

  • Birdman

  • Boyhood

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • The Imitation Game

  • Selma

  • The Theory of Everything

  • Whiplash

There is a really easy one to remove before any others and I will say this it’s not because of its politics. It’s because it isn’t a particularly good movie. I think you already guessed, but I’ll spell it out, American Sniper is the first to go.

The first half of the movie, I was very bored. I really didn’t like the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for. The movie portrayed him as a high school bully who never learned how to grow up. I was far more compelled by the scenes after Chris Kyle’s several tours when he comes home and begins to exhibit and ignore the signs of PTSD. It was far more compelling than the subplot about catching a rival sniper, which was like watching a whole action movie within a movie.

By the end, I wished I’d seen a movie about a man attempting to deal with his problems and learn to help others through theirs like the real man did. Where is that movie?

The next one to remove is The Theory of Everything. The central performances of the film are strong. It’s everything else in the film that I can’t look passed.

The director was trying out several different tricks and angles. It just really wasn’t working for me. I don’t think it fit the story it. It’s tough to say anything more about it even. The film doesn’t leave any real impression beyond the performances.

With those two removed, there are now four open slots on the list. I have my picks and here are the additions I’d like to make.

  • Beyond the Lights

  • Gone Girl

  • Nightcrawler

  • Wild

What does our field look like after the additions I’ve made? Here’s the full list in alphabetical order.

  • Beyond the Lights

  • Birdman

  • Boyhood

  • Gone Girl

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • The Imitation Game

  • Nightcrawler

  • Selma

  • Whiplash

  • Wild

All right, now that there’s a more appetizing group of nominees, will Birdmanstill take home the gold? Short answer, no.

Birdman is as ambitious as it’s main character. Long takes, steadicam, diegetic music, deep, philosophical arguments about an actor’s process, but just like Riggan, the audience fails to see anything remotely real or relatable. It’s a showbiz movie, which the Academy loves and while I love it, it isn’t the best film of 2014.

I can say some of the same things about the other frontrunner of this year. Boyhood is ambitious and has long takes, in that it took 12 years to film it, but I think that time and the fact that it has the very loosest of narrative threads make it absolutely a film to be seen and marveled at, but in terms of craft it’s lacking, where Birdman is over crafted.

For me, Selma is the best picture of 2014. It’s a tough task for a film to be made with a man revered as Martin Luther King, Jr. as the lead character. Especially as the film couldn’t secure the rights to some of his most famous speeches and couldn’t get permission to tell some of the most famous stories about him, but where others might have floundered, Ava DuVernay crafted a film more about all of those who stood at a moment in time rather than uplifting only one voice.

Selma blends the stories of several prominent civil rights leaders who took a stand in a small Alabama town for the rights of all of its citizens to have the most basic right of democracy, the right to vote.

The film leaves me in utter awe. It takes chances and grips the audience’s heart not with schmaltz or melodrama, but with depictions of real courage, real horrors, and real people attempting to do something and change something for the better.

And more than anything, Selma brings the towering figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. back down to his roots as a human being with flaws, faults, doubts, and ego, where another film might only focus on him as the idol we know.

So, that’s my choice, my Best Picture of 2014. Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with a list of little seen films from 2014 that are absolutely worth your time and effort to seek out.

  • Calvary

  • Chef

  • Dear White People

  • Frank

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

  • It Follows

  • The Lunchbox

  • A Most Violent Year

  • Pride

  • Rosewater

  • Still Alice

  • Top Five

  • White God

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actor in a Leading Role nominees of 2014.

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