It’s almost here: The 87th Annual Academy Awards.
You probably know quite a few people who scramble to see all the Oscar nominees before the big award show, which will be held on Sunday, February 22. You probably are one of those people.
Now there are a lot of nominees and a lot of these films may prove to be difficult to get a hold of. You also have a life outside of watching movies. From my experience, it’s not about watching every single film nominated, but watching the right ones.
What I’ve done below is compiled an essential list of Oscar nominated films you need to see before or shortly after the big show. Most of these movies are nominated in multiple categories, and you will hear these names mentioned multiple times. Please note this is not a top films of 2014 list since I am picking specifically from the list of Oscar nominees. You can also compare this list to the actual Award winners next Sunday night, since these are the films I will be rooting for that evening.
13. American Sniper
I don’t think anyone expected Clint Eastwood’s biopic to become the most talked about film – and definitely the new audience favourite – in the Best Picture Category. The film has smashed box office records. Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of deceased war veteran Chris Kyle is one of the must see performances of 2014. It also helps that the film is actually pretty damn good, with incredibly intense war sequences and a very humanistic depiction of the cost of war. There is a lot of nonsense going around claiming this film is pro-war and pro-military. While it does paint the army in a positive light, the film by no means advocates any kind of motive that would result in war. There is a very big difference between a character believing in the cause and the film believing in the cause.
Its only nomination is for Best Foreign Language Film (an absolutely ridiculous award if you read its name carefully), but this is a magnificent example of an enjoyable movie with serious political undertones. Definitely criticizing Vladimir Putin’s regime through a deceptively simple story about a man fighting a corrupt mayor to keep his home and his land. It’s a thriller, family drama, political comedy, and a modern day reflection on oppression. You can find this on video or an art house theatre near you.
This film probably won’t win the Best Documentary Award, but it’s nevertheless a must see. Citizenfour tells the story of Edward Snowden, the young ex-CIA system administrator who leaked confidential NSA information to the media in June of 2013. Snowden is still in hiding as a result of this action, and the film investigates the issue with clarity and without any prejudice. It focuses on why he did, what exactly he did, and how government corruption could potentially be much greater than we want to believe.
10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s goofy screwball comedy pulled a surprise Best Picture win at the Golden Globes. Don’t expect that upset to happen again, but the film is so strange in an oddly charming way that I could not leave if it off the list. Audiences are divided in their love and hatred of it, so it’s only fitting that you see it for yourself. If you are a fan of Wes Anderson, this is his best work since The Royal Tenenbaums.
Steve Carell has garnered tons of media press for his dramatic turn as John du Pont, billionaire turned wrestling coach turned murderer. He is the best thing about Bennett Miller’s gripping and disturbing look into the sport of wrestling, but you can’t deny Mark Ruffalo’s incredible supporting role as Dave Schultz. Channing Tatum continues his rise as one of the most versatile actors of our generation as Dave’s brother Mark, who is determined to win gold at the next Olympic games. Foxcatcher rarely lets up its ferocity, and while it most certainly is not a film you’d want to watch again, you need to see it for the incredible performances given by Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo.
8. The Imitation Game
Audiences have fallen in love with this film almost everywhere it’s being played. And with good reason. This is a story that for so many years no one knew a thing about but was so instrumental in shaping the world we live in. It’s a wonderful character study about a brilliant man played by Benedict Cumberbatch. If I didn’t catch your attention with the name Benedict Cumberbatch, then I fear you. But in all seriousness, The Imitation Game is an absolute must see. I love this movie and I can’t wait to see what upsets it could pull come Oscar night.
7. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
I’m predicting an upset by saying this will win Best Animated Feature. I still believe that How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the better overall film, but chances are you’ve seen that film. The reason I am putting Isao Takahata’s film as essential viewing is simply because it is one of the most beautifully animated films I have ever seen. This is entirely hand drawn animation, so meticulous that you can see the shadings. It is an incredible achievement from Studio Ghibli, makers of some of the greatest animated films of the past decade. If you can, try to see the film in its original Japanese language.
6. Gone Girl
Julianne Moore will probably get the Oscar for Still Alice. But you need to root for Rosamund Pike, who deserves the Best Actress award. Gone Girl is not only a far better film that Still Alice, the acting by Pike and everyone involved is superb. But Rosamund Pike makes this mystery thriller consistently watchable. She shows absolute ferocity and fearlessness in bringing Amy Dunne to life, and making her quite simply one of the most manipulative villains in recent memory.
It’s an absolute travesty that this film isn’t being nominated for more awards. But it will easily win in all the technical categories, which also means it will probably have as many wins as this year’s Best Picture. Christopher Nolan’s latest masterwork is a film that will consistently be talked about because there’s so much to talk about. It’s quite simply a breathtaking example of the science fiction films that I grew up on that made you truly contemplate the wonder that is our universe.
Ava Duvernay was robbed of a Best Director nomination. David Oyelowo was robbed of a Best Actor nomination. Paul Webb was robbed of a Best Screenplay nomination. Simply put, this film was robbed through and through. Selma is quite possibly the best film about civil rights ever made, and one of the greatest biopics on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr I have ever seen. This is an astoundingly beautiful and moving picture, chronicling one of the most important court rulings in American history. You owe it to yourself to see this remarkable film.
3. Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s magnificent “one shot” dark comedy leads the pack with the most nominations and is now the front runner for Best Picture. Inarritu is practically a shoe-in for the Best Director Oscar, since Birdman is the best directed film I’ve seen this year – his only true competition is Richard Linklater. Michael Keaton is also a huge candidate for Best Actor, although Eddie Remayne could pull an upset. Regardless, don’t expect to be entertained by the Oscars if you don’t have a point of reference. Birdman is that point of reference.
Whiplash completely blew my mind this year. This is a small, independently produced film that proves all you need is great directing, writing, and acting to make a perfect film. Whiplash is flawless. It chronicles a young musician’s quest to become the best drummer the world has ever known. To do so, he torments himself physically and mentally under the abusive guidance of a tough as nails instructor. JK Simmons plays the instructor in the year’s best performance. Simmons will take home the Best Supporting Actor award.
A lot of people seem confused as to why a film like Boyhood is being acclaimed as a good film, not to mention a heavy contender in the Oscar race. That’s because this is one of the first times that a small, independent film that defies conventional storytelling in every sense has been garnered with such mainstream attention. Audiences aren’t used to this kind of filmmaking even though it’s been around for decades through the works of Yasujiro Ozu, Ingmar Bergman, Terrence Malick, Edward Yang, and Wong Kar Wai. Richard Linklater has always made films with a raw cinematic style. He captures moments. Moments between characters. Moments of reflection. Moments of people living life. Boyhood is a series of moments compiled over 12 years. The film forces you to look beyond the action of each scene and become engaged in everything that takes up the frame. If you don’t understand what I mean, then pardon my bluntness, but you watch too many movies where directors spoon feed you everything they want to say.