Oscar Showcase Recap 2015

For the third year in a row, Drew and I spent the last two Saturdays in the dark. We saw all eight best picture nominees, four on each Saturday. We had not seen any  of the eight previously and knew very little about most of the films; our ignorance (an unexpected virtue?)only added to our anticipation and enjoyment.


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Poster

The line-up for our viewing pleasure was as follows:

Saturday February 14th: Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash, Birdman:Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Selma

Saturday February 21st: Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, American Sniper.

To rank them based on preference of what I deemed most deserving of recognition has been difficult past my top three.

Drew is more decisive and lists his ranking as follows:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Grand Budapest
  3. Birdman
  4. Whiplash
  5. American Sniper
  6. Selma
  7. Imitation Game
  8. Theory of Everything.

For me, the top three are without question: Birdman, Boyhood, Grand Budapest.

From there, I’m a rank schizophrenic. What is for sure, is that Selma sits at the bottom.  Let me explain.Selma (2014) Poster

What struck me most, drawing me in and sticking with me, was the power of the questions posed and the internal struggles that cost me emotion and attention in watching and musing over these films. Complicated explorations into themes of self-worth, personal ambition at steep costs, the value of each other’s differences, the endurance and allowances of true love, and what really matters in a whole-life pursuit, wove throughout the dialogue, conversations and characterizations on screen.

Simply because Selma raised no major questions, do I place it in last place. There is no question that justice should be pursued on behalf of the marginalized and oppressed. The story telling of an unbelievably hard fought victory was poignant, the acting superb, and the song, Glory, indeed the best of the year.

I was moved emotionally and educated historically, but didn’t leave questioning anything: equal rights for all should be bestowed without a need for multiple political processes and a violent suffering on behalf of the oppressed people. The struggle is still all too common.

I think I mostly settle on my ranking as:

  1. Birdman
  2. Boyhood
  3. Budapest
  4. Sniper
  5. Imitation Game
  6. Theory of Everything
  7. Whiplash
  8. Selma.

I’ve done my rank based on complication and completeness, the questions it raises and answers presented in ways I wouldn’t always answer myself, shown in a sensationally, movie kind of way.

I was deeply drawn into each story and appreciate the Academy’s recommendations as they led me into worlds and questions I would not have found on my own. This year’s line up was a rich buffet of excellence and depth. Watching the Oscars on Sunday, was a great night cap to weekends of being worlds away.

The characters in each of the films invited me into worlds very different than any I’ve lived myself, or relate to normally. Hosting me in their experience were a(n):

  • Musician
  • Actor
  • Single mom
  • Soldier
  • Concierge
  • Genius
  • Homosexual mathematician
  • African American Civil rights leader

As a white, suburban mom with mediocre intelligence, no acting abilities, zero musical talent, a loving husband, and a job in ministry instead of hospitality or the military, I was humbled to watch and enter into the experiences of others as their actors brought them so powerfully to light. Watching the movies was fun yes, a day away indeed, but the ranking comes not necessarily because I enjoyed the movies, but because I was affected by them in the moment, and the head spaces afterwards.

I like Birdman best of all because of the struggle it exposes around wanting to do something meaningful and be someone who matters. The questions of past regrets, broken family and reconciliation, escaping fame for admiration and love, and the ultimate battle: ourselves with our ego run from minute one, to the very end.

In his mind and on his back, the Birdman super hero speaks to Riggan, the 60 year old aspiring stage actor, saying,  “Don’t you get it? You spent your life building a bank account and a reputation… and you blew ’em both. Good for you. **** it.”  In his own defense, Riggan screams at his daughter, “Listen to me. I’m trying to do something important…To me… this is… my chance to do some work that actually means something.” Later, as the struggle continues and his ambition unravels, deep down he thinks, ” I’m nothing. I’m not even here.” A hard realization at 60-something. What if we get to the later parts of life and feel so stuck in a wander, wondering?

His drive for meaningful work, not empty popularity, is a trap that cycles over and over. To prove he wants to do something real, he goes to great lengths and in the end, only ends up popularly famous once again. Being stuck in a story he professes on stage, and walks out on the treadmill of Hollywood success, he yearns and finds, I think, “true freedom” in a way that costs him everything. The story seems to resonate with the real life loss of Robin Williams early this year. The questions, quotes, and on screen action, deserve a re-watch for further absorption. Birdman was great as a movie, not realistic but very real, as it asked me to suspend my disbelief and engage my search of self.

Boyhood was best because of it’s soundtrack, it’s raw and honest portrayal of adolescence, parenting, anger, mistakes, patterns we get stuck in and generational sins we can break. Filmed over 12 years in separate segments, and edited together to tell a connected story, was a wonderful thing to appreciate. There was no climax, no rising action and conclusion, just “life” with people trying to do what they could with what they had, learning and growing over time, and looking back at times, wondering what it all meant. As someone who spends time with adolescence, Mason’s assertion that  “I just feel like there are so many things that I could be doing and probably want to be doing that I’m just not.” captures the search for connection and purpose that accompanies a kid turning into an adult.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was absolutely entertaining. “Eye-candy” in the shots and scenery, and “conversation-candy” in the intelligent, witty, and hilarious script as spoken with eloquence and entertaining cadence. I would watch it again and loved it on the big screen. Drew’s analysis was most apt as he affirmed the movie was a commentary on the relationship between how we treat people out of the integrity of our own character. When we serve others with a sense of excellence, they are called up and into greatness. Gustave tells Zero, “Rudeness is merely an expression of fear. People fear they won’t get what they want. The most dreadful and unattractive person only needs to be loved, and they will open up like a flower.”

Sniper illuminated the lives of soldiers and their families split apart, and held together, by love and passion. The arresting ending, complicated layers, and a posture of gratitude, left our theater sitting in silence at the end.

The Theory of Everything was a sneaky rank climber for me. The acting was amazing and the story so layered with struggle, human triumph, moral ambiguity, and the tension between art, science, God, and physics. No scene lasted too long and the victory of man over deadly diagnosis was mind blowing to watch. 

Imitation Game is gut wrenching as you watch someone pour their life into something that must be hidden instead of celebrated. In his war victory and his personal life, I’m left thinking Alan Turning had only an imitation of true acceptance, respect, and fulfillment.

Whiplash moves down the list due to my discomfort with long instrumental drum solos. Impressive and awesome to listen to, yes, but I was crawling out of my skin by the end…which is…drum-roll please, very drum solo heavy. What I appreciated through contemplation with Whiplash was the father figure roles in the life of a growing up guy. The support of a dad who didn’t always enter fully into the depth of what his son experienced, but constantly showed up, was in sharp contrast to the abusive teacher who completely understood the drive and passion, but refused to ease up in his “encouragement” and “training” of the aspiring talent. Both men, dad and teacher, I believe, showed love. The movie exposed our tendency towards “righteous justification” of our actions when we refuse to be challenged. Also exposed was the brokenness that covers over and distorts our attempts to help or love.

I stop here. I do not attempt to assert I have figured out or can add to the experience of seeing these films. I write to affirm the journey into their worlds has touched upon mine. Until next year Oscar…



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