OSCARS, 2014

An Avalanche of Quality
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

It is a very rare year when eight movies can lay fair claim to being worthy candidates for an Academy Award. Two biopics carry the power of historical truth; two inspired independents prove that inspiration can sometimes be stronger than cash; two have stirred high quality moviemaking into the political discourse; two offer classic storytelling. This avalanche of quality has been a great gift to audiences everywhere. February is the time to catch the ones you missed. Let’s hope Hollywood will consider sprinkling their best films throughout the year instead of releasing all of them during the awards season.
(Oscar nominations for actors in featured and supporting roles follow the comments)

The Imitation Game – Alan Turing’s brilliant contribution to WWII is riveting from beginning to end. Historical truth lends great power to the story of breaking the German Enigma code. (Benedict Cumberbatch, Felicity Jones. Kiera Knightly, (supporting)

The Theory of Everything – The deeply moving story of physicist Steven Hawking’s extraordinary contributions to science against the odds imposed by the illness that crippled his body but left his brain intact. ( Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones)

Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is brilliant in concept and execution. His fine cast returned every year for twelve years to give us an unbroken look at a family growing older. Mason’s first kiss, first drink, first girlfriend, first breakup, first job, graduation while Mom and Dad try to guide him and themselves. (Ethan Hawke. Patricia Arquette, supporting)

Birdman– A faded Hollywood action star reminds the world he exists by renting a Broadway theater and mounting a play that unfolds in real time. Michael Keaton presents an absorbing look at actors creating drama onstage and off. (Michael Keaton. Emma Stone, supporting.)

Selma – The high quality of acting, directing, and writing, make this movie a real contribution to its cause. It is a tough reminder of gains brought by the violence and bravery of the Selma march as well as an essential command – 50 years later – to keep on trying to correct the past.

American Sniper – Director Clint Eastwood’s film is a brutal look at war in Iraq through the experience of a Navy SEAL. Audiences divide quickly about the issues raised in the film and the political public has invented several versions of the lessons it believes are implicit in the movie. (Bradley Cooper)

Whiplash – J.K. Simmons creates a monstrous music director who targets a student drummer and drives him to greatness with unimaginable cruelty. It is an exhausting, if worthwhile ordeal. ( J.K. Simmons, supporting)

The Grand Budapest Hotel – The best of the movie unfolds in the hotel’s glory days of the pre-war ‘30s when the concierge ran his hotel for aristocrats who loved the perfection he created.

My own favorites: Film: any one of the first three. Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game or Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Actress: Julianne Moore in Still Alice. Supporting Actor: Edward Norton in Birdman. Supporting Actress: Emma Stone in Birdman.