2014 Best Picture Nominees: Highs and Lows

Every year, I set out to watch every Best Picture nominee. And every year, I have regrets. Sometimes my regret is that I didn’t make it to all of the movies, and sometimes it’s that I did. But the good thing about seeing (almost) all of the Best Picture nominees is that I’m now an informed blogger – and can let you know the pros and cons of (most) of this years nominated films!

12 Years A Slave

High:

Not to belabor the whole Lupita Nyong’o thing … but maybe you should all get ready to hear a lot about Lupita Nyong’o from the both of us. Her performance as the unfortunate Patsy will absolutely crush you. The audience has Solomon Northrup as a sort of guide throughout the movie – like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, he’s somebody from “our” world (insofar as he wasn’t born in slavery and had never witnessed it firsthand). Patsy shows Northrup, and us, what it’s like when slavery is all you’ve ever known and you can’t imagine that you’ll get to leave it.

Let’s not forget about the bone-chilling performance by one of our other dream BFFs, Sarah Paulson, either. Chiwetel Ejiofor, too. Okay, everyone. The high point of this movie is everyone.

Low:

It’s not a reason not to see the movie – in fact, it’s why you should see it – but this really happened. We use this shortened narrative of “there was slavery, it was very bad, and then Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves” so often, it’s hard to think about all of the people that lived and died with no chance of freedom. Just go see it, okay?

You’ll feel a bit better after looking at IRL photos of the cast. See? Everyone’s OK now.

American Hustle

High:

The Academy loves a good anti-hero, and this film is full of them. You will end up thinking that just about every main character is awful by the end of the movie … but you’ll also be thinking “man, I hope these awful people succeed!”

Low:

When you leave the movie, between the comb-overs, double-dealing, and all-around 1970s sleaziness, you’ll feel like you have a fine layer of disco grime covering your skin.

You can almost smell the patchouli.

Captain Phillips

High:

Tom Hanks playing a smart, sensible guy who’s in near-peril (but it’s not Saving Private Ryan)? Using his cool wits to solve a near-impossible dilemma (but it’s not The Da Vinci Code)? And he’s at least temporarily stranded in the ocean (Cast Away)? Hey, why mess with what we already know works.

Low:

Some action sequences that were probably riveting in the theater had me reaching for my iPad or a magazine when watching it On Demand.

Dallas Buyers Club

High:

Jared Leto, Jordan Catalano of my heart, owner of the loveliest ombre tresses, was brilliant. Rayon is funny, spirited, and kind – just like real people when they get sick, AIDs didn’t become her only character trait. You can see the personality that Rayon would have whether or not she was ill –  not just the HIV-positive, trans-woman version of a Lurlene McDaniel character.

Low:

Matthew McConaughey’s weight – low in the literal sense, anyway. While necessary to show that the protagonist was running his scheme as a very ill man, I just wanted to give him a hug and an Ensure. He was truly distressing to look at. But the Academy does loooove extreme weight loss or gain.

Why yes, this WAS a shameless way to insert a photo of shirtless “before” McConaughey.

Gravity

High:

I always love a good mind-bending space movie – I may have been the only nine-year-old who was really into the Jodie Foster vehicle Contact. But the real high is how the filmmakers created what is essentially a 2-3 person story that didn’t lose your attention for a second. Also, I appreciated that the special effects were impressive, but that I was so engrossed in the story that I wasn’t going “hey, look at those special effects!”

HEY. WE’RE DOING A SPECIAL EFFECT HERE.

Low:

As Traci noted before, Gravity isn’t billed as a “scary movie” but it is unsettling just the same. It’s not just the dangers facing the main characters, it’s the way space movies remind you that you’re a tiny inconsequential speck in the universe and your time here  – even if long by our standards – is nothing.

Her

High:

There’s a lot to be said about Her’s timely message on technology and human connections – it’s sort of a modern parable. But, I actually want to talk about the production design. Her is set in the not-so-distant future, and the filmmakers conveyed that in the most brilliant way. Instead of making the film look futuristic, with silver space-suits and lots of metal, they made it look timeless. Everything is sort of mid-century and Danish modern, and the wardrobe features a lot of natural materials and high-waisted pants. This makes sense because fashions are always cycling in and out, so it’s plausible that in a decade’s time this 1960s aesthetic will be in style. Plus, this way in 10 years the film won’t look as dated as it would if the characters were dressed like it was 2013. Instead of a hard-edged computer age color palette – metallic red, cobalt blue, jet black – everything is in muted tropical tones, with a lot of coral, teal, and soft yellow. The whole movie I kept seeing details in furniture or clothing and going “hey! look what they did there!”

Even the operating system has a clean-lined mid-century look — almost like the Steampunk idea, but for the 60s instead of early 1900s.

Low:

(1) At some point in the movie, you’re probably going to think it would be fun to be friends with an Operating System, then realize that that seems really sad.

(2) The producer, Megan Ellison, is 28. TWENTY EIGHT. There is no reason to feel inferior, because she has some crazy family connections. Her father is a billionaire and she began financing films several years ago. Ellison clearly worked hard to take advantage of the plum hand she was dealt, so I don’t fault her a bit. But rather than feeling like you’ve wasted your life, remember that Ellison didn’t exactly rise from lower- or middle-class obscurity.

Nebraska

High:

About ⅓ of my business contacts are in Nebraska, and they’re all very smart, no-nonsense, level Midwesterners. I like that in a working relationship.

Low:

My “high” was a generalized comment about Nebraskans who I know because I haven’t seen the movie yet. Maybe my “high” should be that it’s now available at Redbox, so we’ll all have time to rent it before Sunday.

Philomena

High:

Steve Coogan, in a remarkably straight role, proves that comedians often make the best dramatic actors. The script was dryly funny, and Coogan was believable as a wry journalist.

Low:

I don’t know if I saw this movie in a cinema that had smell-o-vision or what, but my theater smelled 100% like a combination of Old Lady and Church. That may be less a coincidence, and more that it was a Sunday morning show in a WASP-y suburb.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

High:

LEO. Of course.

Low:

Yeah…I didn’t see this movie. I read descriptions of some scenes that I just knew I didn’t want filling up my head-space. Maybe when it’s on HBO or something, you know?

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6 thoughts on “2014 Best Picture Nominees: Highs and Lows

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