2014 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees – Week 1

Last year, I started the tradition of going to the AMC Best Picture showcase. Selected AMC Theaters show all the Best Picture nominees across the two Saturdays leading up to the Academy Awards. It’s a long day of awesome movies!

On Saturday, I watched Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave along with a theater full of movie lovers. Best Picture nominees aren’t exactly your feel-good happy rom-com jaunts. In fact, three of them were extremely heavy and emotional. Watching movies like this all in a row is pretty emotionally exhausting, not to mention that sitting in a theater for that long (even with breaks) isn’t so physically comfortable, either!

philomenaPhilomena

This is the story of an Irish woman, Philomena Lee, who reveals a secret after 50 long years. As a young girl in 1950s Ireland, she gave birth to a son outside of marriage. She sought the help of the nuns at Roscrea Abbey. What follows is 50 years of loss and searching for the son she gave birth to. When a down-on-his-luck journalist picks up her story as a human interest piece, answers begin to present themselves.

I remember seeing the trailer for this film. It had been cut in such a way that made it seem much more like a comedy than it actually is. There are moments of laughter, but there are also moments of immense sadness. I admit to shedding some tears while watching this one. Loss is a central theme – loss of a child, loss of a dream, loss of faith in God, loss of faith in humanity, etc.

Dame Judi Dench does a phenomenal job, as always.

dallas-buyers-clubDallas Buyers Club

Ron Woodruff isn’t a likeable character when we first meet him at the rodeo arena in 1986. He’s an ultra-macho Texas hustler with serious substance abuse issues and a persistent body-wracking cough. After an electric shock on the job, he ends up in Dallas Mercy Hospital. There, the doctors tell him his T-cell count is at 9, he has HIV, he has 30 days to live, and drug trials for a potential treatment are only in the very beginning stages. He goes on to blaze his own path of self-treatment – researching drugs available in other countries and from unlicensed doctors. His cocktail of vitamins and protein supplements seems to work, so he begins marketing it on the black market – targetting HIV/AIDS support groups and the Dallas LGBTQI community through an unlikely alliance with Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient he meets in the hospital.

It’s likely that Matthew McConaughey will win the Best Actor award for his performance. He is almost unrecognizable – undergoing a massive transformation in body composition. I would not be surprised if Jared Leto also wins the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Rayon, even though it was a little bit too cartoony for me.

While the acting awards might be sewn up, I hope the movie does NOT win the Best Picture. This article from Cinema Blend does a good job of putting my feelings about the movie into a coherent argument. While watching, I continued to wait for the redemption of Ron Woodruff. He never became a likeable character to me. Of course, his search for treatment and persistence in pushing for treatments to be available to HIV/AIDS patients was admirable. However, he continued to be wildly homophobic, disapproving of his supposed friends and clients and an all-around macho asshole kind of a guy. Certainly, this may just be movie-making and story-telling and not an accurate representation of the real-life story. I couldn’t get past it to award the movie with this highest honors, though.

the-wolf-of-wall-streetThe Wolf of Wall Street

This movie shouldn’t win Best Picture – the story while it might be loosely based on true life has been overdone. I feel like I just watched this same story during a bout of insomnia last week when Boiler Room was on. With that said, though, I freaking loved this movie. The best way to describe it would be in the words of Hunter S. Thompson – “decadent and depraved.”

Leonardo diCaprio and his band of merry idiots (one of whom Jonah Hill does an excellent job of portraying) live the wild life of Wall Street stockbrokers in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s. Wild doesn’t even begin to describe it. There has been a lot of talk about the number of times the F-word is said in this movie. It’s something like 569 times. I’d contend that the count of nude female body parts might rival that. The ounces of drugs in the film surely surpasses it.

While this might not be the film you want to watch with your mom on Mother’s Day, it was a ton of fun and a wild ride. diCaprio and Hill look like they were genuinely having the time of their lives in their scenes together. diCaprio’s smile and charisma is infectious through much of the movie – probably a great portrayal of a master salesman like Jordan Belfort.

12-years-a-slave12 Years a Slave

This is my pick, so far, for Best Picture. It is heart-wrenching, horrifying, and the most intense film I’ve seen since Schindler’s List. It’s hard to put into words the reaction to a film like this. I will say that I was appreciative that the man sitting next to me gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder while the credits rolled.

Solomon Northup is a free black man in antebellum New York. He is duped, kidnapped and sold into slavery. This is his story of survival and search for justice. It is harrowing.

The acting in this film is phenomenal. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon is inspired, but I think Michael Fassbender as slave-owner Edwin Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey were both pretty phenomenal. If you’re expecting a big part from Brad Pitt, don’t. While his character is important, it’s not a big role and he seems to just pop up out of nowhere. (I did appreciate his beard and long hair, reminiscent of Legends of the Fall.)

Next Saturday, I’ll watch the remaining 5 Best Picture nominees: Nebraska, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity and Her. I’m especially looking forward to American Hustle. I love Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and fellow Kentuckian Jennifer Lawrence.

How many of the nominees have you seen? What’s your pick for Best Picture?

 

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  1. 10 months ago

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