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A week before the Oscars, which aired two Sundays ago, I had only seen two of the nominees for Best Picture – The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash.

I loved Whiplash – it was amazing how they turned a movie about music school and jazz band into a suspenseful thriller that had me on edge as any more typical thriller I’ve seen. Also, the performances in Whiplash were phenomenal. J.K. Simmons won the Best Supporting Oscar for his portrayal of a sadistic music teacher and Miles Teller was excellent as his victim (See my story on Teller and Whiplash here). The Grand Budapest Hotel I liked too – cute and quirky – but wasn’t blown away by it like others were. But it was vibrant and fun and deserved  awards, like for Best Costume Design.

I needed to see more of the critically acclaimed Oscar nominees and fast. So I used my awesome (illegal) movie app that I will not name here and watched within five days the following: The Theory of Everything, Birdman, and Boyhood. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on these three wonderful films.

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The Theory of Everything

This movie was made for Oscars. It is moving, beautiful done, and impeccably acted. Eddie Redmayne is nothing short of outstanding, and after watching it, I knew he would win the Best Actor Oscar, even before I compared Redmayne’s performance to Michael Keaton’s in Birdman (the two were considered the front runners). I knew there was no way Redmayne wouldn’t win. It is unfathomable how he acted the way he did as Stephen Hawking. Redmayne’s face and body are twisted and contorted to portray Hawking’s ALS (or ALS-like disorder. The fact that he has lived as long as he has makes the chances that he actually has ALS unlikely, or at least a very rare form). Redmayne’s performance just completely floored me.

The story is very well-conceived and well acted by everyone involved. Felicity Jones was excellent too as Hawking’s wife. Their love story and Stephen and Jane’s lives are beyond inspiring and deserved this beautiful movie showcase.

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Birdman

The winning Best Picture movie was definitely very interesting, with stellar acting and filming/cinematography choices. A lot of people don’t even know what it’s about. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the putting together of a Broadway play which is being produced, directed, and starring an actor named Riggan who was famous many years before for playing said “Birdman” (an action hero). Keaton is outstanding as Riggan, and any other year, he may have won the Oscar (but not the same year as Redmayne’s Hawking portrayal!). The supporting cast is very good too – Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, and Zach Galifinakas.

The audience gets to be front row and center with Riggan the entire film, seeing his every move and even hearing his thoughts. He often fights with himself internally, with the alternate personality being his old Birdman character, and their discussion gets more and more aggressive as Riggan spirals towards a breakdown.

The way the movie is filmed is very interesting. There are a lot of long shots that follow characters while they twist around the back hallways of the theater. There are other cool long shots, like one that starts by watching the sky behind a skyscraper move from night to day, then pans down and goes back in the theater through a window without any breaks. Birdman is definitely worth seeing, particularly if you are a theater person, since the whole show is about the making of a play, or a Keaton fan (and is anyone not a fan of his?!).

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Boyhood

In my opinion, Richard Linklater should have won the Best Directing Oscar (Birdman‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu took home the prize). Because Boyhood just blew me away, as it is just simply an exquisite film. I loved it so much and it touched my heart. Linklater did what no director had ever done before, which was follow a set of actors over many years in order to accurately portray their aging on screen. Linklater and the group met for a few weeks every year for 12 years! Unbelievable. And the effect is just amazing. The story is simple – a family coping with day to day things, some more intense drama (i.e. abusive, alcoholic husbands), and growing and loving one another through the years. 

The movie is long (almost three hours), but it is so jam-packed with sweet, interesting familial and growing-up moments that it truly moved me. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar) are fabulous. They are both such wonderful parents to the kids, played by Ellar Coltrane and the director’s daughter, Lorelai Linklater. Seeing the adults in the movie physically change over time is interesting, but seeing the years pass by for the children in the film is breathtaking and nothing short of genius, in my opinion. Coltrane is so, so good in the movie – just awesome. Every time you sees him sporting a new hairstyle or new look, your heart skips a beat because you know a year has flashed by. He literally grows before your very eyes. Benjamin Button, eat your heart out.

To tell this story in such dramatic, effecting ways, Linklater had to do the filming through the years, and we should all kiss his feet for doing so. Boyhood mixes the minutea of day-to-day life with true moments of learning and maturity, and makes them equally interesting, touching, and beautiful. This would have gotten my vote for Best Picture.

 

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