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Best Picture Showcase Part Deux

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Week two of the Best Picture Showcase is completed and so is another year of the ability to watch all of the Best Picture nominees prior to the Academy Awards telecast.  Here are my thoughts:

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BOYHOOD

Boyhood is a “coming of age” move about a boy, Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) growing up in Texas.  His parents are divorced and his mother is raising Mason and his sister Sanantha (Loreli Linklater) by herself.  We follow Mason from age six, through his high school graduation.  His mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) marries two more times, over the years to men who were abusive and/or alcoholics.

The uniqueness of this movie is that it was filmed over a two week period, once a year for 12 years from 2002 to 2013.  Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were interviewed on NPR and noted that other than the scenes they filmed together, they didn’t see each other’s performances through the years until the final product was completed.

Take away the distinctive style of creating this film, I don’t think this movie stands out.  It’s really sort of “meh” for me.  Being able to see the characters age is interesting, and the acting really is different to watch as the year’s progress – just like “real life”.  However, I don’t really see either actor walking away with a statue.  Patricia Arquette, for me, was Patricia Arquette.  I don’t see a distinction between roles for her from her stint on the TV shows “Medium” and the newer “CSI” show and this one.  That’s not to say she’s not a good actress, but I don’t think she’s a great actress and I don’t believe her turn as the single mother who marries poorly in an attempt to raise her children was worth the nomination let alone will garner an Oscar.  Ethan Hawke is ok, but again I don’t believe his performance was worth of the statue.

That being said, the movie is a front runner for the Best Picture Award having won the Golden Globe and has been noted on more “yearend” lists of critics in 2014 than any other movie.  I firmly believe the reason for all of the accolades is the production process.  Take that unique experience away and you have just another movie about a boy growing up.

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THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Three of the four movies seen on the final day of the Best Picture Showcase were true stories.  The Theory of Everything is the story of theoretical physicist Steven Hawking, based on the book written by his ex-wife Jane Wilde Hawking.  When you say the name Steven Hawking, most people know that he is a brilliant mind, we may not understand the concepts he has put forward, but we recognize what he is synonymous with.

Starring Eddie Redmayne as Steven Hawking and Felicity Jones as his wife Jane, the movie follows the progression of Hawkigs’ life after he is diagnosed with motor neuron disease which is often also called Lou Gehrig’s disease.  The disease causes the nerves of body that control movement of limbs as well as swallowing, to pretty much shut down.  The mind, however, is untouched by the disease.  Diagnosed at approximately 22 years old, Hawking was initially given only two years to live.  He is still going strong 51 years later.

Both Redmayne and Jones are nominated for their acting in this movie and I believe both nominations are well deserved.  Having seen videos of Steven Hawking I can say that Eddie Redmayne absolutely captured his mischievous spirit and sense of humor.  The twinkle in his eye and sly grin was absolutely perfect.  The struggles Jane Hawking went through to care for the man she loved and the emotional toll it took, were very aptly portrayed by Felicity Jones and I think she should be considered for the Oscar myself… though I’m afraid she might not be.

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THE IMITATION GAME

A true story, this movie is deemed “loosely based” on the biography of Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.  The Imitation Game tells the story of the group of cryptologists who gathered in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park, in England, to break to the code of the Nazi “Enigma Machine” – considered to be unbreakable by every security team in the world.  Turing, very aptly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is not the best friend of anyone and considered hard to work with anyone, manages to get himself put in charge of the project to the chagrin of just about everyone on the team and in charge of the team.  He fires two people and recruits two others on the basis of the ability to solve crossword puzzles in record time.  One of the code breakers he hires is a female, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) who solved the final puzzle in less time than it took Turing to solve.  While the rest of the team struggles to break the code in 18 hours (the codes change each night at midnight and the first messages come in at 6am) Turing is creating a machine – today known as a computer – to decipher the code for them.  Eventually the machine does as it’s designed to do, but the dichotomy is that they have to be careful which messages they break and pass on to the authorities to keep the Germans from figuring out that they have broken the code and then change the process.  Turing is telling the story of the work of breaking Enigma as he is being interrogated by the police in conjunction with the break in of his flat.  In the end, the work Turing and the team did to break the Enigma code shortened the war by at least 20 years and saved countless lives but Turing was convicted of homosexual acts and he chose chemical castration rather than jail time.  He died from cyanide ingestion, initially deemed a suicide but eventually determined to be an accidental death.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are both nominated for their acting in this movie, and deservedly so.  Cumberbatch keenly portrays Turing’s lack of social skills which is directly related to his high level of intelligence.  The emotions that are buried deep down, and spring to the surface only intermittently, are a great part of the reason he received the nomination for best actor.  Keira Knightley is excellent as the female counterpart to Turing who has a much better grasp of social skills.

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AMERICAN SNIPER

This movie is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, written with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice called “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History”.  He was noted to have had 255 kills of which 16 were officially confirmed by the DOD.

Warner Brothers bought the film rights with Bradley Cooper set to Produce and star in the movie. Cooper wanted Chris Pratt to play Kyle, but Warner Brothers wanted Cooper or no one else.  Sienna Miller was signed to play Kyle’s wife Taya and Steve Spielberg was on tap to direct, but he bowed out when budget cuts left him unable to bring his vision to the screen and Clint Eastwood was tapped to direct instead.  There has been quite a bit of criticism of this movie as being a propaganda machine.  I don’t see that, myself.

As I watched the film I couldn’t help but compare it to 2008’s “The Hurt Locker”.  While I have never served in the military during war time, thus I have never seen battle, I AM the daughter and sister of military men who have and the limited stories I heard lead me to believe these movies depict a realistic view of battle and what our troops have faced in the latest war.  Despite the belief of those critical of Clint Eastwood’s politics, I understood this movie was not to focus on the kills – though the records is what earned him the nickname “Legend”.  Rather, this movie was really about the drive and dedication of a man whose mission was to serve his country and protect his brethren.  Chris Kyle was a soldiers’ soldier and revered by many – not because of the “record” that gave him his nickname, but for the things he did to save the lives of many who fought.  The other side of that story is the struggle he had – as do many who serve in the armed forces in war time – acclimating himself to civilian life.  He was torn between wanting to save lives, but avenge his lost friends, and be a good husband and father.  Indeed he struggled when he left the service, as have many veterans.  The irony of the story of Chris Kyle is that he served, heroically, four tours in Iraq and lost his life at home at the hands of a former Marine suffering from PTSD that he was trying to help.

Bradley Cooper’s turn as Chris Kyle is excellent.  He certainly buffed up for the role.  He has the gift of being able to portray many emotions with his face.  I was very impressed.  In another year, with a different field of actors nominated, he might have a chance at winning the Oscar.  However, this year, the field is tough and I don’t see that happening.

All in all, American Sniper is a good movie.  It felt a bit overdone in the war scenes and I would have liked to have seen some more of the issues on the home front, but I would recommend viewing this movie for sure… especially if you are a fan of Bradley Cooper — and seriously, who isn’t.

Up next:  My Oscar picks and predictions.

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