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Best Picture Showcase Week 1

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

I admit that I didn’t see all of the movie as I dozed off a few times because of only getting four hours sleep each of the two previous nights and not because of the movie. 
I am not a big fan of Wes Anderson films, but I enjoyed this movie enough. There was a Cavalcade of Celebrity “Near Cameos” – A new term I Made up to describe the quick appearances of actors including: Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, and Fisher Stevens to name a few. The dialogue was fast paced,  which was ok but a bit annoying at the same time.  I’d say it was an OK film.

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WHIPLASH

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, inspired by his experience in high school studio band.

The movie follows Andrew (Miles
Teller) a young drummer who attends a music school known for its high marks for music study in music and Terrance Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) the instructor who is almost inhuman in his treatment of the students he chooses for his studio band.  The movie very capably shows Andrews struggle to become the best drummer in spite of, and perhaps because of, his overbearing, physically and mentally abusive instructor. 

The intensity of the movie is almost non-stop with a few moments of calm as Andrew struggles with asking out the girl at the movie theater snack bar and then ends up breaking up with her because he fears she will be a distraction for him in his goal to be the best.  Andrew’s intensive practicing in his goal to succeed drives him to eat and breathe drumming to the point of his hands bleeding.  I won’t give away the ending, I will say this…. It is intense and quite fulfilling!

The fun fact about this movie is that Miles Teller did all his drumming and they only used a stand in for visual purposes – I suspect the bleeding hands. 

In addition to being nominated for Best Picture, Whiplash also has Oscar nods for J.K. Simmons as Best Supporting Actor (he won the Golden Globe and SAG Award and he is the frontrunner for the Oscar), Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Adapted Screenplay. 

Not having seen all of the best acting nominees yet, I am a bit surprised at Miles Teller being left out, but then there are eight movies and only five actors.

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BIRDMAN

Written, produced and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, this was a very different movie for me.  The story is about a former Superhero film actor who is trying revive his career with a Broadway show based on a story by Raymond Carver “What we talk about when we talk about love”.  In the process he is struggling with the past and present in the form of hearing the words of his “alter ego” Birdman and having issues with the cast – most notably the other male role.  His daughter is his assistant and they struggle to gain some sort of relationship. 

Michael Keaton has hit a homerun, in my opinion, with his portrayal of Riggan Thompson.  He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor – his first ever Globe – and is the frontrunner for the Oscar.  At this point, having not seen the others yet, I would have to agree.  I think it was the best performance I’ve ever seen him give.  Director Inarritu is up for Best Director and Emma Stone as his daughter has the nod for Best Supporting Actress and Edward Norton for Best Supporting Actor.  He was very good, but I don’t think he’ll beat out J.K. Simmons. 

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SELMA

Starring David Oyelowo as Dr. King, Tom Wilkenson as LBJ,  Tim Roth as George Wallace and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, it’s the story of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., the marches from Selma Alabama to Montgomery Alabama for voting rights of the African Americans and all of the struggles that surrounded them. 

The movie, at one point, was written by Paul Webb and Lee Daniels (The Butler) was involved but he left the movie when he was asked to do the Butler.  David Oyelowo had worked on an independent film with director Ava DuVernay and he was instrumental in getting DuVernay involved with the project.  In the end, DuVernay rewrote a great majority of the script but because of the contract the producers had with Webb, DuVernay is uncredited.   The King estate was not involved with the making of the film and the major speeches by Dr. King are copyrighted.  DuVernay re-wrote the speeches for the film, rewriting them line by line and striving to keep the cadence of Dr. King.  I believe she achieved her goal.

The movie has been criticized for its historical inaccuracy by supporters of LBJ, but if you review the history and watch movies like “Freedom Riders” and “Summer of Freedom” (both of which are on Netflix I believe) you will see that although LBJ did get the Civil Rights Act instated in 1964, it was a hard fought victory for Civil Rights.  The law wasn’t being followed in the South, however, and there were many people who were disenfranchised and unable to vote in the South.  One woman, portrayed by Oprah Winfrey in the movie, applied and failed five times, to get the vote. 

Must like last years’ “12 Years a Slave”, and the aforementioned “Freedom Riders” and “Summer of Freedom”, Selma made me sad, angry and embarrassed at the treatment of African American’s.   Indeed, the Voting Rights Act was finally passed in 1965.  Sadly, in 2013 a crucial formula in Section 5 of the Act was stricken by the Supreme Court as being “unconstitutional” – a ruling that has essentially reversed all the work and struggles and bloodshed that was experienced in the fight for equal rights and the right to vote.  I am back to just shaking my head. 

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