For the third year in a row, I’ll be watching and reviewing all the films nominated in the Top 8 categories (Picture, Director, Editing, Acting & Screenplay races). Fortunately for the industry (though unfortunately for me), the number of films represented across these categories is 17 (compare that to merely 12 last year and 14 the year before), though just as with years before, the numbers are boosted by films singled out wholly in the Actress categories (Two Years One Night, Still Alice, Wild, Gone Girl). Outlets all over the webs have been pondering the larger implications of this issue, wondering why it matters that Wild didn’t crack other categories (especially the Adapted Screenplay race) and crunching numbers to show this is not exceptional to this year (spoiler: female-driven stories are rarely understood as “best”).
When it’s male-centered it’s tragedy; when it’s female-driven, it’s dubbed as melodrama. Or so, apparently the Oscars continue to tell us. Thus, two films about ostensibly male figures that nevertheless lay claim to the universality of experience (Birdman & Boyhood) enjoyed widespread support while the stories of Sandra, Alice, Cheryl and Amy have, inadvertently, been constantly presented as stories about these women. We can all see ourselves in Riggan’s quest for artistic ambition and immortality and in Mason’s millennial upbringing; the long-take and the snap-shot structure of each film respectively pointing us to the passing of time none of us can ever deny. Both are seeming microcosms of our experience. Even The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game pitch themselves in terms of universal themes (love, marriage, sacrifice) while stories about minorities (in terms of gender, sexuality and especially race) went by mostly ignored for, yes, reasons beyond these cultural conversations (campaigning, screeners, competition, etc.) but also because they despondently insisted on topicality and particularity that refused the claim to universality. Or, better yet, to the type of universality straight white male humanists have for centuries claimed as their own while ignoring the very erasure that such a move performs. Where Wes Anderson’s co-nomination leader, The Grand Budapest Hotel lies is a bit more complicated (not only because it shares with Selma the dubious position of being the only Best Picture film whose narrative follows a non-white co-lead whose narration frames the film, but because its sensibility is both wonderfully Andersonian/European, but also #ThingsWhitePeopleLike). Thus, this year, instead of reviewing each film alone (and because I’ve been already thinking about a couple of these films in tandem), I figured I’d pair certain films to explore thematic threads.
So, in the coming weeks, I’ll be writing up these 17 films:
Birdman & Gone Girl
Nightcrawler & Wild
Into the Woods & Whiplash
The Imitation Game & The Theory of Everything
Grand Budapest Hotel & Foxcatcher
American Sniper & Selma
The Judge & Inherent Vice
Two Days One Night & Boyhood & Still Alice