During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on February 22nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a few films in each instalment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last instalment HERE I covered “The Theory of Everything”, “Foxcatcher” and “The Lego Movie”. This time I will be talking about “Whiplash”, “Wild” and “Ida”.
“Whiplash” was directed by Damien Chazelle, released on October 24th and produced by Bold Films. The film has five nominations.
- Best Picture- Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster
- Best Supporting Actor- J.K. Simmons
- Best Adapted Screenplay- Damien Chazelle
- Best Editing- Tom Cross
- Best Sound Mixing- Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley
Whiplash is the little film that packs a very large punch. It isn’t interested in telling a story but more so asking what is the cost of greatness and what are you willing to do to attain it. The film is funny, sad, and scary along with having a hell of great songbook of music played onscreen. Everything about this film winds you up and by the end, which has some of the finest instrument playing captured on film you are sweating waiting for sweet release. If “Boyhood” didn’t come out this year “Whiplash” could be a legitimate underdog, unfortunately it will have to settle for probably coming in 3rd to 4th place on the ballot, something no one will ever know. If anything hopefully the nominations “Whiplash” have received caused more people to see it, as of the time the nominations came out it was one of the lowest grossing films ever to get a Best Picture nom (adjusted for inflation of course) and it still hasn’t even cracked $10 million domestically.
For people that have taken the time to watch this film, one thing stands above as being noticeably excellent, even to the average moviegoer and that is J.K. Simmons. Perhaps best known from the Spider Man trilogy or Juno, Simmons is a hurricane of a presence in this film. When he is calm and happy, he seems like the most interesting man in the world, someone that you want to drink whisky and talk about music with. When he is angry he is a vile scary monster, the type of person that makes grown men weep and feel inadequate. His performance is one part R. Lee Emery from “Full Metal Jacket” and one part of the dad from “Juno”. Frankly it will be hard to watch the Farmer’s Insurance commercials he does in the same light again especially with quotes like this “Were you rushing or were you dragging? If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig. Oh my dear God – are you one of those single tear people? You are a worthless pansy-ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drum set like a nine year old girl!” Oh and Simmons is a near lock to win the Oscar, probably one of the safest bets there is, unless The Academy has suddenly started liking Edward Norton as a person and would be willing to overlook his difficult past.
The quote I provided above is just one of the fantastic insults that appears in this goldmine of a script. The plot is fairly straightforward about ambition and drive but the dialogue excels. From the witty scene where Miles Teller’s Andrew asks out a girl to a dinner table argument over college football, this film talks the small and normally boring topics and brings humour and heart to them. Half the things J.K. Simmons says makes you want to rewind the film and see if your ears could be playing tricks on you for the nastiest that comes out of him. Damien Chazelle had wanted to make this film but couldn’t get funding for it, so he made a short (with Simmons playing his role still) so since there is previous source material it automatically becomes an adapted piece of work. Normally The Academy gives screenplay Oscar’s to the more ground breaking films and luckily with dialogue as strong as this one is “Whiplash” seems like a shoe in to win. The film’s biggest threat is “The Imitation Game” but it looks like it will be only a minor roadblock to “Whiplash’s” victory.
The film’s editing and sound mixing almost go hand in hand as what makes this film work is all the impressive drumming that goes on. A testament to the playing abilities of Miles Teller, you get some great full body and close up shots of his playing. The editing manages to slow the film down enough for you to understand the complicatedness of the playing while still keeping it all interesting. The highlight of the film is a nine-minute drum solo at the end that is a thing of beauty. Every note is crisp and clear and you can see the ripples in the cymbals causing the sweat and blood from Teller’s Andrew bounce around. Watching the sweat and blood on the drums throughout the film, isn’t even gross or disgusting but you actually feel proud for Andrew that he is literally sacrificing his body to get what he wants. Sometimes the sacrifices are too much as in the case of the car accident which comes out of nowhere but sound and editing cause you to jump out of your seat. The mark of great sound and editing isn’t that it is noticeable, but that is completely unnoticeable and keeps you engaged and never feeling bored. For Best Editing “Whiplash” has to contend with “Boyhood” which might sweep a bunch of its nominations, but if it falters at all “Whiplash” has to be the one to potentially reap the benefits. For Sound Mixing it hurts that it doesn’t have a Sound Editing nomination, but it does have flashy sound effects something that will go a long way. If “American Sniper” is truly loved by The Academy it will most likely sweep the Sound Editing and Mixing awards, but if it goes home empty handed it will most likely be because of “Whiplash”.
“Wild” was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, released on December 19th and produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film has two nominations.
- Best Actress- Reese Witherspoon
- Best Supporting Actress- Laura Dern
Outside of her performance in “Walk The Line” I really couldn’t stand Reese Witherspoon, she is like the female Will Smith as in she only takes safe parts where she is always the good moral person of the story, never has any real obstacles or grey area to work with. Seeing her in this film is a revelation and completely changes my outlook on her. In her flashback scenes she is bad to the bone and doesn’t hold back on making you hate her and her life choices. While she is on her path to self-redemption you end up rooting for her. She bares it all emotionally and even physically and when she is nude in the flashbacks she is covered in bruises from abusing her body with heroin and being abused by men. When Witherspoon is nude after hiking through the mountains she is covered in even more bruises, but they are points of pride for her and actually make her look sexy because she feels sexy. Jean-Marc Vallee crafted a great follow up to last year’s “Dallas Buyer’s Club” that might actually be better. This year looks like it will be the year of Julianne Moore, but if she wasn’t in the race it would have been Witherspoon’s to lose something she surely wouldn’t have done.
Witherspoon wasn’t the only solid female in the film as Laura Dern playing her mother is fantastic as well. She plays a woman who was dealt a terrible hand in life but she can be nothing but optimistic doing her best to keep her world from spiralling out of control all while keeping a smile on. Her role isn’t flashy or in your face, just a solid performance from a veteran actor who keeps it grounded in reality. Most of her scenes are with Witherspoon and the two of them have great chemistry together making you believe they are mother and daughter. Unfortunately this is the year of Patricia Arquette and there will be no stopping her from winning. This is an all around great year for female performances as Emma Stone and Keira Knightley along with Dern all put in fantastic turns.
“Ida” was directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, it has not yet been released wide in Canada yet and was produced by Opus Film. The film has two nominations.
- Best Foreign Language Film- Poland
- Best Cinematography- Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
This film follows the story of a young woman about to become a nun who is sent to visit her only living relative, her aunt, to learn about her family that she never met in order for her to be sure this is what she wants to do with her life. It is a quiet film about introspection and being forced to come to terms with facts about you that you never knew could be true. The lead actress Agata Trzebuchowska is amazing to watch as her world is opening up so much in such a short film. She has a quiet unassuming presence and doesn’t talk much but you can always see what she is thinking and how she is observing things. She handles the news that is brought on to her quite well, better than most people would in the same situation. The Best Foreign Language Film category is always one of the best and underrated categories where there is usually only one real big name nominee, this year there is two with “Ida” and Russia’s entry “Leviathan” the Oscar can go to either one as they are both the frontrunner’s but just don’t except there to be any real dark horse to overtake them. The fact that “Ida” received a nomination outside of Best Foreign Language Film means it has plenty of support and has to give it a slight edge.
The other nomination “Ida” received was Best Cinematography, something it is wholly deserving of. First of all it was shot in black and white, which makes it stand out, but the thing about black and white photography is you can’t hide anything in the shot, it’s all in full display. The use of shadows become more important and it is used expertly here particularly since the film takes place in snowy Poland, which makes everything seem that much brighter so when shadows do come into play they are very pronounced. The shots also used great use of negative space. The characters would be conversing squarely in one corner of the frame and the rest would be wide-open air, or a full room in a house letting the world fill you in for the lack of dialogue. In some shots early on everything is perfectly symmetrical, which is very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This year’s crop of Best Cinematography nominees are all fantastic, lead by the seemingly one take film “Birdman” which is the obvious frontrunner. “Ida” was great but don’t expect a win, not when Roger Deakins could get a pity win for “Unbroken” and being nominated twelve times (!) without a win.