In our world today, where every Little Leaguer wins a trophy at the conclusion of a season, where the third grade chorus dancer receives as big of a bouquet as the spotlighted soloist, where we perpetually tell our children inherently lovely, though potentially dangerous phrases, like, “You’re all special!” and “You’re all winners!,” it can seem odd that we still pit art against art, in a very public, career-changing sort of way.
Welcome to The Academy Awards!
Each year over 80 percent of the celebrities nominated for an Oscar will go home empty-handed, not celebrated at all, sometimes even less seen, as their films can be promptly plucked from theaters, making more time slots for the winners. In fact, I recall a very, very bad day early in my time working for a top Hollywood producer. He threatened to fire all of us upon discovering that his nominated, but losing, film would lose half its distribution.
(Fun [freaky!] fact: In 2001, The University of Toronto conducted a study that found that Oscar winners, on average, live four years longer compared to their non-winning or non-nominated peers, while multiple Oscar winners, on average, add an extra six years to their lives. What…?!)
But what makes a film truly successful? Awards? Box office debut weekends? To me, a movie lover and scriptwriter, it’s in how the film makes me feel, and for how long that feeling resonates.
I know a movie has won me over when I’m brushing my teeth that night, still lost in the story space. Or folding laundry, wondering what would’ve happened next for the lead character, had there been another scene following the closing credits. As I pack lunches, feed the cat, or drive to a meeting the next day, at some point, a scene, a line, an image, will linger on, and I’ll know then that the film has fully captured me. While “The Academy” has their unique (and tedious) requirements for the illustrious Best Picture category, this is what guides me, and this year, more than maybe any other, they’re each winners in my book. Here’s why:
While watching this true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, you’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude and empathy for our soldiers abroad and those adjusting to life back home, as well as their remarkably courageous families. Why it could win the Oscar: It offers a fresh, honest portrayal of true patriotism.
Bursting with truth and nostalgia, this film follows a family for 12 years, showcasing the complicated growing pains and pleasures of contemporary boyhood. Take your kids, take your neighbors’ kids, take your parents, just go. (In a Variety poll, Boyhood is currently the clear front-runner to win.) Why it could win the Oscar: It’s an excellent example of groundbreaking film-making.
A washed-up Hollywood actor attempts to reclaim his name, craft, and career in a Raymond Carver Broadway adaptation. This one’s nontraditional, in a kind of strange, delicious way. Whether its playful, unorthodox storytelling devices are something you appreciate or not, you absolutely will leave saying, “That was different,” which I find entirely refreshing. Why it could win the Oscar: It’s a work of art, about art.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Get ready for a stirring delight for the senses: amazing music, charming, fast-paced storytelling, vivid colors, stunning cinematography, and a story that engages from start to finish, all set in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. Why it could win the Oscar: It’s a film with remarkable whimsy.
The Imitation Game
In the midst of WWII, feuding mathematicians struggle to decipher a Nazi code. I would’ve preferred that the film explore more of the complicated personal life of Alan Turing (expertly played by Best Actor-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch), but it’s worth seeing, nonetheless. Why it could win the Oscar: It has historical integrity.
Uncompromising determination and everything’s-at-stake conflict collide in Selma, showcasing the heart of the Civil Rights movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964. Seriously, a must-see for all. (I hope this one will become a regular feature in eighth grade and up classrooms for its raw, conflicted portrayals and historical relevance.) Why it could win the Oscar: It has visceral, gutsy, go-there rhetoric.
The Theory of Everything
More than anything, it’s the little-known love story of intellectual giant Stephen Hawking and his long-time wife, companion, and champion, the ever-unflappable Jane Wilde. Simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking, Eddie Redmayne makes a perfectly convincing Hawking. Why it could win the Oscar: It’s an excellent portrayal of the triumph of the human spirit.
A jazzy, dazzling drama about an abusive, determined music teacher who uses intimidation to drive a first-year drummer to success. Featuring quick cuts and an adrenaline-pumping narrative, instructor J.K. Simmons makes a seriously terrifying turn as the aggressive mentor to Miles Teller’s tenacious student. Why it could win the Oscar: It has amazing music and stellar performances.