2014 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees. FilmBook continues its coverage of this year’s 86th Annual Academy Awards race with the Best Picture. This year’s race is atypical in a myriad of ways: a film that many consider to be science fiction tied for the most nominations – ten – of any film. The film it tied with – an Actor’s film – is expected by many to go home empty-handed. The supposed frontrunner has stumbled at awards precursors, losing valuable steam although it has taken home the top prize more often than not. Many pundits are predicting a Best Director/Best Picture split, something that has happened 22 times in the 85-year history of the Oscars, most recently last year. This race is down to the wire and, due to the Academy’s preferential voting system for this category, any of the top three nominees could take home the big prize on March 2nd.
What It’s About: Director and co-writer David O. Russell’s talky film starts out with a pre-title card stating: “Some of this actually happened.” It details – artistic license acknowledged – the Abscam scandal of the late 1970’s in which the FBI enlisted the help of a pair of cons to entrap members of Congress in a corruption scandal involving a fake Muslim Sheikh, gambling, and the mafia.
Why It Deserves To Win: This is the funnest film in a year where real-life dramas took most of the slots. Watching the four nominated actors perform is a pure delight; they’re obviously having a hell of a time with the excellent script and period costumes. The soundtrack is killer!
Defining Moment: When the FBI’s fake Muslim Sheikh steps off a staged airliner and gifts a replica ceremonial knife to the Mayor of Camden, NJ (Jeremy Renner), it becomes clear: this isn’t a game any more, it’s real.
What It’s About: This real-life story from April 2009 made it to the big screen fairly quickly. It dramatizes the hijacking of an American cargo ship in international waters by destitute Somali pirates.
Why It Deserves To Win: Though the story is familiar to most Americans, the film successfully captures an air of suspense that keeps things exciting. The editing of the film’s climactic moments keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, and Tom Hanks’ performance as the ship’s captain is unbelievably good.
Defining Moment: The film’s unscripted ending features the best moments of Tom Hanks’ performance that send chills down one’s spine.
What It’s About: This dark horse film chronicles the real-life efforts of Ron Woodroof to bring non-FDA-approved prescription treatments to those afflicted with HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Why It Deserves To Win: The film is carried by the weight of its nominated actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, who humanize complicated, conflicted characters with transformative performances. Isn’t that what the film-going experience is all about?
Defining Moment: Our character’s journey is launched and the world is forever changed when Ron’s doctors (Denis O’Hare and Jennifer Garner) first inform him that he has HIV/AIDS and a T-cell count of 6. “There ain’t nothing out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days.”
What It’s About: A medical scientist is launched into space and must figure out how to return to Earth after disaster strikes the American spacecraft she was working on.
Why It Deserves To Win: The film short-changes itself with a deceptively simple plot; those with a keen eye for detail will find a treasure trove of religious symbolism that makes this the most spiritual film produced in years. It has redefined the movie-going experience more than any film since The Matrix.
Defining Moment: It is undeniable that the film’s opening scene – a single 13-minute roving shot – will go down in film history as one of the all-time greatest cinematic moments.
What It’s About: In the most imaginative and original film of the year, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) begins to fall in love with his computer operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
Why It Deserves To Win: This vision of our future once would have seemed unthinkable, but it seems eerily plausible in this day and age. Yes, it seems odd, but the romance between Theodore and his operating system is sweet and endearing. Spike Jonze deserves praise for doing the impossible; his film is an ode to our need for emotional connections and where we turn to feel connected.
Defining Moment: A conversation between Theodore and Amy (Amy Adams) about just how many people they know who are in romantic relationships with their operating systems reminds us of our newfound addictions to smartphones.
What It’s About: Woody Grant, an alcoholic with Alzheimer’s, receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail informing him that he’s “won” a million dollars. So what does he do? He sets out on foot from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim it despite the misgivings of his biting wife, Kate (June Squibb) and sympathetic son, David (Will Forte).
Why It Deserves To Win: This portrait of America shines a light on a cross-section of the aging population and prompts reflection on the consequences of America’s moving away from farming and manufacturing jobs. In doing so, it becomes supremely relatable and rings true in our hearts.
Defining Moment: Corporate exploitation of all of us is symbolized when, upon Woody’s arrival to the sweepstakes office to select his “winnings,” an employee sympathetically remarks that such misunderstandings happen all too often at the office, especially among the elderly.
What It’s About: In another true story, viewers travel along with Philomena Leigh (Judi Dench) as she searches for her son, who was adopted to another couple against her will by a group of Catholic nuns.
Why It Deserves To Win: This film is more charming than one would expect given its subject matter. Dench and Steve Coogan (playing BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith) have perfect chemistry in this “buddy movie” that alternates between grave seriousness and whimsical comedy (think Dench’s character raving about the film Big Momma’s House) – a blend hardly seen because it is so difficult to pull off successfully.
Defining Moment: Near the film’s end, Philomena quite suddenly but convincingly forgives the nun who kept her son away from her for decades, leaving the audience incredulous but in awe and admiration.
What It’s About: The film follows the true journey of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in the North who is suddenly forced into slavery on a Louisiana plantation.
Why It Deserves To Win: Director Steve McQueen gives American slavery the Schindler’s List/Saving Private Ryan treatment. Unflinching brutality is shown to educate and inform rather than exploit and inflame. High-schoolers will be watching this soon-to-be staple in America’s classrooms soon, cementing its status as an American classic.
Defining Moment: In the film’s most brutal scene, Solomon is made to repeatedly whip a fellow slave, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), by their slaveowner, Mr. Epps (Michael Fassbender) when he accuses Patsey of unsubstantiated claims.
What It’s About: Another true story, this one follows Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) meteoric rise on Wall Street and the appalling, depraved lifestyle it affords him before his house of cards is toppled.
Why It Deserves To Win: Is there a film more topical at the moment? Though graphic, the film succeeds at satirizing the truly disturbing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the top.
Defining Moment: As a stock broker mentoring Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), Matthew McConaughey informs the audience early on about what fuels a Wall Street stock broker and how the game is played and rigged.
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