[SELECTIONS] 2015 Academy Awards

OSCAR-PICKSThis year I’m writing a blog post especially for all of my picks. This way you can see just how much – or little – I know about the awards. My selections this year are my selections. In the past I’ve tried to game the system by trying my best to infer how the Academy will vote. I did this so I can win the Oscar pool I compete in with my family and friends each year. No more! I’m often disappointed if my speculation goes awry and the Academy selects differently than how I presumed they would. I might lose drastically this year, but at least I’ll know I picked the winners according to how I think.

To save you from droning on like the Academy Award show usually does, I will only provide my picks for the major categories. I’ll provide brief reasons why as well. I promise to leave right when you queue the music!


What a great film! This film deserves top honors, but unfortunately it’s buried in a group of films for which there are not enough superlatives. The screenplay meshes together years of events and does a masterful job of articulating character traits that left me wanting more.


Like Foxcatcher, Whiplash is a stellar film that has the unfortunate fate of being on the same plate as some truly magnificent films. This is a great story and eloquently elucidates the highs and lows one experiences along the musical career path.


This is a tricky pick for me. Timbuktu is a beautiful film and tells a highly relevant story about how people of high morals and integrity clash with marauding religious extremists. The symbolism is rich and blanketed me in warm – but scratchy – blankets. Leviathan goes a little bit further. It’s just as beautifully shot as Timbuktu and the symbolism is heaped on as well. Both films detail acts of courage by common people in the face of terrible odds. What sets them apart is that the people whom Leviathan is picking on are educated and cultured enough that they should see this film for what it is: a glaring indictment on the current Russian State. The people whom Timbuktu is calling out will never see this film. It’s offensive symbolism will be completely misunderstood. But, the people whom Leviathan is calling out do have the intellectual prowess to grasp what the director has done. The fact that they don’t and the fact that this film can receive the blessing of one of the Russian ministries is astonishing. The director managed to artfully conceal his intent in reams of subtext. Music by Philip Glass clenches my vote.


This year’s selection is a no-brainer for me. I correctly picked a film that became nominated for Best Documentary last year – The Act of Killing. It didn’t win, but it sure should have. It was one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen. CitizenFOUR achieves this feeling in my gut again. Laura Poitras has done a remarkable job of making three films exposing how Americans behave during the aftermath of September 11th . This film along with My Country, My Country and The Oath complete her three-film series dealing with the subject. And oh what a way to go out! CitizenFOUR is timeless. It details Edward Snowden’s decision to leak classified documents detailing the inner-workings of American intelligence gathering practices. It’s chilling and made me want to change all of my passwords immediately upon exiting the theater. It also caused me to look at people I passed in public differently. I would look at them and think to myself in a slightly judge-y way, These people don’t know. They don’t understand how they’re being surveilled. That’s a scary feeling to have and one I’m sure Snowden encounters on a daily – if not hourly – basis. It’s shot really well, too, and it details a story in real time. Obviously it’s not live and obviously we now know who Edward Snowden is now, but at the time this film was made, he was completely anonymous. Poitras, Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald worked soberly and diligently to reveal a truth that is vital to the safety of all Americans.


Stunning to behold, you will quickly forget it’s old-fashioned stop-motion filmmaking. The filmmakers remind you at the end during the credits though. This is a delightful story that is laced with a couple of one-liner jokes for the adults in the audience. Song of the Sea is a close second for me. It’s also a delightful story told with magically colorful animation.

BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro Iñárritu, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I defy anyone to come away from this film who doesn’t feel a tingle of awe. The style and precision with which this film is shot is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen on the silver screen. The level of detail that has to be conveyed between Iñárritu and his cinematographer is almost absurdly intricate. The length of takes and perfection with which the cast deliver their action and lines is magnificent. Just remember that the protracted camera shots are not rehearsed ad nauseam. They are simply explained. And then they are executed by both those in front of, and behind, the camera. Linklater might have been able to coordinate a group of people once per year for twelve years, but coordinating action sequences that involve shooting in Times Square and on Broadway takes a special kind of genius. 

BEST ACTRESS: Julianna Moore, Still Alice

Julianne Moore is stunning in her role as a woman confronted with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Her performance is riveting and completely necessary. Marion Cotillard’s performance in Two Days, One Night is exemplary as well, but I think Moore gets the nod based on her body of work.

BEST ACTOR: Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Michael Keaton gives a career defining performance as Riggan Thomson in Birdman. What sets him apart from the other actors nominated in my mind is that he is the only one who is acting as a character from someone’s mind. The other four actors are simply mimicking a person who exists, or has existed, in reality. I feel compelled to give the award to someone who creates a character from scratch and plays him so convincingly. Steve Carell’s performance is the best of the mimic bunch for sure. Like Julianna Moore, I think Keaton deserves the award based on his outstanding body of work.

BEST PICTURE: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is a film that will be on my best films list for years to come. It’s genius, plain and simple. It’s a vehicle that levels cutting criticism at both the Hollywood elite and the Broadway upper crust. The writing is superb; the acting groundbreaking; the directing precise and unique. It’s the best picture of 2015 by a large margin.


[REVIEW]: 2015 Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films

2015 Oscars
The short documentary films that have been selected for the 2015 Academy Awards pack an enormous emotional wallop. Two of the five nominees stand apart and frankly make the remaining three films feel shallow and weak. Let me be clear. I mean no ill will to the subjects or filmmakers of these films. When there is a group of five films it’s an unfortunate reality for the folks nominated that sometimes there is one — or in this case two — films that shine above the others. Below I offer a brief review of each of the five films in the order I saw them.

1. “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” by Ellen Goosenberg Kent (A)

This film details the harrowing work of working in the only crisis hotline for suicidal American war veterans. It’s no surprise that this place exists. It is surprising that there is only one crisis hotline. The film is so good that it shouldn’t matter what your political stance is. I have heaps of respect for the young men and women who find it in within themselves to go to war. They deserve every American’s unflinching respect and they deserve to be treated with decency when they return from their assigned theater of war. The problem is that the infrastructure to get the relief they need is lacking. To truly care for these individuals when they are so shell-shocked from the atrocities they witness and commit is a task very few people are prepared for. The few people who are prepared are featured in this film. This film turns the camera’s unflinching eye on these brave individual men and women who are committed to talking to vets who are considering ending their own lives due to myriad psychological issues that are a direct result of having been at war. Their demeanor is unflinching and calm. Not cold, not warm, but just right. I have no problem admitting that there is absolutely no way I am capable of talking to someone who is experiencing an intense bout w/ PTSD. Hearing these soldiers call in and seek help makes me crumble. But the folks in the crisis hotline offer level-headed responses and explain things objectively. This skill is essential, and I believe is the most powerful tool these hotline people are equipped with. I was choked up for nearly the entire duration of this 40-minute film. It’s gripping. It does not let go of you. This is a documentary. These are real people dealing first hand with a problem that is not going away any time soon.

2. “Joanna” by Aneta Kopacz (A+)

Wow. This film! Such a profound look at life’s story told through the eyes of woman dying of cancer. She’s not just telling the story to the world though. Oh no, she’s not. She’s using this film to reach beyond her own lifetime and speak to her young son, who is also featured in the film. This film is a perfect use of cinema. It’s exquisitely photographed and one of the most heartbreaking stories ever told. When the mother must cut her hair due to chemotherapy, her son cuts his too. They plant plants and take in some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve seen on film. The mother is weak so her husband carries her to and from specific spots. Bring heaps of tissues because the ending of this film will absolutely wreck you.

3. “White Earth” by J. Christian Jensen (A)

Ever wondered what goes on in a tar field in North Dakota? Then this is the film for you. The film features stories about families who have moved to a town called White Earth to better themselves financially. The only problem is that the men and women who move there to relieve financial burdens on their families only end up further burdening their loved ones spiritually. Work begins well before sunrise and often requires parents to be away from their children for significant periods of time. As with all parents, these parents simply want to create an environment for their children that is better than the one they grew up in. This film should cause one to begin to understand the familial impact this type of work has on the people in this film. This use to be a small town, but is now burgeoning and ill-equipped to house so many people. There’s nary an activity for people to do to escape their intense work days. Children complain of a stench and oily residue present in the home when their fathers return from their jobs. It paints a pretty clear picture that the negligible energy gains the US makes from this kind of oil extraction come nowhere near balancing the damage that is effected on families.

4. La Parka (The Reaper) (B+)

This is by far the most artistically abstract of the films in the bunch. It serves it’s purpose of informing the viewer very well. I speculate that it symbolizes what the main character sees after having slaughtered such a preposterously high number of cattle. For him, he’s so accustomed to his job that he doesn’t even see the cattle as life forms anymore. They’re just flesh, bones and muscle that he’s responsible for culling and preparing for market. It’s a chilling visual language to employ. As an audience member who has never been employed to put cattle down I’m constantly looking for a sign of sentience from these animals. But I was never allowed to see it. The cattle are herded into a slippery shoot where they try earnestly to gain footing. They’re simple creatures and they have no clue of their imminent demise. The visual language is punctuated by following La Parka back home where he has a meal and some downtime with his family. Here the camera focuses it’s symbolic vision on flowers, color, and light. It’s brevity is powerful for we follow our lead character right back to the gritty, grimy killing fields after a brief respite of warmth. It’s a simple story that could have used a little bit more context, but will definitely give one pause the next time a meal of meat is served.

5. “Our Curse” (Tomasz Sliwinski & Marciej Slesicki) (A+)

The yin to Joanna’s yang, this film also focuses on two parent’s unceasing love for their child. However in this case it is the child who is at risk of death. The parents learn very early on that their son has been born with an extremely rare defect that makes every night a battle of life and death. If ever there were a film that proved the value of being in the present moment and taking life one day at a time, this is it. It’s also proof positive that human beings can live – and thrive — with the most extreme of circumstances. This film is so perfectly executed that you begin to feel a tiny bit of the parent’s joy of the precious moments they have with their little boy. I did wonder how this disease that I didn’t even know existed actually exists and you will too. But that thought will be fleeting as you witness the tenderness and bold-faced resolve of this couple to raise their son and create a normal happy life for him.

So now you’re wondering which one I’m picking for the winner right? Brandon, how do you pick a winner from such a stellar group of films? It honestly wasn’t that hard. The two Polish films are my favorites of the bunch, and honestly are two of my favorite films of all time. It’s amazing to me how a story can be told in only forty minutes and leave an indelible image in my mind. My hat’s off to Poland this year. Looks like they’re really giving the documentary film producing Danes a run for their money! Of the two, I prefer Joanna. Both Our Curse and Joanna are about life and death, but the timeless video postcard that is created in Joanna makes it stand out for me. This is a film that can always be used to reflect back on how this woman was and how much she cared for her loved ones. For me that idea just barely edges out Our Curse. I have to pick a winner right?! Finally, I’m fearful of recommending these films to anyone. The two Polish films are beyond sad. It’s like they put your soul and heart in a blender with some sand, whip it up and then shove it down your throat with a tube. They’re spectacular films though. If you do choose to go see them, you’ve been warned.