The Final Movie Round-Up

There’s officially 13 days until Oscars, and the first few weeks of the new year have been a blur of popcorn, final screenings, and wondering just how much money I gave to Hollywood this year and why does this industry own my soul.

I only had a few films left to see, and Oscar nominations helped solidify the list. The surprise Best Actress race in particular made me nervous — Still Alice still hadn’t been released in San Diego and I couldn’t find any showings anywhere for Two Days, One Night.

Alas patience is a virtue, and I was able to see them both this weekend, hereby checking off all the movies on my list with time to spare (I should be clear: by list, I mean “Movies to watch before Oscars”; my 2014 Master List still has quite a ways to go but since I am officially broke, I am resigned to wait until their eventual Netflix / on-demand releases).

These past few weeks also saw the wide release of the two most controversial films this season: Selma and American Sniper. Much like Cat Stevens, I couldn’t keep it in and already blogged my emotions out about those two.

So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the last few Oscar movies!

Spoiler alerts for: Big Eyes, Cake, A Most Violent Year, Still Alice, & Two Days, One Night

Selma
Read my thoughts here!

American Sniper
Check out the roundtable discussion with my friends here!

Big Eyes
I was so disappointed with this film. It had potential. Fascinating and little-known true story starring Amy Adams (whom I adore) and Christoph Waltz, and directed in a surprising change of pace by Tim Burton. But for me, the movie fell flat at every turn. While Amy Adams gave a great performance, Waltz’s character read more like a cartoon villain than anything else, blurring the surreal sense of reality (which is par for the course for Tim Burton but makes me wonder whether he was the most appropriate person to tell the story). It’s a dark tale – what happened to Margaret Keane at the hands of her husband is awful and abusive. Despite her satisfying redemption at the end, I wish her story would have been told with a bit more emotion and whole lot more grit.

Cake
Despite no longer being a contender thanks to Jennifer Anniston’s Oscar snub in the Best Actress category, I still wanted to check out this film. I’ve always been a fan of hers (though as a Friends fanatic, I may be a bit biased) and I was curious to see how she would tackle a role so drastically outside her comfort zone. And she did not disappoint. I was so impressed with her performance and the way she embraced her character. It’s unfortunate that the film couldn’t live up to the same level of achievement. Let’s hope the next movie she takes on is a challenge worth her time.

A Most Violent Year
One of this year’s frustratingly quiet films. Quiet in the sense that it got so little attention by mainstream audiences and most award shows and frustrating because I think it deserved all that and more. Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are so incredibly talented, and their long friendship made their chemistry on screen fascinating to watch. And that’s not to mention the story itself. Set in NYC in the 1980s, I expected it to be more grimy and violent and like Godfather-esque? I don’t know why. But I was surprised to find the root of the story so pleasantly simplistic. The film plays with the concept of living the American Dream and suffering for it but in such a relatable human way. I highly recommend this film — beautifully shot, top performances, solid script. Don’t be part of the vast majority who missed out. And when Oscar Isaac becomes the Hispanic George Clooney, you’ll be able to say you knew him way back when. You can thank me later.

Still Alice
The Best Actress race is all but locked up. It’s a brilliantly talented line-up this year but Julianne Moore has been killing the awards circuit with her heart-wrenching performance as the titular Alice, and she all but has this Oscar in the bag. The movie itself is stunningly moving, with emotional and impacting performances from the entire cast. A much more nuanced and subtle film than Cake, though why the two were so adamantly compared I don’t understand. There is something so painfully human about Still Alice that elevates the entire film and anchored by such an raw performance from Moore, it’s a movie worth the heartbreak.

Two Days, One Night
Probably one of the biggest surprises of the nominations this year was Marion Cotillard’s inclusion in the Best Actress race. Not because she is not talented or deserving — she’s an incredibly underrated actress who does not get nearly enough love from the awards circuit despite some brilliant performances. This film by the Dardenne brothers, a Sundance select spoken entirely in French, offers a heartbreaking story of a woman, recovering from depression, who upon returning to work discovers her boss has given her co-workers an unthinkable option: they must vote to either receive their bonuses or let her go. Marion Cotillard’s performance is raw and vulnerable, skillfully portraying her character’s internal battles and determination. It’s a quiet snapshot of life, delivering a message about human nature and kindness in an unfair world. As long as you don’t mind foreign films, it’s well worth your time.

And with that, I officially wrap up my 2014 awards season watch list! The past few years have had little uncertainty when it comes to the big races but I have to admit this year I am at a loss for more than half of these predictions. Which makes it all the more interesting but also all the more terrifying.

So I will see you all on February 22!
Let the countdown begin.

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