Talkhouse Film Contributors Talk the 2015 Academy Award-Nominated Films

An overview of the films in contention at the Academy Awards this weekend, courtesy of Talkhouse Film's brain trust.

American Sniper
“Eastwood is after something more mythic than political commentary or reportage, something more universal, more timeless. American Sniper is the latest in a long line of his films about the toll that violence takes on both the human body and soul; it’s a more visceral, less philosophical companion piece to The Outlaw Josey WalesUnforgiven and Mystic River.” (Jim Hemphill)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
In a vacuum, this is the kind of meta premise a mind like Charlie Kaufman’s would have a field day with. Iñárritu, however, has other plans. Working with the aforementioned Lubezki, he takes this very high concept idea and uses the visual dexterity he’s honed over the past two decades to create a perfect balance between fantasy and reality. Unfolding as a series of one-ers, Birdman is a procession of scenes stitched together with cunning and movie magic.” (Barry Jenkins)

“Regardless of however many great films Linklater has made or how many he has left, Boyhood will likely become the defining statement of his career. How could he top it? It’s such a grand gesture! Even if he replicated the experiment, followed the same boy for another 12 or even 24 years, there’s nothing like the first time (which Linklater knows, and which is why he avoided making Boyhood the litany of firsts that everyone might have expected, and in doing so he manages to avoid all of that aforementioned melodramatic garbage, leaving it to writers like myself to dredge up the sentiment of their past or present in their attempts to encapsulate just what it is he’s done).” (David Lowery)

CITIZENFOUR is a shoo-in to win next year’s Oscar for best documentary. Even if the film were not good, it’d still have the best chance of winning: Poitras was the first person Edward Snowden contacted after he decided to release his information. Poitras wrote articles about Snowden’s revelations for The Washington Post, for which she has already won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service (shared with her teammates at The Guardian). The fact that CITIZENFOUR is also, in fact, very good just makes that inevitable Oscar seem much more well deserved.” (Craig Zobel)

Finding Vivian Maier
“Finding Vivian Maier, a film by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, is a brisk, absorbing documentary that may well have to be content with just its nomination this coming Sunday. Whilst the likely winner of the Best Documentary Oscar has done us all a service by exposing lies and invasions into our privacy on a global scale, this film does its own more discreet form of public service by uncovering the work of a bona fide and yet completely unknown artist, a distinctive, reclusive female photographer who worked the streets of Chicago for decades, creating a vast body of revelatory images, none of which were ever sold, or shown publicly or even shared with friends (on the evidence of the film, she didn’t have any) and some of which were never even developed. I guess you’d have to say that the filmmakers did us this service by invading her jealously guarded privacy, albeit posthumously.” (James Marsh)

“The film begins inside an unglamorous, windowless wrestling room, with Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) tossing around a practice dummy by himself. Moments later, Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) enters the room to start some practice drills with his brother. It’s a classic “master and pupil” scene. The pace picks up and the two begin to wrestle for position, hand fight, attack and counter each other. The camera leans in, becoming more intimate in its positioning. You can almost smell the stench of eroded kneepads, sweat and the wrestling mat in the room.” (Mohammad Gorjestani)

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is fantastic. I’ve always thought that you should be given more credit for the current white guy anti-hero craze. Clearly there is no Walter White without Royal Tenenbaum. You pull no punches with M. Gustave’s indescribable soup of entitlement, vanity, Eurocentric exceptionalism and wanton insecurity, which is why the movie is so refreshing.
And holla! It’s in the midst of an Oscar race! That part probably doesn’t excite you at all — at least not in a tactile way — apart from the very tactile fact that the film’s critical and commercial success probably means you can keep doing what you’re doing without any interference…” (Terence Nance)

Guardians of the Galaxy
“It’s an immensely enjoyable piece of genre entertainment that harkens back to the massive studio hits of the early ‘80s, movies that knew the best way to deliver a sweeping epic was to include humor and heart in equal supply. It wears director James Gunn’s influences on its sleeve so warmly and with such reverence that you know exactly what is being referenced and when. Just think Star Wars and every huge space/sci-fi/action-adventure movie from 1980 to 1985 and you are in the film’s wheelhouse.” (Jonathan Lisecki)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
“And that’s really the thing about Jackson: he gets Tolkien. He is in awe of the material but not slavish to it, willing to see the tone and underlying meaning where he needs to adapt rather than translate. He loves the world and it gives him plenty of room to explore his own themes and ideas (both narratively and from a production standpoint) while still honoring the stories that brought us all here in the first place.” (Alex Ross Perry)

“In its rigorous simplicity, Ida bears comparison with the work of Bresson and the great documentarian Frederick Wiseman, who happen to be two of my favorite filmmakers, probably because I have no hope – or desire – to emulate them. Nor does Pawlikowski, I think, though I mean to compliment him with the comparison. But his film is all his own and I think it is a great one.” (James Marsh)

The Imitation Game
“Turing’s life was incredible, but it was also tragic. Either you make a taught thriller about the breaking of the Enigma codes with Alan Turing as the “character” in your film, or you make a film about Alan Turing, the man, who happened to break the Enigma codes, but who was also much more. The Imitation Game couldn’t decide whether it wanted Turing the character or Turing the man, so it chose both.” (Riley Stearns)

Inherent Vice
“In today’s major-key movie culture it almost seems beside the point if Inherent Vice is a “good” movie or not. Ambition alone sets it apart from just about everything else that’s out now. What’s compelling about Inherent Vice is its belief in the glory days of American ’70s filmmaking and replicating it lovingly. It’s made by a genuine visionary I’ve always admired (despite a Twitter rant after seeing The Master), and whose early work I responded to more than the later work; Anderson is the rare artist whose movies I can semi-check out on and still admire his integrity.” (Bret Easton Ellis)

“For me, Nolan remains one of the most audacious and technically adept filmmakers working today. I think the studio heads that back him deserve a ton of credit as well, especially in this age of remakes and superhero movies. Making a film like Interstellar is a massive risk, and I commend them for doing it. I’d much rather see an uneven film like this one than something unoriginal.” (Michael Mohan)

Into the Woods
“My favorite part of the movie by far was that final third when shit got real. There was real exuberance, real cinema on display. I think in this day and age, I’m always asking myself when I go see something, “Why is this a movie and not TV?” Because TV is so good these days and is doing so many interesting things. Movies need to be able to do something that TV can’t. Movies have to be bold in their vision, to go places that you can’t go on TV and to belong on a big screen.” (Craig Johnson)

The Last Days in Vietnam
“As Last Days of Vietnam demonstrates, ultimately, when all the money is burned and we step out of our boots and military garb, we are human beings, and what matters is bigger than country and ego and possession. What matters is our shared humanity, which allows us — compels us — to say, “I will break the rules and risk everything to do what is morally right.” Indeed, there is such a thing as honor over duty. As Kennedy’s film puts it, “Sometimes there’s an issue of not illegal or legal but right and wrong. You don’t have time to think, you just have to do it.” ” (Tracy Droz Tragos)

The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie is the best commercial I’ve ever seen. I watched it two nights before Christmas and by the end of it I was hoping and praying that Santa would leave a ton of Legos under the Christmas tree and The Lego Movie soundtrack (which I assume is strictly comprised of versions of “Everything is Awesome” by Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Lorde, Idina Menzel, Beyoncé and Jay-Z) in my stocking.” (Sophia Takal)

“The disappointments of Maleficent lie in the ways it doesn’t depart from the original story. While the climactic moments work because Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty worked, a viewer who has seen both might feel cheated…. Something is different in live action than it is in animation, and there is a power in letting that difference emerge. And filling Maleficent’s frame with green smoke while Jolie barks ominously, “Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday,” just makes us feel like we should probably go watch the original instead. Because it was original.” (Josephine Decker)

Mr. Turner
“I entered the screening with the nagging feeling that art was as meaningless as the reality it claims to address, but each of the scenes in Mr. Turner is so loaded with meaning that my sense of existential emptiness was rendered incoherent. I left Mr. Turner filled with what can only be described as a sense of spiritual awe and profound solace, despite the tragic difficulties all of the film’s characters faced. I was reminded that, at its best, film offers a secular corollary to religious contemplation and comfort. I was reminded of why I became an artist in the first place. Just like Turner and, presumably, Leigh, I wanted to find that feeling of connection to something larger than myself and share it with others.” (Lawrence Michael Levine)

“Nothing about Nightcrawler feels like a first feature (of course, Dan Gilroy has been a successful screenwriter for decades, from Freejack to The Bourne Legacy), and the director self-assuredly creates an intelligent, acidic and all-too-believable portrait of the seedy lower rungs of the free market entertainment business, where the pursuit of a 10-share in the ratings is justification enough for airing any image, no matter how sensational or exploitative.” (James Ponsoldt)

The Salt of the Earth
“It’s perhaps a little trad, and one wishes more time had been spent examining the ethics of white photographers working with indigenous cultures rather than its save-the-rainforest call-to-action coda, but even with that, The Salt of the Earth might actually be the most complete of the five films nominated — at least in terms of the way it sets up expectations and achieves them, while also providing a coherent aesthetic experience.” (Jeff Reichert)

Still Alice
“There have been so many articles already about the grace, beauty and depth of Julianne Moore’s performance. If you ever have spent any time with someone with Alzheimer’s (which, as I said before, most of you probably have), you’ll know that she nails the “Alzheimer’s stare” beautifully. She captures a patient’s progression, from the world we all live in to the secret world that only the Alzheimer’s patient knows, in a way that I haven’t seen in many films. Give her all the awards, please.” (Brea Grant)

The Theory of Everything
Listen to Errol Morris talking with director James Marsh about his movie, Stephen Hawking, Frederick Wiseman, serial killers, early photography, attacking Donald Rumsfeld and more here.

Two Days, One Night
“Marion Cotillard is the star of the movie. About her I’ll simply say that, between this and The Immigrant, she has appeared in two stone-cold masterpieces in successive years and is also the very best thing about both, so let’s all try to be a little sensitive when we’re talking to every other actress in the world, because they’re not Marion Cotillard and they’re never going to be Marion Cotillard. The way she radiates dignity through shame, time and time again in this film is superhuman. Incidentally, I think dignity and shame are the two hardest qualities to capture on film, and she is doing both at the same time.” (Chad Hartigan)

“The importance of a topic or message does matter to the overall quality of a documentary film. A talented and sensitive filmmaker can uncover this import even with a subject that may seem mundane on its surface. The subject of Virunga, however, is epic. The mixture of genres, heavily molded into a dramatic narrative package, delivers on a central moral message that cannot be missed. If we, as humans, allow this archetypal example of natural beauty and renewable value to fall victim to the forces of greed and corruption, is anything safe?” (Jason Osder)

Whoa. This last scene, holy fuck he’s going for it. The editing. God, this movie is paying off. J.K. just did this thing I’ll never, ever forget. Smallest gesture, but it’s everything. This is like the final scene of Black Swan, loved when she turned into a swan. IT’S STILL GOING? How many days did he have to shoot this scene? BREATHE, DAN.” (Daniel Schechter)

X-Men: Days of Future Past
“Bryan Singer is made for the X-films in a way none of the other directors can touch. He excels at bringing characters to life via fantastic displays of their powers. … Singer helped to invent the tone of the modern superhero film and he continues to nail it. His X-films exist in the space between the fairly comedic swashbuckling world of the Disney Marvel films and the ultra-serious tone of the recent DC Warner Bros. films.” (Jonathan Lisecki)