Paddy Power, a British bookmaker and betting company (that once purportedly cut down swathes of the Amazon rainforest as a publicity stunt), has Oscar Best Picture nominee “Boyhood” pegged as a 8:13 bet to win. “Birdman”’s chances are listed as 6:5, while the odds of “Whiplash,” “Selma” and “The Theory of Everything” winning are all 100 to 1. This year’s Best Picture nominations also include “American Sniper,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game.”
It’s a thematically and politically (if not culturally) diverse roundup of films. “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” illustrate the lives of eccentric British geniuses, while “Selma” and “American Sniper” retell diametrically opposed sides of the American narrative. “Whiplash” focuses on a brutal vision of an elite musical conservatory, while “The Grand Budapest Hotel” delivers Wes Anderson’s signature charm (with a sense of melancholy and weight unprecedented in his whimsical canon). “Birdman” splits the difference between bebop, Raymond Carver, metafiction and Michael Keaton, while “Boyhood”—the critical favorite—was filmed over 12 years.
But with that being said, gilded statuettes are not the be-all, nor the end-all, for good cinema. 2014 boasted a long list of under-recognized films, and just about all of their names seemed to be polysyllabic compound agent nouns. In this category, we have the rhinoplastic Michael Scott vehicle “Foxcatcher” (which involves neither foxes nor catches), the ambulance-chasing Gyllenhaal black comedy “Nightcrawler” and the socially conscious sci-fi parable “Snowpiercer.”
Also worth noting is David Fincher’s tense drama “Gone Girl,” Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (the best three-hour Kubrick homage you’ll see this year) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” based on a Miami-noir Thomas Pynchon novel.
However, 2014 wasn’t just a good year in film: it was a seriously controversial one.
For instance, “American Sniper,” from our very own Clint Eastwood, has received its fair share of criticism. On one hand, the film portrays a lot of heroism (and stars Bradley Cooper, who apparently packed on enough pounds to be able to hibernate until the 2015 awards season). But even in a post-Hebdo world, the rhetoric of glorifying a cavalier killer can feel a smidge jingoistic (a more faithful adaptation of Chris Kyle’s autobiography would probably fall somewhere between “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and “Birth of a Nation”). The only thing harder to stomach than the thought of American-Afghan relations being set back several decades is the fake plastic baby that Cooper swaddles and cradles halfway through the film.
But while “American Sniper” is a serious film, “The Interview” has no such grandiose pretensions (it’s a satire with finger-biting as a punchline, for crying out loud). Nonetheless, the Franco-Rogen collaboration managed to spark an international controversy and a widespread debate on the extent of free speech. How strange it would have been if a world war was started over a movie built around a running Katy Perry joke, right?
But as we move onward into the green pastures of 2015, there are plenty of films shining bright on the horizon. Mark your Channing Tatum swimsuit calendars for “Magic Mike: XXL,” along with “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (which my agent is telling me is not a Wes Anderson sequel, but a Judi Dench comedy). You can also look forward to a new “Star Wars” (which could incite just as much controversy as the aforementioned flicks)—but what’s the most highly anticipated film of the new year?
Here’s a hint: it starts with “Paul Blart” and ends with “Mall Cop 2.”