Yesterday I unloaded most irksome bugaboos of the 2014-15 awards season in a flurry of list-ified rage. Venting is healthy, right? But if there's one thing healthier, it's accentuating the positive. So as my final word (I swear!) on the Oscar derby that ended almost a week ago, here are my five favourite treasures of the season:
Mere days before the nominations were announced, I published a list of ten potential nods that I didn't have the guts to predict, but really wanted to see. The highest among those longshot hopes was to see both GKIDS stablemates, Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, earn nominations for Best Animated Feature. While most were quick to bemoan their inclusion at the expense of the wildly popular LEGO Movie, I was rejoicing the animation branch's fine artistic taste. Tomm Moore made the best animated film of the year in my opinion, while Isao Takahata made the best animated film of all time back in the 80s, and the freedom to now call him an Oscar nominee is a thrill that Big Hero 6's ultimate victory will never diminish. Other pleasant nomination morning goodies included Ida for cinematography, Captain America for visual effects, and Whiplash for sound mixing (which it actually won!), and that brings me to my next highlight...
4. General Membership Makes 'Sound' Choices
Usually the sound branch knows what it's doing and the academy at large hasn't got a clue. I haven't seen the actual deserving nominees of each category take home their appropriate Oscars since... gee, 2003 I think (Chicago and Two Towers split). But this year was just the opposite: The sound branch baffled by snubbing Fury and Godzilla while opting for the cacophonous Interstellar, but then the general membership redeemed them by picking the best possible option in each category. The Best Sound Editing win for American Sniper is perhaps typical (though not undeserved), but the Best Sound Mixing win for Whiplash is truly inspired. The last film that took home this honour for mixing purely instrumental music was Bird in 1989, which was about (get this!) Charlie Parker, who is referenced prominently throughout Whiplash! Along with Alexandre Desplat's overdue win for Best Original Score, this was one of the most wholly satisfying wins of the evening.
3. Julianne Moore
Speaking of overdue wins, Julianne Moore's has been a long time coming. I published a top ten list some time ago of individuals who need an Oscar “NOW”. Well it may have taken a few years, but we can officially scratch Julianne from that list. I know that some fans of this extraordinarily talented actress may have just a twinge of reservation about her finally being gilded for a film that isn't all that great, especially after losing for modern classics such as Boogie Nights and Far from Heaven. But for all the faults in Still Alice, Moore's performance isn't one of them. This is an astonishing, complex interpretation of a thinly conceived character. That Moore was able to merit Hollywood's highest honour for a tiny, miserablist movie that few truly love is both long-awaited recognition of her gifts for elevating material, and a testament to how rightly respected and loved she is in this business. My very happy congratulations to her!
This particular highlight of the season could be seen as bittersweet, as it goes somewhat hand-in-hand with the depressing outcome of Selma's doomed Oscar campaign. But once the rage over the film's near shutout in the major categories had subsided, one fact became readily apparent: It was destined to win for the song. “It had damn well better” seemed to be a dominant attitude amongst its most ardent supporters. From that point on, Common and John Legend (the latter of whom should have been in the Oscar running for Waiting for Superman in 2011) became the primary ambassadors for the film, delivering impassioned speeches at the Globes and Critics Choice Awards that cut right to the heart of Selma's message. When they took the stage on Oscar night, giving the most hair-raising telecast performance in recent memory, it felt like so much more than just another Best Original Song presentation. The crowd in attendance at the Dolby made it known just how big it felt, cheering on their feet for nearly a full minute, many with tears in their eyes. It was a glorious moment in the sun for the tragically under-appreciated film, whose audience continues to steadily grow.
1. Ethan Hawke
I'm trying to take the whole Boyhood thing in stride. On the one hand, for this masterful experiment in narrative filmmaking to ultimately come up short (namely the criminal 0-for-3 showing of its visionary director Richard Linklater) is disappointing to say the least. But on the other hand, for this type of film to even be in the running – for the win, no less – is sort of miraculous. And the most heartwarming thing about its unlikely miracle run at the gold was seeing Ethan Hawke on every red carpet at every awards show, giving intelligent interviews and just grinning from ear to ear. There was a time, believe it or not, when most assumed he wouldn't even be nominated. Some entertained the notion that he was essentially playing himself in the film, when in fact he was quietly offering up the best work of his career. It was heartening when he became a stalwart part of the Best Supporting Actor conversation, even though he never stood a chance at winning. When people talk about being “just happy to be here”, that's Ethan Hawke x10. His joy at seeing Arquette and Linklater winning prizes throughout the winter was uncontainable, and he looked like he might have burst when Ellar Coltrane won the Critics Choice Award for Best Young Actor/Actress. He has no hardware to show for his immeasurable contribution to this 12-year commitment, but the look on his face as he got up on stage with his cast mates at the Globes and Critics Choice says it all. He knows how lucky he is to have been part of such a special movie. All season long, Hawke was an exemplar of the right attitude you have to bring to this whole awards nonsense. It isn't about winning or losing or individual achievement. It's about celebrating the collaboration, and relishing those rare opportunities to do so while they last. Hugs all around!
And that's all I have to say about that. I may post a non-Oscary thing or two throughout March, and will probably start spit-balling some early predictions in April. Meanwhile, it's time to go into a much needed hibernation. My thanks to all you readers who stop by this blog on a regular basis. Writing about movies is fun and all, but I don't think I'd continue doing it for free if I didn't know that at least a few people were reading. Hope you've been enjoying it. Now bring on 2015!