Best of 2014: Final Plea to AMPAS Voters and Editor’s Personal Winners of the Year

oscar-nomsBallots are due in just over 24 hours.  AMPAS may be doing some last-minute scrambling to ensure they see the things “they’re suppose to see.”  The Oscars will announce their nominations next Thursday morning at 8:30 am Eastern Time.  The world will be up to see who gets nominated, and we will be conducting a LIVE Google Hangout (with no makeup LOL), to be able to share our instant reactions with you all.  As always, there will be some normal things to see, some of which we’ll find unexciting.  I’m sure we’ll be in store for a surprise or two.  Whether or not it will who or what was included rather than excluded is yet to be determined.

I’m using this space today two-fold.  On Monday, I shared my personal ballot with you all, giving some ideas for AMPAS on where they should be looking in these final days.  I will announce those winners at the bottom.  The other reason is to give AMPAS voters the gumption, strength, perhaps even ideas, to be adventurous, and not for the sake of just being adventurous. It’s been widely discussed by many that the Oscars are a popularity contest, and that might be true.  Truth of the matter is, it doesn’t have to be.  Film is a subjective medium, full of twists and turns that enlighten our souls, and heighten our lives.  It’s time that AMPAS really begins to look outside their inner circles.  If you love something, put it on the ballot, even if you think it’s a “throw away.”  For years now, I’ve placed what some would call “throw aways” on the ballots for the Critics Choice Movie Awards, Satellite Awards, and this year, New York Film Critics Online.  I understand that in larger groups, consensus films and performances tend to rise to the top.  Our own Awards Circuit staff crafts its own awards, along with allowing the entire readership to vote on its own Awards Circuit Community Awards.  They never yield too many “outside the box” choices.  It’s not anyone’s fault per se.  It’s just the nature of the voting game.  Not everyone will see “Love is Strange” or “Under the Skin” to be able to vote for it in the key categories it needs to be recognized in.  We’ll truck through and chalk them up to simple and beautiful gifts that 2014 offered.  If we’re talking about these films five years from now, no Oscar mention or non-mention is going to stop that.  Many of my favorite films of all-time had no love from the Academy, and I’m okay with that.  There’s a reason there’s only five slots.  It really makes you put the year in perspective.  I’m proud of the film community, even when they’re doing or choosing something I don’t agree with.

AMPAS…you are privileged and have some of our dream jobs.  Many of us would die for the opportunities you have.  And to have an opportunity to vote on the most prestigious and renowned award show of all-time is pretty substantial.  I know many of you don’t take it seriously but you should.  It’s an honor to present certain films and performances to the world as “the best of the year.”  Pick up a screener tonight, even if you already turned in your ballot.  Something you haven’t seen, and something you’re not too sure what its about.  Pop it in.  Let it take you for a ride.  If the ride sucks, at least you can say you rode it.  If the ride is life-changing, those are things you hope for in a movie-going experience.  I’m so grateful I managed to watch “Wild Tales” at the last minute before I turned in my ballot.  One of the most surprising and exciting experiences I had this year.  I live for those.  I had a similar time with “Leviathan.”  I never watch enough foreign cinema.  It’s a sad truth, and you know what?  I know YOU don’t either AMPAS member.  You also don’t watch enough documentaries, animated films (unless you’re with your kids), and smaller independent cinema, not backed by a major studio.  Look at the Independent Spirit Award nominees.  How many of those have you seen?  Look for one of those.

Perhaps your buddies are telling you that “Boyhood” is the one to beat so there’s no real reason to look at any of the other films.  True, it’s one of the best of the year, even the very best.  That doesn’t mean you can’t give it a run for its money.  Be inspired.  I’ve spoken to many of you over the years.  Some of you have a lot of interesting, thoughtful ideas on cinema.  Others, honestly speaking, would probably make better garbage men then AMPAS voters.  Your narrow minded outlooks on cinema, and what it has to offer is very disappointing.  Especially to the millions of people that tune in to watch you awards show.  Sure you’re patting yourselves on the back, and wallowing in your own “awesomeness” for an evening.  For us, the readers, the pundits, the true movie lovers, we look to see some of the most innovative films and performances of the year get their recognition.  Names flashed across the screen, and be given a chance to be seen by a mass audience that isn’t backed by a superhero cape or a mediocre YA novel.  That’s not to say you can’t vote for any those.  Jesus, I wish you would.  “The Dark Knight” exclusion a few years ago was a true opportunity to open your arms up to the people who tune in to watch you every year.  Maybe you guys just didn’t think it was one of the best of the year.  And that’s fine if that’s true.  But we know that some of you didn’t bother watching it or didn’t want to be “that guy” that put a Batman movie at #1 on your ballot.  It’s okay to do something like that, IF you really feel that way.

Getting off the soapbox now, I implore, no, I beg you Academy member.  Really think about your ballot this year.  Really examine what YOU think is the best, not just what your friends are telling you IS the best.  Some of these studios have endless pockets to throw at you to get you to vote for their movies.  Others, wish they had the budget to give you “Obvious Child” engraved pencils or “Mommy” pictured mugs to send you.  How about some “Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” action figures?  Those would get your attention wouldn’t it?  Do the right thing.  I know you can.

Without further ado, my personal winners from the year.  In case you missed any of the silly awards or top ten article, click HERE.

jackoconnell_starredupBREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE – MALE
Jack O’Connell – “Starred Up” and “Unbroken”
(RUNNER UP – James Corden – “Begin Again”, “Into the Woods”, “One Chance”)

The young British actor had a magnificent year, bulldozing through each role he inhabited.  I’m very much looking forward to his next ventures and where they may take him.  James Corden also made a staple for himself and made a believer out of me that he will be one of the great late night hosts ever.

carriecoon_gonegirlBREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE – FEMALE
Carrie Coon – “Gone Girl”
(RUNNER UP – Carmen Ejogo – “Selma)

Carrie Coon made her play on television with “The Leftovers” (a show I just started) but her work in “Gone Girl” is one of the film’s true highlights.  Carmen Ejogo’s work as Coretta Scott King in “Selma” was superb on its own merits.  Can’t wait to see her opposite Ethan Hawke next year.

legomovie_imageBEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The LEGO Movie” (Warner Bros.)
(RUNNER UP – “The Congress”)

The charm and love that oozes from “The LEGO Movie” beautifully orchestrated by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.  Not to mention the great vocal work by Chris Pratt and Liam Neeson.  The magic of “The Congress” is owned by the towering achievement by Robin Wright and the way Ali Forman mixes animation and live action.  A film not enough people saw.

lifeitself_imageBEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Life Itself” (Magnolia Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – “The Case Against 8”)

Not surprising to see “Life Itself” resonating still til this day and Steve James’ potent love letter to Roger Ebert is among the most lovely ever put on film for a beloved figure.  “The Case Against 8” had me fighting through tears and made a serious play for my top ten of the year.  Groundbreaking capture of the love, trials, and equality.

glory_selmaBEST SONG FROM/USED IN A MOTION PICTURE
“Glory” from “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”)

Common’s lyrics with John Legend’s impeccable vocals bring “Glory” to a whole new level.  “Lost Stars” represents the soul of a film that’s a homage to music and the current state of its industry and artists.

dawnoftheplanetoftheapes_imageBEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (20th Century Fox)
(RUNNER UP – “Interstellar”)

Motion capture just keeps getting elevated and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” captures Cesar, Koba, and all its other apes like real life dream come true.  “Interstellar” may have had problems but the visuals were not one of them.  Space, black holes, and behind the book case never looked so beautiful and vivid.

godzilla_imageBEST SOUND DESIGN
Godzilla” (Warner Bros.) – Rick Kline (Sound Re-Recording Mixer), Gregg Landaker (Sound Re-Recording Mixer), Tim LeBlanc (Sound Re-Recording Mixer), Erik Aadahl (Supervising Sound Editor)
(RUNNER UP – “Under the Skin” – Johnnie Burn)

The roar of “Godzilla” mixed with Alexandre Desplat’s music, moving trains, and MUTO communication is the best mix and creations of the year.  “Under the Skin” excels in its sound work by the talented Johnnie Burn.

snowpiercer_image2BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
“Snowpiercer” (Radius-TWC) – Ondrej Nekvasil
(RUNNER UP – “Mr. Turner” – Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts)

The moving train of “Snowpiercer” is essentially its own character, the most important with a personality all its own.  “Mr. Turner” may have been a bore to some but those sets that surrounded it were expertly put together in Mike Leigh’s period piece.

birdman_movieBEST FILM EDITING
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – Douglas Crise & Stephen Mirrione
(RUNNER UP – “Gone Girl” – Kirk Baxter)

The one-shot piece together of “Birdman” was magic in the editing room.  Nothing was greater this year.  But in all fairness, “Gone Girl” had its own bag of tricks involving a great opening title sequence, and a sex room murder to die for.

intothewoodsBEST COSTUME DESIGN
Into the Woods” (Walt Disney Pictures) – Colleen Atwood
(RUNNER UP – “Selma” – Ruth E. Carter)

Colleen Atwood is a master of the thread and her work in “Into the Woods” was among the best of her career.  “Selma” captures the time and its clothing with Dr. King, Mrs. King, and all its counterparts are sensational.

birdman_cinematographyBEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – Emmanuel Lubezki
(RUNNER UP – “Wild Tales” – Javier Julia)

Is there really an explanation needed for why Lubezki?  Here’s a simple one.  F*cking incredible.  But when it comes to Javier Julia’s “Wild Tales,” the work is an objective character in each of its stories.

sanchez_birdmanBEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures) – Antonio Sanchez
(RUNNER UP – “Nightcrawler” – James Newton Howard)

The drums of a legend is heard in “Birdman” and even with the DQ, I won’t forget what he brought to the overall feeling of Inarritu’s masterpiece.  Two viewings of “Nightcrawler,” I’m sure that James Newton Howard has not composed a better score in his life.

gonegirlBEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Gone Girl” (20th Century Fox) – Gillian Flynn
(RUNNER UP – “A Most Wanted Man” – Andrew Bovell)

Gillian Flynn’s work on “Gone Girl” is infectious when watching it, getting better and better as the film moves on.  The spy thriller doesn’t tend to be my favorite but “A Most Wanted Man” was calculated and meticulous in its unraveling.

birdman_screenplayBEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures) –
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Armando Bo, Nicolas Giacabone, Alexander Dinelaris
(RUNNER UP – “Wild Tales” – Damián Szifron)

“Birdman” has fantastic fluidity with its words and story.  Everything moves seemless in a story about redemption, forgiveness, and mental health.  “Wild Tales” has six stories that blend together like a Magic 8 ball where each answer you get is beneficial to your life.

birdman_castBEST CAST ENSEMBLE
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures) –
Michael Keaton; Edward Norton; Emma Stone; Naomi Watts; Zach Galifanakis; Amy Ryan; Lindsay Duncan
(RUNNER UP – “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” – James McAvoy; Jessica Chastain; Bill Hader; Viola Davis; William Hurt; Isabelle Hupert; Jess Weixler; Ciaran Hinds)

There is no single weak link in “Birdman.”  Every actor rises to the occassion and scores.  “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” is a fine connection of veteran actors mixing together to excellent results.

emmastone_birdmanBEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Emma Stone – “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Jessica Chastain – “A Most Violent Year”)

She inhabits probably the best monologue of the year but Emma Stone tackles her finest role yet with layers engulfed in her interactions with Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, and the rest of the cast.  Her final gaze into the sky, away from the reality, is an abundance of different emotions.  Jessica Chastain’s “very disrespectful” just makes me melt but her Lady MacBeth role is a shining beacon of the year.

stevecarell_foxcatcherBEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Steve Carell – “Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics)
(RUNNER UP – Edward Norton – “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”)

Though he’s being campaigned in Lead Actor, Steve Carell’s SUPPORTING turn in Bennett Miller’s methodically thought out character study has Carell delivering his most frightening and vicious turn of his career.  Edward Norton comes back with a vengeance and his Mike Shiner in “Birdman” is so much fun with scene-stealing work.

jenniferaniston_cakeBEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Jennifer Aniston – “Cake” (Cinelou Films)
(RUNNER UP – Felicity Jones – “The Theory of Everything”)

Who knew?  Jennifer Aniston’s career topping performance, in the role of her career, is the best work by any female actor in 2014.  Just a joy to behold.  Felicity Jones’ determination and sad nature as Jane Hawking stayed with me nearly all year.

selma_imageBEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
David Oyelowo – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
(RUNNER UP – Oscar Isaac – “A Most Violent Year”)

David Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King will be a turn we talk about decades from now.  It’s the single best performance by an person in 2014.  Humanizes a man that seemed like a myth.  Flawless.  Oscar Isaac took home my personal trophy last year for “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the man just keeps delivering as seen in J.C. Chandor’s film about a man desperate to succeed.

boyhood_imageBEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
Richard Linklater – “Boyhood” (IFC Films)
(RUNNER UP – Alejandro González Iñárritu – “Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”)

12 years is no easy task and Linklater’s decision to put the passion and love behind this project is well worth the reward.  Alejandro González Iñárritu’s choices in “Birdman” are also just simply the finest.  This could have easily been a tie (but I detest them).

birdman_imageBEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR
Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (Fox Searchlight Pictures) –
Alejandro González Iñárritu; John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole
(RUNNER UP – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures) – Christian Colson; Dede Gardner; Jeremy Kleiner; Oprah Winfrey)

It all comes down to “Birdman.” When you put everything together, the acting, the filmmaking, the writing, no other film did it all right this year.  A masterpiece that will inspire future filmmakers everywhere.  When it comes to Ava DuVernay’s ferocious and vibrantly made “Selma,” she channels the human nature of the man, not just the legend.  First class filmmaking.

Discuss your thoughts and personal winners in the comments.