We could make this one easy on ourselves and buy the narrative that every film nominated for best picture will win at least one Oscar next Sunday and call this one for The Imitation Game. But this presupposes that AMPAS members actually fill out their ballots with the intent of “spreading the wealth around” (how many Oscars did American Hustle win again?), and that Graham Moore’s adaptation of Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing biopic isn’t one of the dullest soft balls to be pegged as a frontrunner in this category since Jason Reitman’s screenplay for Up in the Air, which lost—shockingly, if only in retrospect—to Precious.
Inherent Vice (#1–10 of 24)
Last year, my fellow Oscar guru Eric Henderson, channeling his inner RuPaul, sassily (and correctly) called this race for “the EDM-remixed, jazz-n’-titties antiquities” of The Great Gatsby, even though the film had landed face down in the Costume Designers Guild’s pool. We weren’t going out on a limb exactly, as AMPAS has shown a distinct preference for honoring duds so old that there’s no chance the winning designers could have pulled them out of their own closets. Which means that Inherent Vice’s presence here will likely be remembered, like the film itself, as a figment of a drug-addled imagination. A win for Mr. Turner, the only film here not to receive a nomination from the CDG, would be the second for a Mike Leigh production, though the film’s handsome but drab vision of painter J.M.W. Turner’s life is in sharp contrast to Topsy-Turvy’s opulent view of life in the Victorian theater. And in spite of every Ricky’s and Party City last year dumbing down Angelina Jolie’s signature look from Maleficent by repackaging it as, well, a sexy witch ensemble, a case for the film is easier to make—except three-time nominee Anna B. Sheppard must content with 11-time nominee Colleen Atwood, whose work on Into the Woods is practically a demo reel for her incredible range of fantastical styles. But Atwood is only a spoiler here, as this race belongs to another three-time winner: Milena Canonero, whose costumes for a different kind of fantasy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the only best picture nominee in this category, are a showcase for her canny gift for delectably subtle affectation—for making clothes that could have been pulled out of Pharrell’s closet seem like they were stitched by the mice from Cinderella.
1. “Joel and Ethan Coen to preside over the Jury of the 68th Festival de Cannes.” The director-writers of Inside Llewyn Davis, Fargo, True Grit and others will head up the festival that has rewarded them multiple times in the past.
“’We look forward to returning to Cannes this year’, Joel and Ethan Coen said from the Hail Caesar! film shoot with George Clooney, Christophe Lambert, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin and Channing Tatum. ’We welcome as always the opportunity to watch movies there from all over the world. Cannes is a festival that has been important to us since the very beginning of our career. Presiding over the Jury is a special honour, since we have never heretofore been president of anything. We will issue further proclamations at the appropriate time.’”
The critics have spoken. The guilds have spoken. The Golden Globes have spoken. And here we are feeling the ennui of another three months’ worth of Mondays weighing unusually heavy this year, though it really shouldn’t be. Not all Oscar seasons boast presumptive frontrunners as stubbornly unique and personal as Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which seem at this point like they would’ve cracked the lineup even in the old (and correct) days of five-deep best picture slates we’ll be telling our grandchildren about. Not all Oscar seasons are gifted by the original, cantankerous spirit of the National Society of Film Critics, which is to say the spirit of the group as it was initially conceived, as a staunch, vanguard opponent to staid groupthink. (Try to ignore the remaining instances of “ditto” among their roster of winners and savor everyone flipping their shit over Godard’s surprise victory.) So why aren’t we in a better mood than usual? Probably because we’ve seen it all go south in so many horrifying ways time and time again, and thus this year’s left us feeling a bit like the Witch staring down the “Last Midnight.” Oscars aren’t good, they’re not bad, they’re just nice. We’re not nice, we’re the hitch, and we’re definitely right.
1. “The Tragedy of the American Military.” The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.
“From Mister Roberts to South Pacific to Catch-22, from The Caine Mutiny to The Naked and the Dead to From Here to Eternity, American popular and high culture treated our last mass-mobilization war as an effort deserving deep respect and pride, but not above criticism and lampooning. The collective achievement of the military was heroic, but its members and leaders were still real people, with all the foibles of real life. A decade after that war ended, the most popular military-themed TV program was The Phil Silvers Show, about a con man in uniform named Sgt. Bilko. As Bilko, Phil Silvers was that stock American sitcom figure, the lovable blowhard—a role familiar from the time of Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners to Homer Simpson in The Simpsons today. Gomer Pyle, USMC; Hogan’s Heroes; McHale’s Navy; and even the anachronistic frontier show F Troop were sitcoms whose settings were U.S. military units and whose villains—and schemers, and stooges, and occasional idealists—were people in uniform. American culture was sufficiently at ease with the military to make fun of it, a stance now hard to imagine outside the military itself.”
1. “Mario Cumo R.I.P.” The ex-New York governor and liberal beacon dies at 82.
“Mario M. Cuomo, the three-term governor of New York who commanded the attention of the country with a compelling public presence, a forceful defense of liberalism and his exhaustive ruminations about whether to run for president, died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82. His family confirmed the death, which occurred only hours after Mr. Cuomo’s son Andrew M. Cuomo was inaugurated in Manhattan for a second term as governor. Mario Cuomo led New York during a turbulent time, 1983 through 1994. His ambitions for an activist government were thwarted by recession. He found himself struggling with the State Legislature not over what the government should do but over what programs should be cut, and what taxes should be raised, simply to balance the budget. Still, no matter the problems he found in Albany, Mr. Cuomo burst beyond the state’s boundaries to personify the liberal wing of his national party and become a source of unending fascination and, ultimately, frustration for Democrats, whose leaders twice pressed him to run for president, in 1988 and 1992, to no avail.”
1. “U.S. to Restore Full Relations with Cuba.” The move would erase a last trace of Cold War hostility between the two nations.
“President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to ’cut loose the shackles of the past’ and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War. The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.”
1. “IV Drip.” Wesley Morris on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Postlapsarian Comedy Inherent Vice.
“Anderson’s strategy for capturing Pynchon is to roll him up and smoke him, until the smoke passes on to you and some confusion and conflation set it, until it’s all just Paul Thomas Pynchon. In the opening scene, the singer Joanna Newsom appears as Doc’s artsy pal. She stands in a low-angled shot and narrates the setting, using lines from the novel. By the time Inherent Vice is over, she has gone from talking over the movie — sketching background details and conjuring states of mind — to talking to it. The densely polished joshing of the book becomes a hazy, bleary movie farce. Being stoned here is a joke. But so is lucidity. Anderson doesn’t overdo the high. This is as much a druggy wild goose chase as The Big Lebowski, but he opts not to make being stoned an extravagantly surrealist experience. To that end, people vanish and materialize like smoke, the frame speeds up toward the end of coked-up scenes. But it’s never over the top. It doesn’t have to be. Whether it’s sex or love or pot, everybody’s on something. Drugs aren’t special. They actually are a food group. In one of the movie’s few moments of casual surrealism, Bjornsen gobbles a tray of marijuana like a cartoon bear.”
1. “Bill Cosby Drugged Me. This Is My Story.” Beverly Johnson, in her own words, on how Cosby took her power and how she’s now taken it back.
“As I wrestled with the idea of telling my story of the day Bill Cosby drugged me with the intention of doing God knows what, the faces of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless other brown and black men took residence in my mind. As if I needed to be reminded. The current plight of the black male was behind my silence when Barbara Bowman came out to tell the horrific details of being drugged and raped by Cosby to the Washington Post in November. And I watched in horror as my longtime friend and fellow model Janice Dickinson was raked over the coals for telling her account of rape at Cosby’s hands. Over the years I’ve met other women who also claim to have been violated by Cosby. Many are still afraid to speak up. I couldn’t sit back and watch the other women be vilified and shamed for something I knew was true.”
From Clayton Dillard’s introduction to Slant Magazine’s Top 25 Films of 2014: ” In a year when The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game offer a most banal and repressive sort of historical biopic treatment for their respective subjects (and are being largely celebrated nonetheless), it becomes ever more important to draw lines in the cinematic sand to understand what we talk about when we talk about movies. Art historian Michael Fried once wrote of the burgeoning war between theater and modernist painting, and in many ways, contemporary filmmaking is rife with similarly antagonistic, fiery battles.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorite films of the year made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots. Happy reading.
- A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
- closed curtain
- dear white people
- force majeure
- goodbye to language
- inherent vice
- level five
- listen up philip
- mr. turner
- national gallery
- norte the end of history
- only lovers left alive
- starred up
- story of my death
- stranger by the lake
- stray dogs
- the grand budapest hotel
- the immigrant
- the naked room
- the strange little cat
- two days one night
- under the skin