2015 Film Reviews
by Dr. Bob Blackwood

These movie review articles appeared in the Columbia River Reader and are copyrighted by Bob Blackwood

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87th Academy Awards Ceremony for 2015 and Oscar Picks

By Dr. Bob Blackwood

This year I expect lively behind-the-curtains discussions and shrieks of surprise at the Academy Awards.  The nominating choices of films and actors were really impressive.  Check my hunches below, but don’t bet too much in your office’s Oscar-pool.


Eight films are up for “Best Picture”: Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Alejandro Iñárritu’s “Birdman,” Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” Nora Grossman’s “The Imitation Game,” Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything” and Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash.”

The favorite, the film almost everyone who ever had problems growing up prefers, is “Boyhood.” The weakness of this film is that only the “boy,” Mason (Ellar Coltrane) counts. The script could have been better.

The challengers: “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “American Sniper.” “Birdman” gets the surreal vote (a lot of us in Hollywood these days). I wish more comedies would get Oscars; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was very funny. Comedies demand a lot from the actors and the director.  “American Sniper” is an in-depth character study of a soldier, not a two-dimensional sermon, as some would like to label it. Eastwood created this character, though he is based on a real-life sniper.

“The Theory of Everything” and “Imitation Game” will split the “genius” votes.  “Selma” is apparently the victim of an ineffective Oscar campaign; its Black female director, Ava DuVernay, has a future.  “Whiplash” is just too emotionally on the edge almost all the time for the Oscar.


The five Best Actress candidates are Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”), Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”), Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”). 

Julianne Moore, who never won an Oscar, is the favorite.  As a linguistic professor who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, she grabs the heart of the audience, or so I’m told.  Why don’t I say so?  To the best of my knowledge, the film, which officially opens in 2015, has yet to come to Albuquerque before my deadline.

Reese Witherspoon is the runner-up.  Based on a real-life person who walked 1100 miles along the Pacific Northwest, Witherspoon has pretty much a one-woman show and carried it off beautifully in a well-scripted film.  Felicity Jones plays the wife of Stephen Hawking, a cosmologist stricken with ALS.  Redmayne, who played her husband, said her role was more difficult than his.  She did it well.  Marion Cotillard plays a woman fighting to get her job back.  She is always flawless.  This is the first Oscar nomination for Rosamund Pike.  Her day will come.



The five best actor candidates are Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”). 

The front runner is Michael Keaton.  His performance was highly nuanced and effective in a role that would drive many actors mad. 

Runners up include Eddie Redmayne, who just won a Golden Globe for his performance, and Benedict Cumberbatch. If Cumberbatch wins, he would be the fifth actor in Oscar history to win an Oscar for playing a gay man.  As Bradley Cooper’s film is climbing the Oscar pick charts, I wouldn’t count him out.  Steve Carell’s performance as the most unpleasant nut in the world was certainly Oscar-worthy, but this was a year of many great performances in difficult roles.


The five best supporting actress candidates are Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood), Laura Dern (“Wild”), Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”), Emma Stone (“Birdman”), and Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods”).

Patricia Arquette, the mother in “Boyhood,” is the favorite.  She did the best anyone could with that script.  Emma Stone is hot on Arquette’s heels, but maybe the Academy feels that an Oscar for Keaton is enough.  Keira Knightley carried a difficult role very well.  Laura Dern was perfect, but “Wild” was Reese Witherspoon’s almost one-person’s performance.  Meryl Streep can sing, but perhaps this isn’t the time to put a fourth Oscar on her mantle.


The candidates for best supporting actor are Robert Duvall (“The Judge”), Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”), Edward Norton (“Birdman”), Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), and J. K. Simmons for “Whiplash.”

J. K. Simmons, who has been working and succeeding in TV and movie roles for 29 years, deserves to be recognized.  He has already won a Golden Globe and five other awards for “Whiplash.”  He is the favorite and justly so.

It’s not Duvall’s year, but he gave a great performance.  Ethan Hawke, like Patricia Arquette, did as much as any actor could with his role.  Edward Norton handled the transitions from braggadocio to insecurity very well.  Mark Ruffalo had a very challenging role; he carried it off.  Ruffalo has been nominated for an Oscar before, like Edward Norton, and they’ll both be nominated again.

Best Director

Usually, “Best Director” and “Best Picture” are linked almost 3 out of 4 times.  Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) is the clear favorite.  The conventional follow-ups, however, may be Alejandro Iñárritu (“Birdman”) or Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”).  Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) and Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), apparently, are lagging behind.