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Best of the Best Pictures

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | FEBRUARY 19, 2015 5:00 AM

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While I am not a cinema expert by any means, I am an avid movie-watcher and Rotten Tomatoes junkie with lots of opinions. And thanks to FilmScene and $5 movie nights at the local Marcus Theaters, I managed to watch every single Best Picture nominee before the 2015 Academy Awards, 7 p.m. Feb. 22 on ABC and hosted by the irreverent Neil Patrick Harris. 

From the subtle and moving to the pretentious and bombastic, here is a run-down of the films you can’t stop hearing about, written by an average person who spends too much time in the theater.

The Imitation Game

The well-known story of Alan Turing — Nazi code-breaker and inventor of the first proto-computer— is one worth telling, and Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect man to do it. My favorite film of the year, The Imitation Game explores Turing the man, from the complicated reason he named his codebreaking machine “Christopher” to his unconventional, touching relationship with Joan Clarke (Oscar nominee Keira Knightly). 4 stars

Boyhood

“Oops, I Did It Again,” Dragon Ball Z, Tamagotchi, High School Musical, Motorola Razr cell phones, a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book release party— dozens of little details that color a millennial’s childhood also make up Boyhood, filmed between 2002 and 2014. But Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age tale is about more than nostalgia, capturing the nuances of middle-class American life for one family. 4 stars

Whiplash

This original story about a jazz drummer and his cutthroat instructor is as fast-paced, bloody, and nail-biting as any sports film — and perhaps twice as entertaining. Unlike many of its fellow Best Picture nominees, shining stars Miles Teller and JK Simmons are not left to carry the film; instead, their talent is showcased in sleek cinematography, clever editing, and glorious musical numbers. 4 stars

Selma

Selma may be weighed down by its own importance, but this also makes the film hard to forget. Director Ava DuVernay centers on an imperfect but nonetheless magnetic Martin Luther King Jr., who, with a community of equally courageous souls, puts his life on the line to chip away at a culture of racism that has yet to collapse. (And yes, David Oyelowo was snubbed for Best Actor.) 3.5 stars

Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

A kind of Black Swan meets Sunset Boulevard, it’s hard to decide what is more impressive about Birdman: the breathtaking cinematography that manages to make 99 percent of the movie look like it’s filmed in one continuous shot or the stellar cast led by Michael Keaton, who parodies his own “washed up actor” status with depth and class. Still, a film about a tortured celebrity artist is not in itself a fresh concept. 3.5 stars

The Theory of Everything

There is a lot of magic in this Stephen Hawking biopic, much of it delivered by a committed Eddie Redmayne, who lives up to the hype around his performance. But as the years tick by, the audience is drug so far into the depths of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s stress and despair that much of the film passes from memory. I would watch it again, but the concept feels daunting. 3 stars

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Watching a dandified Ralph Fiennes seduce old ladies, rally a prison gang, and spritz himself in L’Air de Panache as he strolls the corridors of his kitschy pink hotel is a true pleasure. However, the offbeat charm of Wes Anderson’s latest droll comedy makes it hard to see Grand Budapest as anything more than 100-minute romp in a lush hipster fantasy world. 3 stars

American Sniper 

Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of the stoic, shell-shocked warrior Chris Kyle is well-done, but unfortunately can’t save the film from its own propagandistic, often shallow script and horribly distracting rubber-baby prop. Kyle’s wife (overacted by Sienna Miller) is also generic and unfeminist, making me long for the next tour in Iraq; at least the grenade-wielding Muslim women Kyle guns down have some guts. 2.5 stars 


80 Hours Staff Pick: Boyhood

Runners up: Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything

Not nominated honorable mentions from 2014: Begin Again, Fury, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hundred Foot Journey


Where to Watch the Oscars

At the IMU 

The UI Campus Activities Board will host a free Oscar-viewing party at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 in 348 IMU. There will be a red carpet and photo booth, awards-prediction game, trivia questions during commercial breaks, free popcorn, and $1 pop and candy. 

At the Englert 

FilmScene, the Englert Theater, and City Circle Acting Company have teamed up to roll out the blue — yes, blue — carpet for the event “Hollywood Live.” Awards will be given for best dressed, best movie-related costume, best movie-theme food, and most accurate Oscar predictions. Ticket holders ($35) can enjoy complimentary beer, wine, food, and balcony seating, but anyone can come by to watch the Academy Awards and access the cash bar (donations are encouraged).


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