The good, the bad, and the ugly of the Academy Awards

When I do my predictions next year, if I say anything along the lines of it being an “unpredictable year”, you have my permission to promptly slap me in the face. Despite all the discussion about how the winner of each category was so wildly difficult to nail down, everything pretty much went to plan, besides perhaps one major shocker. I am being completely genuine when I say that I was totally surprised to keep placing a tick next to prediction after prediction on my list.

In the end, I walked away with three misses from my predictions, and really two of them were just me being foolish by not banking on Birdman. My final standing amongst the over-3000 Gold Derby users that placed their predictions was 25th, and that’s my best placing ever…but let’s not talk about how I would have ranked 5th if I had gone with Birdman for Picture.

As for the ceremony itself, I wouldn’t say it was the worst Oscars, but it was far from one of the best. Let’s take a closer look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 87th Academy Awards.

It was a real pleasure to see four very deserving actors being rewarded for four incredibly powerful performances. It’s always nice when we have winners that have never taken one home before, and even better when three of them are rewarded from their first nomination. Veteran actors like Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette were long overdue for recognition, particularly Moore, so it was wonderful to finally see that recognition being given. While I was disappointed Michael Keaton wasn’t also rewarded, Eddie Redmayne was still completely deserving, and perhaps someday Keaton will get another chance. At least now people are willing to take him seriously, right?

The quality of the speeches were some of the best we’ve ever seen. From Arquette’s empowering plea for equality for women in the workplace to Simmons’ beautiful words of advice for everyone to call their parents more regularly, we saw a great showing of speeches from the best in the business. The one speech to top them all was Graham Mooore’s incredibly moving and powerful acceptance speech, after he won Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game. Moore silenced the room, and likely those watching at home, when he admitted he had contemplated suicide as a teenager because he felt weird and different, but now here he was on the stage at the Academy Awards. His brave revelation, and the advice for all those teenagers in a similar situation to “stay weird and stay different”, was the most genuine moment of the evening. You just don’t realise the effect this could have on someone watching at home. To Graham Moore, I say thank you, sir.

Amazingly, every film nominated for Best Picture ended up taking home at least one award. While I will say that I obviously would have liked to have seen some films take home a few more awards than they did (ahem, Boyhood), it was still fantastic to see none of these great films go home empty-handed. Last year, it was painful to see films like American HustleThe Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena suffer this injustice, so I’m glad we didn’t witness that nonsense again. I’m not one of those Oscar pundits that thinks one film should sweep everything. Certain films are better in certain areas, and that’s how the awards should ultimately be determined.

I am a self-confessed Disney fanatic. I am one of the biggest devotees of the House of Mouse you will ever find. And yet, even I wasn’t brave enough to think Big Hero 6 could actually take home Animated Feature. Obviously I thought it deserved to, but none of the precursor awards had gone its way, so it didn’t seem remotely plausible that it would topple How to Train Your Dragon 2. This surprise win was quite possibly the highlight of the entire ceremony for me this year, even if it was a strike against my predictions. That makes it two years in a row for Disney, and entirely deserved too. It’s a shame that streak won’t continue, with no Walt Disney Animation Studios film scheduled for this year, but perhaps it’s time to give the spotlight back to Pixar.

Lady Gaga. I have been telling people for years that this girl can sing, and finally she got her chance to really prove it. Admittedly, hearing that a tribute to The Sound of Music was to be performed by Ms Gaga was somewhat of a surprise, and a slight cause for concern. Thankfully, it ended up being a master-stroke by the Oscar producers. Her voice soared through a medley of the film’s classic songs, and the audience rightly rewarded her with a standing ovation. Receiving the obvious approval of the legend that is Dame Julie Andrews was just the icing on the cake. Easily the most enjoyable moment of the entire ceremony.

Idina Menzel and John Travolta. Another master-stroke by the producers, and the most humourous moment of the evening. Bravo to Travolta for being a good sport about the whole “Adele Dazeem” nonsense of last year. Their interaction was a delight…except perhaps the rather creepy face-touching from Travolta. Get your hands off Queen Elsa, buddy.

I love Neil Patrick Harris. He’s been a wonderful host of the Tony Awards and the Emmys, and yet, as an Oscars host, he was a bit of a dud. I don’t think it was entirely his fault. The writing was fairly atrocious, and he was doing the best he could with each joke and setup. It’s just every single one of them kept falling flat, and the audience were only ever really giving sympathetic laughs. While the Birdman spoof was cute, it had already been done at the Independent Spirit Awards, just two nights ago. The opening number was impressive, but when you have a comedic host, he should be performing a comedic song. Not a semi-serious think-piece about the impact of film on our lives. I suppose he didn’t offend anyone, like Seth MacFarlane, and he didn’t suffer from a lack of energy, like James Franco, but compared to the phenomenal effort of Ellen last year, poor ol’ Doogie Howser came up well short.

Besides “Glory”, the Original Song performances were a massive failure. Actually, the nominees themselves were the real failures. I’ve said before that it was a bad year for this category, and these performances proved it. I quite liked “Everything Is Awesome” in the context of The Lego Movie, but outside of that world, it was just bad. Kudos for the Will Arnett cameo, but by that time, my ears had started bleeding in agony. I have no idea what Adam Levine, Tim McGraw or that girl who was in Fifty Shades of Grey for fifty seconds sang because I completely zoned out for each of their performances. I know it’s tradition for all the nominees to be performed at the ceremony, so let’s try and nominate some songs that people actually give a shit about next year, hey?

Was I the only one that found the front-and-centre seating position of the team from Selma to be a massive slap in the face? That area is generally reserved for the big nominees, and we all know that wasn’t anyone involved with Selma, besides maybe Oprah and John Legend. It just felt ridiculous to seat them in an area where they were surrounded by of all the nominees from all the categories they weren’t a part of.

The stage design…yeesh. Talk about garish. And what was with the two bellhops opening the fake doors for every presenter? I know the show was dominated by The Grand Budapest Hotel, but come on.

This is a personal one, so forgive me if you don’t agree, but Boyhood going home with only one award is a disgrace. I’m confounded by the fact that a film like this didn’t sweep every award it was nominated for. I genuinely feel terrible for Richard Linklater, and everyone involved in this labour of love. I know people don’t set out to win Oscars when they’re making a film, or at least that’s what they say, and it probably doesn’t bother them as much as it does me. However, at some point over the last twelve years, the thought “surely they’re going to give me an Academy Award for this, right?” must have entered into Linklater’s mind. After pouring so much effort over so many years into such a production, there has to be some feeling of disappointment to not being awarded for it by the Academy . It was also a chance to finally award an underrated auteur like Linklater, and that chance has now gone begging.

Adding to the above point, it’s also quite hard to accept the fact that these films all only won a single award – SelmaThe Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game. And something like Foxcatcher went home empty-handed…oh, and Gone Girl, but I’ve said enough about that film this season.

We lost Joan Rivers in September, but you wouldn’t know that from the In Memoriam segment. Now I know she wasn’t known for acting, and she wasn’t a member of the Academy, but the woman single-handedly pioneered red carpet coverage of the very awards that have snubbed her. They’ve included non-industry people in the past, like Roger Ebert just last year, so it could have happened. Let’s be honest – the red carpet was fairly irrelevant before Joan. There weren’t red carpet specials on every network, but nowadays, those red carpet segments often get far more media attention than the awards themselves. She was a revolutionary for awards season, and failing to acknowledge that is incredibly disrespectful. I know Joan wouldn’t give a shit, and that’s the only thing that comforts me.

That bit with the predictions in the locked briefcase. Talk about the worst pay-off for a joke ever. After continuously reminding us that the briefcase was there, and dragging poor Octavia Spencer along for the ride (because you just know she wasn’t in on the gag), the ultimate reveal was the biggest flop of the night. As poor NPH kept going down his list of predictions, you could just hear his inner-monologue screaming “THIS. ISN’T. WORKING!”. Completely unfunny, and a complete waste of time.

Look, let’s be clear. Failing to win an Academy Award for Best Picture doesn’t change the fact that a film is a masterpiece. At the end of the day, one film has to win, and several others have to lose, and even more don’t get nominated at all.

Every year, there are truly deserving films that don’t make it into Oscar’s special winner’s club, and that’s a simple fact of the Academy Awards. Is the film that wins Best Picture really the best film of that particular year? Ultimately, the answer to that question is entirely up to you. It has nothing to do with what a bunch of people decided to vote for.

I’ll let you in on a little secret; most voters aren’t actually voting for the merits of the film. Shocking, I know. Why are they voting for that film then? Well, they’re voting because maybe they just happened to like it, or, more often than not, a smart campaign told them they should like it. They’re voting because they know the people in it or the people who made it, and who doesn’t like to give their friends a pat on the back? They’re voting because they’ve heard a particular film is going to win, and they want to be on the winning team. It goes on and on. Each year, there are a myriad of reasons people choose to vote for a certain film over voting for others.

It’s naive to think that winning the Academy Award for Best Picture is the only determining factor in what is the best film of the year. Sure, it’s a great indicator. No one’s saying it isn’t. After all, the truly “bad” films of the world don’t make it to the Oscar stage. You can look to the Razzie Awards for that. It just can’t be fallen back on as the be-all and end-all of how one looks at great films of each year.

Whether the Academy got it right or wrong this year, and every other year, is entirely your decision to make. I’ve just come to realise over the past few years that the ultimate outcome doesn’t matter. The Academy Awards don’t matter. If you love a film or a performance or a piece of writing or the work of a cinematographer, nothing can take that love away. Nothing. Certainly not losing a damn beauty contest like the Oscars.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the Academy Awards. I still love awards season. I’ll still talk about both incessantly every year. It’s a great way to celebrate the year that was, and it’s still an enormous honour for any film or artist to win. You just can’t take the outcome each year to heart. As Sasha Stone, the Queen of Oscar blogging, often says, “the trick is not minding”…


Final predictions for the 87th Academy Awards

Well, the day has arrived. After what feels like a longer-than-usual awards season, and an enormous amount of back-and-forth on these predictions, the time has come to lock them in. I haven’t been this doubtful about the majority of my predictions in many years. There’s been a few tricky categories over the past couple of seasons, but nothing like this year. Even at this late hour, I have absolutely no idea what will win Best Picture. I think my ‘for and against’ series of posts made my mind even more confused than it was before. There’s a genuine case to be made for more than a handful of the Picture nominees, and that’s somewhat exciting. Nothing is quite as boring as going into the ceremony knowing exactly how things are going to play out.

That being said, please take my predictions this year with a very large grain of salt. There’s every chance I am completely wrong on more than a few categories. I’m trying to pick with my head, and not my heart, but that’s a tricky challenge. Alas, let’s give it a whirl…

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Will win: Boyhood
Should win: Boyhood
Possible shocker: American Sniper

I just have no idea on this one. I really, really don’t. The smart pundits are taking Birdman, and if you’re part of an office pool or making predictions elsewhere, this is the way you should go. My initial reaction after seeing Birdman was “as brilliant as that was, it will never win Best Picture”, and I’m sticking that very immediate response on this one. I know it’s won all the big prizes at the back-end of the race. I know the tide has seemingly turned on Boyhood, just like it did with The Social Network. I know it now seems like Birdman is relatively unstoppable. And yet, I can’t shake this overwhelming feeling it’s  somehow going to go to Boyhood. I’m probably wrong. I adore both movies, so whatever happens, I’ll be both overjoyed and completely gutted.

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

Will win: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Should win: Richard Linklater
Possible shocker: Wes Anderson

For the third year in a row, I’m thinking we’ll have a split between Picture and Director. This used to be such an insane rarity, and yet it’s fast becoming the norm. I feel like the fact that Linklater is also a producer on Boyhood will be playing on people’s mind because if it takes Best Picture, he’ll still walk away with a little gold man. That makes it easier to give it to Iñárritu. That being said, if I’m wrong on Boyhood winning Best Picture, you’ll likely see Linklater walk away with Director. I don’t foresee the same film/director taking both categories, but to me, Iñárritu seems more likely.

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton – Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Will win: Eddie Redmayne
Should win: Michael Keaton
Possible shocker: Bradley Cooper

For the longest time, this was Keaton’s to lose. It blows my mind that Birdman may take Best Picture, but the Birdman himself won’t take Actor. That is completely ludicrous to me, but such is the Academy Awards. The tide has turned, and it’s all about Eddie Redmayne. Not to take anything away from his performance, because it is truly phenomenal. I just personally felt that Keaton’s work was unlike anything else we saw this year, and should be rewarded as such. Carell should be in Supporting, and it is a huge shame a performance like Cumberbatch’s is not going to be rewarded. The Cooper shocker could absolutely happen. This is the man’s third nomination in a row, and that fact alone would normally equal a win. If it happens, we could be seeing a complete boil-over for American Sniper.

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

Will win: Julianne Moore
Should win: Rosamund Pike
Possible shocker: Not gonna happen

Julianne Moore is long, long overdue, so it’s fantastic to see her finally taking home a well deserved Oscar. She should have won for Far From Heaven or Boogie Nights, but her performance in Still Alice is another home-run in her stellar career. Personally, I’d much rather see Rosamund Pike take it home, as her performance is truly mesmerising. Given the Academy’s disdain for Gone Girl, it’s probably a miracle she was even nominated in the first place. Felicity Jones appears to have been nominated for being the best British woman in a film this year. It was a nice enough performance, but I feel she was just carried along for the ride with The Theory of Everything train. And Witherspoon and Cotillard have taken this home before, so they’re just happy to be here.

Robert Duvall – The Judge
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Will win: J.K. Simmons
Should win: Simmons or Edward Norton
Possible shocker: Edward Norton

J.K. Simmons has been an underrated character actor for many, many years now, so it’s a pleasure to see him finally being acknowledged in such a way. The supporting races have been locked up for quite a while now, so I don’t see that changing. If the Birdman love is ridiculously strong, there could be a Norton upset, but it seems very, very unlikely. Kudos to Ruffalo on another nomination. That man is a national treasure, and he will win one eventually.

Patricia Arquette  – Boyhood
Laura Dern – Wild
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
Emma Stone – Birdman
Meryl Streep – Into The Woods

Will win: Patricia Arquette
Should win: Arquette
Possible shocker: Emma Stone

Another category that has been locked up for some time. The statue is going to Arquette, and rightly so. The woman delivered one of the bravest performances of the year, and possibly of all-time. Like with Norton, if there is a Birdman sweep, expect to see Stone steal it away, but there’ll be a riot in Hollywood, if she does.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Nightcrawler
Possible shocker: Foxcatcher

This is a tough one, and it really could go to any of the three films also nominated for Picture. I feel Wes Anderson has the edge, similar to Spike Jonze taking out this category last year. He’s long overdue for an Oscar, and this is the most obvious place to award him one. That being said, it’s probably going to go to Birdman. I found Nightcrawler to be the most original film of these nominees, so that’s where my preference would lie, but it’s literally not nominated for anything else, so I doubt it’s going to win.

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything

Will win: The Imitation Game
Should win: Gone Girl…oh wait…
Possible shocker: Whiplash

Another coin-flip category. It seems unlikely for a film like The Imitation Game to go home empty-handed, and it’s definitely not going to win anywhere else, so it should happen here. Whiplash is the other likely option, even though it’s in the wrong category. The Academy moving it into Adapted could be a blessing in disguise, as it had no hope in the Original category. It doesn’t matter who takes it home because Gillian Flynn should be winning for Gone Girl. I have no idea why that piece of rubbish Inherent Vice is here, and the American Sniper script is utterly atrocious, but that’s the Academy Awards for you.

“Everything is Awesome” – The LEGO Movie
“Glory” – Selma
“Grateful” – Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” – Begin Again

Will win: “Glory”
Should win: “Glory“, I guess…
Possible shocker: “Everything is Awesome”

Probably one of the worst Original Song races we’ve seen in some time. I have no idea what those last three songs are, or even really what those three movies are that they appear in. It just hasn’t been a particularly good year for movie songs. Not to take anything away from “Glory”. It’s a fittingly moving song, and deserves to win, but when your only real competition is a purposely incessantly annoying song from an animated film, it just seems like it was a case of “well, what else are we gonna vote for?”. Plus it’s a consolation prize from the Academy for treating Selma so badly.

I’m not going to bother going into great detail with the other awards, so I’ll just run through the rest of my predictions without notes.

How to Train Your Dragon 2


The Grand Budapest Hotel


Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel


The Phone Call

American Sniper



You know it’s a tough year when even the usually-predictable tech awards are hard to pick. A whole swag of the above predictions could go a number of ways, so I’m not even confident there. I thought this way last year, and I was only wrong in two categories, but this year feels very different. I get the feeling very little I’ve said above could come to fruition…and I kind of love that. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to get a great score this year, and that’s perfectly fine. We’re all flying blind this year, so bring on the ceremony.

The case for and against ‘Whiplash’

We’ve arrived at our final nominee under The Jam Report’s spotlight, and it’s potentially the real dark-horse of this year’s race. Whiplash has received enormous critical acclaim since it debuted at Sundance last year. It has racked up five nominations, and could potentially win three or four of those awards on the night. With so much focus on films like Boyhood, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, could it be we’re not paying attention to the little film that could cause a massive upset?

Why it could win Best Picture:

The nominations. Unlike Birdman and The Theory of EverythingWhiplash has that all-important nomination for Editing, and it’s highly conceivable that it could actually steal that prize from Boyhood. The winner of Editing generally seems to take Picture as well. Likewise with the Screenplay award where it has a huge chance to upset The Imitation Game in the Adapted category (even though it should be in Original). It has Sound Mixing essentially sewn up, and J.K. Simmons is the biggest lock of the night for Supportin Actor. That’s a potential win in every category it’s nominated for. How does a film enjoy a winning streak like that and not go on to take the big one at the end? Beware the dark-hose.

It’s about the industry, sort of. While Whiplash isn’t about the film industry as much as something like Birdman or The Artist, it is about the world of art in general, and fellow artists will connect to that in a huge way. What actor or writer or cinematographer hasn’t had an experience with a maniacal teacher like Terence Fletcher? And similarly, what artist hasn’t wanted to give every fibre of their being to become the best at their craft just like the ever-tortured Andrew? The film is their painful story of what it takes to become a great in your chosen field of art. Whiplash speaks to them unlike any other film in the Best Picture category. Yes, Birdman does something similar, but that’s really only a film a fellow actor will connect with on this level, whereas Whiplash is making a statement on art in a broader sense. Connecting with a film is obviously the easiest path that a voter takes in deciding their final vote i.e. which film spoke to me the most? That could very easily be Whiplash for a lot of voters.

The preferential ballot. I’ve made this point numerous times, so I don’t really need to go over it in great detail again. Whiplash is a film that’s very difficult to hate, namely because of how phenomenal J.K. Simmons’ performance is, and the above mentioned connection many will feel to the film. It will very likely be ranked highly on the ballot of a huge majority of voters, and that makes it a strong chance to steal the prize at the end of the vote. If there is one film to really look out because of the preferential ballot, it’s Whiplash. It will be a shocker if it can pull it off, but not that huge a surprise in the end.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

It’s the least weighty film of the bunch. When you compare it to the masterful achievement of Boyhood, the artistic brilliance behind Birdman, the glorious production that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, the social commentary of films like American Sniper and Selma, and the historical epics of The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, Whiplash looks just a tad too light to be a real contender here. If you want to be vicious, it’s really just a story about a boy who wants to play the drums and gets upset when a teacher dares to be cruel to him, due to failure to accept anything other than perfection. By comparison, It’s not exactly the meatiest of plots, and that will make it hard for a lot of people to vote for. Best Picture generally has to have some sense of epic quality to it, and as great a film as it is, Whiplash just doesn’t have that quality.

Lack of important nominations. Yes, it managed to nab that ever-mentioned important nomination for Editing, and it’s even very likely to take it home, but Whiplash failed to receive nominations in other key areas. No directing nomination for Damien Chazelle. No lead acting nomination for Miles Teller. It’s not represented in Cinematography, Production Design or Score, despite it being a music-heavy film (it was ridiculously deemed ineligible). That makes it difficult to justify giving it Best Picture, when other nominees are represented in those fields. It screams out that this film contains one great performance, and it’s well edited, both visually and sound-wise, but it’s not a particularly amazing production overall. Without that support, it’s difficult to justify ranking it above the other nominees.

Lack of precursor awards. Once again, I’ve made this point with other films, so you know the drill. Whiplash hasn’t taken home a single Best Picture prize this season. It wasn’t enough nominated for Best Picture at major awards like BAFTA or the Golden Globes, nor was it nominated for Ensemble at the SAG Awards. For it to take out the Oscar for Best Picture would break all kind of records and rules. Sure, it’s plausible, but so is anything on Oscar night.

Can the dark-horse of this year’s race shock everyone and steal the prize from those big B movies? Is an award-winning performance enough to carry a film to take out the big one as well? Am I actually predicting Whiplash to win Best Picture? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.

The case for and against ‘Selma’

Ah, Selma. Almost completely snubbing this brilliant piece of cinema is one of the most shameful moments in recent Oscar history. The Academy seemingly came so far last year, and this year, they’ve regressed right back to their tired old ways. It seems the film had too many strikes that it couldn’t overcome. A female director? A black female director? A predominantly black cast? A movie that casts shade on white people? No, no, no, no. Pathetic, isn’t it? I don’t like to cry things like racism easily, but I cannot see any other reason behind the lack of nominations for one of the best reviewed films of the year. That being said, it still somehow squeaked in for Best Picture (a guilty consolation prize, perhaps), and while it has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, it still deserves some analysis.

Why it could win Best Picture:

Black lives matter. After the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford, racial tension is at a new high in America. For a film like Selma to be released in such a climate just makes it that much more powerful and relevant. It’s highlighting how far America likes to believe it has come, but in actuality, it’s not all that different to the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. The Black Lives Matter movement is worldwide news. The world is looking to America at how it will respond to such travesties. The Academy could very easily throw its support behind such a moment by awarding Selma with Best Picture. African Americans may only make up a small portion of Academy voters, but they are vocal and can campaign like nobody else. That could be enough to draw enough support to pull off a shock win.

A backlash works wonders. Remember when Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated for Best Director, and suddenly Argo was unstoppable to win Best Picture? The resulting backlash from a surprise snub can do wonders for your Oscar campaign. It was fairly unanimous amongst all Oscar pundits that the snub of Selma in the major categories like Director, Actor, Screenplay etc. was a disgrace. Calls of racism and sexism have been made by many major journalists, and that kind of backlash can encourage, and essentially guilt, voters to pick that snubbed film for Best Picture. It would be unprecedented to see a film take the big prize without nominations in other categories, but rules are made to be broken, and the chance to right a wrong like this can be hard to resist.

The chance to make history. Only one film directed by a female has ever won Best Picture. Only one film directed by a black person has ever won Best Picture. The chance to award a film not only directed by a female, but a black one at that, seems too tempting to pass up, right? Adding to that, Oprah Winfrey is the first black female producer behind a film nominated for Best Picture. That’s a lot of history making outcomes that could be achieved by awarding Selma with Best Picture. Tradition is one thing, but headline-grabbing news where history has been made is something Oscar loves to do.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

Black lives don’t matter. At least according to the Academy they don’t seem to. Not only was Selma essentially ignored, but they also failed to nominate any actors of colour this year, something we haven’t seen in over 20 years. The whitest Oscars ever will be won by white people and films about white people. They were kind enough to throw Selma a bone with a Best Picture nomination, but that’s as far as they’re willing to go this year. They gave it to the “black film” last year. We won’t see that again now for another decade or so. Old white men run the Academy, and this year, they showed how out of touch they are. It’s quite staggering, given the president of the Academy is a black woman. I know she is trying her hardest to change the backwards ways of these awards, but even she isn’t powerful enough to turn the ship around this year.

You can’t win with two nominations. Sorry, but you just can’t. Not when the only other nomination is for Best Original Song. If it scored a Director nom, maybe. If it scored an Acting nom, perhaps. But Original Song? Not a chance. We have to go back to 1932’s Grand Hotel to find a Best Picture winner that had such little nominations (in fact, it wasn’t nominated for anything else at all). These days, you have to score in the other categories, and rightly so. You can’t say something is the best film of the year without saying why, and the way you show why is to award it, or at least nominate it, for the sum of its parts. Rules are made to be broken, but not rules this concrete.

Selma has the least chance out of all the nominees…but you never know. Crash wasn’t supposed to beat Brokeback Mountain, and Shakespeare in Love wasn’t supposed to take down Saving Private Ryan, so anything is possible on Oscar night. Am I going to be insane enough to make that prediction?  Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.

The case for and against ‘The Imitation Game’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’

Now before anyone starts calling me lazy for combining these two films into one post, let me explain. As I was writing the points for both The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, I realised that they had almost identical reasons for why they will and won’t win Best Picture. It seemed redundant to repeat myself in a separate post for each, so here we are with a combined result. Two critically acclaimed British films starring four critically acclaimed British actors. Can the Academy Awards possibly resist?

Why it could win Best Picture:

History is on their side. Biopics. The Academy Awards just can’t help but love them, and they tend to fall over themselves to award them. For actors, the easiest way to win an Oscar is to portray a real-life person. In the last 11 years, Best Actor has gone to a real-life portrayal eight times and Best Actress seven times. Biographical films do just as well at nabbing Best Picture. Just a small sampling – 12 Years a SlaveThe King’s Speech, Argo, A Beautiful Mind, Titanic, Schindler’s List, Gandhi. That statistic obviously favours the biopics in this year’s race, but even more so for the two British nominees The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. You see, the Academy also loves to award films from across the pond. Another small sampling – The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, The English PatientShakespeare in Love. If there is voter fatigue due to the whole Boyhood vs Birdman saga, voters could very easily fall back on an old tradition and just give it to one of these biography films. It’s an easy vote, and it’s one that many could choose to make.

Nominations in all the right places. There was an outpouring of love for both these films across all the major categories, and as I’ve said before, you just can’t win Best Picture without such a thing. The Imitation Game received the second largest number of nominations this year with eight, a number bigger than Boyhood. It shocked all Oscar pundits to see its director Morten Tyldum sneak into the directing race, taking the spot of presumed nominees like Clint Eastwood or Ava DuVernay. It holds that all-important nomination for Editing, it grabbed two acting nominations, and it’s highly likely to take home Adapted Screenplay0. Meanwhile, The Theory of Everything is lacking that Editing nom, but it is likely to take Score and Actor, and as we know, the winner of Picture usually nabs an acting prize as well. It’s clear the voters loved both these films, and that love may just flow over into the major race for Best Picture.

The Harvey factor. Okay, this one is exclusively for The Imitation Game, and it’s a big one. Harvey Weinstein is virtually a demigod of Oscar campaigning. He’s the man who lead the campaign behind Shakespeare in Love and Gwyneth Paltrow’s shock victories in 1999. He managed to secure a Best Picture nomination for Chocolat, despite relatively luke-warm critical response to the film. In 2003, he was involved in four of the five Best Picture nominees (Gangs of New York, Chicago, The Hours, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). And most recently, he’s been behind the winning campaigns of The Artist, Silver Linings Playbook and The Iron Lady. Basically, if Harvey has your back, you have a damn good chance of claiming the prize. And just who is he backing this year? The Imitation Game. It’s never wise to bet against the man who campaigns like no one else in Hollywood. In saying that, Eddie Redmayne is also campaign his ass off for The Theory of Everything, and that man is as charming as they come.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

Nothing more than a Movie of the Week. That’s been the biggest criticism thrown the way of both The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, and a large part of the smear campaign against both films. Basically, the point trying to be made is that both these films could have been produced as mere tele-movies (which given the quality of television nowdays is hardly an insult) and aren’t exactly “cinematic”. Those kinds of stories being told in these two films belong somewhere like Masterpiece Theatre, not at the Oscars. There’s not a lot of substance and grit to either film. The Theory of Everything can’t decide if it’s a romance piece about Stephen and Jane Hawking or a biography of how Hawking came to write his game-changing novel. The Imitation Game suffers a similar fate, in that it muddles about showing various stages of Alan Turing’s life, but never delves quite deeply enough into any one particular time period. Neither has the gravitas of a Best Picture winner.

Acting showcases only. Let’s be honest. Both films are really just about showcasing a couple of brilliant pieces of acting, and it could be ultimately said they are just there as vehicles for its stars to win the individual prizes. The Imitation Game shows us something we were already well aware of – Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the finest actors working today. It’s a shame the acting race is so crowded this year. Any other year, and he’d likely be a shoe-in. The film is also a perfect showcase for the underrated talents of Keira Knightley. How that woman hasn’t won an Oscar yet is beyond me. Similarly, The Theory of Everything is ultimately about one truly brilliant performance that is very likely going to walk away with Lead Actor. Yes, Felicity Jones is also quite good, but it’s all about Eddie Redmayne. Are either of these films really about delivering an overall brilliant film? Aren’t they really just another chance to show off how amazing British actors are, or more accurately, how amazing they are compared to their American counterparts?

No precursor wins. This is a pretty simple one. There have been no significant Picture wins by either of these films at any of the precursor awards. Sure, The Theory of Everything took out Best British Film…but once upon a time, so did a Wallace & Gromit film, so that’s hardly saying much. If you want to take out the Oscar, you have to take home at least something along the way to the big night. It’s not impossible, but it’s fairly implausible, even for British films.

Is the tradition of big British films taking home Best Picture set to continue? Can the stellar acting performances of some of Britain’s finest be enough to carry their films to the bigger prize? Am I actually predicting one of these two films to win Best Picture?


The case for and against ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Wes Anderson has never been an Academy favourite. Critically beloved films like The Royal Tenanbaums, The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom were all but ignored at the Oscars, so it was starting to seem like he was one of those directors they’d just never fall for. That all changed this year with his quirky and utterly charming film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Despite being released almost 12 months ago (an Oscar rarity), it was still showered with nominations, but can it take out the top prize?

Why it could win Best Picture:

So much love. There used to be an old rule that the film with the most nominations would win Best Picture. If you think about it logically, it makes sense. If a film is the best in so many categories then theoretically it must add up to being the best film overall, no? This year, The Grand Budapest Hotel leads with nine nominations (a title shared with Birdman which also took nine), and it’s very likely to score wins in at least four categories. That equates to a hell of a lot of love from the Academy. It’s conceivable that as voters continue to tick The Grand Budapest Hotel in so many categories on their ballot that they have automatically give it another tick when it comes to the big one. Sweeping technical awards is truly one of the easiest ways to win Best Picture, so that bodes extremely well for Mr Anderson.

Preferential ballot. This damn ballot is making such a difference this year. Luckily for The Grand Budapest Hotel that seems to be working in its favor. Similar to Boyhood, it’s very difficult to hate this film, even for those like myself who have never really been a huge Anderson fan. It’s an incredibly light and enjoyable experience, particularly visually, and that makes it really tough to leave out of a voter’s top 3. Whether it takes the lion’s share of #1 votes or not, it’s very likely to dominate the secondary positions. If something is going to benefit from the potential split-voting of Boyhood and Birdman, it’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s also very unlikely to be placed in the lower positions on many people’s ballots. You can’t justify voting for a film in so many categories like Production Design and Original Score and then consequently not putting it high on your ranking for Picture.

Wes Anderson. The man is long overdue for some Oscar love, particularly compared to his fellow nominees and their films. I think many were starting to assume he’d never be part of the Academy’s sacred little club, but the huge number of nominations for his film this year clearly shows that’s no longer the case. We see this time and time again. Someone is awarded a “career Oscar” i.e. they weren’t necessarily the best this year, but they’ve been good for so long that it only seems fair to finally reward them. It’s a large part of the reason Julianne Moore will win, and Amy Adams and Leonardo DiCaprio will likely win for whatever the hell they do next. That kind of background story can push voters in Anderson’s direction, particularly those that have long loved his work. Besides Eastwood and possibly Linklater, he’s the only “big name” director involved in one of this year’s Picture nominees, and that kind of name recognition can be enough to convince undecided voters in your favour.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

Oscar hates comedies. There may have been a time where a truly wonderful comedy could win Best Picture. That time is no more. It’s frustrating because we all know comedy is far more difficult to pull off than drama. Sure, every now and then a comedic performance and/or film will make their way into the nominations, but they never actually win. At least not these days. To fathom that a film largely comedic in nature like The Grand Budapest Hotel will win Best Picture seems incredibly unlikely. It’s simply not serious enough to be taken seriously. They have no problem showering it with technical awards because its impossible to ignore the superb production within the film, but ultimately saying a comedy is the best film of the year over serious dramas is something they will not do.

Wes Anderson. You either love him or you hate him. That doesn’t bode well during Oscar voting. If you want to win, they have to universally like you, and for an auteur director like Anderson, that’s definitely not the case. So many people dismiss his films as useless fluff and criticise them for “all looking the same”. Unfortunately many in the industry don’t understand the auteur theory, and auteur directors have never scored particularly well with the Academy. Just look at the list of names who the Academy never really acknowledged – Kubrick, Hitchcock, Lynch, Tarantino, Burton, Fincher, Nolan, and even Scorsese until relatively recently. While it’s a big step forward for an Anderson film to be nominated for Best Picture, that’s probably the only reward the Academy is willing to give him at this point.

No acting nominations. While films in the past could win Best Picture without nominations in the acting categories, in recent times, we’ve seen that change dramatically. It was always going to be tough for Ralph Fiennes to break into the overcrowded Lead Actor category. However, one would have assumed if it was The Grand Budapest Hotel was the eventual Best Picture winner, he would have been swept along with the tidal wave of support. It’s one of only two films this year in the Picture category to not be represented in the acting fields, and that can be tricky to overcome, particularly amongst the actor voters. A film is essentially nothing without its actors, so if you can’t acknowledge those performances with nominations, how can you acknowledge the film as being the best of the year?

It’s going to be a tough one, but can a light but brilliant comedy finally take home Best Picture? Is the Academy ready to acknowledge the work of a master auteur director? Will I be bold enough to make it my final prediction for Best Picture? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.

The case for and against ‘Birdman’

Swooping in out of seemingly nowhere, we have Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s divisive Birdman; our new frontrunner, and the next film under The Jam Report’s microscope. That bird was always waiting in the wings, just threatening to steal the race, and it appears to have made its move at just the right time. However, let’s not count our Birdmen before they’ve hatched, and frontrunners can still be shot down at the very last second.

Why it could win Best Picture:

The last frontrunner takes it. No film likes to be the so-called “early frontrunner’. They generally fall over at some point during the race, and very rarely get back up. In recent times, films like Lincoln, Atonement, and Babel have taken early awards, only to then see another film change the tide and steal it away from them in the final stretch. For the longest time, it didn’t seem like Boyhood was going to suffer a similar fate, but when Birdman took PGA, DGA and SAG (in the space of two weeks, no less), we had a new frontrunner. We’re mere days away, and it doesn’t seem like that status is going to change, and obviously generally speaking, the last frontrunner ends up taking it. Why? Because a lot of voters a fickle, and desperately want to be on the winning team i.e. vote for the film that ends up taking Best Picture. They can brag at the industry after-parties about how they were right, how they were always going to vote for that film, and rub it in the faces of anyone that dared to go another route. It’s sad, but true. If the general impression around town is that Birdman is “going to win”, it will collect the votes of these group-mentality/sheep voters.

It’s about the industry. We’ve seen a strange trend developing over the last few years at the Academy Awards, where films about the film industry itself are consistently cleaning up. The industry can’t seem to avoid giving itself a great big pat on the back. Argo, The Artist, Hugo. Clearly Oscar voters like to see themselves on-screen, and like to award films that shine a light on what it’s like to work in the industry. Birdman is such a film. The largest section of the Academy voters are the actors, and here we have a film starring big name actors playing actors talking about acting. Talk about a no-brainer for which film an actor should vote for. It’s why it was a shoe-in at the SAG Awards. The film also takes a big swipe at entertainment critics and how they’re all severe sufferers of tall poppy syndrome i.e. ultimately just looking for any opportunity to cut an actor or production down. They all can say they don’t read reviews, but we know they do, so a film that takes such a stance is always going to be well received by industry folk.

History is behind it. Winning major precursor awards like PGA, DGA and SAG are sure-fire ways to take out the Oscar for Best Picture. As we know, Birdman surprised everyone by taking all three. Fun fact – no film has won those three prizes and not gone on to win Best Picture since Apollo 13 in 1996. That’s a huge piece precedent to change, and it seems incredibly unlikely to happen here. Birdman is also following the path of fellow late-charger The King’s Speech back in 2011. In that year, it was all about The Social Network, until, just like this year, another film came along and took PGA, DGA and SAG. From that point, The King’s Speech was unstoppable, and it’s likely Birdman is too. Rules are sometimes broken at the Academy Awards, but they’re sticklers for tradition, and that bodes well for Birdman.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

History is against it. As much as history is on Birdman‘s side, it’s also just as much against it. In what was considered a fairly large snub, the film wasn’t given a nomination for Editing. Why is this such a big deal? Well, no film has won Best Picture without an Editing nomination since 1981’s Ordinary People. That’s a 34 year tradition that’s not in Birdman‘s favour. Adding to that, Birdman failed to win Best Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, losing to The Grand Budapest Hotel. No film has lost that Golden Globe category and still gone on to win Best Picture since Annie Hall in 1977. That’s a 38 year tradition also not in Birdman‘s favour. In recent years, the film that takes Best Picture also brings along an acting trophy for the ride. If Eddie Redmayne wins over Michael Keaton, as many are predicting, that’s another blow to the film’s overall chances. Rules are sometimes broken at the Academy Awards, but they’re sticklers for tradition, and that doesn’t bode well for Birdman.

BAFTA snub. It’s not uncommon for a film that does well at the Academy Awards not to fair so well at BAFTA. The Brits can tend to vote for their own, so if there’s a big British film in the running, that can generally be far more likely to take out an awards ceremony voted on by its fellow countrymen. Many assumed that would be The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game this year. Amazingly, Boyhood trumped them all, taking Picture, Director and Supporting Actress. Birdman walked away with the consolation prize of Cinematography, and nothing else. While it can be noted that voting for BAFTA was well before the tide turned in Birdman‘s favour, the ceremony is the last major award before Oscar voting ends. For Boyhood to take all the glory and headlines at BAFTA could be enough to remind people why they used to vote for it, and suddenly Birdman is heading for a loss.

The preferential ballot. Yesterday I noted how the preferential ballot will work in Boyhood‘s favour, but on the flip-side of that is how it will work against an extremely divisive film like Birdman. By divisive, I propose that it seems the general opinion of this film is either extreme love or extreme hate. In a situation as black and white as this, you can presume those who love it will have it at #1 or #2, and those that hate it could have down dead last on their ballot. In the preferential voting system that the Academy uses for Best Picture, that could spell disaster for the film’s Best Picture chances. It will get a huge chunk of top votes. No one can debate that. However, if it fails to capture secondary votes and instead gets a large number of low votes, it won’t be enough to claim the big prize. Birdman will have to overcome this enormous obsticle to take down the universally beloved Boyhood.

Can the Academy break tradition and finally award a quirky arthouse film like Birdman? Are we going to see rules broken once again and precedents be shattered along the way? Am I selecting Birdman as my final prediction for Best Picture? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.

The case for and against ‘Boyhood’

The next Best Picture nominee under The Jam Report’s microscope is Richard Linklater’s masterpiece Boyhood. The film had been the presumed winner for most of the season, and it looked likely to sail to the podium without much competition at all…until the PGA shock win for Birdman put a serious spanner in the works. Can it claw back the trophy from Birdman and win? Or has the little film that could run out of steam at the very last hurdle?

Why it could win Best Picture:

It was the frontrunner for so long for a reason. It was a fairly topsy-turvy awards season, but one of the few mutually agreed industry assumptions has been the fact that Boyhood was going to take home Best Picture at the end of the circus. It took the majority of the precursor critics awards (Austin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Iowa, Los Angeles, New York, Oklahoma, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington). It took out Best Picture at the overarching Critics’ Choice Awards. It swept the Golden Globes (Picture, Director, Supporting Actress). It even swept the BAFTA Awards which many said would be difficult for such an “American” film. It just kept rolling on and on, following similar paths of former Best Picture winners. And there’s a simple reason for that – this film is easy to love, and it’s easy to vote for. While its frontrunner status has seemingly been snatched away by Birdman, it’s still a film that’s easy to love, difficult to hate, and very easy to vote for, and that bodes extremely well for its chances come Oscar night.

The preferential ballot. Every year I get asked to explain how the preferential ballot works in simple terms, and every year I maintain that it’s not really possible to explain it in such a way. It’s a complicated process, and to be honest, I’d like to see it dismantled. Alas, it is what it is, and it can mean all the difference for a film like Boyhood. Basically, it’s not enough to get the most #1 votes. Your film also needs to appear at either #2 or #3 on as many ballots that didn’t give you their top spot as possible. For divisive films like Birdman or American Sniper, this is what will likely hurt them. For a universally liked film like Boyhood, it could be the major factor that gets it over the line. While there will always be plenty of voters who won’t put it at #1, there will be few that will leave it out of their top 3, purely because of what an achievement the film represents. With the lion’s share of secondary votes, Boyhood could take the prize, even if Birdman scores more #1 votes. Confusing, I know, but it could easily happen.

Cinematic history. That’s the tagline the team behind Boyhood‘s Oscar campaign are running with for their For Your Consideration ads, clearly referencing the extraordinary achievement the film represents. There’s never been a film like it before, and that fact alone needs to be hammered into voter’s minds as much as possible. By very definition alone, the best picture of the year should be something that is “better” than everything else, and what’s better than something that’s never been done before? That’s another major reason it’s been the frontrunner for so long. People are just in awe of what Linklater has managed to achieve, and all season long, it just seemed grossly unfair to fail to reward it with the top prize. While that fact has diminished in the past few weeks, if enough people are reminded through smart campaigning, you have to assume they will consequently vote for Boyhood like they have been all season long. Why change now?

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

The change in tide. It’s hard to ignore the late change of direction of this year’s race. As seen above, Boyhood was cruising to a victory on Oscar night, but seemingly out of nowhere, Birdman became the new golden child. The first major shift was the Producer’s Guild Award, an award that has gone to the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner for the last seven years in a row. Then the Screen Actor’s Guild followed suit by awarding Birdman with Best Ensemble. This wasn’t a huge surprise, but given it was literally a day after PGA, it meant all the headlines were suddenly screaming Birdman. The final nail in the coffin came when Alejandro González Iñárritu was the surprise winner at the Director’s Guild Awards. It was safely assumed Linklater would at least be celebrated by his fellow directors for his incredible effort to bring Boyhood to life, and yet, even they had changed their mind. Jealousy, perhaps? Essentially that means the majority of producers, actors, and directors are all voting for Birdman on their Oscar ballot. That’s a huge chunk of the Academy, and doesn’t bode well for Boyhood.

The mud is sticking. Every year, there are numerous smear campaigns against pretty much every Best Picture nominee. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they’re ignored. It seems this year, the mud being thrown on Boyhood is sticking, and that can be impossible to overcome. The main whisper being spread around is that if you gave anyone a camera and a production time of twelve years, they could make a film like Boyhood. It’s a ridiculous argument, but it’s simplistic enough in nature to convince those that are foolish enough to believe it. If enough idiots drink the Kool-Aid, they won’t vote for it. Why vote for a film that any Joe Blow could make? Why give the top prize to something that is ultimately just a gimmick?

It’s too “small”. Nothing much happens in Boyhood. No one can deny that. It’s a simple little film. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that those kind of films very rarely take out Best Picture. You don’t need to be a big Gone With the Wind style epic to win, but something as intimate and subtle as Boyhood just doesn’t have the feel of an Oscar winner. Family drama may have been all the rage at the Oscars of the 80s (Kramer vs Kramer, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment), but this ain’t the 80s, and a quaint independent film about an ordinary family’s life just doesn’t have the same appeal to Oscar voters these days. Tradition is everything with the Academy. Sure, they often break the rules every now and then, but they’re very stuck in their ways. A film needs to feel like Best Picture, and as masterful as Boyhood is, it’s not your traditional Academy favourite.

Can Richard Linklater’s little gem overcome the late charge of Birdman and take back the crown? Is the family drama making a return to the Oscar stage? Will my heart lead me to predict Boyhood as my final prediction? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.

The case for and against ‘American Sniper’

The race is almost over. The end is in sight. With less than a week until the big ceremony, and for the second year in a row, we truly don’t have a clear frontrunner for Best Picture. So, just like last year, I’m here to make a case for and against each nominated picture before ultimately revealing my final prediction for which one I think will walk away with it.

First cab off the rank – Clint Eastwood’s divisive and controversial American Sniper.

Why it could win Best Picture:

They love it. Six nominations is nothing to sneeze at. After all, former-frontrunner Boyhood has the same number of noms to its name. That figure shows the film was well-received by the Academy, particularly given it slipped into categories no one was really predicting like Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and even the extremely crowded Lead Actor race. In my final Gold Derby nominations predictions, I only had it down to be nominated for Picture and nothing else, so clearly there is much more love for this film than most people thought. While a large number of nominations doesn’t always equal glory (hello, American Hustle), you would very rarely see a film take Picture without a swag of other nominations behind it.

The box-office result. This film is making the kind of cash at the American box-office you normally don’t see for anything other than a franchise film these days. It’s made more money than films like Skyfall, all three The Hobbit chapters, and it’s highly likely to out-gross The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and become the highest grossing film of 2014. Whether you loved the film or not, it’s impossible not to admire that achievement. Original films are severely struggling at the box-office these days, so this kind of result is an astonishing accomplishment. The Academy could very easily give it the ultimate congratulations with the Best Picture prize, just like they did with other box-office winners like Avatar and Titanic.

Clint Eastwood. He’s an American treasure. The Academy loves him. Four competitive Oscars are in his possession. As a director, he’s even swept the Oscars twice before in his illustrious career; something few directors have managed to achieve in the last few decades. It could very easily happen again. American Sniper is even following a very similar path to the last film of Clint’s to triumph, Million Dollar Baby. Just like American Sniper, that film was released very late in the game, and seemingly came out of nowhere to steal the Best Picture race, along with three other statues. It seems entirely plausible for the same to happen here, and if so, Bradley Cooper could snatch Actor right out of Eddie Redmayne’s hands.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

They hate it. Sure, there’s a lot of love for this film, but there’s equally just as much hatred too. It’s been labelled pro-war propaganda. It’s been accused of ignoring the serious issue of veteran PTSD. And it’s been heavily criticised for essentially making a hero out of a man who, by his own words, enjoyed killing dozens of people. This kind of divisiveness and controversy never bodes well for a film’s Best Picture chances. For those undecided voters who can’t quite work out how they feel about the film’s message, it’s enough to push them away from voting for it. After all, nobody wants to feel dirty when they submit their final ballot, and there’s a lot of dirt where American Sniper is concerned.

The box-office result. The Oscars and box-office dollars don’t often go hand-in-hand. Of the last ten winners, only one was financially successful. These days, the Academy seemingly hates to follow and reward films that are big with audiences. Generally, if something is a winner with the public, it’s usually deemed to be nothing more than commercial fluff. A lot of voters will be put off by American Sniper‘s huge box-office success, particularly its success in areas of America with very different political views to those in Hollywood. Many will also be thinking the box-office gross is the film’s real reward, so why does it need a trophy too? This is the Oscars, not the MTV Awards.

Clint Eastwood. He may be a national treasure, and a four-time winner, but he also has the ability to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Do we really need to mention the time he “spoke” to Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention? Or the bordering-on-racist tripe that was Gran Torino? Ultimately, it’s very difficult to separate Clint’s political views from the art he’s making, particularly when he’s injected so many of those views into his final product. His film doesn’t let you decide on how to feel about the war, Chris Kyle, or America in general. It more or less demands you agree with it or get the hell out of the cinema. That kind of film doesn’t sit well with voters. Sure, they’ll nominate it, but they won’t dare let it win. While it’s true American Sniper is traveling a similar path to Million Dollar Baby, it’s facing much stronger competition from its fellow nominees. 2004 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for film. After all, Finding Neverland was deemed one of the five best films of the year by the Academy, so it wasn’t exactly difficult for Million Dollar Baby to snatch the race at the last minute. American Sniper does not have that luxury, plus Clint isn’t even nominated for Director, like he was then.

As you can see, the exact same points for why it could win are the exact same points as why it won’t win. Confused? Welcome to this year’s circus.

Will the one-two punch of Clint and Cooper be enough to steal this year’s race? Is Oscar ready for another war film to take out their top prize? Am I actually predicting American Sniper to win? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.


Top ten films of 2014

Well, here we are again. Where on earth did 2014 go? And how did I manage to completely ignore The Jam Report for pretty much the entire year? Life/uni/film-watching/alcohol gets in the way, I suppose. I’m sure I made this promise last year, but 2015 will be different! I will devote more time to my writing!

So how did 2014 stack up? For me, it was another phenomenal year in film. We had some fantastic box-office blockbusters that proved you could still create entertaining, intelligent, and thought-provoking art on a big budget. We had the usual indie darlings that packed a huge emotional punch and made us look at the world in new and interesting ways. And we had some wonderful surprises that came out of absolutely nowhere. All in all, t’was a pretty damn good year.

Now comes my annual top ten list, which, as always has been an incredibly agonising process. The #1 spot has changed numerous times over the last few weeks, and to be honest, I could turn around in a month’s time and change my mind again, but rules are rules, and I must decide on the final positions and stick to them.

As I always say, this is just my opinion. Film is a subjective art-form, and you could have experienced a completely different reaction to every single one of these films, and that’s entirely fine. In the world of opinion, there is no right or wrong. That being said, if you try and tell me Transformers: Age of Extinction should be on this list, I reserve the right to laugh in your damn face…

So without further ado, I present The Jam Report’s ten best films of 2014.

10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After the huge surprise that was 2011’s utterly brilliant Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was concerned there was too much hype and expectation for the sequel to live up to. Happily, I was wrong. Like its predecessor, Dawn is the rare example of a big-budget summer blockbuster that actually has intelligence about it, and ultimately manages to make you feel something. This is a quality you just don’t see in the blockbuster genre very often.

At the centre of the film is another astonishing motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis, the undisputed king of that field. Serkis’ Caesar is just so incredibly expressive and full of heart and soul that the audience cannot help but feel so deeply for him and his family. His work is only a success due to the incredible CGI work that allows you to forget you’re watching a motion capture performance. This film will have you constantly believing you are watching actual real-live apes on the screen, despite your brain clearly knowing otherwise. It was a travesty that Rise didn’t win the Oscar for Visual Effects, and it’s likely Dawn won’t either, but good god, they both should own that trophy.

There is also stellar supporting work from the human side of the film in Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke, plus some sublime motion-capture work from Toby Kebbell as Caesar’s nemesis Koba, a character that delivers two utterly brilliant cinematic moments, both involving a machine gun. One will disturb you to your core, the other will have you cheering with absolute delight.

The film hits its stride with some phenomenal big flashy action sequences, particularly the incredible finale battle (gun-toting apes on horses, of all things), but it’s even better in its quieter and more intimate moments, overflowing with genuine emotion and heart. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is easily the best sequel of 2014, just edging in front of the also-fantastic Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and is an absolute delight to watch.

9. Snowpiercer

I think it’s safe to say that Snowpiercer is easily the most original film of the year, and one of the biggest surprise packages too. Master director Bong Joon-ho creates an incredibly bizarre, and at times unsettling, vision of a post-apocalyptic future where the haves and have-nots are loaded onto a train, the titular Snowpiercer, as they attempt to sustain humanity, while hurtling along a never-ending railway to nowhere. Yes, it sounds rather ridiculous, and at times it is, but in the absolute best way possible.

Chris Evans breaks free of his Marvel shackles as the reluctant hero Curtis, who, after a series of tragic events, finds himself leading a rebellion against the train’s mysterious leader/dictator Wilford, and his many armed lackeys. As he makes his way to the front of the train, Curtis finds himself in a completely different environment within each carriage, each more bizarre than the previous. The production design is some of the year’s best, and Joon-ho displays his Korean style and flair in truly beautiful and startling ways.

While Evans’ performance is something to admire, the stand-out here is Tilda Swinton, as the androgynous batshit crazy Minister Mason. His/her (I’m still really not sure…) fascist regime is delivered by Swinton with stunning brutality, in what is one of the most powerful performances this year. Consider her a dark horse for an Oscar nom, but sadly, like last year’s Looper, this film may just be too left-of-centre for the Academy’s tastes.

Visually superb, with some of the best and most thrilling action sequences you’ll see all year, Snowpiercer is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and requires repeat-viewing almost instantaneously.

8. Gone Girl

It’s hard to talk about the masterpiece that is David Fincher’s Gone Girl without spoiling the whole damn thing, and I find spoilers in reviews absolutely abhorrent. Everyone should enjoy the twists and turns of Gillian Flynn’s sublime screenplay without any prior warning, because they pack the biggest punches you will see on screen this year. From Amy’s stunning “cool girl” monologue to THAT unsettling sex scene, Gone Girl is perhaps the most exhilarating thrill-ride of 2014.

Fincher’s unmistakable directorial style is perfectly suited for this smart and engrossing tale that perfectly and sharply comments on marriage, the media, fame (or infamy, to be more accurate), and contemporary America. Beneath the surface of the psychological tale of a missing wife and her accused husband, Gone Girl is essentially Fincher and Flynn’s cynical view on the age we live in, namely society’s disturbing obsession with the violence and horror that can often take place right next door.

There is a lot one could say about Ben Affleck’s superb, and highly underrated, performance which is easily the best thing he’s done in years, but the true star of the show here is Rosamund Pike, in one of the best performances you will see on screen this year. The different shades she brings to her portrayal of Amy are just so utterly impressive. At any one moment throughout the film, Amy is vulnerable, aggressive, furious, manipulating, submissive, scheming, adorable, and ultimately completely terrifying.

Somehow Pike pulls off every emotional state with the incredible precision and accuracy that only comes from an actor truly in control of their craft. To detail Amy’s character transformation and further would give too much away, but once you’ve witnessed her jaw-dropping “cool girl” monologue, you’ll see how impressive a performance this is. It’s a star-making performance of the highest calibre.

Slick, sophisticated, intelligent, and surprisingly amusing at times, Gone Girl is another Fincher masterpiece, and should be showered with Oscars this February. It’s not going to happen, given Fincher rightly refuses to whore himself out through the usual campaigning, but it damn well should. Above anything else, Gone Girl reminds us that sometimes the people we know the least about are those closest to us…and maybe it’s better to keep it that way.

7. Nightcrawler

From American Beauty to Scarface to The Wolf of Wall Street, the chase for the illusive “American dream” can often make for the most compelling, and disturbing, cinema. Such is also the case with the brilliant Nightcrawler.

In his impressive directorial debut, Dan Gilroy delivers a heart-pounding and increasingly unsettling story of a man willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in the news business, and ultimately in life.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s career-defining performance as Lou is the best performance you will see all year. Lou is a man with no morals, no limits, and perhaps no grasp of sanity, and Gyllenhaal plays him with expert precision. Somehow we’re not repulsed by this deranged man. Somehow we’re strangely on his side. Lou’s confrontation with his own reflection is possibly the most jarring scene you’ll see this year, and should be enough to secure Gyllenhaal an Oscar nod.

The film also includes an impressive supporting turn from Rene Russo, as the ruthless TV news producer, dangerously close to losing her career. In her desperation, she unwittingly encourages Lou’s obsession with being the first on the scene of the latest headline-grabbing crime, and getting the stories no one else can. She sets him on path that leads to an incredible finale sequence that will genuinely have you holding your breath.

One of the real surprises is the breakout performance by Riz Ahmed as Rick, Lou’s camera assistant and sceptical accomplice. His need for any form of employment leads him to Lou, and while he is initially hesitant of the lack of ethics associated with his new-found job, his desperate desire for Lou’s approval leads him to shelve his reservations and blindly follow Lou’s dangerous directions. Ahmed beautifully plays the only voice of reason in a film otherwise devoid of anyone in touch with reality. Rick is really the character we cheer for, even though we sense that things may not turn out too well for him.

Nightcrawler is ultimately so truly unsettling because of how close it hits home. We now live in a world of citizen journalism where every man on the street has a camera, ready to record events that may not have been seen by the public in the past. And it seems that, as long as news bulletin includes the cliche “this footage may disturb some viewers” warning, they will now broadcast any footage they receive.

The film also provides biting commentary about the desperation for television ratings, and what ethical lines journalists will cross in the battle to win over viewers. How far is too far…or do the limits even exist anymore?

6. Whiplash

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.”

That single quote perfectly summarises the type of film Whiplash is – a tale that asks the question; how far is too far in the pursuit of artistic greatness?

In this electrifying story of a music student and his suffering at the hands of an obsessive jazz band maestro, we bear witness to the brutality that some must seemingly endure for their art, and are forced to examine how acceptable that really is.

In a star-making performance as Andrew, Miles Teller delivers a knock-out turn as the victim of what some would call bullying, but others would dare to call education. His unrelenting desire to somehow impress the brutal Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, in a stunning Oscar-worthy performance) leads him to literally bleed for his art, and pushes the boundaries on just how much one man can suffer through, in the name of art.

Simmons’ performance evokes memories of R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, and while at first, he appears to be an emotionless villain, we begin to understand there is actually a method to his madness. At times, we find ourselves amazingly sympathising with him. This is a man who simply believes that his maniacal approach to his students is what is required to achieve true musical success. Is that so hard to understand? That’s up to you to decide.

The film moves at a pace as feverish as the music Fletcher’s jazz band is pumping out, and it’s a phenomenally enjoyable ride throughout. Watching these two men battle is a true delight, but whose side you take is entirely your choice.

5. Her

It takes a special film to be released in early January and still be remembered come year’s end. Her is one of those films. One of the most unique love stories there has ever been. One of the most truly heart-warming tales you will ever experience in a cinema. A little piece of magic that will stay with you long after the end-credits roll.

In Spike Jonze’s latest original masterpiece, we get lost in the slightly futuristic story of the lonely Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, in fine form), a man so desperate to connect with someone that he falls in love with the voice, Samantha (Scarlett Johanson), behind his operating system (think Siri with a brain). That voice is the spectacular work of Johansson, who manages to create a complex character with no physical body or attributes. There’s something so incredibly seductive and endearing about her voice that it’s easy to see why Theodore is so taken with her. You will be too.

Phoenix is incredibly lovable as Theodore, and his vulnerability and softness is something we don’t see from the actor very often but really should. He’s utterly captivating to watch. It’s a heavy weight to carry a film in such a singular way as this, but he succeeds thanks to his remarkable connection to a performance that wasn’t physically in his presence.

With some charming supporting work from Amy Adams, as Theodore’s only human friend, and Chris Pratt, as his sympathetic boss, Her is a movie unlike any other in 2014. The love story will ultimately break your heart, but in the process, it will teach you that love is often a power that cannot be explained, and ultimately a connection is all that matters.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014 – the year that Wes Anderson finally won me over. Now before you start howling at me about how he is a modern-day auteur director, and his films are all artistic masterpieces, let me just say that I completely agree with you…it’s just, his films have never really been my thing. I can appreciate them. I can marvel at them. And I can understand why people love them. They’ve just never really got to me. That all changed with the utterly charming The Grand Budapest Hotel, the most visually stunning film I’ve seen this year.

While there are several phenomenal performances to call out (namely Ralph Fiennes, who won’t be, but should be up for an Oscar), the real star of this glorious piece of cinema is the hotel itself. Anderson is famous for the visual flair he brings to all his films, but he has outdone himself here, thanks to some suburb production design work from Adam Stockhausen. The hotel, with it’s many beautiful rooms and settings, absolutely sparkles on-screen, and adds so much rich colour and delight to an already colourful and delightful story.

That story takes us on a rollercoaster journey that involves a murder mystery, a gorgeous love story, a comic caper, a prison heist, and numerous other deliciously wonderful plot-points that in the hands of any other director would quickly fall into farce. Sure, there are still some fairly farcical elements to this tale, but you’re so encapsulated by Anderson’s direction and his delightfully bizarre cast of characters, that you’re just too damn entertained to care.

Ultimately this film is just a gloriously fun old time, something severely lacking in those films destined for awards greatness. Funny, charming, ridiculous, colourful, sweet, delicious, perfection. The Grand Budapest Hotel is simply satisfying for both your eyes and your heart, and it’s a film you’ll want to check-in with time and time again.

3. The Guardians of the Galaxy

Well, well, well. Who would have thought a space film involving a talking raccoon and a living tree with a three-word vocabulary would end up being one of the greatest films of the year? I know I had high hopes for Marvel’s latest adventure after the release of the incredible first trailer, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the entertainment delight that is Guardians of the Galaxy. Many considered this Marvel’s first big risk, and amazingly it may have ended up being their finest achievement to date. Yes, better than Iron Man. Yes, better than Captain America. And yes, maybe even better than The Avengers.

Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy is popcorn entertainment of the highest order, reminding us of classic popcorn entertainment of the past, like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark…before those franchises took a turn for the worst, of course. Central to this throw-back to the former glory days of popcorn cinema is Chris Pratt’s incredibly endearing and lovable Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, a character who is equal parts Hans Solo and Indiana Jones, with a dash of Tony Stark’s arrogance and Clark Kent’s charm. Pratt is suddenly Hollywood’s most sought-after leading man, and it’s mostly due to his incredibly charismatic performance here. Let’s be honest, he’s also fairly easy on the eyes, after a startling image transformation that will make you believe that hiding under the surface of every slightly chubby actor is a matinee idol, just waiting to be freed. Pratt is hilarious, charming and just so damn loveable as Star-Lord, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off him when he’s on screen.

Surrounding Pratt is a brilliant supporting cast of characters that combine to make the best ensemble work of the year, whether the SAG Awards thought so or not. Zoe Saldana is the deliciously sultry and bitingly feisty Gamora, Dave Bautista is the hilariously blunt and confusingly literal Drax, Bradley Cooper does utterly sensational voice-over work as the wise-cracking lab experiment Rocket Raccoon, and then there’s the real star of the show, Groot; a walking talking tree who can only utter three words, yet somehow those words are brilliantly and uniquely delivered each time by Vin Diesel. Who knew a tree would become the year’s most beloved cultural icon and ultimately end up a pop-culture phenomenon? The film also completely delivers on the villains front (something surprisingly lacking in many superhero films these days…ahem, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), with terrific turns from Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, and a delicious cameo from Josh Brolin that will leave you begging for more.

Marvel’s latest triumph ultimately succeeds because of one simple fact – it’s just damn good fun. I’m all for dark, moody, brooding superheroes, but it was just so refreshing to finally have a comic-book film with a strong basis in humour. James Gunn’s screenplay is one of the best of the year (lack of award nominations be damned), and it’s filled with genuine laugh-out-loud moments and hilarious lines of dialogue. Yes, our superheroes are all somewhat troubled, and all carry backstories loaded with baggage and pain, but it’s not pain that defines who they are. Their issues are what drives them forward, rather than what weights them down, and that’s a quality all superheroes should aspire to.

Director James Gunn has delivered one of the most enjoyable and entertaining comic-book heroes of all-time. Gunn seemingly knew exactly what the genre needed, and gave it a huge injection of colour, humour, joy and life. It’s a film for audiences crying out for originality and uniqueness in a franchise culture terribly stuck in its ways of continuing the same tired plot points, over and over again. Intelligence and wit are two qualities I will always admire in a film, and finally we have Marvel film overflowing with both. Guardians of the Galaxy is a triumph, and takes it place amongst the greatest superhero films of all-time.

2. The Skeleton Twins

Before I share my thoughts on this film, I must openly admit my love of Saturday Night Live, and my devotion to the genius talents of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Maybe I was always destined to adore this film, but I can step back enough to realise this is a brilliant piece of cinema, devotion to its stars or not. In The Skeleton Twins, Wiig and Hader’s comic talents are almost entirely shelved to create one of the most surprising films of 2014, and a film that came achingly close to stealing my top spot this year.

Wiig and Hader play twins Maggie and Milo, a pair of siblings so incredibly messed up and so ridiculously in-sync with each other that they both cheat death on the same day; an event that forces them to reconnect, in an attempt to discover just where their lives went wrong. What makes this pair so incredibly realistic and relatable is the fact that they both know exactly what a mess they are, but how completely at ease they are with the knowledge that they don’t know how to be anything else. Nobody’s perfect, and these two prove that’s not always such a bad thing.

It’s no surprise that Wiig and Hader are a complete joy to watch. In any given situation, and often in the same scene, Maggie and Milo can both completely adore each other or absolutely despise each other. The bond they share is something that could build them up, but it could just as easily tear them both down. The balancing act of this dichotomy is what makes this film so intriguing to watch. Is there a happy ending for the twins? Is a happy ending even possible for two people with such disastrous lives? The script will keep you guessing, and that’s what makes such a delight to view.

The eternally underrated Luke Wilson is also magnificent as Maggie’s overly-optimistic husband Lance. Lance is one of those incredibly positive people that always has a smile on his face, and always looks on the bright side of life…so, basically the polar opposite to Maggie and Milo. Maggie desperately tries to pretend that her marriage to Lance is a happy one, and that she too can be one of those shiny happy people, but Milo’s reappearance begins to show just how much of a facade her life really is. At times, it’s painful to watch, but such if life, and this film places a magnifying glass on the worst parts of human emotion that only the truly brave are strong enough to admit to. We’re all messed up, but how many people will own that fact for the better?

The Skeleton Twins should have been this year’s Little Miss Sunshine or Juno in the awards season. It’s an absolute gem of a film that deserved similar recognition, and I’ll never understand why it didn’t receive it. The script is incredibly smart and dry, with just enough humour that comic geniuses like Wiig and Hader take full advantage of. The scene in which Milo attempts to cheer Maggie up with a lip-synch rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” is one of the most glorious sequences seen on film this year.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll potentially ponder your own life choices, and you’ll be completely and utterly delighted by the little film that almost could.

1. Boyhood

The most unique cinematic experience of the year. One of the greatest achievements in the history of film. The Jam Report’s best film for 2014. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Richard Linklater’s twelve-years-in-the-making masterpiece Boyhood. A film that, by its very production description alone, should really not even exist because it seems so impossible to actually pull off.

Take a bunch of actors, including two children making their acting debut, then systematically film them over the course of twelve years to show the evolution of a family, as seen through the eyes of a boy who literally becomes a man in front of our eyes. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? And yet, one of the reasons Boyhood succeeds so well is because it captures the journey of life as no other narrative film ever has before.

The concept is such a magnificent triumph largely due to the enormous amount of “what ifs” that it overcame which could have easily killed the production along the way. What if one of the main stars died? What if Linklater died? What if someone refused to continue or just flat-out disappeared? What if the production company went bankrupt or pulled funding? What if someone lost the footage? And perhaps most terrifying – what if the final production just wasn’t very good at all, and the entire cast and crew had just wasted over a decade of their lives? Honestly, how did Richard Linklater get any sleep at all over the last twelve years?! Fortunately, none of these issues occur, and we are left with a final product that is a flawless piece of cinema.

This isn’t a usual production process where if any such problems occurred, you could just schedule a couple of re-shoots. This was truly one-chance filmmaking, and that would normally scare anyone away from even thinking of attempting such a production, let alone managing to deliver such a triumphant film at the end of it. Linklater’s achievement as director is really unlike any before him, and his vision and dedication is something that is the mark of a true director at one with his craft.

To sit and watch a child literally grow up in front of your eyes over the course of two hours is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before on screen. Linklater doesn’t allow you prior warning that we’ve just jumped forward in time throughout the film. There’s no cliché “two years later” title-card on the screen. We just suddenly see Mason and the supporting cast have clearly aged, as has the world around them, and we’re pleasantly forced to adjust to the new time setting. Boyhood is essentially a time-capsule of the last twelve years. You witness the events of the last decade as they actually occurred. This isn’t the work of a production designer researching a time gone by. This *is* the time gone by.

While the focus of the film may be the boy himself, brilliantly played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, the star of the show is Patricia Arquette, in one of the best performances of the year. How many women in Hollywood would be willing to allow them self to be shown physically aging on-screen? We normally see the exact reverse, with every fading starlet desperately trying to look younger and younger with each film. It’s such a brave and bold move by Arquette that is matched by her moving and powerful performance, as a mother desperately trying to make the best life she can for her two children, while at the same time making some incredibly bad choices along the way. The scene where she contemplates what her life is to become once her son heads off to college is one of the most moving moments you’ll see all year. The Oscar will be hers, and deservedly so.

Boyhood is a relatively simple film, but anyone using that as some sort of criticism is missing the point entirely. Sure, nothing overly sensational or dramatic happens to this family, but hey, that’s life, and therein lies the utter charm of this brilliant piece of cinema, and ultimately what makes it an unassuming masterpiece, and the best film of the year.

It would be remiss of me not to give honourable mentions to the films that were strongly in contention for my final ten, but sadly missed the cut – August: Osage County, The Babadook, Bad Neighbours, Big Hero 6, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chef, The Fault in Our Stars, Interstellar, The LEGO Movie, 22 Jump Street, Under the Skin, What We Do in the Shadows, The Wolf of Wall Street and X-Men: Days of Future Past.