If I Were an Academy Member: J. Don Birnam

By J. Don Birnam

February 20, 2015

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

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Admit it: you’ve thought about it too. What would you pick if you had one of the 6,000 or so Academy Award ballots? If you were, say, George Clooney’s assistant, and he asked you to fill out his ballot? Would you pick all the front-runners, or go your own way? Here’s a chance for some of us to share what our pick would be in this preferential ballot Best Picture race. At the outset, you know my two favorite movies of the year did not make it—Interstellar and Gone Girl—but the final 8 are a mostly unobjectionable bunch.

8) The Theory of Everything. I may have to revisit this movie soon as my dislike of it may be somewhat irrational. Still, as of now, I found the spin of the story unlikable and unbelievable (how the wife treats Hawking through his life), and the acting not as appealing as others did. It has great craft but I can’t pick this above any of the other entries.

7) American Sniper. I didn’t find this movie as pro-war as some did. In fact, I thought it was subtly anti-war. The real life shenanigans of the real Chris Kyle aside, I thought the character was more complex than some allow. And historical inaccuracies don’t bother me, as they don’t in Selma or The Imitation Game. It’s drama. Still, I didn’t find this movie particularly compelling. I’ve seen The Hurt Locker, and The Deer Hunter, and Platoon. This movie seems a fading shadow of those much more impressive narratives about the horrors and traumas of war. Bradley Cooper’s performance stands out and puts the film ahead of The Theory of Everything, but that’s about it. A good, but not great movie.


6) The Grand Budapest Hotel. Honestly from here on up, all are worthy winners in my view. The Grand Budapest Hotel was higher on my list until I re-watched some of the others - it really is only a matter of me liking five other movies more, not this one any less. It is a beautiful, funny, and touching piece. It features a superb cast, creative writing, talented acting, and a timely score. I fear, however, that - like most Academy members - I am subconsciously snobby and take comedic movies less seriously than dramatic ones. It just feels less “important” and it is clear that for most of us there is some subconscious “important” sub-context when awarding “Best.” It’s my favorite Wes Anderson flick in years but I would not rank it higher than sixth if I had a ballot this year.

5) The Imitation Game. This movie was way lower on my list until I revisited it of late, several months removed from the cacophony of Toronto. It is funny how, when a movie is no longer a serious threat for Best Picture, one can view it with much more objective eyes. The two major complaints about this movie are that it whitewashed Alan Turing’s homosexuality, and that it didn’t make you think much because it just told a classic hero-overcomes story. The first complaint is actually untrue: his homosexuality is front and center throughout the movie. The lack of a sex scene doesn’t change that. The second complaint is curious: there is and should be space for movies that simply tell important stories, stories that are unknown, and don’t necessarily rediscover the meaning of life each time. The Imitation Game is such a story, and even a deserving potential winner.

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