Why the Oscars are ludicrous – and my own completely pointless opinions on the best films of the year

Any of you who have been on this blog in the last couple of months or have spoken to me during that time will know I’ve been going to the cinema a lot lately. A LOT. The only Best Picture nominated film I haven’t seen yet is Boyhood- and that’s because I’m annoyed with them for making it just about boys, when as far as I’m aware, the story follows a girl too. Because nothing happens to girls as they grow up. It’s all plain sailing.

I love this time of year when so many good films come out, and I like to see as many of them as I can. Then I enjoy hearing who won and deciding whether I agree – and usually getting annoyed when the one film I haven’t got round to seeing is the one I haven’t seen yet so I can’t really have an opinion. I’m glad Birdman won at the Oscars last night partly because at least I’ve seen it and can say, yeah, I liked it.

But I was also very annoyed with the nominations this year, like so many people, because they ignored David Oyelowo’s performance in Selma. And the more I thought about that, and about other aspects of the awards, the more I decided that they really mean very little. I’ll explain myself more as I go along, but the first thing I want to point out is who exactly is voting for these Academy Awards. (I’m going to stick mainly with the Oscars, partly because that’s the one I’ve got the statistic for, but you can probably extrapolate the points out to other award ceremonies.)

According to a recent survey conducted by The Los Angeles Times, Oscar voters are on average 63 years old. 76% of them are men, and 94% of them are white.

I don’t suppose that’s really a surprise to anyone. But it’s still ridiculous. It’s a shame we don’t have a statistic on how many are straight and how many are gay. That might be illuminating too.

So based on the fact that these awards are really pretty arbitrary, and decided by a bunch of old white men sitting around probably smoking cigars, I’m going to give you my own utterly pointless opinions on what the best films and best performances were. I don’t know much about films, although my brothers have been telling me I’m a film buff for years so perhaps I know more than I think I do. Either way, it might be an amusing read at least. Feel free to offer your own opinions and comments below!

Best Picture – Comedy

I’m notoriously indecisive so I’ll be picking my top three of everything, and I like the Golden Globes’ idea of having separate categories for drama and comedy – because how can you really compare a film that’s trying to make you laugh and one that’s trying to make you think? I believe Birdman falls into both of those categories, but I’ll judge it under this one.

Well, really, I think a special “wooden spoon” mention here has to go to Fifty Shades of Grey. Anyone who’s read my book review will know I was not impressed by this franchise, and I hear the filmmakers were forced to use the dialogue from the book, which would explain why it is laughably bad. And I mean literally, laughably. I have never laughed so much at a film that wasn’t supposed to be funny. It made me laugh more than any film has in ages. Just the way her mouth kept falling open every time he came near her, and the deadpan: ‘I want to fuck you into the middle of next week’ and the tearing apart of condom wrappers all the time: very, very funny. Good work, guys.

I really enjoyed Birdman, and thought it was a great comedy: particularly Edward Norton, who is just brilliant. I know a lot of people thought it was self-indulgent nonsense, but really, I enjoyed it. I don’t know that it took itself too seriously. I think it had a lot of honest points in there about what it’s like to grow older and not feel like you’ve achieved what you want to achieve.

One of the best films of the year for me was Pride. I’m surprised it didn’t get nominated for much – assuming it was in the right time frame, I can’t remember when they’re supposed to be out to qualify. But I thought this was a very funny, but also very touching film and I enjoyed it very much. I am waiting impatiently for it to be released on DVD (yes, I am not “down with the kids” and I still buy DVDs). I think it should have been out by now, there seems to have been a hold-up with it.

Top comedy for me was The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes is so bloody funny in it, mostly because of his swearing, which comes out of nowhere in this beautiful, pastel-shaded world, and knocks you over the head. If you ever want a masterclass in how to swear effectively, watch this film.

Best Picture – Drama

Everyone who’s stood still long enough near me in the last couple of months will know how much I loved Whiplash. I’ve heard that people in the music industry are not happy with it, that it doesn’t portray what it’s really like and so on. I’m sure that must be annoying for those people, just as I sometimes find it difficult watching adaptations of books I’ve read where something isn’t how I think it should be. I don’t know a lot about being a professional musician, so no inaccuracies were going to bother me, and I think, in the film’s defence, it wasn’t trying to show a typical career: this is about one very specific relationship between a student and his teacher, and how much someone will try and chase a dream. I thought it was very affecting, with brilliant performances, and, of course, fabulous jazz music.

I feel sorry for the makers of The Imitation Game. I think that in many other years it would have swept the board. I thought it was fantastic and I don’t think I’ve met anyone else who didn’t like it. It’s a fascinating but completely heartbreaking story: I came out feeling quietly devastated, and I don’t think I spoke to anyone for the rest of the day. That’s got to mean it’s good.

I’m going to cheat, because these are my awards, and stick another two in here before I go for my number one. My number three is Love is Strange. While I think sometimes the emotion in the film was kept a little too flat, there were many deeply moving moments and it was a very honest look at love and family relationships. The scene when Alfred Molina comes round unannounced to see John Lithgow is just lovely.

My number two for best drama is Ida, a Polish film about a girl who believes she’s an orphan and is about to become a nun when she finds out she has an aunt, and that she’s Jewish. I think it’s won all the Best Foreign Film awards this year. I was thinking about that, and I wondered: why isn’t it just one of the best films? Why does there have to be a special category? Do people think a film can’t possibly be as good if it’s not in English? Is it because the budgets are smaller? The actors aren’t well-known? I don’t understand. I loved Ida. It’s quiet, deeply sad, and a story about a girl working out who she is when her world is turned upside down. I think a lot of people could relate to it.

My top film is Selma. This may partly because it’s the one I’ve seen most recently (apart from 50 Shades) but I don’t think I’ll change my mind. I have been thinking about it constantly since I walked out of the cinema and that’s always the best sign. I was shocked to find out that it’s the first film about Martin Luther King where he is the protagonist, the centre of the film’s story, without, as David Oyelowo has put it, a white man to hold his hand. I will never forget the scene when the protestors are chased back across the bridge by the police. The cinema audience was audibly distressed, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. If you haven’t seen it, please do so – if you can find a showing. I’m afraid it seems to have been given a remarkably limited run here.

Wow this is really long. I’ll just do best actors and actresses or we’ll be here all night. I have no idea how you judge Best Directors anyway.

Best Actor

I think Eddie Redmayne’s performance in The Theory of Everything is astonishing. Even before we know he is ill, I was looking at him thinking: ‘That’s Stephen Hawking’ not ‘oh there’s Eddie Redmayne.’ He is completely convincing throughout and I can completely see why he’s been given so many awards. But I think there are two performances this year I preferred.

One is Benedict Cumberbatch. I think in a year without Eddie Redmayne, he would have gone home with more. As my mum always says, it’s a lot easier to act a role which is loud, or eccentric, or requires some big change to your character and your physicality, than it is to play an ordinary person. Alan Turing was not an ordinary person, but obviously it’s a totally different role to Stephen Hawking. In many ways, it’s utterly ridiculous to compare them at all. I found Cumberbatch utterly heartbreaking as Turing, and although the story is sad enough by itself, I think it was his performance that made it quite so moving.

So my best actor, as you may have guessed, is David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King. You might think, oh, well that’s another easy role to play because he was such a charming man, such a good orator – it must be easy to play that well. And he is excellent in those bits, but he’s even better in the quiet moments, the doubting moments, and the painful moments. I am very sad and annoyed that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. It is difficult not to think that race played a part in it. His own opinion on it is that black actors are recognised more easily for roles in which they are subservient, and that people still have trouble recognising black people in roles where they are shaping their own futures. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a compelling argument. You can see the interview where he argues this here.

Best Actress

I’ve struggled with this category, because although I’ve seen nearly all the big Hollywood films that have been nominated for lots of awards, only The Theory of Everything and Wild have leading actress roles. And you could argue that Wild has been largely ignored too, so really it’s just one. There are so few. I wanted to find a statistic on how many films there are with lead actress roles but the internet is not being helpful. Of the Lead Actress nominations, I’ve only seen The Theory of Everything and Wild – Still Alice isn’t out yet, and I missed Two Days, One Night and Gone Girl – the former because by the time I realised it was out, it wasn’t showing anywhere, and the latter because I tried to read the book and got too annoyed with the characters to continue. So this is rather an arbitrary “award.” I’m trying to think of what else has been out in the last year with a lead actress in it, but I can only think of The Hunger Games, and I didn’t see that either (because they had the effrontery to split it into two films when there isn’t enough plot).

Continuing my theme of putting foreign language films in with the English films, my first best actress is Agata Trzebuchowska for Ida. She doesn’t speak much, but conveys a lot of emotion and feeling with her looks and her body language. Somehow, even though she does so little, you know exactly what she’s thinking. These are my favourite pieces of acting: I’m still annoyed that Gary Oldman didn’t get the Best Actor Oscar for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The man just turned his head slightly and you knew what he was thinking. But no, give it to that French chap in The Artist. Tsk.

I loved Felicity Jones’s performance in The Theory of Everything. She has this burning, fierce anger that carries her through most of the film, through all the tough moments and the horrible dilemmas. I thought she was completely believable.

My best actress is Reese Witherspoon in Wild. She takes a fairly unsympathetic character, and makes you root for her and understand what she’s been going through. Carrying so much of the film alone, as I doubt anyone else has enough time to even be a supporting role, she does an incredible job and it’s a film that has stayed with me in the weeks since I saw it. She avoids being cheesy or melodramatic, which would have been very easy. I thought it was a wonderful performance.

I’m disappointed not to be able to ‘mix it up’ more from the films and awards that have been picked out by all the award ceremonies already. I just had a look at what else I’ve seen in the last year, and most of them weren’t really in the same field: while X-Men: Days of Future Past is clearly a classic, I’m not sure it beats any of these. It’s a shame there aren’t more award ceremonies which can see anything and everyone on an equal footing: I’m still irritated by the ratios of sex, colour and age in the people deciding these awards: it’s silly that they’re so highly regarded when the decision is so arbitrary. What were your favourite films? What have I forgotten?

NB: This post is subject to editing when I remember a film I loved and forgot to put in, or I see a new film and it changes my mind about everything.

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