Oscar Buzz – Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Wild and The Grand Budapest Hotel A Feast of Tales has reviewed Birdman, Boyhood and The Imitation Game, three of the films nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Here we review four more of the nominated films, excluding American Sniper and Selma. The Academy Awards will be announced on 22 February 2015. Reviews by Brenda Daniels Whiplash In this film young music student Andrew (Miles Teller) is accepted into a prestigious music group conducted by the revered and feared Fletcher (J K Simmons). Andrew becomes Fletcher’s new protégée. Far from being nurturing, however, Fletcher’s teaching style fluctuates wildly between favouritism and cruelty. Young, impressionable and, most importantly, ambitious, Andrew, is sucked in by Fletcher and tossed about in a manner reminiscent of the film’s title Whiplash (Whiplash is also the title of the music group’s main song). The audience is drawn in to some extent as well and at times I wondered whether Fletcher had good intentions or simply enjoyed torturing his students. But ultimately Whiplash is a bildungsroman – the maturing of young Andrew Neimann. The picture of his protective father (Paul Reiser) looking with astonishment from the stage wings on his son’s superb drumming performance is symbolic of this. It is a memorable moment.
The Theory of Everything Another Oscar contender for best film is The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking. The film focuses more on Hawking’s personal life than on his professional life, and highlights his relationships and the progression of his illness. It spans several years, starting with Hawking’s time at Cambridge University to the launch of his first books in America. The romance of the young lovers Stephen and Jane is touchingly portrayed and Jane is to be admired for committing to marriage shortly after Stephen’s motor neurone disease diagnosis. At the time doctors had given him only two years to live. Stephen’s reaction to this news is seen in his sudden decision to do his PhD on “The Nature of Space and Time” (the title of one of his books). Other book titles appear in the film in the form of conversations and lectures. And Stephen’s atheism is shown in contrast to Jane’s gentle, yet enduring, Christian beliefs. Eddie Redmayne’s acting as the increasingly infirm Hawking is really good. But I would have welcomed a more intense focus on the scientist’s “theories of everything”; without it the plot is not meaty enough.
Wild Cheryl Strayd (Reese Witherspoon) embarks alone on a tough, demanding hike known as the Pacific Crest Trail. As her journey progresses, flashbacks to her past reveal that Cheryl has set out on this endeavour in order to properly grieve the death of her mother. A little self-indulgent to begin with, the film improves with time and I found myself identifying with Cheryl. For instance, Cheryl kicks a gas canister in frustration after discovering she had bought the wrong one. She accidentally knocks one of her boots into a ravine and then flings its companion after it in a fit of rage. I could see myself doing those things too. I also identified with images of Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern). Laura Dern acts her part beautifully. The performance is worthy of its best supporting actress nomination and Dern certainly gets my vote. Bobbi’s relationship with her two young children (Cheryl and her brother Leif [Keen McRae]) is a delight to see and I found myself thinking fondly of the many hours I had spent with my own two children.
The Grand Budapest Hotel This is one of my favourites of the eight nominated for best film. The European setting in an indefinable hotel between the two world wars is mysterious, exotic and therefore attractive. The characters are a surprise. The acclaimed concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is a refined, loyal employee of the Grand Budapest Hotel. But he also swears with abandon, cons old ladies out of their fortunes and gets arrested in the process. His new bell boy, Zero Moustafa, is amusing. He hardly speaks in the movie and his activities revolve mostly around drawing a moustache onto his upper lip every morning and rushing with wide eyes to do Gustave’s bidding. The pair nevertheless develop a humorously close relationship. All of this is couched in action that reminded me of the comics I read as a child; a funicular makes its way up a ridiculously steep pathway to the remotely situated hotel; Gustave’s escape from prison involves overly long ladders, unfortunate deaths and speedy getaways in snow-blanketed landscapes. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, I simply loved this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delight.