For this edition of the Contender Countdown we're going to approach the race for a Best Picture nomination a little differently. Now that every major contender has opened in at least limited release outside of "A Most Violent Year," we can finally review how the nation's critics have judge them on a broader, consensus basis. As Nate Silver may have realized when he tried to predict Oscar, you can't count on statistics with so many factors in play, but if presented comparably it might make you rethink the possibilities. To make this investigation work we'll use both the Rotten Tomatoes percentage score and the Metacritic grade to illuminate some very interesting data-driven discoveries.
If you thought the explosive conclusion to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was an elaborate physical stunt involving Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, and three life-size hellicarriers crashing into Washington D.C. buildings, think again! Also, really? You thought that was real? I mean it looked good, but c’mon, Marvel isn’t going to build a billion dollar flying aircraft carrier and drive it into a skyscraper. You're crazy.
More than most of his contemporaries, Richard Linklater’s films are extensions of himself. For "Boyhood" and "Dazed and Confused," the writer-director yanked autobiographical from his own life and adapted them for the modern timeline. Similarly, "Waking Life" and the "Before" trilogy start with personal pondering and blossom into talky motion pictures. Linklater shot his debut feature "Slacker" around his hometown of Austin, Texas and appeared in one of the leading roles, blurring the line between fact and fiction even further. By making films that draw so closely from his own experiences, Linklater has created a web of spiritually linked films that seem to inform one another. None of them are sequels, all of them are sequels. His next film fits the bill.
The North Carolina Film Critics Association has announced its list of nominees in a modest array of categories this season, and once again, it's "Birdman" leading the way, with seven nominations. One of those came for the Tar Heel Award, recognizing artists with ties to North Carolina. Wilkesboro native Zach Galifianakis, who in my opinion actually deserves a hard look for Best Supporting Actor consideration, got a notice there.
As more try to co-opt our patented, eight-year-strong "shots of the year" feature, it seemed like maybe I should start trying to get the package ready sooner rather than later. So I tried to hit it as hard as I could to get 2014's list out to you by the end of the year for the first time ever (it usually drops in late January or thereabouts). So…YOU'RE WELCOME. All kidding aside, though, it makes for a nice bow on the year, even if dropping it this early takes away some of the time I generally allot to thoroughly revisiting film imagery. This time around, the list is very much about the frames that stuck with me instantly, rather than decision-making slaved over toward the end of the year. And there's something to be said for that, too.
A great film score complements without burrowing too far into the ideas, wrestles with genre without locking the picture into a fixed identity, amplifies actors and actress’ choices without spilling the beans. A composer’s job is a balancing act. More and more, movie music finds itself backing off too far, devolving into incidental muzac, or going too far, where full-blast orchestral sounds pummel us like the Transformers’ energon punches. There’s a sweet spot, and the best film scores of the year ride it for an entire runtime.
And we're truly off. Ballots are in hands. Academy voters, who hopefully spent as much time soaking up the year's offerings through screeners and screenings over the holiday break as they did hitting the slopes, will be putting pencil to paper, finger to keyboard beginning Monday with an 11-day voting window closing on Jan. 8. Let's see what's happening in the lead-up to that stretch…
The latest dust-up regarding the Academy's music branch, in case you've missed the recent news, is that Antonio Sanchez's original drum score for "Birdman" has been deemed ineligible in the Oscar race and that an appeal to the branch has been denied. Reading about the ins and outs of that lunacy in our exclusive interview with Sanchez, you'd be forgiven for being reminded of a similar unfortunate episode a few years back.
The other big wide prestige release on Christmas Day this year was Rob Marshall's adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim classic "Into the Woods." Streep and costumes and sets and songs, oh my. This…isn't my thing. Nails on a chalkboard, really. But I did get a kick out of Emily Blunt and Chris Pine, and Streep was pretty great. Top notch design for the most part (though I would assume Colleen Atwood will happily defer to Johnny Depp on that wolf costume…).
I had a feeling Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" would be more or less critic-proof. Based on a beloved best-seller, very little in the way of wide release adult drama competition, etc. Sure enough, it's skipping right along at the box office without missing a beat. That will do a lot for the awards push as we head into 2015, certainly. But now that this heavy has finally arrived, it's time to find out what the readership thinks.