Best Picture - Drama
Winner - Selma
Runners Up - Boyhood and A Most Violent Year
Commentary - A lot of people are claiming, and rightfully so, that Selma is so potent right now because of the recent racial issues that have flared up around the country. I would argue that while it certainly a timely demonstration of the film's message, that Ava DuVernay's stunning piece would feel as vibrant and relevant even without recent events. She and her stunning cast, led by the magnificent David Oyelowo, add such an intensity, a sense of urgency to the film, that to label it as a "history film" is truly inaccurate. They made every moment of Selma feel contemporary and prevalent, and not one second is wasted on screen. The end result is a vital piece of American film making that will continue to have cultural impact for years to come. Oh, and most importantly, it is just a hell of a movie.
Best Picture - Comedy/Musical
Winner - Birdman
Runners Up - Top Five and The Grand Budapest Hotel
Commentary - Selma easily topped my list this year, but until it came around, it was Birdman that set firmly in the top slot. A brilliant dark comedy, led by a top-notch cast that is fantastic across the board, and by the brilliant and unique direction from the talented Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman was a film that simply lit up on screen. Top Five and The Grand Budapest Hotel were both brilliantly funny in their own ways, but neither could top the ingenious Birdman.
Best Picture - Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror
Winner - (TIE) Snowpiercer and Guardians of the Galaxy
Runners Up - Edge of Tomorrow and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Commentary - Some pundits are calling this year a weak year for Oscar movies, although the ACE Eddie nods proved that with films like American Sniper and Nightcrawler garnering attention, this race is far from over, with still way more than ten films with a legitimate shot at the prize. But let's say for a moment that those pundits are right. It was not, however, a weak film for quality blockbusters and genre projects. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Solider. The Babadook, The Fault in Our Stars, The LEGO Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Interstellar, Big Hero 6, and even the new Hobbit film are all quality films that don't fit into the Oscar voting patterns. My two favorites in this category are great films for incredibly different reasons. Guardians of the Galaxy was the surprise hit of the summer. Like all Marvel films it was chocked full of great action and spectacular effects. It was also bright, vibrant, and incredibly funny, and just one of the best times you are going to have with a film this year. Snowpiercer is a small, dark science fiction film that barely made it into theaters and onto DVD. I am so glad that it did, because it was a benchmark for the genre this year, a well-acted, entertaining, and beautifully constructed film.
Best Picture - Animated
Winner - How to Train Your Dragon 2
Runners Up - The Tale of Princess Kaguya and The LEGO Movie
Commentary - This one was so easy for me, that I honestly could have left off the Runners Up. Don't get me wrong, The LEGO Movie was a funny and clever film, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya was beautifully animated. But How to Train Your Dragon 2 was miles above both of them. It was beautifully animated, chocked full of thrilling action sequences, with a great cast, and with a huge heart that felt like Pixar in its glory days. Like I said, it was an easy choice for me.
Best Actor - Drama
Winner - (TIE) David Oyelowo "Selma" and Philip Seymour Hoffman "A Most Wanted Man"
Runners Up - Oscar Isaac "A Most Violent Year"
Commentary - This was going to be an easy pick for me. Yes, it was a great year for actors, but no one lit up the screen, or completely electrified me quite like David Oyelowo in Selma. Anyone who saw his work in The Butler, Middle of Nowhere, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and even in this year's A Most Violent Year, knows that he is talented. Selma finally provided him the lead performance that he deserved, and the results were nothing short of extraordinary. Then a thought occurred to me that I wish I could forget. I never gave Philip Seymour Hoffman an Awards Psychic award. I always assumed that he would eventually win one, simply because he was my favorite actor, and another one of his signature roles would come along that would be an easy pick. Unfortunately for all of us, there are no more lead roles for Philip Seymour Hoffman. A Most Wanted Man was another great performance from the greatest American actor of this generation, and while I hate to even write these words, I am so glad I had one last chance to honor him.
Best Actress - Drama
Winner - Julianne Moore "Still Alice"
Runners Up - Shailene Woodley "The Fault in Our Stars" and Scarlett Johansson "Under the Skin"
Commentary - This one may seem like I am caving to the masses, but there is a reason Julianne Moore is getting so much Oscar attention for her role in Still Alice. It could be that it is a weak year for the category (although it really isn't if voters would expand their horizons), or that after four nominations, Moore is due for an Oscar win (true). But the real reason that she so quickly catapulted to the top of the heap was that her performance in Still Alice is quite simply amazing. The film as a whole has much left to be desired, but it really doesn't matter because you are glued to Moore's performance throughout. She brilliant shows the pain, the frustration, and the vulnerability that people with Alzheimer's face. Anyone who has ever had a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer's or dementia (unfortunately I have), will appreciate the craft and the passion of Moore's stunning performance.
Best Actor - Comedy/Musical
Winner - Michael Keaton "Birdman"
Runners Up - Ralph Fiennes "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and Chris Rock "Top Five"
Commentary - Michael Keaton has been one of the most underrated actors of the last thirty years. He can be Batman, he can do comedy, he can do drama, and is a hardworking actor that has never managed to make it to the top. He could finally do it this year with Birdman, and I hope that he does. Maybe it was the brilliant cast, script, and director backing him up. Maybe it was the unprecedented parallel between Keaton's own personal struggles as an actor that gave his performance in Birdman such potency. Or maybe, just maybe, it is that Keaton is just that good of an actor, and it has taken us several decades to finally figure it out.
Best Actress - Comedy/Musical
Winner - Jenny Slate "Obvious Child"
Runners Up - Kristen Wiig "The Skeleton Twins"
Commentary - Once again, this was an easy one for me. Obvious Child could have easily been a stupid comedy that trivialized a subject as controversial as abortion. While Obvious Child has its share of quirky, and sometimes ridiculous humor, it was never a trivial film, nor did it takes its subject lightly. It blended its humor with the emotional side beautifully, and all of this came together mostly because of Jenny Slate's magnetic and hilarious performance. She has mostly played guest spots and side characters on television shows such as Married, Girls, Bob's Burgers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, House of Lies, and Parks & Recreation. She is also known as the voice behind the YouTube sensations Marcel, you know the shell with shoes on. Now, thanks to Obvious Child, she will be known as a vibrant leading comedienne.
Best Supporting Actor
Winner - J.K. Simmons "Whiplash"
Runners Up - Edward Norton "Birdman"
Commentary - I know that I am falling in line with every other group out there and I absolutely do not care. I hate when groups get on a role honoring a less-than-stellar contender just for the sake of some sort of mob mentality. But when a truly worth contender gets on a role, I don't mind at all. J.K. Simmons has had a long career of great roles, most of which have been largely and unjustly ignored. Thanks to the young talent Damien Chazelle, Simmons finally has found the role of a lifetime that showcases his talents, and he absolutely knocks it out of the park. I am so excited for him as he enters this second phase of awards season, because few people deserve it as much as he does.
Best Supporting Actress
Winner - Tilda Swinton "Snowpiercer" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Runners Up - Rene Russo "Nightcrawler" and Jessica Chastain "A Most Violent Year" and "Interstellar"
Commentary - A lot of great performances this year, but none were more eccentric, more of a stand-out, or more incredible on the screen than Tilda Swinton. Her lead role in Only Lovers Left Alive was outstanding, her cameo in The Grand Budapest Hotel was funny and the catalyst for a wacky and fantastic plot, but most importantly her role in Snowpiercer was groundbreaking and magnetic. Tilda Swinton is one of our finest working actresses today, and 2014 was probably her best year yet.
Winner - Top Five
Runner Up - Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel
Commentary - 2014 was the year of great ensembles, the three listed above just being a sampling of the type of excellent cast work that was prevalent all year long, from big blockbusters to quirky indies. But no cast was quite as surprising, quite as deep, and quite as under-recognized as that of Top Five. The film was incredibly hilarious, impeccably written, and proved that Chris Rock's abilities on a stage can translate to the big screen. But Top Five would not have worked if its broad, talented cast were not so committed to the overall goal. The results were fantastic.
Winner - Ava DuVernay "Selma"
Runners Up - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu "Birdman", Richard Linklater "Boyhood" and JC Chandor "A Most Violent Year"
Commentary - This was easy for me. Directing a movie is not just about skill, although I think Selma proves that Ava DuVernay is an incredibly skillful director. Directing a movie is also about inspiration, its about passion, its about selling it, not just for monetary gain, but for the story, the art, the cultural impact. Ava DuVernay not only made a rousing, technically superior, and important film, but she was the film's biggest cheerleader. She fought to make it the way she wanted, she worked tirelessly to make it the success it has become and will continue to be. And she is constantly proving to be a role model to her peers in how to keep the magic in movies alive.
Best Voice Acting Performance
Winner - Bradley Cooper "Guardians of the Galaxy"
Runner Up - Cate Blanchett "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
Commentary - Okay, so did anyone else quickly forget as they watched Guardians of the Galaxy, that Bradley Cooper was the voice behind Rocket, the foul, funny, and surprisingly emotional raccoon. Cooper was fantastic, proving that if his looks ever fade, he will have a successful career in voice work. He was the biggest scene stealing rodent of the bunch, which is saying something because most of his cast were actually on the screen.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner - Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine, and Elisabeth Holm "Obvious Child"
Runners Up - Dean DeBlois "How to Train Your Dragon 2" and Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson "Snowpiercer"
Commentary - How to Train Your Dragon 2 is proof that sequels can be better than their originals, and Snowpiercer proved that science fiction films can be substantial. But the work of the three writers in Obvious Child was, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. Abortion is an impossible subject to cover because you are always going to offend people, and most of the time, you simply can't nail down the tone. Well Obvious Child gets about as close to perfect in handling such a sensitive situation, as any movie possibly can. It was a perfect balance of humor and darkness, it handled its subject matter with care, and without patronizing its characters or its audience. A unique and daring achievement.
Best Original Screenplay
Winner - JC Chandor "A Most Violent Year"
Runner Up - Richard Linklater "Boyhood" and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo "Birdman"
Commentary - Boyhood and Birdman are excellent films, and if the Oscar is going to come down to those two, that is not only amazing, and but absolutely fine in my book. But I did not want to leave here without recognizing A Most Violent Year, one of my favorite films of the year. It also happens to be one of the best scripts of the year, thanks to the talents of JC Chandor. Margin Call was an excellent first step, and All is Lost was an experiment that totally worked. But A Most Violent Year was his more mature, and most accessible film to date. He combined his darker indie side, with a bit of convention, that actually helped marry all of the pieces together into a magnificent slow burn of a film that delves deep into its characters, while still maintaining a level of suspense that never lets up.
Winner - Bradford Young "Selma" and "A Most Violent Year"
Runners Up - Emmanuel Lubezki "Birdman" and Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal "Ida"
Commentary - Birdman was the obvious choice, and since Bradford Young will probably miss the cut in cinematography, I hope Lubezki wins his second Oscar (unless Deakins wins, then I'm okay with that too). But Bradford Young had a hell of a year, and provided incredible shots and atmosphere to two incredible stylish and impeccably shot films that happen to both be in my top five films of the year. He is an incredible young talent that is truly one ot watch for.
Best Visual Effects
Winner - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Runners Up - Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Godzilla
Commentary - Like its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had absolutely jaw-dropping effects that didn't just add to the visual appeal of the film as a whole, but helped the plot and emotional characterizations move forward. Once again, an easy pick.
Worst Film of the Year
Loser - Transformers: Age of Extinction
Runners Up - The Giver and Blended
Commentary - Oh dear Lord, can we please stop making Transformer movies. They used to be at least dumb fun in the beginning, but Age of Extinction, despite some excellent effects and sound work (those guys on that team are some of the best in the business, are hardworking, and it is not their fault that the rest of the film sucks), was just a loud, eye-rolling bore that was neither entertaining or thrilling. Oh hell, let me just get it out there: this film sucked, and there is three hours of my life that I will never get back.
Top Ten Films of 2014
3. A Most Violent Year
5. (TIE) Snowpiercer and Guardians of the Galaxy
6. Top Five
7. How to Train Your Dragon 2
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
9. Obvious Child
And the next ten for good measure
13. Gone Girl
14. 22 Jump Street
15. Edge of Tomorrow
16. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
18. The Imitation Game
19. Dear White People
20. Life Itself