Best Picture/Best Original Screenplay – The LEGO Movie
Why not? It’s one of the best-reviewed films of the year, it’s wildly entertaining, it’s emotional, it’s insightful, and it’s also a bit edgy. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller turned a terrible concept into an incredible movie—one of the best of the year, in fact—and so why shouldn’t The LEGO Movie be a Best Picture nominee? Sure it’s more comedic than previous animated Best Picture nominees like Up or Beauty and the Beast, but again, why is drama somehow inherently more awards-worthy than comedy? It’s not called “Best Dramatic Picture”, it’s “Best Picture”, and by those standards The LEGO Movie absolutely fits the criteria. And if we’re talking about screenplays that are original, try finding anyone else who could’ve thought up the brilliant concepts and story beats of The LEGO Movie besides Lord and Miller.
Best Picture – Edge of Tomorrow
Also fitting the criteria of a “Best Picture” is Edge of Tomorrow, which was quite possibly the most entertaining film of 2014. The Academy is a bit more friendly to sci-fi than drama, but uh oh, Edge of Tomorrow is funny too so it’s automatically out of the running. That logic is ridiculous. Visually, directorially, thematically, and performance-wise, Edge of Tomorrow is at the top of the filmmaking game. It’s hilarious, thrilling, and most of all, unique. That’s something that’s sorely missing from many studio-driven films these days, and if movies like Inception and District 9 qualify as Best Picture nominees, Edge of Tomorrow surely does as well.
Best Picture – Wild
Here’s something a bit more traditional as far as the Academy goes. Wild has all the hallmarks of an Oscar-friendly film: a strong lead performance by a previous Oscar winner, a story based on true events, a thematically rich journey of redemption, and a director whose last film was nominated for Best Picture. But forgetting all of that, Wild is simply a great movie. It’s constantly surprising, emotional, and genuine. Here’s a film that gives us a three-dimensional, realistic portrayal of a woman (that’s a rarity, by the way), and yet it’s not garnering near as much Oscar attention as similarly pedigreed male-driven pictures. Reese Witherspoon is truly excellent here, and if director Jean-Marc Valle’s previous film Dallas Buyers Club warrants a Best Picture nomination, his superior follow-up does too.
Best Director – Steven Knight, Locke
Just as Tom Hardy’s gripping lead performance is integral to making Locke work, writer/director Steven Knight’s execution of the “man drives a car” drama is absolutely critical to keeping things compelling. Knight’s direction is dynamic without ever feeling showy, as he knows exactly when to let Hardy’s face push the plot forward and when the audience needs a short break, cutting to footage of the car penetrating the darkness as it barrels down the highway. It’s a terrific piece of filmmaking, and Knight’s accomplishment deserves serious recognition.
Best Director – Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin
The thing that separates film from the medium of television is that it is absolutely director-driven. The filmmaker can make all the difference, and in a movie like Under the Skin, the director’s choices are absolutely crucial to making the film work, which is why Jonathan Glazer is the true star of this hypnotic, almost poetic drama. Scarlett Johansson gives a terrific performance as an extra-terrestrial preying on men in Scotland, but it’s the way in which her actions and thoughts are conveyed that we’re able to penetrate this particular character. Under the Skin is a story that is almost exclusively told through visuals, and the way in which Glazer opted to execute this sad tale is excitingly unique, cerebral, and otherworldly.
Best Original Screenplay – Nightcrawler
Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is surely one of the best films of the year, and in addition to Jake Gyllenhaal’s tremendous lead performance, the pic carries with it one hell of a script. It’s a truly nightmarish tale of how one twisted individual’s ambition and determination puts him on a path to success—although a win for Lou Bloom isn’t exactly a win for the rest of us. Gilroy offers a searing indictment of not only the media but our thirst for carnage without ever laying it on too thick, and the screenplay has a handful of memorable lines to boot. As you prepare for the holiday gift-giving season, remember the wise words of Lou Bloom: a friend is a gift you give yourself.