Oscars: Best Picture Breakdown

BreakingModern — The Academy Awards nominations were marred by controversy, and the year’s nominees as a whole are a fairly homogeneous bunch. This lack of broad diversity also carries through to one of the most hotly contested races — the battle for Best Picture. Oscars

Courtesy Nikki Broderick

Though this does seem to be the year of men’s adventures, there are certainly qualities of each nominated film that set them apart from the others. Whether it’s Alan Turing’s ability to crack Nazi codes (The Imitation Game), a story filmed with the same cast over 12 years (Boyhood) or the path to redemption for a has-been superhero (Birdman), each of this year’s nominees for Best Picture have a fairly unique hook. See below for more detail about each film, the official film trailer and my take on what makes it stand out from the rest.

American Sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood, starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes

IMDB: 7.6  Rotten Tomatoes: 72 percent American Sniper is based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, who served four tours of duty in Iraq from 2003-2009 and is considered the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, credited with 160 confirmed kills. There has been heated criticism of the film’s glorification of life as a sniper and its possible pro-war propaganda, but with a $105m opening weekend — smashing previous January records - this is clearly a film that American audiences want to see.

Video: American Sniper - Official Trailer [HD]

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts

IMDB: 8.3  Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a star-studded black comedy following former iconic movie superhero Riggan Thomson (Keaton) as he struggles to save his acting career by mounting an ambitious Broadway production. With best picture wins this weekend at the PGA and SAG, Birdman is a real contender for top honors at the Oscars. Also of note, since the PGA switched over to using the same preferential balloting system as the Oscars in 2009, every PGA winner has also won the Oscar for best picture.

Video: BIRDMAN - Official International Trailer


Director: Richard Linklater, starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

IMDB: 8.3  Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent Filmed with the same cast over a 12 year period — and with very little backing by Hollywood — Boyhood follows the highs and lows of growing up as seen through the eyes of Mason (Coltrane). Though Birdman swept the top honors at the PGA and SAG awards, Boyhood is still a contender for the Director’s Guild and could take the Oscar for best picture. Also worth noting is Patricia Arquette’s win for best supporting actress at SAG. Following her acceptance speech, Arquette said of the film, “This little movie is not about being the most exceptional person on earth … this movie is about human beings and bringing real life on to the screen.”

Video: Boyhood - International Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson, starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law

IMDB: 8.1  Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent The Grand Budapest Hotel chronicles the adventures of Gustave H. (Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European ski resort and Zero Moustafa (Abraham), the lobby boy who becomes Gustave’s most trusted friend. Described by Chris Barsanti as a “perfectly Andersonian spectacle,” The Grand Budapest Hotel is tied with Birdman for the most Oscar nominations (nine) and should be watched closely.

Video: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL - Official International Trailer HD

The Imitation Game

Director: Morten Tyldum, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightly, Matthew William Goode

IMDB: 8.2  Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent The Imitation Game follows the life of the brilliant and eccentric mathematician Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) from his recruitment by MI6 to help solve codes for the British government during WWII — including Enigma, previously thought to be unbreakable — to his arrest and eventual conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality. Very different from the suave and confident Sherlock, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the socially awkward Turing also earned the film a nod for best actor. The Imitation Game was recently nominated for a GLAAD media award, which recognizes accurate and inclusive LGBT representation.

Video: The Imitation Game - Official Trailer - The Weinstein Company


Director: Ava DuVernay, starring David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson

IMDB: 7.7  Rotten Tomatoes: 99 percent Selma follows the historical events in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (Oyelowo) and his followers traveled on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., resulting in President Lyndon B. Johnson (Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Selma took a lot of fire for perceived historical inaccuracies, and the apparent snubs for best actor and best director resulted in a lot of press about why the omission matters. In any case, the film has certainly stirred up renewed conversation about Dr. King and the bravery of his supporters, which is increasingly relevant as we move toward the 50th anniversary of the historic march.

Video: Selma Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo Movie HD

The Theory of Everything

Director: James Marsh, starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Emily Watson

IMDB: 7.8  Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent Based on the memoir by Jane Hawking, The Theory of Everything depicts the life and love of renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Redmayne) as he meets and falls in love with Jane Wilde (Jones), and then receives the harrowing diagnosis of motor neuron disease at the age of 21. The film has received widespread acclaim, and also some pointed criticism, primarily for the choice of Redmayne to play Hawking. In Slate’s review of the film, Scott Jordan Harris hones in on the issue.

“When disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors, disabled actors are robbed of the chance to work in their field, and the disabled community is robbed of the right to self-representation onscreen. Imagine what it would feel like to be a woman and for the only women you ever saw in films to be played by men … That’s what it’s like being a disabled person at the movies.”

Video: The Theory of Everything - Official Trailer (Universal Pictures) HD


Director: Damien Chazelle, starring J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell

IMDB: 8.7  Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent Andrew Neyman (Teller) is an ambitious young drummer determined to succeed at an elite music conservatory. Terence Fletcher (Simmons) is a music instructor known for using fear and intimidation to push his students toward greatness. Whiplash follows Neyman as his desire for success spirals into obsession fed by a ruthless teacher who is pushing them both to the brink. Amid some controversy about whether the film is an original or an adapted screenplay, Whiplash seems to be the underdog in this year’s best picture race. Don’t count the film out, though — snagging four nominations in addition to the best picture nod, and with Simmons receiving the Golden Globe for this role, Whiplash is still a contender.

Video: Whiplash TRAILER 1 (2014) - J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller Movie HD

Who do you think should take top honors this year? Tell us in the comments or take our poll. 

Who do you think should win the Oscar this year for Best Picture?

  • Selma (25%, 7 Votes)
  • Birdman (18%, 5 Votes)
  • The Theory of Everything (18%, 5 Votes)
  • American Sniper (11%, 3 Votes)
  • Whiplash (11%, 3 Votes)
  • Boyhood (7%, 2 Votes)
  • The Imitation Game (7%, 2 Votes)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (4%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 28

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All screenshots: Becket Morgan

Becket Morgan

Author: Becket Morgan

Based in central Vermont, Becket Morgan covers apps and lifestyle tech for BreakingModern. Follow her at @becketmorgan on Twitter or +Becket Morgan on G+.

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