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The Oscars: Why Birdman’s More Deserving Than Imitation Game but Cumberbatch Might Just Edge Out Keaton

Birdman
Grade: A

The Imitation Game
Grade: B

The Imitation Game, like many good films, follows the filmic formula created by the slew of its predecessors. Take your ingredients—a clean script, well-written dialogue and ripe actors—toss them in the bowl with a handful of significant history, some heart, and a dash of humor and let your concoction stew. If you’re lucky, if this combination is cooked just perfectly, the blend of star-power and story-importance just right, your film will end up an Oscar contender.

Only, there’s a big difference between an Oscar-contender and an Oscar-winner, and The Imitation Game will not win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It will not. Iñárritu’s Birdman or Linklater’s Boyhood can and will claim the golden statue on February 22nd.

Or at least they should.

the-imitation-game-benedict-cumberbatch-2What it comes down to is longevity. Award shows, especially ones as well-regarded as the Academy Awards, owe it to film history to choose the films that will stand the test of time. Will we remember the film in five years? Will we recall the grin on our face and the thoughts racing through our head as we watched it? Will we still be talking about it, comparing it to other films, deeming it the model to which others can aspire to? We’d better. That’s what I want in my Best Picture winner and that’s precisely why The Imitation Game won’t win, but Birdman very well might.

The Imitation Game tells the untold story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch)—master code breaker, mathematical genius and closeted homosexual during World War II tasked with the challenge of cracking Germany’s unbreakable code and helping the Allies win the war. Turing’s biggest obstacle is not Hitler, but other people’s ignorance, not only due to their inferior mental capacities, but also their inability to appreciate his contributions to the war effort while being blinded by the perceived-indecency of his illegal homosexuality.

Is The Imitation Game an important story? Yes. Does it deserve its telling? Of course. Sometimes, that is good enough. As a person who values stories, ones on the screen or otherwise, I appreciate moments that prove the necessity of storytelling and The Imitation Game is, arguably, a more necessary story than Birdman. The Imitation Game has the power to change people’s perspectives, make them approach history, diversity and humanity in a new way and that accomplishment is powerful. But Best Picture winners can’t simply be important. We’re not awarding the best “subject” or the best “topic” the golden statue. The award must also be about craft. The winner must push the boundaries. It must be a game-changer.

The Imitation Game did not twist the filmic-formula enough. It followed the rules. Birdman, on the other hand, pushed the boundaries of style, morphed the conventions of storytelling, and blurred the lines between truth and fiction in ways that engage its viewers beyond simply causing basic feelings of joy and anguish. Birdman follows Riggan’s (Michael Keaton) Hollywood comeback as he puts everything he has into a failing Broadway play to prove to himself, and the world, that he’s still relevant and not just the man in the bird costume from the blockbuster superhero flicks of his past. Shot in a way to look like one continuous take, peeking in on its cast of characters, sneaking up on them in their natural habitat, the camera doesn’t so much as highlight the action as it does chase it down. The result is interactive, involving the film’s viewers, begging them to analyze, urging them to change their mind, all the while playing with form in ways that support the film’s complexities. No two viewings will yield the same analysis. No two screenings will cause the viewer to reach the same conclusion at its completion. Birdman is art in the truest form, providing just enough to point you in a direction, but trusting you to fill in the blanks however you see fit.

Birdman doesn’t say too much. It doesn’t scream its meaning at you. It asks you to decipher for yourself. Its themes are vast and complex—truth versus reality, art versus commercialism, ego versus craft and at its center, the universal quest for validation. And what we come to see again and again and again, is that any attempts at validation don’t matter. Fame is not based on skill, or credence, or hard work, but entirely on chance. Riggan’s success and failure is not his own—it’s a result of critics, viral videos, and the shenanigans of his co-stars—it has nothing to do with talent. In an endless attempt to find truth, real truth, the curtain is simply raised on more and more illusion. What is real in show business? What is real in life? We’re all playing a role. The actors are simply playing a role of playing a role. We pretend to be chasing reality, but really we’re all just basking in illusion. “Truth is always interesting,” Mike (Edward Norton) tells Sam (Emma Stone) in one of their many games of Truth or Dare, but the film would say otherwise. Truth is only interesting because it’s unobtainable. We’re all meandering and chasing it down in endless loops and knots, just like Iñárritu’s camera, just like the maddening film industry, just like Riggan’s life. And for what? The struggle for validation never goes away. “You don’t matter,” Sam tells her father. No one does. The struggle is the only thing that does, it’s the only place where our story is truly authentic. Fame and recognition is a monster we can’t predict, a puzzle even Turing couldn’t solve.

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Sacrificing Pace for Heavy-Hitting Themes: A Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

Grade: A-

Pace is what made 2009’s Star Trek a block buster movie wonder. Few movies have kept me that engaged and that enthralled from opening credits to close—the plot expertly-woven, the characters dynamically-charged, the action meticulously-timed and the drama perfectly-dosed. Not once, did I find my thoughts drifting elsewhere. Not once, did I wonder how close to the end we were. As a Trek newbie at the time, The Enterprise had me hooked. I said it then: “Star Trek is the best movie of 2009.”ap_Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_nt_130516_wblog

Its long-awaited follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, doesn’t pull back the reins. What J.J. Abrams and company aimed for in Kirk and Spock’s sequel is in many ways bigger, deeper and heavier than what came before. In a word, it’s ambitious. Unfortunately, in achieving that level of ambition, the film lacks the cleanliness of the first movie, losing some of the narrative-ease, impeccable-timing, and cohesion of our initial introduction to Abram’s re-envisioned Trek world.

Despite this, what Star Trek Into Darkness is able to achieve is worth applauding. Perhaps the plot isn’t quite as pristine or the pace as rapid-fire as it was in the first, but it aims for so much more with its complex, historically-relevant topics. Whereas the first film was about friendship, loyalty, and respect, the second takes it up a notch, swimming in a shark tank of heavy-hitting themes.

In the sequel, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leads his crew on a perilous journey in seek of a super-human terrorist, Khan (played by the very-crafty Benedict Cumberbatch), who not only threatens their way of life, but whose capture has the potential to ignite a full-on Klingon war. Khan must be stopped, but like a bomb ready to detonate at any second or with any wrong pull of a wire, every move they make is littered with high-tension and the potential for a detrimental ripple effect. A premise like this allows the film to take its narrative deeper, moving beyond the surface themes of friendship, loyalty, and logic versus passion, and delving into richer questions, more historically and politically-charged themes (like the original TV series was known for), and all around deeper, richer, and more chilling prose.

Star TrekFear. Terrorism. Honor. Morality. Revenge. Pride. All while mirroring the historical truth of American wars, American leaders, and American tension. How one man set on destruction and glory can start a war. How another man’s emotions can lead to illogical, immoral action. How often does emotion get in the way of these high-tension issues? What is right and wrong? Can a villain be a foe and a friend? And the most important: Who do we trust? What do we live for? How do we choose who should lead?

The wrong person in charge, the wrong answer to the question, the wrong emotion taking the forefront and an uncontrollable war can be unleashed. We’re all walking in a room filled with gas and one wrong flip of a switch can change everything we’ve ever known.

But, regardless, a switch must be flipped. Who do we trust with the task?

I don’t know about you, but Abrams has me convinced. I’d go with Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

Spock can help.