As I wrap up seeing the last of the potential Top Ten list movies for this year, I keep stumbling across this word “conventional,” which I’ve used in reviews for “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” — both British in origin, both film biographies with tried and true character arcs, and both released just this month.
“Theory” has the triumph over personal tragedy “Beautiful Mind/My Left Foot” template. “Imitation” is built on the tragic but misunderstood and ahead of his/her time framework. That one goes back decades. Take away the homosexual persecution, and there’s “Tucker” or “Flash of Genius” built into this tragic take on Alan Turing.
Both films are top ten pictures, possible Oscar contenders. Their competition?
“Birdman” is anything but conventional. Genre-defying. Actors playing versions of their reputations, sending those diva reps up. Theatrical, goofy, dark, cultural commentary. “Boyhood” merits inclusion among the possible ten Oscar contenders and while it fits within coming of age, as a genre, it is closer to real life than any movie of its type ever made. I’d like to think of it as the Oscar favorite. “Interstellar” might work its way in there, too, referencing Hollywood sci-fi films going all the way back to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Whatever the third act delivers in old fashioned sci-fi ticking clock elements, so much is unusually handled that its clash of heavy science and light sentiment make it stand out. Each of these seems outside its genre’s norms, breaking formula in some fundamental way.
“Foxcatcher” is hard to pin into a tried and true genre, a cryptic tragedy that hides its cards and seems more likely to merit its inclusion in the Best Picture field for its amazing performances.
“Whiplash” and “A Most Violent Year” break the genre molds of their respective genres, again through the weight of their performances.
And then there are “Wild” and “Gone Girl” and “Mr. Turner,” all possible members of a Best Picture pack, all perfectly seated within their genres — self-discovery quest, tricky murder mystery and standard issue artist biopic.
The outliers on the edge of this list include conventional ones like “The Drop,” maybe “Get On Up,” possibly Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes,” maybe Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.” The last one looks like a classic survive POW camp story, and it has to overcome clumsy Oscar campaigning by Universal, which is holding off showing it to critics who create the awards buzz that leads to Oscars.
It’s possible “Inherent Vice” and “Into the Woods” and “Exodus” will have the whiff of Oscar about them, but they aren’t figuring into most prognosticators’ lists at this point. “Vice” has the feel of “American Hustle,” with the novelty worn off, “Woods” is a fairy tale musical with Sondheim and a stellar cast going for it and “Exodus,” maybe Ridley Scott’s last chance at another Oscar, won’t be as daring as “Noah,” not by a Biblical mile.
“The Homesman” and “Nightcrawler” have acting nomination buzz, but no mentions, as of yet, as best picture possibilities.
In any event, the broader net has been cast and will narrow between now and the Golden Globes. A few more indie titles may work themselves into the mix — I could see the Globes naming “St. Vincent” as a best picture/comedy contender, for instance. But as diverse and interesting as this year’s good films have been, I could see a 7-8 film best picture field, as there’s little agreement at this point on the best of the best, and only awards momentum will change that.