The Oscar Race Is in Full Swing!

The race for the Oscars is now in full swing. We, Academy members, are beginning to get a profusion of "screeners" so that we can view those films which we missed in theaters. (Got the epic Biblical drama, Noah, today in the mail, but will wait to see it on the big screen.) I'm kind of old-fashioned and still prefer to see major cinema contenders in a dark theatre on a big screen with an audience. But no one can see them all so my DVD machine will be working full-tilt in coming weeks. I am astonished at the high quality of what we have experienced thus far this year. As a Huffington Post blogger and critic of food, film and more, I am supposed to be completely objective... an impossibility, of course. Strong opinions are what makes a good critic. I have many favorites, some disappointments and have expressed a lot of those opinions here on Huffington Post.

Early in the year I wrote a favorable review for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which I really liked. (Remember I cautioned against having monkeys as pets, of which I had much experience.) I went on to favor Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel and Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight. I must admit that I admired the "technique" of Richard Linklater's Boyhood but found the film curiously unsatisfying. Of late I have been unstinting in my admiration for Birdman and Gone Girl, and will be honest with you about my disappointment in Chris Nolan's Interstellar, which I saw at the Academy last week. It started off promisingly on an Earth of the near future suffering a disastrous drought, but when it went into space it became increasingly incomprehensible. A stellar cast, with Matthew McConaughey, Ann Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon -- all to no avail. It was almost three hours of interminable boredom at the end, and the audience was numb. I was personally furious with Brad Pitt's Fury, not that it wasn't a well-made war epic but at the incipient immorality of much of it. The veteran sergeant forcing the young rookie to kill a German prisoner of war to "harden" him... not for me. (I did my combat duty with 16 months of action in Korea during that vicious war so I have seen it all... but don't necessarily want to see it this way in a film.) I am not alone in this opinion; the New York Post film critic headlined his scathing review, "Brad Pitt should be court-martialed for war-porn Fury." I respected the talents of its two leads, Robert Downey, Jr. and especially Robert Duvall, in The Judge, but found it curiously long and lagging. I was angry at myself for disliking the lovable Bill Murray in a abomination of a self-indulgent picture called St. Vincent. (Did you catch Bill Murray in last night's HBO drama, Olive Kittridge? He was wonderful in that small role.)

There have been many pleasant surprises: Whiplash, about a young drumming student and a harsh teacher, which had an enthusiastic screening at CAA last week. (My date loved it so much she went to Landmark this weekend to see it again.) Miles Teller, the young actor in it, told me that he was off to do a boxing movie in Providence, R.I. but would reunite with the director/writer, Damien Chazelle, on a piano movie next Spring. I loved Jon Favreau's Chef and liked Helen Mirren's A Hundred-Foot Journey.

The two stars of The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

Then on Sunday afternoon at the Academy, wonder-of-wonders struck us all. The Theory of Everything, known simply as the Stephan Hawkins movie, came into our sensibilities... and has remained with us since. After the screening most of the principals took to the stage and spoke about the making of this astonishing film -- which will be fully explored in an upcoming Huffington Post blog next week. This one is a must-see.

It is early November, and there are still so many more to see, a profusion of riches, some of which will be aired here. The Imitation Game, Nightcrawler, American Sniper, Foxcatcher, The Gambler, Mr. Turner... all to come. Last year I wrote the first review in America of a small movie called Beasts of the Southern Wild, and extolled the talents of a tiny little girl in it who was Oscar-nominated. Now Quvenzharie Wallis will be playing Annie in mid-December, and can't wait for that. Meryl Streep is being directed by the so-talented Rob Marshall in Sondheim's Disney film, Into the Woods, and it will be interesting. Paul Thomas Anderson is exploring 1970s L.A. in Inherent Vice. One of my female buddies sis dying to see Reese Witherspoon in Wild, so I know that is on the agenda.

In response to a reader who emailed me that "there is nothing out there to see these days," I can only refer her to the above... and suggest she start at the top of the list and work her way down. The viewing is fine!

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