Oscar Week: Best Actor

The Academy Awards are approaching at the end of this week, so I present to you Oscar Week! These are my own movie awards from 2014, celebrating my favorite performances and scenes of the year.

Looking through this now completed list, I think I may have underrated Michael Keaton a bit–I haven’t seen Birdman in a while, so my memory of him is only in being out-acted by Edward Norton when in actuality he’s probably pretty good. He deserves a mention here, but I really do like my list and think it a finer crop of performances than the Academy pulled together.

Top 10 Actors of 2014:

10. John Lithgow, Love is Strange

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Playing an aging man who must move out of his house due to his husband losing his job, Lithgow is sweet, semi-aware of the pain he is causing his loved ones and knowing he can do nothing about it.

9. Chris Pratt, The Lego Movie

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Without Pratt voicing lead character Emmett there is no way The Lego Movie is half as good as it was.

8. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

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It’s a very flashy role and Redmayne does a good job with it, maybe the fact that the film was lackluster or that they probably thought about Redmayne winning the Oscar every day on set prevents me from rating it higher.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

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I wrote in my short review on Letterboxd that I don’t think this character is very well written–he’s creepy, conniving, and sociopathic–and for some reason felt one-note and uninteresting, but I do think Gyllenhaal plays him really well.

6. Dan Stevens, The Guest

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Stevens brings an insurmountable amount of charm in his role as yes a guest in the household of one of his military comrades (well, maybe). As things begin to unfold and his actions escalate in troubling ways, his charisma remains so abundant I would probably invited him into my home regardless.

5. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice

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Phoenix plays a stoner hippy detective, which might not usually account for a performance worthy of writing about on these types of lists, but without all the effort Phoenix puts in here I think Vice falls flat. His comic reactions to the things happening (or are they?) around him are truly inspired.

4. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Other than the lobby boy and his girl (which were both mentioned on previous lists) Fiennes was the other best part of Budapest. He is a suave oddball, very particular about his lifestyle, and strangely reverent about hotel processes. He is a lot of fun to watch.

3. Tom Hardy, Locke

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Without Hardy’s performance Locke would have been an awful movie, literally as he is the only person to ever appear on-screen throughout the movie. He contributes with the way he handles the dialogue and is able to express every stressful moment he is going through while essentially driving his car away from everything he’s ever made for himself.

2. Brendan Gleeson, Calvary

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Gleeson plays a priest who must be faithful (to his duties and to his God) despite everything in his life being moments away from coming undone. He is a pious character, able to comfort, to question, and to laugh with his parishioners. Gleason displays all of these qualities in a way that is darkly comic and sincere.

1. David Oyelowo, Selma

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Oyelowo had a lot of pressure on him to get this character right–Dr. King is among the greatest people in American history and no movie has ever really been made about him. In Selma Oyelowo contributes to a fully flushed out character, one filled with the great heroic leadership that he portrayed in his booming speeches, but also conveys his doubts, insecurities, his reactions to petty arguments. For my money it was the best performance I saw all year.

Weekly Thoughts 3

Locke, Right and Wrong, and a Theological Imperative

The other night I watched Locke, a 2014 drama starring Tom Hardy. Locke focuses in on one man who makes an instant decision and in an hour and a half car ride sees the results of this decision unfold before him as he works through it in various phone calls.

His decision is one wracked with consequences. If he goes one way many of his problems go away, but he will abandon an ideal. If he goes the other, he will lose everything he loves, but maintain his integrity.

Either way there are consequences.

His choices blur the lines between right and wrong. There really is no way that he can have it all.

Right and wrong will always be taught and insisted upon – rightly so – but when pressed hard enough they crumble beneath us. We hold to our ideals, but there is almost always an exception – a but is found.

Murder is wrong. But there is self-defense. But there is war. But there is Hitler and he doesn’t deserve to live.

Stealing is wrong. But there are poor who need to find food for their children. But there is stealing from the exploitative rich to give to the poor.

If you believe that we are socialized beings then culpability for the wrong we do can even be questioned. The abuser is often one who was abused. The racist usually did not grow up in a place where they were able to interact with people who did not look like them. These people commit wrongful acts, but what if those things had not been done to them? What if.

In the film, his wife tells him that there is good and there is bad and in his decision he chose bad and is now is forced to live with it. Some may say the wife is extra harsh, but she is right that mistakes have consequences. Nobody can blame her for the decision she makes. She takes on the role of the justice system, which lays out that we must punish a crime even if it was committed by somebody who had no other option. Or who was abused. Or is repeating a cycle. A standard must be set, justice must be served regardless of the but.

This makes us turn to a broader sense of justice, one which Martin Luther King Jr. insisted the universe was bent toward. If there is a God who reigns over all, one who is considered the ultimate judge (only God can judge me right?), where does God come down? If anyone could truly tell where the standard was set and where a person’s intentions lied it would be God right?

Of course God could judge all of our intentions weighed against our upbringing in a divine formula He has created and knows the answers to (should we call this GodWAR?) or perhaps right and wrong is not so neatly defined – even for God.

The central tenet of Christianity should be grace. There is forgiveness for all, God sees the games we play, how are lives are complexly fashioned by the people around us, and how the decisions we make are always falling into the cracks of our ethics. Unlike the wife in Locke who acts according to justice, God chooses mercy.

Of course there are consequences in daily life, mercy does not exclude bad things from happening. Justice will occur – in some form.

A black and white color spectrum of right and wrong is too rigid to explain life on earth, I’d rather take Jesus’ prayer – “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”, because we really don’t.

There is no truth but love, no justice but grace.