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Best picture contenders crowd Oscar Race

Since the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced, the most prestigious award show for filmmaking is now set. Following the Golden Globe reveals a week earlier, the Academy has set the stage for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and so on.

This year’s race for Best Picture is headlined by eight films: “American Sniper”, “Birdman”, “Boyhood”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Selma”, “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash”. Due to the recent presentation of Golden Globe awards of Best Drama to “Boyhood” and Best Comedy to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, the Oscar competition for Best Picture is more heated than years past.

While last year began without a clear winner due to the lack of a truly-transcendent film (“12 Years a Slave” went on to win) the opposite is true this year, making the race harder to call. Several films enter with a chance to win against the stiff competition.

“Boyhood”, the story of a boy growing from childhood into his late teens, showcases the transformation of not only a boy into a man, but the shifting of family dynamics that often take place in households. Director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over twelve years for a few weeks each summer while using the same devoted cast throughout.

“Birdman”, tells the story of a washed-up actor trying to reclaim his career through a Broadway play that he wrote, produced, and stars in. The main character, played by Michael Keaton in a role that parallels Keaton’s own career, is haunted by the reminder of fame from his previous role as the superhero Birdman (much like Keaton and his portrayal of Batman in the early 1990’s).

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, released theatrically back in March before the usual release of Oscar movies in November and December, features director Wes Anderson’s usual stylish approach. Symmetrical camera shots, imaginative set pieces, wry humor and characters are prevalent throughout. This dark-horse contender gained traction during awards season, fueled by great performances and by its poetic, yet sometimes saddening, story. As three generations of hotel concierges at the world famous Grand Budapest narrate the story, Anderson decreases the aspect ratio of the screen to illustrate a convoluted plot of war, art, death and the changing views of humanity through the years.

Finally there is “Selma”, a historical biopic which focuses on the famous life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of spanning King’s entire life, director Eva DuVernay places the emphasis on one pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement: the 1965 Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery. Here King, played masterfully by David Oyelowo, is portrayed with as much accuracy in his character and morals as the violence and abhorrent climate of this age that he had to fight against. While he is a hardened leader who preserves his peaceful protests even as his allies are beaten in the streets and jailed, the vulnerability portrayed creates the best presentation of King on film to date.

At this point any of the films, even the four not profiled here, have the possibility of being chosen. Not much outrage would spark if any one film won over another.

Leading up to the Feb. 22 show time, many favored picks will be predicted, led almost certainly by “Boyhood” or “Birdman”. However, my pick goes to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, which combined several different genres of film, several ideas of thinking, and great performances by the director and his actors.

Do not feel at all surprised if that is not the film to take home the statue, though. It is a tough race to choose a winner from.

Vaughn's Top Picks
Best Picture Best Actor Best Actress
American Sniper Benedict Cumberbatch- The Imitation Game Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything
Birdman Bradley Cooper- American Sniper Julianne Moore- Still Alice
Boyhood Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything Marion Cotillard- Two Days, One Night
Selma Michael Keaton- Birdman Reese Witherspoon- Wild
The Grand Budapest Hotel Steve Carell- Foxcatcher Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything