Jared Smith: How many of the eight Best Picture Nominees have you seen–Boyhood, Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, American Sniper & Whiplash–have you seen? If you've seen at least one, what was you take on the movie?
Sean Keeley: I've only seen the two that just so happen to be the most likely to win: Birdman and Boyhood. I thought Birdman was an extremely well-made film with some impressive cinematography and direction. I loved the fluidity of the entire film and how contained it all felt. I thought the performances were pretty good and I especially enjoyed Ed Norton's raging douchebag of a character. But I gotta tell you, I didn't walk out of the theater thinking "This is the best movie of the year!" I walked out of the theater thinking, "Yeah, that was interesting and entertaining and I'm glad for Michael Keaton, but, it wasn't THAT amazing." I can see why people are drooling over the film, especially the way it was made, but, I don't know, it didn't really stick with me afterward the way some great movies do. It's not that I didn't get it. I got it. I just thought it was good, not great. More than anything, I'm just happy to have Movie Star Michael Keaton back in our lives.
As for Boyhood, I think I had a very similar reaction. The scope of what they accomplished is insanely impressive and Richard Linklater deserves praise for accomplishing it, let alone making a good movie out of it. But did I come away thinking "This is the best movie of the year!" No. Take away the "gimmick" of the 12 year shoot and I found it entertaining, full of soul and marked with good performances for the most part, but again I didn't find myself thinking about the film the next day. If this were just a regular film about a boy growing up, it would be in the same realm as Linklater's other films like the Before Sunrise series. Really great movies but not the kind of movies you give Best Picture to.
How about you? Which ones have you seen? And along with what I was getting at, does it make sense for these awards to be given because of what's going on off-screen (an actor's comeback, shooting a movie over 12 years) or should it strictly be about what the movie itself is?
JS: Honestly, I have yet to see ANY of the eight films, but now that Birdman is on DirectTV pay-per-view, I am going to watch it very soon. I am very interested in seeing Whiplash too because I have heard really good things about it. American Sniper is on my to-do list, but doesn't look like I am getting to that until it comes out on DVD or PPV. (I just don't go to the movies a lot anymore. If I do go, I need to go to a movie the wife and I both will enjoy–though, she did go see Ninja Turtles and Interstellar with me this year. So, kudos to her for that.)
Now, since I've burned any of my credibility on giving my opinion on these films, because I haven't watched them yet, I will answer your question about a movie being Best Picture quality.
First, from what I've heard (I listen to a lot of pop culture podcasts) it seems this year's crop of movies are really solid, but, they aren't "great," like you mentioned. So, when that happens I think you need to credit uniqueness, creativity and acting chops.
From what I am hearing, Birdman hits on all of those categories, while Boyhood hits on just two of the three.
Second, I think you're forgetting popularity too. It seems like American Sniper has been by far the most popular and successful movie of the Oscar Year, however, from the sounds of it Clint Eastwood just did his thing and knocked out a solid movie that didn't have that unique feel like the other movies.
(Quick opinion: Eastwood has slowly become one of my favorite directors just because he doesn't mess around with story lines. I love that.)
In conclusion, I can side more with "what the movie itself is" instead of shooting for some sort of gimmick (like filming it over 12 years). With that said, "gimmicks" should be appreciate when they're executed well because it does mean somebody is thinking out-of-the-box, and I LOVE that.
Now, we could go on about Best Picture and the process forever, but let's get to what we really want to talk about the sci-fi movies that TNIAAMers should see and/or movies that went under the radar that you loved this Oscar Year. Go!
SK: Whiplash is next on my list. I'm really excited to see it, especially because J.K. Simmons is one of those actors that seemed destined to always be stuck in "character actor purgatory" so I'm really glad he's getting a chance to shine. While I agree that American Sniper wins the popularity award, popularity isn't usually much of a determining factor for Best Picture. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it went home empty-handed because it just doesn't measure up to Birdman/Boyhood/Theory of Everything in terms of "award-worthiness" and also because, let's face it, Hollywood isn't a huge fan of films that conservatives champion. Especially since a lot of voters vote with those kinds of considerations in mind.
JS: If it was directed by Steven Speilberg it MIGHT get consideration.
SK: Eastwood's so interesting because he has put out some clunkers along the way, but he has become Hollywood's Mr. Dependable in terms of churning out money-makers. While a guy like Alejandro González Iñárritu puts out an amazing film once every three/four years, Clint puts out movie after movie every year. The story goes that he famously hates doing multiple takes. So his films never go over-budget and never go over-schedule. That he's able to craft quality films while doing that, well, that's where he's so successful.
JS: Yeah, I guess that's why I like Eastwood more and more, because now, his style is different from other movie types nowadays.
SK: I'm not the movie-goer I used to be. Back when I lived in LA and worked in the industry, I usually went to the movies once a week and watched movies at home instead of TV. These days, I'm much more likely to just wait until something comes to Amazon or Netflix, so, I'm not very to speed on things like Interstellar and Mockingjay. That said, if I had to make some recommendations for recent sci-fi/horror type films, I've heard very good things about The Babadook, a recent slow-churning horror film, and I don't think you could go wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America (I know I'm not blowing anyone away with those choices). You know what I really enjoyed and will eventually be considered a great sci-fi film? Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat as it has been apparently renamed). I will argue that, whatever you think of him, Tom Cruise has become really good at making enjoyable movies again. How about you?
JS: I am very much with you on the Edge of Tomorrow bandwagon. It was easily one of the most entertaining and unique films of 2014. It sorta reminds me of Looper, which came out in 2012, which didn't get a lot of buzzer because Joseph Gordon-Levitt was wearing weird make-up to look like a younger Bruce Willis–who is kinda losing his luster but was in solid form in that movie.
(Quick side note on the Looper make-up for Gordon-Leviit: I still don't understand that move, even though, the director Rian Johnson (who did a great job) explained it. I think most people were turned off by the movie because Gordon-Leviit looked odd, and they missed out. If you haven't checked out Looper, do it now! Oh, and Emily Blunt is in it too!)
As far as Tom Cruise. People need to forget what happened when he went insane during the Katie Holmes-era because he has been pretty solid recently. Sure, he had stinkers like Rock of Ages and Jack Reacher, but he was amazing in Tropic Thunder, MI: Ghost Protocol was a solid action flick; Oblivion was entertaining for sci-fi folks; and Live, Die, Repeat (Edge of Tomorrow) was awesome (and he was awesome in it).
Also, from what Bill Simmons, Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla say he's a pretty cool dude.
SK: Oblivion was pretty solid as well. Cruise might not be a box office star but he's kinda become a Netflix Star, which is slowly becoming just as good.
JS: As far as other movies of 2014, I really enjoyed Interstellar despite its mixed reviews.
Why did I enjoy it, you may ask?
Well, again, I love out-of-the-box thinking, and the sci-fi genre has really been the place to go for OTBT recently. Interstellar's idea of space travel or end-of-the-world plot wasn't OTB, but the magnitude of space travel and the filming sure was. Also, there was two ways you could view/enjoy Interstellar: 1) Getting sucked down the space-travel-science wormhole, which people who like that stuff seemed to enjoy; 2) If you HATED that part of the movie, you could just completely enjoy it and have a fantastic ride for three hours. (That's what I tried to do, then I got sucked into the science afterwards.)
I mean, I love when creative people like Christopher Nolan reach a point in their careers where he can take HUGE chances and not give a shit about what people think. (Well, expect, maybe, M. Night Shyamalan. He just went off the deep end.) It usually leads to things like Inception; or sorta what J.J. Abrams is doing with the Star Trek movies (and hopefully Star Wars).
This is also why I've started to like the teen-bopper, sci-fi flicks like Hunger Games, Divergent, Ender's Game and Maze Runner. It is NOTHING like the Twilight series because each have their own take on certain things and they've been doing it well. Though, I could pass on Maze Runner's sequel. The others I am watching, if they come out, though.
SK: I haven't seen Maze Runner but I read the book. It did not surprise me to hear a lot of people say they found the ending a bit presumptuous and aren't interested in a sequel because that's how I felt about the book. I haven't seen Mockingjay but I thought Catching Fire was a vast improvement on the first Hunger Games movie. I really hate that trend of breaking up movies and I just know that entire movie exists as a set-up to the second Mockingjay film, so I'd rather just wait until I can watch both of them.
I really enjoyed the first Star Trek reboot but I really disliked the second one. I thought the entire film existed to be a reference point to the previous series, specifically Wrath of Khan. It was like watching an entire movie full of moments that weren't nearly as good as the ones they were referencing and it made me worry about whether or not our era of sci-fi films will exist solely to make reference to what came before them or if they can stand on their own two feet. Will the new Star Wars movies be fresh adventures or will they just be re-hashes and references to things we've already seen? I'm cautiously optimistic.
Also, go check out the not-really-a-theory that Star Trek Into Darkness is an allegory to 9/11 being an inside job. That puts a whole other layer on that movie...
ANYway, what 2015 releases are you looking forward to the most? Will the second Avengers be the balls to the wall film we hope it'll be? Can a film not from the Hunger Games series make the most money?
JS: If I am ranking a top 5 list, I'll go with:
5) Jurassic World: I know this is probably going to be like the first Jurassic Park movie, but the fact that Chris Pratt is in it really interests me. I like the guys potential a lot, and I am curious to see, if the movie is a stinker, can he carry it by himself. Plus, there's freaking dinosaurs. Who doesn't just wanna see that?
4) Furious 7: I've really enjoyed these films since they started getting it right with Fast 5. The action is usually great and the unintentional comedy is just amazing. I really can't wait to see this when it comes out on DVD next winter.
3) Avengers: Age of Ultron: Really enjoyed the first one, as it did a great job of not being too crazy with the action (unlike Man of Steel, which just destroyed literally EVERYTHING in its path) but was smart on how it used all its characters, which were all pretty awesome. This has the chance to be the perfect Comic Book action movie ever, I just hope it doesn't get too crazy.
2) Star Wars: Episode VII–The Force Awakens: I am not a Star Wars geek like some, but when George Lucas re-released the films back in the 1990s, I was caught up in it as a kid and fell in love with all the films (even the bad ones). This is really exciting.
1) Pitch Perfect 2: Yeap, I went there. Nope, I don't care what you think. Sure, this has a chance to be bad, but I loved the first one. I've always been a sucker for A capella music. Anna Kendrick is the shit and I can't wait to see her and The Bellas agian!
What's your top 5, Sean?
SK: 5) Mockingjay Part 2: So that I can go see the first part and feel fulfilled. The ending in the books is rather dark so I'm curious to see how they handle it. I enjoyed Catching Fire a lot more than the first movie so hopefully they keep getting better.
4) Terminator Genesys: I'm a sucker for Terminator movies. I even sat through that Salvation movie we don't ever speak about and never actually existed. Sometimes a franchise needs a super stinker in order to get its priorities back in order and I'd like to think they've figured out how to reboot this franchise correctly. But...we'll see. Arnold's track record is dubious in the past decade.
3) Pitch Perfect 2: I'm with you. The first one was way more fun than it had any right to be and it's probably the best possible date movie anyone can ask for.
2) Avengers: Age of Ultron: I wasn't that impressed with the first Avengers movie. The first half was super-boring because no one cares about Hawkeye and Black Widow. There were some fun moments in there but overall it felt like a setup movie. So this better be the great movie they intended to set up. I have high hopes.
1) Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Stars Wars movies that don't involve latter-day George Lucas? I AM IN. I AM SO IN.
JS: I guess, the final topic is the SNL 40 special. Now that we've had a week to digest it and understand what happened with Eddie Murphy. How special was it? Or was that another Lorne Michaels hypefest that wasn't THAT special.
SK: I mean, I appreciate what the special set out to do but I defer to Bill Simmons when he called it "a massive dress rehearsal that inadvertently became the live show." A lot of really great ideas that had no chance of being all that successful because of how bloated everything was. It's great to see all those stars in one place but there was no cohesion to anything they were doing. The only sketch I actually watched all the way through was the Wayne's World one, which managed to pay homage to everything that made it successful while also remaining entertaining throughout.
On Top Chef they talk a lot about editing your dish. Knowing when you need another garnish or a couple more pieces of shrimp versus maybe leaving them off so that the scallop can speak for itself. There was no editing in the special. It was just thing on top of thing on top of thing. And even if all of those things are great on their own, too much of them together overwhelms the dish and turns it into a pile of stuff.
As for Eddie Murphy, there's a really good piece I read last night that talked about how his appearance on the show and his lack of interest in doing anything edgy signaled that the Eddie Murphy we all knew and loved is gone forever. He's the thing he used to make fun of. And that's a shame. Because I fear that his effect on the show, which, he quite literally saved in the early 80's, will probably be diminished over the years.
How about you, what did you think? What could they have done to have made it better?
JS: Overall, I thought it was everything that SNL is: never perfect, somewhat choppy, disappointing because it never really met the hype, but it did deliver a few things that we will remember forever–Bill Murray's Jaws' song, Eddie Murphy's weird appearance and the Celebrity Jeopardy/Wayne World/Adam Sandler-Andy Samberg short sketches are pretty re-watchable. Also, it had to be the biggest assembly of American celebrities (TV, movies & music) ever. That's something. There's no doubt 15 years from now, when I am talking to my kids, I can say I saw it live and it was really freaking cool.
I don't know if they could have made it better just because live television is really hard and it's going to be choppy. We could probably all agree that if Murphy did decided to play the Bill Cosby role in the Celebrity Jeopardy sketch it woulda been one of the greatest quick hits ever. That woulda made it pretty awesome.
Personally, my biggest takeaway from the SNL40 and the aftermath is the totempole-like emergence of the celebrity status. I found it crazy that guys like Seth Meyers or Norma McDonald, both pretty big stars in a normal person's view, were completely starstruck by other celebrities (i.e. Jay Z and Beyonce), and celebrities in the next status were starstruck of other celebrities (i.e. Prince).
I just think normal folks forget that a lot of these stars were, at one time, regular people just grinding away at their day jobs and one day they became a celebrity. They didn't choose it, but it happened and now they share there thoughts on these events and are just amazed by it. I think that was really cool.