Oscars 2014: “Ballsy” is the name of the game

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I’m going to start by saying the 2011 Oscars were kind of lame. For those who may not recall, the best picture nominees were:

  • The Descendants
  • The Artist
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • Moneyball

Not a bad group of movies by any means (with the exception of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film who’s Best Picture nomination still boggles my mind to this day)…they were just all made specifically for the Oscars it seems, in a year that better films were all but ignored (Drive is one of the best films of this decade).

The only three films of this bunch that really stand out are The Artist, Hugo and The Tree of Life, but not because “they were good films,” or because “they were classics,” but because of the style in which these films were done. Each had what I call a ballsy gimmick. A silent film in an industry that hasn’t seen one in decades? Ballsy. A 3D drama from Martin Scorcese in a time where every action film gets post-converted in 3D to make the studio an extra buck? Ballsy. A film that tries to link a father-son relationship to the creation of the Earth? Ballsy as hell.

As the number of movies being made each year increases, and with cheaper equipment allowing anyone to make a feature, directors are trying new things to get the attention of the masses. While most of these ballsy experimental “gimmicks” are seen in the realm of festival-circuit-indie-films, the 2011 Oscars are a good example of these unique techniques finding their way into the world of the Academy Awards. Which is good. Ballsy films deserve attention for their ballsiness, and the Oscars are one of the most attention-grabbing events of the film industry.

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As we continue down the years since, the 2012 and 2013 Oscar’s both had their fair-share of ballsy “gimmick” films. Les Miserables had the actors singing live on set. Life of Pi was a ground-breaking special effects film that took place mostly on water. Gravity topped that ground-breaking-ness by successfully setting it’s film in the empty vastness of space, and Her was that film “where that guy fell in love with Siri.”

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As we approach the 2014 Oscars, three films that stand good chances of scoring coveted Best Picture nominations all have some balls. Real balls. I’m talking some of the biggest in recent memory. They are, of course, Boyhood, Interstellar, and Birdman.

Now before I delve into these films, I just want to throw out a cautionary minor spoiler alert. Essentially, if you’ve seen the trailer for these films, or have read any of the promotional stories leading up their releases, you already know what I’m going to be talking about for each of these movies. Anyway…

Boyhood is already a classic just for existing. A fictional narrative following the life of a boy over the course of 12 years was LITERALLY filmed over the course of 12 years. We’ve seen this technique used in documentary filmmaking, but never on this scale in fictional filmmaking. The effectiveness of the real life aging happening before your eyes is just that — effective. Some critics have stated that the technique has overshadowed a pretty underwhelming story, and that the masses are just dazzled about the fact that it took so long to make.

Interstellar is a big budget film that takes you on a journey through a FREAKIN’ WORMHOLE. And it’s nuts, and it’s a wild, time-bending ride. Expectations were very high for this film already, considering it was made by Christopher Nolan, but the reception since has ranged from lackluster to critical acclaim. Once again, some critics argue that the ambition, special effects and scope of the film overshadow an underwhelming, packed story (the film is a 6 hour story stuffed into 3 hours in my opinion).

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Birdman takes you inside the mind of a washed up actor trying to revitalize his career by showing essentially the entire film in one long, continuous, dream-like take. The effect can be described as an equal mix of awesome, mind-blowing, anxiety-inducing, and trippy. Once again though, critics are complaining that the film’s style is overshadowing a somewhat hollow story.

A film that ages with its actors. A film that takes viewers on a journey through time and space. A film “done” in one continuous take. These are not things you see very often in the realm of film, and that’s what makes them so damn ballsy. Despite what critics are saying about the story of each of these three movies, almost all universally agree that the “gimmick” of each of these are pulled off incredibly and masterfully well. So, when Oscar nomination day approaches, and all three of these films garner a ton of nominations, will it be because of the gimmick or because they are genuinely good films?

I can’t help but think back to Avatar, a ground-breaking special effects film that became the highest-grossing film of all time. When it first came out, people were losing their minds. Since then, the reception has really cooled off. More and more people are able to look past the ballsy gimmick of that film and see the lackluster plot for what it was. Do I think that will happen to any of these films? I’d say Boyhood and Birdman are pretty safe. Interstellar on the other hand has plot holes and an exposition-heavy script which may shoot itself down the line. Who knows though. What people can’t deny is that these films have major balls, and can’t be ignored.

With these three films pulling off major feats successfully, it makes me very excited to see what is going to be pulled off next. A film literally shot in space? A major motion picture shot entirely on an iPhone? Quentin Tarantino makes a Pixar film? Wes Anderson makes a film that screens for one night only and then goes away forever? Disney finally opens up the “Disney Vault” and unleashes apocalyptic plagues and finishes its goal of world domination?

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