As the awards season prepares to wind down, Short Ends and Leader sizes up those not in Academy competition with our annual preferential picks.
By all accounts, this will be one of the most competitive Oscars ever. Few categories are outright locks, Best Supporting Actress and Actor aside, and the Guilds have been split, with the majority leaning toward Birdman even as Boyhood continues to earn an equal amount of love. Of course, there are those who believe American Sniper can and will pull an upset, while those who favor Selma or any other member of the rest of the Best Picture candidates (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Whiplash), sans a major last minute push, will be left wanting.
That being said, there are still numerous noteworthy candidates who the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) spurned. That's why, a few years ago, we invented the SEAL (Short Ends and Leader) Awards. It was our way of looking at the end of the awards season and not wanting to scream at the various injustices. Indeed, it seems like each and every time a group gets together and doles out the accolades, something or someone that made the year tolerable gets kicked to the curb. With the SEALS, we can settle those differences and divvy up the prizes in a far more fair fashion.
The rules here are simple: we do not acknowledge those already picked out by their peers for AMPAS recognition. They got their piece of paper and others deserve their mention. Secondly, we don't pigeonhole a performance or production. If a foreign film was the Best of 2015, we will celebrate it, even if we later go back and pick another international entry in its own category.
Finally, like all critical determinations, this is personal. While we'd like the think the Oscars are as clued in as we are, the truth remains a far more individualized ideal. So, without further ado, here are our selections for 2015's SEAL Awards.
Best FilmEver since the Academy Awards have gone to an "up to ten" dynamic within its Best Picture nominations, it's getting harder and harder to find films legitimately overlooked by Oscar for recognition. It seems like, every second you turn around, another acclaimed offering is getting some on the list lip service from AMPAS. Sadly, they missed the boat with Marvel's mini-masterwork, a truly original superhero effort which will probably go down as the Star Wars of its generation. Imaginative, innovative, and filled with the kind of irreverence that director James Gunn honed during his tenure at Troma, this is the film we will go back to once the luster is lost from the rest of this year's "prestige" pics.
Best Director - Gone GirlUntil he earns the multiple Oscars he deserves, we are going to purposely go out of our way to acknowledge David Fincher any chance we get. For starters, anyone who has Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and now this amazing thriller in the creative canon should have a trophy case filled with bling, not a lot of "participant" plaques. Yet, for some reason, Fincher can't get past the Guild phase when it comes to earning a Best Director nod. Maybe it's all politics, or part and parcel of the timing in each year's contest, but it seems like the man can't catch a break, and this year is no different.
Best Actor - Get On UpThis is an outrage, perhaps even more so than David Oyelowo's snub for his near flawless work as Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma. Consider what Boseman had to do, who he had to live up to, and the mythic figure his subject was. The fact that he completely lost himself in the "James Brown" legacy is more than enough to land him a space inside the Kodak Theater this Sunday. He's terrific, lip syncing or no lip syncing; the Academy gave Marion Cotillard for doing nothing more than looking and sounding like Edith Piaf, and she didn't do her own singing either. A grave injustice on the Academy's part.
Best Actress - Big EyesTim Burton took everyone's advice, laid off the outlandish characters and outrageous visuals, showed Johnny Depp to the curb, and came up with a clever look at female empowerment via the kitschy art of Margaret Keane. And what happened? Nothing. No nomination for the filmmaker, and no nomination of his lead, a lovely to look at but mousy to deal with Adams, channeling her best '50s suburban homemaker meekness as she inadvertently invented pop art. Yes, it was her charlatan husband who turned the name "Keane" into a marketable brand, but Margaret was the far too humble heart of the operation. Adams' journey here deserves as many trophies as the talent pool can deliver.
Best Supporting Actor - FoxcatcherEveryone just needs to stop. Everyone needs to stop swooning over Steve Carell and his fake nose and calm "the rich are different demeanor" and praising Mark Ruffalo for his limited character dimensions. Those praises should be given to the real life star of this real life tragedy. No matter what the actual David Schultz thinks of the final product, he can't possibly have a problem with the way Tatum plays him. He's got the wrestling mentality (and moves) down pat, and he exhibits a focused anxiety that can only come with the pressures of high level international competition. Want proof that Tatum is the glue holding this all together? Imagine the movie without him and see how great it still is.
Best Supporting Actress - SnowpiercerShe may be channeling Peter Sellers by way of Terry-Thomas. Rumor has it the role was written for a man and she wouldn't allow the material to be altered for her specific gender. Whatever the case, Ms. Swinton is again swoon-worthy in a role you wouldn't expect her to play, in a film which failed to earn the blockbuster audience reaction it so richly deserved. As the equally dictatorial right hand "man" of the runaway train's reclusive leader, Wilford, the actress wanted to represent all the "political clowns" that have come to ruin or modern world. We think she succeeded in saucy spades.
Best Script - Guardians of the GalaxyMarvel may have salvaged its poor properties from the continual clueless beatings of a money-oriented studio system, but that doesn't mean that they are solely capable of creatively reaching its intended demo on its own. No, they have to hire people with the power to turn vision into something viable, and they studio found the perfect combo in Mr. Gunn and Ms. Perlman. From the moment the mix-tape became a means of selling the sometimes knotty narrative, this duo deconstructed the space opera and the origin story and turned them both into a pure post-modern joy. Yes, writing "I am Groot" every time the character had dialogue isn't hard. Filling in the rest? Now that's where these two shine.
Best DocumentaryWe critics love to cry over missed opportunities. "If only Orson Welles wasn't such a diva..." "If only David Lynch would stop meditating for five minutes and make another movie..." Well, this is the case of another "what if?," given a delightful true story presentation. For his part, Alejandro Jodorowsky would still make his version of Frank Herbert's religious allegory today, he is so passionate about it (and the man is 85!). On the other hand, the gargantuan amount of talent on display, from the artists to the actors he wanted to hire (speaking of Welles, and Salvador Dali!), almost argues for its failure. Only Jodorowsky could make it all work.
Best Animated FilmThis snub still has us scratching our head. In fact, by the time the final little gold statue is handed out this weekend, we'll probably have a hole the size of a quarter in our skull. How can a movie this amazing, this fun, this inventive, this insightful, be trumped by some terrible stop motion animation (The Boxtrolls) and -- well, anything else in the category, for that matter. We get that family films are a bit formulaic nowadays, and if you can't play the Pixar card, it's kind of difficult to determine the creative wheat from the "in it for a buck" chaff. This movie was the aces and deserves an Oscar -- and more.
Best Foreign FilmHollywood just hates it when a foreign film outdoes its guaranteed audience-pleasing genres. That's why you've never seen a John Woo or a Stephen Chow film nominated in this category. After watching how Gareth Evans completely reinvents the action film for a more savvy yet specific movie fan, it's clear he will also join that merry band of mavericks listed before. After the original Raid proved his moviemaking mantle, this sequel stepped up his game considerably. We often refer to it as The Godfather of the martial arts genre, and the comparison is not far off. Just imagine the Corleone's complicated mob politics played out among guys who use their fists and feet, not guns, to settle vendettas and you get the idea.
Best Guilty PleasureHe was supposed to retire. Then he discovered weed. Now, Kevin Smith is on a creative tear, making movie after movie on his own terms without any of those pesky problems like distribution or intended audience to contend with. This one, in particular, got even his long time fans in a lather as it merged two concepts -- the "man vs. nature" film and the oppressive smugness of the Internet -- into one of last year's must see experiences. Yes, it's gory, goofy, gratuitous, and gonzo, but with the rest of the industry playing it safe and making carbon copies of what earned international kudos mere days before, we welcome Smith's schizo chutzpah.