Top 5 Performances to Catch before the Oscars

In just a few weeks (24 days, 6 hours, 20 minutes and 58 seconds to be exact) the 87th Oscars will begin. That leaves you under a month, before winners are announced, to catch some of the best performances of the year. Though the Academy Awards is known for overlooking stellar performances from time to time. So while this past year held many Oscar-worthy performances you should certainly see, in addition to this pre-Oscar performance watch list I’ve gathered for you, there are a few that burned long enough in my memory after viewing that it only seemed right to include, nominated or not.

In short: You don’t want to miss these movies.

JK Simmons in Whiplash

Whiplash is essentially a psychological experience of any impassioned music student, only in somewhat of a horrific level.  Before stepping on stage to perform, most musicians experience an adrenaline that cannot always be described or easily summed up (at least for those of us who aren’t natural born prodigies). Yet this film manages to sum it all up, particularly the intense mental combat any musician faces with a professor who is set on bringing the best out of you, even if that requires pulling out your guts along with it. JK Simmons, nominated this year for Best Supporting Actor, plays the unbridled jazz Professor, Fletcher, who has seen something of a gift in the young jazz drummer, Andrew (played by Miles Teller).  Simmons, who has commonly played the supporting role of the dad you pity in a film, like Juno and Up in the Air, portrays that terrifying teacher whose expectations give you the kind of nightmares that make you wake up in a sweat imagining you will never meet up to them. Yet as frightful as Simmons is, you can’t help but love him for it.

David Oyelowo in Selma

After having the opportunity to catch this film early on, there was no doubt in my mind that the British David Oyelowo was in the run for Best Actor of the Year. No doubt you’ve heard of the shock in response to the absence of Selma in the category of Best Actor and Director (though the film is nominated for Best Picture of the Year). Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the first ever featured film of his life and delivers with such conviction and spirit, it’s unlikely we will see anyone even try to tackle this role for some time. When it comes to displaying a man (emphasis on the man, and not the icon) who’s movement boldly and righteously shaped our current culture, his simply can not be topped.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Of course probably the most fascinating story and riveting performance was the one I didn’t even have on my radar early last fall. Cumberbatch, best known as Sherlock (if you haven’t seen it, getting Netflix solely for this reason will completely be worth it), plays Alan Turning, the British pioneer computer scientist (**spoiler alert** since many of us Americans are too busy with frivolities, such as blogs, to have learned such astonishing stories of history), whose skills and innovations inevitably broke into Germany’s Enigma machine which is believed to have shortened World War II by two or four years, saving countless lives. One of many persecuted for his homosexuality at the time in Great Britain, Turning underwent treatment from the government that no doubt deteriorated his spirit at a young age. Cumberbatch’s transformation from the impeccable brilliant man he is commonly pinned as, to a broken and complex intelligent individual just may be the performance of the year (in my book, at least.)

Jack O'Connell in Unbroken

Had Unbroken been released five years ago (when films like Crazy Heart, Up in the Air and The Hurtlocker were the frontrunners), it likely would’ve received nominations for every major category. But alas, we are in 2015, where if a film doesn’t have enough quirk or dullness in the name of being unique, they are simply overlooked. And if ever there was a film overlooked this year it was Unbroken. Having read the gripping true accounts of Louis Zamperini, in Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, I was thrilled for the film to come out simply for those of you who “don’t read much” to finally take it in. While fans of Zamperini are disappointed at the selective timeline of his life that the film covers, Jack O'Connell displays the spirit's wrestle of survival like one who has been making epics for years. O'Connell is sure to be an actor on the rise. And Unbroken was certainly a high place to start.

Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes

Big Eyes. It’s one of those films you likely overlooked this past Christmas, but another true account that is better than fiction. It is the story of artist Margaret Keane (played by Amy Adams). Waltz (Oscar winner from Inglorious Bastards) plays Walter Keane, a gregarious artist who sweeps Margaret off her feet, as well as the credits for her art work and skillfully makes Keane a household name. Watching Christoph Waltz, no matter what he’s in, is like a circus at the movies. There is something both magical and insane that he brings, and this role truly allowed the many talents of Waltz to shine all at once.

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Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night

Cotillard is the purists’ actress. It seems most anything she’s in, be it a furiously divine love in Inception or a soft-spoken stunner in Midnight in Paris, and it turns to gold. This french film is about as subtle and simple as they come, yet Cotillard's performance couldn’t be anything but. Two Days, One Night is the story of a woman who has discovers her employers have bribed her employees with a lofty bonus, so that she can be let go. In the course of two days and one night, Sandra (Cotillard) sets out to ask of her co-workers, individually, to reconsider the bonus and vote that next Monday for her to stay. It may seem underwhelming in plot, but in portrayal Cotillard touches upon such a modern human emotion, that truly stings in light of our present economy and workplace politic, it can’t be forgotten.

The Foreign Comedy & Kissing Frogs

 

 

Very few good things come out of having been in the wrong relationship; You often get a better idea of what you want, have a clearer understanding of who you are and, just maybe, have enjoyed some free dinners. It is a rather time-consuming and mentally draining cost, dating the wrong person, when really, you could easily achieve most of these things by simply reading your Bible more often. (Who are we kidding?)

But if you are lucky, sometimes in addition, you may have even been able to take away with you the pleasure of new discoveries you wouldn't have given time for otherwise. 

Nowadays, when a Friday night calls for a good comedy to clear your head, finding such a gem is more difficult than it should be. What once was an endless supply of tightly-knit, comical blockbusters has now become a tall order. The latest movies at Redbox rarely seem to suffice. Even apparently amusing films on Netflix, are found to be disappointing duds or cult classics you've already seen a dozen times. And though it never hurts to just watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles for the 13th time, sometimes you just want something fresh and new. But, from the looks of it, there doesn't seem to be any new comedy on the horizon for movie-goers. Honestly, when was the last time you saw a 2-minute trailer that was enticing enough to pay $10 dollars for?

There seems to be a shortage in comedies in the United States. (That, or my flavor for laughter is just somewhat dated and old-hat.) The current stream of comedies in American film are just not altogether as appealing and enticing as they once were. Maybe it is that most comedies crass styles have just grown predictable or their continual rehash of formulated plots are putting us to sleep. Whatever it is, it seems American films lack intriguing story lines that can't even craft a remotely entertaining trailer, let alone a feature-length film. The American comedy is losing it’s appeal. And this is  where I return to those “few good things” I was first discussing.

The first film discovery I recall through a wrong relationship was Little Miss Sunshine; a film both hilarious and original, in it’s own dark and off-kilter way.  The second,  was one I likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise because... it was foreign. Literally and figuratively. I had never heard of it. And after a few mental scars from some Japanese films I had watched with a friend (be warned: Japanese films can be horrifically depressing), a foreign film was not to my liking at the time. And a previous french foreign film, Amour - which, without giving it away, is a french foreign film and is not a comedy - just put a bad taste in my mouth for foreign films.

Of course foreign films are often known to be more gritty, more raw or even more demanding of their audience than the Americanized, formulated comedy we are so well-acquainted with. However, a discovery of the foreign comedy has certainly turned my attention to realize that maybe the American Film Industry doesn’t know everything there is to know about producing a great comedy. (Then again, it’s just sounds American to have assumed that we do.) Because, without a doubt, American’s certainly don't know all there is to know about producing a few laughs.

A few foreign films for a good laugh when American comedies are putting you to sleep:

1. Romantics Anonymous - This precious little film is set in a chocolate shop, and while it’s not necessarily the breathtaking or seductive Chocolat you may remember, it is just as charming. This sweet tale is about a painfully shy, but gifted chocolate maker and the equally sheepish chocolatier who hires her. After discovering they share the same interest in each other, in their own adorably awkward ways, both must to learn break out of their shells and embark in this new relationship. (Currently available to rent on Amazon Prime.)

 

2. The Chef - Not to be confused with Jon Favreau's Chef. (You will not find Sofia Vergara in this french picture.) The Chef is the story of an ambitious and confident underdog cook, who will do whatever he can to become a chef in the highfalutin restaurant business of France. This slap-stick satire is an extravagant feast for the eyes and heart. A film that is unexpectedly innocent and equally funny, the french were the last I expected to produce such a film.  My apologies France, I had you wrong. (Currently available to rent on Amazon Prime.)

3. Four Weddings and a Funeral - Considered a classic by many movie lovers of the 90‘s. (And yes, it is british, which I would consider foreign in the most affirmative way.) (And yes, it does star Hugh Grant.) This film has always been known as a British Cult Classic and particularly beloved in the romantic comedy genre - which makes sense, since that was the majority of what was produced that decade. It is the love story of an Englishman and American Woman, who’s circle of friends and endless occasions of weddings, and yes (*major spoiler alert*), a funeral, seem to have them fated for one another. Not only do the British do a fine job by weaving in some very sad and sacred moments into a “romantic comedy”, but their bent on what is often assumed as such a giddy and frivolous genre, produces some truly gut-wrenching laughs. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

Hopefully you can take these suggestions and discover the beauty of the foreign comedy this weekend, without paying the cost of kissing any frogs along the way.