I wrap up my docket of this year’s Best Picture nominees with these three films that celebrate the short life of its famous (and infamous) personalities. A code breaker, a civil rights activist, and a sniper join the Oscar race plagued by controversies, most particularly the stark lack of diversity (no female-focused entry, no nominations for women behind the camera, and a straight flush of white actors in contention). Before I digress to the criminally overlook films (one of which is SELMA), here are my brief reviews of 2014’s acclaimed biopics – all of which are scrutinized for their artistic depiction of their respective subjects.
Boyhood and Birdman reviews to follow.
THE IMITATION GAME
THE IMITATION GAME is an elegant adaptation that successfully decodes the tragic life of mathematician Alan Turing. Gliding to a convenient dramatization (to the fault), the bio-pic is made more affecting by Benedict Cumberbatch who embraces the flaws and bares the poignancy beneath the understated brilliance of his cinematic counterpart.
Rousing and captivating, SELMA is more than just a stage for the cinematic retelling of Martin Luther King’s activism in the 1960s. Director Ava DuVernay boldly revisits the tormenting years of the American Civil War in a richly told chapter about the demands of right to suffrage through the passionate and commanding portrayal of David Oyelowo as MLK. More than fifty years since history was made, SELMA is still as potent and kinetic — a moving memoir that celebrates the dedicated life of the Nobel laureate, with an air of respect and resonance that will arrests one’s historical and social consciousness.
Bradley Cooper attempts to sink into the sympathetic modern war hero in Chris Kyle’s autobiography but the pro-war statement of AMERICAN SNIPER and its mischievous pandering of self-righteous heroism are misleading to what it aims for — the emotional and psychological consequences of war. There’s a big difference between being called a hero and actually earning that title onscreen; AMERICAN SNIPER imposes itself as an epic action movie with a blockbuster star that one can mindlessly root for because he saves American lives. But the conscientious viewers have enough of the violence that the film juxtaposes to justify the end. This latest war drama is an unfair, one-dimensional, self-preserving charade that tries too hard to make a single human story but in the end, forgoes the humanity of its bigger and more relevant perspective.