Lost in the Awards Rush: Best Picture Edition

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This year's list of Best Picture Oscar nominees for me has been one of the most eclectic lineups in years. While some of the choices (not to mention some of the omissions) have caused some stirring, the fact remains that each film is a unique peek into areas of society and life that are never anything but true and compelling. Though I feel there were a couple noticeable snubs (Gone Girl, A Most Violent Year, Nightcrawler), this is one of the few years where it could be said that every film on the list has earned its place. In celebration of these movies' triumphs, I've compiled a list of additional viewing choices made by some of the actors, actresses, directors, writers and producers who were responsible for this year's nominated films.

The Words (2012)

Few films surprised this year in terms of both acclaim and box office impact the way American Sniper (2014) did. The ferocious true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle was a testament to the passion and drive of director Clint Eastwood and producer/star Bradley Cooper. The film has earned Cooper his third consecutive Oscar nomination, furthering his profile both in front of and behind the camera. Yet his most unheralded work as both producer and actor comes with the highly involving drama The Words.

Equal parts mystery, romance and period piece, The Words (J.C.'s review) features Cooper as a struggling author who discovers a long-lost manuscript which he presents as his own; leading to instant success and an encounter with a haunting older gentleman (Jeremy Irons). Films such as The Words simply do not exist anymore, which is a shame because this intricately crafted tale about destiny features not only features stellar acting and an exquisite screenplay, but also reinforces the notion owning up to the choices each person makes in their life.

Where to watch: The Words is currently available for online streaming via Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

The Paper (1994)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman (2014), the tale of a former action movie star (Michael Keaton) whose artistic comeback is marred by a variety of personal and professional crises has wowed virtually every major critic since its release. After watching Birdman, I immediately thought of another Keaton-led film made 20 years earlier, The Paper. Keaton re-teamed with director Ron Howard for this look at the fast-paced world of tabloid journalism. Right off the bat, the audience is pulled into The Paper's delightfully frenetic pace, which extends from scenes in the office to ones in the home. Howard's take on the world of the tabloid newspaper, and those who inhabit it, is spot on with regards to the action concerning each individual's seemingly monumental crisis and how quickly decisions have to be made with regards to stories, careers and, consequently, even lives.

Where to watch: The Paper is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Boyhood may well be Richard Linklater's crowning achievement, but for me, A Scanner Darkly remains one of his most effectively ambitious efforts. The director took on the unenviable task of adapting one of Philip K. Dick's most challenging novels about an undercover cop (Keanu Reeves) who believes he is involved in a conspiracy after taking hallucinogenic drugs. While the sci-fi master is a daunting author to transfer to the screen, Linklater easily managed to bring to life A Scanner Darkly's dark humor and warped twistedness. Featuring stellar performances from Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder (stunning in a multi-faceted role), A Scanner Darkly's brilliance is highlighted tenfold with Linklater's decision to have the film digitally rotoscoped, lending a striking beauty to an otherwise surreal tale.

Where to watch: A Scanner Darkly is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

The Chumscrubber (2005)

Thanks to Wes Anderson's brilliant casting of Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), the large ensemble film has basked in the glow of acclaim for nearly a year. The absurdly funny film followed an eccentric concierge (Fiennes) and his various antics in a legendary hotel in Eastern Europe. For many, it was Fiennes' most daring performance ever. However, though most may not realize it, Fiennes' role in The Chumscrubber can already claim that title.

Focusing on 21st-century suburbia, The Chumscrubber is a hilarious and telling portrait of teenages and their parents, most of whom are on some sort of drug, and all of whom are lacking in self-awareness. In an ensemble which also includes Glenn Close, Jamie Bell and Allison Janney, Fiennes stands out as a groom-to-be whose sudden existential crisis leads him to a series of strange encounters. The entire cast is good and funny, but its Fiennes' work which stays with you long after the movie is over.

Where to watch: The Chumscrubber is currently available on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

August: Osage County (2013)

No one can argue that The Imitation Game (2014) brought Benedict Cumberbatch his greatest screen triumph to date in one of the most compelling films of the year. Yet it's sad that many overlooked his subtle yet heartbreaking work in 2013's August: Osage County (Jette's review). He may have only had a handful of scenes, but Cumberbatch was able to shift focus away from his more experienced co-stars as Little Charles Aiken, a young man returning home for his uncle's funeral.

The actor provides many slight, yet telling moments in portraying a good-hearted, yet socially awkward individual with a verbally abusive mother and a dark secret of his own. Cumberbatch's first moments onscreen have him going from regret to heartache to happiness in a matter of minutes. Its the kind of acting that few actors can do and even fewer can do well.

Where to watch: August: Osage County is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

The Great Debaters (2007)

The intense cold shoulder many felt was given to the Oprah Winfrey-produced civil rights drama Selma by the Academy has only raised the standing of this intense film, which chronicled the real-life march in Alabama in 1965. The power of the Selma called to mind the earlier Winfrey production, The Great Debaters. The story focuses on a professor (Denzel Washington) at a black Texas college who formed the school's first debate team. Directed by Washington, The Great Debaters combined the pathos of the educational drama while highlighting the great milestones its characters were conquering. The struggle of not being beaten down by the era and society of 1930s Texas while training to be the best in an already competitive field was magnificently conveyed.

Where to watch: The Great Debaters is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012)

After logging plenty of hours in minor roles alongside greats such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones was at last given her chance to shine in her role as Stephen Hawking's wife Jane in the tender and insightful biopic The Theory of Everything (2014). It was the star-making turn young actresses like Jones only dream of, but not her first time showing off her talent of carrying an entire film on her own.

In the independent British comedy/drama Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, Jones plays Dolly Thatcher, a young bride on her wedding day who must contend with her overbearing mother (Elizabeth McGovern), the appearance of her ex-boyfriend (Luke Treadaway) and the emotional crossroads where she suddenly finds herself. There's plenty of humor in this little gem of a film, but the real pleasure of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is watching the depth Jones quietly summons to bring Dolly's inner conflicts and fears to the surface.

Where to watch: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is currently available for online streaming via Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.

Grand Piano (2013)

In the rush to praise the near-perfection that is Whiplash, its easy to forget writer/director Damien Chazelle's script for the taut and stunning thriller Grand Piano (2013), which was released earlier this year after screening at Fantastic Fest 2013 (Jette's review). Shortly after beginning his comeback concert, renowned pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) discovers a note on his sheet music stating that unless he gives a flawless performance, the note's author (John Cusack) will shoot him.

From the word go, Grand Piano is fraught with the kind of tension and suspense that seems hard to find in contemporary thrillers. The different twists and turns the plot takes shows Chazelle's skilled grasp of the genre. That coupled with sharp pacing, a great directorial hand and Wood's committed performance account for Grand Piano's immense watchability, not to mention some of the best reviews for a film of its kind.

Where to watch: Grand Piano is currently available for online streaming via Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.