Imaginative Oscar Poster Designs—
as seen on the Oscar/Academy’s Facebook page

A group of graphic artists were invited to create Oscar-themed posters this year, which the Academy is using in all of their marketing materials as background images, and they will also be featured on the red carpet. All the posters are centered around the theme, “Imagine What's Possible.”

Oscar Poster Design

The Oscar poster above was created by Petra Borner of Sweden, to represent a dream-like montage that illustrates the effect on the imagination of an actor’s role upon the audience, in a movie. Eyeballs and intricate shape patterns are woven together to create this world of imaginary introspection. The artist created the patterns using layers of cut paper, a technique she described as, “symbolically similar to the way in which film is cut and pieced together for a movie.” You can see the filmstrip's influence in many of her patterns above, especially in the red and white vertical strips which appear just to the left of the Oscar, (near the large black and white eyeball). The poster also has an art-deco feel to it, with all of its geometric triangular shape influences, as well as some large leaf-like shapes.

The Academy invited people to vote for and share the poster images on social media, to see which ones were most popular. There were several posters created, with many using typography in interesting ways in addition to pen and ink, to create swirls and calligraphy style embellishments as part of their designs. In others, type seems to surround and emanate outward from the gold Oscar statuette. The posters are an imaginative twist from the traditional Oscar poster this year, through their use of their intricate patterns, designs, and novel typography. Each artist imagines the Oscar awards and their purposes a little bit differently — for exmple, the one as a Salvador Dali-like world of surrealism, to the use of things like clever art deco fonts, to highlight the feeling and style of the Red Carpet. One artist uses a type-only design that highlighted the many different categories of awards, and the emotions each one conveyed. The colors used in all of the posters is primarily red and black, with the gold Oscar always represented in the center.

To vote for and share your favorites, visit the Academy’s Facebook page. And, you can also view them all on the Oscar.com website: http://oscar.go.com/photos/oscars-art-gallery/media/Oscars_artist_poster_4x3

 

Best Picture and Oscar Nominations for 2014-2915

Oscar Predictions — Will the ‘Unexpected’ and ‘Unconventional’ take Center Stage, in Terms of Best Picture this Year?

With the Oscars coming up this Sunday, February 22nd, it's time to weigh in on which movie might be chosen for Best Picture. This year’s Oscar race has been characterized by a group of very different movies, all thrown together into a highly competitive and heated race, in which it is not very clear in terms of likeability, which movie should be considered the Best Picture. It seems that the front-runners are not, in fact, the most likeable of the group, and deal with what many people might necessarily think of as Oscar-worthy subject matters. Instead, just two of the movies appear to have gained traction as the front-runners, and those are Boyhood and Birdman. Even while there are at least three-four other very good movies out this year - not all of which I have seen - but which definitely stand out to most viewers as possible Best Pictures, these two are in fact said to be the front-runners by critics.

Boyhood
is a different kind of movie, which attempts to document the life of a boy and his family, from childhood to young adulthood, following his development over a period of 12 years, using an actual person, not an actor, as the main character. This is an accomplishment in terms of a realistic portrayal of the boy’s life story. However, the actual story onscreen, while true to life, lacks interest in other ways (just my opinion), outside of its narrrative about the boy’s life and the struggles of his single mother (played by Patricia Arquette), in trying to support her family and provide them the opportunities they need. The boy experiences many growing pains, as does his mother over their lives, which are very realistically portrayed and become the bulk of the story, which ends when he goes off to college. It is implied that the boy overcomes many of his family's problems, and finds independence in college with his photography. The acting skill and real-life aspects that went into the filming of this movie as a cohesive story over an actual time period of twelve years, are what make it stand out as an unprecedented film-making accomplishment. So for that reason it is being considered as the front-runner. I am sure there are viewers who liked the realistic story and portrayal of both the boy and his mother, and their struggles. However, it was not the only remarkable tale to be told, as was indicated in several of the other Oscar-nominated films this year, and their subject matter.

The other front-runner, Birdman can be considered a little unusual and over the top, in terms of the artistic, in film subject matter. The movie, which is about the life of a washed-up actor on Broadway who is struggling with identity issues and trying to make a comeback to prove to his critics that he is still worthy, can be labeled as artistic satire or dark comedy. Or perhaps, it might even be characterized as a kind of dark, psycho-thriller that seeks to answer questions about the meaning of life and existentialism. Ironically, it is set backstage in the world of Broadway theatre where it is hard for the main character and actor, who is played by Michael Keton, to draw a line between what is his real life, and what isn’t in this cut-throat world of the theatre. What goes on backstage is very different from the appearances that the actors portray onstage; and sadly, the actor and his soul are finally consumed psychologically by the sadistic theatre world, in which he finds himself entrapped and seemingly betrayed by his closest friends and family. The movie uses interesting flashback techniques and visual imagery (in the form of a large, black-winged "birdman" who follows him around like a dark shadow), along with interesting sound effects and background music in the form of drumbeats and symbol crashes, to create a suspenseful mood, amplifying his strong emotions, and the dual personality that characterize the actor and his plight. From the standpoint of filmmaking technique, it is an interesting artistic accomplishment, as well as premise to make a film about this actor's struggles in contrast with his life in the theatre world. However, the subject matter might be considered a little too dark and edgy for many, and not quite as deep or meaningful as some of the other Best Picture nominees, which would have to fall under the more conventional category of historical biographies, about the true lives of famous people. While Birdman is a daring and unconventional film whose artisitic merits are undeniably interesting, it is still somewhat debatable (in my opinion), as to whether it should really be considered the Best Picture. Not sure why I felt this way, but most likely because it is about an imaginary person who lives in a twisted schizophrenic type of world, so the movie's message was not particularly uplifting, or true-to-life, either. But I'm sure there are plenty of others who will have liked it because of these very characteristics.

Historical biographical movies have traditionally been the kinds of movies that win Best Picture Oscars. (Remember, The King’s Speech?) The movies this year which obviously fall into this genre included The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, and Selma; all three of which were among my favorites. They were not only interesting, but emotionally suspenseful and spellbinding stories, based upon the lives of real people whose accomplishments were outstanding, and who left their mark on history, (even though they were not actually recognized until many years later, as was true with two of the movies). They were not based on fictional characters, or the imaginary, like Birdman is. This type of biographical movie is always more interesting to me because it is about real people and real life; and their successes and tragedies, which have been memorialized in the form of a movie. Birdman on the other hand, is just a fictional drama about an imaginary actor’s life on Broadway. In terms of pure drama and filmmaking, Birdman may have the edge. But this would have to be the only thing going for it, in my opinion. It doesn't compare well with these other movies, or even with Boyhood. But it will be interesting to see which way the Academy leans, in terms of choosing this year's Best Picture, if in fact it does come down to these two, very different movies. But the question in my mind is, why was the focus just on these two, when there were several other movies that were excellent, and in many ways better than these two movies were? I think it must have been more about the directing of these movies as the accomplishment, rather than the subject matter.

Which brings up another issue with regard to the Best Picture category itself, that I have observed. In choosing a Best Picture, it seems that there are now so many nominees in this category alone, (a total of eight this year) that it must be very hard to narrow down the field to a single choice of a movie that could be declared ‘the best’ in terms of filmmaking, story, character development, cinematography and set design, or whatever else may go into making a film stand out as a Best Picture. For example, the movie award should be based upon whether the film is commendable enough for not only its filmmaking techniques, but its characters, the drama and story development, as well as the type of story that is being told, and how well it is adapted to the screen, or presented as a meaningful film through these elements. It seems that by widening the number of movies in the Best Picture category, that the Academy has actually opened the door for less clarity by allowing such a diverse mixture of different kinds of movies with no particular distinction, making it all the harder to really select “a best.” While taken individually, they may all have their own unique merits, they are perhaps too different from each other as a group, making it hard, if not impossible to really compare them. I have a feeling that many people might be disappointed by the outcome in this year’s winner for this reason.

I personally would love to see either The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, or Selma win. All three were excellent movies with interesting qualities about important people in history, with some relevance to events happening today. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game both focus on the lives of scientists and their accomplishments in history. Selma was also a very moving recreation of the Civil Rights movement, and the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was very well played by the lead actor, David Oyelowo. And certainly the director, Ava DuVarnay, should have been nominated in the Best Director category, (especially being both black and female); while David Oyelowo should not have been excluded from the Best Actor category. These oversights have led to numerous online speculations and discussions about whether or not the Academy was really addressing or recognizing issues of diversity and inclusion this year, (or even recognizing quality film-making by a newcomer, and a female director for that matter). Ava DuVernay to her credit though, has risen above this controversy by stating that she feels that the discussion detracts from “the beauty of the film and the freedom fighters who fought for justice and (against) indignity,” during the Civil Rights era, which she has effectively captured and portrayed in her movie. Even if you are too young to remember the Civil Rights movement, you should see this film to better understand the obstacles faced by black Americans, some of them famous names now, in households across America - for example, both Andrew Young and John Lewis. There was some criticism of her portrayal of King's relationship to President Johnson in the movie, but for the most part it was a very worthwhile film, and I enjoyed the story. You can read more about her statement regarding the Oscars snubs, and her movie's lack of nominations, in this interview with DuVernay, from the New York Daily News, (published just this past Friday): Oscars 2015: ‘Selma’ director Ava DuVernay on diversity controversy: ‘I am not interested in talking about it anymore’ (written by, James Deberough and Kirthana Ramisetti).

The Imitation Game tells the fascinating story of Alan Turing, and his invention and use of what was really considered the first computer—an elaborate monstrosity of a machine that he imagined and created (according to the movie), which could do advanced numerical calculations and probability estimates. In real life it was called a “Turing machine,” and was ultimately responsible for the British being able to break the Nazis’ enigma code, allowing the British to control the outcome of World War II. Not many even knew who Alan Turing was until this movie came out; however he was single-handedly responsible for the secret operations of the British during World War II, and his invention allowed them and the rest of the world to be successful in defeating the Nazis— something he has only been recognized for posthumously. If you want to learn more about The Imitation Game, you might check out this Washington Post article written by Joel Achenbach, which tells the complete, real life history behind Alan Turing and the development of his computational theory and machine; as well as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Twitter Q & A from this past Wednesday, at this Twitter handle: #AskBenedict, where he answered viewer’s questions about his role as Alan Turing in the movie, as well as questions about how the movie was made. It was truly an interesting story, although with a sad ending.

The Theory of Everything portrays Stephen Hawking’s life as a young college boy at Cambridge University, where he first develops ALS, and how his then girlfriend (and wife-to-be) Jane, helped him to confront and live with his diagnosis and disease, which caused his body to atrophy, while his mind remained exceptionally sharp, and intellectually unchallenged. The movie portrays how he overcame the limitations of his disease while being confined to his wheel chair, and went on to become the famous scientist who developed his theory on the origins of the universe, black holes in space and time, (as well as his theory of life). Like Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne also did an amazing job with his role in playing Hawking. The movie focused more on the relationship (rather than on just the science) between Hawking and his wife, Jane, who was exceptionally well played by actress, Felicity Jones in her supporting role. The movie was based upon the memoir written by Jane Wilde Hawking titled, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.”

Both of these movies were wonderful and emotionally fulfilling stories and adaptaions of stories of historical figures, and the memoirs written about them and about their personal lives as real people, who have left their mark on history. But it seems that they have not been recognized as such because of the number of contenders in the Best Picture category, as well as the emphasis being placed, perhaps in a biased way, upon the other two movies, their directors, and lead actors. Birdman and Boyhood almost belong in their own cateogories for being so different. I didn't see The Grand Budapest Hotel or American Sniper but it seems like the former was probably an artistic and eccentric one as well, although not quite as dark as Birdman. However, they really have nothing in common with any of the others in this category. Hopefully the historical movies will be recognized in some of the other deserving categories this year, if none of them make it in the Best Picture category. However, they should all stand alone as excellent movies that people will want to watch over again for years to come—something that should also be considered a hallmark of a best picture.

Maybe it is time though, for the Academy to consider that there could be more than one Best Picture category for movies, given that there are so many different types of movies being produced in the modern, 21st century world we live in. There could be categories for Best Dramas and Best Comedies, or even Artistically Avante-garde movies, in addition to Sci-Fi movies that use a lot of computer graphics, for instance; along with Biographical and Historical movies. Another category that could be added to recognize an evolving new movie genere, might also include an award for a “Best Musical Adaptation to the Big Screen.” In this category, I think that Into the Woods would have to fall, as the charming, onscreen recreation of Steven Sondheim’s Broadway musical by that name, as it was a significant accomplishment in terms of a musical being brought to the screen, with characters who sang their entire parts, with admirable skill. In addition to other things such as set and costume design in this movie, I really liked how both the characters and the set served to bring their fairy tales in the movie to life, weaving them all together into a clever and original story. This was also Sondheim's intent in the musical, which featured several original fairy tales, as well as one that was created and imagined by him, about the Baker and his wife who meet the witch, and then are sent off to the woods to look for the things she requests of them, where by happenstance, they end up running into all the other characters from the original fairy tales, who are all looking for or wishing for something in their lives. The warning from the witch to the other characters, that “they should be careful what they wish for,” is a theme running throughout the musical story, which symbolizes some of the underlying moral themes expressed in the fairy tales.

The actresses and actors of Into the Woods were cast quite well for their roles, as characters who all converge “in the woods ” with distinct personalities. The costumes were exquisite, and the musical also features some injections of humor carefully added here and there throughout the dialog by Sondheim, which serves to modernize the fairy tales in a fun way. For example, the Prince's explanatory remark to Cinderella, after he had “strayed” with the Baker's wife, was that he had been “raised to be charming, but not sincere.” Another great scene was when the two princes performed their singing duo atop the waterfall in the woods. Lkewise, the young boy who plays Jack in the Beanstalk did a fabulous job of singing songs such as, “There are Giants in the Sky. ” And, Little Red Riding Hood also had a great role, including when she met the Wolf in the woods and had to sing about her granny and herself having being eaten by him. And of course, Meryl Streep really nailed her role as the witch — both in her character’s physical appearance and costume, as well as her singing of songs such as “The Last Midnight” with great expressiveness, which is typical of all of Meryl Streep's performances. Her nomination for Best Supporting Actress is deserved, even though she probably won't win for it.

Into the Woods was also filmed at a real castle, and even though the woods were part real and also part film creation, the cinematography amazingly wove together all of the real and fake imagery in a very successful and convincing way, from the castle to the woods, and all the characters’ passage through them, whether it was Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood, or the Princes riding their horses and passing one another, through the woods, they all helped to give feeling and dimension to the landscape. In thinking about one of the last scenes where the Baker and Jack are trying to fight off the big lady giant, from their perspective on a perch they had climbed to, atop a very large tree, the visual on-screen contrast between the size of the giant and them was very effectively created, along with the portrayal of the giant's feet walking through the forest. That type of camera and scenery perspective manipulation also shows the computer graphic influences of modern movie-making, and is a technique that is now more possible than in the past. Into the Woods as a movie musical, was truly a modern-day fairy tale! It seems like it could win for either Best Costume or Production Design, but wouldn't it be neat if it also had an award for a “Best Movie Musical?”

One of the other movies that I did see was Wild, but not Still Alice, but both are noteworthy this year for their roles played by women, with Julianne Moore being the front runner as the nominated Best Actress for her role as an Alzheimer's patient in Still Alice.

I think however, that considering opening up some new categories and having more than one type of Best Picture award, the Academy might be able to avoid the pitfall of choosing a single, “Best Picture” which may or may not actually reflect the majority of movie-viewers’ emotional sentiments and tastes, in their choices. It must be very hard to narrow down the field from a practical perspective, without watering down the meaning behind the award, and then to provide an explanation or supporting evidence with regard for the choice (or not), or just to indicate why this movie may have won over the others, would be helpful. Unfortunately, that aspect of the Oscars is usually left for movie critics to figure out and debate, while the Academy’s choices remain shrouded in mystery. But I think that because of this overpopulated field of contenders, that the Best Picture category may be losing some of its meaning, if there are no specific qualities to be considered as to what a Best Picture really is. I really do not see that the choices are entirely clear-cut this year, like they have been in the past. So for this reason I am most likely to be one of the viewers who will be disappointed, unless of course there are some surprises waiting to be discovered, beyond just the hype and buzz in the media, about which movies are expected to win.

There are plenty of reviews being written, including some in The Washington Post this weekend, about why movies should be viewed as artforms, and are not necessarily completely truthful or factual representations, including as it points out, that Selma wasn't totally true to its depiction of President Lyndon Johnson, and in some ways, maybe not its main character, Dr. M.L. King as well. But in the end, we all have our own biases, tastes, and opinions about how a movie affects us, and sometimes it might be hard to see what its real merits are, in terms of a film and and a work of visual art, on the screen. I certainly have my own views on what types of movies I like, but have found that this year's Oscar contenders to be particularly hard to sort out, and define. I just know which ones I liked, and which ones I did not.

Even in other categories, such as the Best Animated Feature film, I have my own preferences in terms of what I like. Last year, it was How to Train Your Dragon that won, and this year, the sequel to that is out, along with Big Hero 6, and the The Boxtrolls, but I have been most interested in two of the lesser well known movies in this group. One being the The Tale of the Princess Kagayu, by Japanese directors, Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura (last year they did The Wind Also Rises); and the second one being the Irish animated movie,Song of the Sea, which adapts a Celtic fairy tale about the magical power of seals and humans, to the screen. The real artistry in this second film are the illustrations which are beautifully rendered and animated in a unique style that can only be described as Irish and Celtic. The director and producer of this movie, Tomm Moore, also produced The Secret of Kells, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2009. Both of these movies are exquisite visual delights, as well as enchanting stories. However, it probably won't win, as everyone is talking about Big Hero 6, instead. But I like to think that maybe we are just missing something in terms of appreciation for some of these more unusually artistic animated movies, that don't necessarily get the attention they deserve. Perhaps it is because they were not created by American producers. But again, many of these movies boil down to it all being a matter of personal taste.

Another review of Song of the Sea, in the Austin Chronicle.

* To see what others are predicting, for ALL of the best Oscar categories, visit the Indie-wire website. They also seem to have come up with some of their own choices for movies that weren't necessarily even nominated this year, in several of the categories: http://www.indiewire.com/article/2015-oscar-predictions.

And of course, there are always plenty of movies to see, beyond just the “Best Picture” nominees!

 

Favorite movies of winter, 2014:
Into the Woods
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Selma

 

Into the Woods - on Amazon.com

Into the Woods

 

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© 2015 - Jacquie Apel