best of 2014 fall movies

Chicago's Best Critics Discuss the Oscar Noms

Friday, January 16, 2015 Rob Samuelson

I get my seat and plop down with my large chai latte because I'm now an adult with a need for hot drinks and light amounts of caffeine. My jacket's off, my hair is as okay as it's going to get after one of the worst haircuts I've had in years. But I'm here, and that's all that matters. I'm in the realm I've longed for, I can touch the peak of the mountain. 

I'm talking of course about the five critics who spoke at the Gene Siskel Film Center's annual Oscar Nominations Panel, the people I hope to one day call colleagues in this business. From left to right sat Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, Steve Prokopy (“Capone” of Ain't It Cool), Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club, and J.R. Jones of The Chicago Reader. These are some of the people I have spent years reading, learning how to watch and explain movies, how to love the art form more deeply. And here they were, wearing normal people clothes, cracking jokes, and in the case of Prokopy, looking like my college roommate's dad. These were approachable people, not that I did any more than walk up, smile, and say, “Thank you,” with a mouthful of free fruit at the reception afterward.

But anyway, enough lede burying and hero worshiping. What did some of the best critics in Chicago think about the Oscar nominations, which were announced yesterday?

They were mostly on the fence. They acknowledged the snubs, like Foxcatcher not being nominated for Best Picture despite its director, Bennett Miller, getting the nod for his category, the first time in history that has happened, according to Prokopy. Phillips talked, with his unmistakable thinking sound – if you've ever listened to his appearances on NPR's Filmspotting, you know exactly what I mean – about the overwhelming Vegas odds in favor of Boyhood winning Best Picture.

They discussed some of the behind-the-scenes things that have made Selma less of an awards juggernaut than it might otherwise be – long story short, some people are shocked, SHOCKED that the depiction of President Johnson and Martin Luther King's relationship in this fictionalized film wasn't entirely historically accurate.

When asked, they went down the line to say whether their favorite 2014 release had been nominated and what that favorite was. Lucky for Phillips and Robinson, their pick is likely to win it all. Sorry, other guys. Although Vishnevetsky had a lot of fun making it a running joke throughout the panel to say The Immigrant, his favorite and my 10thfavorite of the year, loudly into the microphone multiple times.

But mostly it was a celebration of what a great year 2014 was for movies, regardless of whether the Academy nominated too few great performances – I'm looking at you, David Oyelowo and Joaquin Phoenix – and too many middle-of-the-road mediocrities – sorry, Imitation Game, but you're just blandly acceptable. These are people who love the medium of cinema and they showed it for a leisurely hour. 

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