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The Best Picture field for the Academy Awards boasts eight strong nominees without any true weak links. Oscar night promises intrigue and excitement with a true battle of titans, from Birdman’s quest to win for the sake of movies and performance to Selma’s spotlight on racial dynamics that remain relevant to this day. In my mind, though, another film jumps out ahead of the rest. We have seen great dramas, biographies, and war films before, but rarely do we get to see one film become all three. Beyond that, The Imitation Game offers the greatest combination of acting, directing, and storytelling of any of this year’s nominees.
The Imitation Game offers the riveting amalgamation of a compelling character study and a tense wartime narrative, bouncing between the two constantly without diluting the viewing experience. It certainly helps that the film comes about from phenomenal source material—Alan Turing’s story is one of the richest in modern history. Breaking the Enigma machine is at the same time one of the most groundbreaking and underappreciated accomplishments of the past century. Beyond his World War II heroics, Turing laid the foundation for modern computing and information processing. It’s the kind of story that even the driest documentary could make captivating, let alone a tense and brilliantly acted motion picture.
As the Oscar’s judging season rolls on, standout performers often push their films to contention and victory—Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, for example. These exceptional actors provide a face for viewers and voters to associate with their films, which can bolster their campaigns. Biographical films especially require a versatile and talented lead to really shine—cue Benedict Cumberbatch. His portrayal of Turing is undoubtedly the most nuanced and demanding performance of his career, capturing not only the tormented hero’s brilliance but also his fragility.
Like the film itself, Cumberbatch might be overshadowed by the powerful performances of the other best actor nominees—especially Eddie Redmayne, in The Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton, in Birdman. It’s no question, however, that Cumberbatch does the most impressive work of the bunch, embodying the numerous complexities of Turing’s character without allowing any to bog down the story. Director Morten Tyldum also deserves credit here for successfully weaving the personal, professional, and historical aspects of Turing’s story together into a single narrative that is both powerful and accessible to viewers. He reveals both the depth of Turing’s story and the scope of his legacy without disrupting the film’s rhythm.
Films like Selma and American Sniper offer poignant takes on turbulent times and individuals in American history, while Birdman and Boyhoodare filled with lively innovation. Where The Imitation Game goes beyond, however, is in its illumination of an important historical figure while also tying his tortured existence to social issues that are still relevant to us today. Alan Turing shortened the most brutal war in history by years, he fell victim to social persecution of the day against homosexuality.
Turing has become somewhat of an icon in the gay community, a supremely intelligent and influential man taken far too soon because of dehumanizing legislation that required him to undergo chemical castration. Again, Tyldum’s film manages to reveal this while also firmly reminding his audience that Turing’s legacy and works transcends the discrimination he faced in his lifetime. No one storyline or event made the man, and the film does well to convey that to its audience.
I do not intend to disparage the rest of the Best Picture field. Each of the eight films offers something different and entertaining, and regardless of whom takes home the statuette, I probably will not be complaining. No ill will surrounds any of the films—there is no Crash in this field, no polarizing or pretentious work. Directors like Richard Linklater, with Boyhood, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, with Birdman, have done amazing work, but Tyldum and his cast have crafted a stunning combination of history, biography, action, and commentary that will stand the test of time.
Let’s hope the academy will see it the same way.