When I went through my year-by-year breakdown of the Oscars, I said this:
Here’s the thing that strikes me about the last 35 years of film history. Over that span, the IMDB ratings for individual years have become populated by a much broader variety of films than ever before. Surprisingly, traditional Oscar fare does well. For all the lashing IMDB gets, great films are popular there. IMDB loves Scorsese, loves Kubrik and loves good film. The difference is the variety — IMDB also loves foreign films, actions films, art films and animated films. These are things the Academy tends to ignore as they pick the same shit every year. Oscar bait has pretty much become its own genre. In other words, the problem is not so much that the Academy has regressed, it’s that they haven’t kept up.
If there is a movie from 2014 that defines “Oscar bait”, it’s The Imitation Game. It’s a good film and I recommend it, especially if you’re over 60. The directing is solid. The acting is superb (although anytime I saw Charles Dance, I thought, ‘don’t help him! It’s Tywin Lannister!’). The script is fine. But it has a a flaw in that it screams “give me an Oscar!” at 100 decibels. At times, it’s like watching a movie by a precocious 16-year-old: “Look how good this movie is! Isn’t Benedict Cumberbatch awesome! Look, Keira Knightly! You love Keira Knightly! Conflict! Homophobia! Sacrifice!”
The Imitation Game doesn’t have the confidence to be its own movie. Instead, it’s a descendant of A Beautiful Mind. Instead of portraying Alan Turing as the eccentric but perfectly sociable person he was, they make him an autistic savant, not far removed from Russell Crowe’s John Nash. Instead of showing the years-long struggle to break Enigma, we get the sudden breakthrough from picking up girls in a bar, a scene so similar to the breakthrough scene of A Beautiful Mind, it’s almost insulting (and stupid; the technique that “breaks” Enigma in the movie is cryptology 101). It’s got plenty of good dialogue and the characters are well-defined. But the plot is surprisingly weak.
(Spoiler Warning: The worst part of the film, for me, is when Turing’s team starts holding back information so that the Nazis won’t know the code has been broken. That decision was real but it was made way higher up the chain of command. Portraying it as Turing’s decision was so unrealistic it jarred me out of the film. I think it would have been better for him to see how little of his intelligence was used and get frustrated.)
As I said, the movie’s fine. I give it a 7/10. It’s worth a rental. I was happy for Graham Moore when he won the Oscar and his acceptance speech was amazing. But like a lot of movies, The Imitation Game is a shadowy reflection of an even better movie: one that tries less hard to win an Oscar and, ironically, would have been a better candidate for one. I hate to go all nerdboy, but I think sticking closer to history: where Enigma was a long struggle, where Turing was the eccentric but brilliant leader of a massive team, where the decision of when to use Enigma decrypts was made by higher up, would have made for a better and more satisfying film.
As it is, this one will likely be forgotten in a few years. Just another piece of Oscar bait. That’s a pity. Cumberbatch, Tyldum and, to some extent, Moore, deserve better.