Under the Radar

Military Movies at the 2015 Oscars

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The 87th Academy Awards ceremony takes place Sunday February 22nd at 7pm Eastern & 4pm Pacific on ABC. Some of the greatest military movies ever have won Oscars and half of this year's Best Picture nominees have strong military themes or connections.

There's one film that was widely considered to be a leading contender but only managed to pick up a few technical nominations and a couple of documentaries that are both required viewing.

BEST PICTURE NOMINEES

1. American Sniper

As well as its best picture nod, Bradley Cooper's performance as Chris Kyle earned him a Best Actor nod and Jason Hall was nominated for adapted screenplay. The film's six nominations also include editing, sound editing and sound mixing. Clint Eastwood didn't get nominated for Best Director, but some folks (us included) think it has a shot to be the surprise winner of the night.

How to see it: American Sniper is still rolling along in the box office. You'll have to go to a theater to see it before Oscar night.

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2. The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, who led efforts to break the Nazi's Enigma code during WWII and whose research is credited with paving the way for the modern computer industry. He was also gay and persecuted by the British government after the war, a circumstance that certainly played a role in his suicide in 1954. The movie embraces the theory that the Allied victory was fueled more by military intelligence more than boots on the ground.

The film's eight nominations include Cumberbatch for Best Actor, Keira Knightley for Best Supporting Actress, Morten Tyldum for Best Director, Anthony McCarten for adapted screenplay and Alexandre Desplat for original score, There are also technical nominations for editing and production design.

How to see it: The Imitation Game is still showing in theaters. You'll have to leave the house and buy a ticket if you want to check it out before Oscar night.

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3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

This movie about the years between-the-wars in Europe plays like a comedy but there's a serious undertone about the 19th-century culture that was still hanging on after World War I and how flaws in that world gave rise to the Nazi menace. Of course, Wes Anderson keeps a light touch with the material and all the countries have mythical names, the events in the movie don't quite match up with the actual dates and even the Nazis aren't named and have a different logo.

The film's nine nominations also include Anderson for director and original screenplay and Alexandre Desplat competing with himself for original score. There are also technical nominations for editing, cinematography, costume design, makeup & hairstyling and production design.

How to see it: The Grand Budapest Hotel is now showing on HBO and you can stream the movie via HBO Go. You can also buy it on Blu-ray, DVD or Digital HD and it's available to rent on demand from iTunes and Amazon.

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4. Boyhood

Director Richard Linklater's deep exploration of family life in America was filmed over twelve years and follows a pair of young actors as they pass through their school years into young adulthood. It's an amazing feat of filmmaking and considered the favorite to win Best Picture.

What's the military connection? Patricia Arquette plays the mom and the film chronicles her failed relationships while she's raising her two kids. Partner #3 is Jim, played by Texas actor Brad Hawkins, whom you might recognize from his role as Ryan Steele in the '90s kids show VR Troopers or his country music career.

Hawkins plays an Iraq war vet who's a student in Arquette's college class. She falls for him at a party where he tells stories about his service and his idealistic vision for the American mission in Iraq. When the film returns to their lives a year later, Jim is working as a guard in a correctional facility, drinking after work and broken down by his life in the country he fought to protect. The relationship doesn't survive, but Linklater manages to make a statement about America's lack of commitment to its contemporary veterans in the context of his larger story. Hawkins gives one of the best performances in a movie that's full of them.

Boyhood's six nominations include Linklater for director and original screenplay, Arquette for supporting actress and Ethan Hawke for supporting actor. The film is also nominated for editing.

How to see it: Boyhood is available now on Blu-ray, DVD or Digital HD and it's available to rent on demand from iTunes, Amazon and via most cable and satellite systems.

The other four movies nominated for Best Picture don't have the same military connections. If Whiplash (about a young drummer's relationship with a confrontational music teacher) had been made twenty years ago, it's easy to imagine R. Lee Ermey in the teacher role that's likely to win J.K. Simmons a Best Supporting Actor award. Selma details Martin Luther King, Jr.'s political struggles in the mid-1960s. Both movies are still in theaters.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a surreal, behind-the-scenes showbiz movie that may win Michael Keaton a long-overdue Best Actor award. It's available for purchase now on Digital HD and it's the movie most likely to win if it's not Boyhood or American Sniper. The Theory of Everything chronicles the life of physicist Stephen Hawking and his struggles with ALS. Eddie Redmayne's performance as Hawking makes him a strong contender for Best Actor. The movie is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

SUPRISINGLY NOT NOMINATED

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Unbroken seemed like a slam dunk for awards season. Based on a beloved bestselling book by Lauren Hillenbrand and featuring a strong performance by Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini, the movie was a big hit with audiencs but only managed to pick up nominations for cinematography, sound editing and sound mixing.

How to see it: Unbroken is still showing in a handful of theaters. Otherwise, you'll have to wait for its release on Blu-ray, DVD and digital HD on March 24.

DOCUMENTARY

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Last Days in Vietnam

Filmmaker Rory Kennedy is Senator Robert Kennedy's youngest child, born six months after his assassination in 1968. She was six years old when the United States evacuated the American Embassy in Saigon, but she brings a clarity and urgency to Last Days in Vietnam, an amazing documentary about the American efforts to help as many Vietnamese allies get out of the country.

Ambassador Graham Martin refused to believe that Saigon was going to fall and gets a lot of heat from the men who served under him for not allowing the efforts to start earlier. By the end, he's supporting the military men who are ignoring orders from the Pentagon and continuing evacuation efforts until the last possible moment.

Most Americans saw the news footage on TV in 1975, but very few knew the whole story. Kennedy's made a great movie and there's a good chance it'll wind the Oscar.

How to see it: You can buy a DVD now. It's also available to buy or rent via iTunes or Amazon Instant Video. If you want to see it for free, Last Days in Vietnam will show on PBS' American Experience in April.

Citizenfour

Citizenfour, the other real contender for the prize, is a must-see film sure to make viewers uncomfortable no matter how they feel about Edward Snowden's leak of classified NSA data to the media. Snowden contacted filmmaker Laura Poitras before he made the leak and she chronicled the story in real time.

The movie plays like one of those paranoid '70s thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View. No matter whether you believe Snowden is a hero or a traitor, the movie gives invaluable insight into his motivations and the modern era of military intelligence. If you're reading this site, it's must-see viewing.

How to see it: if you haven't seen Citizenfour already, you're out of luck before the Oscars, but the movie will debut on HBO the next day (February 23rd) and be available via HBO Go the day after that.

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