90th Academy Awards: My Ballot and Countdown of the Best Films of 2017

As you have probably noticed, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog was a bit nonexistent this year – and by “a bit,” I mean completely!  Due to an incredibly busy work schedule over the past year, I have been unable to see quite the number of films I usually prefer to see or devote a chunk of time to blogging about them – next year I hope to get right back on the review train for a complete season of best-of-the-year blogging!  Nonetheless, with tonight’s Academy Awards quickly approaching, I still wanted to share with you my thoughts on the past year in film.

https---blogs-images.forbes.com-johnarcher-files-2018-01-BladeRunner2049CarSmoke.jpg?width=960.jpgAlthough I surely missed some movies this year that many have loved, such as Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Coco, I was lucky enough to watch a large number of incredible films that made me laugh, made me cry, and certainly made me think.  Below, you will find my Top 10 Films of 2017, as well as a more complete ranking of each movie I watched from this past year at the end (45 in total).  As you will see below, my favorite film of the year was Blade Runner 2049 – visually arresting and cinematically stunning.

shapeAdditionally, you will find below my personal Oscars ballot for this year – per usual, it includes my ranking of each nominee in the fourteen categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance.  This year, although it ranks as No. 3 on my list of the year’s best movies (the top two were not nominated for Best Picture), my pick for Best Picture is The Shape of Water.

So, check out my ballot and list of my favorite movies from 2017, and make sure to tune into the 90th Academy Awards tonight at 7:00pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, film fans.

Top 10 Films of 2017

1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Good Time
7. The Disaster Artist
8. Call Me by Your Name
9. Wind River
10. Dunkirk

90th Academy Awards Ballot

Best Picture

  1. The Shape of Water
  2. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Get Out
  4. Call Me by Your Name
  5. Dunkirk
  6. Lady Bird
  7. Darkest Hour
  8. Phantom Thread
  9. The Post

Best Actor

  1. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
  2. Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
  3. Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
  5. Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress

  1. Frances McDormand – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
  3. Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
  4. Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
  5. Meryl Streep – The Post

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
  3. Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Willem Defoe – The Florida Project
  5. Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Allison Janney – I, Tonya
  2. Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
  3. Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
  4. Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
  5. Mary J. Blige – Mudbound

Best Director

  1. Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
  2. Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
  3. Jordan Peele – Get Out
  4. Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
  5. Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Jordan Peele – Get Out
  2. Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
  3. Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
  4. Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  5. Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
  2. James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
  3. Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
  4. Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – Mudbound
  5. Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green – Logan

Best Original Score

  1. Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  2. Carter Burwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
  4. John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  5. Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk

Best Cinematography

  1. Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
  3. Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water
  4. Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
  5. Rachel Morrison – Mudbound

Best Film Editing

  1. Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape of Water
  2. Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
  3. Jon Gregory – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Lee Smith – Dunkirk
  5. Tatiana S. Riegel – I, Tonya

Best Production Design

  1. Dennis Gassner (Production Design) and Alessandra Querzola (Set Decoration) – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Paul Denham Austerberry (Production Design) and Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin (Set Decoration) – The Shape of Water
  3. Nathan Crowley (Production Design) and Gary Fettis (Set Decoration) – Dunkirk
  4. Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration) – Darkest Hour
  5. Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration) – Beauty and the Beast

Best Sound Editing

  1. Mark Mangini and Theo Green – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Richard King and Alex Gibson – Dunkirk
  3. Julian Slater – Baby Driver
  4. Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreria – The Shape of Water
  5. Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Ron Bartlett, Dough Hemphill, and Marc Ruth – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, and Gary A. Rizzo – Dunkirk
  3. Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, and Mary H. Ellis – Baby Driver
  4. Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern, and Glen Gauthier – The Shape of Water
  5. David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Stuart Wilson – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Complete Ranking of Films Seen from 2017

1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Good Time
7. The Disaster Artist
8. Call Me by Your Name
9. Wind River
10. Dunkirk
11. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
12. Lady Bird
13. Lady Macbeth
14. The Work
15. Darkest Hour
16. Phantom Thread
17. I, Tonya
18. Molly’s Game
19. The Beguiled
20. I, Daniel Blake
21. Dealt
22. Baby Driver
23. The Girl with All the Gifts
24. The Meyerowitz Stories
25. The Post
26. Spielberg
27. Burning Sands
28. All the Money in the World
29. Berlin Syndrome
30. To the Bone
31. Brawl in Cell Block 99
32. Logan
33. Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi
34. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
35. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
36. The Hero
37. The Florida Project
38. Unrest
39. Score: A Film Music Documentary
40. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
41. Beauty and the Beast
42. Oklahoma City
43. Split
44. Fifty Shades Darker
45. The Little Hours
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Review: My Oscars Ballot and Countdown (2016)

For the fifth consecutive year, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” has concluded. And, the Oscars are TONIGHT! In preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I have provided below my personal Oscars ballot—it includes my ranking of each nominee in the eleven categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance. I have also included my final list of the Top 10 Films of 2016.

Check out my ballot, revisit my reviews of the year’s best films, and make sure to tune into the 89th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, film fans!

89th Academy Awards Nominations (My Ballot)

Best Picture

  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. Hell or High Water
  3. Arrival
  4. Moonlight
  5. Lion
  6. La La Land
  7. Fences
  8. Hidden Figures
  9. Hacksaw Ridge

Best Actor

  1. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
  2. Denzel Washington (Fences)
  3. Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
  4. Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
  5. Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Actress

  1. Natalie Portman (Jackie)
  2. Emma Stone (La La Land)
  3. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
  4. Ruth Negga (Loving)
  5. Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
  2. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
  3. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
  4. Dev Patel (Lion)
  5. Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  2. Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
  3. Viola Davis (Fences)
  4. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
  5. Nicole Kidman (Lion)

Best Director

  1. Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
  2. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
  3. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
  4. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
  5. Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
  2. Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
  3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
  4. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)
  5. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)
  2. Fences (August Wilson)
  3. Arrival (Eric Heisserer)
  4. Lion (Luke Davies)
  5. Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Best Original Score

  1. La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)
  2. Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)
  3. Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
  4. Jackie (Mica Levi)
  5. Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Best Cinematography

  1. Arrival (Bradford Young)
  2. La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
  3. Moonlight (James Laxton)
  4. Lion (Greig Fraser)
  5. Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Best Film Editing

  1. La La Land (Tom Cross)
  2. Arrival (Joe Walker)
  3. Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)
  4. Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)
  5. Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Top 10 Films of the Year:

  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. Hell or High Water
  3. Arrival
  4. Moonlight
  5. Lion
  6. O.J.: Made in America
  7. La La Land
  8. Fences
  9. Zootopia
  10. Nocturnal Animals

 

The Fifth Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” and 2016’s Honorable Mentions

For the fifth consecutive year, welcome back to The Reel Countdown, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog, which now, for the first time ever, officially has its own domain name: http://www.thereelcountdown.com. In just 14 days, the 89th Academy Awards will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California, and over the next two weeks, I look forward to sharing with you my favorite films from 2016.

For the past few years, this blog has included a breakdown of my “Top 15 Films of the Year,” as well as my own personal Oscars ballot for the year’s major categories. However, starting this year, the countdown of my favorite films of the year will be reduced to a “Top 10”—life has gotten much busier since last year!

After a fantastic year of film in 2016, the lead up to the Academy Awards has produced a number of interesting storylines: La La Land tied All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations by a single film (14!), the Academy nominated one of the most diverse group of nominees ever, Meryl Streep extended her own record for most nominations by a single actor to 20, Mel Gibson was effectively forgiven by Hollywood after notching a Best Director nomination, and O.J.: Made in America became the longest film to ever be nominated in any category (467 minutes). With late-night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel set to host for the first time, this year’s Oscars will surely entertain on all levels.

I am kicking off my fifth annual countdown by announcing the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 Films of 2016. Here are my five Honorable Mentions:

No. 11 – 13th

avaduvernay13th is a Netflix original documentary by director Ava DuVernay that explores race, the criminal justice system, and the social consequences of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” In 13th, DuVernay examines how the drafters of the 13th Amendment, while ending slavery in its more traditional form, left themselves an “out” to continue enslaving blacks in America via imprisonment for shockingly inconsequential charges.

13thTo put it simply, 13th is one of the year’s most important films. Not only is it important on a broad humanistic level, it is also as relevant as ever given Donald Trump’s extensive racially unconscious and divisive rhetoric (which director Ava DuVernay portrays in one particularly unflinching scene). Growing up and living in a vastly conservative region of the United States (where it is completely normal to see someone proudly flying the Rebel flag), I have seen firsthand how a wide range of people consider blacks to generally be “criminals,” and DuVernay, with meticulousness and dexterity, examines the roots of this unfounded terror and dehumanization. Exploring D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, the “Jim Crow” laws, President Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” and President Clinton’s “Three Strikes” rule, DuVernay delineates how America has fostered a prejudice for those of color. Everything 13th investigates has clearly been done so with exhaustive, in-depth research, and DuVernay has created one of the year’s most thought-provoking films. Bravo!

No. 12 – Gleason

gleason-1Gleason is a documentary that follows, with extraordinary access, the life of former New Orleans Saints hero Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed in 2011 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). This film tells the inspirational story of Gleason’s fight against this rare and incurable disease, delving deep into his relationship with his wife, the birth of his son at the beginning of his diagnosis, and his faith.

gleason-2Gleason is definitely one of the year’s best films (documentary or narrative), and I advise anyone that subscribes to Amazon Prime to make it a priority to watch it. But I will warn you now: PREPARE FOR TEARS! The filmmakers explore Gleason’s diagnosis from every angle and do not sugarcoat anything—they show you the fight and determination of Gleason’s family as they react to the initial diagnosis, but they also examine the real and undeniable daily struggles that come with ALS. This film definitely hits the heart in astonishing ways, but despite the pain and sadness that embody the nature of Steve Gleason’s disease, the story of inspiration and hope reigns supreme.

No. 13 – Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures Day 41

Hidden Figures is a biographical drama directed by Theodore Melfi, with a screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder. The film tells the true-life story of Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three black female mathematicians working for NASA during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Hidden Figures follows the three women as they break a wide range of racial barriers in the early 1960s, including Johnson’s integral role in calculating flight trajectories for John Glenn’s infamous Friendship 7 mission, where he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

hidden-figures-2Hidden Figures is heartwarming and relevant as ever—not only does it tackle the severe racial tensions of the 1960s, but it also digs into the even more challenging life of a black female during the middle part of the 20th century. The film introduces the world to three extraordinary women who helped shape America’s role in space exploration, and it inspirationally communicates to all girls, especially young black females, that they are just as worthy as their male counterparts in all aspects of life. Hidden Figures is an empowering film, and it is just what America needed during this tumultuous time in our history.

No. 14 – Hacksaw Ridge

hr-1Hacksaw Ridge is a war drama directed by Oscar winner Mel Gibson, with a screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. The film tells the amazing true-life story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a combat medic during World War II who, as a devout Christian, refused to carry and/or use a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, Doss single handedly rescued over 75 American soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge, earning him the Medal of Honor—this was the first time the highest military honor had ever been bestowed upon a conscientious objector.

mel-gibson-hacksaw-ridge

Over the past decade, Hollywood has unofficially blacklisted Mel Gibson following the anti-Semitic comments he made during a DUI arrest in 2006, which has been evidenced by the big studios’ blatant cold shoulder. However, with Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson has returned to the level of filmmaking genius that earned him numerous Oscars for Braveheart—clearly, the Academy took notice, bestowing upon Gibson another Best Director nomination. In addition to Gibson’s direction, Andrew Garfield gives one of the year’s best performances as Desmond Doss—Garfield provided poise and nuance to his real-life character, and the film benefits from his talent. Although the film is far too preachy for my tastes, the incredible action sequences make it well worth the watch.

No. 15 – Green Room

green-room-anton-pootsGreen Room is a thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. The film follows the Ain’t Rights, a punk rock band traveling through the Pacific Northwest who, in desperate need of cash, agree to play a gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead club. After the concert, band member Pat (the late Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to retrieve a cell phone, only to witness a recently committed murder. When Pat and his band members attempt to alert the police, the club’s brass, at the direction of ringleader Darcy (Patrick Stewart), lock the Ain’t Rights in the club’s green room. In thrilling fashion, the rest of the film follows the group’s attempts to make it out alive.

green-room-2The first time I came across the work of Jeremy Saulnier was in 2014 when I watched his masterpiece of a film, Blue Ruin. Although Green Room does not achieve the same degree of amazement as his previous film, Saulnier has returned to the same well to craft an exhilarating adventure that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Green Room is harrowing and sadistic in its depiction of the dark side of the punk rock scene as it relates to the skinhead subculture; however, Saulnier constructs this horror with composed skill. Led by exceptional performances from the late Anton Yelchin and Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself (Patrick Stewart), Green Room is a wild and crazy adventure that is a must-see!

Review: My Ballot and Countdown (2015)

And just like that, my fourth annual Oscars Ballot and Countdown blogging has come to an end. And in bigger news: The Academy Awards are finally here! Per usual, in preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I am providing a review of my blog from these past few weeks. This review includes all of the winners of the 16 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about (my personal ballot), and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my previous posts this season, which feature much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances. Lastly, make sure to tune into the 88th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Mad Max: Fury Road

Actor in a Leading Role: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson (Room)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Best Director: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Cinematography: John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Film Editing: Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

Best Production Design: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Sound Editing: Mark A. Mangini and David White (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Sound Mixing: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Visual Effects: Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris, and Andrew Whitehurst (Ex Machina)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

Best Original Screenplay: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. The Big Short
  4. Sicario
  5. Ex Machina
  6. Spotlight
  7. Straight Outta Compton
  8. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  9. Steve Jobs
  10. Creed
  11. ’71
  12. Room
  13. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  14. Beasts of No Nation
  15. The Martian

 

Best Picture (2015)

This year, one of eight nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies when it receives the Academy’s greatest honor: the Oscar for Best Picture. Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include It Happened One Night, The Bridge on the River KwaiOliver!Driving Miss DaisyBraveheartNo Country for Old MenBirdman, and many more. Needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:

WINNERMad Max: Fury Road

2. The Revenant

3. The Big Short

4. Spotlight

5. Room

6. The Martian

7. Bridge of Spies

8. Brooklyn

Best Actor (2015)

Last year, four of the five nominees for Best Actor were receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. It was a group of rookies. That simply is not so this year. In fact, Bryan Cranston is the lone actor in the category receiving his first Oscar nod. The other four nominees this year have combined for ten previous nominations. It is also noteworthy that last year’s winner for Best Actor—Eddie Redmayne—is again nominated in this category. But as we all know, this year is all about whether Leo DiCaprio will finally take home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) 

As I wrote earlier today in my post about The Revenant, the Academy absolutely needs to give this man an Oscar. And when he wins, it will not be the Academy giving Leo a make-up call for his past snubs—this one will be because he took on the challenge of a lifetime and succeeded in glorious fashion. DiCaprio 1As most of you already know, The Revenant tackles the legend of the real-life Hugh Glass, a 19th-century fur trapper on the American frontier. After an attack by a wild grizzly bear renders him essentially lifeless, Tom Hardy’s character buries him alive and leaves him for dead. Glass ultimately crawls from his grave, still very much alive, and proceeds to journey across the wilderness to avenge his son’s murder. DiCaprio did everything in his power to deliver one of his greatest performances to date. As is well documented, many crewmembers abandoned the film’s director Alejandro G. Iñárritu because of the cold weather and exhausting shooting schedule. DiCaprio, despite nearly suffering from hypothermia throughout, stuck it out and rose to the occasion.DiCaprio 2 He knew that “film is forever” and he sacrificed his body and soul in ways most actors could never dream. He ate a raw bison liver. He slept in the carcass of a dead horse. He was whisked up and down ice-cold rivers. It is a wonder he even made it out alive, to be honest. But with his unrelenting spirit, Leonardo DiCaprio, albeit silent throughout, delivered one of the gutsiest performances in the history of American cinema. Leo, your very first Oscar is long overdue. But I am pretty positive that it is finally coming your way this Sunday! DiCaprio has previously been nominated for five Oscars, four of which were in acting categories (he was also nominated for Best Picture for 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street as a producer).

  1. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

In Steve Jobs, Michael Fassbender gave us an amazing performance as the titular Apple genius. In my post regarding the film, I made special mention of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s wildly rapid-fire dialogue, and an actor with Fassbender’s competence was truly needed to give those words a visual representation on the screen. Steve Jobs was by all appearances an innovative marvel, but, as I mentioned in an earlier post, “the skeletons in his closets were always present, feeding off his stressful life.” Fassbender thrived off his character’s duality—he brought to life the calamitous intersection of Jobs’s professional and personal lives. Jobs was maniacal at times—he was devoted to his work and did not care who he had to step over to get to the top.Michael Fassbinder Makenzie Moss Although the film delves into this eccentric part of Jobs’s personality, I was most impressed with the focus on his relationship with his daughter Lisa throughout the film. This, for me, is where Fassbender proves himself. Fassbender is uncanny as a Steve Jobs who boasts and brags and yells and fights, but when Lisa is present, Jobs is at his most vulnerable—Fassbender drips with subtle sensitivity in those moments. The film as a whole is great, and Michael Fassbender holds down the fort as Steve Jobs with striking legerdemain. Fassbender has previously been nominated for Best Supporting Actor (12 Years a Slave).

  1. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Cranston 1Bryan Cranston is critically acclaimed in TV circles for his award-winning role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. But in Trumbo, Cranston asserts himself as a force to be reckoned with in feature films. In the film (which is set between the 1940s and early 1960s), Cranston portrays the real-life Dalton Trumbo, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who was a member of the “Hollywood Ten,” a group of filmmakers that were cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted after refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Trumbo (Real) 1Forced to write in secret, his uncredited work on The Roman Holiday and The Brave One received Oscar wins. This is a movie about the movie industry—the Academy loves to reward these pieces (see 2011’s The Artist). But I think the Academy nailed this nomination because Bryan Cranston was absolutely fantastic as Trumbo. His performance is full of range and gravitas, and Cranston knocks it out of the park. Cranston has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Matt Damon (The Martian) 

Damon 1Matt Damon. On an empty Mars. Talking to himself. Wow, what a challenge for the 45-year-old actor. Never would I have thought that such an isolated role could be such fertile ground for an incredible acting performance, but Matt Damon delivered just that. Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut that is presumed dead during a Mars mission and abandoned by his crew. Watney is thus stranded on the red planet with limited supplies, but, with cleverness and resourcefulness, Watney signals to NASA that he is in fact still alive. The film then follows his journey to survival. In an earlier post about The Martian, I stated that Damon evoked a series of complex emotions in his performance: “[H]e moves from scared, to humored, to terrified, to hopeful, to exhausted, to thrilled, and Damon does so with skill and radiance.” Although this is one of my favorite Matt Damon performances—and despite the fact that I believe the Academy got his nomination spot-on—it just did not have enough oomph for me to rank it much higher. Damon has previously been nominated for three Oscars, two of which were in acting categories (he was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, along with Ben Affleck, for 1997’s Good Will Hunting).

  1. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Redmayne 1Last year, Eddie Redmayne had my vote for Best Actor for his heartfelt portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Academy had a similar feeling as me, handing Redmayne the award. Clearly the Academy values his acting prowess, as it has again nominated him for the Best Actor award. However, this year, Redmayne would have no place near the top of my ballot in this category—in fact, I would have him probably pegged as giving the tenth-best performance behind a number of better, yet snubbed, actors. In The Danish Girl, Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, the true-life accomplished Danish painter who endured an identity crisis as to his gender. Ultimately, Einar transformed into Lili Elbe, the product of the first documented sex-reassignment surgery. The story, although set in the mid-1920s, is as relevant as ever given issues faced by transgender people today. But no matter the film’s importance, Redmayne just simply didn’t sell it for me. As I mentioned in my post about the Best Supporting Actress category, Alicia Vikander stole the show as Einar’s wife. Her performance was powerful and emotionally affecting. But although Redmayne did a good job in his role, his emotional breakdown was not believable to me from an acting standpoint. In my opinion, his performance prevented the film from being great. Redmayne was previously nominated and won for Best Actor for his role in The Theory of Everything (2014).

Actors snubbed in this category: Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Jack O’Connell (’71), Tom Hardy (Legend), Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw), and Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies).

Best Actress (2015)

This year’s assembly of Best Actress nominees includes women with varying Oscar history. Both Brie Larson and Charlotte Rampling are receiving their inaugural Academy Award nomination. Between the remaining nominees, they have been nominated for a combined ten Oscars, including three wins. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Brie Larson (Room)

This year, I 100% expect Brie Larson to take home the Oscar for Best Actress. My posts are never meant to be a predictor of the winner—they are merely my own personal favorites. But this year, the best performance by a leading lady in my eyes will most definitely line up with the Academy’s vote. Larson 1Brie Larson has already blown the competition out of the water in a range of award shows this season, winning Best Actress at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice, and Screen Actors Guild. She was simply the best, and I am excited to see this up-and-coming actress get her due. In Room, Larson plays “Ma,” a kidnapped mother who goes to any length to ensure the safety of her 5-year-old son Jack, in spite of their imprisonment in a 10 ft. x. 10 ft. “room.” Jack is a curious boy who becomes evermore skeptical of his living circumstances, and as he explores these curiosities, Ma’s once-successful sheltering of him against the outside world starts to wane in terms of effectiveness. This is a pivotal moment in Ma’s life as a mother—it is utterly heartbreaking. Ma must be strong, but at times she cannot hold back the pain and the tears—we as an audience feel for her. Larson 2This is where Brie Larson takes the cake—she is unrelenting in her exposition of a nurturing mother that will do anything to protect her baby boy. As with my review of Room, I do not want to reveal too much about the film’s story. But trust me on this—Brie Larson’s gut-wrenching performance has paved the way for the 26-year-old actress to take home the gold on Sunday. Larson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Ronan 1This Oscars season, my blog has been void of any mention of Brooklyn, John Crowley’s Best Picture-nominated period piece; this is because in my opinion, it was not that memorable of a film. However, one bright spot for Brooklyn was its leading actress: Saoirse Ronan (her first name, as Ryan Gosling recently pointed out, is pronounced like the word “inertia”). In Brooklyn, Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, a young Irishwoman who immigrates to Brooklyn, NY, during the 1950s. After making the move, Eilis initially suffers from severe homesickness, crying often. However, Tony, a young Italian boy from the area, later courts her at a local dance, and this helps Eilis adjust to her new surroundings. However, due to some tragic news, she is forced to return temporarily to Ireland—she and Tony elope first, though, without anyone knowing. Once she is back in Ireland, she is repeatedly setup on dates with an eligible bachelor in town, and quickly, Eilis’s world seems more confusing than ever. This movie was sweet, and a lot of that has to do with the nimble performance by Ronan in the lead role. I was wildly impressed with her range. Upon falling for Tony, she delineated all of the expected butterflies-in-your-stomach-type feelings with beauty; additionally, she absolutely nailed every vulnerable moment of her character’s life when she is struggling to cope with her move. At just 21-years-old, Ronan already has two Oscar nominations, and Brooklyn was the perfect example of the remarkable abilities she possesses. Ronan was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Atonement (2007), which made her the seventh youngest actress to have ever been nominated in that category (13 years, 285 days).

  1. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

Just like Saoirse Ronan’s Brooklyn, 45 Years is another film that has not been mentioned yet this season on my blog. To be honest, the only reason I even saw it was because Charlotte Rampling was nominated for Best Actress. I love British films (they are often my favorite), but this one came and went pretty unremarkably for me. With that said, however, I was quite impressed by Rampling’s performance. Although she is expected to finish dead last in the Oscar race, I think her talents are being starkly overlooked—it was incredibly tough for me to decide between her or Ronan for my No. 2 spot. Rampling 1In 45 Years, the 70-year-old Rampling plays Kate, a woman planning a major celebration in honor of her 45th wedding anniversary with husband Geoff. However, during the final stretch to the big day, the two receive news that authorities in Switzerland have recovered the body of Geoff’s first love who died in a hiking accident before he and Kate ever met. This is the backdrop for the film’s story, and Rampling was unbelievably honest in her role. Geoff spends the days leading up to the anniversary celebration looking at pictures of him with his long-ago love and talking about her incessantly. Kate is visibly shaken but tries her hardest to keep any emotion suppressed, which she does not succeed at most of the time. Rampling’s performance is not showy or filled with vividly emotional moments. But the subtle nuances with which she evokes her emotions paint the perfect picture of her character’s inner struggle. With every look or glance, Rampling is effective. Rampling has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Cate Blanchett (Carol)

Carol is getting a lot of attention, as is understandable—it is a good movie. But for me, it simply was not great. The lion’s share of Carol’s praise has been heaped upon its two female stars: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. I wrote earlier this season about how Mara’s performance really did not do much for me, but Blanchett’s was more believable—the latter was definitely the far superior performer in the film.Blanchett 1 Carol is set during the 1950s in New York City, and it tells the story of Carol, played by Blanchett, as she meets and ultimately has an affair with a woman, Therese Belivet, played by Mara. This movie really bored me, and the only thing that caught my attention at all was Blanchett’s acting. I have long believed she is one of the top three actresses currently working in Hollywood, but in Carol, my belief that she did a good job is limited—I didn’t really think it was Oscar-worthy. Yes, her character is engaging in an affair with a woman that was incredibly taboo for the time period, and yes, Blanchett’s emotions throughout as her husband fights her tooth and nail for the custody of their daughter in light of her lesbian tendencies are skillfully evoked. But for me it was nothing memorable. It was just a good, seasoned performance from a veteran actress. Ten years from now, I will have totally forgotten about this role. Blanchett has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Aviator (2004) and for Best Actress for her role in Blue Jasmine (2013).

  1. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

To think, just six months ago, I was talking about how much I was looking forward to seeing David O. Russell’s latest film, Joy. In fact, I ranked it No. 8 on my Fall Preview. I was deeply let down. This movie sucks. It just does. It didn’t make me care about the story. It didn’t make me care about the characters. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence did an okay job, but even she couldn’t save it. In Joy, Lawrence plays the real-life titular character, Joy Mangano, a divorced mother of two struggling to find her place in the world. She eventually invents the Miracle Mop and hits it big on QVC.Lawrence 1 I love Jennifer Lawrence. She is definitely the brightest actress of my generation, and I know she is going to continue to have success for the duration of her (hopefully) long career. With that said, her nomination in this category is entirely misplaced. She did not have to do anything that spectacular in this role. She was the same Jennifer Lawrence we have seen for a few years now. And I do not mean she evoked the same acting qualities—I mean she was playing the same character. All of her roles are beginning to blend together for me, and I do not find that worthy of another nomination at this time. Lawrence won the Golden Globe this year for Best Actress in a Comedy, which I think the Hollywood Foreign Press gave to her because of her likability. I usually hold the Academy to higher standards than the HFP, but this year it appears it too threw Lawrence a bone for an average performance. I hate talking bad about Jennifer Lawrence because I loved her in Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the Hunger Games films, but in Joy, she did not pave any new lanes. It was all the same stuff. Ehh. Lawrence has previously been nominated for three Oscars, winning for Best Actress for her starring role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Carey Mulligan (Far from the Madding Crowd), and Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars).

Best Director (2015)

In this year’s Best Director category, just two nominees are receiving their inaugural Oscar nomination (Adam McKay, who is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay; and Lenny Abrahamson). The other three directors have combined for twelve previous Academy Award nominations. Of those twelve, four are Oscar wins (three for Alejandro G. Iñárritu and one for George Miller). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Miller 1George Miller is the Australian director behind the original Mad Max trilogy, as well as Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. During this awards season, George Miller has already garnered the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Director. Miller was previously nominated for four Oscars: Best Original Screenplay (Lorenzo’s Oil), Best Adapted Screenplay (Babe), Best Animated Feature (Happy Feet), and Best Picture (Babe). Of those four nomination, Miller has just one Oscar win: Best Animated Feature for Happy Feet.

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Inarritu 2Alejandro G. Iñárritu is a renowned Mexican filmmaker—he is the visionary behind the Oscar-winning film Birdman and the celebrated “Death Trilogy” (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel). During this awards season, Iñárritu has already won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Director. Iñárritu has been previously nominated for seven Oscars: twice for Best Foreign Language Film (Amores perros and Biutiful), twice for Best Director (Babel and Birdman), once for Best Original Screenplay (Birdman), and twice for Best Picture (Babel and Birdman). Of those seven nominations, he has won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay for Birdman.

  1. Lenny Abrahamson (Room)

Abrahamson 1Lenny Abrahamson is an Irish film director—he has previously directed What Richard Did (2012) and Frank (2014). In addition to his nomination for Room, Abrahamson has additionally been nominated for Best Director at the Irish Film & Television Awards and Satellite Awards. Abrahamson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award in any category.

  1. Adam McKay (The Big Short)

McKay 1Adam McKay is an American filmmaker, renowned for writing and directing critically acclaimed comedies, such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and additionally producing such comedies as The Campaign, Tammy, Welcome to Me, and Get Hard. In addition to the Oscars, McKay has been nominated for Best Director at the BAFTAs and Directors Guild of America. He has also earned nominations in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars and Golden Globes, while also winning the award at the BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Writers Guild of America Awards. McKay has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

McCarthy 1Tom McCarthy is an American actor, writer, and director. In his acting capacity, he is best known as Dr. Bob Banks in the Meet the Parents trilogy. He is a critically acclaimed director for films such as The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2007). Additionally, he is an accomplished writer, penning scripts for the previously two named films, as well as the Oscar-nominated Up (2009). In fact, Up is his lone previous Oscar nomination (Best Original Screenplay). This awards season, McCarthy won the Best Director award at the Satellite Awards.

Best Cinematography (2015)

The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen. The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film. Including this year’s nominations, these five nominees have combined for 37 Best Cinematography nominations, including 6 wins. Additionally, The Revenant‘s Emmanuel Lubezki is hoping for a three-peat at this year’s ceremony—”Chivo” Lubezki has taken home the Oscar for Best Cinematography the previous two years (Gravity and Birdman). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

John SealeWINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)

  1. The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  1. Sicario (Roger Deakins)
  1. The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
  1. Carol (Ed Lachman)

Best Production Design (2015)

The Oscar for Best Production Design recognizes achievement in art direction. Since 1947, the award has been shared with both a film’s art director and set decorator. Aside from the acting, directing, and musical compositions within a film, the production design and set decoration help illuminate the visual image depicted on the screen. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Production Design:

Gibson MMFRWINNER: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson (Mad Max: Fury Road)

  1. Michael Standish and Eve Stewart (The Danish Girl)
  1. Jack Fish and Hamish Purdy (The Revenant)
  1. Celia Bobak and Arthur Max (The Martian)
  1. Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo, and Bernhard Henrich (Bridge of Spies)