Fall Film Preview – 2018

We are nearly one month into my favorite time of the year for movies – the fall film season. Each year from September through December, most of the year’s heaviest hitters start making their way to the big screen in hopes of garnering an abundance of buzz for the Academy Awards – and indeed, Oscars success is generally tied to a fall release.  In fact, the last Best Picture winner that wasn’t released theatrically during the fall film season was The Hurt Locker in June 2009.  Which films will steal the show this fall? Only time will tell.  But in the meantime, here is my list of the films I am most looking forward to seeing over the course of the next few months!

No. 1 – First Man (October 12)

Film Title: First Man

First Man is a biographical drama that follows the story of Apollo 11’s famed mission to the Moon in 1969.  I am incredibly excited to see First Man due to the two men behind the direction and screenplay of the film – Damien Chazelle and Josh Singer, respectively.  Chazelle’s first two films (Whiplash and La La Land) have been some of the very best made in the past few years (in fact, Whiplash was my favorite film of 2014), and I have been patiently awaiting his next directorial endeavor.  This time, instead of penning his own screenplay, which he did for his first two films, Chazelle has employed a script by Singer, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Spotlight and was nominated for a Golden Globe last year for The Post.  Starring Ryan Gosling in the lead role as Neil Armstrong and The Crown’s Claire Foy as his wife, this film looks set to attract some serious Oscar buzz this fall. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k&t=20s

No. 2 – If Beale Street Could Talk (December 14)

If Beale Street Could TalkIf Beale Street Could Talk, based on the 1974 novel of the same name, is a drama set in Harlem during the 1970s and follows an African-American family’s enduring spirit of love and humanity as they navigate a racially charged era in American history.  This film is Barry Jenkins’s follow-up effort to his Best Picture-winning drama Moonlight, and although the trailer does not give too much away, it is evident that Jenkins looks to passionately pull at the heartstrings of moviegoers everywhere once more – I cannot wait to see what he has in store this time. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4m3t3G3Zqc

No. 3 – Bad Times at the El Royale (October 12)

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL

Bad Times at the El Royale is a thriller that follows seven strangers whose lives and dark secrets intersect at a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe.  Bad Times is immediately intriguing due to its ensemble cast, which features the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris “Thor” Hemsworth.  But aside from this stellar group of actors, I am personally looking forward to this film due to its writer/producer/director, Drew Goddard.  The 43-year-old filmmaker has previously penned the scripts for Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian, but it was his directorial debut in 2012 with The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard also wrote the screenplay) that has me looking forward to Bad Times the most – the trailer reeks of Cabin-like imagery and obscurities (which is definitely a good thing), and I can’t wait to see if Goddard can capture that same rousing energy again.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7wzBVARwaU

No. 4 – Hold the Dark (September 28 – Netflix)

Jeffrey Wright in the new film Hold the Dark. Photo credit: Netflix

Hold the Dark is a thriller set against the backdrop of the Alaskan tundra, and it follows the aftermath of the mysterious death of a young boy by a pack of wolves. From an acting standpoint, this film brings together some of my current favorites in the game – Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies).  However, the factor that weighs most heavily in terms of my anticipation for the film is its director and writer – Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, respectively.  Saulnier wrote and directed two of my favorite films from the past few years (Blue Ruin in 2014 and Green Room in 2016, both of which featured Blair as an actor), and Blair wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from last year, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. All three of those films were thrilling and unique, and I expect nothing less from Hold the Dark.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFAwDO6b5KI

No. 5 – The Favourite (November 23)

The FavouriteThe Favourite is a drama (set in England in the early 18th century) that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, aka the new QEII in The Crown).  The Favourite is the newest film by the inimitable Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.  If you haven’t seen any of Lanthimos’s films yet, go watch the trailer for The Favourite ­– it will absolutely give you a taste of this man’s distinctive style. Lanthimos broke out among American audiences in 2015 with his film The Lobster – although the first act of that movie had me hooked, he simply couldn’t keep that momentum going for me throughout the entire film.  No matter – Lanthimos returned last year with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was thrilling, compelling, and darkly hilarious for its entire two-hour runtime.  Because of my deep appreciation for that film, I am very much optimistic that his newest endeavor will be a great achievement.  Trailer –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqYlnvghV-U

No. 6 – Widows (November 16)

WidowsWidows is a thriller that tells the story of a group of women who attempt a heist after their criminal husbands are killed.  The uber-talented British filmmaker Steve McQueen is back with his first feature film since 12 Years a Slave, the Best Picture winner that I named my favorite film of 2013.  McQueen is such a unique storyteller, and if the critical success of his complete filmography (Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave) gives us any indication, Widows is sure to be a fantastic piece of cinema.  Oscar winner Viola Davis also stars as the lead, which is another reason this film is likely to impress. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN2yBBSRC78

 No. 7 – A Star Is Born (October 5)

A Star Is BornA Star Is Born is a musical drama about a country musician (Bradley Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young singer (Lady Gaga).  This iteration of A Star Is Born (which marks Cooper’s directorial debut) is the third remake to the original 1937 film (it was remade with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 and with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976). Truthfully, the trailers for this film that have been playing repeatedly on TV lately have me hooked – I love the sound of the music, I love the apparent chemistry between the two leads, and I love the style in which it is shot.  And I am already buying into the hype surrounding Lady Gaga’s performance, simply based on what I can see from the trailer.  No one would doubt that Lady Gaga is a standout performer in general, not just as a singer, and I look forward to seeing her acting talents on the big screen in what has already been characterized by many in the industry as an early Best Picture darling.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E

 No. 8 – Outlaw King (November 9 – Netflix)

Outlaw KingOutlaw King is an epic historical film about Robert the Bruce, one of the most famous Scottish warriors and eventual King of Scotland.  David Mackenzie directed this film, which is the very reason that it is on my list.  Mackenzie’s previous two films both ranked in the top 4 on my year-end lists (I ranked Starred Up as my No. 4 film in 2014 and Hell or High Water as my No. 2 film in 2016) – based on that track record, I am obviously looking forward to his newest film.  I will admit that a couple of weeks ago, this film was trending toward the top of my most anticipated list – however, early critical reviews have not been jaw-dropping, which is why its position has slipped a bit here.  Regardless of those early reviews, I am still confident that Mackenzie will bring a quality picture to the big Netflix screen – his cast of Chris Pine (fantastic in Hell or High Water), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (wonderful in everything he touches), and Florence Pugh (a vision in last year’s Lady Macbeth) will surely add some definite firepower.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-G1BME8FKw

No. 9 – Welcome to Marwen (December 21)

Welcome to MarwenWelcome to Marwen is a dramatic film inspired by the true-life story of Mark Hogancamp, a victim of a brutal assault, who undertakes an enormous effort to build a miniature World War II village in his backyard in an effort to cope with the trauma he has endured.  Yes, this movie features a great cast, including Steve Carrell as Hogancamp. Yes, the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who always seems to turn in quality work, year after year.  And yes, the film’s mixture of live-action and animation looks incredibly unique and charming.  But for me, my anticipation for this film stems solely from my profound reverence for the 2010 documentary that it is based on, Marwencol.  When I first saw Marwencol, I was enthralled by Mark’s story and utterly fascinated by his artistry and imagination.  Marwencol is definitely one of my all-time favorites, and I hope that Zemeckis’s film provides a great companion piece to the documentary.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dy7xQ8NeE

No. 10 – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (November 16 – Netflix)

Buster ScruggsThe Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a western anthology film by the Coen brothers that features six separate chapters, each with its own cast.  I won’t lie – I have generally fallen out of love with the Coen brothers.  In terms of their directorial efforts, I really haven’t enjoyed many of their films from the past decade, outside of A Serious Man in 2009.  However, I continue to hold out hope that these cinematic visionaries can again replicate the success of their past hits (e.g., Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men).  The trailer here has me genuinely intrigued by what the Coen brothers can do with the anthology concept, and given their established résumé in the business, I am willing to keep giving them chances.  Trailer –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Creed IICreed II (November 21) – The sequel to Creed is set to follow Adonis Creed as he prepares for his next big fight – a bout against the son of Ivan Drago, the man that killed Adonis’s father in the ring so many decades ago.  I am always down for more from the Rocky universe, and I expect Michael B. Jordan to dominate the screen again in Round 2. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPNVNqn4T9I

Fantastic BeastsFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16) – The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will follow Newt Scamander as he looks to take down Gellert Grindelwald, one of the wizarding world’s most powerful dark wizards.  The previews for this film have already revealed a return to Hogwarts, Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, and the origin of Nagini – all of that is plenty to overcome the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald.  I am very optimistic about this film, as I will always put my faith in J.K. Rowling and David Yates. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs

Mary, Queen of ScotsMary, Queen of Scots (December 7) – This historical drama tells the story of the “Rising of the North,” an infamous conflict that pitted two half-sisters, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, against one another in an epic struggle for power in England.  This film has a lot going for it.  First, Beau Willimon (creator of the Netflix hit House of Cards) wrote the script. Second, and most importantly, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star as Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnqjSgMU36U

Under the Silver LakeUnder the Silver Lake (December 7) – This is a neo-noir film that follows Sam (Andrew Garfield) as he searches the seamy depths of Los Angeles to solve the disappearance of Sarah (Riley Keough), a mysterious woman he met at an apartment swimming pool.  This movie is director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up effort to 2014’s It Follows, an incredible film that re-wrote the rules of horror flicks.  Based on my love for It Follows, I have a lot of confidence in Under the Silver Lake’s potential.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwgUesU1pz4

UPDATE: Sadly, it was announced on November 1 that Under the Silver Lake would be pushed back to an April 18, 2019 release, which does not bode well for the movie’s potential success.

ViceVice (December 25) – This biopic follows the political rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  This is the only film on this list that still does not have a trailer yet released, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t expect big things from it.  Adam McKay – the comedic genius behind Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys – directs, but it is his directorial work on The Big Short that has me most pumped for this movie.  Christian Bale completely transformed his body (again – see The Machinist, American Hustle) to play Cheney, and one of my favorite actresses of all time (Amy Adams) is set to play Lynne Cheney. Trailer – NONE

UPDATE: The trailer for Vice was released less than a week after I posted this article. Needless to say, had it been available prior to this post going live, Vice would have been VERY high on this list!! Check out the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g09a9laLh0k

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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

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 15 – The Martian

The Martian is a science-fiction film directed by Ridley Scott, with a screenplay by Drew Goddard, which is adapted from Andy Weir’s award-winning novel of the same name. The film follows Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and his crew during a manned mission to Mars. In the midst of a ferocious storm, the crew presumes Watney dead, and they are forced to abandon the mission and leave Watney behind. However, it turns out Watney survived. Stranded on Mars with only limited supplies, Watney must utilize his cleverness and resourcefulness in order to signal to his counterparts on Earth that he is still alive.

The Martian 3Back in August, I ranked The Martian #7 on my list of most-anticipated films for the fall movie season. Rightfully so—this movie did not disappoint. Director Ridley Scott is one of Hollywood’s kings of science fiction (having directed Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus), and The Martian could be his best yet. Last year’s Interstellar was a science-fiction film that I greatly enjoyed, mainly because filmmaking genius Christopher Nolan was behind it. However, my only beef with it was that it was a bit too convoluted and highbrow—understanding the science was unfathomable. That complexity is what makes The Martian work. Ridley Scott did not reinvent the wheel (I mean, this movie is basically Interstellar on Mars), and yet it works on a level that most science-fiction films can never reach. That is due to the brilliant filmmaking combination of the legendary Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard. Goddard’s script is at times thrilling, but all the while humorous; it delves into scientific intricacies but keeps the tone light with constant wit. The Martian is a tasty concoction of comedy and drama, and Scott and Goddard hit this one out of the park.

The Martian 2Matt Damon received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Martian, and the Academy could not have gotten this one more correct. Despite an ensemble cast, Damon rarely spends any time on screen with any of those actors and actresses; his performance is as “solo” as Harrison Ford in Star Wars (bad joke, I know). In order for a movie to work where its main character spends 90% of the film alone in solitude, it has to have a remarkable performance from its lead—Matt Damon, a seasoned veteran, supplied just that. Over the course of the film, we watch him display a wide variety of emotions: he moves from scared, to humored, to terrified, to hopeful, to exhausted, to thrilled, and Damon does so with skill and radiance. He is obviously one of the better actors of his generation, and I am hard-pressed to find any performance in his film arsenal that rivals his acting in The Martian—he gave us the perfect blend of comedic and dramatic acting.

The Martian 4In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the film’s ensemble cast; this stellar group of actors aided in the movie’s success. When we are not with Watney on Mars, we are in one of two places: (1) with Watney’s crew as it travels back towards Earth, or (2) with NASA staff back on Earth as they plot a way to rescue Watney. Those respective segments of the film work flawlessly because of the performers assembled. Watney’s crew includes Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara, and both of these stunning actresses shined in their limited screen time. Back on Earth, we see some outstanding performances from Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig. The Martian 5However, my favorite supporting performance was from Donald Glover (also known as “Childish Gambino,” one of my favorite rappers in the game). Glover portrays an astrodynamicist that masterminds the plan to bring Watney home, and he hilariously and charmingly portrays his character as a socially awkward savant—a genius with some fumbling eccentricities. Glover definitely stole the show in each of his scenes. The Martian is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

The Martian trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej3ioOneTy8

Academy Award nominations for The Martian:

Best Picture (Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam, producers)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Matt Damon)

Best Production Design (Celia Bobak and Arthur Max)

Best Sound Editing (Oliver Tarney)

Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth)

Best Visual Effects (Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, Richard Stammers, and Steven Warner)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Drew Goddard)

Best Supporting Actor (2015)

 

The media predicts, “Sly, Sly…and, oh yeah, Sly” to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. According to the major awards ceremonies that have taken place so far, that prediction is spot on. I, on the other hand, take a different view on this category. Even though Sylvester Stallone will most definitely take home Oscar gold later this month, my vote goes to someone else. With stellar performances in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend, and The Revenant, this other actor gets my vote! The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

After doing some research, it appears that no one—seriously, no one—pegs Tom Hardy to finish anywhere but last place in the Oscar voting for Best Supporting Actor. They are probably absolutely correct. As I read this week, this could be due to Hardy’s standoff-ish nature when it comes to awards, the media, or anything else outside his own private, personal life; in fact, he has actively avoided any sort of Oscar “campaign” like most nominees take part in. To that, I say: So what? If this award is truly about the best acting performance, then Hardy deserves to win—which is why he has my vote. Hardy 2In The Revenant, Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, the film’s antagonist who leaves his men to stay behind with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) after the latter’s bear attack. Fitzgerald eventually deceives his men by killing Glass’s son and leaving Hugh Glass for dead. DiCaprio is most likely going to win the Oscar for Best Actor (rightfully so), but his performance throughout is mostly silent. Hardy is the film’s voice, albeit an evil one. Hardy is traditionally thought of as the “pretty boy.” But in The Revenant, much like in Bronson (Hardy’s greatest role to date), Hardy revels in his malevolent, bad-boy role. Hardy 3He lies, he misleads, and he kills unemotionally; this takes a complete transformation for an actor to sell this kind of character, if it is to work on a grand scale. Obviously Hardy succeeded in that challenge: The Revenant is up for 12 (the most nominations for any film this year) Oscars and is considered the frontrunner for Best Picture. Does a lot of that have to do with DiCaprio and director Alejandro Iñárritu? Absolutely! But is Tom Hardy’s performance the key to its ultimate success? I argue that it is. Hardy outperformed DiCaprio in my mind, and although he will not win the award, I truly believe he is the most worthy. Hardy has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Creed05073.dngIf I were to rank the greatest sports movies in the history of film, I would be hard-pressed to track down anything more gritty, raw, inspiring, or altogether masterful than Rocky. I am a die-hard fan of the franchise (except for Rocky V—let’s pretend that never happened), and I was on Cloud Nine the moment I heard Sylvester Stallone would be reprising his role in the seventh installment in the franchise, Creed. In the film, Rocky Balboa trains the son of his longtime rival and friend, the deceased Apollo Creed. The Balboa in Creed is as we have never seen him before: aging, wounded, lonely, and, most of all, vulnerable. Stallone is a household name because of his beloved Balboa character, and to see him reprise this role nearly 40 years after the original film (and almost ten years since Rocky Balboa) would have been enough for me and many fans of the franchise. Stallone 2However, Stallone shocked us all by delivering one of his greatest performances of his long and storied career, rivaling only—you guessed it—his Oscar-nominated performance in the original Rocky. The 69-year-old looked like an actor in his prime, providing us with a memorable performance that will live on in film history. Anywhere you look, Stallone is the favorite to win this Academy Award, and rightfully so—he has already taken home hardware from the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. I also believe he will win the Oscar, but for me, Tom Hardy simply delivered the year’s best, which is why Sly does not get my vote. Stallone was previously nominated for both Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for his work on Rocky (1976).

  1. Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

Ruffalo 1In Spotlight, Mark Ruffalo portrays the real-life Michael Rezendes, one of the investigative journalists on The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which worked to uncover a vile child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. A couple of days ago, I wrote about how Rachel McAdams delivered one of the more surprisingly effective performances in one of the year’s best films. But Spotlight succeeds at its core because of Ruffalo’s remarkably emotional and heart-wrenching performance. Throughout the film, Ruffalo is unrelenting in his journey to uncover one of Boston’s most horrifying scandals. His efforts are unyielding and his devotion is indomitable, and Ruffalo owns his scenes with determined gravitas. RezendesAt first I thought the only annoying part of Ruffalo’s portrayal was the odd mannerisms, but a quote from Entertainment Weekly put me in my place: “And for those who know the real-life Rezendes, the resounding consensus is that Ruffalo nailed both the man’s physical nuances and his character traits without turning the performance into a caricature.” Bravo, Mark Ruffalo; your third Best Supporting Actor nomination in six years is, per usual, well deserved! Ruffalo has been previously nominated two times in the Best Supporting Actor category, for The Kids Are All Right (2010) and Foxcatcher (2014).

  1. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

ST. JAMES PLACE

In Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance portrays the real-life Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who is captured by the CIA and ultimately sent back to the Soviet Union in exchange for American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bridge of Spies was a tremendous film, and Rylance is one of the key figures behind its success. For those of you feeling unfamiliar with Rylance’s previous work, do not fret—most of us are! Rudolf AbelRylance has not acted in many popular feature films, as his true love is the theater; in fact, he is critically acclaimed in that arena, winning two Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Play. I sure hope to see him appear in more films in the future because his acting performance in Spielberg’s latest feature was top-notch. He portrayed Abel as quiet and unassuming, but all the while wise and unwearied—his subtleties shone brightly! Rylance has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Bale 1In Adam McKay’s The Big Short, Christian Bale plays the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, an incredibly eccentric hedge-fund manager who predicted the housing market collapse of 2007-08, making millions of dollars in the process. Simply put: Christian Bale is one of the best and most talented actors in Hollywood. But despite his impeccable performance in The Big Short, I was quite surprised to see him receive an Oscar nod. Michael BurryI am not knocking his performance because, per usual, Bale nails it—Burry is a reclusive, socially awkward savant, and Bale crushed the portrayal. However, I cannot get on board with his nomination because in my opinion, Bale gave the third-best performance in the film; Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling absolutely stole the show. Bale was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in American Hustle (2013), and he won his lone Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for 2010’s The Fighter.

Actors snubbed in this category: Benicio del Toro (Sicario), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Steve Carell (The Big Short), Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), and Jacob Tremblay (Room)

The Best Films of 2015 – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

Legend 3

Although I love writing about all of the major Academy Awards categories, my favorite part of this blog is revealing my favorite films from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will announce each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2015” list; however, today I start by announcing my “Honorable Mentions.” Therefore, I present you with the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

No. 16 – Legend

Legend 1Legend is a British crime thriller written and directed by Brian Helgeland. The film tells the true-life story of Reggie and Ronald Kray, identical twin brothers who headed the preeminent organized-crime gang in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s. Full disclosure: the story and direction as a whole lose focus two-thirds through the film, which is what prevents this movie from being much higher on my list of 2015’s best films. However, Legend still stands tall as a worthy leader of my Honorable Mentions because of Tom Hardy and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dick Pope. Tom Hardy plays Reggie Kray. Legend 2Tom Hardy plays Ronald Kray. That’s right—the most talented actor in world cinema leads the film in both main roles. His acting alone is reason to see this movie. Reggie can be violent and dangerous, but he has a softer, more romantic side. Ronald, on the other hand, is the walking example of mental instability, and his violent side is worn much more openly on his sleeves. Hardy’s performance is one of the more amazing things I have ever witnessed in film. You truly forget early on that Hardy is playing both roles—you connect with these characters on a completely individualized basis, as if two actors pulled this off. This visceral exposition was inherently complex, and Dick Pope deserves mounds of credit for making it happen from a cinematography perspective. I highly recommend this movie because of Tom Hardy alone, and it is additionally worth your time to read this article about how, technically, the double-performance by Hardy was created.

No. 17 – Southpaw

Southpaw 1Southpaw is a boxing drama directed by Antoine Fuqua, with a screenplay by Kurt Sutter. The film follows world champion boxer Billy Hope as he attempts to get his career back on track after seemingly losing everything in life: his wife is killed in a tragic shooting, and his daughter is stripped from Billy’s care by Child Protective Services. I only saw Southpaw recently, and since I saw Creed beforehand, my expectations for Gyllenhaal’s boxing movie were not high—I mean, how could there be TWO great boxing movies in one year? Boy, was I wrong. Creed (which will come up much later on my blog…wink, wink) and Southpaw are vastly different films, each with its own identity.

SOUTHPAW

Gyllenhaal nailed his leading role, even if the character appeared a bit too dark for me at times. Sutter’s story was fantastic and hard-hitting, which comes as no surprise after I found out that he created FX’s critically acclaimed Sons of Anarchy. I have been incredibly disappointed with Antoine Fuqua’s directorial efforts since Training Day (a top-20 film for me of all time), so I am thrilled to see him back to making remarkable movies. Although I wish I could have seen Eminem in the lead role (the story was based on his life and the rapper was attached to the film for years), I was glad he still crept into the finished product: one of the best scenes features Gyllenhaal training while Eminem’s “Phenomenal” blasts through the speakers—it was glorious!

No. 18 – The Gift

The Gift 2The Gift is a psychological thriller written, directed, and produced by Joel Edgerton. The film follows a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), as their lives are turned upside down with the introduction of Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a mysterious acquaintance from Simon’s past. This movie went decently under the radar throughout its limited release towards the end of summer, and I was lucky to have come across it—it was one of the more surprising film experiences of 2015 for me. I have always enjoyed Edgerton as an actor, but my respect for his acting abilities has wildly intensified after seeing this movie. The Gift 1The character evokes the epitome of creepy-crawly emotions, and Edgerton nailed every nuanced look and gesture. What really surprised me was how impressive Edgerton is as a filmmaker—plus, this is his directorial debut. Wow, what a way to start off with a bang! I have seen The Gift twice at this point (once in theaters, once at home), and with a second view, the thrills and chills were still aplenty. Need a good Redbox suggestion? Here you go. You’re welcome!

No. 19 – Black Mass

Black Mass 1Black Mass is a crime drama directed by Scott Cooper, with a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. The film follows the true-life events surrounding one of the most notorious American mobsters: Boston-native James “Whitey” Bulger. If you like gangster movies, then this is a must-see; Cooper has created a worthy entry into one of film’s best genres. The direction is great, the story is well crafted, and the movie is thrilling, but the standout feature of Black Mass is the ensemble cast (and the performances that flow therefrom). As I pointed out in my Fall Preview in August, Johnny Depp is (despite his many flaws) at his core an incredibly talented performer—all of that talent is on full display in this movie. Black Mass 2There are also wonderful supporting performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, and Corey Stoll. However, my favorite part of the film was Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly. Edgerton’s character had by far the biggest character arc, and Edgerton knocked every aspect of that journey out of the park. For that performance alone, Black Mass is one you need to check out.

No. 20 – Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies 1Bridge of Spies is a Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan). The film follows the true-life story of James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with defending Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Additionally, Donavon helps the CIA negotiate for and assist in the exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers, an American spy-plane pilot captured by the Soviets. No one is happier than I am to see a Spielberg movie among the ranks of my favorite films from the past year. Bridge of Spies 2Movies like Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Catch Me If You Can are incredible, absolutely incredible. However, recent films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, War Horse, and Lincoln forced me into a state of lost hope for Spiely as a filmmaker. I included Bridge of Spies on my Fall Preview because I had high hopes for the movie, considering Spielberg employed the Coen brothers to write the script. The Coen brothers are some of the most masterful screenwriters in the industry, and they brought their A-game to this movie. With a superb script, vintage directing, and skilled acting by Hanks and Rylance, Bridge of Spies turned out to be one of the year’s best—obviously the Academy agreed, as it nominated the film for six Oscars, including Best Picture.

Best Supporting Actress (2015)

 

This year’s Best Supporting Actress category features a “Who’s Who” of Oscar novices. Only Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara are veterans to the ceremony. Most view this category as a two-horse race: Winslet for Steve Jobs and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. Four weeks out from the show, the competition appears to be neck-and-neck between two distinctly different actresses—Winslet a long-time Hollywood heavyweight and Vikander a radiant starlet. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) 

Vikander 12015 was the year that Alicia Vikander broke out onto American movie screens with a vengeance. 2016 will be the year she cements herself as a perennial contender among Hollywood’s elite. How so, you might ask? By taking home that coveted gold statue on Oscar night for her brilliant role as the real-life Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. Right up until I started writing this post, my vote was for Winslet’s performance in Steve Jobs—she really was stellar. But with wins at the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards ceremonies, Vikander is deserved in leaping past one of film’s greatest actresses for this award. The Danish Girl tells the true-life account of Einar Wegener (who later became Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery) and his wife Gerda. Honestly, I did not enjoy the film much. It looked great (all Tom Hooper films do; e.g., 2010’s The King Speech), but Redmayne did not sell it for me as a viewer. Vikander 2Despite this critique, Vikander stood out brilliantly as the lone bright spot in an otherwise boring movie. As her husband began to struggle with his identity, Gerda, the love of his life, struggled through denial and rage; through sadness and acceptance. Those emotions told the true story, and Vikander delivered each line, each look, and each tear with stunning delicacy—the grandeur of the 27-year-old Swede’s acting was nothing short of moving. Vikander has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) 

Winslet 1Kate Winslet did almost everything she could in Steve Jobs to earn my vote for Best Supporting Actress. The only thing standing in her way was the up-and-coming Alicia Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl. As has been mentioned, this category will come down to these two actresses. Whether she wins or not, Winslet will forever be ingrained in Silicon Valley history with her daring portrayal of Apple’s head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman. Steve Jobs was a tremendous film, but it felt more like a stage play, something I was not expecting. There are only three scenes in the entire film, set behind the scenes at three separate Apple-product launches, and Winslet makes a stunning mark on the entire movie. While Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) struggles throughout with the debacle that is the crossroads of his personal and professional life, Hoffman is always the one by his side to reconcile his troubles. I rarely say this—because it is one of the most pretentious-sounding comments regarding film—but I truly forgot Winslet was playing Hoffman. She was that entrenched into this character. Winslet GifShe mastered the accent (a product of English mixed with Hoffman’s Polish and Armenian origin), delineated the requisite emotions of a strong, independent woman, and even stole the show from Fassbender at times. Never have I watched Winslet shine like this; not since Titanic and The Reader. She won the Golden Globe for this performance, so I would not be surprised if somehow she pulls off the Oscar victory—she would deserve it. Winslet has previously been nominated for six Academy Awards (four for Best Actress and two for Best Supporting Actress), winning only for her leading role in 2008’s The Reader.

  1. Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)

McAdams 1Rachel McAdams has always been one of my favorite actresses, but I never have thought of her as someone deserving of an Oscar nomination for anything in her career; that all came to an end when I saw Spotlight. In Spotlight, McAdams portrays the real-life Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the investigative journalists on The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which worked to uncover a vile child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Entertainment Weekly perfectly described McAdams’s difficult role: “[She] plays a woman who is equal parts determined journalist and loyal granddaughter of a devout Catholic.” That personality dichotomy created an oasis of potential for McAdams to explore—she nailed it! One minute, her character is wrought with emotion, as she is on the receiving end of some horrifying details of a rape victim’s story; the next minute, she is shown at mass with her grandmother. The Pfeiffer character is torn with the turbulent circumstances she finds herself in, wrestling to make sense of it all. McAdams hits the nail on the head in what can only be described as a performance built upon subtle nuances. McAdams has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

JJL 1In Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, seven of those eight main characters are men—Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the lone woman. She is an outlaw that is being brought in by a bounty hunter to face justice for murder. Daisy Domergue is a truly unique character—the preeminent result of Tarantino’s wild and twisted mind games. She curses frequently, tosses racial slurs around willingly, and yet evokes a faint sense of sympathy for her character as John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) batters her throughout the film. The character is as diverse as she is crude; as complex as she is filthy. And Leigh delivers a memorable performance. I had high hopes for The Hateful Eight, but in most ways the film left something to be desired. However, of the few bright spots is Leigh’s grim, gory, and gnashing portrayal of Daisy. Whether it was her oddly interesting guitar ballad or her bloody façade towards the end of the film, Leigh brought Daisy Domergue to life in all the right ways. Leigh has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Rooney Mara (Carol)

Mara 1In Carol, Rooney Mara portrays Therese Belivet, a department-store clerk in 1950s New York City. Belivet falls under the charm of the much-older Carol (Cate Blanchett), and before long, a deep and affectionate love affair strikes. Carol has garnered much attention worldwide for its ardent and amorous take on a taboo subject (given the time period the film is set in). Not only is the film receiving rave reviews (full disclosure: I am NOT one of them; the movie was bland, plodding, and you will not find it on my list of top films), but Blanchett and Mara are also being heralded for their adept performances. While I agree that the Blanchett did wonderful job in her leading role, Mara always seemed the subordinate performer. That is not necessarily an inherent knock on Mara, considering Blanchett is one of the all time greatest in this field; however, I really think Mara delivered the inferior performance in this category as a whole. While she is a tremendous talent in Hollywood, I truly think her uninteresting, unaffecting portrayal is due to a slow year in supporting female performances. If you watch Carol, hopefully you get something out of her performance. I know I sure didn’t. Mara was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

My Review of the 87th Academy Awards

 

A18

A15Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show. But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you. I really enjoyed the look of this year’s show. I could not get over the backdrop that the presenters walked out from to the stage. It looked like an old-school movie theater and included vintage-clothed ushers—it was awesome!! As I have stated in years past, the Academy Awards simply cannot continue lasting 3.5+ hours. By the time it finally gets to the final six awards or so (which are usually the ones people care about anyways), everyone in America is dead tired—yes, that includes me, the giant film fan! I did greatly enjoy Neil Patrick Harris as the host (as I suspected I would), and his vast experience as a showman paid large dividends to the quality of last night’s ceremony. However, his attempt at comedy did not live up to the “gold standard” that Ellen set last year (PLEASE BRING ELLEN BACK).

This year’s Oscars, like most years, had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (Tie: The show’s opening number AND Julie Andrews)

A7As I predicted about a month ago, Neil Patrick Harris utilized his time during the traditional “monologue segment” to sing and dance—it did not disappoint. NPH performed a song called “Moving Pictures,” a fantastic ode to the movies over the years that spark an undeniable imagination in each of us as viewers of cinema (the song was penned by Robert Lopez and wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez—the couple took home the Oscar for Best Original Song last year for “Let It Go” from Frozen). The song poked some harmless fun at Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and included a fantastic cameo from Into the Woods star Anna Kendrick. One of the funniest parts of the musical number was Jack Black, rising from the crowd to the stage to perform hilariously cynical lyrics about the film industry, only to have Kendrick throw her Cinderella slipper at him for ruining the moment. It was a breath of fresh air compared to the usual joke-filled, completely oratory monologue.

A5Also, let’s give a round of applause for Julie Andrews. When it comes to musicals, Dame Julie Andrews is the best to ever do it! This year is the 50th Anniversary of the iconic film The Sound of Music, and Lady Gaga delivered one of the best musical performances of the night in her tribute to the film’s best songs. Julie Andrews (the star in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) long ago set the bar extremely high for what a musical performance on the silver screen should look and sound like. She is one of the greatest actresses in film history, and her presence (and validation of Gaga’s performance) was amazing.

Worst Moment: (Sean Penn’s “green card” comment)

A14Last night Sean Penn brought some actual racism to the show. When announcing the winner of the night’s biggest award (Best Picture), Penn preceded his reading of Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s name by stating, “Who gave this son-of-a-bitch his green card?” Although Penn and Iñárritu are friends (Penn acted in Iñárritu’s 2003 film 21 Grams) and Iñárritu later called the joke “hilarious,” it was a bit too much. Although some people knew of the two men’s history, most probably did not, and this makes for plenty of material for critics to blast the Oscars for racism.

Most Endearing Moment: (Tim McGraw’s performance)

A16Tim McGraw performed “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” the final song ever written by country-music legend Glen Campbell (the song was nominated for Best Original Song). Gwyneth Paltrow introduced McGraw by telling the story of Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell wrote the song to tell his family that the one silver lining to his bout with Alzheimer’s is that he will not be able to feel the pain of his loved ones. His family was in attendance, and McGraw delivered one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the entire night.

Most Boring Moment (Neil Patrick Harris’s Oscar-prediction gag)

87th Annual Academy Awards - ShowAt the beginning of the show, NPH teased that he is amazing at predicting the Oscars. He then introduced a briefcase that had been locked and overlooked by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm that tabulates the Oscar ballots. He picked out past Oscar winner Octavia Spencer from the crowd to “keep an eye” on the briefcase box during the show (which she awkwardly accepted to do), and every so often, NPH continued to discuss the locked box containing his predictions. At the end of the show, he had the box opened, revealed his predictions (which were 100% spot on about all of the night’s most memorable moments), and the crowd half-heartedly laughed along. Although it sort of had a funny ending, the gag went on way too long, and the ridiculously long ceremony should have cut that completely from the script—it was an utter waste of time.

The Most Awkward Moment: (The “Dress Covered in Balls” Lady and NPH’s subsequent, ill-timed joke)

A13When Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry were announced as winners in the Best Documentary – Short Subject category, I could not help but laugh. My amusement had nothing to do with the film but everything to do with Perry’s dress and star-struck demeanor. The two won for their documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, a film about a very serious, touchy subject. Perry, dressed in a black gown that was covered with giant black pom-poms, stood on stage gawking at the stars and awkwardly waving to them. I felt bad about my entertainment with her as she then announced that the film was special to her because her own son committed suicide. It then got noticeably serious in the room. That was until NPH returned to the stage and could not help but to poke fun at Perry, stating, “It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that.” Although Perry had just dropped the suicide bombshell on everyone, it was still ridiculously hilarious (which I admit I felt bad about, considering her revelation on stage). NPH’s double entendre was one of the best jokes of the night, but it sort of came at a less-than-opportune time.

Best Joke: (Poking fun at John Travolta’s infamous “Adele Dazeem” moment)

A17The best joke from the entire show was poking fun at John Travolta for his horribly memorable mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name (aka Elsa from Frozen) at last year’s ceremony. Neil Patrick Harris made a hilarious reference to Travolta’s mistake by stating that Benedict Cumberbatch is “the sound you get when you ask John Travolta to pronounce Ben Affleck.” I literally fell on the floor laughing. Then, as Idina Menzel came to the stage to announce the winner for Best Original Song, she brought out Travolta for a bit of playful revenge, introducing him as “Glom Gazingo.” Even though Travolta completely blew his chances for redemption (by weirdly stroking Menzel’s face and acting, well, like John Travolta), it was still the most hilarious moment of the night.

Worst Joke: (NPH’s A Million Ways to Die in the West reference)

A19While introducing Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain as presenters, Neil Patrick Harris referred to the two actors’ film successes, while additionally stating his own: he mentioned that he is the guy that pooped in his hat in A Million Ways to Die in the West. Some people laughed, while others did not—I was a proud “did not” laugher. For me, the joke sucked because it forced me to remember that A Million Ways to Die in the West actual was a movie that was made and that I had personally wasted nearly two hours of my precious life watching it—terrible memories, for sure.

The Most Honest Dude in the Room: (Mat Kirkby—Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short)A11

During his acceptance speech for winning an Oscar for his live-action short The Phone Call, writer/director Mat Kirkby was hilariously honest about his giddiness for winning a coveted Academy Award. Kirkby, a native of Suffolk, UK, stated, “I’m particularly happy because this now means I can get a free doughnut at my local bakery, the Pump Street Bakery.” His funny, but honest speech is a reminder that not all of the Oscar winners are multimillionaire film stars—some of these “little guys” are simply happy to be there and revel in their victory in many ways. The name-drop, however, is sure to land Kirkby more donuts from his local bakery than even he expected. A12The owner of the British bakery was later quoted as saying, “I think an Oscar win deserves more than one free coffee or doughnut, so we’re definitely going to be giving him free doughnuts for good now, as a thank you for the mention.” Looks like Kirkby’s honesty earned him a deserved treat!

Best Acceptance Speech: (Paweł Pawlikowski—the director of Ida)

A4For the very first time in Academy Awards history, a Polish film received the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film; thus, writer and director Paweł Pawlikowski had plenty to be pumped about. He gave a heart-felt speech, that included genuine emotional sentiment and some comedy, and it was the product of a man that was sincerely appreciative of the award he was simultaneously hoisting on the big stage. It had all of the same elements that other great speeches over the course of the night contained, but for me, I was most impressed by Pawlikowski giving the greatest “F.U.” to the orchestra’s “play-off” music (although he did not do it whatsoever in a rude manner). I have long been a critic of the Academy’s direction to the orchestra to cut off speeches that it deems too long because in my opinion, these speeches are not the actual cause of the horrendous length of the ceremony—instead, it is the structure of the ceremony in general by the Academy. The orchestra tried to play Pawlikowski off of the stage, and after a while (when he had not stopped thanking people) they quit. Then, shortly after, the orchestra tried again, and it was only at that point that Pawlikowski finally wrapped up. Winners of these “not-so-significant” awards are never allotted much time anyways, and if the Academy is going to recognize these winners, it needs to show the same amount of respect for them that it does for winners of awards like Best Original Score and the like. Kudos, Pawlikowski.

Best Musical Performance: (The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome”)

A10You may not believe that The Lego Movie was the best movie of the year (and you would be correct). You also may not believe that it was the best animated feature of the year (which would be debatable, but that view is clearly warranted). But I will wholeheartedly disagree with anyone that believes The Lego Movie was not one of the five best animated movies from 2014—it absolutely was. Despite the snub, “Everything Is Awesome” was still nominated for Best Original Song, and the performance that accompanied this nomination was by far the highlight musical moment from the night. Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island both brought their respective A-games, and their performance brought an amazing “fun factor” to the traditionally buttoned-up Oscars ceremony. A6The performance included Questlove on the drums and a cameo by Will Arnett as Batman (his character in the film), and the Lego Oscars that were simultaneously handed out to various stars in the crowd added a perfect childlike flare. It was, pun clearly intended, AWESOME!

Worst Musical Performance: (Maroon 5 performing Begin Again’s “Lost Stars”)

A3I have seen Maroon 5 live in concert, so I have firsthand knowledge that lead singer Adam Levine is an impeccable performer outside of the studio. With that said, last night he sounded terrible. Now let’s be honest, I am not Simon Cowell—I simply do not know the technical intricacies of “singing.” But like most laypeople, I know when something sounds blatantly off-pitch and horrendous; unfortunately, that was Adam Levine last night. The performance was restrained and boring to start off with, and the dreadful vocal performance did not help its cause whatsoever. With amazing musical performances from the “Everything Is Awesome” collective, Jennifer Hudson, and Lady Gaga, Levine’s performance stands out—and NOT in a good way!

Best Picture

87th Academy Awards Nominations AnnouncementThis 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 Lawrence of ArabiaKramer vs. KramerPlatoonForrest GumpCrash12 Years a Slave, 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:

WINNERWhiplash

2. The Theory of Everything

3. Boyhood

4. American Sniper

5. Birdman

6. The Imitation Game

7. Selma

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 10 – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman - BPBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a black comedy directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu with a screenplay by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo. The film follows Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), an actor with a wavering career (famous for portraying the superhero “Birdman”) who is looking to stage a comeback by directing and acting in a Broadway production. In the final days leading up to the show’s opening night, Riggan must battle himself as he attempts to reconcile his family and his career.

Birdman2Despite the fact that each of writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s previous four feature films (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel, and Biutiful) was nominated for Oscars in a range of categories, Birdman is personally my first encounter with the critically acclaimed Mexican filmmaker. Although none of Iñárritu’s films have won big on Oscar night, that is bound to change in just less than two weeks. In Birdman, Iñárritu has constructed one of the best original screenplays in the past few years, and this unique storyline flat out works on so many levels. It is an unparalleled, comeback-within-a-comeback story. Its lead character Riggan Thompson is making a comeback on Broadway after years of dormancy following his refusal to play the superhero “Birdman” in a fourth installment of the superhero series. Birdman8All the while, actor Michael Keaton, after leaving Tim Burton’s Batman franchise in between the second and third films, has endured years without commercial or critical success and is making an acting revival of sorts in his Birdman role. Considering this casting decision and Iñárritu’s storyline, I figured Birdman would ultimately be too clever for its own good—I imagined it would be way too cheeky and a bit too heavy-handed in its attempt to be self-aware. Ultimately, I was wrong. Yes, it was cognizant of its meta-like approach, but the meticulous filmmaking style of Iñárritu and his witty script allowed the movie to hurdle high above its own cliché barriers to make the story entertaining and mesmerizing. Additionally, the comedic aspects of the script are genius. From Edward Norton and Michael Keaton’s back-and-forth during a rehearsal once Norton’s character is first hired, to the scene of Keaton walking around Times Square in nothing but his white underwear, Iñárritu understands the humor he is trying to evoke, and he does so incredibly well.

Birdman3Part of the allure of Birdman is the way in which it is shot—it is absolutely masterful filmmaking. The movie appears to take place in one continuous long tracking shot. The “long take” has long (pardon the pun…I assure it was unintended) been my favorite filmmaking technique, and when one is done well, it is nothing short of exquisite. In the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and the film-editing team carefully created the illusion of a single take throughout the film’s entirety—they utilized sleek, unsuspecting cuts during horizontal pans and close-up shots on the cast. The result is a film that plays out like a suspense thriller, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as the unpredictable plot is shot “continuously.” The technique is choreographed and audacious, and it will be one of the most remembered aspects of Birdman for years to come. With its deft photographical magnetism, Lubezki will surely earn his second Oscar win for cinematography (his first was for 2013’s Gravity).

_AF_6405.CR2Considering the single “long-take” design for the film, each actor had to consistently be on his or her A-game. Michael Keaton was incredibly superb in his complicated role as the ego-driven, but lost-soul-like Riggan Thompson, and even though he may not win the Oscar for Best Actor (ain’t NOBODY beating Eddie Redmayne this year), it will long stand out (deservedly) as the magnum opus of Keaton’s career. Birdman4The supporting performances in Birdman were also superlative. Both Emma Stone and Edward Norton received Oscar nominations for their roles as Thompson’s daughter and Thompson’s Broadway co-star, respectively, and these accolades come as no surprise. I will discuss Stone’s role in more detail later today in my “Best Supporting Actress” post, but suffice it to say, her performance as a recovering addict is cerebral, and as the sole voice of reason for Riggan Thompson, Stone plays the part of his daughter dexterously. Birdman5Norton nearly steals the show with his performance as Mike Shiner, an acclaimed Broadway star that Riggan is forced to hire at the last minute, just days before the show’s premiere. Norton plays the “pompous asshole” character as scrupulously as possible, and his brilliant acting brings out the most hilarious of the film’s moments—during the show’s preview, Shiner gets drunk and tries to have actual sex with a co-star on stage! Check out Birdman. Everyone has been hyping this movie up for months, and it comes better than advertised. Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJfLoE6hanc

Academy Award nominations for Birdman:

Best Picture (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, and James W. Skotchdopole, producers)

Best Actor (Michael Keaton)

Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton)

Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Best Sound Editing (Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock)

Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga)

Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Fury
  2. Calvary
  3. Interstellar
  4. Gone Girl
  5. The Lego Movie

Best Original Score

Best Original Score Nominees Johann+Johannsson+Theory+Everything+Premiere+eocuGB4PLOPlThe Oscar for Best Original Score is awarded to a musical composer for the best body of musical work in the form of underscoring for a particular film. This is perennially one of my favorite Academy Award categories because in my opinion, music is essentially what makes or breaks a film. A movie is just a bunch of images and words, but with the addition of a musical score, the film develops feeling and emotion in a way that better connects with the viewers. This year’s nominees include two composers with deep roots at the Oscars (Hans Zimmer & Alexandre Desplat, the latter of which earned two nominations this year) and two other nominees earning their first nomination (Gary Yershon & Jóhann Jóhannsson). Between the two previously nominated composers in this year’s group, they have received a combined 15 nominations in the Best Original Score category, winning one of those (Hans Zimmer for The Lion King). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Score:

WINNER: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)

  1. Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)
  1. Gary Yershon (Mr. Turner)
  1. Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game)
  1. Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)