Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 9 – Zootopia

 

Zootopia is an animated feature film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. The film is about Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit from Bunnyborrow with aspirations to become a police officer.

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Following her dream, Judy moves to the big city—Zootopia. However, when she arrives, she quickly realizes that life as the first bunny cop in history is incredibly challenging. Eventually, Judy finds her purpose investigating a big case, with help from a sly, scam-artist fox named Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman)—but things are not as they seem after a series of predators go “savage.”

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I saw Zootopia twice this year (once when it came out in March and again this summer), and until the slate of incredible fall movies hit the theater, it was my favorite movie of the year. Zootopia is by far one of the best animated movies I have ever seen, too—it rivals any of the Disney/Pixar greats. But for me, what makes the film so incredible is more than just its elite animation and witty humor. Zootopia succeeds because it explores deep, socially relevant themes in a way that appeals to both kids and adults. Those that believe animated films provide no true cinematic value are simply ignorant and mistaken. On a basic level, Judy Hopps’s persistence illustrates to children that if they dream it and believe it, they can achieve it. But on a much deeper level, Zootopia brilliantly examines themes of fear, stereotyping, and prejudice that make it a particularly important piece of cinema in Trump’s America.

zoo6In the melting pot of Zootopia, predators and prey live amongst each other in harmony. However, when a group of predators start to go “savage,” every animal’s true colors come out in the form of unfounded fear and prejudice. The crimes of these few “savage” predators become a conduit for terror, intolerance, and discrimination, and it eerily mimics the social landscape of our nation throughout the past year of Donald Trump’s political campaign and ascension to America’s highest position. This is what makes Zootopia such a thought-provoking piece of film, aside from being just another great animated movie for kids. The creators dared to depict relevant real-world issues in a “kids” movie, and Zootopia will forever be held in esteem for its message of inclusion.

zoo3Aside from its adult themes, Zootopia is a flawless comedy for people of all ages. Jason Bateman is hilariously bright and amusing (per usual) in his role as Nick, and Ginnifer Goodwin skillfully balances the intricate line between straight-edge and adventurous. The film also includes a comical scene depicting Mr. Big as a feared crime boss, inspired by Vito Corleone in the opening scene of The Godfather. zoo1However, the single greatest highlight of Zootopia is the DMV scene, which features a riotous back-and-forth between Flash, a three-toed sloth, and Nick and Judy. Flash operates almost in slow motion (as you’d expect a sloth would), and everything plays out hysterically! The movie is worth the watch for this scene alone. Zootopia is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

Zootopia trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWM0ct-OLsM

Academy Award nominations for Zootopia:

Best Animated Feature (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

10. Nocturnal Animals

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Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 10 – Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-2Nocturnal Animals is a psychological thriller written and directed by Tom Ford, with a screenplay adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. The film follows Susan (Amy Adams), a rich art gallery owner in Los Angeles. One day, Susan receives a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that contains the manuscript for his newest novel, which is dedicated to her. As Susan reads further and further into Edward’s sadistic thriller, the more unsettled she becomes.

nocturnal-1Many of you know Tom Ford from his prominent position among fashion royalty (or from the catchy line “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford” from Jay-Z’s 2013 hit “Tom Ford”), but Ford is also one hell of a filmmaker. The 55-year-old designer first broke into Hollywood with his 2009 debut effort A Single Man, a heartfelt and poignant drama about a gay university professor dealing with the loss of his partner, which earned Colin Firth an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. A Single Man was an amazing film, but Ford has truly outdone himself with his sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals. He has an almost innate ability to create the picture-perfect blend of style and story, and his venture into noir here is to cinema’s benefit.

nocturnal-5What Ford excels the most at in Nocturnal Animals is his storytelling. Tom Ford seamlessly intertwines three separate narratives: the past, the present, and the fiction. We spend time following present-day Susan, as well as exploring her failed marriage to Edward many years ago—all the while, we see a visual representation of Edward’s novel acted out while present-day Susan reads the book. It is a unique storytelling device that thrives thanks to the profoundly creative mind of its creator. Ford fiercely examines love, heartbreak, revenge, and the notion that we can never turn back time to right our wrongs—the story is disturbing and beautiful, all at the same time. Nocturnal Animals is not a perfect film; but I assure you, it is a striking piece of cinema that absolutely sticks with you!

nocturnal-4In Nocturnal Animals, Ford has brought together a stellar cast of actors, each with his or her own talents and contributions that make this film so great. For starters, Amy Adams thrives as Susan—she has always been one of my favorite actresses, and, per usual, she shines in every one of her scenes. Further, I am surprised Jake Gyllenhaal has not gotten more attention for his magnificent portrayal of two characters: Edward in the “past” scenes and Tony in the visual depictions of Edward’s novel. Edward and Tony are two vastly different characters, and Gyllenhaal nails the dichotomy in his performance of both roles.

nocturnal-3The two actors garnering the most attention, though, are Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Although Taylor-Johnson won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (upsetting Mahershala Ali in the process), he did not even receive a nomination at the Oscars; conversely, Shannon snagged an Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor category. Both actors are exceptional talents in Nocturnal Animals, and I greatly enjoyed their performances. Shannon plays an inexplicable Texas lawman in Edward’s novel, and he knocks his performance out of the park. On the other hand, Taylor-Johnson stole the show for me as the terrifying Ray, the ringleader of a band of thugs in Edward’s novel that torment Tony and his family on the side of the highway in the single greatest scene in the film. Although his character is not one the Academy usually celebrates, I truly believe he deserved that nomination over Shannon. Nocturnal Animals is rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language.

Nocturnal Animals trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-H1Ii1LjyFU

Academy Award nominations for Nocturnal Animals:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Shannon)

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.

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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!

Fall Preview 2016: No. 5 – No. 1

Time to go up…cause it’s TUESDAY! More importantly, the conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2016” is finally here. Over the past few days, I have shared with you my five Honorable Mentions and No. 10 – No. 6 on the list of my most anticipated fall film releases. But now it is on to the big reveal. So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2016 list. Enjoy!

No. 5 – La La Land

La La Land is a film set in Los Angeles where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions, while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart.

la-la-land-2I have been awaiting the release of La La Land for quite some time because of the man sitting in the director’s chair: Damien Chazelle. In 2014, Chazelle broke out with his critically acclaimed debut Whiplash, one of the best movies I have seen in years (Whiplash ranked No. 1 on my list of Top 15 Films of 2014). Considering Chazelle’s masterful filmmaking in Whiplash, it was impossible for me not to be excited for his sophomore effort. La La Land finds itself in the No. 5 slot on my list on the strength of Chazelle’s previous film, so I truly hope that it does not fall flat due to failing to meet expectations. However, rumors are that La La Land is just as good as Whiplash, garnering an immense amount of Oscar support months in advance of its release. If this thing turns out to be as good as it is being hyped up to be, Damien Chazelle will cement himself as one of the very elite filmmakers in the business today.

Part of Whiplash’s success was due to wonderful performances from its cast: J.K. Simmons delivered an Oscar-winning performance that will forever be one of my all-time favorites, and Miles Teller portrayed a determined, yet wildly intense jazz student with absolute precision. I am optimistic about La La Land’s potential because Chazelle has again assembled a top-notch cast. The aforementioned Simmons is back in a supporting role, but the film’s leads have a history of on-screen chemistry, which gives the film an extra boost. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone previously starred together in a romantic capacity in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, and their relationships in these films were incredibly real and believable—I cannot wait to watch them interact again here. La La Land is set for a theatrical release on December 2, 2016.

Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Starring: Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys, The Big Short), Emma Stone (Aloha, Birdman), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia, Whiplash)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBUXcNTjviI

No. 4 – Passengers

Passengers follows the spaceship, Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II.” The Starship Avalon, transporting 5,259 people, has a malfunction in two of its sleep chambers. As a result, two hibernation pods open prematurely and the two people (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) that awoke are stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. The two soon discover that the malfunction that caused them to be awoken prematurely is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship.

passengers-2Passengers is one of those movies that has blockbuster hit written all over it. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are arguably two of the most “big time” actors currently in the business, and their collaboration here is sure to drive up ticket sales this Christmas. And rightfully so—Lawrence is a three-time Oscar-nominated actress and Pratt has ascended to mainstream stardom with performances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Notwithstanding the hype that this duo has and will to continue to garner in the lead up to the film’s release, I truly believe this pairing will make waves via pure acting ability, too. Lawrence is easily one of the top three or four actresses in Hollywood, and here I expect her to combine her proficient dramatic/comedic acting skills (see Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) with her knack for adventure (see The Hunger Games). And although he has not garnered any award-worthy praise yet, Chris Pratt is definitely one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. I expect the same sharp wit from Pratt that we have grown accustomed to seeing (see Guardians of the Galaxy), and that is never a bad thing.

As far as the filmmaking, Passengers has plenty going for it. Manning the director’s chair is Morten Tyldum, the filmmaker behind the Norwegian hit Headhunters and the Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game. Headhunters is absolutely incredible and, although I was not a massive fan of The Imitation Game, I simply cannot deny the stunning meticulousness with which Tyldum crafted the film; thus, I feel comfortable with him leading Passengers, a big-budget sci-fi thriller. The fact that Jon Spaihts penned the screenplay only adds to my excitement, as he wrote the screenplay for 2012’s Prometheus, one of my favorite science-fiction films in recent memory. Passengers is set for a theatrical release on December 21, 2016.

Director: Morten Tyldum (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men Apocalypse, Joy), Chris Pratt (The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World), and Michael Sheen (Nocturnal Animals, Far from the Madding Crowd)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BWWWQzTpNU

No. 3 – Silence

Set in the 17th century, Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity.

Without a doubt, Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time. From Taxi Driver to Goodfellas, Gangs of New York to The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has been lighting up the silver screen for decades with remarkable, high-quality films. Clearly, it is not hard to see why Silence finds itself in the top three of my list of most anticipated films this fall. In Silence, we have what can only be described as Scorsese’s true “passion project”—he began developing the film in 1990! Very few people—let alone filmmakers—could retain an interest in something for over 20 years, but that is what sets Martin Scorsese apart. The man is a cinematic visionary, and he has never once let me down with a project—I do not expect him to start now.

silence-2Aside from his filmmaking skills in general, Scorsese’s movies work on so many levels because of his ability to always get the most out of his actors. From Robert De Niro to Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese has worked with the best actors in the business, and those stars always seem to shine their brightest while working at Scorsese’s direction. With that said, I cannot wait to see what this iconic filmmaker has done with the pieces that he has assembled (i.e., Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson). Garfield and Driver are two of the most polished up-and-comers in Hollywood, and both of their careers have produced a number of outstanding performances—I am hopeful that they both deliver their best ones to date in Silence. What I am most excited for from a casting standpoint, however, is Liam Neeson. The Oscar-nominated actor had a supporting role in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and knocked his limited time on the screen out of the park—I cannot wait to see the two reunite with Neeson in a starring role. It goes without saying: I expect big things! Silence is set for a theatrical release on December 23, 2016.

Director: Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo)

Starring: Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, 99 Homes), Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls, Non-Stop), and Adam Driver (Paterson, Midnight Special)

Trailer: n/a

No. 2 – The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson (Emma Blunt), an alcoholic who divorced her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) after she caught him cheating on her. Rachel takes the train to work daily. She fantasizes about the relationship of her neighbors, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), during her commute. That all changes when she witnesses something from the train window and Megan is found to be missing, presumed dead.

Back in 2014, the number one movie on this very list was Gone Girl, the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. Two years later (albeit in the number two spot), here I am writing about The Girl on the Train. Now I know, they are two separate movies with two separate premises. But it is hard not to want to compare them in some form: They are both mystery thrillers with similar themes derived from books that took the world by storm. Gone Girl was one of the best movies I saw in 2014, and it definitely lived up to the hype for me—I sure hope The Girl on the Train does this year, too.

girl-train-2Aside from the attention the film is getting due to its source material’s acclaim, I have been awaiting the release of The Girl on the Train because of Emily Blunt. For those that have read my reviews in the past for Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and Sicario, what I am about to say is old news: Emily Blunt is one of my top two favorite actresses currently in the movie business, and I have gotten to the point where I will watch anything she makes. This is not (just) because of some love affair with her on a purely shallow basis; rather, I believe she has developed into one of the premier female talents in Hollywood. On the strength of my fandom for Blunt, I am more than ready to plop down in a seat at my local theater this Friday to see what I hope turns out to be a thrilling ride (on a train, of course). The Girl on the Train is set for a theatrical release on October 7, 2016.

Director: Tate Taylor (Get On Up, The Help)

Starring: Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Sicario), Rebecca Ferguson (Florence Foster Jenkins, Missions: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven, Hardcore Henry), Justin Theroux (Zoolander 2, Wanderlust), and Luke Evans (High-Rise, Furious 7)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5yk-HGqKmM

No. 1 – Arrival

Arrival follows an elite team that is put together to investigate when multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers—and to find them, team members Louise Banks (Amy Adams), Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.

arrival-2Science-fiction is nowhere near the top of my list of favorite film genres. Don’t get me wrong, I do like them—but if I had to pick a range of 4-5 types of movies to watch on a Friday night, science-fiction would not be one of them. But Arrival is peak alien sci-fi…so how can it rank so high on this list? The answer is simple: Denis Villeneuve. Although I still have not seen Villeneuve’s Maelstrom (the winner of the International Federation of Film Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival) or Incendies (the Oscar-nominated foreign language film), I still view the French-Canadian filmmaker to be one of the best in the business—this is because of Prisoners and Sicario. While in Prisoners Villeneuve crafted a film that was emotionally complex and disturbing at times, yet all the while encapsulating, he truly blew me away with last year’s Sicario, a tightly wound drug cartel thriller that put Villeneuve’s brazen filmmaking on full display for the world to see. Needless to say, his involvement with Arrival makes it a no-brainer for me to be so interested!

In Prisoners, Villeneuve truly directed his balls off in getting the most from his actors (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Terrence Howard absolutely killed it), and in Sicario, the very same was true (Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro delivered unbelievably outstanding performances). Here, I am anxious to see what Villeneuve does with another stellar cast. Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses (and by far one of the best in the business), Jeremy Renner always does a great job, and Forest Whitaker is a veteran in the game who still treats every performance as if it is his last. The talent is there from both an acting and directorial standpoint—I am confident that the two will intersect beautifully and Arrival will meet all of its undeniably high expectations. Arrival is set for a theatrical release on November 11, 2016.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners)

Starring: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Big Eyes), Jeremy Renner (Captain America: Civil War, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and Forest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Southpaw)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g

Fall Preview 2016: No. 10 – No. 6

Happy Sunday! Today I am revealing films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes a wide range of films, including a likely heavy hitter at the box office, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – The Founder

The Founder details the true story of McDonald’s and its rise to fast-food domination. The film follows Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) as he meets brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), who operate a hamburger restaurant in California. Controversially, Kroc tactically maneuvers himself into a position to take control of the McDonald’s brand, which grows into one of the world’s best-known brands after Kroc buys the chain for $2.7 million in 1961.

the-founder-2The source of my interest in The Founder is one man: Michael Keaton. Beginning with Birdman in 2014 (for which Keaton won the Oscar for Best Actor) and Spotlight in 2015 (which won the Oscar for Best Picture), Michael Keaton has undergone a true film renaissance. The resurgence of Keaton as an acting powerhouse is undeniable, and from the looks of the trailer for this film, I can only believe that he is set to kill it once more. The role seems to include elements of comedy, drama, malice, and deceit—a veteran like Keaton is sure to embrace this challenge and deliver a balanced performance.

One of the film’s keys is also one of the film’s (potential) downsides: director John Lee Hancock. Hancock’s directorial history consists of The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks. The positive here is that Hancock clearly knows how to take a true-life story and mold it into a solid movie. The drawback, though, is that each of these films—while well-crafted—got a bit cheesy and cliché at times. As is evident from the trailer, The Founder takes on a seriously controversial subject matter, and I am hoping that this factor takes the film into the category of “drama,” rather than “melodrama”—I want the Big Mac, not the Big Sap. The Founder is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side)

Starring: Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman), Laura Dern (99 Homes, Wild), and Nick Offerman (Danny Collins, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX2uz2XYkbo

No. 9 – Loving

Loving follows the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The two are arrested and sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. The couple eventually sues the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

loving-2Before I even knew much about this film, I was interested. As most of you probably know, in May I graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law. During my time in law school, I examined the case of Loving v. Virginia in my constitutional law course. It is a case that stands as a pillar of change during a truly despicable time in American history, and I am more than happy to see the Loving’s story played out on the silver screen. Like I have felt with most films coming out this fall, however, the story appears quite susceptible to an overload of sap. But Richard Lawson, a critic for Vanity Fair, claimed the film’s lack of schmaltziness (for lack of a better word) take away the film’s “heft.” For me, I would always err on the side of avoiding anything that makes a story mawkish, so Lawson’s criticism does not bother me whatsoever.

I first heard about Loving this past spring when it competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Although it did not win the coveted award, the film still ultimately won—it received a standing ovation following its screening and many critics considered the film a surefire Oscar contender. Most of this success can be attributed to Loving’s director (Jeff Nichols) and stars (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga). Nichols is a filmmaker that continues to, movie by movie, build up a critically acclaimed filmography. The beautifully crafted Mud served as my introduction to Nichols as a writer/director, and I look for him to bring that same poise and dexterity to Loving. As far as acting, I haven’t seen much of Ruth Negga, but I can definitely vouch for Joel Edgerton’s abilities—he has proven to be an underrated master of his craft, and all signs point to the same level of sharp performance that I have grown accustomed to seeing from Edgerton. Loving is set for a theatrical release on November 4, 2016.

Director: Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ruth Negga (Warcraft, Fury), Nick Kroll (Sausage Party, Knight of Cups), and Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33g-ZHBQdNU

No. 8 – Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals follows Susan (Amy Adams), a successful LA art-gallery owner, whose idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, Susan is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.

nocturnal-2Tom Ford. Tom Ford. No, I am not quoting lyrics from Jay-Z’s 2013 song “Tom Ford”; I am talking about the director of Nocturnal Animals. While Tom Ford is universally known as one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, he is also an acclaimed filmmaker. In 2009, Ford wrote, directed, and produced A Single Man, an award-winning film starring Colin Firth. I was a huge fan of Ford’s debut effort, and when I found out he was returning this year with Nocturnal Animals, I was on board. Aside from Tom Ford at the wheel, my interest in this film further derives from its acting stars: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Adams definitely ranks in the top five of my favorite actresses currently working, and I cannot wait to see her take on this thrilling role. With Gyllenhaal, we all know what we are going to get—a charismatic yet enigmatic performance; it is a recipe for success and Gyllenhaal rarely lets the audience down. Nocturnal Animals is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Starring: Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition, Everest), Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 7 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of three stand-alone spin-off films set in the Star Wars universe and takes place (temporally) sometime between the conclusion of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV in the Star Wars franchise. The film is set 18 years after the formation of the Galactic Empire and follows the Rebel Alliance as it recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a team to steal the Death Star plans.

To be completely honest, I did not watch a single Star Wars movie until last fall when I binge-watched the entire series in anticipation of the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Although the franchise had always been a cinematic blind spot for me, I got caught up in a short span of time and was not disappointed. With the exception of Episodes I and II, I found all of Star Wars films to be highly entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema. Because of this, I have an enormous interest in the newest addition to the Star Wars universe.

rogue-one-2As was probably the case for most Star Wars fans, the trailer for Rogue One had me hooked. Aside from a journey back to a galaxy far, far away, Rogue One also grabbed my attention with its out-of-this-world (see what I did there) cast. Leading the way is Felicity Jones, a fetching actress who more than impressed me with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything. Joining Jones are actors Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker, a group with varying degrees of experience but unwavering levels of precision. Led by Gareth Edwards (the director of Monsters and Godzilla), this cast has everything going for it to make the newest Star Wars film a success. Let’s hope Rogue One delivers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters)

Starring: Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls, The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Blood Father, Elysium), and Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind, Slow West)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 6 – Moonlight

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man balancing his dysfunctional home life and coming of age in the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three distinct chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

Moonlight is one of those films that looks to have everything necessary to strive as a sleeper hit this fall. After debuting at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, Moonlight was met with universal acclaim—David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter stated the film was “fluid and seductive, deceptively mellow, and shot with shearing compassion,” while Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf hailed the film as “without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.” For me, these early reviews triggered an immense interest in the film, and I cannot wait to see where Moonlight goes from here.moonlight-2

The film does have some question marks though: director Barry Jenkins and lead actor Trevante Rhodes (who plays Chiron) epitomize the term “unknown.” Although I have never heard of Jenkins, the critics at Telluride collectively praised his abilities. Justin Chang from the LA Times suppressed any apprehension I had about Jenkins, stating that he “made a film that urges the viewer to look past Chiron’s outward appearance and his superficial signifiers of identity, climbing inside familiar stereotypes in order to quietly dismantle them from within . . . . [Moonlight] doesn’t say much. It says everything.” Moonlight is set for a theatrical release on October 21, 2016.

Director: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, My Josephine)

Starring: Trevante Rhodes (The Night Is Young, Weightless), André Holland (The Knick, Selma), Naomie Harris (Our Kind of Traitor, Spectre), and Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, House of Cards)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJj12tJzqc

Fall Preview 2016: Honorable Mentions

Welcome back, everyone. Usually I release my Fall Preview each year at the end of August to encompass all theatrical releases between September and December; however, due to being a bit busier than usual this—and the fact that September is always the weakest month of the fall in terms of film releases anyways—I have delayed the release of my list until now. With the 89th Academy Awards just 148 days away, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

Okay, let’s get the fall movie season started. For the fourth consecutive year, I have created a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. My list consists of ten films (plus five honorable mentions) that, on their face, look like they could be very good. I take into account a range of criteria when considering films for this list, including, but not limited to, the cast, director, producers, media hype, trailer, and pure conjecture. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this weekend:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Sunday: No. 10 – No. 6

Tuesday: No. 5 – No. 1

Kicking off this year’s Fall Preview are the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 movies I am most looking forward to seeing (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!

The Accountant

The Accountant is a film about Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a mathematics savant with little to no social skills. Although it appears Christian is a small-town CPA, he makes his living as a forensic accountant for dangerous criminal organizations. With the government on his heels, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. As he gets closer to the truth about a discrepancy that involves millions of dollars, the body count starts to rise.

the-accountant-2This film is either going to be really good or really bad. But I cannot help myself from being intrigued by the casting of Ben Affleck in such an atypical role. Whether he is the good guy or the bad guy, Affleck historically portrays characters with copious amounts of charisma—that clearly is not the case here, as Christian Wolff embodies the exact opposite of term “social butterfly.” With the addition to the cast of the firecracker Anna Kendrick, the Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, and the ever-brooding Jon Bernthal, The Accountant has the dominant “acting” factor on its side.

I am also interested to see what director Gavin O’Connor will bring to the table here. I have not seen his 2011 film Warrior, which featured performances from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, but the praise it received is undeniable nonetheless. Further, he impressed me in 2008 with Pride and Glory, so my hope is that he continues to find his groove, building upon the success of these two particular films. The Accountant is set for a theatrical release on October 14, 2016.

Director: Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun, Warrior)

Starring: Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gone Girl), Anna Kendrick (Trolls, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), J.K. Simmons (Zootopia, Whiplash), and Jon Bernthal (Sicario, Fury)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBfsgcswlYQ

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a war drama based on the 2012 award-winning novel of the same name. The film follows Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19-year-old Army specialist fighting in Iraq. Following an intense battle where Billy and his comrades barely survive, they are brought back home to the US and celebrated as heroes. Once they are back, they embark on a promotional tour across the country, which ends in a halftime show at the annual Thanksgiving Day football game. There, the film follows Lynn as he recounts the tragic memories of the war and losing his sergeant in a firefight.

billy-lynn-2When I first watched this trailer, I had two distinct thoughts: (1) Wow, this story looks like it is going to be an intense, tear-jerking ride; and (2) Damn, part of this looks like Ang Lee went full-blown Disney. If the latter turns out to be the case (i.e., cheesy melodrama…blahhhhh), I know I will not enjoy the film. Therefore, I am hopeful that Ang Lee is relentless in making this feel-good film all the while intense and dramatic. The veteran director rarely makes mistakes as a filmmaker, which is why I am putting a fair amount of faith in Billy Lynn’s potential to be a sleeper hit this fall.

Despite having Ang Lee at the helm, the film could epically fall flat as a result of its cast. With Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, and Steve Martin on board, the film has hope; however, I still have reservations about Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, and the movie’s lead, Joe Alwyn. As far as Diesel goes, I will be frank—other than his motion-capture and voice work as “Groot” in Guardians of the Galaxy, I have little reason to believe he is a worthwhile actor at all, as his filmography epitomizes the term “weak sauce.” Throw Kristen Stewart into the picture, and I become far more concerned—Bella is a complete and utter drag to stomach on the screen. Lastly, the trailer seems to show Alwyn giving a fantastic performance; however, it is his debut performance. Because of that, it only makes sense to exercise caution. How can I have such worrisome thoughts while still having hope for the film? It all comes down to Ang Lee for me. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is set for a theatrical release on November 11, 2016.

Director: Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain)

Starring: Joe Alwyn (this is Alwyn’s debut film), Kristen Stewart (Café Society, Twilight), Chris Tucker (Silver Linings Playbook, Rush Hour), Garrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken), Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy, Fast and the Furious), and Steve Martin (Love the Coopers, Pink Panther)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUULFJ_I048

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation tells the true-life story of the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher. The film follows Turner as his financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As Turner witnesses countless atrocities—against himself and his fellow slaves—he orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

I have been awaiting the release of this film for a long time. With such anticipation, what is the reason for only including it on my Honorable Mentions instead of higher up the list? It is simple: It is hard to overlook the sexual assault controversy surrounding the film’s auteur, Nate Parker (I am not going to address it any more than I already have, but I encourage everyone to read into this compelling story at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/08/why-the-debate-over-nate-parker-is-so-complex/496700/).

the-birth-2Back to the film. My interest in the film dates back to the conclusion of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. After taking home the festival’s most prestigious award­­—the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic—filmmaker Nate Parker inked the largest film-rights deal in Sundance history: Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the worldwide rights for $17.5 million (Parker also took home the Audience Award: Dramatic, as well). Mix in some serious critical acclaim, and I was hooked. I was also drawn to Parker’s desire to bring about systemic change via the silver screen with his film; in 2015 he stated, “There’s so many things that are happening right now in 2015—100 years after the original ‘Birth of a Nation’ film, here we are. I’d say that is what I hope sets my film apart, is that it’s relevant now—that people will talk about this film with the specific intention of change.” Despite Parker’s personal controversy, I am looking forward to his film’s underlying message of social change in a time where our nation desperately needs it. The Birth of a Nation is set for a theatrical release on October 7, 2016.

Director: Nate Parker (this is his feature-length directorial debut)

Starring: Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights, Red Hook Summer), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Lone Ranger), Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away with Murder, The Rewrite), and Jackie Earle Haley (RoboCop, Lincoln)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4TTbcXG1GQ 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fantasy film inspired by J.K. Rowling’s book of the same name, which itself was the supposed textbook in the “Harry Potter” universe authored by fictitious Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York City in 1926 to meet with an official from the Magical Congress of the United States of America. At this meeting is a magically expanded briefcase, which houses a number of dangerous creatures and their habitats. When the creatures escape from the briefcase, it sends the American wizarding authorities after Newt.

beasts-2For anyone that knows me well, it is obvious that this film would always be on my radar this fall—I am a devoted fan of the entire “Harry Potter” universe developed by genius author J.K. Rowling. It has been five years since the last Harry Potter film was released, so for me, to come back into Rowling’s magical universe is a dream come true. The film’s director and screenwriter only add to my eagerness: David Yates and J.K. Rowling, respectively. I have extremely high hopes for the film with Yates behind the scenes, as he directed the final four Harry Potter films—those films definitely took the series to a new level, and with Yates’s deep knowledge of Rowling’s universe, he will surely deliver a gem. Speaking of Rowling, the “Harry Potter” mastermind penned her first screenplay with Fantastic Beasts. On paper, Rowling has never let me down—I have the same hope for her debut script. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs, Inherent Vice), Dan Fogler (Barely Lethal, Take Me Home Tonight), and Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Winter’s Tale)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGNnv_g9h4k 

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea, set and filmed in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). Following the sudden and unexpected death of Lee’s older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee becomes the legal guardian of Patrick, Joe’s son. The story then follows Lee back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, as he must deal with his new role while balancing issues with his separated wife (Michelle Williams) and the North Shore community.

If you have not heard much about this film—which I imagine most haven’t—it is high time to get familiar. I wish I could vouch for Kenneth Lonergan as a film director, but I simply cannot—I have never once seen one of his films (to my credit, he basically hasn’t done anything as a director). However, what will probably pique your interest is a major writing credit on his résumé: Gangs of New York. That film is one of my all-time favorites, and Lonergan’s script was dramatic, intense, and as witty as they come—I sure hope he is able to emulate that dexterity here in Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan also penned this script).

manchester-2As far as acting, this film has a variety of talented actors that will surely put on fantastic performances. But the one person that makes me want to rush out to see this the moment it hits theaters is Casey Affleck. In my opinion, Casey is a far superior actor to his older brother Ben (you know, Batman). He has continually impressed me with well-crafted, nuanced performances in films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone (the latter of which was directed by Batman Affleck himself), and after watching the Manchester by the Sea trailer, all signs point to another gifted performance. Manchester by the Sea is set for a wide theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret)

Starring: Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours), Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful, Take This Waltz), and Kyle Chandler (Carol, The Wolf of Wall Street)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsVoD0pTge0

My Review of the 88th Academy Awards

Well, that’s a wrap on the 88th edition of the Academy Awards. More so than any year previously, the show began with a giant elephant in the room. Deciding to stick with his plans to host, comedian Chris Rock was expected to bring the heat with regards to the serious diversity issue surrounding Hollywood’s biggest night—for better or for worse, he definitely came to play. 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 the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony:

Chris Rock and the Diversity Issue (BEST):

We all knew it was coming from the moment Chris Rock stepped on stage. With the #OscarsSoWhite campaign grilling the Academy’s every move, diversity was always going to be a central topic of the night. Chris Rock, a comedian who has never shied away from racially themed rhetoric, was the catalyst Hollywood so desperately needed to address these issues on Oscar night. Oscars3As far as Rock’s opening monologue, I thought he killed it. While most hosts focus on all of the movies and performances from the year, Rock instead spent his entire opening speech discussing the diversity issues in mainstream cinema. The best part about his monologue was that it was equal parts spoof and sincerity. He hilariously addressed the fact that Jada Pinkett-Smith of all people was the lead protestor of this year’s ceremony due to the lack of diversity in acting categories (although her main beef was obviously that husband Will Smith was “snubbed”). Rock remarked, “Jada is going to boycott the Oscars. Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

In this day and age, race is a particularly hot topic, and although most modern racism is not exactly as it once was (see the 1960s), it absolutely still exists nationwide, even if not so blatant. Rock made light of this fact as well: “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

Comedian Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood

Chris Rock made the debate funny, while still inserting kernels of truth. He ultimately ended his monologue on a serious note, making a poignant statement that I absolutely agree with in regards to this diversity debate in cinema: “What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.” In his opening monologue, Chris Rock hit the nail on the head!

Chris Rock and the Diversity Issue (WORST):

Now, despite the fact that Chris Rock succeeded in his opening monologue, the race issue quickly turned from affecting to gimmicky. There was the awkward montage of black actors and actresses like Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock himself inserted into movies from 2015 to discuss race. Rock later introduced presenter Michael B. Jordan as “Should-have-been-nominated Michael B. Jordan” (no, Jordan should not have been nominated, Mr. Rock; his performance was average, no matter his race).

Oscars2The point in the show, though, where the racially charged discussion truly turned into a gimmick was the video of Chris Rock interviewing black moviegoers outside of a theater in Compton. Rock asked them what their feelings were about black actors and actresses being snubbed—predictably, they were upset; one guy even responded in the affirmative when Chris Rock asked him if the #OscarsSoWhite situation made him want to smack a white guy. Then he asked them what they thought about various movies from 2015, such as Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Trumbo, and The Big Short. Most respondents told Rock that they either (1) had not even heard of those films, or (2) thought the comedian was making up movie titles as a joke. Although Chris Rock was probably using this bit to make some sort of point about movies and diversity, in my opinion, it backfired. What positive, teaching moment comes out of interviews with people complaining about the lack of diversity in the major Oscar categories while OPENLY ADMITTING that they have not seen any of the nominated films? If you are going to complain about someone getting “snubbed,” wouldn’t it be beneficial to have seen the other performances to know how to objectively determine that someone deserved a nomination over someone else? For me, this segment missed the mark. All of Rock’s outstanding viewpoints on race and opportunity from his monologue were completely absent for the rest of the show, and these interviews proved only that those particular people with beefs regarding the nominations this year are gravely misinformed.

Best Moment: (Leo takes home the gold)

Was there really anything better than watching one of the greatest actors in the history of film hear his name called for the very first time at the Oscars? No, people…the answer is “no.” Leonardo DiCaprio has furnished movie-lovers everywhere with an endless supply of quality acting performances in some outstanding films, yet, the 41-year-old actor had never won an Oscar, despite being previously nominated four times in acting categories. UNTIL THIS YEAR! Oscars6As I have mentioned more than once on my blog this year, Leo’s win was never going to be a lifetime achievement award. This was never going to be a “make-up call” for snubbing him multiple times in the past. This year, if Leo won, it was always going to be because his performance in The Revenant was raw, unrelenting, and downright incredible. When Julianne Moore announced Leo as the winner for Best Actor, the crowd stood and cheered loudly—partly because everyone knew this was way past due, but also partly because each and every person in that crowd knew that this year, nobody was better! It was one of the coolest moments in my lifetime of watching the Oscars. Congrats, Leo!

The REAL MVP: (The dude/gal who knew better than to “play off” Leo during his speech)

We have waited decades for Leo to finally take home his first Oscar. And when he finally got on stage to accept his much-deserved award, he gave a speech that clearly appeared as if it would last a good while. I sat on my couch with bated breath, waiting for the orchestra to start playing Leo off. But I waited…and waited…and waited. And the music never came! THANK THE LORD!!!Oscars8 If I would have been at the show, and the orchestra started to play Leo off, I might have throat-punched the conductor (or whichever producer gave the conductor the cue to start the music). Fans of Leo’s career have waited a long time to see him up on that stage, and whoever was in charge of deciding whether or not to play Leo off—you the REAL MVP for saying, “NO!”

Most Boring Moment: (The dreaded length of the ceremony)

This show has got to get shorter. For the fourth straight year, the ceremony lasted over 3 ½ hours (this year’s length was 3 hours, 37 minutes). This year, the Academy instituted a new feature: All winners had already recorded a list of people that they would like to thank, which scrolled across the bottom of the screen like a Sportscenter ticker. Despite this new element, the show still plodded on and on. One of the main things to blame, in my opinion, for the show’s length is the excessive commercial breaks. The NFL can get away with so many cuts to commercial because when the game returns, its hard-hitting action keeps us occupied—the Academy Awards, on the other hand, does not pack that kind of punch. Oscars4When it came down to the final four awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director), the show took 2 commercial breaks. Best Director was announced right after a commercial break, and then—you guessed it—the show took another commercial break. When the ceremony returned, Best Actress was revealed. Then, yep, another commercial break. It was already almost 11pm (CST) at that point, and yet, the show stumbled to the finish line. Something has to be done about the length of the Oscars. Although I love the Academy Awards, I totally get where people are coming from when they complain about its boring nature. Here’s to hoping something changes next year.

Most Surprising Moment: (Mark Rylance defeats Sly Stallone for Best Supporting Actor)

Oscars5

No, Spotlight winning Best Picture is not the most surprising moment of the night—although I disagreed with the Academy’s decision in that category, it was not completely out of left field. This year was one of the tightest Best Picture races in history, as there was never a clear-cut favorite—in fact, The Revenant, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Spotlight all garnered “Best Picture” wins at variously renowned awards ceremonies this year. The biggest surprise for me was Mark Rylance winning Best Supporting Actor, a category that most viewed as a complete lock for Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Leading up the Oscars, Stallone’s odds were 2/7 to win the big award, although, to be fair, Rylance was always his biggest competition (his odds were 5/2). Although I did enjoy Rylance’s performance in Bridge of Spies, I was completely caught off guard because the hype has long indicated that Stallone would be a shoe-in for the win.

Hottest Dress: (Rachel McAdams)

Oscars9Look, I am a movie guy—I am not at all a style critic. But let’s be honest, Rachel McAdams looked smokin’ in that green dress last night. The 37-year-old Canadian actress was definitely one of the best dressed from Oscar night, and her gown even had my wife crushing on how “hot” she looked! Let’s all take a minute to bask in the beauty of one of Hollywood’s most stunning stars!

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

 

Full List of Films I Saw from 2015: Ranked from 1 – 72

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
16. Legend
17. Southpaw
18. The Gift
19. Black Mass
20. Bridge of Spies
21. Amy
22. Cartel Land
23. Spy
24. The Hateful Eight
25. While We’re Young
26. It Follows
27. The Stanford Prison Experiment
28. Trumbo
29. Dope
30. Spectre
31. Focus
32. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
33. What We Do In the Shadows
34. Far from the Madding Crowd
35. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
36. Brooklyn
37. Bone Tomahawk
38. The Wolfpack
39. Jurassic World
40. Maps to the Stars
41. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
42. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
43. Inside Out
44. Shaun the Sheep
45. 45 Years
46. GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
47. Welcome to Me
48. Carol
49. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
50. Anomalisa
51. Insurgent
52. Cinderella
53. Daddy’s Home
54. Fifty Shades of Grey
55. Hyena
56. Joy
57. The Danish Girl
58. White Dog
59. San Andreas
60. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
61. The Good Dinosaur
62. Back in Time
63. Chappie
64. Creep
65. Slow West
66. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
67. Hot Girls Wanted
68. Pitch Perfect 2
69. Get Hard
70. The Duff
71. Deep Web
72. The Duke of Burgundy

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