Best Actor in a Leading Role (2018)

The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

malek

In Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic about Queen, Rami Malek plays lead singer Freddie Mercury. Like with the Green Book, the controversy surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody is well known and has dominated the headlines for months. However, just like with my pick of Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor in Green Book, the controversy simply cannot take away from the absolutely dazzling acting performance provided by Rami Malek as the notorious singer/songwriter. I always had other issues with the film as a whole outside of just the controversial director, namely the neutering of the true story, which I, like a lot of film fans, felt prevented a more-than-surface-level exploration of Mercury. However, in the end, none of this matters a whole lot, as Malek came to the rescue and saved the day. With every wild outfit worn and with every sexual strut on stage, Malek completely embodied Freddie Mercury’s passion and soul for his music, as well as his ostentatious personality. Malek delivered the performance of a lifetime in Bohemian Rhapsody, and not only is he my personal pick for Best Actor, I wholeheartedly expect him to take home the Oscar this Sunday, following vital victories at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and BAFTAs.

2. Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

Cooper

In his self-directed film A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper portrays Jackson Maine, a prominent country musician who discovers and falls in love with a young, aspiring singer named Ally. As I mentioned in my full review of the film, Cooper is tremendous behind the camera in his directorial debut (which he also co-wrote), but he is just as incredible in front of it, turning in one of the best acting performances of his career (second only to his role in Silver Linings Playbook). Jackson Maine is a deeply complex character, struggling in ongoing battles with pills, alcohol, and personal demons galore. Despite the invigoration that Ally brings to his life in terms of love and music, Jackson never can quite defeat those underlying issues, resorting to self-sabotage at every turn. Cooper’s portrayal is haunting and emotionally packed – he brings the heartbreak on screen to life in such an affecting manner. Cooper definitely gave an unforgettable performance.

3. Christian Bale (Vice)

Vice

In Vice, Christian Bale portrays the titular character, former Vice President Dick Cheney. The film tells the story of Cheney’s rise from White House intern during the Nixon years to White House Chief of Staff for President Ford and eventually from CEO of Halliburton to the most powerful second-in-command in United States history. Despite some great supporting performances by Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, all of the buzz has generally centered around Bale’s leading role – and rightfully so. Bale has a much-admired penchant for roles requiring immense transformations (see e.g., The Machinist, The Fighter, and American Hustle), and with the help of a 40-pound weight gain, Bale’s demeanor physically embodies Cheney superbly. However, in my opinion, here the true transformation into Cheney was more due to some amazing makeup work (a category in which the film was deservedly nominated). Bale’s voice tone and mannerisms definitely exemplified the Vice President (and Bale obviously acted his ass off, as he always does), but it was still difficult to separate Bale from the character, something with which I usually don’t struggle – that is the main reason I don’t personally have Bale competing for the Oscar in this category, although I admit he is one of the actual frontrunners to take home the award this Sunday.

4. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

Van Gogh

In Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, Willem Dafoe portrays the real-life painter Vincent van Gogh during the final years of his life in France. I genuinely didn’t enjoy this film (which sucks, because I really was looking forward to it), as Schnabel’s filmmaking techniques ended up being – although interesting – messy and distracting. However, I can definitely say that if there is any bright spot whatsoever, it is Dafoe’s performance. Depicting those last few years of van Gogh’s life, the movie focuses on the severe mental illness that the Dutch painter suffered from, highlighting his time in Arles, his stint in a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and his final months in Auvers-sur-Oise. Dafoe brilliantly portrayed van Gogh’s severely impaired mental state, offering up a truly emotional and empathy-evoking performance. For all the film’s flaws, Dafoe’s performance was unwavering – he definitely earned this Oscar nomination.

5. Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Green

In the film Green Book, Viggo Mortensen portrays the real-life Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer from New York who takes a job as a driver for Don Shirley (the real-life African-American jazz pianist) during Shirley’s 1962 concert tour through the Deep South. I previously discussed the controversy surrounding the film in the post about my ballot for Best Supporting Actor, so I won’t rehash that here. But as good as Mahershala Ali is as Don Shirley (regardless of the potential issues with the film’s story), Mortensen just seemed average for me. He is obviously a very talented actor (this is his third nomination for Best Actor), and in the film, he is very convincing in his physical depiction of Tony Lip – he even put on 40–50 pounds for the role. However, as compelling as the real-life Tony Lip may have been, I simply found his character in the film to be lacking a whole lot of depth (which was surprising, considering his own son, Nick Vallelonga, co-wrote the screenplay) – the character is too two-dimensional, simply living from worn-out trope to worn-out trope. Mortensen was good, but this spot in the nominations definitely should have gone to Ethan Hawke for First Reformed.

Review: My Ballot and Countdown (2015)

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

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

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Mad Max: Fury Road

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

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

Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson (Room)

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

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

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

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

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

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

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

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

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

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

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

Best Original Screenplay: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

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

 

Best Actor (2015)

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

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) 

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

  1. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

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

  1. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

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

  1. Matt Damon (The Martian) 

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

  1. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

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

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

Review: My Ballot and Countdown

NomineesWith my third annual countdown in the books, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past few weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 14 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 past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 87th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Whiplash

Actor in a Leading Role: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Actor in a Supporting Role: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Actress in a Leading Role: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Best Film Editing: Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach (American Sniper)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)

Best Production Design: Nathan Crowley and Gary Fettis (Interstellar)

Best Sound Mixing: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins, and Thomas Curley (Whiplash)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Best Original Screenplay: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

  1. Whiplash
  2. Locke
  3. Nightcrawler
  4. Starred Up
  5. The Theory of Everything
  6. Boyhood
  7. Blue Ruin
  8. American Sniper
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Birdman
  11. Fury
  12. Calvary
  13. Interstellar
  14. Gone Girl
  15. The Lego Movie

 

Best Actor

Best Actor NomineesAlthough you will likely recognize each and every Oscar nominee in the Best Actor category this year, four of the five nominees are receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. The only veteran to the prestigious ceremony: Bradley Cooper (receiving his third consecutive Oscar nomination this year). Despite the fact that Cooper was stellar in American Sniper, there are two other actors that will be duking it out on Oscar night, meaning the winner will be taking home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

RedmayneEddie Redmayne proved in 2014 that he is a rising star in the film business and will be a force for years to come—his breakout performance in The Theory of Everything (portraying Stephen Hawking) was absolutely captivating. Although the other nominated acting performances this year were brilliant and deserved of critical acclaim, nothing compares to the physical demands required of Redmayne for his portrayal of Hawking. With every passing moment after the character is first diagnosed with ALS, Redmayne handles the physical deterioration with meticulousness. The best way to explain the complexities of this performance and Redmayne’s superb acting comes from my post earlier this week about The Theory of Everything: “He manages Hawking’s real-life mannerisms almost effortlessly, and with every bodily hunch and contortion, Redmayne evokes a visceral likeness to the British theorist in ways never thought possible.” Redmayne was incredible, and his performance in this movie will go down in film history as one of the most remarkable portrayals of a physically disabled character since Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (side note: Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for his aforementioned performance—here’s hoping that Redmayne will join him in that elite fraternity). Redmayne has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

KeatonLeading up to the Oscar ceremony in two days, critics and experts have been torn in their Best Actor predictions between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton (it is considered the tightest race in all of the acting categories). Even though I am personally hoping for a Redmayne victory, there will be no disappointment from me if Keaton ends up taking home the coveted statue. Michael Keaton rediscovered his own personal acting career with a tour-de-force portrayal in Birdman of Riggan Thompson, a once-relevant film actor turned Broadway performer hoping to attain critical success again. If it were not for Redmayne’s incredible performance this past year, Keaton would blow the rest of the nominees out of the water—in most years, this performance wins an Oscar 99.9% of the time. Keaton depicted his character with outstanding dynamism, exuding a magnificent blend of serious drama and black comedy. He is miles away from his Batman days with this painstaking depiction, and I hope this newfound Keaton comes back in the near future with equally magnificent performances. Keaton has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

AMERICAN SNIPERBradley Cooper has established himself as the most decorated actor in the business in recent years (this is his third consecutive trip to the Academy Awards for an acting nomination), and although his performances in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) were unmistakably deserved, I would argue that his portrayal of the real-life Chris Kyle in American Sniper is the greatest of his career. In order to more accurately inhabit the late-Navy SEAL (the most lethal sniper in American military history), Cooper notably consumed 6,000 calories per day, while also lifting weights—his physique in the film is representatively colossal. Bradley Cooper’s physical transformation is only part of the noteworthiness of his role—he additionally delivers a rigorous, inspired performance as a brooding man with hidden vulnerabilities. Chris Kyle will forever live on as a legend in the hearts of America (except Michael Moore—but nobody cares about him anyways), and Cooper’s depiction of Kyle in American Sniper does the late-SEAL complete justice on the screen. Bradley Cooper has been previously nominated twice in acting categories at the Oscars: Best Actor (Silver Linings Playbook) and Best Supporting Actor (American Hustle). 

  1. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) 

CarellIn Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays the real-life multimillionaire John du Pont, the heir to the E.I. du Pont family fortune, who recruited US wrestling Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz to train at his family’s Foxcatcher Farm. As the ill-fated story goes, du Pont murdered Dave Schultz in cold blood in 1996. If you have not seen this film, you really need to—it will not be the most amazing movie you ever see, but it is well worth it for the acting performances alone. Channing Tatum is astonishingly good, as is Mark Ruffalo; however, Steve Carell is the showstopper. The character of John du Pont is inexplicable, menacing, and gripping, but not in ways that make anyone feel physically intimidated by him—instead, he is just flat out creepy! Carell, the career funny man of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame, is completely unrecognizable in this role (in fact, according to Entertainment Weekly, Carell spent five months with an Oscar-winning makeup designer to develop du Pont’s look prior to shooting). Carell wholly submerges himself into this complex dramatic role, and the result is one of the better performances I have ever seen—I almost wish this year’s category were weaker because Carell would surely take home the Oscar. Carell has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

CumberbatchIn the Best Picture-nominated film The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the real-life British cryptanalyst—Alan Turing—who led a team during World War II that cracked the Nazis’ infamous Enigma code. In my opinion, The Imitation Game as a whole is vastly overrated. Although I do contend that it is a good film, it is far from great. Part of my feeling that the movie is merely average is due to Cumberbatch’s performance. In parts of the film (specifically when the war is over and Turing is being punished—by chemical castration—for being gay), Cumberbatch boasts riveting acting abilities—in these scenes, the unearthing of Turing’s cold vulnerabilities is done so in an emotionally fueled manner. However, in the bulk of the film, which deals with the actual cracking of the Enigma code, I was not overly blown away by his performance—it did not leave me in awe whatsoever (i.e., it simply was not memorable to me). I do admit that Cumberbatch is a great actor (I was immensely impressed with him in 2013’s August: Osage County), but for me, his spot amongst the others in this category is more deserving for Jake Gyllenhaal, who I believe was gravelly snubbed by the Academy this year for his role in Nightcrawler. Cumberbatch has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actors snubbed in this category: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Jack O’Connell (Starred Up), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Tom Hardy (Locke), Brad Pitt (Fury), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 5 – The Theory of Everything

 

The Theory of Everything - BPThe Theory of Everything is a British biographical romantic drama directed by James Marsh with a screenplay, adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by Anthony McCarten. The film follows the romantic relationship of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his ex-wife Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones)—it examines the intricacies of their love story as Stephen embarks on the greatest scientific discoveries of his illustrious career in the wake of his shocking diagnosis of motor neuron disease.

Theory 5This movie is magnificent. I was completely unaware of James Marsh’s previous work, but after researching his career in film, The Theory of Everything does a complete 180° from his usual work. Marsh made his career as a documentarian—in fact, he won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for his film Man on Wire (2008). Even though he is a critically acclaimed documentarian, I sure hope he continues to venture into films like The Theory of Everything because he has created a superlative, emotionally evocative drama. This film thrives off of its supreme acting (Redmayne and Jones were unbelievable—I will get to them soon), and Marsh excels in his ardent direction of his two stars. Anthony McCarten also delivers an exceptional screenplay that gives the film’s stars plenty to work with during their scenes. It is adapted from Jane Wilde Hawking’s memoir about her life with ex-husband Stephen, and this would tend to imply that the story (which inherently includes their separation) might be biased in her favor; however, McCarten pens the story from a more neutral perspective, and this allows the viewer to come to his/her own conclusion regarding Stephen and Jane’s history.

Theory2Although The Theory of Everything was met with generally universal acclaim, some critics complained about the fact that the film explores romanticism more so than the scientific greatness of Stephen Hawking’s life. However, this exploration of Hawking’s life is a substantial reason why I loved this movie so much. Biopics are great—I really do enjoy them; but they can get monotonous quickly as they attempt to cover every single aspect of someone’s life. That is why I so greatly enjoyed Marsh and McCarten’s storytelling point of view. With such an esteemed scientific career, Hawking’s tale could have easily been made into a 2 ½-hour illustration of his theoretical findings—but instead, The Theory of Everything makes Hawking’s career work the backdrop for a tried-and-true love story. Theory1This is a part of Stephen Hawking’s life that does not get much exposure; in fact, I knew nothing of this chapter in Hawking’s story. The depiction of Hawking and Wilde meeting for the first time, dancing under the stars, and falling in love is unmistakably beautiful—with Marsh’s direction and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme’s photography, the delineation of this emotionally charged pas de deux is charming beyond words.

Theory3The most remarkable element of The Theory of Everything is its acting prowess. The story is marvelous, the direction is excellent, the cinematography is affecting, and the musical score is quite possibly the greatest in recent memory, but the acting steals the show. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver two of 2014’s most poignant performances. Eddie Redmayne is the odds-on favorite to take home the Oscar for Best Actor this year (he definitely has my vote—stay tuned this week for more on that), and an honor of this stature is most deserved. An underrated aspect of Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is in the first third of the film (before the motor neuron disease begins to affect Hawking’s physical abilities). Redmayne breathes into Hawking an unparalleled charm, and the mix of effervescent humor with his incomparable intellect allows Redmayne to make the brainy scientist seem more relatable to the average person. But as the hype suggests, Redmayne earns his keep via his incredibly realistic depiction of Hawking during his life post-diagnosis—Redmayne packs a memorable punch, akin to Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in My Left Foot. He manages Hawking’s real-life mannerisms almost effortlessly, and with every bodily hunch and contortion, Redmayne evokes a visceral likeness to the British theorist in ways never thought possible. Redmayne’s performance is a complete inhabitation, and it will go down film history as one of cinema’s most astounding performances.

Theory4Felicity Jones also gives a notable performance in her role as Jane Wilde-Hawking. Her performance will likely get overlooked in years to come, as Redmayne clearly made the biggest mark, but I have always believed in Jones’s instinctive portrayal of Hawking’s dedicated wife—I applaud the Academy for rewarding her with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Given that the film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Jones succeeds in the last two-thirds of the film as a wife living a conflicted life of love and distress (given the circumstances that she and Stephen have been thrust into with the ALS diagnosis), and with raw emotion, she brilliantly reveals the fateful complexities of a once ordinary relationship. In the first third, however, I loved Felicity Jones the most. The portrayal of the utter innocence of love between Hawking and Wilde is charming, and Jones absolutely nails the role of a girl besotted with adoration for Stephen—she does not do so in a heavy-handed way, instead portraying Jane with more level-headed practicality. The Theory of Everything is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

The Theory of Everything trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Salz7uGp72c

Academy Award nominations for The Theory of Everything:

Best Picture (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, and Anthony McCarten, producers)

Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne)

Best Actress (Felicity Jones)

Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Anthony McCarten)

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

  1. Boyhood
  2. Blue Ruin
  3. American Sniper
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Birdman
  6. Fury
  7. Calvary
  8. Interstellar
  9. Gone Girl
  10. The Lego Movie

 

 

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 8 – American Sniper

American Sniper - BP

Sniper6American Sniper is a biographical war drama directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay, adapted from the book of the same name, by Jason Hall. The film tells the true-life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), America’s most deadly sniper in history (160 confirmed kills, according to the United States Department of Defense). During four tours in Iraq, Kyle’s marksmanship quickly earns him the nickname “Legend” among his American comrades. All the while, however, his ever-growing reputation of being the most lethal sniper has garnered the close attention of the enemy, and the insurgents have put a price on Kyle’s head. With a budding family back home that misses him and a war that demands his contribution, Kyle must reconcile what is most important in his life.

Sniper4More so than I ever could have expected, American Sniper has been met with a challenging combination of critical/box-office acclaim and social controversy. Some critics have labeled it merely “right-wing” propaganda, Michael Moore has spoken out against snipers in general, and even Seth Rogen caused a stir. Everyone seems to have an extreme political/religious bias about the film’s depiction of Kyle’s life and legacy, and I do not dare allow this blog to become a forum for my political thoughts in this heated debate. I will only say this—it was a harrowing tale of war and the consequences that flow from it, but it made me proud to be an American. I appreciate every single soldier that has ever and will ever devote his or her life to protect our freedom.

Sniper3Now, on to the analysis of the film. Although Clint Eastwood has had some missteps in his career as a director, American Sniper was most definitely a journey back to the top for the 84-year-old Hollywood staple. In 2012, Zero Dark Thirty became (in my opinion) the gold standard for modern warfare films. It was realistic, in the most daunting and terrorizing ways, and the lead performance by Jessica Chastain (the best actress in Hollywood) elevated it to an unreachable height. The closest thing I have ever seen in my life to that of Zero Dark Thirty’s cinematic pragmatism regarding war is American Sniper (although Zero Dark Thirty is still a superior film). It is a story of a real-life figure (told through his own eyes), and Bradley Cooper delivers the single greatest performance of his career. That says a lot about where Cooper ranks among the modern greats considering his Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Chris Kyle is now his third consecutive Oscars nomination. Every year, it seems Bradley Cooper becomes better and better, and in this movie, he pounces on the opportunity to be hailed as the most premier American actor on the circuit. With veteran direction from Eastwood and an acting performance for the ages by Cooper, the valiant story of this American hero is thrust upon our social conscience in a way that evokes all of the most patriotic emotions out of us—it is the textbook manifestation of wrapping yourself up in the Stars and Stripes.

American Sniper, a box-office smash that has accumulated over $361 million in worldwide theater receipts, is a movie that will stay with me for a long time, and it is fully justified in receiving a spot among my Top 10 films of 2014. After viewing it in theaters, I knew this movie would be among the two or three best films of 2014. But it ended up at No. 8. Why? Sniper2Sadly, it is because of that fake-baby scene that I am sure you are all familiar with at this point, whether you have seen the movie or not. In my conversations with friends and family, most are astounded at how a single scene like that can automatically drop the film’s ranking on my list so drastically. My reasoning is simple: something like that in this day in age (with a $60 million budget) is absolutely unacceptable. Sure, I understand the predicament that the filmmakers were innocently plunged into—the first baby had a fever that day and the back-up baby was a no-show. But you are Clint F’n Eastwood—get another baby!!! Stop production for half of a day and track down a baby—ANY BABY! By cutting corners to get the scene shot (i.e., settling for a plastic doll), Eastwood and the entire crew of filmmakers on set bastardized an otherwise classic picture. In 20 years, nearly everything about this movie will withstand the test of time and continue to dazzle its viewers; yet, that scene will still be there, and it will stand as a reminder of the cringe-worthy choice that the filmmakers made. Maybe you do not agree with me. Understandable. But watching Bradley Cooper blatantly moving his thumb in this scene (click now to see for yourself) to move the baby’s arm in order to make it look like it is an authentic human being will stick in my mind for ALL of the wrong reasons. Bad move, Clint.

Sniper5All baby criticisms aside, Cooper and his unbelievable portrayal of Kyle outweighs any mistake that the filmmakers could have made, and this is definitely a film that will go down in history as one of the most epic tales of true-life heroism during an American war. American Sniper is rated R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references.

American Sniper trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bP1f_1o-zo

Academy Award nominations for American Sniper:

Best Picture (Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper, and Peter Morgan, producers)

Best Actor (Bradley Cooper)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall)

Best Film Editing (Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach)

Best Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman)

Best Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Walt Martin)

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

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Birdman
  3. Fury
  4. Calvary
  5. Interstellar
  6. Gone Girl
  7. The Lego Movie

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

Review: My Ballot and Countdown

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Well, with another successful few weeks of blogging, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s show, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past couple of weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 10 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about, 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 past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 86th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years A Slave)

Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey 2

This year, the Best Actress category features a group of fantastic performers with a combined 33 previous Oscar nominations.  On the contrary, this group of Best Actor nominees features five well-known actors that have not been so abundantly recognized by the Academy.  Between the five, there is only one Oscar win on a combined five nominations.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor:

WINNER: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays the real-life Ron Woodruff, an overtly homophobic man from Texas that begins smuggling life-saving drugs into the United States after he is shockingly diagnosed with AIDS.  Matthew McConaugheyAs many of you already know, McConaughey is receiving a wide range of attention for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, partly because of the physical transformation that took place—the 44-year-old actor dropped a staggering 47 pounds.  Even though this weight loss makes McConaughey closely resemble an AIDS patient from the late 1980s, it is his impeccable acting in this film that warrants his place at the top of my list.  Given his Texas roots, he always plays the Texan role with ease, but in this film, he takes on a part that is not your typical Southern gentleman.  The performance he gives is bold, empowering, and utterly heart-wrenching, and in a year where he had critically-recognized performances in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, he stands alone at the top of the acting world thanks to an amazing portrayal of a man on the brink of death.  Matthew McConaughey has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Chiwetel EjioforIn 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real-life Solomon Northup, a renowned Northern-born violinist that is abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era.  The story of Solomon Northup is incredibly heartbreaking, but Ejiofor gives the tragic story the justice it most definitely deserves.  With every passing moment throughout the film, the tale seems to get worse and worse for the distinguished Solomon Northup, and in every single scene, Ejiofor gives his heart and soul to the character, evoking a wealth of emotions in the minds of each viewer.  If it were not for a career-defining performance from McConaughey, Ejiofor would be far and away above the rest of the acting performances this year, and 12 Years A Slave is forever indebted to this awe-inspiring portrayal by Ejiofor of the resilient Solomon Northup.  Chiwetel Ejiofor has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonard DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a greedy stockbroker who took Wall Street by storm in the late 1980s through sex, drugs, and securities fraud.  Film Fall PreviewThis film was definitely one of the most wild and crazy movie experiences of 2013, and the way in which DiCaprio engrossed himself so deeply into this despicable role is absolutely incredible.  A year after staring in Django Unchained, Leo has again taken on a character with a serious lacking for any moral integrity, and once again, the results were certainly extraordinary.  Even though I think this is one of his most thorough and well-crafted acting performances of his dignified career, I do not believe it is enough to outshine both McConaughey and Ejiofor.  DiCaprio has previously been nominated for three acting Oscars, the most recent nomination being for Best Actor for his role in Blood Diamond (2007).

4. Christian Bale (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, an intelligent con artist who is forced into working alongside the FBI to take down a group of corrupt politicians.  Christian Bale has a long history of outstanding performances, and this role can be added to his long list of acclaimed portrayals.  Christian BaleIt would be easy to talk about the incredible acting abilities Bale elicits on the screen in American Hustle, but one thing not receiving as much attention is his very own physical transformation for the part.  Similar to McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Bale has lost a significant amount of weight for a role twice in the past: he lost over 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist (2004) and lost a substantial amount of weight for The Fighter (2010).  However, in American Hustle, Bale went backwards, gaining 50 pounds for his role as Irving.  This transformation was unbelievable, leaving Bale nearly unrecognizable for the duration of the film.  Christian Bale was previously nominated and won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter (2010).

5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who, after receiving a certificate in the mail saying he has won $1 million, embarks on a trip with his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize.  NEBRASKABruce Dern’s portrayal of Woody is one of the highlights from Alexander Payne’s most recent film, and I could not imagine any other old actor playing this role.  Dern utilizes his sprawling acting talents, made up from over fifty years of film experience, to take this character on in a manner that is more than award-worthy.  Woody is a simple man, and Dern plays those characteristics to a tee, adding in some hilarious, witty dialogue along the way.  In most years, a performance like this would garner a much higher ranking on my list, but this year, Dern is at a disadvantage because of four other unimpeachable performances.  Bruce Dern was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Coming Home (1978).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), and Joaquin Phoenix (Her)