My Review of the 91st Academy Awards Ceremony

Well, that’s a wrap on the 91st edition of the Academy Awards. Like all years, the Oscars had some great moments, some not-so-great moments, and some hilarious quotes! Here are my reactions to some of the major highlights from the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: “Shallow” performance by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

giphyThis performance was a knockout! Like most fans of A Star Is Born, I have listened to “Shallow” from the film’s soundtrack on repeat since I first saw the movie. The performance by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper was probably the moment I was most looking forward to last night, and it absolutely, unequivocally did not disappoint. I will admit, after watching that recent impromptu performance of “Shallow” together at a Lady Gaga concert in Vegas, I was a little worried about Cooper’s singing abilities come Oscar night – that ended up being a total non-issue, as Cooper’s performance of his portion of the song was pitch-perfect. Obviously Gaga knocked the song out of the park, and it was such a cool moment to see these two (who had some of the best on-screen chemistry in any movie last year) light it up on Hollywood’s biggest night.

Worst Moment: Green Book wins Best Picture

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 5.37.18 AMTalk about a letdown to end an otherwise enjoyable night celebrating cinema. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Green Book. It was a good movie. A good movie. But the best movie of the year? Not a chance. Not a damn chance. The above tweet from The A.V. Club so perfectly sums up a Green Book win for Best Picture. This year, there were some wonderful movies nominated in the Best Picture category, and I would not have been unhappy whatsoever to see a win for The Favourite, A Star Is Born, Black Panther, Roma, or BlacKkKlansman – in fact, any one of those five films would be a deserving victor. You could sense it on the broadcast that the Dolby Theatre found the win underwhelming, too, as everything seemed deflated during the acceptance speech.

Most Surprising Moment: The hostless concept wasn’t that bad 

giphy3Following the Kevin Hart controversy, viewers were understandably interested in how the Academy would execute its first hostless ceremony in exactly 30 years. Although the last Oscars without a host didn’t go down in the annals of history in a positive manner, I was pleasantly surprised with how good last night’s show was despite lacking a customary ringleader. First, instead of a monologue, the Oscars kicked off with an amazing musical performance of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” by Queen and Adam Lambert – in a year where Bohemian Rhapsody won the most Oscars, it was a fitting start to the show. Then, we got a short definitely-not-a-monologue by definitely-not-hosts Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler – although brief, it still provided a good taste of jokes that we are used to at the Oscars. All in all, I was surprised with how enjoyable the show was without a host.

Most Awkward Moment: Vice Acceptance speech for Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Every year at the Oscars, we get some incredibly eloquent and thought-provoking acceptance speeches that are emotionally affecting and inspirational – the one for Vice’s Best Makeup and Hairstyling win by Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney was not one of those speeches. It was downright painful. The three winners constantly talked over each other while reading off a piece of paper containing names of those they wanted to thank – Greg Cannom even quipped at one point when he was told by one of his co-winners to read a particular line from the “thank you” paper, “No, I already did.” It was bumbling and awkward, and many on Twitter dubbed it the worst acceptance speech of all time. Twitter ain’t wrong.

Biggest Upset: Olivia Colman wins Best Actress 

sourceWhen Olivia Colman’s name was called for Best Actress, I think I might have literally fist-pumped on my couch while exclaiming, “YES! SHE DID IT!” It was such a major moment because (1) I loved Colman’s performance in The Favourite and desperately wanted her to win, and (2) Glenn Close was a MAJOR frontrunner to take home the award. I had pretty much accepted that Close would win this award after taking home nearly all of the Best Actress trophies at the major pre-Oscars award shows. (And I wasn’t even mad about it, because I loved her in The Wife.) But if ever there was an upset at this year’s Oscars, I am incredibly thankful that it was in Colman’s favor.

Best Joke: (Tie) Peeing at the Grammys and Fyre Festival

giphy2In the aforementioned brief comedy opener by Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, the three women alternated sharing some quick jokes about the ceremony and the nominated movies/performances. There weren’t really any that didn’t hit, but there were a couple that definitely stood out as my favorites. First, Maya Rudolph looked at Bradley Cooper and said, “Don’t worry, Bradley, after four kids, I too have peed myself at the Grammys,” harkening back to Jackson Maine’s unfortunate moment on stage in A Star Is Born. Then, Tina Fey proclaimed to the crowd, “Everyone, look under your seats, you’re all getting one of those cheese sandwiches from the Fyre Festival!”

Line of the Night: From Rayka Zehtabchi during the acceptance speech for Best Documentary – Short Subject

sourceLast night, the Oscar for Best Documentary – Short Subject went to “Period. End of Sentence.” The film is a very serious look at revolutionary efforts by women in India to not only improve feminine hygiene, but also to empower women. I have not yet seen this short film, but from all accounts, it is tremendous and meaningful. When its creators got on stage last night to give their acceptance speech, director Rayka Zehtabchi announced, “I’m not crying because I’m on my period. I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” Zehtabchi’s response to winning an Oscar about a taboo subject was brilliant, funny, and full of emotion – definitely the line of the night.

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Best Actress in a Leading Role (2018)

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

WINNER: Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

fave

The Favourite is a film set in England in the early 18th century that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). I previously mentioned in my Best Supporting Actress post that The Favourite is an amazing film that thrives in totality due to the award-worthy performances by each of its three central actresses – Colman, Weisz, and Stone – and Colman likely has the best chance of the three to upset the frontrunner in their respective Oscar categories. Colman bested Glenn Close for the BAFTA, and she has also won awards for Best Actress in a Comedy at both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards (although Close has won the same award in the Dramatic category at both of those latter two award shows). In The Favourite, the character of Queen Anne is both tragic and hilarious at the same time – her health is in a very volatile state, she flips back and forth between needy and irritable, and she maintains 17 pet rabbits that sorrowfully represent each of her unsuccessful pregnancies. Despite the challenge of such an unstable character, Colman executes the performance masterfully. She nails the portrayal of Queen Anne’s surreal outlandishness and sublimely commands her position as the object of both Sarah’s and Abigail’s affection. Olivia Colman delivered one of my favorite acting performances of the entire year, and I am cautiously hopeful that she can eke out a surprise Oscar win this Sunday.

2. Glenn Close (The Wife)

wifeIn The Wife, Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, the wife of a famous novelist, Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). The film begins with the news that Joseph’s prominent writing career has earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Castlemans get the distinct honor of traveling to Sweden for the ceremony. By all accounts, Joan appears to have long ago given up her own writing career to play the role of dutiful wife, a position in the marriage that is patently secondary to that of her husband. However, as the film progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that the power in this relationship (and the true nature of Joseph’s acclaimed career) may not be all that meets the eye. The 71-year-old Close has led a long and illustrious acting career, but her performance as Joan may just be one of her very greatest. At the start of the film, Joan’s nature seems very meek and straightforward, but it is only as the story continues to slowly unfold that we discover that she really wields an immense amount of significance in the overall success of Joseph’s writing career. Close’s portrayal of Joan is poised and dexterous, and Close carefully progresses toward the unveiling of Joan’s emotional tipping point with an unbelievably striking subtlety that is award-worthy in and of itself. Prior to this nomination, Close had been nominated six times for acting Oscars with a whopping zero wins. However, that is all (most likely) about to change – Close is the clear frontrunner for the Academy Award and has already locked in key wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and the Golden Globes. Although I loved Colman’s performance better, it will not make me upset at all to see Close finally take home the Oscar gold this Sunday.

3. Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)

10

In A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga portrays Ally, an aspiring singer/songwriter whose dreams of making it big in the industry start to bloom after she meets and falls in love with Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a famous country musician. Ever since she broke onto the music scene in 2008 with back-to-back chart-topping singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) has evolved into one of the biggest and most recognizable pop stars on the planet. Recently, she started expanding her career into acting (I have heard she is very solid in American Horror Story), which never seemed like much of a stretch to me because the essence of Gaga’s strength as a musician is her proficiency as a performer. And in A Star Is Born, she has seamlessly transitioned into one of the most impressive up-and-coming actors in all of cinema – this was definitely a career-altering role. Ally is a character with a lot of vulnerabilities who, over the course of the film, achieves a greater sense of confidence in herself, and Gaga effortlessly portrays Ally’s emotional complexities to perfection. If it were not for Olivia Colman and Glenn Close delivering two career-defining performances, Gaga might have seen herself taking home the Oscar.

4. Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)

Roma

Set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, Roma stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez, a domestic worker who lives with and works for a prominent family. Aparicio’s journey to the Oscars is unbelievable – prior to auditioning for the role of Cleo, she had planned to become a preschool teacher in Mexico. In fact, before Roma, Aparicio had never acted professionally in her life. (This harkens back memories of Barkhad Abdi, who, for his debut film role in Captain Phillips, earned a BAFTA win and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.) The fact that Aparicio was not previously an actress makes her performance in Roma that much more outstanding and noteworthy. Throughout the film, Cleo experiences a variety of events that lead to a broad range of emotions and feelings – she oscillates between happiness, sadness, loss, helplessness, and hopefulness. Aparicio’s nuanced performance was incredibly authentic and beautiful.

5. Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Can You

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a biopic starring Melissa McCarthy as the real-life, down-on-her-luck biographer Lee Israel, and it follows her attempt to revitalize her writing career by forging letters by famous celebrities and selling them for vast amounts of money. Off the top of my head, I am not confident I can think of a single time I have watched Melissa McCarthy in a sincerely dramatic role – obviously her bread and butter has always been comedies. However, if this film is any indication, McCarthy should really consider taking on more serious roles – she is absolutely spectacular here. Lee Israel is depicted as a callously cynical and insufferable woman, and McCarthy perfectly portrays these characteristics with the clever wit that she has lent to previous comedic performances. But in Israel’s darkest moments (such as when she discovers that her cat has died or as the walls come crashing down around her fraudulent scheme), McCarthy shines on an emotionally empathetic level. This was a really enjoyable film, and it was great to see McCarthy stake her claim in a new genre.

 

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 Actress (2015)

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

WINNER: Brie Larson (Room)

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

  1. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

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

  1. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

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

  1. Cate Blanchett (Carol)

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

  1. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

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

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

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 Actress

Best Actress NomineesOf the twenty actors and actress that are nominated for Oscars in acting-specific categories, only four have actually ever won an Academy Award. Two of those four are currently nominated for Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard); therefore, I guess you can say this is the most accomplished acting category of the bunch this year. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

PikeAlthough she is not considered by experts to be in the hunt for the Best Actress Oscar, I still believe that Rosamund Pike gave the best performance by an actress in all of 2014. In Gone Girl, Pike plays “Amazing” Amy, a contemptuous wife who is reported missing by her husband on their fifth wedding anniversary. Pike is not particularly well known to American audiences, but I have been particularly familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End. Her claim to fame has long been key supporting roles, but in her inauguration as a true leading lady, Pike was on fire! The thing about Pike’s character is that she is one of the most complex women you will ever meet on screen. Thus, Pike had to evoke so many emotions at once to maintain her character’s inexplicable duplicity. I mentioned in my post earlier this month regarding Gone Girl that at times I found Amy “incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight,” but at other times I could not help but to desire “bashing (figuratively) her head in.” Pike nailed the “Jekyll-and-Hyde” nature of Amy flawlessly, and she is most deserved of my vote for Best Actress. Pike has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

MooreIn Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the titular character, a renowned linguistics professor who is shocked by an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Before I get to Moore’s performance, let me briefly digress about my feelings towards her. For me, Julianne Moore is the equivalent to Tom Brady—she is wicked awesome (apropos to Tom Brady…New England…accent…get it?) at her trade, but for some reason that I cannot specifically point to, I just do not like her. With that said, I absolutely respect her ability to act (much like I respect Brady’s unparalleled ability to drop dimes on the gridiron). Okay, back to Still Alice. Moore’s portrayal of Alice in this film is heartrending. Despite the disease’s gradual diminishment of the physical capacity of Alice’s mind, she never ceases to fight. Moore depicts this relentlessness in soul-wrenching fashion, and at all times, she masterfully evokes the perfect combination of agony, vulnerability, and optimism. She is the odds-on favorite to take home the Best Actress Oscar, and if she in fact does, it will be a warranted honor. Moore has previously been nominated four times for Academy Awards: twice for Best Actress (The End of the Affair and Far From Heaven) and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Boogie Nights and The Hours). 

  1. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

JonesIn The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones plays Jane Wilde-Hawking, the ex-wife of Stephen Hawking. Jones’s performance will likely get overlooked in years to come (due to Eddie Redmayne’s likely Oscar victory this Sunday), but her innate portrayal of Jane was one of the more refreshing parts of the film—I loved Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, but Felicity Jones sufficiently held her own. The film centers on the love story of Jane and Stephen, so therefore, Jones is given plenty of screen time—she makes the most of her opportunities. Her performance differed in the first third of the movie compared to the last two thirds, but only in the substance of her character, not in terms of her acting skills. In the first third, she beautifully portrays the sheer innocence of love between Wilde and Hawking—it is charming, and she wonderfully delineates Jane’s adoration for Stephen without resorting to heavy-handedness. In the final two thirds of The Theory of Everything, she masterfully manifests the conflicted love and distress of the couple (considering Stephen’s ALS progression) with raw emotion—it is a perfect execution of Jane’s critical complexities. Jones has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. 

  1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)

CotillardIn Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer. After returning to work from taking time off (due to an emotional breakdown), Sandra is laid off. The rest of the film follows Sandra as she is thrust into a position where she must approach each of her co-workers (one by one), and plead for them to vote for her to retain her job. The catch: if they decide to vote for her to stay, they must forfeit a €1,000 bonus. I wrote about this film on my “Honorable Mentions 2014” post, and aside from a solid screenplay, I credited Cotillard’s performance for the success of the movie. The story is as realistic as it gets (everyone can imagine being in a scenario like this), and Cotillard’s pragmatic approach to her portrayal is spirited and inspired. Her character is both sensible and wrought with emotion, and Cotillard gives a bravely humanistic voice to this troubled woman. Cotillard admitted to Entertainment Weekly that a second read-through of the screenplay was just the motivation she needed for the role: “When I read the script a second time I saw all the little beautiful details of her journey.” The veteran actress evokes subtle nuances in the exposition of her character, and it is definitely an exceptional performance worthy of Oscar praise. Cotillard was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in La Vie en Rose (2007). 

  1. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

WILDIn her self-produced film Wild, Reese Witherspoon portrays the real-life Cheryl Strayed, a woman so distraught by her mother’s passing that she ventures to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. During most of the film, Cheryl is the only character on the screen. This makes for the perfect opportunity for Reese Witherspoon to take full control over the direction of the film because its success hinges upon her performance. Although Witherspoon engrossed herself into the role with affecting command, I simply did not buy into her performance. It was unfortunate for me because I really do love Witherspoon as an actress—I greatly enjoyed her in Walk the Line and her portrayal of Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne’s Election is one of my favorite acting performances of all time. However, she did not convince me in Wild that she was channeling an Oscar-worthy performance. If you did enjoy her role in Wild, it is not an outlandish thought—most critics and cinema experts expect Witherspoon to challenge Julianne Moore for the Oscar. Witherspoon was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Walk the Line (2005).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Emma Roberts (Palo Alto), Dakota Fanning (Night Moves), and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida).

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. 14 – Gone Girl

Gone Girl1 Gone Girl is a film directed by David Fincher with a screenplay, based on the novel of the same name, by Gillian Flynn, the author of the book version. The film examines the marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick reports to the police that Amy has gone missing. Amy is a renowned public figure due to a series of children’s books written about her by her family, and her disappearance causes a tumultuous media frenzy. With cameras and the police constantly causing stress upon him, Nick finds his story of a harmonious marriage to Amy on the verge of collapse due to his mendacity and peculiar behavior. Everyone suspects Nick of killing his wife; thus, the big question is: did he?

Gone Girl2For those of you that follow my blog annually, you will know already that Gone Girl was ranked No. 1 on my list of movies that I was most anticipating during the fall film season. Notwithstanding its position on my year-end list, the movie still lived up to the hype (thus, its No. 14 rank says less about the success of Gone Girl and more about the strength of the year’s other movies). I was most intrigued by Gone Girl because of its lead-man behind the camera, David Fincher—I am a devout fan of anything he is involved with. Not only are many of his pictures part of my personal film collection (e.g., Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but also I am a committed fan of the Netflix original series House of Cards, which is executive produced by the visionary. Gone Girl is well constructed by Fincher, and its subtle hints of dark humor, ominous tone, and inimitable inscrutability are all obvious elements of a classic Fincher film. Although I do not believe this is in the top five of Fincher’s filmography, it is still a movie that I greatly enjoyed and will continue to watch over again for years to come. Gone Girl5

Many of you that have seen Gone Girl (and even some of you that have not) have probably additionally read Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. I happen to be one that has not, which is why I was elated that she also penned the screenplay for the film adaptation; this direct and significant involvement in the film’s construction leads me to believe that anything that was vitally important and of note from the book would be included in her script. At times, the dialogue was awkward, though, but the talent of the film’s actors helped make it flow as best as possible. Having known nothing about the plot going into my viewing of the movie, I was blown away by her ability to craft the preeminent thriller. The movie’s twists and turns were never foreshadowed in any sort of heavy-handed way, and for that, the climax was as surprising as one could imagine. Gone Girl3

Back in August when I wrote about my expectations for Gone Girl in my fall preview post, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the performances by an anomalous assortment of actors and actresses that were cast in the various roles. Casting Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson, Missy Pyle, and Emily Ratajkowski was a bold move, and those casting decisions paid dividends—everyone played their part spectacularly, and I can finally say that I was not brutally annoyed by the creator of the horrendous Madea character. Also, it is definitely worth noting that Missy Pyle, in her role as Ellen Abbott (a TV host depicted in the same vein as the ever-despicable Nancy Grace), was incredibly spot-on in her performance—it was brilliant.

Ever since The Town, I have become more and more impressed with Ben Affleck’s acting abilities (in addition to his superb filmmaking talents), and I felt like he serviced his character well. It was not a performance that blew me out of the water, but it was well acted enough to make me engage with Nick. Gone Girl4The highlight of the film was Rosamund Pike. I have been familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End, but in her debut role as a true leading lady, Pike absolutely killed it. She was in rare form, evoking so many emotions at once out of a single character; at times I found her incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight, and at other times I wanted to bash (figuratively) her head in. Amy is an incredibly complex character, and Rosamund Pike gave, in my opinion, the year’s most outstanding performance by an actress—her Oscar nomination is quite deserved. Gone Girl is rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

Gone Girl trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esGn-xKFZdU

Academy Award nominations for Gone Girl:

Best Actress: (Rosamund Pike)

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

  1. 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 Actress

Film-Toronto Preview

This year, the Best Actress category is absolutely packed with Oscar royalty.  These five women have combined for a previous 33 Academy Award nominations in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress categories.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress:

WINNER: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in northeastern Oklahoma.  I have long believed that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress in the history of cinema, and even though Cate Blanchett is receiving all of the hype this awards season, Meryl Streep turned in a performance for the ages.  Meryl StreepShe plays a very complex, narcotics-addicted, cancer-ridden woman on the brink of all-out emotional breakdown, and only Streep could dominate a role like this.  From the scenes in which she is filled with pill-induced rage to the scenes of bitter heartbreak as she loses her husband, Violet permeates the screen in a way that makes you feel so deeply empathetic, and this is all due to an utterly amazing performance by Hollywood’s leading lady.  Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record seventeen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

In Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the title role of Jasmine Francis, a former socialite that is now forced to live with her middle-class sister in San Francisco after her husband is indicted in a pyramid scheme.  Cate BlanchettAs I mentioned in an earlier post, Woody Allen is the king of obsession in cinema, and in Jasmine, he has created his most neurotic character to date.  Blanchett is an amazingly talented actress with a distinguished filmography, but I simply could not see her owning a role like this; therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she absolutely, unequivocally dominated this performance inside and out.  Blanchett has already swept this category at nearly every award show, including the BAFTAs and Golden Globes, and rightfully so—her performance was probably the best of her career, and she is more than deserving of this critical acclaim.  Cate Blanchett was previously nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator (2004).

3. Amy Adams (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Amy Adams plays the confounding Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensly, the mistress and business partner of con man Irving Rosenfeld.  I have been an avid fan of Adams’s work over the course of her quietly dignified career, and this performance is probably my second favorite, right behind her portrayal of Sister James in Doubt (2008).  Amy AdamsAdams’s character in this film is miserable, but beautiful; she’s uncanny, but vibrant.  Needless to say, this is one of Amy Adams’s most complex roles of her career, but she uses the intricacies of her polished artsmanship to create a memorable character that dazzles in the wild world of the 1970s.  Amy Adams has previously been nominated for four Oscars, most recently for Best Supporting Actress in The Master (2012).

4. Judi Dench (Philomena)

In Philomena, Dame Judi Dench plays the real-life title character, Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her long lost son who was taken from her fifty years ago.  Not too many actresses still working today can attest to a more illustrious filmography than Judi Dench, and just when you thought she could not turn up the volume for another Oscar-worthy performance, she does it.  Judi Dench in PhilomenaThe story surrounding this film is incredibly heart wrenching, but Dench took on the role with a remarkable amount of poise.  When she needs to be funny, she can be downright hilarious, and when she needs to show dramatic emotion, she collapses with tears—Dench is a master of her craft, and she expounds upon this skill in the most beautifully administered way in Philomena.  Dench has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).

5. Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

In Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist on her first mission in outer space. Sandra Bullock I apologize to anyone who enjoyed this film and/or Bullock’s performance, but it is about to get extremely brutal in this post.  Gravity was one of the most over-hyped films of the year, and sadly, Alfonso Cuarón will probably win tons and tons of Oscars for this movie.  Yes, it was incredibly beautiful, but there was absolutely no storyline of any substance.  Also, I am appalled that Bullock is nominated this year.  Yes, she has become a great actress over the past few years, but this nomination is an utter joke in my opinion.  She floats around in space for an hour and a half—how that is worthy of an Oscar nod is clearly beyond my own understanding.  For the first time in a long time, I am overtly disappointed in one of the Academy’s nominations.  Sandra Bullock was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Blind Side (2009).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)