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)
This year (just like the previous two years), nearly every single writer nominated in this category will be attending the Academy Awards for the very first time. In fact, the only writer in this year’s group that has ever been nominated before is Nick Hornby, nominated this year for Brooklyn. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:
WINNER: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)
Adam McKay (also the director of The Big Short) and Charles Randolph adapted this screenplay from Michael Lewis’s 2010 non-fiction book of the same name. McKay and Randolph have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Emma Donoghue (Room)
Emma Donoghue adapted this screenplay from her own 2010 novel of the same name. Donoghue has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Drew Goddard (The Martian)
Drew Goddard adapted this screenplay from Andy Weir’s 2011 science-fiction novel of the same name. Goddard has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Nick Hornby (Brooklyn)
Nick Hornby adapted this screenplay from Irish author Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel of the same name. Hornby was previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for An Education (2009).
Phyllis Nagy (Carol)
Phyllis Nagy adapted this screenplay from Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel The Price of Salt (1952). Nagy has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
This year (just like last year), nearly every single writer nominated in this category will be attending the Academy Awards for the very first time. In fact, the only writer in this year’s group that has ever been nominated before is Paul Thomas Anderson (he has received three previous writing nominations), nominated this year for Inherent Vice. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:
WINNER: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Damien Chazelle (also the director of Whiplash) adapted this screenplay from his screenplay for a short film of the same name. Chazelle has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)
Anthony McCarten adapted this screenplay from Jane Wilde Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. McCarten has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Jason Hall (American Sniper)
Jason Hall adapted this screenplay from the autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, co-written by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwan, and Jim DeFelice. Hall has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
Graham Moore adapted this screenplay from Andrew Hodges’s book Alan Turing: The Enigma. Moore has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice)
Paul Thomas Anderson adapted this screenplay from Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. Anderson has previously been nominated for three Academy Awards in writing categories: Best Original Screenplay (Boogie Nights and Magnolia) and Best Adapted Screenplay (There Will Be Blood).
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)
This year, nearly every single writer nominated in this category will be attending the Academy Awards for the very first time. In fact, the only writers in this year’s group that have ever been nominated before are Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, collectively nominated this year for Before Midnight. Another noteworthy fact about this year’s group: four of the five scripts were adapted from real-life events. Even though this category is filled with mostly newcomers to the Oscars, each writer has experienced a distinguished career. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:
WINNER: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Terence Winter adapted this screenplay from Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name. Even though this is only Winter’s third feature-film screenplay, he is a well-established name in the entertainment business—he was a writer and executive producer for HBO’s The Sopranos and is a writer, executive producer, and creator of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is similar to his very own Oscar-nominated film Goodfellas, and a lot of this has to do with Terence Winter’s mind-blowing script. In fact, Winter, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, admitted that his inspiration for this script was Goodfellas. Compared to Goodfellas, this script is filled with even more drugs, sex, crime, and F-bombs, and the film works so well because of Winter’s outrageous screenplay. Terence Winter has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
2. John Ridley (12 Years A Slave)
John Ridley adapted this screenplay from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name. 12 Years A Slave is clearly one of the most amazing films from 2013, and Ridley’s treatment of this classic story is truly inspiring. The story spans a twelve-year period, but Ridley makes sure to highlight some of the most striking events from this time, including a combination of heart-warming moments and moments that make your heart break for Solomon Northup. This script, coupled with some amazing acting, gives the story of Northup a deserved sense of justice. John Ridley has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
3. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope adapted this screenplay from journalist Martin Sixsmith’s 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, telling the true story of a woman searching for fifty years to find her son. Jeff Pope, an award-winning writer and producer, and Steve Coogan, an award-winning writer, actor, impressionist, and producer, are both well known in their field in the United Kingdom, and it is refreshing to see their success receiving American praise, as well. The story is inspirational, and the script has already won the BAFTA for this very same category. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
4. Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)
Billy Ray adapted this screenplay from the 2010 book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty. The film tells the real-life story of the 2009 hijacking of Captain Phillips’s Maersk Alabama container ship by Somali pirates. The film is incredibly tense, and the screenplay makes the most of such a terrifying storyline. Some of the dialogue between Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the Somali actors is entrenched in my memory, and the film benefits significantly from Ray’s Oscar-nominated script. Billy Ray has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
5. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight)
Before Midnight is the third film in a trilogy of films, beginning with Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), and Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke adapted it from the previous works in the trilogy. I have never seen either of the first two films, but the movie is set up in a way that you do not necessarily have to have any prior knowledge of the series; however, I do admit, I now want to see the other two to better understand the impact of the story. I found the film entertaining, and it is mostly due to the chemistry between Delpy and Hawke as actors and the chemistry between both of them and Linklater as collaborative writers. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, were previously nominated for previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Before Sunset (2004).
Philomena is a film directed by Stephen Frears, with a screenplay written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. This film tells the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman who had her son taken from her while she was a teenager working at a Catholic convent. For fifty years, Philomena kept this part of her life a secret, but after her daughter happens upon Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently fired journalist formerly with the BBC, he agrees to write a human-interest story about Lee’s desperate attempt to locate the whereabouts of her long lost son. During the course of their search, Philomena and Martin endure moments of heartbreak and exhilaration, and in the process, they learn from each other about the true meaning of life.
Philomena is a wonderfully inspiring film, and it succeeds on more than one plane. For starters, it is directed by Stephen Frears, a popular British filmmaker with an established repertoire of films, including High Fidelity (2000) and one of my personal favorites, The Queen (2006). The movie looks similar to a lot of well-produced British films in terms of overt elegance and stylistic subtlety, and Philomena benefits from Frears’s graceful treatment. Also, the screenplay, adapted by Coogan and Pope from Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, is witty, sad, exuberant, and tear-jerking in ALL of the right places, and this story is given justice on the screen because of its terrific script.
Notwithstanding the well-crafted filmmaking and scriptwriting, the film features two gifted acting performances: a stellar display by Dame Judi Dench and a striking performance by Steve Coogan. Judi Dench has one of cinema’s most distinguished filmographies, and in Philomena, she gives another award-worthy performance in the titular role. The story is about a woman that is tormented for fifty years about where her son might be, and Dench elucidates the character in an unbelievably powerful way. She allows the viewers to see and feel each of her emotions, and this connection makes your heart break for Philomena in more ways than you could ever think possible. Also, Coogan’s role as Sixsmith is not to be overlooked one bit. I have only come across Coogan in the past in comedic roles, but in this film, his dramatic acting helps make the movie a success. It probably helps that Coogan co-wrote the film, but his careful construction of the character’s on-screen mannerisms is certainly superb.
I greatly enjoyed this film, and as an independent production from England, it has not received its deserved attention; however, I was undoubtedly pleased with the number of Academy Award-nominations it received. It is most definitely a hidden gem, but it is one that affected me emotionally while watching it in the theater. Philomena is one of the most moving films I have seen in quite some time, and if you have not seen it yet, it will definitely be worth every minute of your time. Philomena is rated R for some language.
Silver Linings Playbook is a film written and directed by David O. Russell. The movie follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a man suffering from bipolar disease, who returns home to live with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver), after spending eight months in a mental health institution. The violent episode that landed Pat in the institution is uncovered early on, and it was the reason he lost his job, house, and wife. Pat is destined to get his life back on track and hopes to reunite with his wife after she sees his positive improvements; however, things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman with some serious issues of her own. Tiffany agrees to help Pat get back together with his wife but only if he agrees to help her in a dance competition. Pat and Tiffany form an intriguing bond, and each of their lives are forever changed.
From the moment I watched this movie in theaters, I knew immediately that it was the best movie I had seen all year. After continuing to watch other Oscar-nominated films, it sustained its position as my personal favorite of 2012. David O. Russell’s film features everything I could possibly want in a movie: mesmerizing drama, clever humor, intriguing love, and of course, sports. The combination of all of these factors creates one of the year’s most enjoyable motion pictures. Russell adapted this screenplay from Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name.
The film has received a considerable amount of acclaim, both critically and commercially. It has already been nominated and won for a handful of major movie awards, and it will be up for eight Academy Awards at the Oscars on Sunday. One of the most noteworthy accomplishments the film has already attained is being nominated for the “Big Five” Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay). This feat is momentous because it is the first movie since The Remains of the Day (1993) to be nominated in all of the five major categories at the Oscars. The film is also up for each of the four acting categories, the first movie to conquer this achievement since Reds (1981).
Speaking of those four acting performances, each of the nominated actors and actresses deliver portrayals that are quite worthy of the critical praise they have received. Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his career, and the ways in which he fully engrosses himself into his character are nothing short of spectacular. There is never a moment you doubt Cooper’s character’s condition because of the heart and soul he puts into making the character authentic to the story. Jennifer Lawrence, a young actress that has already been nominated for Best Actress before (Winter’s Bone, 2010), shows us that she is destined to become one of the film industry’s most powerful actresses. This role is much more demanding in regards to emotional complexity than her role in Winter’s Bone, and Lawrence gives everything she has to a depiction that may earn her the Oscar for Best Actress.
Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver each provide astounding supporting performances as Pat’s parents, Pat Sr. and Dolores. Pat’s father has fallen on hard times after losing his job, and he resorts to bookmaking in order to raise enough funds to ultimately open a restaurant. The two-time Oscar winning De Niro gives a veteran performance and provides some of the movie’s brightest scenes. Weaver gives a remarkable performance of her own as Pat’s mother. As the matriarch of the Solitano family, Dolores must continue being the glue that holds the family together as their personal issues threaten to tear the family unit apart, and Weaver plays the role to a tee. Silver Linings Playbook is rated R for language, some sexual content, and nudity.
Academy Award nominations for Silver Linings Playbook:
Best Picture (Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon, Producers)
Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper)
Actor in a Supporting Role (Robert De Niro)
Actress in a Leading Role (Jennifer Lawrence)
Actress in a Supporting Role (Jacki Weaver)
Directing (David O. Russell)
Film Editing (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers)
Best Adapted Screenplay (David O. Russell)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:
The Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay adapted from another source, such as a book or play. This year’s nominees are writers who, for the most part, have little history at the Academy Awards; in fact, between the nominees, they have only received two previous Oscar nominations in writing categories. Some marvelous screenplays are nominated this year, but it is still pretty up in the air in regards to who will win—David O. Russell has won the BAFTA in this category and Tony Kushner has won the Critics’ Choice Award. After seeing each of the nominated films, I have my produced my own assessment of the nominees; thus, the following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:
WINNER: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
David O. Russell, also the director of the film, adapted this screenplay from Silver Linings Playbook (2008), the debut novel of author Matthew Quick. The film itself is among the best of the entire year, and much of the acclaim is directly due to Russell’s unblemished screenplay. The screenplay is entertaining and captivating, and Russell’s words led to Academy Award nominations for each of his principal actors and actresses (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver). David O. Russell faces stiff competition from a year of astounding adapted screenplays, but I believe his work stands alone among this group of heavy hitters. Russell has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.
2. David Magee (Life of Pi)
David Magee adapted this screenplay from Life of Pi (2001), a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel. The original novel has received a great deal of critical acclaim, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Magee uses a spectacular screenplay to help director Ang Lee recreate this remarkable story. Even though the film utilizes some extraordinary special effects, the movie would be nothing without the superb script from Magee. David Magee was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Finding Neverland (2004).
3. Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Lucy Alibar and director Benh Zeitlin adapted this screenplay from Juicy and Delicious, a one-act play originally written by Alibar herself. The film has received a high level of critical praise, including a nomination for Best Picture, and that says a lot about the script considering the film features a group of amateur actors with little to no previous acting experience. The biggest advantage for the writers is the fact that Alibar wrote the original play, giving her a much more in-depth perspective for the feature-film version. Neither Alibar nor Zeitlin have been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.
4. Chris Terrio (Argo)
Chris Terrio adapted this screenplay from a 2007 magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, detailing the true events of the covert mission “Canadian Caper” during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Terrio is a little-known personality in the film industry—his only major involvement with a full-length feature film was as the director of the 2005 movie Heights. In my opinion, Argo is not one of Ben Affleck’s strongest directorial efforts, but the film is carried throughout by a solid script. The root of the drama and emotion in the film is Terrio’s writing, and his nomination is well deserved. Terrio has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.
5. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
Tony Kushner adapted this screenplay from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005), a biographical book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Even though the book covers Lincoln’s entire presidency, Kushner focused his script on the final four months of the president’s life, specifically his efforts to abolish slavery. Kushner’s work is by far one of the most fluent and eloquent screenplays of the year, but in my opinion, it is rather bland and boring. I feel that covering such a short, specific period of time in American history takes out all opportunities for creativity in a script, and it simply lacks a whole lot of action or entertainment. Kushner was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Munich (2005).
Writers snubbed in this category: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
Argo is a film directed by Ben Affleck, with a screenplay written by Chris Terrio. The movie is based on true events during the Iran Hostage Crisis that were previously unknown to the general public for many decades. On November 4, 1979, Iranian revolutionaries famously raided the U.S. embassy in Tehran, holding 52 Americans hostage. During the attack, six Americans snuck out of the embassy and made their way into the home of the Canadian ambassador to Iran. CIA operative Tony Mendez, knowing the agency must act quickly in order to protect the six Americans from being found out and assassinated by the revolutionaries, develops an ingenious, but hazardous plan to retrieve them and return them to the United States safely. His plan was to create a fictional movie and act, along with the six Americans, as a film crew visiting Iran to find filming locations before heading back to the states.
After this movie was released, it quickly garnered critical acclaim in every category imaginable. This praise led to the film winning numerous pre-Oscars film awards, including Best Motion Picture (Drama) and Best Director (Ben Affleck) at the Golden Globes, and being nominated for seven Academy Awards. Even though I found the movie to be quite interesting and entertaining, in my own opinion it was not as amazing as everyone was making it out to be.
For starters, I was surprised to see this film nominated for Best Picture. I personally rank this film as the third best out of the three Affleck-directed movies in his filmography. Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010) were both much more complicated, enthralling films and yet neither was nominated for Best Picture. The general consensus is also that Ben Affleck was robbed this year by the Academy for not being nominated for Best Director. After hearing all of the universal acclaim his directorial efforts were receiving, I felt bad for him, too, but then I saw the film. And after sitting in the theater for two hours watching this movie, I left completely and utterly un-blown away. Do not get me wrong, it was a great movie, which is why it is featured on this countdown of the year’s best films, but it did not do enough for me to show Affleck’s growth as a director.
Also, the film features some great acting performances that carry this story through until the end. The obvious bright stars were Ben Affleck himself, portraying the real-life Tony Mendez, and Alan Arkin, playing Lester Siegel, a fictitious film producer. Even though these performances were definitely worth watching, the most impressive performance, in my opinion, was by Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad). He depicts Jack O’Donnell, Affleck’s character’s supervisor at the CIA. Throughout the nerve-racking covert operation, Cranston illustrates the overwhelming tension involved with the mission, and he does so in a way that makes you feel his real-life anxiety pulsing through your own veins. Argo is rated R for language and some violent images.
Academy Award nominations for Argo:
Best Picture (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney, Producers)
Actor in a Supporting Role (Alan Arkin)
Film Editing (William Goldenberg)
Original Score (Alexandre Desplat)
Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn)
Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Jose Antonio Garcia)