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

 

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 4 – Sicario

Sicario is an action crime thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve, with a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan. Set within the drug war that spreads across both sides of the US-Mexico border, Sicario follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), a by-the-books FBI agent who is recruited to participate on a special governmental task force for a black-ops mission behind enemy lines. Joining Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a stress-free special agent, and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), a mysterious “consultant” with unknown motivations, Kate sets out on a mission that questions everything she believes in.

Sicario2This film is not about the US’s “war on drugs.” Sicario is 100% about the drug war—a meticulous difference that must be recognized. This subject matter has become more and more popular for the film industry in recent memory, but that was not always the case. In 2000, Steven Soderbergh gave us Traffic, an Oscar-winning film that broke new ground as it pertained to the drug-cartel crisis at the border; however now, in present day, this topic is seen quite often. In 2013, there was the critically acclaimed documentary Narco Cultura, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. And aside from Sicario, 2015 also brought us Cartel Land, a gripping documentary about vigilante groups on each side of the border fighting back against the cartels—this film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary. I mention the recent history of this genre to highlight the fact that director Denis Villeneuve does not tackle some innovative topic with Sicario. However, this film quickly became one of my absolute favorites from the year because Villeneuve and his cinematographer (Roger Deakins) have made the trek to the well of Mexican-American drug-war films and come back with a unique perspective that is both spine tingling and visually stunning.

Sicario7Villeneuve and Deakins begin the film with incredibly horrific images, and these same types of gruesome illustrations are pervasive throughout. We see the walls in a seemingly empty house on the Arizona-Mexico border torn down to reveal tens of dead bodies; when the task force strolls through downtown Juarez, dead bodies hang from bridges. These moments set the tone for Villeneuve’s film. We as Americans have many anxieties and speculative expectations about our border relations with Mexico as they relate to the drug war—via these visceral images, Villeneuve and Deakins validate those fears. This is war; it is real, and it is not pretty! Another aspect of the film that stands out is its take on deceit and duality. Sicario5With the exception of Kate, it is difficult to pinpoint or even comprehend the characters’ motives. It is never revealed who Matt Graver even really works for—he is a “special agent,” but for who? And Alejandro is as enigmatic as they come. Villeneuve previously tackled morally duplicitous characters in Prisoners (2013), but he expands upon that examination with far more depth in Sicario. All in all, Villeneuve crafts an inimitable vision in Sicario, and cinematographer Roger Deakins paints that picture with his camera in the most instinctive ways possible.

Sicario9The acting in Sicario is absolutely first-rate. The stars are an incredibly talented trio: Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin. Brolin portrays special agent Matt Graver, a seemingly relaxed soldier who has apparently found his calling in the drug war. When he first meets Kate, he strolls into FBI offices wearing the epitome of casual dress: flip-flops. Behind his laid-back exterior, though, is a menacing man—Matt takes his actual work serious, and if you are not on board, then in his mind, GTFO! Brolin has made a pretty solid career out of playing this type of character—the ostensible douche—but that is because he is such a talented actor. I always bought into Brolin in this role, and although his significance is laconic, his performance is adroit.

Sicario3The film’s best performances come from Blunt and del Toro. Emily Blunt is by far one of my favorite actresses (she is incredibly talented and undeniably fetching), and in 2014, she made her mark as a cinematic badass with her role as Sergeant Rita Vrataski in Edge of Tomorrow. That performance gained her action-star credibility, but her character could not be more different in Sicario. Kate Macer plays by the rules. She needs formulaic process and boundaries. She needs a clear-cut objective. Thus, Kate is in for a rude awakening when her mission with Matt and Alejandro blurs the mechanical lines she so desperately requires. In one scene, Kate asks Matt, “What’s our objective?” Matt responds, “To dramatically overreact.” This really is the task, and it makes Kate uncomfortable. In another scene, Kate discusses tracking down the leader of the cartels, to which Alejandro responds, “Every day I cross that border, people are kidnapped with or killed with his blessing. To find him would be like discovering a vaccine.” Sicario8In this moment, Kate realizes not only the gravity of her mission, but also the confliction of it—the drug cartels keep these task forces in business, so at some point they are necessary. Although I initially thought Blunt’s character was a bit too dry and unappealing, I now realize how important she is. Blunt’s performance was not showy and dramatic—the kind that will garner you Oscars. But she was calculated—effective and honest. Blunt succeeded in that endeavor. Sicario5As far as Benicio del Toro, he absolutely should have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The complexity of his character required not panache, but enigma; it needed not loquaciousness, but quiet subtleties. Del Toro delivered with perfection. Two scenes stood out for me in regards to his performance. At one point in the film, there is a wildly gripping moment during a traffic jam on the drive back to the US from Mexico. As the tension builds, Alejandro is at the center of the commotion. Benicio del Toro thrived in this moment. Additionally, the climax of the film (which I will not spoil here) features del Toro at his best—that one scene makes the entire viewing experience worth it! Sicario is rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language.

Sicario trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8tlEcnrGnU

Academy Award nominations for Sicario:

Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins)

Best Original Score (Jóhann Jóhannsson)

Best Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. Ex Machina
  2. Spotlight
  3. Straight Outta Compton
  4. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  5. Steve Jobs
  6. Creed
  7. ’71
  8. Room
  9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  10. Beasts of No Nation
  11. The Martian

Best Cinematography (2015)

The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen. The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film. Including this year’s nominations, these five nominees have combined for 37 Best Cinematography nominations, including 6 wins. Additionally, The Revenant‘s Emmanuel Lubezki is hoping for a three-peat at this year’s ceremony—”Chivo” Lubezki has taken home the Oscar for Best Cinematography the previous two years (Gravity and Birdman). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

John SealeWINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)

  1. The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  1. Sicario (Roger Deakins)
  1. The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
  1. Carol (Ed Lachman)

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 Cinematography

Best Cinematography NomineesBirdman3The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen. The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

WINNER: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Emmanuel Lubezki)

  1. Ida (Lukasz Zal & Ryszard Lenczewski)
  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert Yeoman)
  1. Mr. Turner (Dick Pope)
  1. Unbroken (Roger Deakins)

My Review of the 85th Academy Awards

Aaron Tveit, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Hugh Jackman, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Russell Crowe

Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show.  But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you.  Even though Seth MacFarlane provided some hilarious laughs, in the end I felt he was just another average host.  I hope next year the Academy employs someone that can keep me feeling pleasantly entertained for the entire show.

Speaking of the entire show, once again, this year’s broadcast was WAY too long.  This is one thing the Academy needs to continue working on fixing because by the end, most viewers were bored and tired.  One of my favorite things about this year’s show, though, was dedicating the ceremony’s theme to music in film.  As you probably saw in an earlier post of mine, I truly feel music is the most important part of a movie in regards to creating feeling and emotion within the viewer.  The various musical performances added an authentic flare to the Oscars.

This year’s Academy Awards had some awesome moments, some not-so-awesome moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am using this post to share my reactions to some of these moments with you:

Best Moment: (Les Misérables performance)

In a night centered on the theme of music in movies, the cast of Les Misérables stole the show.  Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Aaron Tveit all reunited on stage to perform a combination of three songs from the film: “Suddenly,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” and “One More Day.”  I enjoyed each of these songs in the actual movie, but I was quite glad to see these amazing songs performed once more by this astounding ensemble—definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Worst Moment: (Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance)

Catherine Zeta-Jones returned to the Oscars stage a decade after her musical film Chicago took home six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Adding to the theme of music in movies, Zeta-Jones performed “All That Jazz” from Chicago.  Even though she did an amazing job in the original film and has put together a pretty successful Broadway career, her performance at the Oscars was beyond dreadful.  She was clearly lip-synching and her faux singing was even more horrendous than Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live a few years ago.  It was most definitely a forgettable portion of the show last night.

Most Endearing Moment: (Acceptance Speech for Inocente)

When the filmmakers for the winner of Best Documentary Short gave their acceptance speech, they included a heartfelt sentiment: they brought the subject of their short film on stage.  The short film is about a teenage artist, Inocente Izucar, who is living homeless in San Diego, California.  Through the attention she has received from the short movie, she is no longer homeless and is making progress as a professional artist.  The filmmakers brought her on stage to recognize the way she has turned her life around in such a short time, and the moment was genuinely endearing.

Most Boring Moment (Barbara Streisand’s performance)

After an already long presentation of this year’s “In Memoriam,” songstress Barbara Streisand performed “The Way We Were” in a special tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.  Even though her rendition of this song originally won the Academy Award for Best Original Song nearly 40 years ago, I was bored out of my mind by her 2013 performance.  I understand it is a sentimental song and added to the “In Memoriam” moment, but this portion of the show dragged on way too long and the song virtually put me to sleep.

WTF Moment: (Tie for Best Sound Editing)

Even though I am a dedicated fan of the Oscars, I was just as shocked as everyone when the Best Sound Editing category ended in a tie.  Yes, a tie with two winners—the sound editors for both Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall received the award.  After doing some research, it turns out that this was actually the sixth occurrence of a tie at the Academy Awards.  The first tie was in 1932 when Frederic March from Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Wallace Beery from The Champ each shared the Oscar for Best Actor.  The most recent tie was in 1995 when Frank Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Trevor tied for Best Live Action Short Film.

Best Monologue Joke: (Ben Affleck and Argo)

Seth MacFarlane began the show discussing some of the films up for major awards.  He commented on the snubbing of Ben Affleck for Best Director: “Argo tells the previously classified story about an American hostage rescue in post-revolutionary Iran.  The film was so top-secret that the film’s director is unknown to the Academy.”

Worst Monologue Joke (Tarantino and his usage of the “N” word)

Seth MacFarlaneWhile discussing the controversy Django Unchained has received for its usage of the “N” word, MacFarlane said, “I’m told it’s actually okay for Quentin Tarantino to use that word because he thinks he’s black.”  Hardly anyone laughed and Seth quickly jumped to the next joke after realizing this one was a dud.

Monologue joke I hated to laugh at, but did anyway: (Chris Brown and Rihanna)

While explaining the storyline of Django Unchained, MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence.  Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.”

Best Acceptance Speech: (Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor)

Becoming the first actor in the history of the Oscars to win the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, Daniel Day-Lewis had plenty to be happy about.  His acceptance speeches have always been more than eloquent, and this one was no different; however, he showed a lighter side of himself by joking with presenter Meryl Streep, stating that he was actually supposed to play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and she was supposed to play Honest Abe in Lincoln.  He has always been a stand-up professional, and even though I felt a couple other nominees should have won this award, he gave a humble speech celebrating his win.

Worst Acceptance Speech: (Claudio Miranda for Best Cinematography)

The cinematographer for Life of Pi received his first Academy Award last night.  And if he wins in the future, hopefully he learns to make a better speech.  He was breathing as if he had just run a marathon, and he was staring into space and making odd noises in between sentences.  He started getting way too much into detail about specific camera shots from the film and could hardly get his words out.  I know he was happy and overwhelmed, but it was odd to watch.

Biggest Surprise (Ang Lee for Best Director)

85th Annual Academy Awards - ShowWhile most people were angry that Ben Affleck was snubbed in this category, it was a common consensus that this award was Steven Spielberg’s to lose.  Lincoln has been one of the most recognized films of the year, and with Affleck out of the category, it seemed like a guarantee that Spielberg would go home with the gold.  However, Ang Lee, the director of Life of Pi, shocked everyone by winning over the heavyweight favorite.  Also, for the first time since the Oscars ceremony held in 2006, the winner of the Best Director award was not the winner of the Best Picture award—interestingly enough, the last time this happened, it was in fact Ang Lee who won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain but lost to Crash in the Best Picture category.

Best Quotes from my family’s Oscar Watch Party: (Leslie Froman and Marcia Towle)

While watching the Academy Awards with my family, some unforgettable quotes were uttered, and I feel the need to share these with you as an added bonus.  During William Shatner’s cameo appearance in the monologue, he mentioned the Academy Awards, to which my girlfriend Leslie remarked, “Hang on, rewind that.  He messed up.  He said ‘Academy Awards’ instead of ‘Oscars.’”  Yes, she learned last night for the first time that the Academy Awards and the Oscars were actually one in the same.  The next best quote was from my own mother.  As they announced the nominees for Best Supporting Actor, they showed a clip from Tommy Lee Jones’ role as Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.  During the clip, my mom said, “He is an ugly Lincoln!”  No, Mom, that’s not Lincoln, that’s a congressman.

Best Cinematography & Best Film Editing

Bond Cinematography

The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen.  The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

WINNER: Skyfall (Roger Deakins)

2. Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)

3. Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)

4. Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)

5. Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)

Zero Film Edit

The Oscar for Best Film Editing is awarded to a particular film for the finest post-production digital editing.  The award is given to the film’s principal editor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Film Editing:

WINNER: Zero Dark Thirty (Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg)

2. Life of Pi (Tim Squyres)

3. Silver Linings Playbook (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers)

4. Argo (William Goldenberg)

5. Lincoln (Michael Kahn)

And the Oscar goes to…

83rd Academy Awards, Oscar Envelope

Hey everyone!  The Oscars are only 19 days away, and this blog is about to heat up starting tomorrow.  Over the next 16 days, I will be updating this page with posts nearly every singe day.  Below I have provided a schedule of dates when I will post and the content that will be included each day.  This way, you can make sure to visit this page on any day that provides a topic that you are interested in.  These topics will include categories from my Oscars ballot and a countdown of my “Top 15 Films of the Year.”  After my Oscars ballot and list of “Top 15 Films of the Year” have been revealed, I will provide additional commentary leading up to the actual ceremony.  Feel free to comment and leave me any of your thoughts or suggestions.  Check out the schedule and make sure to follow all of the updates.

SCHEDULE OF POSTS:

2/6: #15 on the list of Top Films, Best Supporting Actress

2/7: #14 on the list of Top Films, Best Supporting Actor

2/8: #13 on the list of Top Films

2/9: #12 on the list of Top Films, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

2/10: #11 on the list of Top Films, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

2/11: #10 on the list of Top Films

2/12: #9 on the list of Top Films, Best Adapted Screenplay

2/13: #8 on the list of Top Films, Best Original Screenplay

2/14: NO POSTS

2/15: #7 on the list of Top Films, Best Original Score

2/16: #6 on the list of Top Films, Best Actress

2/17: #5 on the list of Top Films, Best Actor

2/18: #4 on the list of Top Films

2/19: #3 on the list of Top Films

2/20: #2 on the list of Top Films, Best Director

2/21: #1 on the list of Top Films, Best Picture