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

 

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Best Original Screenplay (2015)

This year’s Best Original Screenplay category features a wide variety of previous Oscar experience. A handful of the writers nominated will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time, while others will be making repeat appearances. The most experienced writers nominated are the Coen brothers, who received their 14th nomination as a duo for Bridge of Spies. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

Alex-Garland-Ex-MachinaWINNER: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Alex Garland has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Tom McCarthy, also the director of Spotlight, was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay for his work on Pixar’s Up (2009). Josh Singer has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

None of the Straight Outta Compton writers have previously been nominated for an Academy Award in any screenwriting category.

  1. Matt Charman, Joel Coen, and Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies)

Joel and Ethan Coen have each been nominated for 13 Academy Awards (26 total), five of which were in writing categories. The Coen brothers have been nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category twice, winning for Fargo (1996). Additionally, they have been nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category three times, winning for No Country for Old Men (2007). Matt Charman has never previously been nominated for an Oscar in any screenwriting category.

  1. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen (Inside Out)

Pete Docter has previously been nominated for five Academy Awards, three of which were for Best Original Screenplay (Toy Story (1995), WALL-E (2008), and Up (2009)). None of the other three writers for Inside Out have previously been nominated for an Oscar in a screenwriting category.

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 3 – Nightcrawler

Night1Nightcrawler is a neo-noir crime thriller written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film, set in a nocturnal Los Angeles, follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man desperate for work who happens upon the world of “nightcrawling”—a trade where freelance journalists monitor police scanners in order to rush to the scene of wrecks, fires, assaults, murders, and more to capture video of the events to sell to the highest bidder. Determined to make himself an overnight success, Lou embarks on a determined, but twisted journey into the bloodthirsty business of turning crime into dollar signs.

Night5Of all the films released in 2014, you will not find a more sadistic, but comical, spine-chilling, but appalling one than Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy has not had the most prestigious career in film, making his mark only as an average writer in the industry (over a 20-year period, from 1992–2012, he penned only six screenplays). But in Nightcrawler (Gilroy’s directorial debut), he has elevated himself into “a-force-to-be-reckoned-with” territory. This film explores the old media adage of “if it bleeds, it leads,” and this broad, violent idea provides Gilroy with plenty of room to delve deep into the underbelly of society’s voyeuristic lust for blood. I am sure everyone is familiar with the term “rubbernecking,” (commonly used to describe slowing down to view the scene of a car accident) and this is the primal theme that Gilroy surveys. Night9In the film, Lou chases down accidents, murders, and so on before the police can arrive to shoot footage of the incident, and then he negotiates for the purchase of that footage with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the morning news director at a failing local TV station who desperately needs a boost in ratings. Therefore, Gilroy’s story is the manifestation of the cyclical demand for this raw, brutal footage: society is enabled by Lou (who shoots the footage), Lou is enabled by Nina (who purchases his footage), Nina is enabled by the news station (who is in dire need of an increase in ratings), and the news station is in turn enabled by society (who craves this footage). The concept seems so simple, and Gilroy does an exceptional job of delineating this perverse plot in the most irksome way.

Night3One mark of a great writer is his/her ability to create a memorable character, such as Tarantino’s Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), and Oliver Stone’s Tony Montana (Scarface). In Lou Bloom, Dan Gilroy has created one of the most inexplicable, sociopathic, and demented characters since Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. One of the most unnerving features of Lou Bloom is his appearance. Jake Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for the role, and this gauntness is the defining characteristic of his portrayal of the ruthless antihero. Gyllenhaal’s eyes appear sunken in throughout (making him look like an unsettled insomniac), and his greased-back hair and robotic-like demeanor go perfectly hand-in-hand with Lou’s manic rhetoric throughout the film. Night4An established actor in the industry, Gyllenhaal is no stranger to remarkable, critically acclaimed performances. But I believe that his portrayal of Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler is by far his greatest of all time—this is why, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest mistake this year (aside from The Lego Movie getting jipped) was leaving Gyllenhaal out of the Best Actor category. Apart from Gyllenhaal’s physical dedication to the role of Lou, he delivers one of the most icily neurotic performances of 2014. Lou is a fascinating mix of blank-stared sociopath and charismatic comic, and Gyllenhaal brings these utterly multifarious characteristics to life in an unruly manner.

Night7Nightcrawler also features some marvelous supporting performances from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Russo (writer/director Dan Gilroy’s real-life wife) executes her role as the morning news director Nina Romina with effortlessness. Nina knows that her job is on the line at a news station that is rapidly faltering, and with that in the back of her mind, she must go to extreme lengths to survive. She is chilling in her own way (not to mention wildly matter-of-fact), and Russo gives one of the most surprising performances in Nightcrawler. Night6Riz Ahmed also gives an unpredictable breakout performance as Rick, Lou’s ill-fated recruit/sidekick. Riding around every single night with Lou (a character with little to no moral compass), Rick is consistently besieged by the ferocious nature of this business—he attempts to be, to no avail, the voice of reason for the nightcrawling duo. Ahmed brilliantly delineates the conflicted nature of Rick’s character, and he breathes a humanistic vivacity into the only character worthy of empathy. Nightcrawler is rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.

Nightcrawler trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1uP_8VJkDQ

Academy Award nominations for Nightcrawler:

Best Original Screenplay (Dan Gilroy)

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

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

Best Original Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay Nominees

This year, similar to the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every singe nominee will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time in a screenwriting capacity. Only two writers out of the nine nominated writers have received Oscar nominations previously: Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

Dan GilroyWINNER: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler)

Dan Gilroy has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

  1. Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Richard Linklater 2Richard Linklater was previously nominated twice at the Oscars in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (Before Sunset and Before Midnight).

 

  1. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo (Birdman)

72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards - Press RoomAlejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award in a writing category.

 

  1. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (Foxcatcher)

Foxcatcher writersE. Max Frye has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award. However, Dan Futterman has been previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Capote (2005).

 

 

  1. Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Wes AndersonWes Anderson has been previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay twice: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

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 Original Screenplay

Her 2

This year, like in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every single writer nominated will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time.  Only two writers out of the seven nominated have received Oscar nominations previously: David O. Russell and Woody Allen.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Spike Jonze (Her)

Spike Jonze ScreenplaySpike Jonze has created in Her one of the most interesting and mischievously comedic films in his well-established career, and here, the movie truly comes alive because of his inimitable script.  It is a science-fiction tale, set in the not-so-distant future, about a man who falls in love with his operating system.  The loving relationship between Theodore and Samantha in the film is so incredibly vivid, jumping off the page and into our hearts, despite the fact that we never see Samantha, since she is not a real person.  A main character that operates from a purely oral standpoint, lacking any visual component, must be presented with incredibly substantive dialogue in order to work, and Jonze gives Samantha more of a voice than anyone else could ever dream up in his or her mind.  This screenplay is the epitome of the term “original” in “original screenplay,” and Jonze is more than deserving of this award this year.  Spike Jonze has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

2. Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Singer and RussellA year after penning an Oscar-nominated screenplay in Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell has again received an Oscar nod for his script in American Hustle, co-written by Eric Warren Singer.  Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite film of 2012, and last year I personally named the script from SLP as the Best Adapted Screenplay.  Again, David O. Russell has penned an incredible screenplay, and clearly the collaboration with Singer has proven worthwhile.  American Hustle was a thoroughly entertaining movie with more wit than I knew what to do with, but it was this distinct characteristic from most of David O. Russell scripts that shined bright again here.  Eric Warren Singer has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award; David O. Russell was previously nominated as a writer for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

3. Bob Nelson (Nebraska)Bob Nelson

The black-and-white Nebraska was pure Alexander Payne at his best, but one of the immaculate moments from the movie was Bob Nelson’s script.  Nelson created some memorable characters, some unforgettable scenes, and one incredibly exceptional journey between a father and his son.  The dialogue was on point, and it gave each actor plenty of chances to make an impact on the film.  I hope to see more from Nelson in the near future because this film proves he is a remarkable talent.  Bob Nelson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)

Woody AllenWoody Allen is one of the greatest and most critically recognized screenwriters in the history of motion pictures, and once again a script of his has made its way to cinema’s greatest night—the Oscars.  Even though the bulk of Allen’s writing nominations came pre-2005, he still proves that he will always be a force to be reckoned with in the screenwriting world.  In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen created a wide range of wild and wacky characters, but his finest accomplishment in this film is the title character of Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett.  Over the course of nearly forty years, Woody Allen has become synonymous with obsession, and in Jasmine, Allen has created one of the most absolutely neurotic characters modern cinema has ever known.  For this alone, Woody Allen is deserving of being back at the Oscars.  Woody Allen is the most nominated screenwriter in Academy Awards history; this nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category marks his sixteenth (an Oscars record), and he has previously won on three occasions for Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Midnight in Paris (2011).

5. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)

Borten and WallackEven though the plot in Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have written an original piece about the previously unexplored subject matter of Ron Woodruff and his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid-1980s.  All of the hype surrounding this film has been focused on both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s marvelously inspirational acting performances, but without an effective script, these portrayals would carry little weight, no pun intended.  This wonderfully written script gave both McConaughey and Leto’s characters an encouraging voice, and it is because of this that both Borten and Wallack have been nominated.  Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 2 – Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise

Moonrise Kingdom is a film directed by Wes Anderson, with a screenplay written by Anderson and Roman Coppola.  The movie is set on the fictional island of New Penzance off the coast of New England in 1965.  Two 12-year-olds, Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, become pen pals and eventually fall in love.  They decide to run away together on the island to pursue their love for one another, but an epic storm is brewing up and is due to hit New Penzance very soon.  With the combination of the storm and the runaway, the quiet, serene nature of this small island quickly turns tumultuously chaotic.

Wes Anderson has made quite a name for himself in the Hollywood as the creator and originator of a very eccentric, nonconformist style of filmmaking.  Some of his most popular films include The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited.  For anyone who has seen any of his previous films, Anderson’s distinct method of filmmaking is unmistakable, and in Moonrise Kingdom, he again employs this same scheme.

Anderson collaborated on this uniquely peculiar screenplay with Roman Coppola, a writer he previously worked with on the script for The Darjeeling Limited.  The two have created a brilliantly refreshing tale of young love, and the entertainingly hilarious nature of the film is brought on strongly by the wonderful piece of writing these two men have created.  Their script has resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

After I rented this movie a while back to see it for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with it—I went and purchased it on Blu-ray mere days after watching it.  It quickly became one of my favorite movies of all time, and it made me a fan of Anderson’s unusual style of filmmaking.  One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the score—acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat creates a specific tone for the movie through his music, and it truly makes the story even more gripping.

The film features some hilariously interesting characters, played by a combination of star-studded actors and Hollywood newbies.  In my opinion, the two younger actors provide the movie’s brightest performances.  Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward portray Sam and Suzy, respectively, and together they provide for some of the funniest and most endearing scenes in the entire film.  Some great supporting performances are also contributed by some of the film industry’s most enduring performers: Bill Murray plays Suzy’s father, Frances McDormand plays Suzy’s mother, Bruce Willis plays the island’s sheriff, Edward Norton plays the local Khaki scout troop leader, Tilda Swinton plays a character known only as Social Services, Jason Schwartzman portrays Cousin Ben, Harvey Keitel plays Commander Pierce, and Bob Balaban provides the role of the narrator.  This ensemble collectively shines on the screen and makes this film the illustrious piece of art it is.

Also, one of the most recognized hallmarks of any Wes Anderson film is the presence of a cast that features many previous Anderson collaborators.  Moonrise Kingdom marks the sixth Anderson film featuring Bill Murray and fourth film featuring Jason Schwartzman.  Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

Moonrise Kingdom trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N8wkVA4_8s

Academy Award nominations for Moonrise Kingdom:

Best Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola)

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

3. Zero Dark Thirty

4. Skyfall

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 3 – Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark

Zero Dark Thirty is a film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, with a screenplay written by Mark Boal.  The film tells the story of Maya, a CIA operative who, for over a decade, is dedicated to a single mission—to find Osama bin Laden.  She spends every waking moment interrogating detainees and doing intense research in order to track down the world’s most wanted man.  After years of devoted work, some clues to the whereabouts of bin Laden emerge, and even though most high-ranking officials in the US government do not fully trust her about his location, Maya remains steadfast in her belief that she has finally found the infamous terrorist.

This is the second collaboration between Bigelow and Boal, the first being their Best Picture-winning film The Hurt Locker (2008).  After seeing their latest partnership at work, it is clearly evident that these two have an uncanny knack for creating spellbinding war-related movies.  Even though there are stark similarities between the two films, Zero Dark Thirty is based around true events of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden.  The movie was met with controversy due to its take on torturing detainees, but I quite enjoyed the veracity of these scenes, and without those, I feel the movie would have been significantly lacking a punch.  I truly believe this was one of the year’s most amazing films, and it will definitely be a top contender for the highest Oscar honors; with that said, it still does not quite meet the standards that The Hurt Locker originally set.

The story behind the creation of this film is fascinating.  Bigelow and Boal had originally written a screenplay about the notorious Battle of Tora Bora, and they had planned to tell the story of the long, but unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden.  They were actually about to begin filming when news of bin Laden’s death broke.  Immediately, they stopped working on their original film and began to work on a brand new original screenplay about the killing of bin Laden.

Just like The Hurt Locker focused most of the movie on one particular character and his life during the war, Zero Dark Thirty concentrates on the emotional and professional growth of a single character, Maya (Jessica Chastain).  Even though there are some key supporting characters, like Dan (Jason Clarke), Patrick (Joel Edgerton), and George (Mark Strong), Maya’s character is the central figure the film uses to develop the plot.

Chastain is an actress who is rapidly gaining immense popularity due to some impressive performances in The Tree of Life (2011), The Help (2011), and Lawless (2012), and in this movie, she shows everyone why she is an Oscar-nominated actress.  She begins the movie as a shy, reluctant character, but quickly she becomes a fiery force to be reckoned with.  I was blown away by her portrayal of Maya, and this striking depiction may just earn her an Academy Award for Best Actress.  Zero Dark Thirty is rated R for strong violence, including brutal disturbing images, and language.

Zero Dark Thirty trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxC_JNz5Vbg

Academy Award nominations for Zero Dark Thirty:

Best Picture (Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, and Megan Ellison, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Jessica Chastain)

Film Editing (Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg)

Sound Editing (Paul N.J. Ottosson)

Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal)

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

4. Skyfall

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 5 – Django Unchained

Django

Django Unchained is a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.  The film is set in the South before the Civil War, and the story follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is bought by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German-born bounty hunter.  Django teams up with Dr. Schultz to hunt down some of the most renowned, murderous men in the slave business.  Django’s main goal, though, is to search until he finds his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold into slavery many years before.  When Django and Schultz finally track her down, she is in the confinement of a sadistically ruthless slave owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  The two men must put on an act in order to gain the trust of Candie, but when Candie’s house slave (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes suspicious of their intentions, all hell breaks loose.

To say the very least, I absolutely, unequivocally loved this movie.  I have always been a fan of Tarantino’s work, and his creation of Django ranks right up there with some of his best of all time, including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds (my favorite film of all time).  The film takes place during one of the most controversial periods of American history—the years of slavery before the Civil War.  If you have seen the way Tarantino recreated the history of the Nazis during World War II in Inglourious Basterds, then you are in for an equally hilarious depiction of the racist slave owners of the 1800s.

His film has been met with both critical acclaim and controversy, but then again it seems most of Tarantino’s movies are met with this same mix of emotion from critics and the general public.  He has been chastised by many, including the annoyingly outspoken Spike Lee, about his usage of the “N” word during the film, but in order to accurately depict this period of history, Tarantino would have been doing everyone a disservice by avoiding the word and sugarcoating the times.  His script is violently gruesome, but honest, and like most of his films, it is downright hilarious—the scene with the white-hooded horsemen will forever go down as one of the funniest I have ever seen in a movie.

The tour de force that is Tarantino’s screenplay for Django Unchained is assisted by an ensemble of actors and actresses creating unique and illustrious portrayals of their dynamic characters on the screen.  Jamie Foxx gives one of the best performances of his career, ranking behind only his roles in Collateral and Ray, in my opinion.  Surprisingly, Foxx was not nominated for any of the major awards despite his excellent performance.  Christoph Waltz once again collaborates with Tarantino, and like in his role as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Waltz brings his incomparable and articulate diction to the role, coupled with his fascinatingly comical wit.  His performance makes him a strong frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for which he is nominated.

Some other strong examples of exceptional acting are illustrated by Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen the house slave, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, Don Johnson as Big Daddy, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.  I was quite upset when both Jackson and DiCaprio were snubbed for Oscars because after seeing nearly every nominated film this year, their performances stood out way above the rest.  DiCaprio has turned in a very triumphant career thus far, but he has yet to receive an Academy Award, and before nominations were announced, I was sure this would be his year.  Django Unchained is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity.

Django Unchained trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUdM9vrCbow

Academy Award nominations for Django Unchained:

Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, and Pilar Savone, Producers)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Christoph Waltz)

Cinematography (Robert Richardson)

Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman)

Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino)

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

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Best Original Screenplay

Tarantino

The Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay that is not based upon any prior published work.  This year’s group of nominees features some established, acclaimed writers and a couple Academy Award newcomers.  Between the nominated writers, they have been nominated for four writing Oscars and have won two.  Although there are some great scripts up for the award this year, one writer has already been sweeping the award shows for his screenplay, winning the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award—this year, it just so happens that I am in full agreement with the major award shows on this category.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Tarantino, also the director of the film, has created one of the greater scripts in modern cinema.  It has created a significant amount of controversy, but it has also been met with rave reviews from the critics—Quentin would not want it any other way.  Even though he did not win the Oscar in this category for Inglourious Basterds, which is by far my favorite movie of all time, he still has penned another masterpiece in Django.  Tarantino has a knack for creating some of the most remembered characters in the history of film, such as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, and Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and in Django, he does not disappoint, creating unbelievably dynamic characters like Dr. King Schultz and Calvin Candie.  I will never know how the inner workings of Tarantino’s mind operate, but I am most unquestionably thankful for the written work he has given us.  Tarantino was previously nominated for two writing Academy Awards, both in the Best Original Screenplay category, and he won for Pulp Fiction (1994).

2. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

Wes Anderson, also the director of the film, and Roman Coppola have collaborated for their second screenplay together—their first was The Darjeeling Limited, a film they also co-wrote with Jason Schwartzman.  The end result of their most recent work together is an incredibly hilarious, wildly entertaining script.  This screenplay has the best shot among the other nominees to upset the heavyweight Tarantino, and if things fall correctly for Anderson and Coppola, they just may find themselves raising the Oscar statute.  This story is one of a kind.  It tells the story of young love from a unique perspective that only Anderson, one of the most distinctive writer-directors of our time, could do.  It is a refreshingly different film, and it has quickly become one of my favorites of all time.  Anderson was previously nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).  Coppola has not previously been nominated.

3. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

After Anderson and Coppola, Mark Boal has the next best chance to knock off Tarantino at the top in this category.  This is only Boal’s second screenplay, but just like his previous one for The Hurt Locker, it is action packed and beaming with award-winning quality.  Boal tells the story of the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the most dangerous man on earth.  The Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration may not be quite the masterpiece it was for The Hurt Locker, but it is most assuredly not far behind.  I was on the edge of my theater seat throughout the entire film, and a lot of this is due to the spellbinding script Boal has written.  Mark Boal was previously nominated and won for Best Original Screenplay for The Hurt Locker (2009).

4. Michael Haneke (Amour)

Michael Haneke, also the director of the film, has finally been nominated by the Academy for his superb writing abilities.  Haneke is one of the most unknown writer-directors to the general public in the United States, but I have been aware of his work for quite a few years now.  The biggest film festival in the entire world is the Cannes Film Festival, and the top award at this festival is the Palme d’Or, an award given to the top film of the festival.  Only seven filmmakers have won this award twice since 1939—Michael Haneke is one of those (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  Haneke’s French-language film is intriguing, matchless, and invigorating.  The words he penned for this film not only earned him an Oscar nomination, but it also resulted in lead actress Emmanuelle Riva being nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  Haneke has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. John Gatins (Flight)

Gatins is an established screenwriter, but to be completely honest, none of his scripts have been anything close to award worthy.  His screenwriting filmography includes Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Real Steel, but his big break finally came with the 2012 film Flight.  In this film, Gatins uses an incredibly entertaining story line to keep our attention, but it is the complexities he has created in regards to human morality that truly sets his script apart.  I am surprised that he received a nomination, but after seeing the film, it is definitely justified.  Gatins has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

Writers snubbed in this category: Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)