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 Actor in a Leading Role (2018)

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

WINNER: Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

malek

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

2. Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)

Cooper

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

3. Christian Bale (Vice)

Vice

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

4. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)

Van Gogh

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

5. Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Green

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

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 4 – A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is a musical drama directed by Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut) and co-written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters.  The film tells the story of a country musician named Jackson Maine (Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young, aspiring singer named Ally (Lady Gaga). Ally’s budding musical career quickly takes off, but all the while, Jackson’s own personal demons threaten to tear his down.

Star Gif 4This iteration of A Star Is Born is the third remake of the original 1937 film, following reincarnations in 1954 (starring Judy Garland and James Mason) and 1976 (starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). Despite trotting through familiar territory, the Cooper- and Gaga-led version feels undeniably new and wholly unique. As much as this film is about the music (and trust me, the music is flawless – I still listen to “Shallow” at least a few times each week), it is really much more about an exploration of Jackson and Ally and their obviously genuine, but altogether complicated, love story. These two characters clearly inspire each other in the most believable ways possible (both in life and in music), which makes their rollercoaster relationship that much more affecting for an audience. Star Gif 1Although the ease of buying into this tale of romance has a lot to do with Cooper and Lady Gaga as actors (their chemistry was organic, unforced, and utterly convincing), it can also be credited to the dynamic screenwriting trio, the X factor of which is Eric Roth. Roth has led a critically acclaimed career behind the pen, writing the scripts (and receiving Oscar nominations) for Hollywood heavy-hitters Forrest Gump, The Insider, Munich, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. With such an illustrious filmography, it is patently obvious that Roth’s fingerprints were all over the script for A Star Is Born.

Star Gif 3The movie also benefits tremendously from an exquisite directorial achievement by Cooper. Some of the most emotionally packed scenes in all of film this year came from A Star Is Born, and Cooper’s vision is at the root. Avoiding spoilers, I will say that the emotional climax of the film was, even for someone that hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations of the story, predictable. But despite that, Cooper still presented it in a way that felt raw and unexpected – it was single-handedly the most heart-wrenching scene of the year. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.) Further, the main function of a director, aside from being the film’s chief visionary, is to get the best work out of the actors – in that department, Cooper far exceeded all expectations that could possibly have been set for him. As I will get into more detail about in a moment, Lady Gaga delivered an exceptional performance as Ally. Yes, she was clearly born to be a performer. Yes, she already has a small handful of acting credits. And yes, the film is about a singer, which Gaga already is in real life. But in the wrong director’s hands, a good performer could still fall flat – it happens all the time. Luckily, in A Star Is Born, the combination of Cooper’s shrewd direction and Gaga’s unquestionable talent came together beautifully to offer one of the year’s best acting performances. Star Gif 5It also says a lot that Sam Elliott, a pioneer in the acting world with a career that spans over five decades, received his first Oscar nomination of all time in the role of Bobby Maine, Jackson’s manager and half-brother. Not only did Cooper bring out the best in Lady Gaga, but he also found a way to elicit a career-defining supporting performance from a Hollywood legend. I am still quite a bit upset that Cooper was overlooked in the Best Director category – he definitely should have received a nomination for his work behind the camera.

Star Gif 2As alluded to above, Lady Gaga’s portrayal of Ally was amazing – given her background in music and her own rise to fame, Cooper could not have hit a more definite homerun in terms of casting than this. Gaga effortlessly commanded the complex emotional nature of Ally, portraying her vividly as a young woman who is at first apprehensive and lacking in self-esteem, and later confident and more comfortable in her own skin. However, even after Ally becomes more self-assured, she still maintains an innocent sense of vulnerability – Gaga depicts that remarkably. tumblr_pg469awrKr1qjde42o8_400Even though Bradley Cooper is the film’s creative mind behind the camera, he also turns in one of the best acting performances of his own career, justifiably earning him a fourth Oscar nomination in an acting category. Jackson Maine is a complicated character – despite Ally energizing his life in terms of love and music, he still struggles to keep up with his own personal battles. A life of alcoholism and self-sabotage trips Jackson up at every turn, and Cooper’s portrayal is haunting and dramatic – it was definitely a memorable piece of acting. A Star Is Born is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, and substance abuse.

A Star Is Born trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E&t=8s

Academy Award nominations for A Star Is Born:

Best Picture (Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper, and Lynette Howell Taylor, producers)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper)

Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lady Gaga)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sam Elliott)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters)

Best Original Song – “Shallow” (Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt)

Best Sound Mixing (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve A. Morrow)

Best Cinematography (Matthew Libatique)

The Return of My Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” and Best Original Song and Score

Dolby TheatreLast year, after five consecutive Academy Awards seasons of active blogging here on The Reel Countdown, I was unable to devote any time at all to posting about the year in movies due to a very busy work schedule – in fact, my only post during the run-up to the Oscars last year was simply sharing my ballot and providing a ranked list of all the movies I had watched from 2017. However, I am thrilled to say that my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” is back (is this where I say “and better than ever”?), and I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you on the best in film from 2018 over the course of the next three weeks as we approach the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, which is set to take place on Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Since it has been a couple of years since I’ve blogged through an Oscars season, here’s a recap on the structure of posts you can expect to see on The Reel Countdown: (1) my “Top 10 Films of the Year” (including an “Honorable Mentions” post within the next couple of days, which will break down the five films that just missed out on cracking my list this year), (2) my own personal Oscars ballot (i.e., not a prediction of who will win but rather how I would vote if I had one) for some of the year’s major categories, based on this year’s nominees, and (3) a recap of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, which will highlight the most noteworthy moments from the broadcast.

I am kicking off this year’s edition of The Reel Countdown with my ballot for the two musical categories at the Oscars – Song and Score!

My ballot for Best Original Song is as follows:

WINNER: “Shallow” from A Star Is Born – Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andew Wyatt

rev-1-asib-trl-9090r_high_res_jpeg-1-_wide-3afaaddfb18a9a5732dbd6843e417c693a5949fb-s800-c85In my opinion, no original song better embodied the spirit of its film’s story arc this year than “Shallow,” a beautiful ballad performed as a duet in the film by Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) and Ally (played by Lady Gaga). The lyrics and musical composition are clearly stunning, but it is the chemistry of the film’s lead characters and their undeniable harmony on the song that truly make “Shallow” one of the film’s greatest assets. Needless to say, I was very excited to see the video pop up online this week of Lady Gaga bringing Bradley Cooper on stage at a Vegas concert to perform the song with her. I cannot wait to see these two light up the stage again on Oscars night – sign me up for any chance to see Gaga belt out her now-iconic “haaa-ah-ah-ah, haaawaah, ha-ah-ah-aaah” line!

2. “All the Stars” from Black Panther – Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solana Rowe

3. “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Music and Lyrics by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

4. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns – Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

5. “I’ll Fight” from RBG – Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren

 

My ballot for Best Original Score is as follows:

WINNER: Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson

Ludwig+Goransson+Los+Angeles+World+Premiere+pQZWs79_UlAlBlack Panther is obviously one of the best superhero movies of all time – the acting is superb, the story is unique and fresh, and writer/director Ryan Coogler’s vision is magnificent. But for me, the glue that held all of Black Panther‘s many incredible pieces together was Ludwig Göransson’s thrilling musical score. Göransson’s composition offers brilliance in all of the classical aspects of film scoring, but what sets Black Panther apart is his masterful incorporation of traditional African instrumentation and booming sounds influenced by today’s hip-hop (the latter of which comes as no surprise, considering Göransson is a frequent collaborator of rap’s inimitable Childish Gambino). The Black Panther score is truly magical!

2. Mary Poppins Returns – Marc Shaiman

3. If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell

4. BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard

5. Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat

Fall Preview 2015: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Header 2015

In this post, I reveal films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some potential heavy hitters, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – Steve Jobs

According to Entertainment Weekly, Steve Jobs follows its titular character, one of the most revolutionary tech giants of all time, behind the scenes of three iconic product launches: “The Macintosh, Jobs’ failed NeXT computer, and the first iMac.” In 2013, Ashton Kutcher played the Apple founder in the blatantly average Jobs. That boring biographical piece is by far the cause for my unconditional anticipation of Steve Jobs. This is due to the fact that the 2013 film proved that there is an amazing story waiting to be unearthed about the visionary behind the iPod, but it simply needs the film industry’s best and brightest to do the tale justice. In 2015, that is exactly what we get!

Steve Jobs 2Sitting in the director’s chair is Danny Boyle, the genius behind Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours. Leading the cast in the role of Jobs is the rapidly up-and-coming cinematic great Michael Fassbender. And penning the screenplay is one of my favorite writers in the game, Aaron Sorkin (the writer behind A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and Moneyball). With this incredible team pulling the strings in the newest incarnation of Steve Jobs’s life story, it is destined for Oscar nominations. Steve Jobs is set for a theatrical release on October 9, 2015.

Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire)

Starring: Michael Fassbender (Slow West, Frank), Kate Winslet (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Divergent), Seth Rogen (The Interview, Neighbors), and Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEr6K1bwIVs

No. 9 – Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation tells the vexing story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy in West Africa who watches as his family is ripped apart from him by terrorizing militants. After, Agu himself is recruited by the leader (Idris Elba) of an army of rebels, comprised of mostly child soldiers. This movie appears to tell a gripping story of a tense and controversial subject matter, and it seemingly has all of the parts to make it a masterpiece: Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote and directed, and Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba plays the devilish commander. For all of you True Detective fans out there (I have only seen a few episodes of season 1, but from what I gathered, it was amazing), Fukunaga directed season 1. Take his direction and mix it with Elba, one of my favorite actors in the business, and I think Beasts has what it takes to succeed.

Beasts of No Nation 2One of the most interesting facts about this movie is that it is Netflix’s very first original feature film. With Netflix already becoming known for its critically claimed original programming (House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), I am incredibly pumped for its journey into original film production—Beasts debuts on Netflix’s streaming service on the same day as its theatrical release. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Fukunaga stated: “It’s really hard to deny the power of 66 million subscribers. If the audience can have an emotional experience with my movie, then that’s everything I want.” Beasts of No Nation is set for a theatrical and Netflix Instant Stream release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre)

Starring: Idris Elba (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Gunman) and Ama K. Abebrese (Double-Cross, Ties That Bind)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRsaclO0VbU

No. 8 – Joy

To keep it simple, Joy is about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence). Treating cinematic visionary David O. Russell’s story to a more in-depth and honest description, it is an epic story about a 30-year span in a woman’s life, charting her ups and downs, successes and struggles. Russell again collaborates in Joy with the trio of superstars (Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper) he has featured in each of his last two films (American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook). Take these established relationships and throw in the fact that Russell’s last three films have all been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and movie fans worldwide surely have a cocktail for genius.

Joy 2Speaking of David O. Russell’s professional relationships with his recurring stars, my interest in this film is most evidenced by Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role. Silver Linings Playbook did feature her as one of the two main co-stars, but the film was mostly about Cooper’s character. Subsequently, American Hustle featured a hilarious supporting performance by J-Law, but it was Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Cooper taking up the film’s bulk. Therefore, I am beyond stoked to see one of my favorite actresses own the screen time. Lawrence knows her relationship with Russell is special, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Working on his sets is like the Olympics of acting. Everything moves so fast. It’s like watching someone do a giant abstract painting or sculpture and you go, ‘Where is this going?’ And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a Pegasus. It’s beautiful!” Joy is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.

Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Serena), Robert De Niro (The Intern, Grudge Match), and Bradley Cooper (Aloha, American Sniper)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN4MLMHET7w

No. 7 – The Martian

The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), as his crew mistakenly takes him for dead during a storm on Mars. Stranded on the red planet alone without enough resources to last him more than a few weeks, Watney must defy the odds to ever make it back to Earth alive. Ridley Scott directs this sci-fi thriller, and that is all I need to know to get on board. Scott is the creative innovator behind Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Prometheus, and with an interstellar (pun intended) cast at his disposal, his every cinematic desire will surely play out masterfully on the screen. Although I really did like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last year, it was a bit too Inception-esque with its utterly complex structure. From the looks of Scott’s The Martian in its trailer, this film looks to still provide the stunning visual prowess akin to that in Interstellar, while connecting more with the audience.

The Martian 2Scott’s ensemble cast in The Martian is most definitely one of its most impressive features. Matt Damon is obviously an award-winning star, but I am most looking forward to seeing Jessica Chastain. Those familiar with my blog and opinions on film in general know that I have long contended that Chastain is the most skilled actress in the industry. Just like her role in the aforementioned Interstellar, I expect big things from such a Hollywood heavyweight. I am also intrigued by the star power of this film’s supporting cast: the forever fearful of trains Kate Mara (House of Cards anyone?), the always hilarious, but I imagine soon-to-be dramatic Kristen Wiig, and the Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor. A cast this strong is likely to command every last second of the film. The Martian is set for a wide theatrical release on October 2, 2015.

Director: Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor)

Starring: Matt Damon (Interstellar, The Monuments Men), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year, Interstellar), Kristen Wiig (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me), Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper), Michael Peña (Ant-Man, Fury), Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, Transcedence), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Z for Zachariah, 12 Years a Slave)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

No. 6 – Legend

In the true-life biopic Legend, set in London during the 1960s, Tom Hardy plays both twin brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, two of the most renowned gangsters in the world. Tom Hardy + Tom Hardy = double the Tom Hardy. Boom! I am in! Just like my devoted contention that Jessica Chastain is the most talented actress in the game, I likewise believe Hardy is the single greatest actor in all of world cinema. He has proven his worth as the titular character in the brutally violent Bronson, the demented supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the emotionally torn Ivan in last year’s Locke, and the legendary master of madness in this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. He is the ultimate craftsman, and Legend director Brian Helgeland immediately took notice of Hardy’s seriousness behind the scenes, telling Entertainment Weekly, “he takes it to a point I’ve never seen—just the commitment and the focus. There’s no gag reel.”

Legend 2Aside from the actual casting of Hardy in Legend, I am fascinated by the fact that he plays both of the Kray twins. Yes, Armie Hammer did a wonderful job as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in 2010’s The Social Network, but Legend is pitched as a badass action adventure, which implicates a completely unprecedented challenge for an actor to take on two roles. While Helgeland initially wanted Hardy to portray only Reggie, the character with the emotional love story at his core, Hardy was smitten with the challenge of playing Ron, the gay and much more outgoing of the twins. Helgeland told EW that “from the time Tom sat down, all he was talking about was Ron. At the end, Tom said, ‘I’ll give you Reggie if you give me Ron.’” The rest was history, and I cannot wait to see the result. Legend is set for a theatrical release on October 2, 2015.

Director: Brian Helgeland (42, The Order)

Starring: Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road), Emily Browning (Pompeii, God Help the Girl), David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, The Fifth Estate), and Chazz Palminteri (Henry & Me, Yonkers Joe)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI3v6KfR9Mw

Best Actor

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

WINNER: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

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

  1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

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

  1. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

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

  1. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) 

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

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

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

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

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

American Sniper - BP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academy Award nominations for American Sniper:

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

Best Actor (Bradley Cooper)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall)

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

Best Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman)

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

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

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

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 9 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians2The Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel-superhero production directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. The film follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an earthling that was “beamed up” by a spaceship some twenty years prior. Quill, who in outer space goes by the name “Star-Lord,” finds himself at the center of a dangerous bounty hunt after stealing an orb that the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace) wants to procure. In order to evade the stalk (and ultimately save the entire galaxy due to the orb’s true potential), Star-Lord must befriend a band of intergalactic misfits: the warrior princess Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the revenge-centric, “Hulk”-like Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the derisive-tongued raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s sidekick Groot (voiced and motion-captured by Vin Diesel), a tender walking tree

Guardians3Most superhero movies are the same. Obviously the plots differ somewhat and the characters are not the same, but generally speaking, they all follow the same mold: a dramatic story of how the superhero came to be, coupled with an action-packed/dramatic unraveling of the plot. There is always some sad music and some overwhelming thespian-like dramatics. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy has some of those elements, too; but it is how this film breaks the traditional mold to carve out new ground in the superhero genre that makes its inclusion on this year-end list worthy.

Guardians4How does this Marvel production stand alone at the top in a genre that has seen box-office giants like Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers produced by the very same production studio? Well, it is a culmination of multiple things. First, the film’s opening sequence (like that of most superhero movies), lays the foundation for the background of the story in a far superior manner to most films of this variety. The back-story for most of Marvel’s popular superheroes is only depicted because of its necessity—those films do not seem to take seriously the opportunity that they have to establish a character’s background story in a way that will evoke true, meaningful empathy from the viewers. I could not care less about how Thor’s story begins because its filmmakers did not beckon any emotion from me. This film changes that by giving viewers a more serious-toned set of circumstances that could be a quality scene in an Oscar-nominated drama.

Guardians7Second, despite the seriousness of the opening scene, it quickly turns comedic. And I do not mean “comedic” in the slap-sticky way that most superhero movies try to throw it around at random times to keep the tone on a more even keel. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy is snappy with its humor—it is streamlined by the writers in a way that allows the movie to take on a positive, amusing tone throughout its duration like you might expect out of a critically acclaimed “comedy.” Needless to say, the dialogue is galactically represented by just the kind of wit that makes a film great.

Guardians9Third, the movie’s musical component is of much better quality than that of other superhero films (hell, even other movies in general). Not only did it contain a notable original score, it boasted an even better musical soundtrack. It features a wealth of great songs from the late-60s, 70s, and 80s (such as “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 and “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie), and director James Gunn was quoted by IGN as saying that the music plays a culturally significant role in the story’s progression: “It’s striking the balance throughout the whole movie, through something that is very unique, but also something that is easily accessible to people at the same time. The music and the Earth stuff is one of those touchstones that we have to remind us that, yeah, [Quill] is a real person from planet Earth who’s just like you and me. Except that he’s in this big outer space adventure.” The soundtrack went on to claim the number-one spot on four separate Billboard charts (200, Top Soundtracks, Top Rock Albums, Top Digital Albums), and it even garnered a Grammy nomination. This unique sound took the film to great heights.

Guardians1Finally, the casting choices were about as good as it gets. But not only were the casting decisions made superbly, but the actual actors backed up an action-filled, hilarity-packed movie with more dynamism than the likes of Chris Evans as Captain America or Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. The band of Avengers were obviously picked out individually for their own solo films, but the Marvel producers intended to eventually combine forces for an adaptation of the Avengers series—I say this because they do not gel with one another well whatsoever in those films. And I refer not to the characters but instead to the actors. I enjoy those movies (somewhat), but after each of them, I always feel like Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Hemsworth are, by themselves, carrying the story because the rest of them do not make me care about their respective roles. In Guardians, I bought into every single character and his or her individual plight, and the actors’ chemistry on screen is what made the movie dazzle.

Guardians5The much-in-demand Chris Pratt is a riot in his starring role, and his past work in exceptional comedies (TV and silver screen) prepared him well for this memorable performance. Zoe Saldana fits into this out-of-this-world world much smoother than Scarlett Johansson does in the Avengers series. She is more believable as a superhero, and her marvelous role as the sole female of the gang is deserved of much acclaim. Dave Bautista, as Drax, does not have to rely on CGI to appear massive on the screen (like Ruffalo as the Hulk)—he services his character well by being physically stacked (thanks to plenty of time in the weight-room, I presume), and this key feature makes the menacing character of Drax the Destroyer so larger-than-life. Vin Diesel did a noteworthy job with the motion-capture of the walking tree Groot, and this non-human character is one of the film’s most remarkable—I still walk around saying, “I am Groot.” Guardians6The best performance of all, though, is that given by three-time Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper. The CGI creation of Rocket is marvelous in its own right, but the voice-acting performance that Cooper delivers is incredible. Obviously he is a big star in other movies, and Cooper taps into his ever-growing acting chops as the loud-mouthed Rocket to portray the sarcastic, but vulnerable nature of the group’s shortest/smallest member. Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

Guardians of the Galaxy trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d96cjJhvlMA

Academy Award nominations for Guardians of the Galaxy:

Best Visual Effects (Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White)

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

  1. Birdman
  2. Fury
  3. Calvary
  4. Interstellar
  5. Gone Girl
  6. The Lego Movie

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 7 – American Hustle

American Hustle - BP

American Hustle is a film directed by David O. Russell, with a screenplay co-written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer.  The film tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a brilliant con man and his seductively intelligent mistress.  The two are forced to work for Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent, as the Feds attempt to bring down a group of corrupt politicians, including Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a local mayor from New Jersey.  The piece of the puzzle that threatens the entire operation, however, is Irving’s wildly unpredictable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

In American Hustle, David O. Russell has created another blockbuster hit, just one year after his critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook received eight Academy Award nominations.  As many of you that followed my blog last year know, Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite film from 2012, so naturally, I was expecting big things from American Hustle; needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed.  The screenplay was wonderfully written, and it had me laughing throughout the entire film.  David O. Russell’s trademark filmmaking style was ever-present in this movie, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writer/directors in the business.  If it were not for an amazingly strong year in film, American Hustle would probably be right at the top of my list.

American Hustle 1As expected from a David O. Russell film, the ensemble cast was as top-notch as you could have in a single movie, and these dazzling performances truly morphed an incredible story into an amazing film.  The casting assemblage was intriguing, as it reunited four actors and actresses that have previously worked with David O. Russell in recent history: Christian Bale and Amy Adams from The Fighter (2010) and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook (2012).  Last year, SLP became the first film since 1981’s Reds to receive Oscar nominations in each of the four acting categories; just one year later, Russell’s American Hustle attained the same distinguished recognition.

American Hustle 3Christian Bale gained 50 pounds for his role, and this stellar transformation further proves why Bale is one of the most talented artists in the business.  The performance was well worth the critical praise that has come Bale’s way, and it is arguably his best work ever.  Amy Adams, one of my top five favorite actresses in the film industry, turned in another striking performance as Sydney Prosser.  Switching between both an American and British accent throughout the film, the character is a mystifying woman, never fully committing to one way of life, and Adams’s instinctive acting abilities allow this character to shine bright on the silver screen.

In recent memory, Bradley Cooper seems to continue giving outstanding performances, but somehow, he always does so in a year that is packed with Oscar-worthy competition; therefore, he probably will not come close to winning for Best Supporting Actor, but that does not determinative of his performance because it was incredible.  American Hustle 2The best part of the film, just like in SLP, is the performance by Jennifer Lawrence.  It goes without saying, but J-Law is one of the most talented actresses in the business, and her performance in this film is thoroughly gripping and pleasantly hilarious—I anticipate that Lawrence will duke it out until the death (okay, maybe not that far) with Lupita Nyong’o for the Oscar, and it will surely be an epic battle of acting greatness.  American Hustle is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, and brief violence.

American Hustle trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

Academy Award nominations for American Hustle:

Best Picture (Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison, and Jonathan Gordon, Producers)

Best Actor (Christian Bale)

Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper)

Best Actress (Amy Adams)

Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

Best Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson)

Best Director (David O. Russell)

Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler)

Best Original Screenplay (Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell)

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

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

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 14 – The Place Beyond the Pines

TPBTP2

The Place Beyond the Pines is a film directed by Derek Cianfrance, with a screenplay written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder.  The film follows three separate but intertwined storylines that span a period of nearly twenty years.  The first third of the film is concerned with Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a popular motorcycle stuntman performing at local fairs, and his discovery of a son he fathered with ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes).  The second third of the film centers on local police hero Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a man riddled with guilt, thrown into the world of police corruption.  The final third of the film involves Avery’s son AJ (Emory Cohen) and his newfound friendship with a boy at his school named Jason (Dane DeHaan).  Cianfrance’s epic triptych explores themes of family, fate, and everything in between.

The Place Beyond the Pines came out in March 2013, and therefore, it was skipped over for a lot of critical acclaim because of the timing of its release; however, this factor has zero weight in my assessment of the year in film, and I truly enjoyed it enough to include it on my year-end list.  The movie sees the reuniting of Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling, as the two collaborated on Blue Valentine in 2010.  I never really bought into Cianfrance’s vision in Blue Valentine, but I was pleasantly surprised by his effort in 2013 with The Place Beyond the Pines.  Even though at times it seemed a bit long, I was mesmerized by the three-part storyline and the impeccable acting performances throughout.

Speaking of those acting performances, Ryan Gosling did a fantastic job in the first third of the film.  I am one of the few people I know that is fully on board with Gosling’s independent roles outside of mainstream Hollywood, and in this movie, he further illuminates why I appreciate his dramatic work.  Even though at times he is unbelievably docile, there are other moments in the film where he breaks out of that shell and evokes a surplus of real emotions.  This is highlighted in the scene where he fights Romina’s new boyfriend and in the bank-robbing scenes.  Those bank-robbing sequences were so incredibly well crafted by Cianfrance, and it works even more flawlessly because of Gosling.

TPBTP3For the rest of the film, Bradley Cooper leads the show with a performance that, in my opinion, rivals his Oscar-nominated roles in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013).  Even though his characters in those two recent films were polar opposite in nature, I felt I could still tell Bradley Cooper was playing the part in both of them; however, in this film, Cooper fully releases himself into the complexities of Avery Cross, and throughout the film, I completely forgot it was Bradley Cooper.  I credit this to his careful construction of his character on the screen, and his hard work pays off because his performance is the highlight of the film.

TPBTP 1Aside from these two heavyweights of cinema, the film features two startling supporting performances from Dane DeHaan as Jason and Emory Cohen as AJ Cross.  The two characters are introduced in the final third of the movie, and when they meet, the entire film comes full circle in the most incredible way.  The mysterious intertwining of Jason and AJ’s lives is elucidated as each character’s development builds off of the other’s, and this storyline proved to be a lot more riveting than it first seemed.  All in all, this film is well designed and well acted, and it is most definitely worth a viewing if you are in the mood for an alluring crime drama.  The Place Beyond the Pines is rated R for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference.

The Place Beyond the Pines trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G07pSbHLXgg

Academy Award nominations for The Place Beyond the Pines:

NONE

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

15. Dallas Buyers Club