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 Actress (2015)

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

WINNER: Brie Larson (Room)

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

  1. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

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

  1. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

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

  1. Cate Blanchett (Carol)

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

  1. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

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

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

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 12 – Room

Room is a drama directed by Lenny Abrahamson, with a screenplay by Emma Donoghue, which she adapted from her own New York Times best-selling novel of the same name. The story follows Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his “Ma” (Brie Larson) as they endure an incredibly atypical set of circumstances—Jack and “Ma” are confined to a shoebox of a room, measuring 10 feet by 10 feet. Although Jack has come to love “room,” the only world he truly think exists, his curiosity grows about what is outside of the four walls he has come to know for his entire life.

Processed with Rookie Cam

Director Lenny Abrahamson has crafted one of the finest films of 2015 in Room. Before I delve into my review, I must admit, I wish I could have put this movie closer to the top of my list. Despite its riveting story, incredible acting, and beautiful cinematography, the last third just simply got a tad too boring for me; that is the film’s only fault in my opinion. Room is not the first film I have seen from Abrahamson; in 2014, he released Frank, a movie about an eccentric musician (Michael Fassbender) who goes through life wearing a papier-mâché head. Although Frank received rave reviews from critics, I simply did not connect well with it. I did enjoy some of Frank’s music, but other than that, I found the story a bit too dry and plodding. In Room, however, Abrahamson has given me reason to believe the hype surrounding his filmmaking: he truly is a force to be reckoned with. Emma Donoghue has penned an exquisite script, and Abrahamson’s direction thrives upon it. Even though half of the film takes place inside a 10-x-10 space, Abrahamson creates a vast universe, making it feel more like a penthouse than a prison cell. Donoghue delivers an inimitable setting and Abrahamson capitalizes on that in a superb manner that breathes air into the characters’ story.

Room2Abrahamson’s greatest feat, though, is his ability to command two of the greatest acting performances from the entire year. Brie Larson as “Ma” is by far the best performance from any actress in all of 2015. Larson portrays “Ma” just as Donoghue always intended: she is an incredibly nurturing mother to Jack, and her devotion to protecting him from the horrors of the “real world” is both venerable and heartbreaking. Not knowing when or if she and Jack will ever escape the dreadfulness of “room,” “Ma” creates an entirely fictional understanding of the world in order to shelter her son from their circumstances. Room1However, in every passing moment of Jack’s ever-so-curious life, we see cracks in her armor. He is curious; he wants to know more and begins questioning the entire concept of life inside and outside of “room.” In these heartrending and frustrating times for “Ma,” Larson shines; as adults, we feel her pain and want to cry with her, if not for her. Larson is unrelenting in her portrayal of “Ma,” and her beautifully crafted performance will most surely earn her an Oscar.

Room6Jacob Tremblay delivers a performance as Jack that is absolutely unbelievable considering his young age. His nuanced adeptness is evocative of other critically acclaimed performances from young actors in recent memory, such as Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (2010) and Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Although those two actresses were nominated for Oscars, somehow Tremblay was not. Room7I believe Tremblay delivered the best performance by a child actor since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (1999) or Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), who were, just like Steinfeld and Wallis, nominated for Academy Awards. With all the talk of Oscar diversity (or lack thereof) and snubs, I truly believe Tremblay is the one with the most worthwhile beef—his performance was one for the ages. His depiction of Jack’s frustration, curiosity, and love for his “Ma” was perfect—absolutely perfect. Although the Academy snubbed him, Tremblay did end up taking home the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Young Performer, in addition to being nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Screen Actors Guild. Room is rated R for language.

Room trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_Ci-pAL4eE

Academy Award nominations for Room:

Best Picture (Ed Guiney, producer)

Best Actress (Brie Larson)

Best Director (Lenny Abrahamson)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Emma Donoghue)

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

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  2. Beasts of No Nation
  3. The Martian

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 2 – Short Term 12

Brie Larson

Short Term 12 is a film written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.  The film tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at a short-term foster facility for at-risk teenagers called Short Term 12.  On a daily basis, Grace fraternizes with her fellow counselors, breaks up fights between kids in her charge, helps talk kids through their many problems, but most of all, positively impacts each and every foster kid’s life in such a spectacular way.

Destin Daniel CrettonA creator of mostly short films, Destin Daniel Cretton has completely broken out and created one of the most touching stories you will ever come across in modern cinema.  This film was based off of a short film he completed for his senior project while in film school, and it is his passion for this narrative that exemplifies itself on the screen so superbly.  Each character in the film has a very different story to tell, but in so many ways, they are all the same—Cretton’s marvelous script gives each of these characters a voice, and they are all written with veteran elegance.

The best part of this well-crafted independent film is Brie Larson’s breakout performance as Grace.  She has become somewhat better known thanks to supporting roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), 21 Jump Street (2012), and The Spectacular Now (2013), but Larson fully releases herself into this lead role, and the results are absolutely, unequivocally astonishing.  Brie Larson 2Larson’s performance is so incredibly transparent, and even though I was aware of her, I completely lost sight of the fact that it was actually Larson on the screen—her immersion into the character is that good.  The character is much more complex than initially meets the eye, and the emotionally wrenching circumstances of Grace’s life are epitomized by Larson’s award-worthy character construction.  It is sheer acting talent on display in Short Term 12, and it makes me very excited about what Larson will continue bringing to the table in films to come.

Kaitlyn DeverAside from Larson’s breakout role, the film features two utterly amazing supporting performances from Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden and Keith Stanfield as Marcus, two teens housed at Short Term 12.  Dever has previously played supporting parts in Bad Teacher (2011) and The Spectacular Now (2013), but her portrayal of the complicated Jayden in Short Term 12 is mind-boggling, considering she is just 17-years-old.  Even though her exterior is that of a punk, dismissive girl, the film reveals how her inner anger and heart breaking past threaten Jayden’s survival; Dever plays this convoluted character to a tee.

Keith StanfieldKeith Stanfield also gives a menacing performance as the about-to-graduate Marcus, a 17-year-old with the epitome of a troubled past.  Stanfield does an excellent job of delineating his character’s emotional roller-coaster ride at Short Term 12, and this gripping portrayal made Marcus one of the most intriguing characters from the film.  My favorite scene from the entire movie was when Marcus performs a rap song he wrote about his mother.  The song is crude, profane, and angry, but with every despicable insult about his mother, you begin to empathize with Marcus for the harsh life his mother forced him to live—it is a breathtaking moment, and it is just one example of the subtle way Short Term 12 takes you into the delicate minds of its characters.  Short Term 12 is rated R for language and brief sexuality.

Short Term 12 trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8QxAYxNRgs

Academy Award nominations for Short Term 12:

NONE

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

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