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).

Fall Preview 2015: Honorable Mentions

HM Header 2015

“Pain is temporary, film is forever.” – John Milius, co-writer of Apocalypse Now. Welcome back, everyone. This year has already been an incredible journey playing out on the silver screen, and I am ecstatic to be back to blogging about the greatest medium in the world: FILM! As of today, we are 184 days away from the 88th Academy Awards. Per usual, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

With that, it is time to get the Fall Movie Season started. For the third consecutive year, I have compiled a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this week:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Saturday: No. 10 – No. 6

Monday: No. 5 – No. 1

Kicking off this year’s Fall Preview are the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 movies I am most looking forward to seeing (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies, set during the Cold War, tells the true story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers (Alan Alda), an imprisoned U-2 pilot, in exchange for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy. With Steven Spielberg directing and Tom Hanks playing the lead, my interest is obviously piqued. Bridge of Spies is the 29th feature film for Spiely as a director, and it is also he and Hanks’s fourth collaboration (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal). Bridge of Spies 2Although I truly have not enjoyed a Spielberg-directed film since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, I am holding out hope that the visionary behind the likes of Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park, can get back to making award-worthy films. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, supporting actress Amy Ryan gives me that hope: “Watching [Spielberg] create a shot, he looks like the young boy who discovered film for the first time.”

The trailer is incredibly tense, and it showcases Tom Hanks in what appears to be another memorable performance by the 2-time Oscar winner. Despite the fact that the film features supporting performances by seasoned veterans Rylance, Alda, and Ryan, film fans will likely flock to the theaters in droves simply because of Hanks. Bridge of Spies is set for a theatrical release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, War Horse)

Starring: Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips), Mark Rylance (The Gunman, Days and Nights), Amy Ryan (Birdman, Devil’s Knot), and Alan Alda (The Longest Ride, Tower Heist)

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

Carol

Carol, set in 1950s New York City, follows Therese (Rooney Mara), a twentysomething shop-girl who falls in love with the titular character Carol (Cate Blanchett), a much older, married woman. Carol debuted at Cannes this year, receiving critical acclaim from all in attendance. Ever since I first heard the buzz about the film, I was instantly drawn in. Cate Blanchett is squarely within my top five favorite actresses in the business, and Rooney Mara has continued to grow on me with her innate acting adroitness.

Carol 2What struck me most about this film was director Todd Haynes’s artistic and genuinely humanistic approach to taking on this taboo subject matter. He told Entertainment Weekly, “[o]f course, it’s a story about a lesbian relationship. But it’s really about how love itself makes you feel at a loss for language, and every gesture is weighted with anticipation and meaning.” Further, Blanchett told the publication that “[i]rrespective of sexual preference, [the film] is honest about the feeling of falling in love.” That is something everyone can get on board with, and I look forward to seeing this love story evolve on the screen.

Back to Blanchett and Mara: wow, what a duo! Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner, and Mara took home a co-Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal in this film. These two hard-hitting, deftly impressive actresses seem sure to give women a powerful presence this fall film season, and I am definitely up to see it all in action. Carol is set for a theatrical release on November 20, 2015.

Director: Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far from Heaven)

Starring: Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), Rooney Mara (Her, Side Effects), Sarah Paulson (The Runner, 12 Years a Slave), and Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Spectacular Now)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt-WC9xa7qs

Creed

Creed is a spin-off/continuation of the famed Rocky franchise, and it follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late, great Apollo Creed (portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky series). Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) appears in the film, and as the trailer depicts, he will come into the picture just in time to train Adonis. In, in, in—I am in! Of course I love the Rocky franchise (not including Rocky V—BLAH), but I was wary of another addition to the storied series following the not-so-revolutionary Rocky Balboa. However, when I found out Ryan Coogler was directing, I was immediately sold. Coogler, making only his second feature film as a director, debuted on the scene in 2013 with one of the best films of that year, Fruitvale Station. It was a harrowing depiction of a horrible shooting, and it was crafted carefully and executed without blemish—his directorship alone gets me pumped to be back in the “Rocky” ring again.

Creed 1Additionally, the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the lead role is the icing on top of the sundae. Jordan continues to grow as an actor, but it was his heartfelt, dramatic depiction of the lead character in Coogler’s Fruitvale Station that made me sit back and think, “Wow…this guy is good!” Even though they only have the single film collaboration, Coogler’s casting of Jordan in his sophomore effort leads me to believe that these guys get along great and make a fantastic team behind the scenes. For all fans of the Rocky series, this dynamic relationship between Coogler and Jordan is sure to make life enjoyable for us in this much-anticipated film. Creed is set for a theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)

Starring: Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 3, Grudge Match), Tessa Thompson (Selma, Dear White People), and Phylicia Rashād (Good Deeds, For Colored Girls)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv554B7YHk4

The Good Dinosaur

The story behind The Good Dinosaur is incredibly simple and yet so intriguing: what would have happened if the asteroid that (reportedly) killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? That question will be answered this fall in a story that follows Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an apatsosaurus, and his relationship with a feral child, Spot (Jack Bright). An animated movie? On my list of films I am most anticipating this fall? Seriously? Absolutely!

The Good Dinosaur 2Although I generally have enjoyed all of the Pixar movies that I have seen, I have never been too enthusiastic about animated films that have been made subsequent to my childhood. However, that all changed this year when I saw Pixar’s 15th feature, Inside Out. It is one of my favorite movies of 2015, and it brought out the kid in me again. With that said, ever since I saw the trailer for The Good Dinosaur, I was smitten with its story. It is a story about an innocent youth (stricken with tragedy—his father dies early on) and his relationship with a newfound companion. Usually the human is the one taking on a companion (usually in the form of another kid or a dog), but this simple twist in the classic storyline seems to be a good-natured treat for movies fans of all ages. I look for Pixar to knock it out of the (Jurassic) park again! The Good Dinosaur is set for a wide theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy)

Starring: Raymond Ochoa (Lovesick, Mars Needs Moms), Jack Bright (Monsters University), Frances McDormand (Promised Land, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Only Lovers Left Alive), Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams, Draft Day), Anna Paquin (True Blood, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club, Escape from Planet Earth)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-RgquKVTPE

The Walk

The Walk chronicles the true-life story of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist, who strung a tightrope across the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974 and spectacularly (and dangerously) performed a high-wire routine for 45 minutes, whilst a quarter-mile above the ground. If you know this story, then you know how incredibly amazing it truly is. If you are unfamiliar with it, then boy, are you in for a treat!

The Walk 2My main interest in this film has nearly nothing to do with either Jo-Go playing Petit or legendary director Robert Zemeckis at the helm; instead, I am dying to see this movie because of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, directed by The Theory of Everything-director James Marsh. That documentary is by far one of my favorites of all time, and before ever seeing The Walk, I suggest you go check out Man on Wire first—you will not regret it (and it is currently streaming on Netflix). It allows you to get inside the head of this polarizing high-wire artist, and it delves deep into his life-long desires to pull off the NYC stunt. On the strength of Petit’s story, as delineated in Man on Wire, I anticipate The Walk being a memorable experience in theaters.

Notwithstanding my Man on Wire fandom, I am still excited to see JGL take on the role of such a captivating figure, and I know that Zemeckis will bring the same dramatic vigor and breathtaking trepidation to the actual high-wire scene that he did in Flight’s opening plane-crash scene in 2012. The Walk is set for a theatrical release on September 30, 2015.

Director: Robert Zemeckis (Flight, The Christmas Carol)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Don Jon), Ben Kingsley (Self/less, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), and Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Yves Saint Laurent)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR1EmTKAWIw

Best Actress

Film-Toronto Preview

This year, the Best Actress category is absolutely packed with Oscar royalty.  These five women have combined for a previous 33 Academy Award nominations in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress categories.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress:

WINNER: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in northeastern Oklahoma.  I have long believed that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress in the history of cinema, and even though Cate Blanchett is receiving all of the hype this awards season, Meryl Streep turned in a performance for the ages.  Meryl StreepShe plays a very complex, narcotics-addicted, cancer-ridden woman on the brink of all-out emotional breakdown, and only Streep could dominate a role like this.  From the scenes in which she is filled with pill-induced rage to the scenes of bitter heartbreak as she loses her husband, Violet permeates the screen in a way that makes you feel so deeply empathetic, and this is all due to an utterly amazing performance by Hollywood’s leading lady.  Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record seventeen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

In Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the title role of Jasmine Francis, a former socialite that is now forced to live with her middle-class sister in San Francisco after her husband is indicted in a pyramid scheme.  Cate BlanchettAs I mentioned in an earlier post, Woody Allen is the king of obsession in cinema, and in Jasmine, he has created his most neurotic character to date.  Blanchett is an amazingly talented actress with a distinguished filmography, but I simply could not see her owning a role like this; therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she absolutely, unequivocally dominated this performance inside and out.  Blanchett has already swept this category at nearly every award show, including the BAFTAs and Golden Globes, and rightfully so—her performance was probably the best of her career, and she is more than deserving of this critical acclaim.  Cate Blanchett was previously nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator (2004).

3. Amy Adams (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Amy Adams plays the confounding Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensly, the mistress and business partner of con man Irving Rosenfeld.  I have been an avid fan of Adams’s work over the course of her quietly dignified career, and this performance is probably my second favorite, right behind her portrayal of Sister James in Doubt (2008).  Amy AdamsAdams’s character in this film is miserable, but beautiful; she’s uncanny, but vibrant.  Needless to say, this is one of Amy Adams’s most complex roles of her career, but she uses the intricacies of her polished artsmanship to create a memorable character that dazzles in the wild world of the 1970s.  Amy Adams has previously been nominated for four Oscars, most recently for Best Supporting Actress in The Master (2012).

4. Judi Dench (Philomena)

In Philomena, Dame Judi Dench plays the real-life title character, Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her long lost son who was taken from her fifty years ago.  Not too many actresses still working today can attest to a more illustrious filmography than Judi Dench, and just when you thought she could not turn up the volume for another Oscar-worthy performance, she does it.  Judi Dench in PhilomenaThe story surrounding this film is incredibly heart wrenching, but Dench took on the role with a remarkable amount of poise.  When she needs to be funny, she can be downright hilarious, and when she needs to show dramatic emotion, she collapses with tears—Dench is a master of her craft, and she expounds upon this skill in the most beautifully administered way in Philomena.  Dench has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).

5. Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

In Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist on her first mission in outer space. Sandra Bullock I apologize to anyone who enjoyed this film and/or Bullock’s performance, but it is about to get extremely brutal in this post.  Gravity was one of the most over-hyped films of the year, and sadly, Alfonso Cuarón will probably win tons and tons of Oscars for this movie.  Yes, it was incredibly beautiful, but there was absolutely no storyline of any substance.  Also, I am appalled that Bullock is nominated this year.  Yes, she has become a great actress over the past few years, but this nomination is an utter joke in my opinion.  She floats around in space for an hour and a half—how that is worthy of an Oscar nod is clearly beyond my own understanding.  For the first time in a long time, I am overtly disappointed in one of the Academy’s nominations.  Sandra Bullock was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Blind Side (2009).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)