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.

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Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 3 – The Big Short

The Big Short is a biographical comedy-drama directed by Adam McKay, with a screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph, which is adapted from Michael Lewis’s book of the same name. Set during the financial crisis in 2007–08, the film follows a group of brilliant men who discover that the global economy is on the brink of collapse. In order to push the market to its brink to bring attention to the downright fraudulent activity being conducted by Wall Street’s biggest banks, these men decide to do what no one else would ever dream of: bet against the housing market.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that a movie about the housing-market collapse would be so amazing, but The Big Short is just that. Many films have been made about the infamous financial crisis of 2007–08, including one of the best films from 2011, J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call. The problem with most of those movies, including Margin Call, is that most of the time, you really have zero clue what is going on. Why? Because financial jargon is ridiculously confusing and nonsensical at times. TBS5This is where The Big Short blows every film about the most recent financial crisis out of the water. Don’t get me wrong—The Big Short definitely still features some convoluted financial lingo, but it is writer/director Adam McKay’s method for making this complex subject understandable to the average layperson that makes the film so brilliant. He dumbs the subject matter down but never in a condescending manner—it is instead enjoyable and exciting. McKay perfectly utilizes the film technique known as “breaking the fourth wall.” In order to make this intricately dense subject comprehensible, his characters speak directly to the audience. Early on, Ryan Gosling’s character breaks the fourth wall to tell us, “I’m guessing most of you still don’t know what really happened? Yeah, you’ve got a sound bite you repeat so you don’t sound dumb but c’mon.” It’s true—most people watching don’t know what all really happened. Throughout the film, McKay uses famous celebrities in cameo roles to break the fourth wall and explain preposterously baffling financial terms to us. TBS4Margot Robbie is featured in a bubble bath sipping champagne as she breaks down “sub-prime loans,” and Selena Gomez is later shown at a poker table in Las Vegas to explain what a “synthetic collateralized debt obligation” is. These brief vignettes work—they dumb down the terminology for us so that throughout the rest of the film, we can completely understand what is going on when those financial words are referred to. McKay and co-writer Charles Randolph’s strategy is incredible, and it makes this movie so much fun to watch.

TBS6Although this film is hilarious throughout, the third act puts everything into perspective: This story is, first and foremost, a heartbreaking tragedy. Adam McKay is the comedic genius behind iconic comedies like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, so he obviously has a knack for humor. In The Big Short, he brings those deft comedic chops to the table dexterously. But I was most incredibly impressed with how he, as a proven comedic filmmaker, handled the brutally dramatic reality of the financial collapse. The movie made me laugh, but it also made me angry. I found myself bouncing between happiness and sadness throughout. During the film, you see the deceptive behavior conducted on Wall Street, and you want to see those guys suffer. When McKay’s characters come into the fold with the genius “big short” idea, you root for these guys. You want to see them succeed in their risky investments. TBS7But one scene towards the end with Brad Pitt summed up the true message of the film flawlessly. While Pitt’s character’s associates are celebrating the fact that their bet appears to be paying off (while the audience was internally cheering, too), Pitt reminds them what their success really means: “If we’re right, people lose homes. People lose jobs. People lose retirement savings. People lose pensions.” At one of the film’s highest points, this quote brings it all crashing down to the floor—this crisis ruined people’s lives. As mentioned above, this truly brings everything into perspective.

TBS3Another amazing aspect of The Big Short is the acting. Wow, McKay assembled an incredible cast. Christian Bale has garnered the most attention, as he has received a wealth of nominations at major award shows this season, including an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He plays the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, an antisocial hedge fund manager who initially conceives the idea of “the big short.” Bale is obviously one of the best actors in the game, and I admit, he was spot-on in his portrayal; however, I thought he gave the third-best performance of the film. The top two acting performances in my mind were Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. TBS2Carell plays Mark Baum, a character based on the real-life Steve Eisman. The character is bitterly angry all of the time at the big banks, and he receives his calling in life to participate in “the big short” because he can once and for all stick it to the guys he sees as society’s real criminals. Carell was fantastic last year in his Oscar-nominated role in Foxcatcher, but for me, this was his greatest acting achievement. TBS1My favorite performance, though, was Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett, a character based on the real-life Greg Lippmann. Vennett is a talented bond salesman for Deutsche Bank who, like Dr. Burry, makes the decision to short collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). His character is a cynical greaseball, but all the while charming. Gosling brings his heartthrob persona to this character brilliantly, and he definitely gives a performance that should have resulted in an Oscar nomination. The Big Short is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.

The Big Short trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgqG3ITMv1Q

Academy Award nominations for The Big Short:

Best Picture (Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt)

Best Director (Adam McKay)

Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Adam McKay and Charles Randolph)

Best Film Editing (Hank Corwin)

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

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

Best Supporting Actor (2015)

 

The media predicts, “Sly, Sly…and, oh yeah, Sly” to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. According to the major awards ceremonies that have taken place so far, that prediction is spot on. I, on the other hand, take a different view on this category. Even though Sylvester Stallone will most definitely take home Oscar gold later this month, my vote goes to someone else. With stellar performances in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend, and The Revenant, this other actor gets my vote! The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

After doing some research, it appears that no one—seriously, no one—pegs Tom Hardy to finish anywhere but last place in the Oscar voting for Best Supporting Actor. They are probably absolutely correct. As I read this week, this could be due to Hardy’s standoff-ish nature when it comes to awards, the media, or anything else outside his own private, personal life; in fact, he has actively avoided any sort of Oscar “campaign” like most nominees take part in. To that, I say: So what? If this award is truly about the best acting performance, then Hardy deserves to win—which is why he has my vote. Hardy 2In The Revenant, Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, the film’s antagonist who leaves his men to stay behind with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) after the latter’s bear attack. Fitzgerald eventually deceives his men by killing Glass’s son and leaving Hugh Glass for dead. DiCaprio is most likely going to win the Oscar for Best Actor (rightfully so), but his performance throughout is mostly silent. Hardy is the film’s voice, albeit an evil one. Hardy is traditionally thought of as the “pretty boy.” But in The Revenant, much like in Bronson (Hardy’s greatest role to date), Hardy revels in his malevolent, bad-boy role. Hardy 3He lies, he misleads, and he kills unemotionally; this takes a complete transformation for an actor to sell this kind of character, if it is to work on a grand scale. Obviously Hardy succeeded in that challenge: The Revenant is up for 12 (the most nominations for any film this year) Oscars and is considered the frontrunner for Best Picture. Does a lot of that have to do with DiCaprio and director Alejandro Iñárritu? Absolutely! But is Tom Hardy’s performance the key to its ultimate success? I argue that it is. Hardy outperformed DiCaprio in my mind, and although he will not win the award, I truly believe he is the most worthy. Hardy has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Creed05073.dngIf I were to rank the greatest sports movies in the history of film, I would be hard-pressed to track down anything more gritty, raw, inspiring, or altogether masterful than Rocky. I am a die-hard fan of the franchise (except for Rocky V—let’s pretend that never happened), and I was on Cloud Nine the moment I heard Sylvester Stallone would be reprising his role in the seventh installment in the franchise, Creed. In the film, Rocky Balboa trains the son of his longtime rival and friend, the deceased Apollo Creed. The Balboa in Creed is as we have never seen him before: aging, wounded, lonely, and, most of all, vulnerable. Stallone is a household name because of his beloved Balboa character, and to see him reprise this role nearly 40 years after the original film (and almost ten years since Rocky Balboa) would have been enough for me and many fans of the franchise. Stallone 2However, Stallone shocked us all by delivering one of his greatest performances of his long and storied career, rivaling only—you guessed it—his Oscar-nominated performance in the original Rocky. The 69-year-old looked like an actor in his prime, providing us with a memorable performance that will live on in film history. Anywhere you look, Stallone is the favorite to win this Academy Award, and rightfully so—he has already taken home hardware from the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. I also believe he will win the Oscar, but for me, Tom Hardy simply delivered the year’s best, which is why Sly does not get my vote. Stallone was previously nominated for both Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for his work on Rocky (1976).

  1. Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

Ruffalo 1In Spotlight, Mark Ruffalo portrays the real-life Michael Rezendes, one of the investigative journalists on The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which worked to uncover a vile child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. A couple of days ago, I wrote about how Rachel McAdams delivered one of the more surprisingly effective performances in one of the year’s best films. But Spotlight succeeds at its core because of Ruffalo’s remarkably emotional and heart-wrenching performance. Throughout the film, Ruffalo is unrelenting in his journey to uncover one of Boston’s most horrifying scandals. His efforts are unyielding and his devotion is indomitable, and Ruffalo owns his scenes with determined gravitas. RezendesAt first I thought the only annoying part of Ruffalo’s portrayal was the odd mannerisms, but a quote from Entertainment Weekly put me in my place: “And for those who know the real-life Rezendes, the resounding consensus is that Ruffalo nailed both the man’s physical nuances and his character traits without turning the performance into a caricature.” Bravo, Mark Ruffalo; your third Best Supporting Actor nomination in six years is, per usual, well deserved! Ruffalo has been previously nominated two times in the Best Supporting Actor category, for The Kids Are All Right (2010) and Foxcatcher (2014).

  1. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

ST. JAMES PLACE

In Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance portrays the real-life Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who is captured by the CIA and ultimately sent back to the Soviet Union in exchange for American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bridge of Spies was a tremendous film, and Rylance is one of the key figures behind its success. For those of you feeling unfamiliar with Rylance’s previous work, do not fret—most of us are! Rudolf AbelRylance has not acted in many popular feature films, as his true love is the theater; in fact, he is critically acclaimed in that arena, winning two Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Play. I sure hope to see him appear in more films in the future because his acting performance in Spielberg’s latest feature was top-notch. He portrayed Abel as quiet and unassuming, but all the while wise and unwearied—his subtleties shone brightly! Rylance has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Bale 1In Adam McKay’s The Big Short, Christian Bale plays the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, an incredibly eccentric hedge-fund manager who predicted the housing market collapse of 2007-08, making millions of dollars in the process. Simply put: Christian Bale is one of the best and most talented actors in Hollywood. But despite his impeccable performance in The Big Short, I was quite surprised to see him receive an Oscar nod. Michael BurryI am not knocking his performance because, per usual, Bale nails it—Burry is a reclusive, socially awkward savant, and Bale crushed the portrayal. However, I cannot get on board with his nomination because in my opinion, Bale gave the third-best performance in the film; Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling absolutely stole the show. Bale was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in American Hustle (2013), and he won his lone Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for 2010’s The Fighter.

Actors snubbed in this category: Benicio del Toro (Sicario), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Steve Carell (The Big Short), Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), and Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey 2

This year, the Best Actress category features a group of fantastic performers with a combined 33 previous Oscar nominations.  On the contrary, this group of Best Actor nominees features five well-known actors that have not been so abundantly recognized by the Academy.  Between the five, there is only one Oscar win on a combined five nominations.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor:

WINNER: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey plays the real-life Ron Woodruff, an overtly homophobic man from Texas that begins smuggling life-saving drugs into the United States after he is shockingly diagnosed with AIDS.  Matthew McConaugheyAs many of you already know, McConaughey is receiving a wide range of attention for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, partly because of the physical transformation that took place—the 44-year-old actor dropped a staggering 47 pounds.  Even though this weight loss makes McConaughey closely resemble an AIDS patient from the late 1980s, it is his impeccable acting in this film that warrants his place at the top of my list.  Given his Texas roots, he always plays the Texan role with ease, but in this film, he takes on a part that is not your typical Southern gentleman.  The performance he gives is bold, empowering, and utterly heart-wrenching, and in a year where he had critically-recognized performances in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, he stands alone at the top of the acting world thanks to an amazing portrayal of a man on the brink of death.  Matthew McConaughey has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Chiwetel EjioforIn 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real-life Solomon Northup, a renowned Northern-born violinist that is abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era.  The story of Solomon Northup is incredibly heartbreaking, but Ejiofor gives the tragic story the justice it most definitely deserves.  With every passing moment throughout the film, the tale seems to get worse and worse for the distinguished Solomon Northup, and in every single scene, Ejiofor gives his heart and soul to the character, evoking a wealth of emotions in the minds of each viewer.  If it were not for a career-defining performance from McConaughey, Ejiofor would be far and away above the rest of the acting performances this year, and 12 Years A Slave is forever indebted to this awe-inspiring portrayal by Ejiofor of the resilient Solomon Northup.  Chiwetel Ejiofor has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonard DiCaprio portrays the real-life Jordan Belfort, a greedy stockbroker who took Wall Street by storm in the late 1980s through sex, drugs, and securities fraud.  Film Fall PreviewThis film was definitely one of the most wild and crazy movie experiences of 2013, and the way in which DiCaprio engrossed himself so deeply into this despicable role is absolutely incredible.  A year after staring in Django Unchained, Leo has again taken on a character with a serious lacking for any moral integrity, and once again, the results were certainly extraordinary.  Even though I think this is one of his most thorough and well-crafted acting performances of his dignified career, I do not believe it is enough to outshine both McConaughey and Ejiofor.  DiCaprio has previously been nominated for three acting Oscars, the most recent nomination being for Best Actor for his role in Blood Diamond (2007).

4. Christian Bale (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, an intelligent con artist who is forced into working alongside the FBI to take down a group of corrupt politicians.  Christian Bale has a long history of outstanding performances, and this role can be added to his long list of acclaimed portrayals.  Christian BaleIt would be easy to talk about the incredible acting abilities Bale elicits on the screen in American Hustle, but one thing not receiving as much attention is his very own physical transformation for the part.  Similar to McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Bale has lost a significant amount of weight for a role twice in the past: he lost over 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist (2004) and lost a substantial amount of weight for The Fighter (2010).  However, in American Hustle, Bale went backwards, gaining 50 pounds for his role as Irving.  This transformation was unbelievable, leaving Bale nearly unrecognizable for the duration of the film.  Christian Bale was previously nominated and won Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Fighter (2010).

5. Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old man who, after receiving a certificate in the mail saying he has won $1 million, embarks on a trip with his son from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize.  NEBRASKABruce Dern’s portrayal of Woody is one of the highlights from Alexander Payne’s most recent film, and I could not imagine any other old actor playing this role.  Dern utilizes his sprawling acting talents, made up from over fifty years of film experience, to take this character on in a manner that is more than award-worthy.  Woody is a simple man, and Dern plays those characteristics to a tee, adding in some hilarious, witty dialogue along the way.  In most years, a performance like this would garner a much higher ranking on my list, but this year, Dern is at a disadvantage because of four other unimpeachable performances.  Bruce Dern was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Coming Home (1978).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt), and Joaquin Phoenix (Her)

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

Fall Preview 2013: No. 5 – No. 1

1-5 Fall Preview

Hello there, film fans!  Well, the conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2013” is finally here.  I have compiled a list of the Top 10 fall movie releases that I am most anticipating, and over the past couple of posts, I have shared with you my five honorable mention films, as well as No. 10 – No. 6 on my list.  Even though I have hinted at Oscar buzz for the films outlined in those past two posts, these final five movies are almost assured some Oscar nominations, and they are most definitely the films I am most excited about seeing this fall.  So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2013 list.

No. 5 – The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men is a true story about an Allied group during World War II called the “Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program.”  According to director George Clooney, the-monuments-menthe film concerns itself with “[…] the greatest art heist in the history of the world.”  The real-life group worked during WWII to protect cultural property, such as art and monuments, from war damage.  Something about this story line, coupled with the on-screen rapport Clooney and Matt Damon have developed since their days on the Oceans franchise, sparked my interest in this project.  Two of my favorite movies in recent memory are The Ides of March and The Descendants, and the common denominator between these two films is Clooney.  I expect great things from the established writer/director/actor, and with a strong supporting cast, including Damon, Bill Murray, and John Goodman, this film is sure to shine.  The Monuments Men is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March)

Starring: George Clooney (The Descendants, Gravity), Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo, Elysium), Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom, Hyde Park on Hudson), John Goodman (Argo, Flight)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CreneTs7sGs

No. 4 – American Hustle

American Hustle, according to Entertainment Weekly, tells the fictionalized story about a “[…] real-life 1970s federal investigation into political corruption known as Abscam.”  Not too many more details about specifics within the film have been released to the public yet, but the trailer (listed below) is more than enthralling and is sure to capture your immediate curiosity.  Two of the more critically acclaimed and successful films of the past few years, american-hustle-movie-castspecifically at the Oscars, were 2010’s The Fighter and 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook.  David O. Russell was at the helm for each of these films, and in American Hustle, he brings back some of the more celebrated performers from his past work.  The movie’s leads are Christian Bale and Amy Adams (co-stars on The Fighter), as well as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (co-stars on Silver Linings Playbook), and I cannot wait to see this group of stars together on the silver screen for the first time.  The film has another intriguing casting choice: Jeremy Renner.  Renner has achieved superstar status ever since his Academy Award-nominated performance in 2010’s The Town, and his place on this ensemble cast will most definitely strengthen the film’s core.  American Hustle is set for a wide theatrical release on December 25, 2013.

Director: David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, Out of the Furnace), Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Her), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Place Beyond the Pines), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST7a1aK_lG0

No. 3 – Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks is a film about the life of Australian-born author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), specifically her meetings with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he relentlessly pursued to obtain the rights to Travers’ critically acclaimed story Mary Poppins in hopes of adapting it onto the silver screen.  Ironically enough, Walt Disney Pictures is actuallysaving-mr-banks-trailer1 producing this film, just as it produced the original film adaptation of Mary Poppins.  Even though the Mary Poppins film we all know and love is a remarkable piece of cinematic history, earning five Oscars from thirteen nominations, the behind-the-scenes story of the battle to produce the film is almost as riveting.  In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Emma Thompson speaks about the hostile nature of the original negotiations between Disney and Travers, saying, “What’s so wonderful are the frustrated reactions of the guys who are writing and creating this film to the negativity and sheer beastliness of this fantastically recalcitrant woman, who wouldn’t be having any of it.”  Even though two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is associated with the film, it is Thompson who is racking up the entire pre-release Oscar buzz for her performance.  The film will surely be heartwarming and emotional, and for Mary Poppins fans everywhere, it will be quite the spectacle to see this story play out on the screen.  Saving Mr. Banks is set for a theatrical release on December 13, 2013.

Director: John Lee Hancock (The Alamo, The Blind Side)

Starring: Emma Thompson (Brave, Beautiful Creatures), Tom Hanks (Cloud Atlas, Captain Phillips)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16MdSZH6I4o

No. 2 – The Counselor

The Counselor, according to Entertainment Weekly, is a film about a lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who is drawn into a drug-running operation by some more than ignominiouscounselor characters.  This prospective film lured me into its web on multiple fronts.  For starters, it has an amazing ensemble cast.  Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz join Fassbender, and there is no doubt regarding the abilities of this elite group of performers.  Second, Ridley Scott is sitting in the director’s chair.  Scott is easily one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, and he has directed some of my favorite films (e.g. Gladiator, American Gangster, and Prometheus); thus, I bestow a high level of deference onto his work.  The last and most significant reason I am eagerly anticipating this film’s release, though, is its screenwriter: Cormac McCarthy.  McCarthy is a highly praised author, penning significantly classic novels, such as The Road and No Country for Old Men.  This dark, sinister literary work of McCarthy has lent itself to Oscar-winning film adaptations in the past, and I am more than excited to see his first produced screenplay on the big screen next month.  The Counselor is set for a theatrical release on October 25, 2013.

Director: Ridley Scott (Robin Hood, Prometheus)

Starring: Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave), Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly, 12 Years a Slave), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, To the Wonder), Penelope Cruz (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, To Rome with Love)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4rTztvVx8E

No. 1 – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film surrounding the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Wall Street stockbroker in the early 1990s who made millions of dollars via securities fraud and money laundering.  My intrigue with this film is by way of multiple ht_leonardo_dicaprio_wolf_of_wall_street_ll_130617_wblogfactors: DiCaprio, Martin Scorcese, and that incredible trailer.  If I had to come up with a list of my favorite actors of all time, Leo would most definitely be right near the top, if not the very pinnacle of the list.  I truly feel an injustice was evident during the most recent Oscars season when the Academy did not even nominate DiCaprio for his supporting role in Django Unchained, but I am hoping this performance will bring him back into the Oscars fold.  I am also excited about DiCaprio joining forces again with Scorsese for their fifth collaboration.  Scorsese’s films, dating back to 1974, have accounted for 75 Academy Award nominations and 20 wins, and I expect his involvement to result in yet another wave of widespread critical acclaim.  Aside from DiCaprio and Scorsese, my enthusiasm for this film’s release is a direct product of watching the trailer that was released in mid-June.  This is by far my favorite trailer to date, and if you have not seen it before, I encourage you to use the link below to check it out.  With Kanye West’s up-beat “Black Skinhead” playing throughout, captivating images pervade the trailer, including footage of sports cars, yachts, money, cocaine, women, DiCaprio pop and locking, Matthew McConaughey beating his chest while humming, and even a midget being thrown towards a bullseye.  “Epic” is one of the only words I can find to describe the trailer, and it may be the single-most significant reason I am so passionate about the film’s release.  The Wolf of Wall Street is set for a theatrical release on November 15, 2013.

Director: Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, Hugo)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby), Jonah Hill (The Watch, This Is The End), Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Magic Mike)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

Fall Preview 2013: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Fall Preview

Hey movie fans!  I hope everyone enjoyed the introductory post to my Fall Preview 2013 a couple days ago, which included five honorable mention films set to debut in theaters in the next few months.  Today’s post reveals films No. 10 through No. 6 on my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some surefire, award-quality works of cinema, 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.

No. 10 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a film about two girls that go missing and follows a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a desperate father (Hugh Jackman) as they work to track both girls down.  Even Prisonersthough the trailer presents the film as a thriller following two families trying to track down their daughters, Gyllenhaal says it is much more than meets the eye: “What’s different about this story is the idea that revenge just begets more revenge and you become a prisoner of that need to seek revenge.”  The trailer initially caught my eye with its dark, menacing demeanor, and not only was I captivated with the idea in general, I was even more fascinated with Paul Dano’s role.  He has long been a fantastic character actor, and I expect nothing but a superb supporting performance in this film from the twenty-nine-year-old star.  Prisoners is set for a theatrical release on September 20, 2013.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Wolverine), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brothers, End of Watch), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk

No. 9 – Rush

Rush tells the true story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda (Daniel Brühl) was involved in a disastrous crash that nearly took his life.  The film follows his comeback and relationship with Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).  I am always a sucker for a quality sports-themed movie, and I have been aware of Rush Rushfor quite some time.  Not only is the story emotional and uplifting, but the film also features two exceptional actors playing these infamous lead roles.  Over the past couple of years, I have become a huge fan of Hemsworth’s acting abilities, highlighted in Thor, The Avengers, and The Cabin in the Woods.  I also expect big things in this film from Daniel Brühl, whose breakout performance was in my favorite film of all time, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.  Lastly, the film features a supporting performance by one of my favorite actresses in cinema, Alexandra Maria Lara.  Needless to say, this movie has everything going for it, and I anticipate moviegoers everywhere to “rush” to the theater to see it (pun clearly intended).  Rush is set for a theatrical release on September 13, 2013.

Director: Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Cabin in the Woods), Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Drinking Buddies), Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, L’affaire Farewell)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

No. 8 – Her

Her is a film about an introverted writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is dealing with the end of a long relationship.  He decides to buy a new computer operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and through their conversations, Theodore begins to fall in love with “Samantha.”  The first time I saw this trailer, I thought, “wow, what an oddher phoenix premise.”  But the more I watched it, the more engrossed I became with the subject matter.  Half of my intrigue dealt directly with this unique plot, but the other half came from the people involved with the film.  No matter how odd he may be as a human being, Joaquin Phoenix is still one of the single most talented actors working in Hollywood, and his involvement with the film foreshadows an excess of award praise for the movie.  I am also looking to this movie to put Spike Jonze, the director, back on the cinematic map.  He has had success directing on the silver screen in the past, with movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but his 2009 live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was clearly less than spectacular in my book.  I am hoping Her revitalizes my enjoyment of Jonze’s films.  Her is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master), Amy Adams (The Master, American Hustle), Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, Don Jon)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJTU48_yghs

No. 7 – Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a film that follows an ex-convict (Christian Bale) as he seeks revenge on a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) that he suspects has something to do with the disappearance of his missing brother (Casey Affleck).  Obviously, with a couple of the out of the furnaceheavy hitters of Hollywood in this film, specifically the always-remarkable Christian Bale, it will definitely be one to look out for come Oscar season; however, I am most eager for the film because of the director, Scott Cooper.  Cooper has only directed a single feature film before Out of the Furnace: the 2009 drama Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges the Academy Award for Best Actor.  I immediately fell in love with Crazy Heart after seeing it for the first time, and I have been eagerly awaiting Cooper’s next film for four years.  Luckily, he has come back strong with a motion picture that is already receiving a fair amount of Oscar buzz, and I cannot wait to see how his second go-round pans out.  Out of the Furnace is set for a wide theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, American Hustle), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Now You See Me)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClzRVlMhU2E

No. 6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about an anti-social musician (Oscar Isaac) and the struggles he faces as he tries to salvage any success in his personal and professional lives.  The24-inside-llewyn-davis newest Coen Brothers film does not quite look like any other that they have created before, but my devotion to their work is unrelenting, and I believe this film will captivate not only myself, but also all movie fans alike.  For Mumford & Sons fans, this movie will be right up your alley—Marcus Mumford and Academy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett produced the folk-style music incorporated throughout the film.  Some gifted young performers appear in the film in addition to Isaac, including Mr. “Suit and Tie” himself, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan, one of the most popular and talented young actresses in the business today (not to mention she’s Marcus Mumford’s wife).  The film debuted at Cannes earlier this year, winning the second-most prestigious award available, the Grand Prix, and it was met with rave reviews—based on 23 critics reviews, the film has already garnered a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  With this film, expect the same amazing product the Coen Brothers have been handing out for many years, including just the precise balance of emotion and their classic satirical humor.  Inside Llewyn Davis is set for a theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit)

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Drive, The Bourne Legacy), Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo, Flight), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Country Strong), Justin Timberlake (Trouble with the Curve, Runner, Runner)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl8DidbbTQM