The 4th Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” – #WeAllDreamInGold

chris-rock-oscar-art

Welcome back to the Reel Countdown, movie fans! The stage is now set for my 4th annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog, and I could not be more excited to share with each of you my take on the year in film from 2015. Now that the nominations have officially been announced by the Academy for the 88th Oscars (the full list of nominations is located at the bottom of this post), there are some major storylines. Will Leo finally receive his first Oscar? Can director Alejandro G. Iñárritu repeat for Best Director and/or Best Picture?

I will spend a bit of time seeing any last-minute movies that I need to before releasing any posts. Throughout the next six weeks, I will reveal a variety of such posts that will include both my “Top 15 Films of the Year” list and my own personal Oscars ballot for this year’s major categories. Last year I saw enough films to cast a ballot in 14 of 24 categories, but this year I hope to fill up the sheet on even more! Additionally, I will again be posting a review about the actual ceremony the day after the show.

2005 OscarsThis year, Chris Rock will be hosting the Oscars ceremony. The 50-year-old comedian/actor previously hosted the 77th Academy Awards in 2005. Chris Rock has long been one of the funniest people in Hollywood, and after a rather mediocre performance from last year’s host Neil Patrick Harris, I believe Rock will bring the boom back to the show! Much like during Ellen’s gold-standard hosting performance in 2014, I expect to be laughing throughout the broadcast.

This year, the Oscars will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on February 28th, 2016—that is just 45 days away!

To all of my returning readers, welcome back! To all of my new readers, thank you for joining me during my favorite time of the year! I truly appreciate each and every one of you that takes the time to make my blog part of your day during this awards season. Without further adieu, IT’S OSCAR TIME! #WeAllDreamInGold

88th Academy Awards Nominations

Best Picture

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Matt Damon (The Martian)

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett (Carol)

Brie Larson (Room)

Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)

Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

Rooney Mara (Carol)

Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)

Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Best Director

Adam McKay (The Big Short)

George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)

Lenny Abrahamson (Room)

Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

Best Documentary Feature

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)

Mustang (France)

Son of Saul (Hungary)

Theeb (Jordan)

A War (Denmark)

Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Original Song

“Earned It” (Fifty Shades of Grey)

“Manta Ray” (Racing Extinction)

“Simple Song #3” (Youth)

“Til It Happens to You” (The Hunting Ground)

“Writing’s On the Wall” (Spectre)

Best Cinematography

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

Best Film Editing

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

Best Costume Design

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Best Animated Short

Bear Story

Prologue

Sanjay’s Super Team

We Can’t Live without Cosmos

World of Tomorrow

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Documentary Short

Body Team 12

Chau, beyond the Lines

Claude Lanzmann: Specters of the Shoah

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Last Day of Freedom

Best Live Action Short

Ave Maria

Day One

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

Shok

Stutterer

Best Actor

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

WINNER: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

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

  1. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

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

  1. Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

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

  1. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) 

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

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

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

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

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 14 – Gone Girl

Gone Girl1 Gone Girl is a film directed by David Fincher with a screenplay, based on the novel of the same name, by Gillian Flynn, the author of the book version. The film examines the marriage of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). On his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick reports to the police that Amy has gone missing. Amy is a renowned public figure due to a series of children’s books written about her by her family, and her disappearance causes a tumultuous media frenzy. With cameras and the police constantly causing stress upon him, Nick finds his story of a harmonious marriage to Amy on the verge of collapse due to his mendacity and peculiar behavior. Everyone suspects Nick of killing his wife; thus, the big question is: did he?

Gone Girl2For those of you that follow my blog annually, you will know already that Gone Girl was ranked No. 1 on my list of movies that I was most anticipating during the fall film season. Notwithstanding its position on my year-end list, the movie still lived up to the hype (thus, its No. 14 rank says less about the success of Gone Girl and more about the strength of the year’s other movies). I was most intrigued by Gone Girl because of its lead-man behind the camera, David Fincher—I am a devout fan of anything he is involved with. Not only are many of his pictures part of my personal film collection (e.g., Seven, Fight Club, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but also I am a committed fan of the Netflix original series House of Cards, which is executive produced by the visionary. Gone Girl is well constructed by Fincher, and its subtle hints of dark humor, ominous tone, and inimitable inscrutability are all obvious elements of a classic Fincher film. Although I do not believe this is in the top five of Fincher’s filmography, it is still a movie that I greatly enjoyed and will continue to watch over again for years to come. Gone Girl5

Many of you that have seen Gone Girl (and even some of you that have not) have probably additionally read Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. I happen to be one that has not, which is why I was elated that she also penned the screenplay for the film adaptation; this direct and significant involvement in the film’s construction leads me to believe that anything that was vitally important and of note from the book would be included in her script. At times, the dialogue was awkward, though, but the talent of the film’s actors helped make it flow as best as possible. Having known nothing about the plot going into my viewing of the movie, I was blown away by her ability to craft the preeminent thriller. The movie’s twists and turns were never foreshadowed in any sort of heavy-handed way, and for that, the climax was as surprising as one could imagine. Gone Girl3

Back in August when I wrote about my expectations for Gone Girl in my fall preview post, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the performances by an anomalous assortment of actors and actresses that were cast in the various roles. Casting Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson, Missy Pyle, and Emily Ratajkowski was a bold move, and those casting decisions paid dividends—everyone played their part spectacularly, and I can finally say that I was not brutally annoyed by the creator of the horrendous Madea character. Also, it is definitely worth noting that Missy Pyle, in her role as Ellen Abbott (a TV host depicted in the same vein as the ever-despicable Nancy Grace), was incredibly spot-on in her performance—it was brilliant.

Ever since The Town, I have become more and more impressed with Ben Affleck’s acting abilities (in addition to his superb filmmaking talents), and I felt like he serviced his character well. It was not a performance that blew me out of the water, but it was well acted enough to make me engage with Nick. Gone Girl4The highlight of the film was Rosamund Pike. I have been familiar with her work over the years in films like Die Another Day, Fracture, An Education, and The World’s End, but in her debut role as a true leading lady, Pike absolutely killed it. She was in rare form, evoking so many emotions at once out of a single character; at times I found her incredibly attractive and empathized with her plight, and at other times I wanted to bash (figuratively) her head in. Amy is an incredibly complex character, and Rosamund Pike gave, in my opinion, the year’s most outstanding performance by an actress—her Oscar nomination is quite deserved. Gone Girl is rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language.

Gone Girl trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esGn-xKFZdU

Academy Award nominations for Gone Girl:

Best Actress: (Rosamund Pike)

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

  1. The Lego Movie

Countdown to the Oscars — Round Three!

Imagine What's Possible - Oscars

Welcome back to the red carpet, movie fans! The stage is now set for my 3rd annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog!  Each year it gets more and more exciting to delve deep into the newest additions in film history, and again I am thrilled to get back to commentating on this year’s fantastic cinematic achievements.

Starting today and continuing right up until the ceremony, I will post regularly about the Oscars.  These posts will include both my “Top 15 Films of the Year” list and my own personal Oscars ballot for this year’s major categories (14 of the 24 categories, to be exact).  I will also again be posting a review about the actual ceremony in late February. In addition to these perennial posts, I will also include a new post—tomorrow morning I will release my “Top 3 Most Disappointing Films of the Year.”

NPH OscarsThis year, Neil Patrick Harris will be hosting the Oscars ceremony. NPH is a decently humorous actor, but in my opinion, he has some massively large shoes to fill. Last year, Ellen DeGeneres absolutely killed it, and I would have loved to see her return to the stage. DeGeneres’s performance last year garnered universal acclaim, provided a wealth of memorable moments, and even included a “celebrity selfie” that went on to become the most retweeted tweet of all time. Needless to say, NPH will have to elevate his game to meet the new “Ellen” standard. But ultimately I think he will come through—he is a veteran awards show host, with a résumé that includes hosting four Tony Awards and two Primetime Emmy Awards. I imagine his performance will include musical numbers, mirroring the performances of Billy Crystal and Hugh Jackman in their years as hosts; obviously, this is because NPH is a talented performer, adding a Tony in 2014 for his role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to his long list of accolades.

This year, the Oscars will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on February 22nd, 2015—that is just 23 days away!!

Many thanks to all of you that are back again this year, and I look forward to any new readers—I really do appreciate the support.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show—it’s OSCAR TIME!