My Review of the 88th Academy Awards

Well, that’s a wrap on the 88th edition of the Academy Awards. More so than any year previously, the show began with a giant elephant in the room. Deciding to stick with his plans to host, comedian Chris Rock was expected to bring the heat with regards to the serious diversity issue surrounding Hollywood’s biggest night—for better or for worse, he definitely came to play. This year’s Oscars, like most years, had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony:

Chris Rock and the Diversity Issue:

We all knew it was coming from the moment Chris Rock stepped on stage. With the #OscarsSoWhite campaign grilling the Academy’s every move, diversity was always going to be a central topic of the night. Chris Rock, a comedian who has never shied away from racially themed rhetoric, was the catalyst Hollywood so desperately needed to address these issues on Oscar night. Oscars3As far as Rock’s opening monologue, I thought he killed it. While most hosts focus on all of the movies and performances from the year, Rock instead spent his entire opening speech discussing the diversity issues in mainstream cinema. The best part about his monologue was that it was equal parts spoof and sincerity. He hilariously addressed the fact that Jada Pinkett-Smith of all people was the lead protestor of this year’s ceremony due to the lack of diversity in acting categories (although her main beef was obviously that husband Will Smith was “snubbed”). Rock remarked, “Jada is going to boycott the Oscars. Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”

In this day and age, race is a particularly hot topic, and although most modern racism is not exactly as it once was (see the 1960s), it absolutely still exists nationwide, even if not so blatant. Rock made light of this fact as well: “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

Comedian Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood

Chris Rock made the debate funny, while still inserting kernels of truth. He ultimately ended his monologue on a serious note, making a poignant statement that I absolutely agree with in regards to this diversity debate in cinema: “What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.” In his opening monologue, Chris Rock hit the nail on the head!

Best Moment: (Leo takes home the gold)

Was there really anything better than watching one of the greatest actors in the history of film hear his name called for the very first time at the Oscars? No, people…the answer is “no.” Leonardo DiCaprio has furnished movie-lovers everywhere with an endless supply of quality acting performances in some outstanding films, yet, the 41-year-old actor had never won an Oscar, despite being previously nominated four times in acting categories. UNTIL THIS YEAR! Oscars6As I have mentioned more than once on my blog this year, Leo’s win was never going to be a lifetime achievement award. This was never going to be a “make-up call” for snubbing him multiple times in the past. This year, if Leo won, it was always going to be because his performance in The Revenant was raw, unrelenting, and downright incredible. When Julianne Moore announced Leo as the winner for Best Actor, the crowd stood and cheered loudly—partly because everyone knew this was way past due, but also partly because each and every person in that crowd knew that this year, nobody was better! It was one of the coolest moments in my lifetime of watching the Oscars. Congrats, Leo!

The REAL MVP: (The dude/gal who knew better than to “play off” Leo during his speech)

We have waited decades for Leo to finally take home his first Oscar. And when he finally got on stage to accept his much-deserved award, he gave a speech that clearly appeared as if it would last a good while. I sat on my couch with bated breath, waiting for the orchestra to start playing Leo off. But I waited…and waited…and waited. And the music never came! THANK THE LORD!!!Oscars8 If I would have been at the show, and the orchestra started to play Leo off, I might have throat-punched the conductor (or whichever producer gave the conductor the cue to start the music). Fans of Leo’s career have waited a long time to see him up on that stage, and whoever was in charge of deciding whether or not to play Leo off—you the REAL MVP for saying, “NO!”

Most Boring Moment: (The dreaded length of the ceremony)

This show has got to get shorter. For the fourth straight year, the ceremony lasted over 3 ½ hours (this year’s length was 3 hours, 37 minutes). This year, the Academy instituted a new feature: All winners had already recorded a list of people that they would like to thank, which scrolled across the bottom of the screen like a Sportscenter ticker. Despite this new element, the show still plodded on and on. One of the main things to blame, in my opinion, for the show’s length is the excessive commercial breaks. The NFL can get away with so many cuts to commercial because when the game returns, its hard-hitting action keeps us occupied—the Academy Awards, on the other hand, does not pack that kind of punch. Oscars4When it came down to the final four awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director), the show took 2 commercial breaks. Best Director was announced right after a commercial break, and then—you guessed it—the show took another commercial break. When the ceremony returned, Best Actress was revealed. Then, yep, another commercial break. It was already almost 11pm (CST) at that point, and yet, the show stumbled to the finish line. Something has to be done about the length of the Oscars. Although I love the Academy Awards, I totally get where people are coming from when they complain about its boring nature. Here’s to hoping something changes next year.

Most Surprising Moment: (Mark Rylance defeats Sly Stallone for Best Supporting Actor)

Oscars5

No, Spotlight winning Best Picture is not the most surprising moment of the night—although I disagreed with the Academy’s decision in that category, it was not completely out of left field. This year was one of the tightest Best Picture races in history, as there was never a clear-cut favorite—in fact, The Revenant, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Spotlight all garnered “Best Picture” wins at variously renowned awards ceremonies this year. The biggest surprise for me was Mark Rylance winning Best Supporting Actor, a category that most viewed as a complete lock for Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Leading up the Oscars, Stallone’s odds were 2/7 to win the big award, although, to be fair, Rylance was always his biggest competition (his odds were 5/2). Although I did enjoy Rylance’s performance in Bridge of Spies, I was completely caught off guard because the hype has long indicated that Stallone would be a shoe-in for the win.

Hottest Dress: (Rachel McAdams)

Oscars9Look, I am a movie guy—I am not at all a style critic. But let’s be honest, Rachel McAdams looked smokin’ in that green dress last night. The 37-year-old Canadian actress was definitely one of the best dressed from Oscar night, and her gown even had my wife crushing on how “hot” she looked! Let’s all take a minute to bask in the beauty of one of Hollywood’s most stunning stars!

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Review: My Ballot and Countdown (2015)

And just like that, my fourth annual Oscars Ballot and Countdown blogging has come to an end. And in bigger news: The Academy Awards are finally here! Per usual, in preparation for tonight’s ceremony, I am providing a review of my blog from these past few weeks. This review includes all of the winners of the 16 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about (my personal ballot), and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my previous posts this season, which feature much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances. Lastly, make sure to tune into the 88th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: Mad Max: Fury Road

Actor in a Leading Role: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)

Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson (Room)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Best Director: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Cinematography: John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Film Editing: Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

Best Production Design: Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Sound Editing: Mark A. Mangini and David White (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Sound Mixing: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Visual Effects: Mark Williams Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris, and Andrew Whitehurst (Ex Machina)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

Best Original Screenplay: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

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

 

Best Actor (2015)

Last year, four of the five nominees for Best Actor were receiving their very first Academy Award nomination. It was a group of rookies. That simply is not so this year. In fact, Bryan Cranston is the lone actor in the category receiving his first Oscar nod. The other four nominees this year have combined for ten previous nominations. It is also noteworthy that last year’s winner for Best Actor—Eddie Redmayne—is again nominated in this category. But as we all know, this year is all about whether Leo DiCaprio will finally take home his first Academy Award. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) 

As I wrote earlier today in my post about The Revenant, the Academy absolutely needs to give this man an Oscar. And when he wins, it will not be the Academy giving Leo a make-up call for his past snubs—this one will be because he took on the challenge of a lifetime and succeeded in glorious fashion. DiCaprio 1As most of you already know, The Revenant tackles the legend of the real-life Hugh Glass, a 19th-century fur trapper on the American frontier. After an attack by a wild grizzly bear renders him essentially lifeless, Tom Hardy’s character buries him alive and leaves him for dead. Glass ultimately crawls from his grave, still very much alive, and proceeds to journey across the wilderness to avenge his son’s murder. DiCaprio did everything in his power to deliver one of his greatest performances to date. As is well documented, many crewmembers abandoned the film’s director Alejandro G. Iñárritu because of the cold weather and exhausting shooting schedule. DiCaprio, despite nearly suffering from hypothermia throughout, stuck it out and rose to the occasion.DiCaprio 2 He knew that “film is forever” and he sacrificed his body and soul in ways most actors could never dream. He ate a raw bison liver. He slept in the carcass of a dead horse. He was whisked up and down ice-cold rivers. It is a wonder he even made it out alive, to be honest. But with his unrelenting spirit, Leonardo DiCaprio, albeit silent throughout, delivered one of the gutsiest performances in the history of American cinema. Leo, your very first Oscar is long overdue. But I am pretty positive that it is finally coming your way this Sunday! DiCaprio has previously been nominated for five Oscars, four of which were in acting categories (he was also nominated for Best Picture for 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street as a producer).

  1. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

In Steve Jobs, Michael Fassbender gave us an amazing performance as the titular Apple genius. In my post regarding the film, I made special mention of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s wildly rapid-fire dialogue, and an actor with Fassbender’s competence was truly needed to give those words a visual representation on the screen. Steve Jobs was by all appearances an innovative marvel, but, as I mentioned in an earlier post, “the skeletons in his closets were always present, feeding off his stressful life.” Fassbender thrived off his character’s duality—he brought to life the calamitous intersection of Jobs’s professional and personal lives. Jobs was maniacal at times—he was devoted to his work and did not care who he had to step over to get to the top.Michael Fassbinder Makenzie Moss Although the film delves into this eccentric part of Jobs’s personality, I was most impressed with the focus on his relationship with his daughter Lisa throughout the film. This, for me, is where Fassbender proves himself. Fassbender is uncanny as a Steve Jobs who boasts and brags and yells and fights, but when Lisa is present, Jobs is at his most vulnerable—Fassbender drips with subtle sensitivity in those moments. The film as a whole is great, and Michael Fassbender holds down the fort as Steve Jobs with striking legerdemain. Fassbender has previously been nominated for Best Supporting Actor (12 Years a Slave).

  1. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Cranston 1Bryan Cranston is critically acclaimed in TV circles for his award-winning role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. But in Trumbo, Cranston asserts himself as a force to be reckoned with in feature films. In the film (which is set between the 1940s and early 1960s), Cranston portrays the real-life Dalton Trumbo, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who was a member of the “Hollywood Ten,” a group of filmmakers that were cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted after refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Trumbo (Real) 1Forced to write in secret, his uncredited work on The Roman Holiday and The Brave One received Oscar wins. This is a movie about the movie industry—the Academy loves to reward these pieces (see 2011’s The Artist). But I think the Academy nailed this nomination because Bryan Cranston was absolutely fantastic as Trumbo. His performance is full of range and gravitas, and Cranston knocks it out of the park. Cranston has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Matt Damon (The Martian) 

Damon 1Matt Damon. On an empty Mars. Talking to himself. Wow, what a challenge for the 45-year-old actor. Never would I have thought that such an isolated role could be such fertile ground for an incredible acting performance, but Matt Damon delivered just that. Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut that is presumed dead during a Mars mission and abandoned by his crew. Watney is thus stranded on the red planet with limited supplies, but, with cleverness and resourcefulness, Watney signals to NASA that he is in fact still alive. The film then follows his journey to survival. In an earlier post about The Martian, I stated that Damon evoked a series of complex emotions in his performance: “[H]e moves from scared, to humored, to terrified, to hopeful, to exhausted, to thrilled, and Damon does so with skill and radiance.” Although this is one of my favorite Matt Damon performances—and despite the fact that I believe the Academy got his nomination spot-on—it just did not have enough oomph for me to rank it much higher. Damon has previously been nominated for three Oscars, two of which were in acting categories (he was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, along with Ben Affleck, for 1997’s Good Will Hunting).

  1. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Redmayne 1Last year, Eddie Redmayne had my vote for Best Actor for his heartfelt portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The Academy had a similar feeling as me, handing Redmayne the award. Clearly the Academy values his acting prowess, as it has again nominated him for the Best Actor award. However, this year, Redmayne would have no place near the top of my ballot in this category—in fact, I would have him probably pegged as giving the tenth-best performance behind a number of better, yet snubbed, actors. In The Danish Girl, Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, the true-life accomplished Danish painter who endured an identity crisis as to his gender. Ultimately, Einar transformed into Lili Elbe, the product of the first documented sex-reassignment surgery. The story, although set in the mid-1920s, is as relevant as ever given issues faced by transgender people today. But no matter the film’s importance, Redmayne just simply didn’t sell it for me. As I mentioned in my post about the Best Supporting Actress category, Alicia Vikander stole the show as Einar’s wife. Her performance was powerful and emotionally affecting. But although Redmayne did a good job in his role, his emotional breakdown was not believable to me from an acting standpoint. In my opinion, his performance prevented the film from being great. Redmayne was previously nominated and won for Best Actor for his role in The Theory of Everything (2014).

Actors snubbed in this category: Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Jack O’Connell (’71), Tom Hardy (Legend), Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw), and Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies).

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 2 – The Revenant

The Revenant is an action adventure film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, with a screenplay by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, adapted in part from Michael Punke’s novel of the same name about the real-life Hugh Glass. Set throughout the American wilderness in the 19th century, the film follows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper who, while briefly away from his men, is attacked by a bear. Although Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) initially agrees to part with his men and stay back with his fallen comrade, he ultimately grows tired of Glass’s “condition.” Fitzgerald slays Glass’s son Hawk in front of him, attempts to bury Glass alive, and leaves him for dead. The rest of the film charts Glass’s determination to trek across the cold, barren wilderness to get vengeance for his son’s murder.

Rev10When I bought a ticket and sat down in the audience of a dark theater over a month and a half ago to see Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s newest film, I was excited but truly did not know what to expect. What resulted was amazing: I did not merely watch a film—I experienced it! An experience is just what this film is. The Revenant is a visionary work of art, and the man behind it all is Iñárritu, a creator at the peak of his filmmaking career. In 2013, he gave us Gravity, an out-of-this-world (literally) depiction of two astronauts lost in space, which I did not enjoy initially but have grown to appreciate. In 2014, Iñárritu brought Birdman to the big screen, a film that would garner nine Oscar nominations and four wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu. Could the 52-year-old Mexican director really deliver another brilliant production in 2015? No matter what anyone might have thought, Iñárritu responded with a resounding, “Yes.”

THE REVENANT

With help from his loyal cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (who with The Revenant earned his third straight Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography; Chivo is going for a three-peat, having won that award the previous two times for Gravity and Birdman), Iñárritu has given us a film that will surely endure the test of time. The term “revenant” means, according to Merriam-Webster, “one that returns after death or a long absence.” DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass is just that, in both senses of the word; not only is he separated from his men for a long period of time, but he trudges back almost like a ghost, having been buried alive, seemingly left to die. Iñárritu ties this meaning of his title into a story that tells of perseverance and retribution; the only time he loses me is with his few scenes of philosophy and spirituality, but I forgive him for these brief interludes that lose focus. Rev4The opening scene features an intense battle that pits Glass and his team of fur traders against a group of violent Native Americans. This scene is remarkable—arrows whiz by the camera, bringing the viewer closer into the fold. The scene is reminiscent of classic war scenes, such as the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan. At times throughout the film—especially during close-up shots—characters’ blood and sweat spew onto the camera, leaving visible spots. Most of the time this would be a reprehensible act, but in this film, it just works. You see characters’ breath fill the lens. This lends an extraordinary sense of realism to the film.

THE REVENANT

The film is beautiful and enduring, but the end result achieves even more acclaim based on the fact that the movie was a living hell for all involved. Many crewmembers abandoned ship during the production (either voluntarily or not; apparently Iñárritu axed many himself), and it was reported that the grueling schedule and terrible weather conditions were to blame. Principal photography spanned almost a year, and filming was incredibly difficult because Iñárritu and Chivo chose to shoot using natural light almost exclusively (they used only light from the sun, moon, and fires to guide production). Although this arduous process pushed everyone involved to his or her breaking point in a cold, inhospitable wasteland, the result is a gift to cinema. During his acceptance speech for Best Director at the Golden Globes in January, Iñárritu admitted the difficult nature of the film’s production, but recited one of the most poignant quotes in filmmaking: “Pain is temporary, but a film is forever.” Thank you, sir, for this beautiful movie; may it long endure as your masterpiece.

Rev2Now, let’s get to DiCaprio. My goodness, give that man an Oscar! Although his character is mostly silent throughout the film, Leo delivers a performance that will be discussed for generations. As mentioned above, the production of The Revenant was demanding, and Leo felt the brunt of that often. He admitted to being on the brink of hypothermia throughout and has openly described this film as the most difficult challenge he has ever taken on. Hugh Glass is faced with a set of circumstances that mean to deny him survival at every stage of the film, starting with his brutal bear attack early on, which, let’s be honest, is one of the most incredible scenes you will ever witness in a movie—it is the definition of an “edge-of-your-seat” experience, and it is filled with heart-pounding thrills. Rev6But he marches on. He endures. He survives. He is absolutely unrelenting in his quest for justice. He eats raw bison liver. He sleeps in a fresh horse carcass for warmth. Like I said: GIVE THIS MAN AN OSCAR! In all seriousness, Leo is the odds-on favorite to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor and rightfully so. But for everyone (which includes me) that feels Leo has been snubbed far too many times by the Academy, realize this: When Leo gets this award, it will not be a “Lifetime Achievement” award (i.e., a make-up call)—it will be because in this film, he absolutely deserves it for throwing himself into Iñárritu’s treacherous pit of film production and coming out alive, giving us a preeminent acting performance in the process.Rev7 I would be stupid not to at least mention Tom Hardy here, as he also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but I will point you to my earlier post about why Tom Hardy 100% deserves the Academy Award for his stellar performance. What I will say here is that Hardy’s portrayal of Glass’s nemesis was the glue that held this film together. Without Tom Hardy absolutely killing it in his supporting role (playing the voice of the film), this film falters. The Revenant is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language, and brief nudity.

The Revenant trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoebZZ8K5N0

Academy Award nominations for The Revenant:

Best Picture (Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent, and Keith Redmon)

Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy)

Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West)

Best Sound Editing (Martin Hernández and Lon Bender)

Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, and Chris Duesterdiek)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini)

Best Visual Effects (Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith and Cameron Waldbauer)

Best Film Editing (Stephen Mirrione)

Best Production Design (Jack Fisk and Hamish Purdy)

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

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

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

Fall Preview 2015: No. 5 – No. 1

1-5 Header 2015

Happy Monday, film fans! The conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2015” is finally here. Over the past few days, I have shared with you my five Honorable Mentions and No. 10 – No. 6 on the list of my most anticipated fall film releases. But now it is on to the big reveal. So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2015 list. Enjoy!

No. 5 – Black Mass

Black Mass 3Black Mass tells the true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), a notorious mobster and infamous leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob in South Boston. If you have not seen this trailer, quit reading this now and click the link to it below (no, seriously…it’s worth it). Johnny Depp stars as the villainous Bulger, and by the looks of the aforementioned trailer, he knocks this performance out of the park! I will be the first to admit that Depp is by far one of the weirdest tools in the Hollywood shed. In today’s world, his filmography is marred by oddball performances in films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger, and Mortdecai. But most forget how truly talented Depp is as an artist, providing iconic performances in Donnie Brasco, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Public Enemies. I am hopeful that his portrayal of Bulger falls perfectly in line with his more acclaimed displays of acting dexterity—the trailer truly does give me hope!

Black Mass 2Other than seeing Johnny Depp own the role of a crazed, harebrained mobster, I am looking forward to Black Mass because I am hopeful that it redeems the deeply complex story of Whitey Bulger’s life that the 2014 documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger so drastically mucked up. I was expecting big things from that documentary, but it merely provided a bore-fest that too blatantly revealed the filmmakers’ lack of access. Beneath the surface, an incredibly captivating story bubbles with deceit, violence, lunacy, and corruption, and I am confident that director Scott Cooper and Depp will bring that to fruition. Black Mass is set for a theatrical release on September 18, 2015.

Director: Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart)

Starring: Johnny Depp (Mortdecai, Into the Woods), Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Life), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Imitation Game), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Need for Speed), and Kevin Bacon (Cop Car, R.I.P.D.)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE3e3hGF2jc

No. 4 – The Revenant

The Revenant 2According to Entertainment Weekly, The Revenant “is inspired by the trust story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a 19th-century hunter and fur trapper who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by his comrades (Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson), only to will himself across hundreds of miles of winter terrain to safety—and redemption.” This movie has SO much going for it in my eyes: the cast, the crew, and the director. For starters, it stars Leo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson. Leo is my all-time favorite actor. Hardy is the greatest currently in the business. And with films like About Time and Ex Machina in his relatively small filmography, D-Glee is becoming one of my faves in the industry. Combine the talents of all three of these practiced artists and, in my humble opinion, you have a concoction of star power with unfathomable potential—this alone makes The Revenant a massive draw for me!

The Revenant 3Notwithstanding a wealth of talent within its cast, The Revenant piques my interest because of its director and cinematographer: Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki. Iñárritu is an absolute genius filmmaker, as evidenced by his critically acclaimed 2014 film Birdman, winner of four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu). He is obviously coming off an amazing year in film, and the fact that he is following up Birdman with an epic adventure that took over seven months to shoot in one of the most frigid locations in the world, Iñárritu is sure not letting off the gas pedal. Additionally, his Birdman cinematographer (Lubezki) is back for The Revenant, and that is reason alone to be excited—Lubezki has won the Oscar for Best Cinematography at each of the last two Academy Awards (Gravity and Birdman). The Revenant is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby, Django Unchained) and Tom Hardy (Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRfj1VCg16Y

No. 3 – Sicario

Sicario 3Sicario, Spanish for “hitman,” follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who is recruited onto a joint task force assigned to hunting down a drug-cartel overlord. Blunt is joined by Benicio del Toro (who plays a Mexican national) and Josh Brolin (who plays a government official). To put it simply: I absolutely cannot wait for Sicario.

Sicario 2Earning rave reviews from critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Sicario is most fascinating due to Emily Blunt being cast as the lead protagonist. I have always somewhat enjoyed her work, but ever since her badass performance in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow, I am officially on Team Blunt for life. She has just as much charisma as any other leading lady, but it is her penchant for action that now truly sets her apart. Speaking to EW, director Denis Villeneuve said, “I didn’t want a woman who would act like a man. I wanted a woman who would find her strength in a masculine world.” I believe Blunt is up to the task, and that is one of the biggest reasons I am so stoked for this movie’s release.

S_D037_09788.NEFThe supporting cast is also a major draw. Benicio del Toro is a veteran in the game, and with performances in films like Traffic and 21 Grams, he knows how to most effectively evoke mystery, thrill, and suspense. Josh Brolin is another experienced actor that is sure to bring his trademark demeanor to the picture in order to add to the film’s drama. Lastly, I greatly enjoyed 2013’s Prisoners, directed by Villeneuve. He provided an unprecedented level of tension for that film’s entire duration, and I look for him to do the exact same thing in Sicario, hopefully expanding the scope of this apprehensive style of filmmaking. Sicario is set for a limited theatrical release on September 18, 2015 and a wide theatrical release on September 25, 2015.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy)

Starring: Emily Blunt (Into the Woods, Edge of Tomorrow), Benicio del Toro (Inherent Vice, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XLQ1bkSLDo

No. 2 – Spectre

Spectre 2Spectre is the 24th Eon-produced 007 film, and it picks up where its predecessor, Skyfall, ended: following the fatal attack by Raoul Silva that claimed the life of M (Judy Dench), James Bond (Daniel Craig) must move on to thwart impending threats (by the criminal organization SPECTRE) at the direction of the new M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). I am an avid fan of the James Bond series, and although my loyalties were always to Sean Connery as the preeminent Bond, Daniel Craig has definitely won me over; I now hold Craig out to be the best 007 of all time! Skyfall set a new bar for Bond films, surpassing (almost) every single one that came before it—Goldfinger is still the, pardon the pun, “gold” standard for 007 flicks! With Bond and his cohorts back in action for a fourth installment in the Daniel Craig era, I am hard-pressed to find any reason why this film should not be regarded as one of the biggest, baddest, and most anticipated films of the fall film season!

Spectre 3What is the one thing that could possibly propel Spectre past Skyfall for the second greatest 007 movie of all time? Two words: Christoph Waltz! The two-time Oscar winner is set to play Oberhauser, the apparent mastermind of SPECTRE, who claims some sort of personal connection to Bond. Bringing into the Bond fold one of the premier actors in the film industry is simply the best news for the franchise, and with Waltz in the mix, director Sam Mendes may find a cinematic classic at his fingertips. Spectre is set for a wide theatrical release on November 6, 2015.

Director: Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go)

Starring: Daniel Craig (Skyfall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes, Horrible Bosses 2), Léa Seydoux (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Is the Warmest Colour), Monica Bellucci (The Wonders, Love & War), and Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Skyfall)

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

No. 1 – The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight 2The Hateful Eight follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue to Red Rock to face justice for murder. Along the way, the two come across six very unique characters: The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), The Sherriff (Walter Goggins), The Mexican (Demián Bichir), The Little Man (Tim Roth), The Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), and The Confederate (Bruce Dern).

The Hateful Eight 3Where do I start? I have been looking forward to The Hateful Eight since late 2013 when writer/director Quentin Tarantino said that he was working on his next movie. I have long been a fan of Tarantino, and considering (1) Inglourious Basterds is my all-time favorite movie, and (2) I own every single film Tarantino has ever made, it is no surprise that The Hateful Eight finds itself at the No. 1 spot of my Fall Preview. I am stunned this movie ever got made to be honest. In 2014, after his initial script was illegally leaked, Tarantino said that he was abandoning the project. However, he later changed his mind, rewrote the script, and voilà—we get a Christmas-day release in 70 mm of The Hateful Eight!

The Hateful Eight 1One thing Tarantino has always been known for is his recurring collaborations with actors—The Hateful Eight is no exception. Other than Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demián Bichir, Tarantino has previously worked with each of his stars. The Hateful Eight will be his second collaboration with Kurt Russell, Walter Goggins, and Bruce Dern, his third with Michael Madsen, his fourth with Tim Roth, and an astounding sixth with the legendary F-bomb king Samuel L. Jackson. Tarantino’s professional rapport with these actors can only benefit the movie, and I am so eager to see what this mad scientist has cooked up next! The Hateful Eight is set for a 70 mm film release on December 25, 2015 and a digital film release on January 8, 2016.

Director: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds)

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Kurt Russell (Furious 7, The Art of the Steal), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Welcome to Me, The Spectacular Now), Walter Goggins (American Ultra, Mojave), Demián Bichir (Dom Hemingway, Machete Kills), Tim Roth (Selma, United Passions), Michael Madsen (Ashley, I’m in Love with a Church Girl), and Bruce Dern (Cut Bank, Nebraska)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnRbXn4-Yis

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. 5 – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street - BP

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film directed by Martin Scorsese, with a screenplay written by Terence Winter.  The film tells the true-life story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a New York stockbroker in the late 1980s who makes a rapid rise to Wall Street royalty with the founding of his brokerage firm, Stratton Oakmont.  However, Belfort reaches this skyscraper affluence through greed, corruption, and downright illegalities.  Before long, the entire world comes crashing down on Belfort and his securities fraud posse.

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and over the years, he has particularly become the king of mob movies.  Between Goodfellas and The Departed, two of my all-time favorite films, Scorsese has developed a top-flight reputation in this genre.  In The Wolf of Wall Street, he adds to his decorous list of accomplishments a film with more sex, drugs, and crime (the white-collar variety, mostly) than any of his before.  Scorsese WolfThe film itself has been on the receiving end of a wide assortment of controversies, ranging from complaints about his glorification of such a dreadful subject matter to uproars about the excessive nudity and foul language.  For me personally, none of those things bothered me one bit when I watched this movie in theaters—in fact, I went back and saw it a second time!  In many films, the overload of sex, drugs, and F-bombs might be too overzealous, but Scorsese makes it work.  He does not include sex and nudity just to include sex and nudity; Scorsese meticulously weaves these elements into the story to advance the plot and make the film more realistic.  For that, I will never bat an eye.

Every single actor throughout the entire movie gives a well-crafted performance, and this greatly benefits the fluidity of the film.  Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the grandest performances of his entire career as Jordan Belfort, and I was utterly pleased to see him receive some Oscar recognition.  Leo and JonahThis is Leo’s fifth collaboration with Scorsese, beginning with Gangs of New York in 2002, and their partnership is one of the best in the business.  DiCaprio is an insanely talented actor, but his best work always seems to come out of Scorsese flicks, and his portrayal of the drug/money-addicted Belfort is absolutely astounding, in all the best ways.  My favorite scene from the entire film features Leo high on Quaaludes attempting to reach his car from the country club doors—if you have not seen this film, this scene alone makes it worth the watch.  Jonah Hill also gives a wonderful performance, and even though he broke out in the Oscar world with 2011’s Moneyball, this is by far the best job Hill has ever done in a film.  In many interviews, Hill credits this as his dream role because his favorite actor is Leo and his favorite director is Scorsese; however, he never seems star struck on the screen, and his portrayal of Donnie Azoff is absolutely hilarious and riveting.

Margot RObbieThe hidden gem in this movie is the breakout supporting performance by newcomer Margot Robbie as Belfort’s wife Naomi.  Robbie, an Australian native, absolutely nails the Brooklyn accent, and if you had no clue of her Aussie roots, you would NEVER believe she was not from New York—her accent is THAT good.  Aside from the accent, Robbie gives a stellar performance, and I hope to see a lot more from her in the near future.

Terence Winter took the wild and outlandish true story of Jordan Belfort’s rise to the pinnacle of Wall Street and turned it into one of the finest screenplays of 2013.  Winter’s incredible script, along with Scorsese’s genius filmmaking and the ensemble cast’s award-worthy performances, has made The Wolf of Wall Street one of 2013’s finest exports.  The Wolf of Wall Street is rated R for sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and for some violence.

The Wolf of Wall Street trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

Academy Award nominations for The Wolf of Wall Street:

Best Picture (Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers)

Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)

Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill)

Best Director (Martin Scorsese)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Terence Winter)

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

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

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

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 5 – Django Unchained

Django

Django Unchained is a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.  The film is set in the South before the Civil War, and the story follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is bought by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German-born bounty hunter.  Django teams up with Dr. Schultz to hunt down some of the most renowned, murderous men in the slave business.  Django’s main goal, though, is to search until he finds his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold into slavery many years before.  When Django and Schultz finally track her down, she is in the confinement of a sadistically ruthless slave owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  The two men must put on an act in order to gain the trust of Candie, but when Candie’s house slave (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes suspicious of their intentions, all hell breaks loose.

To say the very least, I absolutely, unequivocally loved this movie.  I have always been a fan of Tarantino’s work, and his creation of Django ranks right up there with some of his best of all time, including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds (my favorite film of all time).  The film takes place during one of the most controversial periods of American history—the years of slavery before the Civil War.  If you have seen the way Tarantino recreated the history of the Nazis during World War II in Inglourious Basterds, then you are in for an equally hilarious depiction of the racist slave owners of the 1800s.

His film has been met with both critical acclaim and controversy, but then again it seems most of Tarantino’s movies are met with this same mix of emotion from critics and the general public.  He has been chastised by many, including the annoyingly outspoken Spike Lee, about his usage of the “N” word during the film, but in order to accurately depict this period of history, Tarantino would have been doing everyone a disservice by avoiding the word and sugarcoating the times.  His script is violently gruesome, but honest, and like most of his films, it is downright hilarious—the scene with the white-hooded horsemen will forever go down as one of the funniest I have ever seen in a movie.

The tour de force that is Tarantino’s screenplay for Django Unchained is assisted by an ensemble of actors and actresses creating unique and illustrious portrayals of their dynamic characters on the screen.  Jamie Foxx gives one of the best performances of his career, ranking behind only his roles in Collateral and Ray, in my opinion.  Surprisingly, Foxx was not nominated for any of the major awards despite his excellent performance.  Christoph Waltz once again collaborates with Tarantino, and like in his role as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Waltz brings his incomparable and articulate diction to the role, coupled with his fascinatingly comical wit.  His performance makes him a strong frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for which he is nominated.

Some other strong examples of exceptional acting are illustrated by Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen the house slave, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, Don Johnson as Big Daddy, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.  I was quite upset when both Jackson and DiCaprio were snubbed for Oscars because after seeing nearly every nominated film this year, their performances stood out way above the rest.  DiCaprio has turned in a very triumphant career thus far, but he has yet to receive an Academy Award, and before nominations were announced, I was sure this would be his year.  Django Unchained is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity.

Django Unchained trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUdM9vrCbow

Academy Award nominations for Django Unchained:

Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, and Pilar Savone, Producers)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Christoph Waltz)

Cinematography (Robert Richardson)

Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman)

Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino)

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

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo