My Review of the 92nd Academy Awards

Well, that’s a wrap on the 92nd edition of the Academy Awards. Like all years, the Oscars had some great moments, some not-so-great moments, and some hilarious quotes! Here are my reactions to some of the major highlights from this year’s Oscars:

Best Moment: Parasite wins Best PictureParasite BP gif

Through the first 91 years of the Academy Awards, no foreign-language film had won the Oscar for Best Picture. Last night, that streak ended. As I discussed on my post yesterday analyzing the Best Picture odds, the betting lines had gotten very tight between 1917 as the favorite and Parasite as the closest challenger. Thus, Parasite’s win was not entirely surprising, although it sure made for the best moment of the night, as it was one of my very favorite films from the past decade. (Overall, Parasite dominated this year, winning four Academy Awards, the most of any other film.) Additionally, the win made history for another noteworthy reason, as it became only the second film to win both the Palme d’Or at Cannes and Best Picture at the Oscars (the first time it’s happened in 64 years).

Worst Moment: Cutting the lights off on Parasite during the Best Picture acceptance speechLights Cut Gif

As mentioned above, the Best Picture win for Parasite was historic. When it came time for the acceptance speech, it took slightly longer than most would because the producers were speaking through interpreters. In light of all this, it was extra annoying when the ceremony cut the lights off on the winners before they were finished speaking. Although this was the worst moment, it was quickly followed by the most redeeming moment, thanks to the crowd’s audible displeasure with the situation. The camera even caught the likes of Regina King, Tom Hanks, and Charlize Theron chanting for the lights to come back up. This was a huge moment for Parasite, and I am glad that ultimately, the winners were allowed extra time to celebrate the victory!

Most Surprising Moment: Eminem!Eminem gif

We knew about nearly all of the musical performances last night in advance. One we didn’t know about was Eminem. A video was introduced during the ceremony that paid homage to some amazing songs in film history. Toward the end of the video, scenes from 8 Mile played, accompanied by the instrumental introduction from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which won for Best Original Song that year. Then, the video ended…and Eminem popped up on stage to perform a live rendition of his monster hit from the early 2000s. The moment totally caught me by surprise (as well as others in the audience, based on their reactions), but I loved every second of it. Eminem did not attend the Oscars the year “Lose Yourself” won, so it was great to finally see him on stage performing on film’s biggest night!

Sleepiest Guest: Martin Scorsese during “Lose Yourself”Scorsese gif

Twitter was on fire last night with some hilarious reactions during Eminem’s performance, but the funniest for me was the image of The Irishman director Martin Scorsese fighting with a nap. The ceremony is long, so I get it if Marty was a bit tired. But right in the middle of a loud rap performance??

Best Jokes from the “Non-Hosts”

For the second straight year, the Oscars was without an official host. However, in the hostiest of hostless ways, comedians Steve Martin and Chris Rock (both of whom have previously hosted the show) came out following the opening musical number to deliver a monologue. Some of the highlights included an absolute roasting of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, including his divorce (“He saw Marriage Story and thought it was a comedy”); poking fun at the long runtime of Martin Scorsese’s latest film (“I loved the first season of The Irishman“); and a hilarious discussion by Chris Rock of Ford v Ferrari (“I got a Ford, I got a Ferrari…it ain’t even close. That’s like Halle Berry versus gum disease”).

Funniest Presenters: Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig

Can we just hire Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig to host every Oscars every year? The two comedy queens co-presented the awards for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, and per usual, hilarity ensued. Rudolph and Wiig wanted the directors in the room to know they “do more than comedy” and can “act.” Naturally, they crushed it!

Biggest Upset: Bong Joon-ho wins Best Director over Sam MendesBong gif

Although I predicted that the Academy would award Best Picture to Parasite, I was certain Sam Mendes would win Best Director for 1917 for the immense technical achievement of the film. Leading up to the ceremony, Mendes was a -400 favorite to win, with Parasite’s Bong Joon-ho a +300 underdog. As I wrote about yesterday, in three of the previous four years, the Academy gave Best Director and Best Picture to different movies. Thus, I figured the split would be on again this year. But the Academy threw us all a curveball, giving Bong a clean sweep of the two awards. (Bong was the largest statistical underdog, from a betting perspective, to pull off an upset last night.)

The 92nd Oscars – Best Supporting Actor

In today’s post, I will be analyzing the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards, the most decorated acting category at this year’s Oscars. (The five nominees combined account for 27 career Academy Award nominations in acting categories.) As I pointed out yesterday, the format for all of these post concerning the acting categories will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.

So let’s go!

The Nominees

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)hanks gif

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a biopic inspired by a real-life Esquire article about Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) by journalist Tom Junod titled, “Can You Say…Hero?” Although the film takes inspiration from the famous theme song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, is merely a supporting character. Hanks is obviously one of the greatest actors of his generation, and in this film, he is great in his embodiment of the calm, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers—although not looking physically like Mr. Rogers, Hanks nails the voice and mannerisms. But although I enjoyed his performance, it didn’t feel incredible invigorating for me, especially since Hanks just played Walt Disney in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, which this film felt so eerily similar to. I like Tom Hanks, and I really enjoyed him here, but I couldn’t help but think name recognition played a major role in not only this nomination, but also its companions at the Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs.

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)Hopkins gif

 

At first glance, I didn’t think Netflix’s The Two Popes was going to be a movie I’d enjoy, but in the end, I was thoroughly surprised by and taken with its charisma. The film is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. The plot is simple, and the film is executed through Sorkin-esque dialogue between the two main characters as they debate and discuss many topics, most importantly their vastly different religious ideologies. Pope Benedict is incredible conservative, while Cardinal Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce, who was nominated for Best Actor) is widely progressive. Both of the actors are exquisite and authentic in their portrayal of these real-life characters on the brink of a major shift for the Catholic Church, and per usual, the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins is masterful.

Al Pacino (The Irishman)Hoffa gif

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Surprisingly, The Irishman was Pacino’s very first collaboration with Scorsese, and it definitely left me wishing the two worked together more. In his portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino returns to his peak acting prowess. Over the years, some believe Pacino has become a caricature of himself, resorting to the loud and boisterous delivery made famous in his Oscar-winning role in A Scent of a Woman far too often. In The Irishman, Pacino taps into those infamous rowdy and ostentatious traits, but he does so in a way that is extraordinarily reinvigorating—it is the Pacino we’ve grown to know, but it never feels like old hat. This is Pacino’s 9th Oscar nomination, but it’s his first since his lone win 27 years ago. As Hoffa, Pacino was back to his best, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him back at the Oscars as a nominee.

Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

Pesci gifIn The Irishman, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a mobster and crime boss of the Bufalino crime family. Pesci came out of an extended retirement to play his role in The Irishman, and some reports indicate he actually turned down the role over 50 times before finally agreeing to do it. We should all count ourselves lucky for his decision to jump in. In this film, Pesci is as we’ve never seen him before, especially in the mob genre. A frequent collaborator of Scorsese, we’ve learned to expect Pesci to embody the smack-talking, loud-mouth, larger-than-life, over-the-top character traits from Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. (And oh, how I love Pesci when he’s in that zone.) But here, Pesci is distinctively restrained, exemplifying a strange sense of calmness. It is this aspect of Pesci’s performance that not only steals the show but also makes the character eerily more sinister than past Pesci characters—the guy plays a caring father figure to De Niro’s character with a great deal of compassion, all the while being someone who can call in a hit like it’s nothing. This will go down as one of Pesci’s greatest performances of all time.

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)pitt gif

 

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I am admittedly a huge fan of Tarantino and his work (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time), and when I describe my love of Once Upon a Time to people, I tell them that it’s just a movie that was made for me. (Tarantino’s exquisite storytelling set against the backdrop of a glorious era of cinematic and cultural history is a recipe for success.) And from an acting standpoint, DiCaprio and Pitt are an amazing duo and are truly simpatico. And this film marks an outstanding return to the Tarantino set for Pitt, who dazzled in his memorable role as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds. Here, Tarantino gets the absolute best out of Pitt once more. Cliff Booth is just cool, and Tarantino couldn’t have chosen a better performer to embody that swagger. Highlights for Pitt in this movie include his fight with Bruce Lee, fending off hippies in the Manson cult at Spawn Ranch, and that hilariously unrestrained ending involving Pitt high on an acid-dipped cigarette. In this movie, Brad Pitt is in his element, and oh, what a wonderful element it is.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, although The Lighthouse did not necessarily work for me (which was a surprise, as I generally love everything A24 Films puts out), there is no denying that Willem Dafoe’s gruff portrayal of lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake is superbly deranged as one half of the film’s two-man show. Second, Dolemite Is My Name was one of my favorite out-and-out comedies of the year. And not only was it the vehicle for Eddie Murphy’s spectacular R-rated renaissance, but it also provided a humorous return for Wesley Snipes, who portrayed the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin. Majors gifAdditionally, I really enjoyed The Last Black Man in San Francisco (shout out to A24 again), and although Jimmie Fails was great as the lead, I was most impressed with Jonathan Majors as Jimmie’s sidekick “Mont”—the character is eccentric, artistic, and caring, and Majors was absolutely brilliant in his execution.

Song gifOne of the single best supporting performances of the year, though, came courtesy of legendary South Korean actor Song Kang-ho in Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a darkly comedic exploration of class inequalities, and Song is extraordinary as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a poor Korean family who uses ingenuity and deception to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family as employees. The entire acting ensemble in Parasite is collectively magnificent. (In fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.) However, Song is definitely the film’s brightest star, and he was thoroughly deserving of an Oscar nomination this year.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci is currently getting odds of +1200 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees by quite a bit. (For instance, Al Pacino is next best, but his odds currently sit at +2800.) I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor, but if the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.

Who Should Win: Brad Pitt

I love Tarantino’s characters, and I love the actors and actresses he chooses to portray them. Cliff Booth is a fun and charismatic character, and I wholeheartedly believe no other actor but Brad Pitt could have breathed that energetic life into Booth. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage performances from Pacino and Pesci, I find Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be a better film than The Irishman. (Pacino and Pesci also cancel each other out a bit in this category.) So Pitt gets the nod here for me.

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt

Just like Laura Dern, Brad Pitt has executed a clean sweep this awards season, taking home this award at the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes. Currently, Pitt’s odds to win the Oscar are an astounding -3335. So just like Laura Dern, it looks nearly certain that Pitt will be taking home the first Academy Award of his career in an acting category.

Fall Preview 2016: No. 5 – No. 1

Time to go up…cause it’s TUESDAY! More importantly, the conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2016” 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 2016 list. Enjoy!

No. 5 – La La Land

La La Land is a film set in Los Angeles where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions, while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to rip them apart.

la-la-land-2I have been awaiting the release of La La Land for quite some time because of the man sitting in the director’s chair: Damien Chazelle. In 2014, Chazelle broke out with his critically acclaimed debut Whiplash, one of the best movies I have seen in years (Whiplash ranked No. 1 on my list of Top 15 Films of 2014). Considering Chazelle’s masterful filmmaking in Whiplash, it was impossible for me not to be excited for his sophomore effort. La La Land finds itself in the No. 5 slot on my list on the strength of Chazelle’s previous film, so I truly hope that it does not fall flat due to failing to meet expectations. However, rumors are that La La Land is just as good as Whiplash, garnering an immense amount of Oscar support months in advance of its release. If this thing turns out to be as good as it is being hyped up to be, Damien Chazelle will cement himself as one of the very elite filmmakers in the business today.

Part of Whiplash’s success was due to wonderful performances from its cast: J.K. Simmons delivered an Oscar-winning performance that will forever be one of my all-time favorites, and Miles Teller portrayed a determined, yet wildly intense jazz student with absolute precision. I am optimistic about La La Land’s potential because Chazelle has again assembled a top-notch cast. The aforementioned Simmons is back in a supporting role, but the film’s leads have a history of on-screen chemistry, which gives the film an extra boost. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone previously starred together in a romantic capacity in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad, and their relationships in these films were incredibly real and believable—I cannot wait to watch them interact again here. La La Land is set for a theatrical release on December 2, 2016.

Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Starring: Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys, The Big Short), Emma Stone (Aloha, Birdman), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia, Whiplash)

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

No. 4 – Passengers

Passengers follows the spaceship, Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II.” The Starship Avalon, transporting 5,259 people, has a malfunction in two of its sleep chambers. As a result, two hibernation pods open prematurely and the two people (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) that awoke are stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. The two soon discover that the malfunction that caused them to be awoken prematurely is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship.

passengers-2Passengers is one of those movies that has blockbuster hit written all over it. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are arguably two of the most “big time” actors currently in the business, and their collaboration here is sure to drive up ticket sales this Christmas. And rightfully so—Lawrence is a three-time Oscar-nominated actress and Pratt has ascended to mainstream stardom with performances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Notwithstanding the hype that this duo has and will to continue to garner in the lead up to the film’s release, I truly believe this pairing will make waves via pure acting ability, too. Lawrence is easily one of the top three or four actresses in Hollywood, and here I expect her to combine her proficient dramatic/comedic acting skills (see Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) with her knack for adventure (see The Hunger Games). And although he has not garnered any award-worthy praise yet, Chris Pratt is definitely one of the brightest stars in Hollywood. I expect the same sharp wit from Pratt that we have grown accustomed to seeing (see Guardians of the Galaxy), and that is never a bad thing.

As far as the filmmaking, Passengers has plenty going for it. Manning the director’s chair is Morten Tyldum, the filmmaker behind the Norwegian hit Headhunters and the Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game. Headhunters is absolutely incredible and, although I was not a massive fan of The Imitation Game, I simply cannot deny the stunning meticulousness with which Tyldum crafted the film; thus, I feel comfortable with him leading Passengers, a big-budget sci-fi thriller. The fact that Jon Spaihts penned the screenplay only adds to my excitement, as he wrote the screenplay for 2012’s Prometheus, one of my favorite science-fiction films in recent memory. Passengers is set for a theatrical release on December 21, 2016.

Director: Morten Tyldum (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men Apocalypse, Joy), Chris Pratt (The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World), and Michael Sheen (Nocturnal Animals, Far from the Madding Crowd)

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

No. 3 – Silence

Set in the 17th century, Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson) and propagate Christianity.

Without a doubt, Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time. From Taxi Driver to Goodfellas, Gangs of New York to The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has been lighting up the silver screen for decades with remarkable, high-quality films. Clearly, it is not hard to see why Silence finds itself in the top three of my list of most anticipated films this fall. In Silence, we have what can only be described as Scorsese’s true “passion project”—he began developing the film in 1990! Very few people—let alone filmmakers—could retain an interest in something for over 20 years, but that is what sets Martin Scorsese apart. The man is a cinematic visionary, and he has never once let me down with a project—I do not expect him to start now.

silence-2Aside from his filmmaking skills in general, Scorsese’s movies work on so many levels because of his ability to always get the most out of his actors. From Robert De Niro to Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese has worked with the best actors in the business, and those stars always seem to shine their brightest while working at Scorsese’s direction. With that said, I cannot wait to see what this iconic filmmaker has done with the pieces that he has assembled (i.e., Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson). Garfield and Driver are two of the most polished up-and-comers in Hollywood, and both of their careers have produced a number of outstanding performances—I am hopeful that they both deliver their best ones to date in Silence. What I am most excited for from a casting standpoint, however, is Liam Neeson. The Oscar-nominated actor had a supporting role in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and knocked his limited time on the screen out of the park—I cannot wait to see the two reunite with Neeson in a starring role. It goes without saying: I expect big things! Silence is set for a theatrical release on December 23, 2016.

Director: Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo)

Starring: Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, 99 Homes), Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls, Non-Stop), and Adam Driver (Paterson, Midnight Special)

Trailer: n/a

No. 2 – The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson (Emma Blunt), an alcoholic who divorced her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) after she caught him cheating on her. Rachel takes the train to work daily. She fantasizes about the relationship of her neighbors, Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), during her commute. That all changes when she witnesses something from the train window and Megan is found to be missing, presumed dead.

Back in 2014, the number one movie on this very list was Gone Girl, the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel. Two years later (albeit in the number two spot), here I am writing about The Girl on the Train. Now I know, they are two separate movies with two separate premises. But it is hard not to want to compare them in some form: They are both mystery thrillers with similar themes derived from books that took the world by storm. Gone Girl was one of the best movies I saw in 2014, and it definitely lived up to the hype for me—I sure hope The Girl on the Train does this year, too.

girl-train-2Aside from the attention the film is getting due to its source material’s acclaim, I have been awaiting the release of The Girl on the Train because of Emily Blunt. For those that have read my reviews in the past for Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, and Sicario, what I am about to say is old news: Emily Blunt is one of my top two favorite actresses currently in the movie business, and I have gotten to the point where I will watch anything she makes. This is not (just) because of some love affair with her on a purely shallow basis; rather, I believe she has developed into one of the premier female talents in Hollywood. On the strength of my fandom for Blunt, I am more than ready to plop down in a seat at my local theater this Friday to see what I hope turns out to be a thrilling ride (on a train, of course). The Girl on the Train is set for a theatrical release on October 7, 2016.

Director: Tate Taylor (Get On Up, The Help)

Starring: Emily Blunt (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Sicario), Rebecca Ferguson (Florence Foster Jenkins, Missions: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven, Hardcore Henry), Justin Theroux (Zoolander 2, Wanderlust), and Luke Evans (High-Rise, Furious 7)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5yk-HGqKmM

No. 1 – Arrival

Arrival follows an elite team that is put together to investigate when multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe. Mankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers—and to find them, team members Louise Banks (Amy Adams), Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and, quite possibly, humanity.

arrival-2Science-fiction is nowhere near the top of my list of favorite film genres. Don’t get me wrong, I do like them—but if I had to pick a range of 4-5 types of movies to watch on a Friday night, science-fiction would not be one of them. But Arrival is peak alien sci-fi…so how can it rank so high on this list? The answer is simple: Denis Villeneuve. Although I still have not seen Villeneuve’s Maelstrom (the winner of the International Federation of Film Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival) or Incendies (the Oscar-nominated foreign language film), I still view the French-Canadian filmmaker to be one of the best in the business—this is because of Prisoners and Sicario. While in Prisoners Villeneuve crafted a film that was emotionally complex and disturbing at times, yet all the while encapsulating, he truly blew me away with last year’s Sicario, a tightly wound drug cartel thriller that put Villeneuve’s brazen filmmaking on full display for the world to see. Needless to say, his involvement with Arrival makes it a no-brainer for me to be so interested!

In Prisoners, Villeneuve truly directed his balls off in getting the most from his actors (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Terrence Howard absolutely killed it), and in Sicario, the very same was true (Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro delivered unbelievably outstanding performances). Here, I am anxious to see what Villeneuve does with another stellar cast. Amy Adams is one of my favorite actresses (and by far one of the best in the business), Jeremy Renner always does a great job, and Forest Whitaker is a veteran in the game who still treats every performance as if it is his last. The talent is there from both an acting and directorial standpoint—I am confident that the two will intersect beautifully and Arrival will meet all of its undeniably high expectations. Arrival is set for a theatrical release on November 11, 2016.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners)

Starring: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Big Eyes), Jeremy Renner (Captain America: Civil War, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and Forest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Southpaw)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g

Best Director

Chiwetel Ejiofor

This year, there is a broad range of Oscars experience within the group of directors nominated in this category.  Two directors have been previously nominated twice each for Best Director, while two others are receiving their first nomination in this category.  The last one is Martin Scorsese—the veteran filmmaker has been previously nominated seven times!  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Steve McQueen 2In 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time.  He is an absolute master of his craft, and after critically acclaimed directorial efforts in Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), he has returned with a true tour de force.  The 44-year-old British director has taken a brutally pragmatic perspective on a true story set in one of the harshest periods of American history, but his effort is commendable and exceptional.  Even though at times this movie is difficult to watch, given the ruthless behavior by many of the slave-owners, it is honest and emotionally impacting, and McQueen has created one of the more important films of our generation.  Steve McQueen has never previously been nominated for Best Director.

2. Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

To put in straightforwardly, I will watch anything Martin Scorsese makes.  I have been a fan of his work for as many years as I have been passionately watching movies, and The Wolf of Wall Street ranks right up with the greatest titles on his distinguished filmography.  Marty ScorseseOne of my favorite Scorsese flicks is Goodfellas (1990), and The Wolf of Wall Street shares so many brilliant characteristics with that classic film.  Here, the 71-year-old director packs in more sex, drugs, and crime than any 3-hour film could possibly hold, but somehow, it works.  I credit this to the wealth of veteran experience Scorsese has in this business.  Although I am not quite prepared to put The Wolf of Wall Street above the likes of Goodfellas or The Departed (2006), Scorsese has nonetheless created another cinematic masterpiece.  Martin Scorsese has been previously nominated for Best Director seven times, winning his only Oscar in this category for 2006’s The Departed.

3. David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Just one year after directing Silver Linings Playbook, my favorite film of 2012, David O. Russell is back with another fantastic movie in American HustleDavid O. RussellThis is Russell’s third trip to the Oscars in the past four years, and this says a lot about where he is as a filmmaker.  He is one of the most renowned directors in the business, and he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.  Even though American Hustle is a magnificent film, I still think The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) were better movies overall; however, this is not a negative reflection on David O. Russell because it shows how dominant his work has been in recent memory.  David O. Russell was previously nominated for Best Director for both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook.

4. Alexander Payne (Nebraska)

Similarly to David O. Russell, Alexander Payne is becoming a director that I very much enjoy.  Alexander PayneI have only seen two of his films, Election (1999) and The Descendants (2011), but they are each two of my favorites.  I was beyond pleased with Nebraska when I saw it in theaters, and even though it seems quite different than his other films, it is stimulating in many distinctive ways.  Although it does not appear Payne will come close to winning the Oscar this year, he has still made a movie that I will enjoy watching over and over again in the future.  Alexander Payne was previously nominated for Best Director for his work on Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011).

5. Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Alfonso CuaronI will try not to waste much precious space discussing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  How on earth it has received so many Oscar nominations and award wins this season will continue to baffle me until the day I die.  Maybe the voters are smitten with the film in the way they were with Avatar (2009), but I do not believe a film should garner this much critical respect just because it “looks good.”  Both the acting and the plot are non-existent, and even though Cuarón has made a beautiful-looking movie, it is nothing more than a façade for a TERRIBLE work of cinema.  Cuarón has never previously been nominated for an Oscar.

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