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).

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Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 9 – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is a biographical drama directed by Danny Boyle, with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, which was adapted from Walter Isaacson’s biography of the same name. The film is divided into three distinct scenes, all taking place behind the curtain before three product launches. The film opens up in 1984 before the unveiling of the Macintosh. Next the film shifts to 1988 as Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) prepares to announce his NeXTcube. Finally, the film ends in 1998 with the presentation of the revolutionary iMac.

Jobs4Ever since Steve Jobs’s untimely death in 2011, the film industry has become exceedingly saturated with Jobs-related material. In addition to the numerous documentaries about the head of Apple, Ashton Kutcher gave us an unbelievably subpar portrayal of Steve Jobs in Joshua Michael Stern’s 2013 feature Jobs. I mention this recent history of Jobs-related media to highlight that I understand the public’s hesitation to go see another movie about Steve Jobs. But if you have not seen this yet, I desperately urge you to rent this immediately—this movie hits the mark in nearly every way possible!

Jobs2The real geniuses behind Steve Jobs are director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Danny Boyle is the filmmaker behind award-winning films like Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, but for me, Steve Jobs is his best work yet. In this film, Boyle taps into his veteran directing style to carefully craft each scene and get the best performances out of his actors and actresses. Despite Boyle’s own brilliance, Aaron Sorkin is the single piece to this puzzle that is most imperative. Sorkin’s credits as a TV writer include heavyweights like The West Wing and The Newsroom, and his movie résumé is just as impressive, boasting scripts like A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and Moneyball. Sorkin is known in industry circles as a preeminent screenwriter due to his rapid-fire technique, and in Steve Jobs, he has provided us dialogue that I have not seen done so masterfully in years. Jobs3The movie lasts for 122 minutes, and, as I mentioned, features only three scenes—this makes Sorkin’s work even more remarkable. The story is supposed to track in real time behind the scenes of these launches, which does not leave Sorkin much time to execute his oral interchanges—he feeds off that pressure. The film (evocative of a play, which Sorkin has penned many of) thrives off conversation, and with every line, Sorkin delivers hard-hitting discourse. Although the actors execute his plans via Boyle’s direction, Sorkin is at the heart of this film’s success for me, and it is an absolute abomination that the Academy snubbed him for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Jobs5The acting performances in this film are exquisite; both Michael Fassbender (as Jobs) and Kate Winslet (as Joanna Hoffman, Apple’s marketing executive) were nominated for Oscars, and rightfully so. Michael Fassbender is by far one of the top five actors currently working in the film business. He has garnered immense praise for roles in Hunger, Inglourious Basterds, Shame, Prometheus, and 12 Years a Slave, and in Steve Jobs, Fassbender has killed it again. Steve Jobs was a once-in-a-generation kind of innovator, but the skeletons in his closets were always present, feeding off his stressful life. Jobs4Jobs’s professional and personal lives often intersected, and Steve Jobs fiercely examines the crash course that resulted. Fassbender was always the best actor for the role, and with dexterity and intricacy, he owns the many personal and professional faces of his character. Kate Winslet additionally delivers an amazing performance, for which she has already won Best Supporting Actress at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTA Awards. Jobs6Throughout Jobs’s many personal/professional-life debacles in the film, Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman is always the voice of reason that settles these issues. Winslet perfectly articulated Hoffman’s accent (a product of English mixed with her Polish and Armenian origin), and she portrays her as an incredibly strong, independent woman. It is by far one of my favorite Winslet performances of all time. Steve Jobs is rated R for language.

Steve Jobs trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEr6K1bwIVs

Academy Award nominations for Steve Jobs:

Best Actor (Michael Fassbender)

Best Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet)

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

  1. Creed
  2. ’71
  3. Room
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  5. Beasts of No Nation
  6. The Martian

Fall Preview 2015: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Header 2015

In this post, I reveal films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some potential heavy hitters, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – Steve Jobs

According to Entertainment Weekly, Steve Jobs follows its titular character, one of the most revolutionary tech giants of all time, behind the scenes of three iconic product launches: “The Macintosh, Jobs’ failed NeXT computer, and the first iMac.” In 2013, Ashton Kutcher played the Apple founder in the blatantly average Jobs. That boring biographical piece is by far the cause for my unconditional anticipation of Steve Jobs. This is due to the fact that the 2013 film proved that there is an amazing story waiting to be unearthed about the visionary behind the iPod, but it simply needs the film industry’s best and brightest to do the tale justice. In 2015, that is exactly what we get!

Steve Jobs 2Sitting in the director’s chair is Danny Boyle, the genius behind Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours. Leading the cast in the role of Jobs is the rapidly up-and-coming cinematic great Michael Fassbender. And penning the screenplay is one of my favorite writers in the game, Aaron Sorkin (the writer behind A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and Moneyball). With this incredible team pulling the strings in the newest incarnation of Steve Jobs’s life story, it is destined for Oscar nominations. Steve Jobs is set for a theatrical release on October 9, 2015.

Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire)

Starring: Michael Fassbender (Slow West, Frank), Kate Winslet (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Divergent), Seth Rogen (The Interview, Neighbors), and Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEr6K1bwIVs

No. 9 – Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation tells the vexing story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy in West Africa who watches as his family is ripped apart from him by terrorizing militants. After, Agu himself is recruited by the leader (Idris Elba) of an army of rebels, comprised of mostly child soldiers. This movie appears to tell a gripping story of a tense and controversial subject matter, and it seemingly has all of the parts to make it a masterpiece: Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote and directed, and Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba plays the devilish commander. For all of you True Detective fans out there (I have only seen a few episodes of season 1, but from what I gathered, it was amazing), Fukunaga directed season 1. Take his direction and mix it with Elba, one of my favorite actors in the business, and I think Beasts has what it takes to succeed.

Beasts of No Nation 2One of the most interesting facts about this movie is that it is Netflix’s very first original feature film. With Netflix already becoming known for its critically claimed original programming (House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), I am incredibly pumped for its journey into original film production—Beasts debuts on Netflix’s streaming service on the same day as its theatrical release. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Fukunaga stated: “It’s really hard to deny the power of 66 million subscribers. If the audience can have an emotional experience with my movie, then that’s everything I want.” Beasts of No Nation is set for a theatrical and Netflix Instant Stream release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre)

Starring: Idris Elba (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Gunman) and Ama K. Abebrese (Double-Cross, Ties That Bind)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRsaclO0VbU

No. 8 – Joy

To keep it simple, Joy is about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence). Treating cinematic visionary David O. Russell’s story to a more in-depth and honest description, it is an epic story about a 30-year span in a woman’s life, charting her ups and downs, successes and struggles. Russell again collaborates in Joy with the trio of superstars (Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper) he has featured in each of his last two films (American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook). Take these established relationships and throw in the fact that Russell’s last three films have all been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and movie fans worldwide surely have a cocktail for genius.

Joy 2Speaking of David O. Russell’s professional relationships with his recurring stars, my interest in this film is most evidenced by Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role. Silver Linings Playbook did feature her as one of the two main co-stars, but the film was mostly about Cooper’s character. Subsequently, American Hustle featured a hilarious supporting performance by J-Law, but it was Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Cooper taking up the film’s bulk. Therefore, I am beyond stoked to see one of my favorite actresses own the screen time. Lawrence knows her relationship with Russell is special, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Working on his sets is like the Olympics of acting. Everything moves so fast. It’s like watching someone do a giant abstract painting or sculpture and you go, ‘Where is this going?’ And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a Pegasus. It’s beautiful!” Joy is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.

Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook)

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Serena), Robert De Niro (The Intern, Grudge Match), and Bradley Cooper (Aloha, American Sniper)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN4MLMHET7w

No. 7 – The Martian

The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), as his crew mistakenly takes him for dead during a storm on Mars. Stranded on the red planet alone without enough resources to last him more than a few weeks, Watney must defy the odds to ever make it back to Earth alive. Ridley Scott directs this sci-fi thriller, and that is all I need to know to get on board. Scott is the creative innovator behind Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Prometheus, and with an interstellar (pun intended) cast at his disposal, his every cinematic desire will surely play out masterfully on the screen. Although I really did like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last year, it was a bit too Inception-esque with its utterly complex structure. From the looks of Scott’s The Martian in its trailer, this film looks to still provide the stunning visual prowess akin to that in Interstellar, while connecting more with the audience.

The Martian 2Scott’s ensemble cast in The Martian is most definitely one of its most impressive features. Matt Damon is obviously an award-winning star, but I am most looking forward to seeing Jessica Chastain. Those familiar with my blog and opinions on film in general know that I have long contended that Chastain is the most skilled actress in the industry. Just like her role in the aforementioned Interstellar, I expect big things from such a Hollywood heavyweight. I am also intrigued by the star power of this film’s supporting cast: the forever fearful of trains Kate Mara (House of Cards anyone?), the always hilarious, but I imagine soon-to-be dramatic Kristen Wiig, and the Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor. A cast this strong is likely to command every last second of the film. The Martian is set for a wide theatrical release on October 2, 2015.

Director: Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor)

Starring: Matt Damon (Interstellar, The Monuments Men), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year, Interstellar), Kristen Wiig (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me), Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper), Michael Peña (Ant-Man, Fury), Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, Transcedence), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Z for Zachariah, 12 Years a Slave)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

No. 6 – Legend

In the true-life biopic Legend, set in London during the 1960s, Tom Hardy plays both twin brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, two of the most renowned gangsters in the world. Tom Hardy + Tom Hardy = double the Tom Hardy. Boom! I am in! Just like my devoted contention that Jessica Chastain is the most talented actress in the game, I likewise believe Hardy is the single greatest actor in all of world cinema. He has proven his worth as the titular character in the brutally violent Bronson, the demented supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the emotionally torn Ivan in last year’s Locke, and the legendary master of madness in this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. He is the ultimate craftsman, and Legend director Brian Helgeland immediately took notice of Hardy’s seriousness behind the scenes, telling Entertainment Weekly, “he takes it to a point I’ve never seen—just the commitment and the focus. There’s no gag reel.”

Legend 2Aside from the actual casting of Hardy in Legend, I am fascinated by the fact that he plays both of the Kray twins. Yes, Armie Hammer did a wonderful job as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in 2010’s The Social Network, but Legend is pitched as a badass action adventure, which implicates a completely unprecedented challenge for an actor to take on two roles. While Helgeland initially wanted Hardy to portray only Reggie, the character with the emotional love story at his core, Hardy was smitten with the challenge of playing Ron, the gay and much more outgoing of the twins. Helgeland told EW that “from the time Tom sat down, all he was talking about was Ron. At the end, Tom said, ‘I’ll give you Reggie if you give me Ron.’” The rest was history, and I cannot wait to see the result. Legend is set for a theatrical release on October 2, 2015.

Director: Brian Helgeland (42, The Order)

Starring: Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road), Emily Browning (Pompeii, God Help the Girl), David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, The Fifth Estate), and Chazz Palminteri (Henry & Me, Yonkers Joe)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI3v6KfR9Mw

Review: My Ballot and Countdown

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Well, with another successful few weeks of blogging, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s show, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past couple of weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 10 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about, 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 past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 86th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years A Slave)

Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

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

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 1 – 12 Years A Slave

12 1

12 Years A Slave is a film directed by Steve McQueen, with a screenplay by John Ridley.  The film is adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.  It tells the true story of when Northup was abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era, despite the fact that he was a free man.

12 Years A Slave is an epic tale about the bitter reality of American slavery and the resilience one man had to withstand such brutal obstacles in order to one day reach his family again.  I have heard many great things about Steve McQueen’s filmmaking abilities, but prior to 12 Years A Slave, I had never personally seen any of his work.  But based purely on his effort here, the British director has made me a dedicated believer in his talented artistry.  McQueenThe subject of slavery in America has never been displayed on the silver screen before in such a straightforward, viciously honest nature, and when asked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly why there have not been more films in America about slavery, McQueen responded, “it’s a question it took a Brit to ask.”  McQueen gives Solomon Northup’s story justice on the screen and not by sugarcoating any part of this heroic story—he is candid at all times, no matter how atrocious the circumstances are.  McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time, and this is the first time since The King’s Speech won for Best Picture that I have so deeply believed that a film deserves the Academy’s most coveted award.

This epic tale is packed with astoundingly crafted acting performances, and this is just another reason why 12 Years A Slave stands tall among the rest of 2013’s cinematic exports.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, and his take on the real-life man is viscerally remarkable.  Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a SlaveThere are some horrifying scenes involving Ejiofor’s character, but he handles them with an experienced level of dignity.  Ejiofor admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he found the most brutal scenes the easiest to perform because “it allows for another level of legitimacy in the pursuit of someone’s story, somebody’s life.”  Ejiofor devoted the time and effort in preparing for this role with commitment and resolve, and for that, the story of Solomon Northup receives the respected amount of attention that it deserves.

Lupita Nyong’o also gave one of the most incredible performances of the entire year in her portrayal of Patsey, an iron-willed slave woman.  Her character is one of the more innocent figures in the film, but she has some of the harshest realities of pre-Civil War slavery, namely the sexual sadism she is subjected to from her slave owner.  lupitaNyong’o is a newcomer in Hollywood, but the performance she gives is more analogous to a veteran performer on the verge of a Lifetime Achievement award.  Her wisdom in terms of acting is beyond her years, and in this film, she gives a performance that will long be remembered as one of the best 2013 had to offer.  With every crack of the whip during her gruesome beating scene, Lupita Nyong’o becomes immersed even deeper into her character, and even though the scene is one of the hardest to watch, her realism knocks it out of the park.

The film’s other actors also give outstanding supporting performances, especially Paul Dano and Sarah Paulson.  fassbenderBut aside from Ejiofor and Nyong’o, no performance is more memorable than Michael Fassbender as the vicious slave-owner, Edwin Epps.  At first glance, the character seems blandly one-dimensional, but Fassbender’s exhaustive construction of the character brings out so many other previously unearthed qualities.  Ever since I first saw Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, I knew he had a unique gift in regards to acting, but never before has he been so instinctive and appalling as he is in 12 Years A Slave.  If any other skilled actor were to take on the role of Epps, the film would probably still be a solid “A.”  But Fassbender’s terrific performance takes this movie to another level, and McQueen is most assuredly thankful for this collaboration.

All in all, this film is by far the best of the entire year.  It touches every single emotion a viewer could possibly have, and the acting is something to behold.  McQueen has beautifully created one of the most important films of modern cinema, and for that, it deserves every single honor available in this industry.  12 Years A Slave is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.

12 Years A Slave trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg

Academy Award nominations for 12 Years A Slave:

Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas, Producers)

Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender)

Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o)

Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris)

Best Director (Steve McQueen)

Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker)

Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley)

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

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

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

Best Supporting Actor

Michael Fassbender

Last year, the actors nominated for Best Supporting Actor combined for six previous Oscar wins and sixteen prior nominations.  This year, there could not be a more polar-opposite assemblage of performers.  Three of this year’s five nominees have never been nominated for an Academy Award.  Only Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper have previously received Oscar nominations; however, these two actors combine for just two previous nominations.  Even though this year’s group is made up of novices in regards to the Oscars, it is nonetheless one of the most competitive categories of the entire Academy Awards field.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

In 12 Years A Slave, Michael Fassbender portrays Edwin Epps, a dark, menacing plantation owner in the pre-Civil War era.  Epps is a complicated man with fits of rage mixed in with his sexual desire for his top-producing slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).  This Michael Fassbender 2year is one of the best collections of supporting performances in a very long time, and even though Jared Leto is stealing everyone’s thunder at nearly every award show, I believe Fassbender gave this year’s top performance.  His depiction of the slave-driving Epps is so incredibly multi-dimensional, and Fassbender performs in such a way that made me both despise and empathize with his character simultaneously.  For those of you that have not seen this film yet, there is a scene where Fassbender must discipline Patsey, the slave who is the object of his affection, and what transpires is a gruesome, but very authentic presentation that I believe justifies giving both Fassbender and Nyong’o Oscars.  Fassbender has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

In Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto plays Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman.  As many of you know, Leto is cleaning house at nearly every awards show for his Jared Letoperformance as Rayon, and honestly, it is all justified.  Leto is completely believable as a transgender woman, and he gives an emotionally dramatic performance that will rival any performance you may see for quite some time.  Even though nearly all of Leto’s scenes in the film are played as Rayon, the most heartbreaking scene in the entire movie features Leto confronting his father as Raymond, seemingly the man he used to be before his transformation.  In any other year, I would take Leto by a landslide; however, this year, his fantastic performance did not quite reach the level of Fassbender’s unbelievable depiction of Edwin Epps.  Jared Leto has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

In Captain Phillips, Barkhad Abdi plays the real-life Abduwali Muse, one of the Somali pirates who overtook a U.S. cargo ship and held the captain hostage.  If Abdi were one ofBarkhad Adbi in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks. the most established actors in all of Hollywood, I would still think that this performance was wonderful.  But Abdi is not an established actor; in fact, this was his very first acting job of his entire life—this fact makes it even more evident that Abdi gave one of the year’s most acclaimed performances.  Abdi’s depiction of Muse was carefully constructed, and he delineates the character in such a way that I identified with him despite the fact that he is holding a gun to Richard Phillips’s head while taking him hostage.  I sure hope Abdi is able to find other work in Hollywood because he is clearly one of the brightest shining stars from 2013.  Barkhad Abdi has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill plays Donnie Azoff, the drug-addicted, stock-scheming sidekick of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio); Azoff is a character based on Danny Porush, the real-life associate of Belfort’s brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.  If someone would have bet me $1 million in 2007, after my first viewing of Superbad, to say Jonah Hillthat Jonah Hill would become one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, I would have told that lunatic to get lost.  And yet, here I am today about to make that very proclamation: Jonah Hill is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood!  He has proven to be a comedic force in films like Get Him to the Green and 21 Jump Street, but his roles in both Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street have revealed his great acting depth.  His role as Donnie Azoff will forever be one of my favorites in film, and I only wish Jonah had a weaker group of competition this year so he could finally take home the coveted golden statute.  Jonah Hill was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moneyball (2011).

5. Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Bradley Cooper plays Richie DiMaso, a “go-getter” FBI agent who attempts to take down a group of corrupt politicians in New York City with the help from Bradley Coopertwo con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams).  Bradley Cooper continually takes on well-calculated acting roles and continues to find loads of success doing so; however, once again he has turned in a tremendous performance in a year that is packed with unbelievable acting talent.  I wish he could take home the award for his portrayal of the perm-hairdo-wearing DiMaso, but unfortunately, the cards are stacked against him this Oscars season.  Bradley Cooper was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

Actors snubbed in this category: Tye Sheridan (Mud), Daniel Brühl (Rush), Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12), Will Forte (Nebraska), and Jeremy Renner (American Hustle)

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