Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 8 – Fences

Fences is a drama directed by Denzel Washington, with a screenplay by the late August Wilson, which he adapted from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. The film, which is set in a black working-class neighborhood in Pittsburgh during the 1950s, follows Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a waste collector living with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and his teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) during a time of racial tension. Throughout the film, Troy and his best friend Bono (Stephen Henderson) set up shop in the Maxson’s backyard to drink gin and talk about life, including discussions about race, women, and whether or not Troy will ever finish building his fence.

august-wilsonThe late August Wilson’s Fences is considered one of the greatest plays of all time, but Wilson has transformed that award-winning story into one of the most emotionally affecting films of 2016, with a screenplay that he penned prior to his 2005 death. With the help of Denzel Washington’s brilliant filmmaking—and Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s exquisite photography—Fences gets a picturesque silver-screen treatment. This superb script explores thought-provoking themes of race, death, love, revenge, and family, and Wilson’s rapid-fire dialogue makes for an exciting ride for the audience. Over the course of his career, August Wilson won two Pulitzer Prizes and one Tony, so it is only right that his final contribution to the arts resulted in a much-deserved posthumous Academy Award nomination.

fences5As I mentioned earlier, this film is incredibly affecting on an emotional level, and it is not just because of August Wilson’s beautiful script—what truly carries Fences is the remarkable acting. However, it is no surprise that the chemistry between the performers was spot-on and effortless—five of the actors took part in the 2010 Broadway revival of Fences. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprised their roles as Troy and Rose Maxson, for which they both won Tony Awards in 2010. Further, Stephen Henderson, Mykelti Williamson, and Russell Hornsby all returned in their roles as Bono, Gabriel Maxson, and Lyons Maxson, respectively. Needless to say, these skilled actors had already spent years with their characters, which allowed for the most immaculate portrayals that an audience could have hoped to see.

fences6Speaking of the acting performances, the hype that Denzel and Viola Davis are receiving is completely justified—just as their on-screen characters are constantly battling, these two celebrated actors fight each other for ownership of every single scene they appear in. The Best Actor category is an incredibly tight race between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington, and although I preferred Affleck’s performance, I would have zero problem with Washington taking home his third Oscar—his performance is as commanding as any I’ve ever seen. As for Davis, well, her epic snot-pouring scene in the film has surely locked up the Best Supporting Actress category. fences3One of my favorite performances, though, was that of Williamson as Troy’s disabled brother Gabriel, which was quite underrated. Fences featured a few moments that cued the water works, and many of those came courtesy of Williamson’s emotionally invested portrayal of Gabriel. Fences is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

Fences trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj-ZYPVRQbc

Academy Award nominations for Fences:

Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Denzel Washington, and Todd Black)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis)

Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

9. Zootopia

10. Nocturnal Animals

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Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 9 – Zootopia

 

Zootopia is an animated feature film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston. The film is about Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit from Bunnyborrow with aspirations to become a police officer.

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Following her dream, Judy moves to the big city—Zootopia. However, when she arrives, she quickly realizes that life as the first bunny cop in history is incredibly challenging. Eventually, Judy finds her purpose investigating a big case, with help from a sly, scam-artist fox named Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman)—but things are not as they seem after a series of predators go “savage.”

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I saw Zootopia twice this year (once when it came out in March and again this summer), and until the slate of incredible fall movies hit the theater, it was my favorite movie of the year. Zootopia is by far one of the best animated movies I have ever seen, too—it rivals any of the Disney/Pixar greats. But for me, what makes the film so incredible is more than just its elite animation and witty humor. Zootopia succeeds because it explores deep, socially relevant themes in a way that appeals to both kids and adults. Those that believe animated films provide no true cinematic value are simply ignorant and mistaken. On a basic level, Judy Hopps’s persistence illustrates to children that if they dream it and believe it, they can achieve it. But on a much deeper level, Zootopia brilliantly examines themes of fear, stereotyping, and prejudice that make it a particularly important piece of cinema in Trump’s America.

zoo6In the melting pot of Zootopia, predators and prey live amongst each other in harmony. However, when a group of predators start to go “savage,” every animal’s true colors come out in the form of unfounded fear and prejudice. The crimes of these few “savage” predators become a conduit for terror, intolerance, and discrimination, and it eerily mimics the social landscape of our nation throughout the past year of Donald Trump’s political campaign and ascension to America’s highest position. This is what makes Zootopia such a thought-provoking piece of film, aside from being just another great animated movie for kids. The creators dared to depict relevant real-world issues in a “kids” movie, and Zootopia will forever be held in esteem for its message of inclusion.

zoo3Aside from its adult themes, Zootopia is a flawless comedy for people of all ages. Jason Bateman is hilariously bright and amusing (per usual) in his role as Nick, and Ginnifer Goodwin skillfully balances the intricate line between straight-edge and adventurous. The film also includes a comical scene depicting Mr. Big as a feared crime boss, inspired by Vito Corleone in the opening scene of The Godfather. zoo1However, the single greatest highlight of Zootopia is the DMV scene, which features a riotous back-and-forth between Flash, a three-toed sloth, and Nick and Judy. Flash operates almost in slow motion (as you’d expect a sloth would), and everything plays out hysterically! The movie is worth the watch for this scene alone. Zootopia is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.

Zootopia trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWM0ct-OLsM

Academy Award nominations for Zootopia:

Best Animated Feature (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

10. Nocturnal Animals

The Fifth Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” and 2016’s Honorable Mentions

For the fifth consecutive year, welcome back to The Reel Countdown, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog, which now, for the first time ever, officially has its own domain name: http://www.thereelcountdown.com. In just 14 days, the 89th Academy Awards will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California, and over the next two weeks, I look forward to sharing with you my favorite films from 2016.

For the past few years, this blog has included a breakdown of my “Top 15 Films of the Year,” as well as my own personal Oscars ballot for the year’s major categories. However, starting this year, the countdown of my favorite films of the year will be reduced to a “Top 10”—life has gotten much busier since last year!

After a fantastic year of film in 2016, the lead up to the Academy Awards has produced a number of interesting storylines: La La Land tied All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations by a single film (14!), the Academy nominated one of the most diverse group of nominees ever, Meryl Streep extended her own record for most nominations by a single actor to 20, Mel Gibson was effectively forgiven by Hollywood after notching a Best Director nomination, and O.J.: Made in America became the longest film to ever be nominated in any category (467 minutes). With late-night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel set to host for the first time, this year’s Oscars will surely entertain on all levels.

I am kicking off my fifth annual countdown by announcing the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 Films of 2016. Here are my five Honorable Mentions:

No. 11 – 13th

avaduvernay13th is a Netflix original documentary by director Ava DuVernay that explores race, the criminal justice system, and the social consequences of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” In 13th, DuVernay examines how the drafters of the 13th Amendment, while ending slavery in its more traditional form, left themselves an “out” to continue enslaving blacks in America via imprisonment for shockingly inconsequential charges.

13thTo put it simply, 13th is one of the year’s most important films. Not only is it important on a broad humanistic level, it is also as relevant as ever given Donald Trump’s extensive racially unconscious and divisive rhetoric (which director Ava DuVernay portrays in one particularly unflinching scene). Growing up and living in a vastly conservative region of the United States (where it is completely normal to see someone proudly flying the Rebel flag), I have seen firsthand how a wide range of people consider blacks to generally be “criminals,” and DuVernay, with meticulousness and dexterity, examines the roots of this unfounded terror and dehumanization. Exploring D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, the “Jim Crow” laws, President Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” and President Clinton’s “Three Strikes” rule, DuVernay delineates how America has fostered a prejudice for those of color. Everything 13th investigates has clearly been done so with exhaustive, in-depth research, and DuVernay has created one of the year’s most thought-provoking films. Bravo!

No. 12 – Gleason

gleason-1Gleason is a documentary that follows, with extraordinary access, the life of former New Orleans Saints hero Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed in 2011 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). This film tells the inspirational story of Gleason’s fight against this rare and incurable disease, delving deep into his relationship with his wife, the birth of his son at the beginning of his diagnosis, and his faith.

gleason-2Gleason is definitely one of the year’s best films (documentary or narrative), and I advise anyone that subscribes to Amazon Prime to make it a priority to watch it. But I will warn you now: PREPARE FOR TEARS! The filmmakers explore Gleason’s diagnosis from every angle and do not sugarcoat anything—they show you the fight and determination of Gleason’s family as they react to the initial diagnosis, but they also examine the real and undeniable daily struggles that come with ALS. This film definitely hits the heart in astonishing ways, but despite the pain and sadness that embody the nature of Steve Gleason’s disease, the story of inspiration and hope reigns supreme.

No. 13 – Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures Day 41

Hidden Figures is a biographical drama directed by Theodore Melfi, with a screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder. The film tells the true-life story of Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three black female mathematicians working for NASA during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Hidden Figures follows the three women as they break a wide range of racial barriers in the early 1960s, including Johnson’s integral role in calculating flight trajectories for John Glenn’s infamous Friendship 7 mission, where he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

hidden-figures-2Hidden Figures is heartwarming and relevant as ever—not only does it tackle the severe racial tensions of the 1960s, but it also digs into the even more challenging life of a black female during the middle part of the 20th century. The film introduces the world to three extraordinary women who helped shape America’s role in space exploration, and it inspirationally communicates to all girls, especially young black females, that they are just as worthy as their male counterparts in all aspects of life. Hidden Figures is an empowering film, and it is just what America needed during this tumultuous time in our history.

No. 14 – Hacksaw Ridge

hr-1Hacksaw Ridge is a war drama directed by Oscar winner Mel Gibson, with a screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. The film tells the amazing true-life story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a combat medic during World War II who, as a devout Christian, refused to carry and/or use a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, Doss single handedly rescued over 75 American soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge, earning him the Medal of Honor—this was the first time the highest military honor had ever been bestowed upon a conscientious objector.

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Over the past decade, Hollywood has unofficially blacklisted Mel Gibson following the anti-Semitic comments he made during a DUI arrest in 2006, which has been evidenced by the big studios’ blatant cold shoulder. However, with Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson has returned to the level of filmmaking genius that earned him numerous Oscars for Braveheart—clearly, the Academy took notice, bestowing upon Gibson another Best Director nomination. In addition to Gibson’s direction, Andrew Garfield gives one of the year’s best performances as Desmond Doss—Garfield provided poise and nuance to his real-life character, and the film benefits from his talent. Although the film is far too preachy for my tastes, the incredible action sequences make it well worth the watch.

No. 15 – Green Room

green-room-anton-pootsGreen Room is a thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. The film follows the Ain’t Rights, a punk rock band traveling through the Pacific Northwest who, in desperate need of cash, agree to play a gig at a neo-Nazi skinhead club. After the concert, band member Pat (the late Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to retrieve a cell phone, only to witness a recently committed murder. When Pat and his band members attempt to alert the police, the club’s brass, at the direction of ringleader Darcy (Patrick Stewart), lock the Ain’t Rights in the club’s green room. In thrilling fashion, the rest of the film follows the group’s attempts to make it out alive.

green-room-2The first time I came across the work of Jeremy Saulnier was in 2014 when I watched his masterpiece of a film, Blue Ruin. Although Green Room does not achieve the same degree of amazement as his previous film, Saulnier has returned to the same well to craft an exhilarating adventure that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Green Room is harrowing and sadistic in its depiction of the dark side of the punk rock scene as it relates to the skinhead subculture; however, Saulnier constructs this horror with composed skill. Led by exceptional performances from the late Anton Yelchin and Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself (Patrick Stewart), Green Room is a wild and crazy adventure that is a must-see!

Fall Preview 2016: No. 10 – No. 6

Happy Sunday! Today I am revealing 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 a wide range of films, including a likely heavy hitter at the box office, 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 – The Founder

The Founder details the true story of McDonald’s and its rise to fast-food domination. The film follows Illinois salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) as he meets brothers Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman), who operate a hamburger restaurant in California. Controversially, Kroc tactically maneuvers himself into a position to take control of the McDonald’s brand, which grows into one of the world’s best-known brands after Kroc buys the chain for $2.7 million in 1961.

the-founder-2The source of my interest in The Founder is one man: Michael Keaton. Beginning with Birdman in 2014 (for which Keaton won the Oscar for Best Actor) and Spotlight in 2015 (which won the Oscar for Best Picture), Michael Keaton has undergone a true film renaissance. The resurgence of Keaton as an acting powerhouse is undeniable, and from the looks of the trailer for this film, I can only believe that he is set to kill it once more. The role seems to include elements of comedy, drama, malice, and deceit—a veteran like Keaton is sure to embrace this challenge and deliver a balanced performance.

One of the film’s keys is also one of the film’s (potential) downsides: director John Lee Hancock. Hancock’s directorial history consists of The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side, and Saving Mr. Banks. The positive here is that Hancock clearly knows how to take a true-life story and mold it into a solid movie. The drawback, though, is that each of these films—while well-crafted—got a bit cheesy and cliché at times. As is evident from the trailer, The Founder takes on a seriously controversial subject matter, and I am hoping that this factor takes the film into the category of “drama,” rather than “melodrama”—I want the Big Mac, not the Big Sap. The Founder is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side)

Starring: Michael Keaton (Spotlight, Birdman), Laura Dern (99 Homes, Wild), and Nick Offerman (Danny Collins, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX2uz2XYkbo

No. 9 – Loving

Loving follows the courtship and marriage of Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The two are arrested and sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 because their interracial marriage violates the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. The couple eventually sues the state of Virginia in a series of proceedings leading to the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v. Virginia, which holds that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

loving-2Before I even knew much about this film, I was interested. As most of you probably know, in May I graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law. During my time in law school, I examined the case of Loving v. Virginia in my constitutional law course. It is a case that stands as a pillar of change during a truly despicable time in American history, and I am more than happy to see the Loving’s story played out on the silver screen. Like I have felt with most films coming out this fall, however, the story appears quite susceptible to an overload of sap. But Richard Lawson, a critic for Vanity Fair, claimed the film’s lack of schmaltziness (for lack of a better word) take away the film’s “heft.” For me, I would always err on the side of avoiding anything that makes a story mawkish, so Lawson’s criticism does not bother me whatsoever.

I first heard about Loving this past spring when it competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Although it did not win the coveted award, the film still ultimately won—it received a standing ovation following its screening and many critics considered the film a surefire Oscar contender. Most of this success can be attributed to Loving’s director (Jeff Nichols) and stars (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga). Nichols is a filmmaker that continues to, movie by movie, build up a critically acclaimed filmography. The beautifully crafted Mud served as my introduction to Nichols as a writer/director, and I look for him to bring that same poise and dexterity to Loving. As far as acting, I haven’t seen much of Ruth Negga, but I can definitely vouch for Joel Edgerton’s abilities—he has proven to be an underrated master of his craft, and all signs point to the same level of sharp performance that I have grown accustomed to seeing from Edgerton. Loving is set for a theatrical release on November 4, 2016.

Director: Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud)

Starring: Joel Edgerton (Midnight Special, Black Mass), Ruth Negga (Warcraft, Fury), Nick Kroll (Sausage Party, Knight of Cups), and Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33g-ZHBQdNU

No. 8 – Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals follows Susan (Amy Adams), a successful LA art-gallery owner, whose idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, Susan is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.

nocturnal-2Tom Ford. Tom Ford. No, I am not quoting lyrics from Jay-Z’s 2013 song “Tom Ford”; I am talking about the director of Nocturnal Animals. While Tom Ford is universally known as one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, he is also an acclaimed filmmaker. In 2009, Ford wrote, directed, and produced A Single Man, an award-winning film starring Colin Firth. I was a huge fan of Ford’s debut effort, and when I found out he was returning this year with Nocturnal Animals, I was on board. Aside from Tom Ford at the wheel, my interest in this film further derives from its acting stars: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Adams definitely ranks in the top five of my favorite actresses currently working, and I cannot wait to see her take on this thrilling role. With Gyllenhaal, we all know what we are going to get—a charismatic yet enigmatic performance; it is a recipe for success and Gyllenhaal rarely lets the audience down. Nocturnal Animals is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Starring: Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition, Everest), Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 7 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first of three stand-alone spin-off films set in the Star Wars universe and takes place (temporally) sometime between the conclusion of Episode III and the beginning of Episode IV in the Star Wars franchise. The film is set 18 years after the formation of the Galactic Empire and follows the Rebel Alliance as it recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a team to steal the Death Star plans.

To be completely honest, I did not watch a single Star Wars movie until last fall when I binge-watched the entire series in anticipation of the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Although the franchise had always been a cinematic blind spot for me, I got caught up in a short span of time and was not disappointed. With the exception of Episodes I and II, I found all of Star Wars films to be highly entertaining and well-crafted pieces of cinema. Because of this, I have an enormous interest in the newest addition to the Star Wars universe.

rogue-one-2As was probably the case for most Star Wars fans, the trailer for Rogue One had me hooked. Aside from a journey back to a galaxy far, far away, Rogue One also grabbed my attention with its out-of-this-world (see what I did there) cast. Leading the way is Felicity Jones, a fetching actress who more than impressed me with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything. Joining Jones are actors Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker, a group with varying degrees of experience but unwavering levels of precision. Led by Gareth Edwards (the director of Monsters and Godzilla), this cast has everything going for it to make the newest Star Wars film a success. Let’s hope Rogue One delivers. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a theatrical release on December 16, 2016.

Director: Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters)

Starring: Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls, The Theory of Everything), Diego Luna (Blood Father, Elysium), and Ben Mendelsohn (Mississippi Grind, Slow West)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juFmTNbFh8g

No. 6 – Moonlight

Moonlight tells the story of a young black man balancing his dysfunctional home life and coming of age in the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told across three distinct chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality.

Moonlight is one of those films that looks to have everything necessary to strive as a sleeper hit this fall. After debuting at this year’s Telluride Film Festival, Moonlight was met with universal acclaim—David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter stated the film was “fluid and seductive, deceptively mellow, and shot with shearing compassion,” while Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf hailed the film as “without a doubt, the reason we go to the movies: to understand, to come closer, to ache, hopefully with another.” For me, these early reviews triggered an immense interest in the film, and I cannot wait to see where Moonlight goes from here.moonlight-2

The film does have some question marks though: director Barry Jenkins and lead actor Trevante Rhodes (who plays Chiron) epitomize the term “unknown.” Although I have never heard of Jenkins, the critics at Telluride collectively praised his abilities. Justin Chang from the LA Times suppressed any apprehension I had about Jenkins, stating that he “made a film that urges the viewer to look past Chiron’s outward appearance and his superficial signifiers of identity, climbing inside familiar stereotypes in order to quietly dismantle them from within . . . . [Moonlight] doesn’t say much. It says everything.” Moonlight is set for a theatrical release on October 21, 2016.

Director: Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, My Josephine)

Starring: Trevante Rhodes (The Night Is Young, Weightless), André Holland (The Knick, Selma), Naomie Harris (Our Kind of Traitor, Spectre), and Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, House of Cards)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NJj12tJzqc

Fall Preview 2016: Honorable Mentions

Welcome back, everyone. Usually I release my Fall Preview each year at the end of August to encompass all theatrical releases between September and December; however, due to being a bit busier than usual this—and the fact that September is always the weakest month of the fall in terms of film releases anyways—I have delayed the release of my list until now. With the 89th Academy Awards just 148 days away, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

Okay, let’s get the fall movie season started. For the fourth consecutive year, I have created a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. My list consists of ten films (plus five honorable mentions) that, on their face, look like they could be very good. I take into account a range of criteria when considering films for this list, including, but not limited to, the cast, director, producers, media hype, trailer, and pure conjecture. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this weekend:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Sunday: No. 10 – No. 6

Tuesday: No. 5 – No. 1

Kicking off this year’s Fall Preview are the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 10 movies I am most looking forward to seeing (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!

The Accountant

The Accountant is a film about Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), a mathematics savant with little to no social skills. Although it appears Christian is a small-town CPA, he makes his living as a forensic accountant for dangerous criminal organizations. With the government on his heels, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. As he gets closer to the truth about a discrepancy that involves millions of dollars, the body count starts to rise.

the-accountant-2This film is either going to be really good or really bad. But I cannot help myself from being intrigued by the casting of Ben Affleck in such an atypical role. Whether he is the good guy or the bad guy, Affleck historically portrays characters with copious amounts of charisma—that clearly is not the case here, as Christian Wolff embodies the exact opposite of term “social butterfly.” With the addition to the cast of the firecracker Anna Kendrick, the Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, and the ever-brooding Jon Bernthal, The Accountant has the dominant “acting” factor on its side.

I am also interested to see what director Gavin O’Connor will bring to the table here. I have not seen his 2011 film Warrior, which featured performances from Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, but the praise it received is undeniable nonetheless. Further, he impressed me in 2008 with Pride and Glory, so my hope is that he continues to find his groove, building upon the success of these two particular films. The Accountant is set for a theatrical release on October 14, 2016.

Director: Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun, Warrior)

Starring: Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gone Girl), Anna Kendrick (Trolls, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), J.K. Simmons (Zootopia, Whiplash), and Jon Bernthal (Sicario, Fury)

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

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a war drama based on the 2012 award-winning novel of the same name. The film follows Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19-year-old Army specialist fighting in Iraq. Following an intense battle where Billy and his comrades barely survive, they are brought back home to the US and celebrated as heroes. Once they are back, they embark on a promotional tour across the country, which ends in a halftime show at the annual Thanksgiving Day football game. There, the film follows Lynn as he recounts the tragic memories of the war and losing his sergeant in a firefight.

billy-lynn-2When I first watched this trailer, I had two distinct thoughts: (1) Wow, this story looks like it is going to be an intense, tear-jerking ride; and (2) Damn, part of this looks like Ang Lee went full-blown Disney. If the latter turns out to be the case (i.e., cheesy melodrama…blahhhhh), I know I will not enjoy the film. Therefore, I am hopeful that Ang Lee is relentless in making this feel-good film all the while intense and dramatic. The veteran director rarely makes mistakes as a filmmaker, which is why I am putting a fair amount of faith in Billy Lynn’s potential to be a sleeper hit this fall.

Despite having Ang Lee at the helm, the film could epically fall flat as a result of its cast. With Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, and Steve Martin on board, the film has hope; however, I still have reservations about Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, and the movie’s lead, Joe Alwyn. As far as Diesel goes, I will be frank—other than his motion-capture and voice work as “Groot” in Guardians of the Galaxy, I have little reason to believe he is a worthwhile actor at all, as his filmography epitomizes the term “weak sauce.” Throw Kristen Stewart into the picture, and I become far more concerned—Bella is a complete and utter drag to stomach on the screen. Lastly, the trailer seems to show Alwyn giving a fantastic performance; however, it is his debut performance. Because of that, it only makes sense to exercise caution. How can I have such worrisome thoughts while still having hope for the film? It all comes down to Ang Lee for me. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is set for a theatrical release on November 11, 2016.

Director: Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain)

Starring: Joe Alwyn (this is Alwyn’s debut film), Kristen Stewart (Café Society, Twilight), Chris Tucker (Silver Linings Playbook, Rush Hour), Garrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken), Vin Diesel (Guardians of the Galaxy, Fast and the Furious), and Steve Martin (Love the Coopers, Pink Panther)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUULFJ_I048

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation tells the true-life story of the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher. The film follows Turner as his financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As Turner witnesses countless atrocities—against himself and his fellow slaves—he orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

I have been awaiting the release of this film for a long time. With such anticipation, what is the reason for only including it on my Honorable Mentions instead of higher up the list? It is simple: It is hard to overlook the sexual assault controversy surrounding the film’s auteur, Nate Parker (I am not going to address it any more than I already have, but I encourage everyone to read into this compelling story at http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/08/why-the-debate-over-nate-parker-is-so-complex/496700/).

the-birth-2Back to the film. My interest in the film dates back to the conclusion of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. After taking home the festival’s most prestigious award­­—the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic—filmmaker Nate Parker inked the largest film-rights deal in Sundance history: Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the worldwide rights for $17.5 million (Parker also took home the Audience Award: Dramatic, as well). Mix in some serious critical acclaim, and I was hooked. I was also drawn to Parker’s desire to bring about systemic change via the silver screen with his film; in 2015 he stated, “There’s so many things that are happening right now in 2015—100 years after the original ‘Birth of a Nation’ film, here we are. I’d say that is what I hope sets my film apart, is that it’s relevant now—that people will talk about this film with the specific intention of change.” Despite Parker’s personal controversy, I am looking forward to his film’s underlying message of social change in a time where our nation desperately needs it. The Birth of a Nation is set for a theatrical release on October 7, 2016.

Director: Nate Parker (this is his feature-length directorial debut)

Starring: Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights, Red Hook Summer), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Lone Ranger), Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away with Murder, The Rewrite), and Jackie Earle Haley (RoboCop, Lincoln)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4TTbcXG1GQ 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fantasy film inspired by J.K. Rowling’s book of the same name, which itself was the supposed textbook in the “Harry Potter” universe authored by fictitious Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York City in 1926 to meet with an official from the Magical Congress of the United States of America. At this meeting is a magically expanded briefcase, which houses a number of dangerous creatures and their habitats. When the creatures escape from the briefcase, it sends the American wizarding authorities after Newt.

beasts-2For anyone that knows me well, it is obvious that this film would always be on my radar this fall—I am a devoted fan of the entire “Harry Potter” universe developed by genius author J.K. Rowling. It has been five years since the last Harry Potter film was released, so for me, to come back into Rowling’s magical universe is a dream come true. The film’s director and screenwriter only add to my eagerness: David Yates and J.K. Rowling, respectively. I have extremely high hopes for the film with Yates behind the scenes, as he directed the final four Harry Potter films—those films definitely took the series to a new level, and with Yates’s deep knowledge of Rowling’s universe, he will surely deliver a gem. Speaking of Rowling, the “Harry Potter” mastermind penned her first screenplay with Fantastic Beasts. On paper, Rowling has never let me down—I have the same hope for her debut script. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set for a theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)

Starring: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs, Inherent Vice), Dan Fogler (Barely Lethal, Take Me Home Tonight), and Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Winter’s Tale)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGNnv_g9h4k 

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea, set and filmed in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). Following the sudden and unexpected death of Lee’s older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler), Lee becomes the legal guardian of Patrick, Joe’s son. The story then follows Lee back to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, as he must deal with his new role while balancing issues with his separated wife (Michelle Williams) and the North Shore community.

If you have not heard much about this film—which I imagine most haven’t—it is high time to get familiar. I wish I could vouch for Kenneth Lonergan as a film director, but I simply cannot—I have never once seen one of his films (to my credit, he basically hasn’t done anything as a director). However, what will probably pique your interest is a major writing credit on his résumé: Gangs of New York. That film is one of my all-time favorites, and Lonergan’s script was dramatic, intense, and as witty as they come—I sure hope he is able to emulate that dexterity here in Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan also penned this script).

manchester-2As far as acting, this film has a variety of talented actors that will surely put on fantastic performances. But the one person that makes me want to rush out to see this the moment it hits theaters is Casey Affleck. In my opinion, Casey is a far superior actor to his older brother Ben (you know, Batman). He has continually impressed me with well-crafted, nuanced performances in films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone (the latter of which was directed by Batman Affleck himself), and after watching the Manchester by the Sea trailer, all signs point to another gifted performance. Manchester by the Sea is set for a wide theatrical release on November 18, 2016.

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret)

Starring: Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours), Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful, Take This Waltz), and Kyle Chandler (Carol, The Wolf of Wall Street)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsVoD0pTge0

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

 

Full List of Films I Saw from 2015: Ranked from 1 – 72

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
16. Legend
17. Southpaw
18. The Gift
19. Black Mass
20. Bridge of Spies
21. Amy
22. Cartel Land
23. Spy
24. The Hateful Eight
25. While We’re Young
26. It Follows
27. The Stanford Prison Experiment
28. Trumbo
29. Dope
30. Spectre
31. Focus
32. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
33. What We Do In the Shadows
34. Far from the Madding Crowd
35. Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
36. Brooklyn
37. Bone Tomahawk
38. The Wolfpack
39. Jurassic World
40. Maps to the Stars
41. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
42. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
43. Inside Out
44. Shaun the Sheep
45. 45 Years
46. GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
47. Welcome to Me
48. Carol
49. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation
50. Anomalisa
51. Insurgent
52. Cinderella
53. Daddy’s Home
54. Fifty Shades of Grey
55. Hyena
56. Joy
57. The Danish Girl
58. White Dog
59. San Andreas
60. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
61. The Good Dinosaur
62. Back in Time
63. Chappie
64. Creep
65. Slow West
66. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
67. Hot Girls Wanted
68. Pitch Perfect 2
69. Get Hard
70. The Duff
71. Deep Web
72. The Duke of Burgundy

Best Picture (2015)

This year, one of eight nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies when it receives the Academy’s greatest honor: the Oscar for Best Picture. Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include It Happened One Night, The Bridge on the River KwaiOliver!Driving Miss DaisyBraveheartNo Country for Old MenBirdman, and many more. Needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:

WINNERMad Max: Fury Road

2. The Revenant

3. The Big Short

4. Spotlight

5. Room

6. The Martian

7. Bridge of Spies

8. Brooklyn

Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 1 – Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is an action adventure film directed and produced by critically acclaimed Australian filmmaker by George Miller, with a script written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris. Set in the near future in a desert wasteland where gasoline and water are scarce commodities, the film follows Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a hard-hitting solider under the control of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), as she is tasked with driving a fuel truck (known as “War Rig”) across the desert to an oil-producing station. MMFR8However, Furiosa has other plans, as she reroutes her journey in order to accomplish her true objective: She has rescued Immortan Joe’s sex slaves (known as “The Five Wives”) and intends to speed across the desert in order to free them from their concubinage. When Joe realizes what Furiosa has done, he sends out his “War Boys” to track her down and return what is his. During the chase, Furiosa eventually teams up with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a mercenary who, at the beginning of the film, was captured by Immortan Joe, and the two go to extreme lengths to ensure their survival.

MMFR10“Oh, what a day. What a lovely day.” That quote from Nux (Nicholas Hoult), one of Joe’s War Boys, is one of the best quotes from Mad Max: Fury Road; but better yet, it will go down as one of the greatest quotes in film history. Not only does the quote sum up the intense action of the film’s story perfectly, but it also brilliantly describes my experience in an IMAX theater watching the movie for the first time—what a lovely day it was. In the past, deciding which movie would be ranked No. 1 on my year-end countdown was pretty easy—most of the time one sticks out above the rest. But this year, my process was incredibly difficult. MMFR3After watching The Revenant, I spent weeks constantly moving it and Mad Max interchangeably between the Nos. 1 and 2 spots. But when I decided to finalize my list, I simply could not ignore the genius of Mad Max: Fury Road. Even though the film was released in May, it has stuck with me, day in and day out. Rarely have I ever had such an engrossing experience in a theater watching a movie. I was mesmerized by everything director George Miller threw at me—with every passing minute, I knew I was witnessing pure greatness. So when it came time to decide which movie would come in at No. 1 on my list, one thing became immeasurably clear: Although The Revenant was a visionary masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road would go down as one of my absolute favorite films of all time!

MMFR16The genius of Fury Road starts with its imaginative creator, George Miller. For those that do not know, Fury Road is the fourth installment in Miller’s acclaimed Mad Max franchise (Mel Gibson played the original Max in the previous three films). Miller’s original Mad Max film and its sequel The Road Warrior are considered by many film scholars to be some of the best movies of all time. In fact, Spike Lee created a list years ago of essential films for all aspiring filmmakers to see, and both Mad Max and The Road Warrior were listed. The original films were so powerful because Miller created some of the most memorable characters, scenes, and stories to ever hit the silver screen with an incredibly small budget. The original film’s budget was just an estimated $280,000. MMFR15The third film, which boasted the most expensive budget in the franchise’s history at the time, was a meager $10 million. This is why I was so pumped for Fury Road: It would feature the same creative filmmaker making another Mad Max film, but this time he would be doing it with seemingly unlimited resources (his budget for Fury Road was $150 million). Although The Road Warrior is considered the greatest in the franchise, Fury Road beats it hands down. Rarely does a franchise’s fourth film trump the rest in terms of cinematic quality—but Fury Road has done just that.

MMFR12George Miller’s classic innovation is radiantly on display in Fury Road. The film, for all intents and purposes, is a 120-minute-long chase scene—2 hours of violent, action-packed, dusty, intense, thrilling, and downright amazing chase scenes. The visual effects are stunning, yet Miller uses mostly practical effects to execute his action sequences—the film features very little CGI. One of my favorite aspects of the film, though, is the music. Junkie XL has crafted one of the greatest scores, for me, in film history—it is a shame it was not nominated for an Oscar. MMFR5The way the music is interpolated into the plot is outstanding. Throughout the chase, Immortan Joe’s convoy features a variety of War Boys who play music during the chase—they are essentially a war band, featured smack dab on the frontline. The music the War Boys band plays is the film’s score—it is a brilliant juxtaposition of score and story. The best part of the band: The Doof Warrior (Australian entertainer iOTA), a heavy-metal musician who hangs from the front of a truck, blasting his twin-necked electric guitar, which itself doubles as a flamethrower. Only someone as groundbreaking as George Miller could think this stuff up.

As everyone knows, I am a devoted fan of Tom Hardy. In Fury Road, he takes on the iconic role of Max brilliantly. However, his speaking parts are limited and his worth is merely conveyed through subtle “looks.” Despite not speaking much, Hardy portrays Max with soulful air of mystery, and this nuanced performance is effective. MMFR6The real story of the film, however, is Imperator Furiosa and Miller’s feminist ambitions. In a film where Tom Hardy’s character leads in the titular role, Charlize Theron steals the show (for which she really should have received an Oscar nod). Fury Road is truly an exposition of female domination, and I bought in 100%. Max is merely a placeholder at times, while Theron’s Furiosa is the real protagonist—she is the heroine modern film so desperately needed. Although Furiosa only has one arm (the other is a prosthetic), she never pities herself. She is a strong, independent woman who is tougher than nails. MMFR4Her goal: to rescue Immortan Joe’s “Five Wives” from their sex slavery. Can it get any more “girl power” than that? I read this week that George Miller actually brought in Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues,” to prepare the “Five Wives” (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee Kershaw, and Courtney Eaton) for their roles in the film—this only adds to the obviousness of Miller’s intentions. In a franchise where Max and a variety of other “he-man” characters have pervaded the storyline, Fury Road ushers in an unsurpassed era of female gallantry. Mad Max: Fury Road is rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout and for disturbing images.

Mad Max: Fury Road trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEJnMQG9ev8

Academy Award nominations for Mad Max: Fury Road:

Best Picture (Doug Mitchell and George Miller, producers)

Best Director (George Miller)

Best Cinematography (John Seale)

Best Costume Design (Jenny Beavan)

Best Sound Editing (Mark A. Mangini and David White)

Best Sound Mixing (Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin)

Best Visual Effects (Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams)

Best Film Editing (Margaret Sixel)

Best Production Design (Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson)

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

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