Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 5 – Lion

Lion is a drama directed by Garth Davis, with a screenplay by Luke Davies. lion5Adapted from the real-life Saroo Brierley’s biography A Long Way Home, the film follows Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year-old boy from India, who gets separated from his older brother one night at a train station. Saroo eventually boards an empty train looking for his brother, but that train eventually takes him over a thousand miles away from his home. Lost on the streets of Calcutta, Saroo struggles to scrape by as a homeless youth, but he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple that relocates him to their home in Tasmania. Twenty years later, Saroo (Dev Patel), who cannot remember where he is originally from, sets out to find his family in India using Google Earth technology.

lion4Although there were some emotionally affecting films this past year that brought out the water works, none ripped open my tear ducts quite like Lion. The thing I was most drawn to in Garth Davis’s feature debut is its bilateral emotional journey. On the one hand, the story of Saroo becoming lost from his family is exceptionally heartbreaking, and this definitely tugged hard at my heart strings. Conversely, the story is one of hope and inspiration, and it is hard not to find a sense of strength in Saroo’s drive and determination. Davis and screenwriter Luke Davies bring Saroo Brierley’s beautiful story to life in an amazingly reverential manner, and I assure you, these filmmakers have absolutely earned each and every Oscar nomination that Lion has received.

lion1So far, I have talked almost exclusively about Lion’s emotion, and rightfully so—the film’s passion is what sucked me in. However, that emotion flows from the film’s outstanding acting performances. Given their Oscar nominations, it is clear to see why Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman have garnered the vast majority of the film’s widespread attention. Patel, who rose to worldwide fame with his performance in the Best Picture-winner Slumdog Millionaire (2008), gives a competent performance as the adult Saroo, ardently portraying the main character’s tortured fixation on finding his family. Patel definitely deserves his Oscar nod. Kidman also gives a quietly exceptional performance as Saroo’s adopted mother Sue, a woman with an undeniable maternal love for her son—Kidman portrays the character’s emotional rollercoaster sharply.

lion2The highlight of the film for me, though, was newcomer Sunny Pawar’s performance in the film’s first act as a young Saroo. By the end of the film, you are completely invested in Saroo’s journey; however, I am confident in saying that if it were not for Pawar’s performance in the first third of the movie, this emotional connection would not be near as strong. Pawar absolutely nails every distant look, every subtle whimper, and every enlightened smile—despite his lack of acting experience, Pawar shines like a seasoned star on the silver screen. Lion is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sensuality.

Lion trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RNI9o06vqo

Academy Award nominations for Lion:

Best Picture (Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Angie Fielder)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Dev Patel)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Nicole Kidman)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies)

Best Original Score (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Best Cinematography (Greig Fraser)

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

  1. O.J.: Made in America
  2. La La Land
  3. Fences
  4. Zootopia
  5. Nocturnal Animals
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Best Supporting Actress (2015)

 

This year’s Best Supporting Actress category features a “Who’s Who” of Oscar novices. Only Kate Winslet and Rooney Mara are veterans to the ceremony. Most view this category as a two-horse race: Winslet for Steve Jobs and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. Four weeks out from the show, the competition appears to be neck-and-neck between two distinctly different actresses—Winslet a long-time Hollywood heavyweight and Vikander a radiant starlet. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) 

Vikander 12015 was the year that Alicia Vikander broke out onto American movie screens with a vengeance. 2016 will be the year she cements herself as a perennial contender among Hollywood’s elite. How so, you might ask? By taking home that coveted gold statue on Oscar night for her brilliant role as the real-life Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. Right up until I started writing this post, my vote was for Winslet’s performance in Steve Jobs—she really was stellar. But with wins at the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards ceremonies, Vikander is deserved in leaping past one of film’s greatest actresses for this award. The Danish Girl tells the true-life account of Einar Wegener (who later became Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery) and his wife Gerda. Honestly, I did not enjoy the film much. It looked great (all Tom Hooper films do; e.g., 2010’s The King Speech), but Redmayne did not sell it for me as a viewer. Vikander 2Despite this critique, Vikander stood out brilliantly as the lone bright spot in an otherwise boring movie. As her husband began to struggle with his identity, Gerda, the love of his life, struggled through denial and rage; through sadness and acceptance. Those emotions told the true story, and Vikander delivered each line, each look, and each tear with stunning delicacy—the grandeur of the 27-year-old Swede’s acting was nothing short of moving. Vikander has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) 

Winslet 1Kate Winslet did almost everything she could in Steve Jobs to earn my vote for Best Supporting Actress. The only thing standing in her way was the up-and-coming Alicia Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl. As has been mentioned, this category will come down to these two actresses. Whether she wins or not, Winslet will forever be ingrained in Silicon Valley history with her daring portrayal of Apple’s head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman. Steve Jobs was a tremendous film, but it felt more like a stage play, something I was not expecting. There are only three scenes in the entire film, set behind the scenes at three separate Apple-product launches, and Winslet makes a stunning mark on the entire movie. While Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) struggles throughout with the debacle that is the crossroads of his personal and professional life, Hoffman is always the one by his side to reconcile his troubles. I rarely say this—because it is one of the most pretentious-sounding comments regarding film—but I truly forgot Winslet was playing Hoffman. She was that entrenched into this character. Winslet GifShe mastered the accent (a product of English mixed with Hoffman’s Polish and Armenian origin), delineated the requisite emotions of a strong, independent woman, and even stole the show from Fassbender at times. Never have I watched Winslet shine like this; not since Titanic and The Reader. She won the Golden Globe for this performance, so I would not be surprised if somehow she pulls off the Oscar victory—she would deserve it. Winslet has previously been nominated for six Academy Awards (four for Best Actress and two for Best Supporting Actress), winning only for her leading role in 2008’s The Reader.

  1. Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)

McAdams 1Rachel McAdams has always been one of my favorite actresses, but I never have thought of her as someone deserving of an Oscar nomination for anything in her career; that all came to an end when I saw Spotlight. In Spotlight, McAdams portrays the real-life Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the investigative journalists on The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, which worked to uncover a vile child-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Entertainment Weekly perfectly described McAdams’s difficult role: “[She] plays a woman who is equal parts determined journalist and loyal granddaughter of a devout Catholic.” That personality dichotomy created an oasis of potential for McAdams to explore—she nailed it! One minute, her character is wrought with emotion, as she is on the receiving end of some horrifying details of a rape victim’s story; the next minute, she is shown at mass with her grandmother. The Pfeiffer character is torn with the turbulent circumstances she finds herself in, wrestling to make sense of it all. McAdams hits the nail on the head in what can only be described as a performance built upon subtle nuances. McAdams has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

JJL 1In Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, seven of those eight main characters are men—Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the lone woman. She is an outlaw that is being brought in by a bounty hunter to face justice for murder. Daisy Domergue is a truly unique character—the preeminent result of Tarantino’s wild and twisted mind games. She curses frequently, tosses racial slurs around willingly, and yet evokes a faint sense of sympathy for her character as John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) batters her throughout the film. The character is as diverse as she is crude; as complex as she is filthy. And Leigh delivers a memorable performance. I had high hopes for The Hateful Eight, but in most ways the film left something to be desired. However, of the few bright spots is Leigh’s grim, gory, and gnashing portrayal of Daisy. Whether it was her oddly interesting guitar ballad or her bloody façade towards the end of the film, Leigh brought Daisy Domergue to life in all the right ways. Leigh has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Rooney Mara (Carol)

Mara 1In Carol, Rooney Mara portrays Therese Belivet, a department-store clerk in 1950s New York City. Belivet falls under the charm of the much-older Carol (Cate Blanchett), and before long, a deep and affectionate love affair strikes. Carol has garnered much attention worldwide for its ardent and amorous take on a taboo subject (given the time period the film is set in). Not only is the film receiving rave reviews (full disclosure: I am NOT one of them; the movie was bland, plodding, and you will not find it on my list of top films), but Blanchett and Mara are also being heralded for their adept performances. While I agree that the Blanchett did wonderful job in her leading role, Mara always seemed the subordinate performer. That is not necessarily an inherent knock on Mara, considering Blanchett is one of the all time greatest in this field; however, I really think Mara delivered the inferior performance in this category as a whole. While she is a tremendous talent in Hollywood, I truly think her uninteresting, unaffecting portrayal is due to a slow year in supporting female performances. If you watch Carol, hopefully you get something out of her performance. I know I sure didn’t. Mara was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in the American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Fall Preview 2015: Honorable Mentions

HM Header 2015

“Pain is temporary, film is forever.” – John Milius, co-writer of Apocalypse Now. Welcome back, everyone. This year has already been an incredible journey playing out on the silver screen, and I am ecstatic to be back to blogging about the greatest medium in the world: FILM! As of today, we are 184 days away from the 88th Academy Awards. Per usual, the bulk of my research and preparation for the release of a decent chunk of potential Oscar-worthy movies begins now!

With that, it is time to get the Fall Movie Season started. For the third consecutive year, I have compiled a list of my most anticipated movies of the season. Below is the schedule for my three Fall Preview posts, so make sure to be on the lookout this week:

Today: Honorable Mentions

Saturday: No. 10 – No. 6

Monday: 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!

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies, set during the Cold War, tells the true story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers (Alan Alda), an imprisoned U-2 pilot, in exchange for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy. With Steven Spielberg directing and Tom Hanks playing the lead, my interest is obviously piqued. Bridge of Spies is the 29th feature film for Spiely as a director, and it is also he and Hanks’s fourth collaboration (Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal). Bridge of Spies 2Although I truly have not enjoyed a Spielberg-directed film since 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, I am holding out hope that the visionary behind the likes of Jaws, E.T., and Jurassic Park, can get back to making award-worthy films. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, supporting actress Amy Ryan gives me that hope: “Watching [Spielberg] create a shot, he looks like the young boy who discovered film for the first time.”

The trailer is incredibly tense, and it showcases Tom Hanks in what appears to be another memorable performance by the 2-time Oscar winner. Despite the fact that the film features supporting performances by seasoned veterans Rylance, Alda, and Ryan, film fans will likely flock to the theaters in droves simply because of Hanks. Bridge of Spies is set for a theatrical release on October 16, 2015.

Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, War Horse)

Starring: Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips), Mark Rylance (The Gunman, Days and Nights), Amy Ryan (Birdman, Devil’s Knot), and Alan Alda (The Longest Ride, Tower Heist)

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

Carol

Carol, set in 1950s New York City, follows Therese (Rooney Mara), a twentysomething shop-girl who falls in love with the titular character Carol (Cate Blanchett), a much older, married woman. Carol debuted at Cannes this year, receiving critical acclaim from all in attendance. Ever since I first heard the buzz about the film, I was instantly drawn in. Cate Blanchett is squarely within my top five favorite actresses in the business, and Rooney Mara has continued to grow on me with her innate acting adroitness.

Carol 2What struck me most about this film was director Todd Haynes’s artistic and genuinely humanistic approach to taking on this taboo subject matter. He told Entertainment Weekly, “[o]f course, it’s a story about a lesbian relationship. But it’s really about how love itself makes you feel at a loss for language, and every gesture is weighted with anticipation and meaning.” Further, Blanchett told the publication that “[i]rrespective of sexual preference, [the film] is honest about the feeling of falling in love.” That is something everyone can get on board with, and I look forward to seeing this love story evolve on the screen.

Back to Blanchett and Mara: wow, what a duo! Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner, and Mara took home a co-Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal in this film. These two hard-hitting, deftly impressive actresses seem sure to give women a powerful presence this fall film season, and I am definitely up to see it all in action. Carol is set for a theatrical release on November 20, 2015.

Director: Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far from Heaven)

Starring: Cate Blanchett (Cinderella, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), Rooney Mara (Her, Side Effects), Sarah Paulson (The Runner, 12 Years a Slave), and Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Spectacular Now)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt-WC9xa7qs

Creed

Creed is a spin-off/continuation of the famed Rocky franchise, and it follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late, great Apollo Creed (portrayed by Carl Weathers in the Rocky series). Rocky himself (Sylvester Stallone) appears in the film, and as the trailer depicts, he will come into the picture just in time to train Adonis. In, in, in—I am in! Of course I love the Rocky franchise (not including Rocky V—BLAH), but I was wary of another addition to the storied series following the not-so-revolutionary Rocky Balboa. However, when I found out Ryan Coogler was directing, I was immediately sold. Coogler, making only his second feature film as a director, debuted on the scene in 2013 with one of the best films of that year, Fruitvale Station. It was a harrowing depiction of a horrible shooting, and it was crafted carefully and executed without blemish—his directorship alone gets me pumped to be back in the “Rocky” ring again.

Creed 1Additionally, the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the lead role is the icing on top of the sundae. Jordan continues to grow as an actor, but it was his heartfelt, dramatic depiction of the lead character in Coogler’s Fruitvale Station that made me sit back and think, “Wow…this guy is good!” Even though they only have the single film collaboration, Coogler’s casting of Jordan in his sophomore effort leads me to believe that these guys get along great and make a fantastic team behind the scenes. For all fans of the Rocky series, this dynamic relationship between Coogler and Jordan is sure to make life enjoyable for us in this much-anticipated film. Creed is set for a theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)

Starring: Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), Sylvester Stallone (The Expendables 3, Grudge Match), Tessa Thompson (Selma, Dear White People), and Phylicia Rashād (Good Deeds, For Colored Girls)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv554B7YHk4

The Good Dinosaur

The story behind The Good Dinosaur is incredibly simple and yet so intriguing: what would have happened if the asteroid that (reportedly) killed the dinosaurs missed Earth? That question will be answered this fall in a story that follows Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), an apatsosaurus, and his relationship with a feral child, Spot (Jack Bright). An animated movie? On my list of films I am most anticipating this fall? Seriously? Absolutely!

The Good Dinosaur 2Although I generally have enjoyed all of the Pixar movies that I have seen, I have never been too enthusiastic about animated films that have been made subsequent to my childhood. However, that all changed this year when I saw Pixar’s 15th feature, Inside Out. It is one of my favorite movies of 2015, and it brought out the kid in me again. With that said, ever since I saw the trailer for The Good Dinosaur, I was smitten with its story. It is a story about an innocent youth (stricken with tragedy—his father dies early on) and his relationship with a newfound companion. Usually the human is the one taking on a companion (usually in the form of another kid or a dog), but this simple twist in the classic storyline seems to be a good-natured treat for movies fans of all ages. I look for Pixar to knock it out of the (Jurassic) park again! The Good Dinosaur is set for a wide theatrical release on November 25, 2015.

Director: Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy)

Starring: Raymond Ochoa (Lovesick, Mars Needs Moms), Jack Bright (Monsters University), Frances McDormand (Promised Land, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted), Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Only Lovers Left Alive), Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams, Draft Day), Anna Paquin (True Blood, X-Men: Days of Future Past), and Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club, Escape from Planet Earth)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-RgquKVTPE

The Walk

The Walk chronicles the true-life story of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist, who strung a tightrope across the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974 and spectacularly (and dangerously) performed a high-wire routine for 45 minutes, whilst a quarter-mile above the ground. If you know this story, then you know how incredibly amazing it truly is. If you are unfamiliar with it, then boy, are you in for a treat!

The Walk 2My main interest in this film has nearly nothing to do with either Jo-Go playing Petit or legendary director Robert Zemeckis at the helm; instead, I am dying to see this movie because of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire, directed by The Theory of Everything-director James Marsh. That documentary is by far one of my favorites of all time, and before ever seeing The Walk, I suggest you go check out Man on Wire first—you will not regret it (and it is currently streaming on Netflix). It allows you to get inside the head of this polarizing high-wire artist, and it delves deep into his life-long desires to pull off the NYC stunt. On the strength of Petit’s story, as delineated in Man on Wire, I anticipate The Walk being a memorable experience in theaters.

Notwithstanding my Man on Wire fandom, I am still excited to see JGL take on the role of such a captivating figure, and I know that Zemeckis will bring the same dramatic vigor and breathtaking trepidation to the actual high-wire scene that he did in Flight’s opening plane-crash scene in 2012. The Walk is set for a theatrical release on September 30, 2015.

Director: Robert Zemeckis (Flight, The Christmas Carol)

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Don Jon), Ben Kingsley (Self/less, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), and Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Yves Saint Laurent)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR1EmTKAWIw