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

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Best Original Screenplay

Her 2

This year, like in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, nearly every single writer nominated will be attending the Academy Awards for the first time.  Only two writers out of the seven nominated have received Oscar nominations previously: David O. Russell and Woody Allen.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Spike Jonze (Her)

Spike Jonze ScreenplaySpike Jonze has created in Her one of the most interesting and mischievously comedic films in his well-established career, and here, the movie truly comes alive because of his inimitable script.  It is a science-fiction tale, set in the not-so-distant future, about a man who falls in love with his operating system.  The loving relationship between Theodore and Samantha in the film is so incredibly vivid, jumping off the page and into our hearts, despite the fact that we never see Samantha, since she is not a real person.  A main character that operates from a purely oral standpoint, lacking any visual component, must be presented with incredibly substantive dialogue in order to work, and Jonze gives Samantha more of a voice than anyone else could ever dream up in his or her mind.  This screenplay is the epitome of the term “original” in “original screenplay,” and Jonze is more than deserving of this award this year.  Spike Jonze has never previously been nominated in any screenwriting categories at the Academy Awards.

2. Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Singer and RussellA year after penning an Oscar-nominated screenplay in Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell has again received an Oscar nod for his script in American Hustle, co-written by Eric Warren Singer.  Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite film of 2012, and last year I personally named the script from SLP as the Best Adapted Screenplay.  Again, David O. Russell has penned an incredible screenplay, and clearly the collaboration with Singer has proven worthwhile.  American Hustle was a thoroughly entertaining movie with more wit than I knew what to do with, but it was this distinct characteristic from most of David O. Russell scripts that shined bright again here.  Eric Warren Singer has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award; David O. Russell was previously nominated as a writer for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

3. Bob Nelson (Nebraska)Bob Nelson

The black-and-white Nebraska was pure Alexander Payne at his best, but one of the immaculate moments from the movie was Bob Nelson’s script.  Nelson created some memorable characters, some unforgettable scenes, and one incredibly exceptional journey between a father and his son.  The dialogue was on point, and it gave each actor plenty of chances to make an impact on the film.  I hope to see more from Nelson in the near future because this film proves he is a remarkable talent.  Bob Nelson has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)

Woody AllenWoody Allen is one of the greatest and most critically recognized screenwriters in the history of motion pictures, and once again a script of his has made its way to cinema’s greatest night—the Oscars.  Even though the bulk of Allen’s writing nominations came pre-2005, he still proves that he will always be a force to be reckoned with in the screenwriting world.  In Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen created a wide range of wild and wacky characters, but his finest accomplishment in this film is the title character of Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett.  Over the course of nearly forty years, Woody Allen has become synonymous with obsession, and in Jasmine, Allen has created one of the most absolutely neurotic characters modern cinema has ever known.  For this alone, Woody Allen is deserving of being back at the Oscars.  Woody Allen is the most nominated screenwriter in Academy Awards history; this nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category marks his sixteenth (an Oscars record), and he has previously won on three occasions for Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Midnight in Paris (2011).

5. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)

Borten and WallackEven though the plot in Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have written an original piece about the previously unexplored subject matter of Ron Woodruff and his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid-1980s.  All of the hype surrounding this film has been focused on both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s marvelously inspirational acting performances, but without an effective script, these portrayals would carry little weight, no pun intended.  This wonderfully written script gave both McConaughey and Leto’s characters an encouraging voice, and it is because of this that both Borten and Wallack have been nominated.  Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 11 – Her

Her - BP

Her is a film written and directed by Spike Jonze.  This film, set in the not-so-distant future, tells the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a soon-to-be-divorced writer, and the relationship he develops with Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the voice of his artificially intelligent operating system.

Spike Jonze on the set of Her.Her is by far one of the oddest concepts in any film I have ever seen, but in only a way Spike Jonze can, he makes it work in such an incredibly beautiful manner.  I wrote about Her a few months ago in my fall preview, and I was very much looking forward to seeing this because I wanted Jonze to get back to making movies that I enjoy.  In my opinion, Where the Wild Things Are (2009) was a boring movie, no matter how cool it looked on screen, and I was hoping Her would put Jonze back on my cinematic map.  And indeed, he has.  The script, Jonze’s first solo effort, was far more hilarious than I was expecting, and he made it come together on the screen through stunning colors and intricate detail.  Even though a couple of scenes drag at times, Spike Jonze has created a film that is all the while memorable, refreshingly funny, and bitterly sad, and it will be exciting to see what he has in store next.

Her 1The film succeeds because of Jonze’s fantastic script and striking set decoration, but thanks to two amazing acting performances, it is one of the better movies from 2013.  I have always been a fan of Joaquin Phoenix’s work, no matter how much of a peculiarity he is as a human being, and in his role as Theodore Twombly, he has created one of the best performances of his career, and by far one of my favorites.  His character is quiet and introverted, but it was invigorating to see his transformation as a person after falling in love with Samantha; Phoenix’s innate ability as a performer makes this character thrive in every scene.  It was also entertaining to see Joaquin Phoenix in a role that mixes equal parts of drama and comedy—I never would have thought of him as a “funny” guy, but in this film, he makes it work, and he makes it work well.

Another fantastic performance was given by Scarlett Johansson as Samantha.  And before any of you that have not yet seen the film ask, yes, Johansson is only a voice actor in this film.  Before Her, I would have been in an uproar if a voice actor were nominated for any major awards; however, even though Scarlett was not nominated, I truly believe her performance was well worth that level of critical praise.  You never see Samantha, but you feel her presence every single time she speaks, and this is all because of Johansson.  Throughout the film, there are times you forget Theodore is simply falling in love with an inanimate object because of Johansson’s fluidity.  Never has there been a better performance from Johansson, and Samantha will forever be one of the greatest artificial intelligence characters in cinematic history.

This film takes such an interesting perspective on relationships and the ways in which we operate in a world dominated by technology, and even though Theodore is falling in love with his operating system, the way it is depicted on the screen is not that unfathomable given the way technology permeates our lives.  No matter what you may think of Jonze as a filmmaker or the concept of this movie, it is well worth the watch.  Her is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzV6mXIOVl4

Academy Award nominations for Her:

Best Picture (Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, and Vincent Landay, Producers)

Best Original Score (William Butler and Owen Pallett)

Best Original Song (The Moon Song: Music by Karen O; Lyric by Karen O & Spike Jonze)

Best Production Design (Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena)

Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze)

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

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Fall Preview 2013: No. 10 – No. 6

6-10 Fall Preview

Hey movie fans!  I hope everyone enjoyed the introductory post to my Fall Preview 2013 a couple days ago, which included five honorable mention films set to debut in theaters in the next few months.  Today’s post reveals films No. 10 through No. 6 on my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some surefire, award-quality works of cinema, 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.

No. 10 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a film about two girls that go missing and follows a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a desperate father (Hugh Jackman) as they work to track both girls down.  Even Prisonersthough the trailer presents the film as a thriller following two families trying to track down their daughters, Gyllenhaal says it is much more than meets the eye: “What’s different about this story is the idea that revenge just begets more revenge and you become a prisoner of that need to seek revenge.”  The trailer initially caught my eye with its dark, menacing demeanor, and not only was I captivated with the idea in general, I was even more fascinated with Paul Dano’s role.  He has long been a fantastic character actor, and I expect nothing but a superb supporting performance in this film from the twenty-nine-year-old star.  Prisoners is set for a theatrical release on September 20, 2013.

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Incendies)

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Wolverine), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brothers, End of Watch), Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk

No. 9 – Rush

Rush tells the true story of Formula One rivals James Hunt and Niki Lauda.  At the 1976 German Grand Prix, Lauda (Daniel Brühl) was involved in a disastrous crash that nearly took his life.  The film follows his comeback and relationship with Hunt (Chris Hemsworth).  I am always a sucker for a quality sports-themed movie, and I have been aware of Rush Rushfor quite some time.  Not only is the story emotional and uplifting, but the film also features two exceptional actors playing these infamous lead roles.  Over the past couple of years, I have become a huge fan of Hemsworth’s acting abilities, highlighted in Thor, The Avengers, and The Cabin in the Woods.  I also expect big things in this film from Daniel Brühl, whose breakout performance was in my favorite film of all time, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.  Lastly, the film features a supporting performance by one of my favorite actresses in cinema, Alexandra Maria Lara.  Needless to say, this movie has everything going for it, and I anticipate moviegoers everywhere to “rush” to the theater to see it (pun clearly intended).  Rush is set for a theatrical release on September 13, 2013.

Director: Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon)

Starring: Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Cabin in the Woods), Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds), Olivia Wilde (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Drinking Buddies), Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, L’affaire Farewell)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3XN54J8nY

No. 8 – Her

Her is a film about an introverted writer named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is dealing with the end of a long relationship.  He decides to buy a new computer operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), and through their conversations, Theodore begins to fall in love with “Samantha.”  The first time I saw this trailer, I thought, “wow, what an oddher phoenix premise.”  But the more I watched it, the more engrossed I became with the subject matter.  Half of my intrigue dealt directly with this unique plot, but the other half came from the people involved with the film.  No matter how odd he may be as a human being, Joaquin Phoenix is still one of the single most talented actors working in Hollywood, and his involvement with the film foreshadows an excess of award praise for the movie.  I am also looking to this movie to put Spike Jonze, the director, back on the cinematic map.  He has had success directing on the silver screen in the past, with movies like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but his 2009 live-action adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are was clearly less than spectacular in my book.  I am hoping Her revitalizes my enjoyment of Jonze’s films.  Her is set for a theatrical release on December 18, 2013.

Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Where the Wild Things Are)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master), Amy Adams (The Master, American Hustle), Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, Don Jon)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJTU48_yghs

No. 7 – Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace is a film that follows an ex-convict (Christian Bale) as he seeks revenge on a crime boss (Woody Harrelson) that he suspects has something to do with the disappearance of his missing brother (Casey Affleck).  Obviously, with a couple of the out of the furnaceheavy hitters of Hollywood in this film, specifically the always-remarkable Christian Bale, it will definitely be one to look out for come Oscar season; however, I am most eager for the film because of the director, Scott Cooper.  Cooper has only directed a single feature film before Out of the Furnace: the 2009 drama Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges the Academy Award for Best Actor.  I immediately fell in love with Crazy Heart after seeing it for the first time, and I have been eagerly awaiting Cooper’s next film for four years.  Luckily, he has come back strong with a motion picture that is already receiving a fair amount of Oscar buzz, and I cannot wait to see how his second go-round pans out.  Out of the Furnace is set for a wide theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)

Starring: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Rises, American Hustle), Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Now You See Me)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClzRVlMhU2E

No. 6 – Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about an anti-social musician (Oscar Isaac) and the struggles he faces as he tries to salvage any success in his personal and professional lives.  The24-inside-llewyn-davis newest Coen Brothers film does not quite look like any other that they have created before, but my devotion to their work is unrelenting, and I believe this film will captivate not only myself, but also all movie fans alike.  For Mumford & Sons fans, this movie will be right up your alley—Marcus Mumford and Academy Award-winner T-Bone Burnett produced the folk-style music incorporated throughout the film.  Some gifted young performers appear in the film in addition to Isaac, including Mr. “Suit and Tie” himself, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan, one of the most popular and talented young actresses in the business today (not to mention she’s Marcus Mumford’s wife).  The film debuted at Cannes earlier this year, winning the second-most prestigious award available, the Grand Prix, and it was met with rave reviews—based on 23 critics reviews, the film has already garnered a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  With this film, expect the same amazing product the Coen Brothers have been handing out for many years, including just the precise balance of emotion and their classic satirical humor.  Inside Llewyn Davis is set for a theatrical release on December 6, 2013.

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, True Grit)

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Drive, The Bourne Legacy), Carey Mulligan (Drive, The Great Gatsby), John Goodman (Argo, Flight), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, Country Strong), Justin Timberlake (Trouble with the Curve, Runner, Runner)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl8DidbbTQM