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)
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. However, 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.
“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. After 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!
The 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. The 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.
George 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. The 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. The 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. Her 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.
The Revenant is an action adventure film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, with a screenplay by Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, adapted in part from Michael Punke’s novel of the same name about the real-life Hugh Glass. Set throughout the American wilderness in the 19th century, the film follows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fur trapper who, while briefly away from his men, is attacked by a bear. Although Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) initially agrees to part with his men and stay back with his fallen comrade, he ultimately grows tired of Glass’s “condition.” Fitzgerald slays Glass’s son Hawk in front of him, attempts to bury Glass alive, and leaves him for dead. The rest of the film charts Glass’s determination to trek across the cold, barren wilderness to get vengeance for his son’s murder.
When I bought a ticket and sat down in the audience of a dark theater over a month and a half ago to see Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s newest film, I was excited but truly did not know what to expect. What resulted was amazing: I did not merely watch a film—I experienced it! An experience is just what this film is. The Revenant is a visionary work of art, and the man behind it all is Iñárritu, a creator at the peak of his filmmaking career. In 2013, he gave us Gravity, an out-of-this-world (literally) depiction of two astronauts lost in space, which I did not enjoy initially but have grown to appreciate. In 2014, Iñárritu brought Birdman to the big screen, a film that would garner nine Oscar nominations and four wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu. Could the 52-year-old Mexican director really deliver another brilliant production in 2015? No matter what anyone might have thought, Iñárritu responded with a resounding, “Yes.”
With help from his loyal cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (who with The Revenant earned his third straight Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography; Chivo is going for a three-peat, having won that award the previous two times for Gravity and Birdman), Iñárritu has given us a film that will surely endure the test of time. The term “revenant” means, according to Merriam-Webster, “one that returns after death or a long absence.” DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass is just that, in both senses of the word; not only is he separated from his men for a long period of time, but he trudges back almost like a ghost, having been buried alive, seemingly left to die. Iñárritu ties this meaning of his title into a story that tells of perseverance and retribution; the only time he loses me is with his few scenes of philosophy and spirituality, but I forgive him for these brief interludes that lose focus. The opening scene features an intense battle that pits Glass and his team of fur traders against a group of violent Native Americans. This scene is remarkable—arrows whiz by the camera, bringing the viewer closer into the fold. The scene is reminiscent of classic war scenes, such as the Normandy invasion in Saving Private Ryan. At times throughout the film—especially during close-up shots—characters’ blood and sweat spew onto the camera, leaving visible spots. Most of the time this would be a reprehensible act, but in this film, it just works. You see characters’ breath fill the lens. This lends an extraordinary sense of realism to the film.
The film is beautiful and enduring, but the end result achieves even more acclaim based on the fact that the movie was a living hell for all involved. Many crewmembers abandoned ship during the production (either voluntarily or not; apparently Iñárritu axed many himself), and it was reported that the grueling schedule and terrible weather conditions were to blame. Principal photography spanned almost a year, and filming was incredibly difficult because Iñárritu and Chivo chose to shoot using natural light almost exclusively (they used only light from the sun, moon, and fires to guide production). Although this arduous process pushed everyone involved to his or her breaking point in a cold, inhospitable wasteland, the result is a gift to cinema. During his acceptance speech for Best Director at the Golden Globes in January, Iñárritu admitted the difficult nature of the film’s production, but recited one of the most poignant quotes in filmmaking: “Pain is temporary, but a film is forever.” Thank you, sir, for this beautiful movie; may it long endure as your masterpiece.
Now, let’s get to DiCaprio. My goodness, give that man an Oscar! Although his character is mostly silent throughout the film, Leo delivers a performance that will be discussed for generations. As mentioned above, the production of The Revenant was demanding, and Leo felt the brunt of that often. He admitted to being on the brink of hypothermia throughout and has openly described this film as the most difficult challenge he has ever taken on. Hugh Glass is faced with a set of circumstances that mean to deny him survival at every stage of the film, starting with his brutal bear attack early on, which, let’s be honest, is one of the most incredible scenes you will ever witness in a movie—it is the definition of an “edge-of-your-seat” experience, and it is filled with heart-pounding thrills. But he marches on. He endures. He survives. He is absolutely unrelenting in his quest for justice. He eats raw bison liver. He sleeps in a fresh horse carcass for warmth. Like I said: GIVE THIS MAN AN OSCAR! In all seriousness, Leo is the odds-on favorite to take home the Academy Award for Best Actor and rightfully so. But for everyone (which includes me) that feels Leo has been snubbed far too many times by the Academy, realize this: When Leo gets this award, it will not be a “Lifetime Achievement” award (i.e., a make-up call)—it will be because in this film, he absolutely deserves it for throwing himself into Iñárritu’s treacherous pit of film production and coming out alive, giving us a preeminent acting performance in the process. I would be stupid not to at least mention Tom Hardy here, as he also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but I will point you to my earlier post about why Tom Hardy 100% deserves the Academy Award for his stellar performance. What I will say here is that Hardy’s portrayal of Glass’s nemesis was the glue that held this film together. Without Tom Hardy absolutely killing it in his supporting role (playing the voice of the film), this film falters. The Revenant is rated R for strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language, and brief nudity.
The media predicts, “Sly, Sly…and, oh yeah, Sly” to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. According to the major awards ceremonies that have taken place so far, that prediction is spot on. I, on the other hand, take a different view on this category. Even though Sylvester Stallone will most definitely take home Oscar gold later this month, my vote goes to someone else. With stellar performances in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Legend, and The Revenant, this other actor gets my vote! The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:
WINNER: Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
After doing some research, it appears that no one—seriously, no one—pegs Tom Hardy to finish anywhere but last place in the Oscar voting for Best Supporting Actor. They are probably absolutely correct. As I read this week, this could be due to Hardy’s standoff-ish nature when it comes to awards, the media, or anything else outside his own private, personal life; in fact, he has actively avoided any sort of Oscar “campaign” like most nominees take part in. To that, I say: So what? If this award is truly about the best acting performance, then Hardy deserves to win—which is why he has my vote. In The Revenant, Hardy plays John Fitzgerald, the film’s antagonist who leaves his men to stay behind with Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) after the latter’s bear attack. Fitzgerald eventually deceives his men by killing Glass’s son and leaving Hugh Glass for dead. DiCaprio is most likely going to win the Oscar for Best Actor (rightfully so), but his performance throughout is mostly silent. Hardy is the film’s voice, albeit an evil one. Hardy is traditionally thought of as the “pretty boy.” But in The Revenant, much like in Bronson (Hardy’s greatest role to date), Hardy revels in his malevolent, bad-boy role. He lies, he misleads, and he kills unemotionally; this takes a complete transformation for an actor to sell this kind of character, if it is to work on a grand scale. Obviously Hardy succeeded in that challenge: The Revenant is up for 12 (the most nominations for any film this year) Oscars and is considered the frontrunner for Best Picture. Does a lot of that have to do with DiCaprio and director Alejandro Iñárritu? Absolutely! But is Tom Hardy’s performance the key to its ultimate success? I argue that it is. Hardy outperformed DiCaprio in my mind, and although he will not win the award, I truly believe he is the most worthy. Hardy has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
If I were to rank the greatest sports movies in the history of film, I would be hard-pressed to track down anything more gritty, raw, inspiring, or altogether masterful than Rocky. I am a die-hard fan of the franchise (except for Rocky V—let’s pretend that never happened), and I was on Cloud Nine the moment I heard Sylvester Stallone would be reprising his role in the seventh installment in the franchise, Creed. In the film, Rocky Balboa trains the son of his longtime rival and friend, the deceased Apollo Creed. The Balboa in Creed is as we have never seen him before: aging, wounded, lonely, and, most of all, vulnerable. Stallone is a household name because of his beloved Balboa character, and to see him reprise this role nearly 40 years after the original film (and almost ten years since Rocky Balboa) would have been enough for me and many fans of the franchise. However, Stallone shocked us all by delivering one of his greatest performances of his long and storied career, rivaling only—you guessed it—his Oscar-nominated performance in the original Rocky. The 69-year-old looked like an actor in his prime, providing us with a memorable performance that will live on in film history. Anywhere you look, Stallone is the favorite to win this Academy Award, and rightfully so—he has already taken home hardware from the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards. I also believe he will win the Oscar, but for me, Tom Hardy simply delivered the year’s best, which is why Sly does not get my vote. Stallone was previously nominated for both Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for his work on Rocky (1976).
Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
In Spotlight, Mark Ruffalo portrays the real-life Michael Rezendes, 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. A couple of days ago, I wrote about how Rachel McAdams delivered one of the more surprisingly effective performances in one of the year’s best films. But Spotlight succeeds at its core because of Ruffalo’s remarkably emotional and heart-wrenching performance. Throughout the film, Ruffalo is unrelenting in his journey to uncover one of Boston’s most horrifying scandals. His efforts are unyielding and his devotion is indomitable, and Ruffalo owns his scenes with determined gravitas. At first I thought the only annoying part of Ruffalo’s portrayal was the odd mannerisms, but a quote from Entertainment Weekly put me in my place: “And for those who know the real-life Rezendes, the resounding consensus is that Ruffalo nailed both the man’s physical nuances and his character traits without turning the performance into a caricature.” Bravo, Mark Ruffalo; your third Best Supporting Actor nomination in six years is, per usual, well deserved! Ruffalo has been previously nominated two times in the Best Supporting Actor category, for The Kids Are All Right (2010) and Foxcatcher (2014).
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
In Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance portrays the real-life Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who is captured by the CIA and ultimately sent back to the Soviet Union in exchange for American spy pilot Francis Gary Powers. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Bridge of Spies was a tremendous film, and Rylance is one of the key figures behind its success. For those of you feeling unfamiliar with Rylance’s previous work, do not fret—most of us are! Rylance has not acted in many popular feature films, as his true love is the theater; in fact, he is critically acclaimed in that arena, winning two Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Play. I sure hope to see him appear in more films in the future because his acting performance in Spielberg’s latest feature was top-notch. He portrayed Abel as quiet and unassuming, but all the while wise and unwearied—his subtleties shone brightly! Rylance has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.
Christian Bale (The Big Short)
In Adam McKay’s The Big Short, Christian Bale plays the real-life Dr. Michael Burry, an incredibly eccentric hedge-fund manager who predicted the housing market collapse of 2007-08, making millions of dollars in the process. Simply put: Christian Bale is one of the best and most talented actors in Hollywood. But despite his impeccable performance in The Big Short, I was quite surprised to see him receive an Oscar nod. I am not knocking his performance because, per usual, Bale nails it—Burry is a reclusive, socially awkward savant, and Bale crushed the portrayal. However, I cannot get on board with his nomination because in my opinion, Bale gave the third-best performance in the film; Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling absolutely stole the show. Bale was previously nominated for Best Actor for his role in American Hustle (2013), and he won his lone Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category for 2010’s The Fighter.
Actors snubbed in this category: Benicio del Toro (Sicario), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Steve Carell (The Big Short), Ryan Gosling (The Big Short), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), and Jacob Tremblay (Room)
Although I love writing about all of the major Academy Awards categories, my favorite part of this blog is revealing my favorite films from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will announce each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2015” list; however, today I start by announcing my “Honorable Mentions.” Therefore, I present you with the five films that just missed out on making my list of the Top 15 Films of 2015:
No. 16 – Legend
Legend is a British crime thriller written and directed by Brian Helgeland. The film tells the true-life story of Reggie and Ronald Kray, identical twin brothers who headed the preeminent organized-crime gang in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s. Full disclosure: the story and direction as a whole lose focus two-thirds through the film, which is what prevents this movie from being much higher on my list of 2015’s best films. However, Legend still stands tall as a worthy leader of my Honorable Mentions because of Tom Hardy and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dick Pope. Tom Hardy plays Reggie Kray. Tom Hardy plays Ronald Kray. That’s right—the most talented actor in world cinema leads the film in both main roles. His acting alone is reason to see this movie. Reggie can be violent and dangerous, but he has a softer, more romantic side. Ronald, on the other hand, is the walking example of mental instability, and his violent side is worn much more openly on his sleeves. Hardy’s performance is one of the more amazing things I have ever witnessed in film. You truly forget early on that Hardy is playing both roles—you connect with these characters on a completely individualized basis, as if two actors pulled this off. This visceral exposition was inherently complex, and Dick Pope deserves mounds of credit for making it happen from a cinematography perspective. I highly recommend this movie because of Tom Hardy alone, and it is additionally worth your time to read this article about how, technically, the double-performance by Hardy was created.
No. 17 – Southpaw
Southpaw is a boxing drama directed by Antoine Fuqua, with a screenplay by Kurt Sutter. The film follows world champion boxer Billy Hope as he attempts to get his career back on track after seemingly losing everything in life: his wife is killed in a tragic shooting, and his daughter is stripped from Billy’s care by Child Protective Services. I only saw Southpaw recently, and since I saw Creed beforehand, my expectations for Gyllenhaal’s boxing movie were not high—I mean, how could there be TWO great boxing movies in one year? Boy, was I wrong. Creed (which will come up much later on my blog…wink, wink) and Southpaw are vastly different films, each with its own identity.
Gyllenhaal nailed his leading role, even if the character appeared a bit too dark for me at times. Sutter’s story was fantastic and hard-hitting, which comes as no surprise after I found out that he created FX’s critically acclaimed Sons of Anarchy. I have been incredibly disappointed with Antoine Fuqua’s directorial efforts since Training Day (a top-20 film for me of all time), so I am thrilled to see him back to making remarkable movies. Although I wish I could have seen Eminem in the lead role (the story was based on his life and the rapper was attached to the film for years), I was glad he still crept into the finished product: one of the best scenes features Gyllenhaal training while Eminem’s “Phenomenal” blasts through the speakers—it was glorious!
No. 18 – The Gift
The Gift is a psychological thriller written, directed, and produced by Joel Edgerton. The film follows a married couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), as their lives are turned upside down with the introduction of Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a mysterious acquaintance from Simon’s past. This movie went decently under the radar throughout its limited release towards the end of summer, and I was lucky to have come across it—it was one of the more surprising film experiences of 2015 for me. I have always enjoyed Edgerton as an actor, but my respect for his acting abilities has wildly intensified after seeing this movie. The character evokes the epitome of creepy-crawly emotions, and Edgerton nailed every nuanced look and gesture. What really surprised me was how impressive Edgerton is as a filmmaker—plus, this is his directorial debut. Wow, what a way to start off with a bang! I have seen The Gift twice at this point (once in theaters, once at home), and with a second view, the thrills and chills were still aplenty. Need a good Redbox suggestion? Here you go. You’re welcome!
No. 19 – Black Mass
Black Mass is a crime drama directed by Scott Cooper, with a screenplay by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. The film follows the true-life events surrounding one of the most notorious American mobsters: Boston-native James “Whitey” Bulger. If you like gangster movies, then this is a must-see; Cooper has created a worthy entry into one of film’s best genres. The direction is great, the story is well crafted, and the movie is thrilling, but the standout feature of Black Mass is the ensemble cast (and the performances that flow therefrom). As I pointed out in my Fall Preview in August, Johnny Depp is (despite his many flaws) at his core an incredibly talented performer—all of that talent is on full display in this movie. There are also wonderful supporting performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson, and Corey Stoll. However, my favorite part of the film was Joel Edgerton as FBI agent John Connolly. Edgerton’s character had by far the biggest character arc, and Edgerton knocked every aspect of that journey out of the park. For that performance alone, Black Mass is one you need to check out.
No. 20 – Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies is a Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay written by Matt Charman and the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan). The film follows the true-life story of James Donavon (Tom Hanks), an American attorney tasked with defending Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Additionally, Donavon helps the CIA negotiate for and assist in the exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers, an American spy-plane pilot captured by the Soviets. No one is happier than I am to see a Spielberg movie among the ranks of my favorite films from the past year. Movies like Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Catch Me If You Can are incredible, absolutely incredible. However, recent films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, War Horse, and Lincoln forced me into a state of lost hope for Spiely as a filmmaker. I included Bridge of Spies on my Fall Preview because I had high hopes for the movie, considering Spielberg employed the Coen brothers to write the script. The Coen brothers are some of the most masterful screenwriters in the industry, and they brought their A-game to this movie. With a superb script, vintage directing, and skilled acting by Hanks and Rylance, Bridge of Spies turned out to be one of the year’s best—obviously the Academy agreed, as it nominated the film for six Oscars, including Best Picture.
Happy Monday, film fans! The conclusion to my “Fall Preview 2015” is finally here. Over the past few days, I have shared with you my five Honorable Mentions and No. 10 – No. 6 on the list of my most anticipated fall film releases. But now it is on to the big reveal. So, without further ado, I give you films No. 5 – No. 1 on my Fall Preview 2015 list. Enjoy!
No. 5 – Black Mass
Black Mass tells the true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), a notorious mobster and infamous leader of the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob in South Boston. If you have not seen this trailer, quit reading this now and click the link to it below (no, seriously…it’s worth it). Johnny Depp stars as the villainous Bulger, and by the looks of the aforementioned trailer, he knocks this performance out of the park! I will be the first to admit that Depp is by far one of the weirdest tools in the Hollywood shed. In today’s world, his filmography is marred by oddball performances in films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger, and Mortdecai. But most forget how truly talented Depp is as an artist, providing iconic performances in Donnie Brasco, Blow, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Public Enemies. I am hopeful that his portrayal of Bulger falls perfectly in line with his more acclaimed displays of acting dexterity—the trailer truly does give me hope!
Other than seeing Johnny Depp own the role of a crazed, harebrained mobster, I am looking forward to Black Mass because I am hopeful that it redeems the deeply complex story of Whitey Bulger’s life that the 2014 documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger so drastically mucked up. I was expecting big things from that documentary, but it merely provided a bore-fest that too blatantly revealed the filmmakers’ lack of access. Beneath the surface, an incredibly captivating story bubbles with deceit, violence, lunacy, and corruption, and I am confident that director Scott Cooper and Depp will bring that to fruition. Black Mass is set for a theatrical release on September 18, 2015.
Director: Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart)
Starring: Johnny Depp (Mortdecai, Into the Woods), Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Life), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Imitation Game), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Need for Speed), and Kevin Bacon (Cop Car, R.I.P.D.)
No. 4 – The Revenant
According to Entertainment Weekly, The Revenant “is inspired by the trust story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a 19th-century hunter and fur trapper who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by his comrades (Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson), only to will himself across hundreds of miles of winter terrain to safety—and redemption.” This movie has SO much going for it in my eyes: the cast, the crew, and the director. For starters, it stars Leo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson. Leo is my all-time favorite actor. Hardy is the greatest currently in the business. And with films like About Time and Ex Machina in his relatively small filmography, D-Glee is becoming one of my faves in the industry. Combine the talents of all three of these practiced artists and, in my humble opinion, you have a concoction of star power with unfathomable potential—this alone makes The Revenant a massive draw for me!
Notwithstanding a wealth of talent within its cast, The Revenant piques my interest because of its director and cinematographer: Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki. Iñárritu is an absolute genius filmmaker, as evidenced by his critically acclaimed 2014 film Birdman, winner of four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director for Iñárritu). He is obviously coming off an amazing year in film, and the fact that he is following up Birdman with an epic adventure that took over seven months to shoot in one of the most frigid locations in the world, Iñárritu is sure not letting off the gas pedal. Additionally, his Birdman cinematographer (Lubezki) is back for The Revenant, and that is reason alone to be excited—Lubezki has won the Oscar for Best Cinematography at each of the last two Academy Awards (Gravity and Birdman). The Revenant is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby, Django Unchained) and Tom Hardy (Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road)
No. 3 – Sicario
Sicario, Spanish for “hitman,” follows Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who is recruited onto a joint task force assigned to hunting down a drug-cartel overlord. Blunt is joined by Benicio del Toro (who plays a Mexican national) and Josh Brolin (who plays a government official). To put it simply: I absolutely cannot wait for Sicario.
Earning rave reviews from critics at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Sicario is most fascinating due to Emily Blunt being cast as the lead protagonist. I have always somewhat enjoyed her work, but ever since her badass performance in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow, I am officially on Team Blunt for life. She has just as much charisma as any other leading lady, but it is her penchant for action that now truly sets her apart. Speaking to EW, director Denis Villeneuve said, “I didn’t want a woman who would act like a man. I wanted a woman who would find her strength in a masculine world.” I believe Blunt is up to the task, and that is one of the biggest reasons I am so stoked for this movie’s release.
The supporting cast is also a major draw. Benicio del Toro is a veteran in the game, and with performances in films like Traffic and 21 Grams, he knows how to most effectively evoke mystery, thrill, and suspense. Josh Brolin is another experienced actor that is sure to bring his trademark demeanor to the picture in order to add to the film’s drama. Lastly, I greatly enjoyed 2013’s Prisoners, directed by Villeneuve. He provided an unprecedented level of tension for that film’s entire duration, and I look for him to do the exact same thing in Sicario, hopefully expanding the scope of this apprehensive style of filmmaking. Sicario is set for a limited theatrical release on September 18, 2015 and a wide theatrical release on September 25, 2015.
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy)
Starring: Emily Blunt (Into the Woods, Edge of Tomorrow), Benicio del Toro (Inherent Vice, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For)
No. 2 – Spectre
Spectre is the 24th Eon-produced 007 film, and it picks up where its predecessor, Skyfall, ended: following the fatal attack by Raoul Silva that claimed the life of M (Judy Dench), James Bond (Daniel Craig) must move on to thwart impending threats (by the criminal organization SPECTRE) at the direction of the new M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). I am an avid fan of the James Bond series, and although my loyalties were always to Sean Connery as the preeminent Bond, Daniel Craig has definitely won me over; I now hold Craig out to be the best 007 of all time! Skyfall set a new bar for Bond films, surpassing (almost) every single one that came before it—Goldfinger is still the, pardon the pun, “gold” standard for 007 flicks! With Bond and his cohorts back in action for a fourth installment in the Daniel Craig era, I am hard-pressed to find any reason why this film should not be regarded as one of the biggest, baddest, and most anticipated films of the fall film season!
What is the one thing that could possibly propel Spectre past Skyfall for the second greatest 007 movie of all time? Two words: Christoph Waltz! The two-time Oscar winner is set to play Oberhauser, the apparent mastermind of SPECTRE, who claims some sort of personal connection to Bond. Bringing into the Bond fold one of the premier actors in the film industry is simply the best news for the franchise, and with Waltz in the mix, director Sam Mendes may find a cinematic classic at his fingertips. Spectre is set for a wide theatrical release on November 6, 2015.
Director: Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go)
Starring: Daniel Craig (Skyfall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes, Horrible Bosses 2), Léa Seydoux (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Is the Warmest Colour), Monica Bellucci (The Wonders, Love & War), and Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Skyfall)
No. 1 – The Hateful Eight
The Hateful Eight follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) as he escorts Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue to Red Rock to face justice for murder. Along the way, the two come across six very unique characters: The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), The Sherriff (Walter Goggins), The Mexican (Demián Bichir), The Little Man (Tim Roth), The Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), and The Confederate (Bruce Dern).
Where do I start? I have been looking forward to The Hateful Eight since late 2013 when writer/director Quentin Tarantino said that he was working on his next movie. I have long been a fan of Tarantino, and considering (1) Inglourious Basterds is my all-time favorite movie, and (2) I own every single film Tarantino has ever made, it is no surprise that The Hateful Eight finds itself at the No. 1 spot of my Fall Preview. I am stunned this movie ever got made to be honest. In 2014, after his initial script was illegally leaked, Tarantino said that he was abandoning the project. However, he later changed his mind, rewrote the script, and voilà—we get a Christmas-day release in 70 mm of The Hateful Eight!
One thing Tarantino has always been known for is his recurring collaborations with actors—The Hateful Eight is no exception. Other than Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demián Bichir, Tarantino has previously worked with each of his stars. The Hateful Eight will be his second collaboration with Kurt Russell, Walter Goggins, and Bruce Dern, his third with Michael Madsen, his fourth with Tim Roth, and an astounding sixth with the legendary F-bomb king Samuel L. Jackson. Tarantino’s professional rapport with these actors can only benefit the movie, and I am so eager to see what this mad scientist has cooked up next! The Hateful Eight is set for a 70 mm film release on December 25, 2015 and a digital film release on January 8, 2016.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Kurt Russell (Furious 7, The Art of the Steal), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Welcome to Me, The Spectacular Now), Walter Goggins (American Ultra, Mojave), Demián Bichir (Dom Hemingway, Machete Kills), Tim Roth (Selma, United Passions), Michael Madsen (Ashley, I’m in Love with a Church Girl), and Bruce Dern (Cut Bank, Nebraska)
In this post, I reveal films No. 10 through No. 6 on the list of my Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season. This batch includes some potential heavy hitters, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.
No. 10 – Steve Jobs
According to Entertainment Weekly, Steve Jobs follows its titular character, one of the most revolutionary tech giants of all time, behind the scenes of three iconic product launches: “The Macintosh, Jobs’ failed NeXT computer, and the first iMac.” In 2013, Ashton Kutcher played the Apple founder in the blatantly average Jobs. That boring biographical piece is by far the cause for my unconditional anticipation of Steve Jobs. This is due to the fact that the 2013 film proved that there is an amazing story waiting to be unearthed about the visionary behind the iPod, but it simply needs the film industry’s best and brightest to do the tale justice. In 2015, that is exactly what we get!
Sitting in the director’s chair is Danny Boyle, the genius behind Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours. Leading the cast in the role of Jobs is the rapidly up-and-coming cinematic great Michael Fassbender. And penning the screenplay is one of my favorite writers in the game, Aaron Sorkin (the writer behind A Few Good Men, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, and Moneyball). With this incredible team pulling the strings in the newest incarnation of Steve Jobs’s life story, it is destined for Oscar nominations. Steve Jobs is set for a theatrical release on October 9, 2015.
Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire)
Starring: Michael Fassbender (Slow West, Frank), Kate Winslet (The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Divergent), Seth Rogen (The Interview, Neighbors), and Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper)
No. 9 – Beasts of No Nation
Beasts of No Nation tells the vexing story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy in West Africa who watches as his family is ripped apart from him by terrorizing militants. After, Agu himself is recruited by the leader (Idris Elba) of an army of rebels, comprised of mostly child soldiers. This movie appears to tell a gripping story of a tense and controversial subject matter, and it seemingly has all of the parts to make it a masterpiece: Cary Joji Fukunaga wrote and directed, and Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba plays the devilish commander. For all of you True Detective fans out there (I have only seen a few episodes of season 1, but from what I gathered, it was amazing), Fukunaga directed season 1. Take his direction and mix it with Elba, one of my favorite actors in the business, and I think Beasts has what it takes to succeed.
One of the most interesting facts about this movie is that it is Netflix’s very first original feature film. With Netflix already becoming known for its critically claimed original programming (House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), I am incredibly pumped for its journey into original film production—Beasts debuts on Netflix’s streaming service on the same day as its theatrical release. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Fukunaga stated: “It’s really hard to deny the power of 66 million subscribers. If the audience can have an emotional experience with my movie, then that’s everything I want.” Beasts of No Nation is set for a theatrical and Netflix Instant Stream release on October 16, 2015.
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre)
Starring: Idris Elba (Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Gunman) and Ama K. Abebrese (Double-Cross, Ties That Bind)
No. 8 – Joy
To keep it simple, Joy is about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence). Treating cinematic visionary David O. Russell’s story to a more in-depth and honest description, it is an epic story about a 30-year span in a woman’s life, charting her ups and downs, successes and struggles. Russell again collaborates in Joy with the trio of superstars (Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Bradley Cooper) he has featured in each of his last two films (American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook). Take these established relationships and throw in the fact that Russell’s last three films have all been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and movie fans worldwide surely have a cocktail for genius.
Speaking of David O. Russell’s professional relationships with his recurring stars, my interest in this film is most evidenced by Jennifer Lawrence in the leading role. Silver Linings Playbook did feature her as one of the two main co-stars, but the film was mostly about Cooper’s character. Subsequently, American Hustle featured a hilarious supporting performance by J-Law, but it was Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Cooper taking up the film’s bulk. Therefore, I am beyond stoked to see one of my favorite actresses own the screen time. Lawrence knows her relationship with Russell is special, telling Entertainment Weekly, “Working on his sets is like the Olympics of acting. Everything moves so fast. It’s like watching someone do a giant abstract painting or sculpture and you go, ‘Where is this going?’ And then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a Pegasus. It’s beautiful!” Joy is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2015.
Director: David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1&2, Serena), Robert De Niro (The Intern, Grudge Match), and Bradley Cooper (Aloha, American Sniper)
No. 7 – The Martian
The Martian follows astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), as his crew mistakenly takes him for dead during a storm on Mars. Stranded on the red planet alone without enough resources to last him more than a few weeks, Watney must defy the odds to ever make it back to Earth alive. Ridley Scott directs this sci-fi thriller, and that is all I need to know to get on board. Scott is the creative innovator behind Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Prometheus, and with an interstellar (pun intended) cast at his disposal, his every cinematic desire will surely play out masterfully on the screen. Although I really did like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last year, it was a bit too Inception-esque with its utterly complex structure. From the looks of Scott’s The Martian in its trailer, this film looks to still provide the stunning visual prowess akin to that in Interstellar, while connecting more with the audience.
Scott’s ensemble cast in The Martian is most definitely one of its most impressive features. Matt Damon is obviously an award-winning star, but I am most looking forward to seeing Jessica Chastain. Those familiar with my blog and opinions on film in general know that I have long contended that Chastain is the most skilled actress in the industry. Just like her role in the aforementioned Interstellar, I expect big things from such a Hollywood heavyweight. I am also intrigued by the star power of this film’s supporting cast: the forever fearful of trains Kate Mara (House of Cards anyone?), the always hilarious, but I imagine soon-to-be dramatic Kristen Wiig, and the Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor. A cast this strong is likely to command every last second of the film. The Martian is set for a wide theatrical release on October 2, 2015.
Director: Ridley Scott (Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor)
Starring: Matt Damon (Interstellar, The Monuments Men), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year, Interstellar), Kristen Wiig (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me), Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber To, Looper), Michael Peña (Ant-Man, Fury), Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, Transcedence), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Z for Zachariah, 12 Years a Slave)
No. 6 – Legend
In the true-life biopic Legend, set in London during the 1960s, Tom Hardy plays both twin brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, two of the most renowned gangsters in the world. Tom Hardy + Tom Hardy = double the Tom Hardy. Boom! I am in! Just like my devoted contention that Jessica Chastain is the most talented actress in the game, I likewise believe Hardy is the single greatest actor in all of world cinema. He has proven his worth as the titular character in the brutally violent Bronson, the demented supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, the emotionally torn Ivan in last year’s Locke, and the legendary master of madness in this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. He is the ultimate craftsman, and Legend director Brian Helgeland immediately took notice of Hardy’s seriousness behind the scenes, telling Entertainment Weekly, “he takes it to a point I’ve never seen—just the commitment and the focus. There’s no gag reel.”
Aside from the actual casting of Hardy in Legend, I am fascinated by the fact that he plays both of the Kray twins. Yes, Armie Hammer did a wonderful job as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in 2010’s The Social Network, but Legend is pitched as a badass action adventure, which implicates a completely unprecedented challenge for an actor to take on two roles. While Helgeland initially wanted Hardy to portray only Reggie, the character with the emotional love story at his core, Hardy was smitten with the challenge of playing Ron, the gay and much more outgoing of the twins. Helgeland told EW that “from the time Tom sat down, all he was talking about was Ron. At the end, Tom said, ‘I’ll give you Reggie if you give me Ron.’” The rest was history, and I cannot wait to see the result. Legend is set for a theatrical release on October 2, 2015.
Director: Brian Helgeland (42, The Order)
Starring: Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road), Emily Browning (Pompeii, God Help the Girl), David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, The Fifth Estate), and Chazz Palminteri (Henry & Me, Yonkers Joe)
Locke is a British drama written and directed by Steven Knight. The film follows Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a successful construction foreman who is the supervisor on the largest concrete pour in all of Europe (taking place in Birmingham, UK). On the night before the pour (and the biggest challenge in his thriving career), he receives a call that causes him to get into his car and head to London, ultimately setting in motion a series of life-altering events that take place exclusively via phone calls during his drive.
Locke is single-handedly one of the greatest cinematic achievements that I have ever witnessed in my entire life. Given my adulation of it, it goes without saying that the fact it is “No. 2” on my countdown speaks volumes about my “No. 1” film. Below I will discuss in detail the specific aspects of this film that make it so incredibly stunning, but first, I must chat about the movie’s creator. Steven Knight is famous in cinematic circles across the Atlantic, with little relevance to the average American audience. Although he is most renowned exclusively as a screenwriter, my personal knowledge as to his work is only in regards to his directorial debut, which he also penned (Redemption—known everywhere other than America as Hummingbird). Although Redemption was ultimately no more than a solid 3-star film (per my observation, at least), I was obsessed with various aspects of its mise-en-scène, specifically Knight’s narrative style and visual themes. Nearly the entirety of Redemption is shot at night (just like Locke), and this technique is a particularly outstanding method for telling the British thriller. Despite the fact that Locke is billed as a drama, it plays more like a thriller, so Knight’s success with the nocturnal setting and matching thematic visual production in Redemption bodes well for the eventual success of the far-better Locke. Aside from performing so well in his role as the director of Locke, Knight has authored one of the most thrilling, dramatic scripts that I have ever seen. The execution of the written word by Tom Hardy is the greater achievement, but credit to Knight for his astounding work.
Three aspects of this film make it so extraordinary: (1) its restricted-narrative/limited-storytelling technique, (2) its temporal limitations and signposts, and (3) its stellar acting from Tom Hardy. Hardy’s performance in Locke is interspersed spectacularly throughout both of the first two aspects listed above, and I will integrate specific elements of his portrayal throughout the remainder of this analysis. Locke is the preeminent exposition of a restricted narrative (as the audience is with Hardy’s character exclusively for the entire movie in his SUV during his drive to London—you never see another character) and limited storytelling (as the plot takes place over the course of only a 90-minute period concerning essentially one central issue). These storytelling techniques evoke similarities to Phone Booth (2002), but the actual plot is different. Both Locke and Phone Booth are told seemingly in real time (in fact, the only breaks from continuous shooting in Locke came briefly in order to change the memory cards in the cameras), and this makes the story flow with straightforwardness. Locke’s greatest achievement is that it is even more thrilling than Phone Booth, and yet, its edge-of-the-seat nature is accomplished without violent, murderous circumstances. Even though the stakes, then, are not life-or-death, I would argue that Locke’s gripping circumstances are even more life-altering than that of Phone Booth—the execution of this is how Tom Hardy elevates his acting game to such incomparable heights.
The film’s time limitations and subsequent temporal signposts are additional aspects that set Locke apart from the rest of the year’s movies. As far as actual time constraints, the movie is a scant 84 minutes in duration; also, as mentioned earlier, the film was shot in nearly real time. I make note of these time constraints because it is amazing that so much dramatic excitement can be expounded upon so masterfully in such a limited time. More so than just being a physical time constriction, the movie’s duration plays out as an additional plot device to progress its exhilarating and dramatic elements—during his drive from Birmingham to London, Ivan continually updates (via phone calls) the object of his drive (a person that I will leave unnamed here for spoiler purposes) on how much time he has left before he reaches his destination. As he moves from “one hour away” to “thirty minutes away” to “fifteen minutes away,” the thrilling aspect of the story progresses accordingly, and as a viewer, you feel the pressure Ivan is under. Also, he engages in a series of phone calls with one of his sons who is anxiously awaiting his father’s arrival to watch an important football (soccer in the US) match. Given that Ivan is not home to watch, his son calls persistently to update his father on the game, specifically mentioning in each call how much time remains in the game. This is another way that Knight uses temporal signposts to further update the viewers about how much time Ivan has before his entire life comes crashing down—Knight truly is a storytelling virtuoso.
As far as Hardy’s acting performance, little can be said to do his work justice—it is utterly unexplainable. While discussing the work of Jessica Chastain (multiple times during this year’s blogging), I often state that in my opinion, she is the best actress currently working in Hollywood. When it comes to the best actor (as far as talent goes), Tom Hardy is absolutely her counterpart. If you have doubts about my label of Hardy as the industry’s best, I urge you to watch Bronson (2008; it is currently streaming on Netflix)—it was the single film that made me a strong believer in Hardy’s work as an actor. In each of his other films, he does an exceptional job—most of the time, he steals the show, even if he is simply a supporting character. Subjectively, I believe his role as Ivan Locke is the second greatest of his career (behind Bronson), but as a whole, Locke is a far superior film. Locke is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, so if you subscribe to that service, there is no excuse not to check it out. Locke is rated R for language throughout.