Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 4 – A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born is a musical drama directed by Bradley Cooper (in his directorial debut) and co-written by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters.  The film tells the story of a country musician named Jackson Maine (Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young, aspiring singer named Ally (Lady Gaga). Ally’s budding musical career quickly takes off, but all the while, Jackson’s own personal demons threaten to tear his down.

Star Gif 4This iteration of A Star Is Born is the third remake of the original 1937 film, following reincarnations in 1954 (starring Judy Garland and James Mason) and 1976 (starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson). Despite trotting through familiar territory, the Cooper- and Gaga-led version feels undeniably new and wholly unique. As much as this film is about the music (and trust me, the music is flawless – I still listen to “Shallow” at least a few times each week), it is really much more about an exploration of Jackson and Ally and their obviously genuine, but altogether complicated, love story. These two characters clearly inspire each other in the most believable ways possible (both in life and in music), which makes their rollercoaster relationship that much more affecting for an audience. Star Gif 1Although the ease of buying into this tale of romance has a lot to do with Cooper and Lady Gaga as actors (their chemistry was organic, unforced, and utterly convincing), it can also be credited to the dynamic screenwriting trio, the X factor of which is Eric Roth. Roth has led a critically acclaimed career behind the pen, writing the scripts (and receiving Oscar nominations) for Hollywood heavy-hitters Forrest Gump, The Insider, Munich, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. With such an illustrious filmography, it is patently obvious that Roth’s fingerprints were all over the script for A Star Is Born.

Star Gif 3The movie also benefits tremendously from an exquisite directorial achievement by Cooper. Some of the most emotionally packed scenes in all of film this year came from A Star Is Born, and Cooper’s vision is at the root. Avoiding spoilers, I will say that the emotional climax of the film was, even for someone that hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations of the story, predictable. But despite that, Cooper still presented it in a way that felt raw and unexpected – it was single-handedly the most heart-wrenching scene of the year. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater.) Further, the main function of a director, aside from being the film’s chief visionary, is to get the best work out of the actors – in that department, Cooper far exceeded all expectations that could possibly have been set for him. As I will get into more detail about in a moment, Lady Gaga delivered an exceptional performance as Ally. Yes, she was clearly born to be a performer. Yes, she already has a small handful of acting credits. And yes, the film is about a singer, which Gaga already is in real life. But in the wrong director’s hands, a good performer could still fall flat – it happens all the time. Luckily, in A Star Is Born, the combination of Cooper’s shrewd direction and Gaga’s unquestionable talent came together beautifully to offer one of the year’s best acting performances. Star Gif 5It also says a lot that Sam Elliott, a pioneer in the acting world with a career that spans over five decades, received his first Oscar nomination of all time in the role of Bobby Maine, Jackson’s manager and half-brother. Not only did Cooper bring out the best in Lady Gaga, but he also found a way to elicit a career-defining supporting performance from a Hollywood legend. I am still quite a bit upset that Cooper was overlooked in the Best Director category – he definitely should have received a nomination for his work behind the camera.

Star Gif 2As alluded to above, Lady Gaga’s portrayal of Ally was amazing – given her background in music and her own rise to fame, Cooper could not have hit a more definite homerun in terms of casting than this. Gaga effortlessly commanded the complex emotional nature of Ally, portraying her vividly as a young woman who is at first apprehensive and lacking in self-esteem, and later confident and more comfortable in her own skin. However, even after Ally becomes more self-assured, she still maintains an innocent sense of vulnerability – Gaga depicts that remarkably. tumblr_pg469awrKr1qjde42o8_400Even though Bradley Cooper is the film’s creative mind behind the camera, he also turns in one of the best acting performances of his own career, justifiably earning him a fourth Oscar nomination in an acting category. Jackson Maine is a complicated character – despite Ally energizing his life in terms of love and music, he still struggles to keep up with his own personal battles. A life of alcoholism and self-sabotage trips Jackson up at every turn, and Cooper’s portrayal is haunting and dramatic – it was definitely a memorable piece of acting. A Star Is Born is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, and substance abuse.

A Star Is Born trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E&t=8s

Academy Award nominations for A Star Is Born:

Best Picture (Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper, and Lynette Howell Taylor, producers)

Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper)

Best Actress in a Leading Role (Lady Gaga)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sam Elliott)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters)

Best Original Song – “Shallow” (Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt)

Best Sound Mixing (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve A. Morrow)

Best Cinematography (Matthew Libatique)

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 9 – A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is a horror film directed by John Krasinski and co-written by Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck. Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been overtaken by mysterious blind creatures that attack their prey utilizing their acute sense of hearing, A Quiet Place follows the Abbott family as they live in silence in an attempt to survive.

Over time, the cinematic landscape has become more and more saturated with horror films, more so than most other genres. However, every so often, a movie comes along that injects something unique and refreshing into the genre, and I tend to gravitate to those remarkable adventures. For example, I really enjoyed the 2015 film It Follows, which didn’t really break the rules of traditional horrors films as much as it uncompromisingly set its own distinctive and memorable rubric for the genre. Further, in 2017, Jordan Peele’s Best Picture-nominated Get Out became the gold standard for mixing horror with invigorating social commentary. In the same vein as some of its noteworthy predecessors, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place not only redefines what makes a film scary and suspenseful, but it breathes life into a premise that builds upon both classic elements of horror and an infusion of inventive plot devices.

AQP3In this film, sound is dangerous, noises breed vulnerability, and safety resides in silence. In that sense, A Quiet Place is similar to the 2016 horror film Don’t Breathe – however, in Don’t Breathe, only some of the movie utilizes silence as a plot point (i.e., the scenes in the blind man’s house), as the remainder of the film includes ordinary dialogue. This is what makes Krasinski’s filmmaking here so impressive – the central foundation of this post-apocalyptic world is that, from the get-go, noise is bad. Thus, Krasinski can’t use ordinary character dialogue to progress the story or create tension at any point – instead, he must rely on visuals and non-verbal cues. In this aspect, Krasinski was masterful in A Quiet Place. Using the silence as a tool, Krasinski constantly tugs at the audience’s nerves, creating an edge-of-your-seat adventure.  I also greatly enjoyed the fundamental theme of the story – as Krasinski explained, “The scares were secondary to how powerful this could be as an allegory or metaphor for parenthood. For me, this is all about parenthood.”

AQP1From an acting perspective, A Quiet Place is wonderful. In particular, I was thoroughly impressed with Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds. Blunt (Krasinski’s real-life wife) plays Evelyn, the mother of the family, and her performance was incredibly balanced and emotive. The scene that sticks out the most to me as evidence of Blunt’s fantastic acting is when Evelyn (who is pregnant and nearly full-term) must attempt to remain silent despite her contractions – it was definitely one of the tensest scenes in the movie. Simmonds was also tremendous as Regan, the eldest daughter of the family. Simmonds is deaf, which lends a great deal of authenticity to her portrayal of Regan, who is deaf in the film and wears a cochlear implant. Obviously Regan’s deafness plays a key part in the development of the story, and Simmonds’s performance packs some of the film’s most vital emotional punches. A Quiet Place is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.

A Quiet Place trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR7cc5t7tv8

Academy Award nominations for A Quiet Place:

Best Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn)

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 9 – Zootopia

 

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

ZOOTOPIA

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

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

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

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

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

Academy Award nominations for Zootopia:

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

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

10. Nocturnal Animals

Fall Preview 2016: Honorable Mentions

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

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

Today: Honorable Mentions

Sunday: No. 10 – No. 6

Tuesday: No. 5 – No. 1

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

The Accountant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of a Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester by the Sea

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

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

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

Director: Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret)

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

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

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 2014: Honorable Mentions

Fall Preview Honorable Mention Photo

Movie fans—ASSEMBLE! Welcome back, everyone. As of today, we are exactly 180 days away from the 87th Academy Awards. As usual, my preparation for the release of a large portion of this year’s Oscar-worthy films begins now! So far throughout this calendar year, there has been a decent amount of good films that have been released and a couple that are downright superb.

FallAnd now it’s time to get this Fall Movie Season started. I have again 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

Wednesday: No. 10 – No. 6

Friday: No. 5 – No. 1

Kicking off this year’s Fall Preview are the five films that just missed out on making the Top 10 list (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!


Birdman

Birdman follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a former star actor known for his role as a superhero named Birdman, and his desire to return to his A-list status. Riggan hopes to retain his past glory through a Broadway play that he has created, but in anticipation of opening night, he battles a breakdown. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is not known for making comedies (he has directed critically-acclaimed dramas, such as 21 Grams and Babel), but with this film, he brings to the table an entire new experience.

Birdman 2The trailer is rather mysterious, not lending itself to many comedic overtones (other than Mike Keaton parading through the streets of NYC in his tightie-whities), but with a cast that includes Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis, it is sure to be enjoyable—in a weird kind of way. Birdman is set for a theatrical release on October 17, 2014.

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel)

Starring: Michael Keaton (Batman Returns, Jackie Brown), Edward Norton (Fight Club, Moonrise Kingdom), Naomi Watts (The Impossible, Diana), Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man, Magic in the Moonlight), and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover trilogy, The Campaign)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJfLoE6hanc

Horrible Bosses 2

Horrible Bosses 2 reunites fans with three friends who attempted to kill their respective bosses in the previous installment in the series: Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day). Horrible Bosses 2This time around, the guys have started their own business, but a smooth-talking investor (Christoph Waltz) threatens to bring them down. In order to get the business back, the three hapless friends forge a plan to kidnap the investor’s son (Chris Pine) for ransom. “That obviously goes sideways pretty quickly,” Bateman told Entertainment Weekly.

Horrible Bosses is by far one of my favorite comedies of all time, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing this comedy trio back in action. The trailer reveals cameos from three of the last film’s funniest characters: David Harken (Kevin Spacey), Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), and Dean Motherf*$%#^ Jones (Jamie Foxx). I am hopeful that this film will become a classic sequel, as it definitely looks way better than Anchorman 2 and the new Dumb and Dumber sequel. Horrible Bosses 2 is set for a theatrical release on November 26, 2014.

Director: Sean Anders (Sex Drive, That’s My Boy)

Starring: Jason Bateman (Identity Thief, Bad Words), Jason Sudeikis (Drinking Buddies, We’re the Millers), Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, The Lego Movie), Chris Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained)

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B45XU3v9sPw

Jimi: All Is by My Side

Jimi: All Is by My Side is the true-life story of musical legend Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin). The film follows the rockstar’s journey to his breakthrough performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival in the late 1960s, as opposed to tracking Hendrix from birth to death, and director John Ridley did this intentionally for creative purposes. “The excitement was in avoiding what was expected,” Ridley told Entertainment Weekly.

Unlike most, I am not particularly privy to Jimi Hendrix’s musical career, Jimi 2but this film piques my interest for multiple reasons. For starters, Ridley is directing, and last year he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Best Picture-winner, 12 Years a Slave. It was my favorite film of last year, and I anticipate Ridley’s impeccable writing skills translating well to the director’s chair. I am further intrigued by André Benjamin’s casting in the lead role of Hendrix. In the few movies I have seen him in, “Three Stacks” (Outkast fans, where ya at?) always did a tremendous job on the screen. The trailer reveals a performance that is committed and authentic, and I am excited to see his portrayal of Hendrix on the silver screen. Jimi: All Is by My Side is set for a theatrical release on September 26, 2014.

Director: John Ridley (Red Tails, 12 Years a Slave)

Starring: André Benjamin (Four Brothers, Idlewild), Hayley Atwell (The Duchess, Captain America: The First Avenger), and Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment, Need for Speed).

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=981Ql4R2xC8

Kill the Messenger 

Kill the Messenger tells the true-life tale of award-winning journalist Barry Webb (Jeremy Renner) and the dangerous story he happens upon. The film chronicles America’s crack epidemic and the government’s implicit knowledge of the drug trade. Kill the Messenger 2As Webb’s investigation soldiers on, a range of CIA officials and high-ranking drug lords warn him to stop; however, Webb keeps digging for answers, and this journey becomes grueling as his life is incessantly put into grave danger.

Aside from Renner and cameos from Hollywood heavy hitters Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Michael Sheen, this film’s cast is made up of predominantly second-string character actors. In spite of this revelation, it has a mass amount of potential because of two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner at the helm. Ever since his performance in The Hurt Locker in 2008, Renner has developed into one of the best talents in the business, and it is hard to imagine a world where he does not succeed in this movie. The trailer gives me high hopes for the film, and I am excited to see this conspiracy thriller in action. Kill the Messenger is set for a wide theatrical release on October 24, 2014.

Director: Michael Cuesta (Dexter, Homeland)

Starring: Jeremy Renner (American Hustle, The Immigrant), Barry Pepper (Snitch, The Lone Ranger), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Death Proof, The Spectacular Now), and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married, The Watch).

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW4XO-52ubE

Mr. Turner

According to Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Turner profiles the “last 25 years of the prolific early-19th-century British seascape painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall).” The biopic conveys his vast impact on the early days of impressionism, and in the trailer, a woman utters, “You’re a man of great vision, Mr. Turner.” Timothy Spall in Mr TurnerThat seems to be the enlightening theme behind this untold story. Although this film is probably enormously unknown to the average moviegoer in the United States, it is one that is highly anticipated in Great Britain. Director Mike Leigh is a well-known filmmaker, and this is his sixth collaboration with Spall, fourth with Marion Bailey, and third with Dorothy Atkinson—obviously this continuity and chemistry behind the scenes will help the film along in a refined manner.

I became interested in the film due to the critical acclaim it received at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in France. Early reviews have been wholly positive and complimentary, and most of the praise has been directed at Spall. In fact, Spall won the Best Actor award at Cannes, and it is this specific accolade that gives me faith in the biographical drama. I am also a sucker for great cinematography, and at Cannes, Mr. Turner cinematographer Dick Pope took home the award in that category. All of the pieces are in place for a successful run this winter, and I hope to continue broadening my cinematic horizons by taking in this film. Mr. Turner is set for a theatrical release on December 19, 2014.

Director: Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake)

Starring: Timothy Spall (Harry Potter films, The King’s Speech), Dorothy Atkinson (Topsy-Turvy, Chatroom), and Marion Bailey (Meantime, All or Nothing).

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn4zSR_5ioI

Top 15 Films of the Year – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

This Is The End

Now that the Oscars season is officially back into action, I have once again compiled a list of my favorite fifteen films from the previous year.  Over the next few weeks, I will be revealing each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2013” list, but today I am announcing the five “Honorable Mention” films that were nearly worthy enough for inclusion of my year-end list.  Now, I present you with the five films that just missed cracking my Top 15 list:

No. 16 – This Is The End

This Is The End is a comedy film written and directed by Seth Rogen and long-time collaborator Evan Goldberg.  The film features a number of Rogen’s film buddies, includingThis Is The End 2 James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, playing fictional versions of themselves as the disastrous apocalypse takes place.  The movie was based on a short film called Jay and Seth versus the Apocalypse (2007), and its feature-length adaptation was most definitely one of my favorites from 2013.  It was such a simple concept with a pretty distinctive plotline, and the performances by the actors were ridiculously humorous, keeping me entertained the entire time.  A vast amount of celebrities make hilarious cameos in the film, such as Rihanna and Channing Tatum, but my favorite was Emma Watson—but then again, I will support anything she is in!!  If you have not seen this movie yet, do society a favor and get to your nearest Redbox ASAP!!!  Okay, maybe that is extreme, but still, you will not want to miss this one.

No. 17 – August: Osage County

August: Osage County is a film directed by John Wells with a screenplay by Tracy Letts.  Letts adapted this film, a tale about an Oklahoma family reuniting after the passing of a August Osage Countyrelative, from his very own award-winning Broadway play by the same name.  My viewing of the film was a case of first impression because I had never seen the play, but I greatly enjoyed the dark, twisted storyline of the dysfunctional Weston family.  The film featured some scenes that will most definitely live in my memory for a long time, particularly the family dinner scene and the scene where Julia Roberts cusses out her sister and mother over a plate of fish.  Speaking of Roberts, she did an absolutely phenomenal job in her role as Barbara, and that performance was one of the highlights for me; furthermore, Meryl Streep, the greatest living silver screen actress, lit the film on fire with her wildly erratic behavior as Violet, the pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family.  The combination of a dark, but amusing script and some fantastic acting performances is the reason this was one of the better films of 2013.

No. 18 – Rush

Rush is a film directed by Ron Howard with a screenplay written by Peter Morgan about the infamous Formula 1 rivalry between racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and NikiRush Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during the 1976 racing season.  As a sports fan, I am always on board to watch a sports-related film, but rarely do I come across one that is made with such an intricate filmmaking style as Howard’s Rush.  The sound was amazing, the cinematography was wildly intense, and the acting was top-notch.  I have rapidly become a big fan of Chris Hemsworth, and in this movie, he truly spreads his wings and establishes himself as a rising dramatic talent in Hollywood as the real-life James Hunt.  But my favorite performance from the film was Daniel Brühl’s role as Niki Lauda.  If you watch any interviews with the real-life Lauda on YouTube, you will see that Brühl absolutely nailed the accent.  His portrayal of the Formula 1 driver was spot-on and award-worthy, and I was relatively disappointed that he was snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  I bought into everything on the screen when I watched Rush, and I would highly recommend this film.

No. 19 – Mud

Mud is a coming-of-age drama written and directed by established indie-filmmaker Jeff Nichols.  The movie is about Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a criminal on the run, and hisMUD-13103-PS.JPG friendship with a couple of 14-year-old boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) who happen upon Mud’s hideout on a small island in the Mississippi River.  Matthew McConaughey had probably the best acting year of any performer in Hollywood, and although he is receiving widespread acclaim for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, his outstanding performance as the mysterious Mud is definitely not one to overlook.  Even with solid performances from McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Sam Shepard, Mud is highlighted by a breakout performance from Tye Sheridan.  Although he was just 14-years-old during production, Sheridan gave an exceptionally mature performance in his role as Ellis.  Even though Sheridan did not receive any major award nominations, his performance was the best part of Mud, and I expect great things from him in the future.

No. 20 – Prisoners

Prisoners is a thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski about the search to find two young girls that are abducted from their neighborhood in PrisonersPennsylvania.  Guzikowski’s script is dark and menacing, and each actor makes the most of the mystifying plot.  There are some first-rate supporting performances from Terrence Howard, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano, but Hugh Jackman steals the show with an extraordinary performance as a father willing to go to all lengths to find his daughter.  Last year, I voted for Jackman as Best Actor for his role in Les Misérables, and once again this year, he gave a performance that I truly felt was worthy of acclaim.  Even though he was ultimately not nominated for any major awards, he still gave a brilliant performance, and Prisoners is a frightening film you do not want to miss.

Welcome Back: It’s OSCAR TIME!

Ellen

Hello, movie fans! And welcome back to my 2nd annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog!  After a very successful campaign last year, I am more than excited to get back to work on commenting about the many wonderful films and performances from 2013.  This past year was a fantastic year for movies, and it is clearly evidenced in the fact that some of my favorite movies and acting performances were snubbed this year for the Oscars—this just means that we have a really, really competitive field this year in nearly every category, and each race is sure to be a showdown.

Starting today and continuing right up until the big day, I will once again be posting regularly about the Oscars.  These posts will include both my “Top 15 Films of the Year” list and my own personal Oscars ballot for this year’s major categories.  I will also be posting a review about the actual ceremony in March, and this year, I will follow that up with a preview of the films that are sure to make a big splash in 2014.  I am including a new feature on many of my posts this year—there will be a poll for all of my viewers to participate in, so make sure to take advantage of this to get involved this Oscars season.

Ellen DeGeneres will be hosting this year, and I could not be more excited.  Her daytime show is universally loved, and I look for her to translate that success to the Oscars from the moment she takes the stage.  This is Ellen’s second time hosting the Oscars, as she previously hosted the 79th Academy Awards in February 2007.  This year, the Oscars will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on March 2nd, 2014—that is just 23 days away!!

Thank you to all of you that are back again this year, and I look forward to any new viewers—I really do appreciate the support.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show—it’s OSCAR TIME!

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 12 – The Dark Knight Rises

Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a film directed by Christopher Nolan, with a screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The movie takes place about eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight (2008), as Bruce Wayne hangs up his Batman mask and goes into a self-imposed banishment from crime fighting after he assumes blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. Batman and Commissioner Gordon believed making the caped crusader disappear might be the only way to restore sanity to Gotham City for good. However, with the emergence of the disastrous terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), Wayne realizes he must end his exile in an attempt to save Gotham from the dangerous attacks that await at the hands of this masked killer.

Ever since The Dark Knight was released in 2008, fans of this superhero franchise have been anxiously awaiting the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. In my opinion, Nolan’s productions have been much more groundbreaking than any other set of Batman movies ever created. The older Batman films seemed over-the-top and cheesy with horrible special effects and beyond terrible acting; conversely, Nolan’s movies are much darker and made more in the mold of a full-fledged drama rather than an action film, not to mention the stellar casts he employs. He has made world-class movies like The Prestige and Inception, and his Batman series has never disappointed to impress both theatergoers and critics.

The biggest surprise to me about this movie is the fact that it is not nominated for any Academy Awards. The Dark Knight was up for eight Oscars and won two, and even though the newest film did not have an acting performance like Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker in 2008, I felt that The Dark Knight Rises was almost just as good of a movie as its predecessor. It features unbelievable visual effects and other aesthetics, but for some reason, the Academy chose not to recognize any of these features of The Dark Knight Rises this year. I think people went into the movie expecting way too much considering how great of a film The Dark Knight was, and in my opinion, this hype is what led to many people not enjoying the movie.

Christian Bale turned in another solid performance as Bruce Wayne, and once again, the supporting performances lent to an overall illustrious ensemble of acting skill. Anne Hathaway plays the physically demanding role of Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, and Tom Hardy joins forces with Nolan again (Inception, 2010) to play the cataclysmic terrorist Bane. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman reprise their roles as Lucius Fox, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner James Gordan, respectively. If that list of actors is not enough to prove the major-league level Christopher Nolan is at as a filmmaker, he also enlists Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake) and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate) to round out the long list of performers.

I believe Nolan ended his Batman trilogy on a firm, conclusive note, and I believe this film ranks second among the three. It provides much more drama and astounding visual effects than Batman Begins (2006), but without a performance similar to that of Ledger, it simply cannot meet the astonishing standards that The Dark Knight has set for the trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality, and language.

Academy Award nominations for The Dark Knight Rises:

NONE

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 13 – Flight

Flight 15

Flight is a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, with a screenplay written by John Gatins.  The film follows veteran airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) as he courageously rescues an aircraft after an unknown calamity causes the plane to descend into a devastating crash.  Following the crash, Whitaker is hunted down by the media and hailed as a hero for his uncanny ability to act in a time of distress and land his plane.  However, as the movie progresses, questions begin to arise about the true events that took place before, during, and after the crash.  More and more is revealed and everyone learns that the situations surrounding the crash prove much more convoluted and disturbing than was first thought.

From the outside, this movie has all of the necessary parts to make it look like a fascinating piece of film work.  For starters, the director is Robert Zemeckis, renowned for directing critical and commercial movie successes like the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away.  The film also features a screenplay by John Gatins, the writer of Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Real Steel.  Lastly, the lead actor is Denzel Washington—that alone will make film fans flock to the theaters in droves.

The obvious thing to discuss next is the crash scene.  I do not want to give anything away for those that have not seen the movie, but it is the scene that begins the movie and sets the stage for the rest of the plot to transpire.  There have been some scary, stressful plane-crash scenes in film—the hijacking scene from United 93 and the plane crash at the beginning of Zemeckis’ own Cast Away—but the crash in Flight is a version of those scenes but on steroids.  The scene is done in a manner that only Robert Zemeckis could dictate, and for the duration of the entire scene, you will be glued to your seat in sheer terror.  After the crash scene, however, the film seems to drag on for the next couple of hours.  Although some other interesting events do take place, the majority of the movie cannot live up to the first 20 minutes or so.

John Goodman, Don Cheadle, and Kelly Reilly turn in solid supporting performances, but like in most movies, Denzel steals the show.  The man has become one of the premier actors of this generation in the film industry, and I truly cannot think of a Denzel movie that I disliked him in—he’s just that good.  Washington is nominated for Best Actor for his performance, marking his sixth Academy Award nomination.  In Flight, he portrays a man that has not only lost his grip on reality, but he has lost a sense of his own inner identity.  Washington releases himself into the character, and his immersion on the screen is everything you could want in a performance.  If it was not for an incredibly competitive Best Actor field this year, Washington might very well find himself holding another golden statue.  Flight is rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity, and an intense action sequence.

Academy Award nominations for Flight:

Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington)

Writing – Original Screenplay (John Gatins)

Flight trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlFMZ5D8FNc