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Oscars 2016: Best Actor

Boy, this is a weak category isn’t it? I could re-do this category with five completely different performers, something I couldn’t do for the previous categories. I’m not really sure what happened here, and the conversation for this category seems surrounded over DiCaprio finally receiving his Oscar. Thankfully I hope it happens so that Twitter pundits will finally have somewhere else to put their repressed anger. I could rant about how awful his performance is, but I don’t want to take away from the other four talented performers, so let’s just dive into this mess.

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Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant  Will Win

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs – Should Win

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

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Let’s get the other guys out of the way. A back-to-back win is often unprecedented, and as good as Eddie Redmayne is, overexposure is never a good thing. While his performance is hailed, the same can’t be said for the film, so let’s leave The Danish Girl to the craft categories. Ditto to The Martian for tech awards. The love for The Martian can be explained by the box office numbers but also the love for Ridley Scott and straight-up crowd pleasers. There’s always a film like this in the mix, one universally loved and nitpicked. While it just missed my top ten, and swept in the “Comedy” categories at the Golden Globes, I don’t see Damon walking away with the prize in any universe. Additionally, Cranston falls in the “it’s an honor just to be nominated” echelon, and the rising adoration for Trumbo may have been too little, too late.

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If I had my pick, Fassbender would have this one in a heartbeat. Danny Boyle’s film is a masterpiece, and it’s a tragedy alone for the film to be left out of top categories, but that one I can forgive. Unforgivable however, would be missing out on Michael Fassbender’s remarkable performance. He’s an actor that is revered in some corners, yet completely obscure in others, and an Oscar might be just what he needs to break out. Still though, if a loss means we’ll be treated to more performances like MacBeth, then it’s fine by me.

And now we come to Leo, poor Leo, who will most likely win for one of his worst and least memorable turns in The Revenant. Asking where his Oscar is at this point is unproductive, since he probably has his acceptance speech for this one ready. I wish he had received an Oscar for a role more daring however, one like he gave in Catch Me If You Can or even 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. His performance in The Revenant is uninspired, and a plain bore to sit through.

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In a perfect world, Steve Carell would be back in the mix again for his role in The Big Short. His transformation throughout the film is heartbreaking to watch, and always entertaining. He’s better than Bale in my opinion, and his omission is an unfortunate one. For a while, many thought Johnny Depp was number one for this category, but the mixed response to Black Mass and simple lack of conversation about his performance may have hurt him. I haven’t seen the film, but like DiCaprio, Depp is the owner of zero statuettes.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2016 in 2016 Academy Awards

 

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Best of 2015: Movies

We’re right in the middle of awards season, and things are going to be heating up over the coming weeks as nominations are announced right and left. 2015 was a big year for movies, as we saw record-breaking grosses along with new distribution models and the domination of Walt Disney Studios. I gained a lot of new favorite movies this year, and my list runs the gamut of blockbusters to the art house specialties.

Honorable MentionsThe Walk, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Martian, Sicario, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Bridge of Spies

And now, my Top 10 Movies of 2015:

Carol

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Beautifully told and gorgeously shot, Carol succeeds in all departments. The story of two young women who fall for each other in 1950s New York feels like a relic of time gone by. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are convincing lovers, and sell you on their love with minimal dialogue. Sly looks, sensual provocations bring Carol and Therese together, and the film is a perfect representation of what makes people fall in love. Todd Haynes’s has such respect and admiration for his protagonists, and he extends that care to the filmmaking, with breathtaking cinematography and costume design.

The Big Short

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The Big Short, like Steve Jobs, is a riveting drama with its own rhythm. Adam McKay’s film gives you a behind-the-curtain look at what caused the housing collapse of 2008, and if this sounds like a bore, trust me, it’s anything but. The accessible approach makes it an appropriate film for any adult looking to learn some economics but also what caused them to lose their job. It’s a film that will make you mad but also intrigue you. The Big Short‘s ensemble of characters gives you a new perspective on the national economy.

Trainwreck

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Judd Apatow’s protagonists are always stunted in emotional growth, and what makes Trainwreck so invigorating is Amy’s transformation over the course of the two-hour film. She goes from carefree serial dater to mature professional 21st century woman, but her journey never feels like an “A to B.” Her speed bumps along the way harden her emotionally, and you’ll lust for her new relationship with Aaron to go well for her own sake. The film never makes judgments about behavior, as every character in Amy’s life has flaws of their own. Amy Schumer’s star vehicle is more than a great case for her leading lady status, it’s a complex yet straightforward raunchy comedy with an unforgiving cast of characters and sharp writing.

Love & Mercy

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Music biopics are a dime a dozen, but the best ones are the ones that truly understand their subject. Comparing it to Straight Outta Compton might seem presumptuous, but both these films are creative endeavors that reflect the artists’ music as an extension of the artist themselves. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy, however, is unique in its take on Beach Boys’ frontman Brian Wilson’s life, as it tells a parallel narrative of Wilson’s life in the 1960s and his life in the 1980s. The two different actors show Wilson’s transformation from troubled creative to patient zero but never feel disconnected from the overall narrative. Gorgeously directed music recording sequences are contrasted with the somber reflective second half of Wilson’s life, and the links between the two are never ostentatious, always accessible.

Spotlight

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Spotlight is unbelievable. Tough subject matter aside, this is a thrilling film, back when journalism would be described as “hard-hitting.” The ensemble is remarkable, and seeing them grapple with the personal and professional stress of the story is made riveting thanks to director Tom McCarthy’s emotionally rich script. It’s a film about deception and scandal, but also one about truth and justice, as the Spotlight team knows the stakes behind this story are sky-high. Coupled with great production design and more than a few standout sequences, Spotlight joins the ranks of Zero Dark Thirty and the podcast Serial as the best modern-day journalistic endeavors.

Mistress America

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Screwball at its finest, Noah Baumbach’s second film of 2015 is one of his greatest, and marks his collaborations with Greta Gerwig as one of the finest in the indie business. There are a lot of films and programs about millennials in New York City, and Mistress America‘s take on a young college girl who bonds with her soon-to-be sister is simply a delight. There’s shades of Woody Allen here as the city comes to life as a supporting character, but the friendship between Tracy and Brooke is the real heart and soul, and gives the film a personality of its own. It’s the kind of film that you put in on a rainy afternoon, as it sucks you into their world and makes you feel not like an observer of the hijinks, but a real participator.

Brooklyn

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On the surface, there may not be anything immediately fascinating about the movie Brooklyn. The story is not the most complex one, and it may look like a typical immigrant tale if you’re just window shopping. But Brooklyn’s simplicity is what makes it stand out, and it was refreshing to see a movie so classically told, one that won’t make you scream or shout, but rather one you’ll be admiring for years to come. Saoirse Ronan sells you on Eilis’s experience, as she’s torn between her new home in New York and her old one in Ireland. The elegant simplicity of the filmmaking and writing allows Brooklyn to focus on other things, and the result is a new classic, one that will never feel old or dated.

Room

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I was possibly the biggest emotional wreck in the theater after the movie Room. Based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, and brought to the screen by director Lenny Abrahamson, Room has such a marvelous first act that you might wonder if the film can keep up the pace for the remainder of the film. Told beautifully and made with the tender touch of a mother, Room makes such a convincing bond between Ma and Jack. You’ll grow frustrated with them but also yearn for their release, and both Brie Larson and young actor Jacob Tremblay tap into these fictional characters and make them feel “ripped from the headlines” real.

Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs is electric filmmaking. The film retains such a rhythm throughout its entire run, and it makes the experience feel like you’re watching history being made, which you kind of are. Michael Fassbender gives the best performance of his career as the enigmatic Jobs, and Danny Boyle’s film allows him to explore new angles of Jobs that we may not have previously known. The brilliant three-act structure gives a Shakespearian atmosphere to the whole affair, and Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin never let the film lose momentum. Boasting brilliant direction and some great supporting turns from Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels, Steve Jobs is unlike any other film you’ll see this year.

Inside Out

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Many (including this writer) thought that Pixar’s glory days were behind them, yet Inside Out is the studio’s best film to date. It’s worth repeating that Inside Out is a creative masterpiece, overflowing with ingenuity and attention to detail, with accomplished voice actors and a beautiful score. But then again, so are all of Pixar’s films. What makes Inside Out so special is that it may be the first animated film truly made for adults and children. Yeah, there are jokes that range from slapstick to witty quips, but the emotional mileage that Inside Out gets out of its protagonist Riley is simply unprecedented. You’ll think of your own adolescence as Riley struggles with hers, you’ll relate to Joy and Sadness and their adventure through Riley’s head, you’ll laugh and cry along with Riley’s parents as they adjust to a new home. What Inside Out does is make these experiences universal, while allowing the viewer to make it personal. All of this is coated with the signature Disney-Pixar polish that we’ve known and loved, and you’ve got a new classic for the ages.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in Other

 

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Steve Jobs

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It’s not hard to see why Steve Jobs himself makes such an interesting subject. I don’t need to reiterate the impact he had on society, but our inherent curiosity in seeing how men like him function has resulted in works both good and bad that attempt to get a grip on the Apple legend. Danny Boyle’s is the latest to attempt to understand the man, and it’s a resounding win. Steve Jobs is more than a career best for everyone involved, t’s a creative epiphany, a rare film of both ambition and nuance. I hate using words like ‘masterpiece’ on this blog, but for Steve Jobs I’ll make an exception.

The film is based on the 2011 biography of the same name, published just shortly after Jobs’s death. That massive tome that everyone’s mother was reading is a difficult one to trim down, but Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have made it work. Creative and strategic cuts had to be made in order to present a cohesive film, one that preserves Jobs’s image but also functions as an entertaining movie.

The entire affair is presented like a three-act play, beginning in 1984 with the launch of the Apple Macintosh and ending in 1998 with the launch of the iMac. In between we see Jobs’s firing and rehiring from Apple, as well as his work on the NeXT Computer in 1988. On top of the failure of the Macintosh and the NeXT, Jobs also struggles with a paternity case, as he claims his former girlfriend Chrisann’s daughter Lisa is not his own.

This three-act structure is risky, and would not simply work in any other director’s hands. Danny Boyle’s direction elevates the production, making something that could come across as repetitive instead come across as novel. It’s nimble, quick on its feet, with signature Sorkin dialogue to boot.

Recurring characters appear in each of the three “vignettes,” including Jobs’s former coworker Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who perhaps has the best lines as he berates Jobs for failing to give their Apple II team any recognition. He jabs at Jobs continuously, asking him “what do you do?” with lines speaking of their rivalry but also mutual respect for each other. In a similar vein, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), CEO of Apple at the time, is featured in the best climactic scenes alongside Jobs. Daniels does incredible work, and the two bicker about if Jobs was actually fired, the truth of which we see in intermittent flashbacks. It’s all filmed with gusto, the score building and building until the tension can be felt, until it all comes crashing down like dominoes. The filmmaking is electric, my palms were sweating all throughout.

The heart and soul of the film however, belongs to Jobs’s daughter Lisa. She’s symbolic for everything Jobs believes in, acting as a literal representation of his success. When the paternity case is finally settled and he finally accepts that she is his daughter, it’s a turning point for both Jobs and the company. The film employs a similar device in Apple’s creations, with the three impactful moments in Jobs’s life obviously not chosen at random. Nothing is constant in Jobs’s life, except his marketing assistant Joanna, played by Kate Winslet in one of her best roles to date. More than just a behind-the-scenes girl, Joanna is Jobs’s confidant, probably the only person who understands him, and even then she struggles with his abrasive personality.

I haven’t yet touched on Fassbender’s performance, and that’s because it’s everything you’d expect it to be. He may not look the part like Ashton Kutcher did in 2013’s astronomically bad Jobs, but Fassbender delivers a performance so rigid, so rock solid, that you’ll feel tightened by his grip just like the supporting characters in his life did. When he gets mad, he gets mad, and he can deliver a burn unlike anybody else. Jobs is the same person with Joanna as he is with Lisa and Chrisann, he doesn’t make compromises. Fassbender matches Jobs’s personality to a T, nailing the reflective scenes but also the showy ones. It’s one of the best performances of the year.

I’ve seen comparisons of Steve Jobs with last year’s Oscar winner Birdman, and while I think those comparisons are completely just (both films are backstage dramas with kinetic filmmaking and troubled leads), I think the filmmaking here matches Jobs’s personality better than it did Riggan’s. Symbolism is all over in Steve Jobs, but it’s never overt, with unexpected lines of dialogue stemming from unexpected places. These unorthodox storytelling strategies allow the what-might-be-familiar story to overcome obstacles that so many other biopics struggle to surpass. Jobs’s legacy is fully in tact here, and we couldn’t have gotten a better film from a more talented team of artists – it’s a triumph.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2015 in Movie Reviews

 

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Best Movies of 2015 (so far)

6 months into 2015 and it’s time to start looking ahead to awards season where the best films of the year will be recognized. This year has been record-breaking for the box office but we’ve also had a fair share of smaller films that have taken the art house scene by storm. With half of the year under our belt, I thought I’d share what I think are the best films of the year so far. This is in no particular order, as I’m not sure of where these will place come year-end, or if they will even make my final list.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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This one I know for sure is my #1 this year. Kingsman is hands down the best kind of fun you can have at the movies. It’s sharp, tightly paced, well-acted, and features outstanding action sequences (including the best I’ve ever seen in a church). The great cast adds plenty of charm to the film and the plot will keep you engaged the entire time. No other film this year is as risqué, action-packed and hilarious as Kingsman.

Love & Mercy

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A spin on the traditional biopic, Bill Pohlad’s affecting drama about Beach Boys’ lead singer Brian Wilson is an outstanding portrait of a tragic man. The decision to feature two different actors at two different periods in Wilson’s life is a bold one, and it pays off handsomely. Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent, and Elizabeth Banks shines in an unexpectedly well-developed supporting role. The unorthodox storytelling techniques, mirrored with unique cinematography and storytelling mechanics makes Love & Mercy a joy to watch.

Inside Out

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I try to avoid superlatives, but Inside Out is Pixar’s best film since Finding Nemo. Inside Riley’s head, a psychological plot unfolds like none other this year. Kids will adore the bright colors and funny slapstick, while adults will stick around for the affecting drama and sharp wit. But Inside Out goes the extra mile and delivers a commentary about the hardships of growing up and how being emotional is an important part of that.

Jurassic World

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Is there a better blockbuster this year than Jurassic World? Hell no. Jurassic World takes us back to before superhero movies ruled the summer, when all it took was good old dinosaurs. At the wheel are Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, who are a great pair, and while the plot might not always sing, seeing dinosaurs never grows old.

Clouds of Sils Maria

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A very unconventional choice for me, as Clouds of Sils Maria is very experimental, but no less engaging than the other films on this list. Kristin Stewart gives my favorite performance of the year thus far, as Clouds examines one woman’s pursuit of career excellence in a Hollywood that would consider her past her prime. Olivier Assayas’s excellent script and wonderful dialogue make this trip to Switzerland one worth taking.

 

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Other

 

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