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Oscars 2016: Best Picture

What a crazy Oscars season wasn’t it? Some categories have been locked up since last fall, others have come down to today, and others are legitimately too close to call. The best part of the Oscars is the unpredictability, and when they do throw a curveball into the mix, things get much more interesting. So let’s over-analyze things and see if we can score big on our ballots come Sunday.

Best Picturespotlight-xlarge

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenantrevenant-gallery-20-gallery-image

Room

Spotlight Will Win, Should Win

Power Rankings: Spotlight-The Big Short-The Revenant-Mad Max: Fury Road-The Martian-Room-Bridge of Spies-Brooklyn

This has been a close race all season, as no one film is dominating the conversation. The Big Three, that is; screenplay-director-picture is typically vital for a clean sweep, but this year it’s all hazy. In the end though, I think Spotlight will triumph. First, it’s the right kind of film that wins Best Picture, it’s a success story for director Tom McCarthy, and it has scored acclaim across the board for its three main performers. While the same can be said for The Revenant and The Big Short, they came into the game too late and don’t have the edge that Spotlight does.

Historically, Golden Globe success doesn’t always translate into Oscar gold, and while The Revenant scored a whopping twelve Oscar nominations, it might have to settle with a win for DiCaprio and Iñárritu while Spotlight takes top prize. The film has many fans but just as many polarized haters, so it will be interesting to see if The Revenant has the mileage to sneak ahead. This is the kind of win that can only be called during the broadcast itself, as we’ll have to see how each film is doing throughout the evening. This happened last year when Birdman snuck ahead and took it from Boyhood. Switch those films with The Revenant and Spotlight respectively and it might just happen.

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I also wouldn’t count out The Big Short, which has had the strangest underdog story. It’s a film that is almost universally loved, and despite the subject matter and comedic tone, like Spotlight it’s the kind of film that historically wins. Timely, relevant, and well-made, it’s this year’s The Wolf of Wall Street (minus hookers and cocaine).

Also interesting to look at are the remaining nominees. Of course Mad Max and The Martian made it in, but the last three are well-deserved nominations. Bridge of Spies may end the night with zero wins, but Spielberg’s craftsmanship rarely goes under appreciated. Additionally Room and Brooklyn are the little indies that could this year. Any other year they would be left out, but since the rule change in 2009 it’s allowed room (get it?) for smaller films to earn recognition. The controversial rule change allows films like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter’s Bone, and Nebraska to call themselves nominees despite their smaller voices.

So who missed the cut? Just on the edge was Straight Outta Compton, which many thought would take a ninth slot after earning a SAG award for ensemble, which typically translates to Oscars success. Instead, it had to settle for a screenplay nomination. Also left out was Todd Haynes’s Carol, which may have lost out to Brooklyn as the small period indie piece. It’s unfortunate, as the preferential ballot may have screwed it over, but the subject matter may be too progressive for voters. Also for a while, we were all taking about Steve Jobs, The Danish Girl, and The Hateful Eight as well, but these are examples of films that didn’t live up to their hype, whose reviews may have caused them to miss out on the final list.

 

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in 2016 Academy Awards

 

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Oscars 2016: Best Supporting Actress

Ditto the most interesting comment from my previous post. Best Supporting Actress has the luxury of being one of the few categories that still doesn’t have a runaway winner. Predictions on who would be nominated in this category were off the wall, as the two frontrunners could have made a case in Best Actress thanks to their heavy screen time. In the end, AMPAS settled with Supporting Actress for these two, and the rest fell into line as SAGs and Globes stirred the pot.

Best Supporting Actressthe-danish-girl

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol – Should Win

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl – Will Win

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Power Rankings: Vikander-Mara-Winslet-Leigh-McAdams

For a while, it seemed like the only woman in contention here was Jennifer Jason Leigh. While she is indeed the best part of The Hateful Eight, the film’s lukewarm response has killed the buzz significantly. While it would be a big career resurgence for Leigh, the push simply isn’t there right now.

I see this one boiling down to Vikander versus Mara, two young competitors who give beautiful and heartfelt performances. I finally saw The Danish Girl, and thought Vikander nailed it. She’s had quite a year, and the Academy likes to go for the “it girl” of the moment narratives (see: the love for Jennifer Lawrence), even if it may not be the best performance of the bunch. Although many believe Alicia Vikander belongs in the Best Actress category, she may have put herself in a pickle since her more critically-acclaimed and actually supporting role could be found in Ex Machina, which netted her a Golden Globe nomination. As for Rooney Mara, she pairs wonderfully with Cate Blanchett, and her win might be the only one Carol goes home with on Oscars night. A shame because the film is remarkable but Mara did give the best performance of the five.

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While Kate Winslet may have received a last-minute boost from her Golden Globe win for Steve Jobs, the buzz for that film simply isn’t there as well. I wasn’t enamored with her performance, but I did adore the film, and it’s a shame it didn’t receive more love. Chalk it up to Steve Jobs biopic fatigue. And while Rachel McAdams stole the final slot, Spotlight has the disadvantage of being an ensemble. While the SAG Award may have confirmed a Spotlight win for Best Picture, I don’t see any of the cast breaking out last-minute.

Had Clouds of Sils Maria been released with a traditional Oscar-narrative, I could’ve seen Kristen Stewart going home big. She’s my personal nomination for Supporting Actress, for a role that earned her a Cesar Award, the first ever for an American actress. A strong campaign could’ve at least put her further into the conversation. Other omissions include Jane Fonda for Youth and Helen Mirren for Trumbo, but this category tends to skew younger and for more ‘moment’ actresses rather than seasoned pros. The Trumbo miss is troubling, as the film has seen a comeback unlike any other. Great performances also came from Joan Allen in Room and Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy, the latter of which I expected over McAdams, for being the best part of one of my favorite films from last year, as well as being an ‘it girl’ right now.

love-and-mercy-2015

 
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Posted by on February 6, 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

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

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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