Friday, January 29, 2016

Martians, Rappers, and War Boys, Oh My! The Best Films of 2015

 I didn’t find the year 2015 quite as successful as last year. There certainly were some standouts this year to be sure, but not many truly “amazing” movies. And where were all the good horror films? This is the first time a horror film hasn’t made my list in years. “It Follows,” which deserves at least a mention, was perfectly fine, but I liked other films more. I’m also surprised, and delighted, at the diversity in this year’s offerings. No two films on here are even remotely similar.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)
I’ve literally watched this movie like 20 times so far, if that’s not criteria for your favorite movie of the year I don’t know what it. The kinetic fourth entry in the long running post-apocalyptic “Mad Max” franchise is arguably the best one yet. This is of course coming from someone who never liked the others to begin with. “Fury Road” is an action-packed car chase movie with amazing stunts, jaw-dropping camerawork, and a pulse-pounding music score. Best of all you can easily enjoy it without having seen the other, mostly silly and dated, previous entries. While 2015 offered plenty of spectacle, i.e. “The Martian,” “The Walk,” “Spectre,” none compared to the overabundance of visual thrills “Mad Max” offered. It deserves, and heartily earned, every single one of those Oscar nominations. And the fact that the film’s visionary director, George Miller, is 70-years-old boggles the mind.

2) Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)
Is there any film this year more different from “Mad Max Fury Road” than “Room?” An intimate and emotionally wrenching drama, “Room” is a splendid little masterpiece. A woman (Brie Larson) is forced to live in a small room where she’s raising her son (Jacob Tremblay, in an amazing performance). She sort of makes a fantasy world of it; the kid has no real idea of the outside world. It’s a premise that can seem “icky” but the film is anything but; it’s impeccably conceived and imaginatively directed and features magnificent performances. You won’t see better onscreen chemistry than between the two leads here. “Room” is an Oscar-worthy must- see.

3) The Revenant (dir. Alejando G. Inarritu)
Last year’s Oscar-winning director of “Birdman” does it again, in a completely different way, with “The Revenant” a brilliantly filmed revenge thriller. Set in the frontier of the early 1800s, Leonardo DiCaprio a huntsman who’s mauled by a bear, in one of the year’s most shocking, crazy, and disturbing sequences, and eventually left for dead by members of his hunting team. You’ve heard the stories about the hellish film shoot but it makes for an astonishingly thrilling and swiftly paced epic of man vs nature. It’s certainly one of the more intense film going experiences of the year but worth every minute.

4) Inside Out (dir. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen)
Another year, another standout Pixar film (actually make that two; “The Good Dinosaur” wasn’t half bad either). This charming, highly originally, and emotionally satisfying animated tale is about a little girl and the personified emotions living inside her head: there’s Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. They’re all instant classic animated characters. Glorious animation and an equally funny and moving script make this gem another modern classic.

5) Trainwreck (dir. Judd Apatow)
I knew very little of Amy Schumer’s work before seeing “Trainwreck.” This is a really smart, funny, and engaging comedy directed by Judd Apatow. This irreverent take on modern relationships almost feels like a contemporary “Annie Hall.” But with more dick jokes. Schumer plays a woman who’s not quite into monogamy but gets thrown for a loop when she begins dating a sports medicine doctor (Bill Hader) whom she’s writing an article about. Schumer is a comedic genius, offering a witty script and just as many laughs as truthful insights about relationships. Easily the funniest film of the year. 

6) Creed (dir. Ryan Coogler)
If you told me that a Rocky spin-off would be one of the best films of the year I’d have laughed in your face. “Creed” is a far cry from the corny sequels that were churned out in the 80s. Young director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) has crafted an outstanding and surprisingly emotional underdog sports drama. The film focuses on Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) who is the son of Rocky’s nemesis-turned-friend Apollo Creed. The once troubled kid wants to make it as a boxer and learns of his father’s friendship with the one-and-only Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, who rightfully steals every scene). This is just one of those movies that make you feel good after is over and it’s impeccably directed which includes a  pretty astonishing single take boxing match that is as thrilling as it is impressive.

7) The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott)
Matt Damon headlines this spectacular sci-fi romp about a resourceful American astronaut accidentally left behind on the planet Mars. Sci-fi genius Ridley Scott directs this solid and surprisingly funny 3D flick that’s sort of “Apollo 13” meets “Cast Away.” Damon has never been more likable and it’s refreshing to see a sci-fi film that isn’t about a bleak, dystopian future. The entire cast is fantastic including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Been, and even Kristin Wiig. No wonder the Globes thought it was a comedy.

8) Bridge of Spies (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Steven Spielberg is at the helm once again of another historical drama. I was worried originally, but this is a million times more entertaining than both “Lincoln” and “War Horse.” This one is about a family man lawyer (Tom Hanks) tasked with defending an accused Russian spy, at the height of the Cold War. The spy is played subtly but brilliantly by theater veteran Mark Rylance. This resonant thriller is emotionally satisfying with surprising bits of humor, fantastic performances, and amazing technical merits from Spielberg’s usuals. Newbie Thomas Newman offers a strong score and proves a Spielberg move can be good even without John Williams. It’s easily Spielberg’s best film since “Munich.”

9) The Hateful Eight (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino’s thrilling take on a play-like “Ten Little Indians” is a lot of fun. It’s sort of a western, sort of a revisionist history lesson, and sort of a commentary on the country’s relationship with racism, “The Hateful Eight” stars a glorious ensemble of fine actors. There’s Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter with prisoner Jennifer Jason Leigh in tow. The pair, along with a bunch other suspicious characters, are holed up in a haberdashery during a wicked snow storm. Tensions flair and uncertainties rise and violence erupts in the best possible way. Impeccably shot, and featuring a Tarantino first: an original score by none other than legendary composer Ennio Morricone. Like any other Tarantino film it’s talky and long but oh so worth the journey.

10) Straight Outta Compton (dir. F. Gary Gray)
I’m surprised as you are to see this film on here. This music biopic about pioneering rap group N.W.A. is a truly fascinating and rewarding look at some of the most controversial artists of the last few decades. “Straight Outta Compton” has great performances (including Ice Cube’s lookalike real life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and a star-making turn by Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. Paul Giamatti is strong as the unlikely white guy who believes in and manages the young musicians who are ready to break out from their troubled upbringings, set for stardom, and want to be taken seriously as artists. The film is disturbingly relevant to today and is not afraid to tell it like it is or was. Best of all, you don’t even need to know much about rap music or be much of a fan of it to enjoy the film.

Honorable Mentions:

Ex Machina – A standout slow-burn sci-fi thriller that has as much brains as it does amazing CGI work. A truly weird and original film.

Carol – A moving romance with great performances practically set in another world: 1950s New York. It isn’t preachy, it’s impeccably crafted, and most surprisingly of all: not even boring.

Spy – One of the funniest movies of the year. Another winning comedic vehicle for Melissa McCarthy; she and Rose Byrne play off each other beautifully.

Steve Jobs – A very fascinatingly conceived film, much like a three act play, shot on three different film stocks with enthralling performances and riveting direction from Danny Boyle.

Spotlight – This true story about Boston journalists is dynamite docudrama filmmaking. An all-star cast highlights this fascinating story about the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. It rightfully feels like a modern day “All the President’s Men.”

The Walk - The movie directed by tech-wiz director Robert Zemeckis that no one saw and made about fifty bucks at the box-office is a visual feast and loving tribute to the Twin Towers and the man who walked between them back in the '70s. The 3D was amazing even if JGL's French accent wasn't quite so.

Star Wars The Force Awakens - What can be said about Star Wars that hasn't already been said? It's a fun movie that captures the spirit of the original trilogy with more modern aesthetics. One of the most fun, cinematic movies of the year.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Kiss Me Cate: “Carol” is a Moving, Impeccably Crafted Film

“Carol,” a lesbian drama set in 1950s New York City, doesn’t necessarily seem like my cup of tea. It doesn’t help that it’s from the guy who made the melodrama inspired “Far From Heaven” and the ambitious and strange but ultimately disappointing Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There.” The hype is real however, as “Carol” is a completely memorable, moving, and fascinating piece. The first thing you really notice about this film is the look of it. It’s impeccably put together. The costumes, the set design, it all seems authentic. Even the characters and performances feel out of a different age, but in a good way. It doesn’t necessarily feel like it was from 1952 but the film does feel like it’s from another time. However, it obviously deals with issues that were way too taboo for 1952. The film is about love and the type of love that would never be at the center of a film from the 1950s. It has amazing, subtle performances and a tight effective screenplay.

“Carol” is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. I always tend to associated Highsmith adaptations with Alfred Hitchcock because of “Strangers on a Train” and the Hitchcock influenced “The Talented Mr. Ripley” but here the story’s thrills involve the “forbidden” relationship between two woman. One is Therese (Rooney Mara), a young aspiring photographer who works at a city department store. She catches the eye of an older woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett). Carol is in the middle of a divorce from her husband (Kyle Chandler). The two woman hit it off after Therese returns Carol's gloves that she leaves at the counter. Before they know it something comes a hold of them. And obviously, since it's the 1950s they're not exactly sure what it is, what it means, or how to exactly deal with it. And that's why love stories like this can be so fascinating, knowing how much society changes (and in many ways even sadly stays the same).

What is so great about “Carol” is it's overwhelming sense of style and beauty. The film was shot in 16mm which gives the film a rugged but stunning look and feel. The cinematography is pretty astounding and the film's music score by Carter Burwell matches the visuals quite nicely. The real standouts here are obviously Mara and Blanchett who act the crap out of this one. Mara is especially great here. Her performance is subtle and quiet, but it fits the character. The film eventually becomes a road trip movie echoing the lesbian undertones of “Thelma & Louise” decades later. And the film's exploration of this so-called forbidden relationship is expertly handled by Haynes. He has a real eye for period detail. So many of the actors feel like they were transported from 1950s cinema.

“Carol” is a beautiful film and I'm actually quite flummoxed but it's absence in the Best Picture lineup (especially considering it has the Weinsteins behind it). The film is a technical wonder and a fabulous recreation of the 1950s. It's a film about a homosexual relationship without ever becoming preachy or political; much like 2005's “Brokeback Mountain.” Both films complement each other quite well.  GRADE: A-

Trailer for Carol on TrailerAddict.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Out of the Box: “Room” is a Wrenching but Emotionally Satisfying Little Film

Everyone is talking about the great performance that the 7-year-old Jacob Tremblay gave in “Room.” And they should: it is one of the best child performances I have ever seen in my life. It's almost a shame he's in the movie so much because obviously the Academy had reservations about giving a Best Actor nomination to a little boy. He's just really something. The film, which also stars Brie Larson, is such a fascinating experience you almost forget how outright disturbing the initial premise is. Larson is a woman who lives in a small room with her 5-year-old son Jack (Tremblay). To Jack it's the only place he's ever known because his mother creates an entire fantasy about the world they live in. In a weird way it's themes are reminiscent of “Life is Beautiful” in that both films are about parents shielding their children from the horrors of reality. Of course, this woman isn't in this room by choice: she's being forced there against her will by a man we only come to know as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). It's disturbing yes, but it's so emotionally rewarding and the filmmaking and acting are so good that it's worth every painful minute.

I feel conflicted about discussing the plot of “Room” without giving too much away but it feels like from the trailer and from the film's plot description it's not a surprise that half of the film takes place in the room and the other half takes place outside the room. The first half of the film shows a filmmaker at the top of his game. Lenny Abrahamson finds so many interesting ways to tell this story. First of all it begins with a wonderful script from Emma Donoghue who adapted her own novel. She wisely tells the story almost entirely from the point of view of Jack. Abrahamson's camera relays this to the audience in ways that are pretty impressive. Just the fact he was able to make such a small, confined space so interesting is an achievement in and of itself. The film's later half opens up a lot but is still mostly from Jack's point-of-view. Essentially it's a really fascinting and different story about growing up and learning about how the world really works.

The performances here are simply astounding. Larson and Abrahamson have so much chemistry together you'd think they were actually mother and son. Both are simply standouts. Joan Allen is great as well in the film's second half also as a mother who suddenly has her daughter back in her life. What's so amazing about “Room” (and sure one could argue the film's first half is stronger than the second) is how easily this could have been a made-for-TV melodrama. It avoids all of that to tell a coming-of-age tale in a very unique way.

“Room” is just downright amazing. It sidesteps sugar-coated sentimentality for rich characterizations, a solid narrative structure, and interesting visualizations. The performances here are amazing, especially the young Tremblay who gives an Oscar worthy performance. Larson is no slouch herself, imbuing her character with kind of raw emotions and inner conflict you'd expect to find in a character like this. It's such a difficult subject matter but Abrahamson handles it in the most tasteful way possible. Watching the film I sort of felt the same way I felt watching “Whiplash” last year: you know know you're watching a new talent breakout right before your very eyes. It's just transfixing and completely satisfying on every level.  GRADE: A  

Trailer for Room on TrailerAddict.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Coming to America: Saoirse Ronan Shines in “Brooklyn”

“Brooklyn” is a small, intimate tale about immigration. There’s nothing particularly flashy about it. Its success is firmly rooted in a good central performance from its star Saoirse Ronan. Recently nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, one can easily see the older Academy members most likely going gaga for it while those under the age of 40 might find it slightly “old-fashioned” but in the classiest way possible. There’s nothing really wrong with “Brooklyn,” it was actually quite enjoyable, but the words I would use to describe it would be “cute,” “charming,” and “safe.” There are way more challenging, exciting, and original films out there to be sure, though “Brooklyn” is only trying to tell a simple story in a simple way and offers what appears to be a pretty accurate account of the European immigrant experience in the first half of the 20th century. It also sort of feels like the type of movie that will be shown in American high school history classes for years to come.

Did I mention the film is actually a love story? In a way “Brooklyn” feels like it could have easily been just another Nicholas Sparks melodrama about two people from different cultures falling in love. In the hands of writer Nick Hornby (who adapted Colm Toibin’s novel) there’s a tad more gravitas to the proceedings. Ronan plays Eilis a young woman working at a general store in 1950s Ireland. Her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) makes arrangements for Eilis to go to the United States in hopes of a better life. Rose plans on staying in Ireland to take care of their aging widowed mother. Eilis has to quickly adjust to living in America and soon falls for an Italian guy named Tony (Emory Cohen). Complications arise when she’s called back to Ireland and must make the most important decision of her life: stay Ireland or stay in America?

As a Best Picture nominee the film sort of lacks the “wow” factor these types of movies usually have; unless you’re of the older generation. Most older people living in the US who immigrated here all those years ago can easily relate to Eilis’ story. But you don’t have to be a foreigner to relate to a story about feeling alone or different or out of place. It’s universal. The film is directed quietly and unobtrusively by John Crowley who gives the film a sort of understated and simple look. The real draw here is Ronan, whose charisma and internal conflict really carry the film. Her romance with Cohen’s character really works as the two actors have a natural chemistry. The audience falls for Tony as quickly as Eilis does. Some will surely relate to scenes of her meeting Tony’s very Italian family, who are depicted as clichéd as possible but in the most accurate way of course.

“Brooklyn” is an ode to not only the immigrant experience but also to another time. It’s appropriately old-fashioned but never boring. Some may find the filmmaking a little too modest. There’s nothing all that flashy or overly dramatic which could have happened. Crowley isn’t as interested in the melodrama aesthetics as much as it is presenting a story about a strong young woman attempting to make a better life for herself.  GRADE: B 

Trailer for Brooklyn on TrailerAddict.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 Oscar Nomination Predictions

THANK GOD. MAD MAX is a Best Picture nominee and so is George Miller. I never though it could really  happen, but I'm glad it did. But no Ridley Scott?? That is crazy. Other surprises: No Hateful Eight for Original Screenplay or Steve Jobs for Adapted Screenplay. No Furious Seven for Best Song.  No Good Dinosaur OR Peanuts Movie for Animated Feature replaced by two films no one saw coming. Alicia Vikander ended up in Supporting leaving a space open for Jennifer Lawrence to squeeze in (Joy's only nomination). Tom Hardy made it into Supporting (deservedly so) there was plenty of love for Room but not for its young star. I'm glad Sicario got nominated for Best Score; it's a dark and foreboding and great score. The biggest headscratcher for many people will be The 100 Year Old Man for best makeup, I'm glad I saw that one coming. Overall not a terrible job, Academy! The Revenant leads with 12 and Mad Max follows with 10 and then The Martian with 7. Three of my favorite films of the year, so I can't complain! See you in February.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! It's Oscar time. I know I know, get a life. I can't help it. It's just fun, okay. You know what though? This is a tough year. There are so many unknowns. Take for instance the biggest question mark of them all for me this year: "Mad Max." When I first saw it,  I instantly loved it. I never thought in a million years it would be in the Oscar conversation outside of a few possible tech nods. Now it could tie or lead nominations? But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Something isn't sitting right with me. There's always that one film that seems like a lock because it shows up in the guilds and other awards but ends up an also ran. I'm talking about films like last year's "Gone Girl" or still fresh in many a fan boy's mind "The Dark Knight." There are so many directions the Academy could go in it makes my head hurt. We shall see. And without further ado my 85% fearless Oscar nomination predictions.

Best Picture
There are 11 films vying for 10 possible slots. It’s really just a guessing game at this point since all the previous award bodies and guilds hasn’t given those of us who care about this stuff much help. There are however, a few films that appear to be locks for nominations. Those are “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” “The Revenant,” and “The Martian.” Many would say “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a lock. I’m hesitant. Let me take you back to 2009 when many forecasted (myself included) major nominations for a little film called “The Dark Knight.” Sure there were only five slots back then, but I still don’t think it would have been nominated with ten slots to fill. It was a sequel AND a comic book movie. I just wasn’t really buying it and though eventually I did buy into it, I had serious doubts. Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that “Mad Max” is ripe for a few surprising snubs? These are the same people who snubbed Christopher Nolan for best director (*twice*). Or my hunch could be totally wrong and it gets in. I’m still doubtful even with mentions from DGA and PGA to call this a sure thing. Moving on. The next likely candidates include “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “Room,” and “Bridge of Spies.” The real question mark is “Straight Outta Compton” which has been making some traction of late, as is “Sicario.” And I guess “Ex Machina” is perhaps a possibility since it got in at PGA (but so did Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone back in the day people), but I would genuinely be SHOCKED if it made it in. I’m pretty sure the final tally (which will likely end up being maybe 8 or 9 nominees) will be made up of some combination of these films:

Projected nominees (in order of likelihood of being nominated):
“The Big Short”
“The Revenant”
“The Martian”
“Bridge of Spies”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Straight Outta Compton”
Alternate – “Sicario”

Best Director
Ever since the Academy extended the Best Picture field to 10 possible nominees many wondered if a director could be nominated without his or her movie being up for Best Picture. We all surprisingly found out last year when Bennett Miller made the cut for Best Director for “Foxcatcher” without a corresponding Picture nomination. And in a weird way it makes sense: directors nominate directors but the entire Academy nominates Best Picture. I can’t foresee that happening this year however. There seem to be four likely directors: last year’s winner Alejandro G. Inarritu for “The Revenant,” Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight,” Ridley Scott for “The Martian,” and weird as it may sound Adam McKay for “The Big Short” (Yes, the guy who gave us Anchorman and Step Brothers will soon be an Oscar nominee). That leaves an empty fifth slot. Most people are going with George Miller for “Mad Max.” Not so fast. This category is known for throwing in a curve ball and leaving out even frontrunners. Remember Ben Affleck? And God forbid a female director (Kathrine Bigelow) be nominated twice! Besides, the BAFTAs snubbed “Mad Max” in directing and Best Picture, which is sometimes telling. I can easily see this branch rewarding a smaller, intimate movie like “Carol” over the bombastic visuals of “Mad Max.” But they’re also unlikely to nominate Todd Haynes for this female-centric lesbian drama. Or they can just go with a familiar veteran like “Spielberg.” However, as much as they loved “American Sniper” last year, they didn’t even nominate Clint Eastwood. I wouldn’t even be shocked if “Room” or “Sicario’s” director’s names were announced. Though, it could be George Miller after all.

Projected nominees:
Alejandro G. Inarritu “The Revenant”
Tom McCarthy “Spotlight”
Adam McKay “The Big Short”
Ridley Scott “The Martian”
Steven Spielberg “Bridge of Spies”
Alternate – George Miller “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Best Actor
Two words: Leonardo. DiCaprio. It’s his year, I can feel it. So he’s in for “The Revenant.” Who else? His closest competition is Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs.” Then Matt Damon’s charming performance in “The Martian” feels pretty secure. So does last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne for “The Danish Girl” (and would probably feel like the frontrunner if he hadn’t already won for “The Theory of Everything”). Who gets the fifth nomination? There are many possibilities. It could be Bryan Cranston in “Trumbo” who got Globe, BAFTA, and SAG nods (though SAG also includes many TV actors who aren’t in the Academy). Though he does play a real life person in an eccentric role which boosts his chances. There’s also Johnny Depp who seemed like a lock months ago for “Black Mass” though it doesn’t seem like anyone’s talking about the film anymore. It could go to Steve Carrell in “The Big Short” or even Michael Caine in “Youth.” Or heck there's even wild card Will Smith for “Concussion.” The Academy somewhat deservedly got way too much flack for that #OscarsSoWhite hashtag last year.

Projected nominees:
Bryan Cranston “Trumbo”
Matt Damon “The Martian”
Leonardo DiCaprio “The Revenant”
Michael Fassbender “Steve Jobs”
Eddie Redmayne “The Danish Girl”
Alternate – Johnny Depp, “Black Mass”

Best Actress
Both actress categories are pretty crazy this year because of a couple actors who have some category confusion going on. One of whom is Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl.” Many are predicting her in supporting but I think the Academy will come to their senses and put her here where she belongs. Then there’s frontrunner Brie Larson in “Room” and Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn” (who still feels too young to win, or is it just me?) nipping at her heels. Cate Blanchett feels like a lock for “Carol” though her co-star Rooney Mara is likely to show up in the supporting race, but can’t necessarily be counted out here as well. I never bet against Jennifer Lawrence but her film “Joy” hasn’t been very well received. She could easily score here, but I’m betting the Academy will go their own way and nominated Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years.” Of course, if Vikander gets put in supporting it opens yet another slot that Lawrence could easily fill. We’ll have to see.

Projected nominees:
Cate Blanchett “Carol”
Brie Larson “Room”
Charlotte Rampling “45 Years”
Saoirse Ronan “Brooklyn”
Alicia Vikander “The Danish Girl”
Alternate – Jennifer Lawrence “Joy”

Best Supporting Actor
Easily one of the most difficult categories to predict this year. Which is funny because last year there were five likely candidates and no surprises. Most of the mystery surrounds the film “Spotlight.” There are many actors in the film and both Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo seemed like locks, but then neither of them showed up at the Globes or SAG. Spotlight has to show up here if wants to go all the way to win Best Picture. I still say Ruffalo feels like a lock. Though they could just cancel each other out. No one really feels like safe bet though except for maybe Sylvester Stallone in “Creed.” This category usually functions as a “reward the veteran” for some nominees anyways. Christian Bale is possible for “The Big Short,” which also features a large male ensemble. Mark Rylance has had the most buzz going into award season and seemed like the frontrunner for a while for “Bridge of Spies.” Ditto Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation.” Who else can there be? How about “Room’s” Jacob Tremblay? Michael Shannon? Tom Hardy? Benicio Del Toro? Your guess is as good as mine.

Projected nominees:
Christian Bale “The Big Short”
Mark Ruffalo “Spotlight”
Mark Rylance “Bridge of Spies”
Sylvester Stallone “Creed”
Jacob Tremblay “Room”
Alternate – Idris Elba “Beasts of No Nation”

Best Supporting Actress
Another category with big question marks. Not only do Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander have lead roles in “Carol” and “The Danish Girl” respectively, but Vikander has a whole other movie to be possibly nominated for: “Ex Machina.” Let’s discuss the locks. Kate Winslet who won a surprise Golden Globe seems like a lock for “Steve Jobs.” So do Jennifer Jason Leigh for “The Hateful Eight” and Rachel McAdams as the sole female role in “Spotlight.” Now it gets trickier. Vikander has shown up in both BAFTA and the Globes in both categories for “Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina.” I think Mara will show up here, if not I think she’s out of it for good. If she or Vikander don’t make it in this is a prime slot to put the well-loved Helen Mirren, who is easily becoming the British Meryl Streep, for her scenery chewing role in “Trumbo.” I’ve even heard Joan Allen’s name thrown around for her supporting work in “Room” and could show up here without any other previous mentions like last year’s Laura Dern.

Projected nominees:
Jennifer Jason Leigh “The Hateful Eight”
Rooney Mara “Carol”
Rachel McAdams “Spotlight”
Alicia Vikander “Ex Machina”
Kate Winslet “Steve Jobs”
Alternate - Helen Mirren “Trumbo”

Best Original Screenplay
It seems that many of the potential Best Picture nominees come from adapted material, which leaves this category open for a wide variety of prospective nominees. “Spotlight” seems like a given here, especially if it's going to be a frontrunner for Best Picture. If my sentiments are correct “Straight Outta Compton” could show up here as well. And who can rule out two almost guarantees in this category: Pixar and Quentin Tarantino. I'd be shocked if “Inside Out” or “The Hateful Eight” didn't show up here. And lastly the fifth spot could go to another highly original character study: the much buzzed about “Ex Machina.” I'm hesitant because sci-fi films don't always do that well in this category (ask Gravity or Avatar) but those were big budget spectacles. Of course you could ask Looper where it's nomination went to. The other likely spoiler is for another Best Picture possibility, “Bridge of Spies.” I feel like it comes down to a mix of these six, though random movies always seem to sneak in here, especially of the foreign persuasion…

Projected nominees:
“Ex Machina”
“Inside Out”
“The Hateful Eight”
“Straight Outta Compton”
Alternate - “Bridge of Spies”

Best Adapted Screenplay
And here we find the rest of the Best Picture candidates duking it out for five adapted screenplay slots. I'd say they'll come down between these six: “Steve Jobs,” “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Carol,” “Room” and “The Martian.” Since the movie based on the popular novel got left out last year (“Gone Girl”) I'm gonna say “The Martian” is on the outside looking in. Other possibilities include “Anomalisa” and “Trumbo” the later of which is all about Hollywood and the former comes from the crazy mind of Academy favorite Charlie Kaufman.

Projected nominees:
“The Big Short”
“Steve Jobs”
Alternate - “The Martian”

Best Cinematography
One of the most likely nominees is Roger Deakins for “Sicario.” The man is disturbingly devoid of any Oscars but he's been nominated like a million times. Honestly, I think I loved the music for “Sicario” even more than the photography but contrary to popular belief the Academy doesn’t care what I think. Deakins work is still suburb and will be among the nominees. I think the frontrunners here will be Edward Lachman’s 16mm shot “Carol” and previous two-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubeski for “The Revenant.” Can Lubeski really win three times in a row? It would certainly be unprecedented. And after all, the cinematographer’s names aren’t on the actual final ballots so anything is possible. That leaves two slots. Whether “Mad Max” shows up in Best Picture or not it’s practically guaranteed a place here for John Seale, who came out of retirement to shoot one of the most fantastically lensed action films of recent memory. Who gets the fifth slot? It could be either “Bridge of Spies” (Spielberg’s go-to DP Janusz is a favorite of this branch after all) or even “The Martian” since 3D films have done pretty well here as of late. Sometimes the cinematographers like to throw a random curve ball and nominate some random black & white or foreign film (i.e., “Son of Saul”) no one is expecting but I think they’ll gravitate towards past winner Robert Richardson’s glorious 65mm lensing of “The Hateful Eight.”

Projected nominees:
“The Hateful Eight”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Revenant”
Alternate – “Bridge of Spies”

Best Costume Design
The live-action fantasy “Cinderella” is the closed thing we've got this year to a Victorian England period piece. As soon as I saw the trailer I knew it would be a front runner. Other likely candidates are “Carol” and “The Danish Girl.” And finally I think the Academy will embrace the fantastical costuming in “Mad Max Fury Road” and the not-that-well-received “Crimson Peak.” “Brooklyn” is a possibility here but I'm not sure the costumes are all that flashy enough for this branch. Of course, no one seems to be mentioning the fact that there's a Shakespearean film out there too with potential to spoil: “Macbeth.”

Projected nominees:
“Crimson Peak”
“The Danish Girl”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Alternate - “Macbeth”

Best Film Editing
In the past I would have said a movie has to be at least nominated here if it's going to win Best Picture and then “Birdman” went ahead and threw those unofficial rules out the window. To be fair, the film was edited to look like it was shot in one take. So I say that wasn't just a coincidence. Some of the likely candidates here appear to be “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” “The Martian,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I feel like this years surprise omission is “The Revenant.” It's a strong contender but since Stephen Mirrocone was looked over last year, he could either make it in or be snubbed again. In the last three years all the films nominated in this category were also nominated for Best Picture. But I say a film like “Sicario” (which got an ACE Eddie nod) can make it in here as could films like “Bridge of Spies” or “Steve Jobs.” Long story short, if “Spotlight” misses here it's frontrunner status is officially done.

Projected nominees:
“The Big Short”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Martian”
Alternate - “The Revenant”

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
If “Mad Max” doesn't show up here then something is seriously wrong. It's really the only film with fantastical makeup of the shortlisted films. “The Revenant” is almost a lock here too. That leaves one possible wild card. They also like to throw in a headscratcher like, say, last year's “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.” This branch LOVES aging makeup which is why I'm going with the film no one, myself included, has ever even heard of “The 100-Year-Old Man.”

Projected nominees:
“The 100-Year-Old Man”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Revenant”
Alternate – “Black Mass”

Best Production Design
Back in the day modern films could usually contend in this category (previously known as Best Art Direction). That doesn't really seem to be the case anymore. If you're a period film or a fantasy film you're most likely in. “Cinderella” and “Mad Max” seem very likely here as does “The Danish Girl.” They're also likely to show up in Costume Design. Same with “Crimson Peak,” a film that could get in despite it's lack of strong critics reviews. There's always a random nominee most people never saw coming. I feel like that makes sense to me. It feels sort of foolish to bet against something like “Carol” but I think “Bridge of Spies” will take the 1950s period slot. Those looking for something more fantastically could easily go for “Star Wars The Force Awakens.”

Projected nominees:
“Bridge of Spies”
“Crimson Peak”
“The Danish Girl”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
Alternate - “Carol”

Best Score
This is one of my favorite Oscar categories. The music score is the soul of the film. Even bad movies can have amazing scores. One observation I’ve noticed over the years is that it’s sometimes difficult for newcomers to get into this category. Usually the list consists mostly of previous nominees and winners (though ironically usually newcomers win just ask Thomas Newman, James Newton Howard or Danny Elfman), so much of predicting this category comes with figuring out which non-previous nominee will make it in. The most likely is Carter Burwell for “Carol.” Though, I’m not so sure. He certainly isn’t a new composer; he’s worked extensively with the Coens and others for years. But if he can’t even get nominated for his masterful “Fargo” score (in a year that even had 10 nominees in two categories!) then I say he’s out. That leaves the other obvious choices which include: three previous winners John Williams for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, Michael Giacchino for “Inside Out,” and the always nominated Alexandre Desplat for “The Danish Girl.” And then there’s perennial bridesmaids Thomas Newman for “Bridge of Spies” and Ennio Morricone for “The Hateful Eight.” Morricone feels like the frontrunner here. Previous nominee Johann Johannsson (“Sicario”) and previous winner Howard Shore (“Spotlight”) are possibilities as are newcomers Tom Holkenborg (“Mad Max Fury Road”) and Golden Globe nominee Daniel Pemberton (“Steve Jobs”). In the end, the alternate choice is still “Carol.”

Projected nominees:
“Bridge of Spies”
“The Danish Girl”
“The Hateful Eight”
“Inside Out”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Alternate – “Carol”

Best Song
You're guess is as good as mine. There's a list out there somewhere (actually it's on the Academy's website) of all the possible submissions. The Academy tends to shy away from the popular songs and films and instead make many out-of-the-box picks. That's how you get random nominees from films you've probably never heard of. I'd be surprised if the song from “Furious Seven” failed to make the cut since the song's placement in the film is so strong. (The music branch listens to the song in context of the film so songs that play during the film instead of, say, at the end credits are more likely to make an impact). Lady Gaga could be a first time nominee for the song she wrote for the documentary “The Hunting Ground.” I feel like an obvious pick would be the James Bond song, but since those films have terrible track records in this category (“Skyfall” is the only Oscar winning James Bond song ever) it feels like “been there done that.” I feel like they'll look elsewhere. On a side note, I also have reservations about “Fifty Shades of Grey” being an Oscar nominee.

Projected nominees:
Feels Like Summer from “Shaun the Sheep Movie”
See You Again from “Furious Seven”
Simple Song 3 from “Youth”
So Long from “Concussion”
Til Happens to You from “The Hunting Ground”
Alternate – Love Me Like You Do from “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Best Sound Editing
“Mad Max Fury Road”
“The Martian”
“The Revenant”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Alternate - “The Hateful Eight”

Best Sound Mixing
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Martian”
“The Revenant”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
“Straight Outta Compton”
Alternate - “Bridge of Spies”

Best Visual Effects
“Jurassic World”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Martian”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
“The Walk”
Alternate - “The Revenant”

Best Animated Feature
Unlike last year, there are actually TWO Pixar films in the running. I'm wondering if the lukewarm reception will hurt “The Good Dinosaur's” chances therefore letting a more artsy, traditionally animated film (from the usually nominated animation company Gkids) sneak in. You know how finicky this branch is: remember when the world almost ended when “The LEGO Movie” failed to get nominated? I'm also iffy about “The Peanuts Movie.” If the TV centric “Simpsons Movie” couldn't get a nod, why would the TV centric Peanuts?

Projected nominees:
“Inside Out”
“The Peanuts Movie”
“The Prophet”
“Shaun the Sheep Movie”
Alternate - “The Good Dinosaur”

Best Documentary Feature
The general rule of thumb here is that even the popular films tend to get snubbed here, ie, “Life Itself” about the late Roger Ebert. This year the popular film is “Amy” about the late Amy Winehouse. I'm just saying. I still think it gets in over other popular films like “Going Clear” (too controversial) and “Where to Invade Next”(too been there, done that). I also feel like if “The Hunting Ground” is going to be nominated for Best Song, it would be weird for it to not show up here, but who knows.

Projected nominees:
“Cartel Land”
“He Named Me Malala”
“Listen to Me Marlon”
“The Look of Silence”
Alternate - “The Hunting Ground”

Best Foreign Language Film
There's “Son of Saul” and then start throwing darts.

Projected nominees:
“The Brand New Testament”
“Son of Saul”
“Labyrinth of Lies”
Alternate - “A War”

Best Animated Short
Bear Story
If I Was God
Sanjay's Super Team
World of Tomorrow

Best Live Action Short
Ave Maria
Day One
Everything Will Be Okay

Best Documentary Short
50 Feet From Syria
Body Team 12
Chau Beyond the Lines
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
A Girl in the River

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Maul Madness: Iñárritu's “The Revenant” is a Thrilling, Beautifully Crafted Survival Epic

Few filmmakers working today present moviegoers with truly breathtaking and viscerally rewarding films that push the medium forward. Director Alejandro G. Inarritu, the reigning Best Director Oscar champ for “Birdman,” gives us a completely different vision that's no less compelling and fascinating to watch. While “Birdman” was a play-like black comedy about a washed up Hollywood actor attempting a comeback, “The Revenant” is a harrowing American frontier-set survive-the-wilderness revenge thriller. Inarritu calls upon two time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki again to shoot a very Terrence Malick-like meditative survival story filled with ingenious camerawork and gruesome onscreen violence. Even if the basics of the story are nothing new - “man left for dead seeks redemption” - the film feels unlike anything you've ever seen before.

I'm not sure who really deserves top billing in “The Revenant” because the camera gives as good a performance as Leonardo DiCaprio. He plays Hugh Glass a fur trapper who's part of a larger military-like group on an expedition in the unclaimed land of the Midwest to bring back pelts and furs. A surprise ambush from a local Native American tribe (almost Saving Private Ryan-like in its execution) leaves many of his men dead and the rest on a raft down the river to safety. But then a violent bear attack leaves Glass barely clinging to life and the men under order from Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) decide to attempt to carry him back to their outpost camp. Fearing they won't be able to make it with Glass in tow, Henry orders several men behind including Glass' Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the young Bridger (Will Poulter), and the ultimately conniving Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). One thing leads to another and Glass if left all alone in the wilderness with nothing but the glorious taste of vengeance on his tongue.

Have I mentioned the thrilling camerawork enough? Lubezki shot the film (digitally) with a new camera and even used all natural lighting. Some shots are breathtaking, others will make you wonder how exactly they pulled it off (Not to mention some truly great computer generated trickery). Inarritu, hot off his Oscar win and showcasing his unique eye of visual storytelling, employs many long takes including the camera going from subjective to object points-of-view without cuts. The camera work is sometimes beautifully pensive and yet it really captures the brutality of the land and wilderness. It was reportedly a brutal shoot; and every bit of that is captured within the frame.

And what of the film's main star? DiCaprio gives a riveting performance (as does Hardy), who doesn't even speak most of the time. His desire to withstand the hostility of his surroundings: deadly wildlife, rugged terrain, uncompromising weather conditions, and violent human adversaries culminate in one amazing struggle to survive and every suspenseful moment is registered on the actor's face. You really get the sense that danger is lurking behind any rock or tree. And even if the film itself is long (it's about 156 minutes) it never feels boring or dragged out. Some will probably find some of the contemplative elements could have been trimmed out but it fits with the nature of the Glass character and his specific connection some of the Natives.

“The Revenant” is violent, mesmerizing, unrelenting, visceral, and beautifully shot. It may be too much for some which is understandable; there are some truly grisly moments here many of which are captured in stunning closeup. Inarritu shows again why he's a master filmmaker and his entire team has crafted a wildly thrilling adventure. It's truly a stunning piece of work.  GRADE: A

Trailer for The Revenant on TrailerAddict.