Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscar Forecast: “The Revenant” with a Good Chance of “The Big Short”

UPDATE: Wow. To those who think the Oscars have become to predictable welcome to Oscar Night 2016. There were many surprises! Who exactly saw Spotlight winning Best Picture (and only one other Oscar)? Certainly not me. I figured if any film would take down "The Revenant" it would be "The Big Short." But you know what? It makes sense that "Spotlight" would win, further proof that figuring out the preferential ballot is the key to predicting Best Picture. (Not to mention that pesky SAG ensemble award stat that made a win for Spotlight or The Big Short pretty inevitable). It's not quite as cut and dry as "the movie with the most wins will also win Best Picture." That just doesn't happen very much any more. It's also the first time in the era of the preferential ballot that the PGA failed to predicted the eventual Oscar winner. Ex Machina pulled a shocking upset in the Visual Effects category (deservedly so) becoming the first non-best picture nominee to win against best picture nominees since 1970. And poor Sylvester Stallone, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Maybe Mickey Rourke bought him a drink. Because of the unpredictably of the awards many folks, myself included, didn't fare too well with their predictions. I missed eight bringing my count to 16 out of 24, my worst showing since... last year. See you next year.

Oy vey. What a frustratingly difficult Best Picture race it’s been. It’s as stressful as it is exciting for someone like me who looks forward to predicting these awards year after year. Usually one film dominates in the precursor awards leading up to the Oscars. Even if it’s only a two way race one can usually figure out the most likely winner (like last year’s Boyhood vs. Birdman dog fight). Now we have three movies vying for the top spot, but in the last few weeks it’s been made pretty clear that there actually is finally sort of a frontrunner. Let’s get into it.

Best Picture
Who Will Win: “The Revenant.” I’m definitely not 100% confident in this pick but considering everything that has happened in the last couple months it feels like the most likely victor. The three way race I mentioned above basically comes down to “The Revenant” vs. “The Big Short” vs. “Spotlight.” Each film could make an argument about them being the likely winner. There are also enough arguments against each movie. “The Big Short” won the PGA award, whose voters use the same preferential ballot used by the Academy. The PGA winner has gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 2006 when “Little Miss Sunshine” lost the Oscar to “The Departed. Also, of note that since the Academy expanded Best Picture beyond five nominees the PGA has never been wrong. The closest they came to getting it wrong was that inexplicable tie between Gravity and eventual Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave. It’s hard to argue with statistics. Which is why “The Big Short” does sort of make sense as a winner. But if it wins what other categories would it win? I can’t see much else beyond Adapted Screenplay. Perhaps editing? No movie has won Best Picture and one other Oscar since “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1952. Ditto “Spotlight” a movie poised as an early frontrunner (especially having won the SAG ensemble award) who doesn’t seem to stand a chance with winning much else. Both of these movies have a realtively small number of total nominations compared to “The Revenant’s 12. If Innaritu is gonna make history by becoming only the third director to win back to back directing Oscars why not make history by being the first person to direct back to back Best Picture winners? Also working against “The Revenant” is its lack of a screenplay nod (though Titanic and The Sound of Music had no problem with that) and its lack of a SAG Cast nomination would make it the first movie since Braveheart to win Best Picture without that significant nomination. Now that I’ve pulled all my hair out I’ve decided to not split director & picture and go with my gut: It’s saying Revenant. Case closed.

Who Should Win: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” It’s my favorite movie of the year so yeah. The only Best Picture nominee I’m not a fan of is “The Big Short” so basically I can’t complain about this year’s nominees.

Should Have Been Nominated: “Straight Outta Compton”

Best Director
Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant.” Déjà vu. Didn’t he just win last year for “Birdman?” I didn’t really think it could happen but the DGA has spoken. I guess if someone else were to win win it’d probably be George Miller. Though, if The Big Short were to win Best Picture, wouldn’t Adam McKay make more sense?

Should Win: George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I wouldn’t hate it if any of the nominees won. Inarritu did another fantastic job in a completely different type of directorial achievement, but he won last year. Miller, however, crafted such a dizzyingly fantastic action spectacle – at age 70 – that you have to just stand back and marvel in it all. It’s a movie that could have failed miserable but it’s weird, awesome, and breathtaking.

Should Have Been Nominated: Ridley Scott, “The Martian”

Best Actor
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant.” I’m pretty confident the lead acting races are all sewn up. If Leo somehow manages to lose yet again, I hope he chucks bison liver at everyone.

Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant.” Sure, he should have won for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but Matthew deserved it as well. I still don’t believe this is in any way just a “make up” Oscar. He’s fantastic in the film. If anyone else deserves it I’d probably go with Michael Fassbender.

Should Have Been Nominated: Michael B. Jordon, “Creed”

Best Actress
Will Win: Brie Larson, “Room.” “Room” is an amazing achievement and Brie Larson is amazing in it. She’ll take this one. I’d be genuinely shocked if anyone else won.

Should Win: Brie Larson, “Room.” She - and her young co-star - give riveting performances.

Should Have Been Nominated: Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed.” This category usually acts as a “veteran’s achievement award” (just ask Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Alan Arkin, George Clooney, etc) which is why I think the Oscar-less Stallone will get the sentimental vote. And maybe the Academy will feel less racist voting for the movie Creed, even if a white guy will be the only benefactor. This will also be an interesting category to watch because a win for Mark Ruffalo or Christian Bale would show tremendous support for their respective Best Picture frontrunners and could signal where the night is headed in terms of the big prize. Heck, Hardy could shock everyone since he hasn’t had a chance to compete with these other actors since his nomination was a relative surprise.

Should Win: Sylvester Stallone, “Creed.” It helps that Stallone is actually very good and affecting in “Creed.” To take this character that he’s lived with for decades and still make him, interesting, fresh, and relevant is certainly an achievement and is certainly the heart of the film. I also wouldn’t hate it if Tom Hardy won.

Should Have Been Nominated: Jacob Tremblay, “Room”

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl.” This is sort of a tough one since the supporting races are not nearly the lock they were last year, but I’m feeling pretty confident about this one. Vikander has previously won for “The Danish Girl” every time she’s been nominated in this category, Winslet has won every time Vikander has been nominated for “Ex Machina.” I think the fact she gave two great performances this year and Kate won before that Vikander is the odds on favorite here.

Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, “The Hateful Eight.” I’d love to hear Kate Winslet’s name called if only so that a) Leo and Kate could win on the same night and b) to hear just a brief bit of the amazing “Steve Jobs” score. The one who really deserves it is Leigh who stole the entire movie away from the entire male cast.

Should Have Been Nominated: Alicia Vikander, “Ex Machina”

Best Adapted Screenplay 
Will Win: “The Big Short.” Since “Steve Jobs” isn’t here, “The Big Short” just has to win. If it can’t even win this there’s no way it can take the top prize.  I feel like “Room” or “The Martian” could be the only potential spoilers, but barely.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: “Spotlight.” If it can’t even win here there’s no way it can take the top prize.  I wonder if “Straight Outta Compton” could get some #OscarsSoWhite sympathy votes (even though all of the writers are white people)?

Best Animated Feature Film
Will Win: “Inside Out.” Is there a bigger lock of the night? Especially with other not-nominated Pixar film “The Good Dinosaur” unable to take away potential votes.  

Best Cinematography
Will Win: “The Revenant.” Just last year I was talking about how an amazing achievement it would be for Lubeski to win back-to-back Cinematography Oscars… make that back-to-back-to-back Oscars. And poor Roger Deakins still doesn’t have any.  

Best Costume Design
Will Win: “Cinderella.” This category is gonna give me angina. Historically speaking, “Cinderella” is the most obvious and likely winner. But most people are predicting “Mad Max’s” post-apocalyptic threads to prevail. That just doesn’t seem right with me. None of this year’s nominees are overly flashy which is why a win for “Cinderella” just makes sense to me, so I’m sticking with it (This category also has a strong connection with Production Design – formerly Art Direction – so a win for Mad Max would make sense since it’s the PD frontrunner).

Best Documentary - Feature
Will Win: “Amy.” The Academy loves awarding music-related documentaries, i.e. “Searching for Sugar Man” and “20 Feet From Stardom.” “Amy” should easily walk away with this, especially since it’s the one most people have heard of and seen, though watch out for “Cartel Land.”

Best Documentary - Short Subject
Will Win: “A Girl in the River.” “Body Team 12” has been the frontrunner for a while but since the film is only 12 minutes or so, I’m wondering if they’ll want a little more substance. You’d be wise to select the Claude Lanzmann film because it is related to the Holocaust but I’m going with “The Girl in the River.”

Best Film Editing
Will Win: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Oh editing. The category that can tell us so much and yet not much at all. I firmly insist that if “The Big Short” is going to go all the way it has to with at least one other award besides Screenplay. This is it’s really only other shot for another win. When Whiplash won last year, it basically cemented the fact that Boyhood wasn’t winning Best Picture. Since I’m predicting a Best Picture win for “The Revenant” I’m gonna go with the “most edited” action film to win: “Mad Max.”

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: “Son of Saul.” It has to do with the Holocaust. Next?

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Will Win: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I’m pretty confident this movie has it in the bag.

Best Original Score
Will Win: “The Hateful Eight.” The Academy loves awarding people who have never won this before (unless your name is Thomas Newman, apparently) so I think the Academy will award composing legend Ennio Morricone with his first competitive Oscar win for his haunting score.

Best Original Song
Will Win: Til it Happens to You from “The Hunting Ground.” Will Lady Gaga actually win an Academy Award? It’s certainly possible. I also can’t help but think that the song from “Spectre” could win simply because it’s the only one of the nominees that they’ve heard of that isn’t “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Best Production Design
Will Win: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I’d genuinely be surprised if anything else won.

Best Short Film – Animated
Will Win:
“World of Tomorrow.” This is such a weird, bizarre and purposely crudely animated film that part of me thinks the Academy won’t go for it. You could go with the popular vote and put down the Pixar film but that haven’t won in a while and Sanjay isn’t nearly as good as some of their previous efforts. “Bear Story” has lots of buzz but I’m going with the more “out there” choice (besides, it’s been on Netflix for a while so I assume it must be one of the more widely seen films).

Best Short Film – Live Action
Will Win:
“Shok.” This short categories are always a nightmare to predict. I’ve heard “Ave Maria” and “Stutterer” may be too “light” and I’ve heard “Shok” is extremely powerful if a tad dark. Who knows!

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I’m always hesitant to just go down the sheet and put one film winning all these tech awards. Sure Gravity pulled off seven wins a couple years ago but that was also a front runner for Best Picture. Does the Academy really love “Mad Max” as much as everyone assumes they do? You can’t help but agree the cool sound effects in “Mad Max” –which is essentially a long car chase – would make sense winning this category but then there’s….

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: “The Revenant.” I think because of the unique way “The Revenant” was filmed will do wonders for some of these tech categories and I wouldn’t be surprised to it take both Sound categories. These two categories rarely split and predicting those splits can be tricky. Hopefully I don’t have this backwards. If one film wins both awards at least I'll be half right. I also at least understand what these categories mean more than most of the actual Academy members.

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: “Mad Max: Fury Road.” This award has gone to a Best Picture nominee (when there is one) since 1970. That’s how I got screwed predicting “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” over “Hugo” back in the day. So you can eliminate Star Wars and Ex Machina right away. I refuse to believe the Academy will think of “The Revenant” as a visual effects extravaganza.  A win for “The Martian” would feel way too “been there done that” since both “Interstellar” and “Gravity” were the last two winners. The Academy’s alleged love for “Mad Max” should help it prevail here but unlike some years, this is a particularly tricky category to predict this year. 

My final tally would be The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road both with five wins. Makes sense to me. We'll see what happens. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Gimme Some Coven: Indie Horror Flick “The Witch” is Creepy and Disturbing but Unsatisfying

It seems a lot of general moviegoers were disappointed in “The Witch” because it wasn’t what they were expecting. I’m disappointed in “The Witch” because it was exactly what I expected: a slow-moving folktale of paranoia with plenty of disturbing imagery but with a story set in a time period I couldn’t get personally invested in or care much about. I don’t necessarily mind if the latest horror film isn’t particularly “scary” but I want to at least feel somewhat devoted to the characters. How could I relate to this family as they spouted out dialogue I could barely understand? It’s certainly a movie I appreciate much more than I actually like and fits in nicely with other – and more successful – recent indie horror hits “It Follows” and “The Babadook.”

Looking at the film, you’d think director Robert Eggers transported actual Puritans from 17th century New England to act in the film. While most of the actors are unknowns, savvy viewers will recognize Kate Dickie (playing matriarch Katherine) and her flailing nostrils from “Game of Thrones” (as is Ralph Ineson). Dickie and Ineson are a mother and father of five children who move their family from a village because of their differing religious beliefs. Soon Samuel the family infant is abducted. The family is devastated. They however, don’t see what we see: a witch living in the woods doing something completely despicable with Samuel. It’s a disturbing moment that completely sets the tone for the rest of the film. Though Eggers takes plenty of time creating atmosphere and tension before much else happens.

Even for those who don’t necessarily find the film completely terrifying, which I imagine will be many people expecting something less cerebral, the film is a showcase for outstanding production design, standout acting, a creepy score, and moody cinematography. If Terrence Malick made a horror film I imagine it would look something like “The Witch.” That’s probably why the film feels a tad slow and uneventful until the film’s breakneck finale. The film never relies on gore or blood, though there’s plenty of it, so perhaps who were disappointed with another overhyped witch film “The Blair Witch Project” will get more from “The Witch.” The latter film, however, works better on a sheer visceral level of shock and terror that isn’t quite achieved here. Like other recent modern horror offerings it’s a film that’s more fun to admire and talk about then to actually watch but will most likely become better on repeat viewings.

It’s certainly an audacious achievement for first time director Eggers who won the directing prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. You never know quite where the film is going or what hat trick he’s going to pull on you which helps with the film’s otherwise languid pacing. Period detail is spot on and the performances are pretty impressive especially from its young cast including Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw whose characters both fall victim to the witch in completely different ways. Ultimately, the film feels like it was adapted from a book you would have probably been forced to read in high school. Take that as praise or criticism. Like the film itself, it’s open to interpretation.  GRADE: B-

Trailer for The Witch on TrailerAddict.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Inside the Actor’s Studio: The Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” is Ultimately Disappointing

With the Coen Brothers’ films you either love them or you hate them. “Hail, Caesar!” unfortunately falls into the latter category. I, like many others, fell victim to some irresistibly charming marketing. Who could resist the delightful “Hail, Caesar!” trailer which promised silly antics by an all-star cast having a screwball comedy ball set in a fictional 1950s movie studio? See Channing Tatum dance! See Scarlet Johansson swim! See Jonah Hill do nothing for 23 seconds! It was a dream cast that practically had me foaming at the mouth, but the end result had me practically falling asleep in my seat. The problem was mostly the long, drawn out scenes that never really seemed to connect which made the film feel a tad disjointed. The performances were spot on of course and the period detail was there in glorious Technicolor, but it was all for a story that never quite congealed. 

The film first and foremost wastes its splendid cast. Sure it’s sad that they all don’t really get much to do (some only appear in one scene) but it feels just like stunt casting to get people in the theater. The only one who gets to do much with her role is Tilda Swinton who plays rival twin sister gossip writers. The film focuses on studio head Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who’s job is also to “fix” thins when actors and others get into trouble. For instance, Scarlet Johansson gets knocked up and he makes arrangements for her baby to be adopted. The film’s main story involves George Clooney’s Baird Whitlock, the star of a new Roman epic, being drugged on set, kidnapped, and held for ransom. In true Coen brothers form the thing the story that drives the main plot sort of gets tossed aside in favor or quirky scenes that feel either drawn out or just altogether unnecessary.

One of the issues Eddie must deal with is the young Western actor Hobie Doyle’s (Alden Ehrenreich) terrible acting in his new romantic drama helmed by Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) and the stress it causes the director. The Coens force us to watch Hobie’s terrible acting take after take that goes on forever and we wonder if they’re actually punishing us for paying money to see their movie. Their mantra seems to be the longer it goes on the funnier it must get. Nope. Hands down the best sequence involves Tatum’s intentionally homoerotic sailor dance number. It’s worth the price of admission alone and single handedly saves the film.

Even for a silly comedy I see plenty of links to other dark dramas of Coens’ past like “No Country for Old Men” and even “Fargo” where briefcases full of money also played key roles. When the film’s not-quite-interesting-enough mysteries are revealed nothing feels satisfactory. Unfortunately “Hail Caesar” just isn’t funny enough to be a great comedy and it’s not dramatic enough to be a suspense thriller. At least the music and cinematographer give the film way more oomph than the film really deserves. Definitely file this one under “huge disappointment.”  GRADE: C+

Trailer for Hail, Caesar! on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Vex-Man: “Deadpool” is a Delightfully Irreverent Superhero Film

The comic character Deadpool has an interesting cinematic history. Cinematically speaking, first appearing, in some form or another, in the critically maligned “X-Men: Origins” Wade Wilson aka Deadpool was a beloved comic character known for his irreverent humor, breaking the fourth wall, and other depraved acts. To get it “right” it was assumed this material would have to be brought to the screen in an “R-rated” world where the character could be free to swear, commit violent acts, and partake in varying degrees of sexual deeds. The entire concept was built around a character who knows he’s in a comic. But doesn’t this sound rather familiar? Didn’t “Kick-Ass” and its sequel sort of do the same thing? Yes, in a way, but Deadpool is a character that’s part of the Marvel universe (most aligned with the “X-Men”) and this is a much more traditional, at least plot wise, take on a depraved but lovable character doing crazy things and swearing up a storm. And by golly it’s even got a bit of a heart; in fact, it’s simply irresistible.

Ryan Reynolds was practically born to play Deadpool and the entire nerdy comic book reading world knows it. Reynolds is Wade Wilson a former military operative working as mercenary in modern day New York. He’s a cocky, smart-ass type of guy. And he wears shirts with Bea Arthur on it and gets away with it because well, he looks just like Ryan Reynolds. He even meets the woman of his dreams Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) and even proposes to her. But then life throws him a curve ball when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. Fearful for his life he reluctantly turns to a secretive program that supposedly has the ability to completely cure him. Of course, nothing is that simple in life and he’s left permanently scared over his entire body: but somewhat cured because he now has the ability to heal (and regrow organs and limbs). So what is a man in this situation left to do? Dress up in a super hero costume and get revenge on the guy who did it, obviously.

Wade Wilson is now Deadpool a wise-cracking, vulgar masked vigilante seeking revenge. The man he’s after goes by the name Ajax (Ed Skrein) who, like Deadpool, is also an “artificial” mutant and has the inability to feel pain and enhanced strength. Like many comic book adaptations the plot here isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking: but that’s exactly the point. Nothing in the film is exactly standard except the basic plot elements and the film know it. Just take a look at the opening credits which forgoes the actor’s names in favor of their clichéd characters such as “The funny sidekick”, “The hot chick,” and “The British villain.” The film’s script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is also feverishly funny. There are so many great references. Like when Deadpool is handcuffed to Colossus (yeah that Colossus from “X-Men”) he asks the audience if they remember what happened in “127 Hours.” You can guess what he does next. The film certainly earns its R-rating offering enough blood, violence and equal opportunity nudity to satisfy the horniest teenager (male or female).

Of course, beyond all the depravity the film offers on the surface there’s actually a really good simple story here. The characters are generally well-drawn and Reynolds is literally perfect for the role. Nothing here feels forced or too over-the-top. And even if the film’s story is pretty straightforward, director Tim Miller (in his directorial debut) has fun with the plot. The action sequences are great and the film deftly balances humor and drama. The filmmakers certainly know their audience but they also don’t alienate those who may not be too familiar with the comic book formula. In fact, I really feel despite its R-rating and more cult-like following “Deadpool” is one of the more mass appealing super hero films. It's certainly a refreshing take in an overly saturated market. I enjoyed every cheeky minute of it.  GRADE: A-
Theatrical Trailer for Deadpool on TrailerAddict.