Academy Awards

Best Picture Nominee: Mad Max Fury Road

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mad-max-posterDirected by: George Miller

Cast:
Tom Hardy
Charlize Theron
Nicholas Hoult

When the Oscar nominees were announced I couldn’t believe Mad Max had actually made the list of Best Picture Nominees. Now, after watching the film … I still can’t believe Mad Max made the list of Best Picture Nominees.

Don’t get me wrong, this certainly isn’t one of the worst films I’ve seen. Far from it. It just isn’t at all what I expect from a Best Picture. I honestly had trouble even getting into the film. I remember enjoying the first Mad Max movie way back when, but since then I stopped caring, and I guess that impacted my excitement over this one as well.

As far as story goes, this really didn’t have a lot. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a plot – there definitely was. It’s just that the story and the world didn’t feel three-dimensional to me. I also found myself thinking that if I hadn’t seen any of the original Mad Max movies (especially the first one) I would have been very confused about all of Max’s flashbacks and hallucinations – even though they’re trying to appeal to a new generation of fans, none of his backstory is really explained in this film. Also, Max isn’t even the star. Honestly, I felt like most of the time he wasn’t even needed. Imperator Furiosa was definitely the main character and star of this film, and she was the only thing about this movie that I felt lived up to the hype.

Despite Furiosa’s awesomeness, I felt like Nux (Nicholas Hoult’s character) was the only really developed character in the film. He’s the only one who really grew and changed over the course of the film. The rest of the characters seemed to be the same people from beginning to end. Aside from Furiosa, Nux was probably the most interesting to me.

Overall, I just don’t feel like the movie lived up to all the hype it received this summer and I just don’t see why it deserves this nomination. Perhaps Miller deserves his nomination, but the film itself, not so much. I’m sure there are many more films much more deserving of the nomination than this one.

Rating: 6.5/10

Memorable Moment: There was definitely some great cinematography going on, but I feel like most of the really great shots and memorable moments were all the ones we had already seen in the trailers.

Ranking:
1. The Revenant
2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Picture Nominee: The Revenant

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The RevenantDirected by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cast:
Leonardo DiCaprio
Tom Hardy
Domhnall Gleeson

I had a feeling before the Oscar nominations were even announced this film would be a Best Picture nominee. Even so, I wasn’t in a hurry to see it as it seemed much darker and more depressing than I usually like my movies. So I waited, though I was pretty sure I would need to watch it eventually, and I was right. I ended up enlisting my boyfriend to see it with me, as I really didn’t want to see this one alone in case it became too disturbing.

Birdman was possibly my least favorite of last year’s Oscar nominees, but I really appreciated what Iñárritu did with that film. The cinematography and the way the entire movie felt like one long continuous shot was fascinating. So what I was looking forward to most seeing in The Revenant was more of his style of film-making, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

The performances were terrific. I remember thinking partway through the film this may finally be the year DiCaprio takes home that trophy, and he would certainly have earned it. This film was brutal, and it couldn’t have been easy to put on this performance. Hardy was great as well, though his category has some pretty stiff competition and I’m not confident in his chances of winning. However, as despicable as his character was, he did a good job with it.

The cinematography was the thing that really blew me away with this film and is what made me really enjoy it. Nearly every shot of the movie was wonderfully composed and there was so much gorgeous scenery. It really was a beautifully shot film. Early on in the film, as the hunting camp comes under attack, some of those camera movements and follows reminded me of what Iñárritu had done with Birdman.

I feel it’s probably unlikely that Iñárritu could win Best Picture and Director two years in a row, which is a shame because this film is so much better than Birdman, but I really do feel like it would deserve at least one of those honors. The Revenant is still not a movie I would watch more than once – it’s absolutely brutal and several scenes are difficult to watch – but I definitely enjoyed it much more than I had expected to.

Rating: 9/10

Memorable Moment: There is one scene that will give you Empire Strikes Back flashbacks, only so much more disturbing.

Ranking:
1. The Revenant

Oscars 2015 – My Picks

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Last year was the first year I actually watched all of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars aired, and I really enjoyed having an opinion on who I thought would take home awards. Not only that, but I was right about most of the awards. This year is much harder though. I think the categories are much tighter, and it’s definitely going to be harder to pick the winners for the major categories. Adding to that, this year the Actress categories are much more spread out, and I haven’t had enough time to see all of those performances. But I will do my best based on what I do know, and then we’ll see who actually wins Sunday night!

Patricia ArquetteBest Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette
Laura Dern
Keira Knightley
Meryl Streep
Emma Stone

I have not seen Wild, so I can’t speak for Laura Dern’s performance, though I do know she’s a great actress.  While I love Emma Stone, I don’t really feel that her performance stands out as deserving of this award over the other women in this category. However, I really think this award belongs to Patricia Arquette. I thought she was one of the best performances in Boyhood and one of my favorite parts of the film. I will be really disappointed if this award goes to anyone else.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall
Ethan Hawke
Edward Norton
Mark Ruffalo
J.K. Simmons

This category is a really hard one to choose from, as all are terrific actors who gave great performances. In my opinion Duvall is probably the only one I’m sure won’t win – not because his performance was lacking in any way, but because I just think the other four have a really high chance of winning and it’s hard to pick a best between them. However, my favorite by far is J.K. Simmons. He was absolutely fantastic in Whiplash. He’s my pick to win, though I think you could also make a really strong argument for any of the others.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard
Felicity Jones
Julianne Moore
Rosamund Pike
Reese Witherspoon

This is another hard category, but this time because I haven’t yet seen three of the five performances being nominated (I hadn’t even heard of Two Days, One Night before the nominations came out). However, I think we can cross Rosamund Pike off the list of likely winners; like with Duvall above, she gave an excellent performance but I think the others are probably more likely candidates. While I loved Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything and think she’s very deserving of an award, I suspect this one may go to Julianne Moore.

Michael KeatonBest Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carrell
Bradley Cooper
Benedict Cumberbatch
Michael Keaton 
Eddie Redmayne

I might as well just start every category off with “This is a really hard one…” because they all are. Again, all the performances in this category were excellent. I’m slightly biased towards Benedict Cumberbatch because I love him, as well as Bradley Cooper (who did give his best performance to date) but I suspect neither will win this one. Steve Carrell gave a fine performance in Foxcatcher, but I just don’t think it’s one that stands up against some of the others in the category. While Birdman wasn’t my favorite of the nominees, Michael Keaton gave a fantastic performance and I think this is his year.

Best Directing

Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

I honestly don’t know who is going to win this category and I hesitate to pick one name. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be either Alejandro G. Iñárritu or Richard Linklater because their films felt the most original and innovative of this year’s nominees. I loved the concept and execution of filming over twelve years, to show the actors actually aging and I loved the way Birdman felt like one fluid shot through the whole film – though I suppose that speaks more to the cinematography than directing. If I had to pick one I would go with Linklater here, but I definitely could be wrong.

Still7.JPGBest Picture

Whiplash
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game
Selma
American Sniper
Boyhood
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Last year when I walked out of the theater after seeing 12 Years a Slave I was certain that film deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. I never once doubted that it deserved it, or that it would win. There is no clear front-runner in my mind this year. I know who will likely win based on reviews and other evidence, but I’m not sure any film is a clear winner for me. Whiplash is by far my favorite, and I think it’s one of the best in the category even though I don’t think it will win. And American Sniper stuck in my head longer than any of the other films, but part of that is due to the controversy it raised.

Judging from the evidence I’ve seen so far, I suspect this category will come down to either Boyhood or Birdman. Both were original stories told in unique ways, and even though neither one was a film I particularly loved, I see why they made it into the category. While I easily could be wrong, I am going to pick Boyhood as the winner this year because I think the story and the film itself resonates with a wider audience than Birdman. 

So there you have it, my picks for this years Academy Awards. I’ll be tuning in Sunday night to see how many (if any) I chose correctly.

Best Picture Nominee: Selma

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Selma PosterCast:
David Oyelowo
Carmen Ejogo
Tom Wilkinson

Selma tells the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in the small Alabama town, and the struggle to get equal voting rights for African Americans following the Civil Rights act.

This film is a hard one to review, because I don’t want to offend anyone and I know the subject of Selma’s nominations is controversial enough since it didn’t receive any acting or directing nominations. I believe this is a powerful film, and an important one. Every person in America should see Selma and be reminded of where we came from, and how we really should be much further along today than we are. We’ve come a long way, but as recent events in Ferguson and elsewhere in the country have proven, we still have a long way to go. Selma does an excellent job of making the figures in the Civil Rights struggle real and human, and the performances every actor gives is outstanding. It really is a great film.

However, I’m not sure it’s a Best Picture. While the writing and the acting were terrific, there were a lot of technical aspects to the film that really bothered me. There were some interesting choices being made for camera angles which worked in some cases but in others just felt like bad composition, or like the actors weren’t making their marks. There were also a lot of scenes where the lighting didn’t seem right at all – I hate when films try to use less lighting for nighttime scenes and it just ends up making it hard to see what’s going on.

In addition to those aspects, the subtitles taken from FBI records were distracting and annoying, at least for me. I understand the point they were trying to make – to highlight the extent of FBI surveillance on Dr. King and his associates – but every time they popped up on screen it took me out of the film entirely. They distracted me from what was going on, instead of enhancing the onscreen action. Perhaps if they had faded to black then put the text up as part of the transition, or just something different it would have worked better.

While I really thought Selma was a good movie, and in many ways I enjoyed it more than Birdman, Grand Budapest Hotel, or Boyhood, I just don’t think it stands up to the rest of the films in the category. While I may not have enjoyed the other three I just mentioned as much as Selma, I do believe they were more creative and original. I feel the same way about American Sniper. Both are good films which I would recommend to anyone, but they don’t really take any chances or stand out from the crowd as far as cinematography goes. Selma was a little more original than American Sniper – and would likely have a better chance at winning than Sniper – but neither one will be taking home that trophy.

Rating: 8.5

Favorite Moment: There was a scene where, after the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery ends tragically a young man says he’s had enough and wants to gather up weapons to go back. He is told (by Andrew Young I believe, I never caught the character’s name in the movie, but looked him up on IMDb) that this not the answer, that it will only lead to even more lives lost. The actor playing Young (Andre Holland) delivers that speech so well, it’s possibly the most impressive performance aside from Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. King. 

Ranking: 

1. Whiplash
2. The Theory of Everything
3. The Imitation Game
4. Selma
5. American Sniper
6. Boyhood
7. Birdman
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Nominee: Whiplash

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whiplashCast:
Miles Teller
J.K. Simmons

I honestly had never heard of this film prior to J.K. Simmons winning the Golden Globe for Supporting Actor. Since this film hadn’t been on my radar for long before the Oscar Nominations were announced, I had no idea what to expect when I saw this movie. I had read a basic synopsis, but that’s all I knew.

Whiplash is the story of Andrew(Teller), who wants to be the greatest drummer of his generation. His teacher (Simmons) is verbally and mentally abusive, in what he sees as the only way to drive students to greatness.

This film was painful to watch – but not in a bad way. Everything about the movie is so well done, and the acting and emotions are so raw that you can’t help but feel everything Andrew feels in the film. There were times when I felt myself cringing and not wanting to watch what was coming next, because I felt so bad for the character.

Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher, is so cruel that I flinched every time he started berating his students on screen. Simmons plays it so well that I completely forgot every other character he’s played and only saw him as Fletcher. He terrified me, and I was only watching him on screen. It’s easy to see why he won the Golden Globe, and he’s currently my favorite of the Supporting Actor nominations (though I have yet to see Foxcatcher, so I can’t speak for Mark Ruffalo’s performance yet, which I’m sure is great as well).

So far this is definitely my favorite of the Best Picture nominees (and since I only have Selma yet to see, I doubt that will change). With Boyhood and Birdman in the running, I’m not sure that it will win, but it’s definitely my favorite. If you like jazz music and drumming, and films about perservering through obstacles, then I highly recommend this one.

Rating: 9.5/10

Favorite Moment: I actually can’t describe my favorite moment here because it’s the final scene, but it’s very well done and validates everything else that comes before.

Ranking:

1. Whiplash
2. The Theory of Everything
3. The Imitation Game
4. American Sniper
5. Boyhood
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Picture Nominee: American Sniper

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American-Sniper-Movie-PosterCast:
Bradley Cooper
Sienna Miller

Over the past week or so I’ve found myself wondering if the Academy still would have nominated American Sniper for Best Picture had they known the controversy it would create once it was released. I’m going to go ahead and state up front that I have no interest in debating the morality of war, and how it relates to American Sniper. That is not the purpose of this review, and therefore I will not address it.

However, in full disclosure I will state that I personally feel that, whether or not you agree with our government and their actions overseas, I do believe that the soldiers who are actually following orders and fighting on behalf of their country deserve respect. They miss holidays and birthdays, sacrifice time with loved ones, health (both physical and mental), and their lives and for that they deserve respect, not ridicule and distain.

American Sniper is based on the memoir written by Chris Kyle. I have heard many complain that the film glorifies war, but I actually had the opposite interpretation. I thought it showed the impact war has on those involved – this wasn’t a movie about war itself, but about the men who fight, and the people they leave behind. You could see the effect it had on the soldiers – even Kyle wasn’t immune to the mental toll of performing his duty. I feel like everyone is getting bogged down in arguing over whether or not the film is glorifying war and killing, while missing an opportunity to open a dialogue about mental health and veterans.

(Update: I was able to express my thoughts on some of the controversy of the film a little better on Facebook this morning. I find reactions to American Sniper increasingly frustrating. Last night I met a man who knew Chris Kyle during the war, and he spoke of how grateful he was to Kyle and rest of his SEAL team for every thing they did for the Army guys at a time that was “like the Wild West,” as he put it. I think while everyone complains about this movie, they’re forgetting that it’s not fiction, it’s about real people and in my opinion, those people still deserve respect. I also think all those who are criticizing it are just picking it apart and failing to see the bigger picture – that this isn’t a movie about politics or right vs. left, about whether war is right or wrong; it’s a movie about the men and women who fight, and the people they leave behind. It’s not about “Murica!” it’s about how hard it is for soldiers to just return to their every day lives after the things they’ve seen and done. Instead of dishonoring those soldiers, their families, and the sacrifices they’ve made, we could be using this film to open a dialogue about how we can better support our veterans both physically and mentally when they return home.)

While I don’t feel that the film glorifies war, I was disappointed with the use of the term “savages” in the film. I only picked up on two specific scenes in which this occurred, but it still stood out and felt wrong, especially because it wasn’t always used in a context where they were referring to just the enemies they were fighting.

The film also felt choppy at times. I couldn’t decide if the abrupt transitions between Kyle’s tours and his time at home were intentionally edited in such a way as to emphasize how unsettling it could be for the soldiers going from war back to their peaceful lives, or if it was just an artistic choice. If it’s the former, then it was effective; if it was the latter, then it makes very little sense.

Looking at the film objectively, it was well done, though I’m not sure I would have chosen it for a potential Best Picture nominee had I seen it before the nominations were announced; I really don’t expect it to take home that prize, and not just because of its controversial nature.

Bradly Cooper’s performance, however, is definitely deserving of the recognition he has received. I do believe this is probably his best performance to date, far outstripping the performances for which he has previously been nominated. He completely threw himself into the role and there were times where, if I hadn’t been able to see his eyes, I may not have recognized him. No matter what your personal opinions about this film may be, the fact is, Cooper’s performance is incredible.

In all honesty, given the competition in the category I don’t expect him to win either, but this is the first year I’ve really believed he deserved the nomination. It’s not that any of his other performances were lacking, but they were roles performances I would expect from Cooper, whereas this was something else entirely. I’ve loved him ever since the first episode of Alias, but if you had told five or 10 years ago he would be nominated for an Oscar for a role like this, I may have laughed in your face (particularly after The Hangover came out). However this role proves that Cooper truly is a great actor, not just a pretty face.

Rating: 8.5/10

Favorite: I’m not sure that I have a favorite moment exactly, but the scene where Kyle is on the phone with his wife just as they come under attack was well done – though I did find myself wondering if it would actually have been daylight in both places.

Ranking:

1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game
3. American Sniper

Best Picture Nominee: The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of EverythingCast:
Eddie Redmayne
Felicity Jones
Charlie Cox
Harry Lloyd

The first time I saw a trailer for The Theory of Everything I knew it would be a Best Picture nominee, and I would have bet any amount of money that Eddie Redmayne would be nominated for Best Actor. So there weren’t any surprises there when the nominees were announced. The movie depicts the life of Stephen Hawking without focusing on his work and accomplishments; instead the focus is on his life and relationships, primarily his relationship with his wife, Jane.

I really enjoyed this film. I am not a science person at all – in fact it was my worst subject in school. Therefore I really appreciated that the movie focused on the human aspect, not on the science. This felt like a very human film. I really loved the moments of genuine humor in the film, which balanced the more dramatic moments. I want to say that this movie had a lot of heart, but then it sounds like I’m saying it made an effort to do something it didn’t accomplish. Rather I think it accomplished quite a deal. A lot of heart and emotion went into the making of this film, and I think that showed on camera.

The entire cast was fantastic. Eddie Redmayne is the standout of course, because his performance was practically flawless. He truly became Hawking. I recently discovered the 2004 made-for-TV movie Hawking, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, and I was amused two actors who have played Hawking are now up for Oscars in the same category. As much as I love Cumberbatch, I must say that Redmayne’s performance in the role impressed me far more. Where Cumberbatch’s acting is precise, Redmayne is just a little more fluid and better for the role.

Felicity Jones was beautiful as well and was not at all overshadowed by Redmayne – if anything she would occasionally steal the screen from him. She is certainly deserving of her best actress nomination, and while I haven’t yet seen all the performances in that category, she is my favorite so far. I also really enjoyed Harry Lloyd and Charlie Cox. I like both actors and hadn’t realized they were in this film, so that was a pleasant surprise.

If I had any criticisms of this film it would be that it seems like in the last hour and a half they fast-forwarded through time to get to the ending they wanted, while the spent much more time on the earlier years of the Hawkings’ relationship. This made the pacing feel a bit off, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

Rating: 9/10

Favorite Moment: There some truly wonderful moments in this film. One of my favorites was a brilliant Doctor Who reference that I don’t want to spoil for fans who haven’t yet seen it.

Ranking:

1. The Theory of Everything
2. The Imitation Game