Best Picture

Oscar Watch 2016

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Oscars2016

Last Thursday, The Academy announced the nominees for 2016 Academy Awards, which means it is once again time for me to start my annual attempt to view all the Best Picture nominees, and as many of the other films nominated, as possible before Sunday, February 28th.

I love the Oscars. I know there has been a lot of controversy over them the last couple year; I just love movies and love being able to celebrate the films that have made significant achievements this past year. I do hope the nominations will soon start reflecting more diversity, but I also feel like the issue lies much deeper than just the Academy. I think there needs to be more diversity in the films themselves, and which films receive recognition in general. Off the top of my head I can only think of two films featuring African Americans that could have been nominated – Creed and Straight Outta Compton. I’m sure there must be more and I don’t know if this is my own failing for not seeking out more diverse films, or if the entire film industry just needs to put more emphasis in promoting diversity in film and making people aware these films exist. Hopefully next year we’ll see more diversity in the films being promoted for Oscar recognition and then in the nominees themselves.

Several of this year’s nominees took me by surprise. I honestly never expected Mad Max: Fury Road to receive a Best Picture nomination. That was the biggest surprise to me. I haven’t seen it yet, so I honestly can’t judge but it just did not seem at all like the kind of movie the Academy would recognize – though I’m told it’s technical achievements are fantastic. I was also excited to see The Martian nominated, simply because I loved that movie so much (and those of you who read my blog regularly know how much I loved the novel). I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to be nominated, but I can’t say I’m surprised; the movie was extremely well done.

I know very little about the other six nominees. I had been planning to see Room at some point, as I have heard so many good things about the movie. Spotlight has also been on my viewing list for a while, though mostly because I had a feeling it would receive an Oscar nomination. However, the cast is also excellent. I feel like The Big Short may be this years The Wolf of Wall Street (which I really did not enjoy) – not necessarily content-wise (because the two films are vastly different) but just in my overall opinion of the film once I’ve watched, but I could be rushing to judgement.

The Revenant is a film that if it weren’t for the nomination I would probably have very little interest in viewing. It just seems dark and somewhat depressing to me. However, I was pretty sure it was going to be nominated, so I’ve been preparing myself to watch that one. While I wasn’t a big fan of Birdman last year, I did love the way it was filmed and Alejandro González Iñárritu did an excellent job, so I’m looking forward to those technical aspects of The Revenant because I suspect they’ll be the best part. 

Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn just seem like the odd children in this pack of nominees. I suspect while each will be a great film, they won’t have the clout to really contend for that Oscar. I suspect Bridge of Spies will be much like Tom Hanks’ last Best Picture nomination, Captain Phillips, an excellent film but not even close to winning, and Brooklyn just kind of snuck in there.

At this point, without seeing all the films, I have a feeling the Best Picture winner will come down to The Revenant, The Big Short, or Spotlight. I can’t narrow it down more than that, and I could be completely wrong. We’ll see on February 28th. Until then, I’m going to enjoy viewing all the films and forming my opinions on who should win.

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: Her

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HerCast:
Joaquin Phoenix
Scarlett Johansson
Rooney Mara
Amy Adams
Olivia Wilde

Her is the story of the somewhat anti-social, Theodore, who develops a relationship with his new AI Operating System, Samantha.

Her is one of those movies that sticks with you when you leave the theatre, even if you’re not entirely sure you liked the movie. I had really mixed feelings about the film when I left the theatre, but it’s all I’ve been able to think about for the last 24 hours. On the surface it seems like a pretty straightforward plot, but there’s a lot more to this film than what you see on the surface.

The concept of the film – that a person could so withdrawn and hurting that he is unable to emotionally connect with other humans and therefore builds a romantic connection to an artificial intelligence – is rather fascinating given the current state of our society. There’s so many people in the world turning to the internet to find friends, significant others, etc. Granted in those cases there is another person sitting at their computer on the other side of the relationship, but with technology developing at such a rapid pace it isn’t too far-fetched that someday you could befriend an AI instead of someone in another state or country.

One of the things I loved most about this film was how understated the more science-fiction aspects of this film were. I have no idea how far into the future this film was meant to take place, but the use of futuristic technology was so organic and normal that you weren’t being hit over the head with it.

All that being said, I still didn’t love this film as much as I really wanted to. It gets in your head and really makes you think, the concept is interesting, and there were certain parts of the film I loved, but at the end of the day it’s just not a film I would want to watch multiple times.

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorite Moment: Any time Amy Adams was on screen. I love her.

Nominee Ranking:

  1. Captain Phillips
  2. American Hustle
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Her

Best Picture Nominee: Captain Phillips

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Captain PhillipsCast:
Tom Hanks
Barkhad Abdi

Captain Phillips is based on the true story of an American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates.

After seeing American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, Captain Phillips was a complete change of pace. I watched this the same day as The Wolf of Wall Street – just a few hours apart – and the difference between the two was almost jarring.

Captain Phillips was intense and suspenseful. It wasn’t as big or elaborate a production as the first two movies I’ve watched – the cast was smaller, with most of the second half focusing just on Phillips and the four pirates in the lifeboat. I loved the way they filmed the movie; there were so many closeups, increasing the intensity and drama of the film. Even sitting in my living room I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic during the scenes on the small, enclosed lifeboat.

After watching this film I was a little surprised Tom Hanks didn’t receive a Best Actor nomination, but I’m really glad Barkhad Abdi was nominated for Supporting Actor. He was fantastic as, Muse, the leader of the pirates who attacked the cargo ship. This was his first acting experience, which makes his role in the film ever more impressive. Of the films I’ve seen so far I think I would pick him over Bradley Cooper or Jonah Hill; I have a feeling his toughest competition will be from Michael Fassbender or Jared Leto.

Rating: 8.5/10

Favorite Moment: I honestly cannot think of one standout moment from this film – everything was very well done – however there was one set of dialogue really struck me:

Captain Phillips: There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.
Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.

 Nominee Ranking

  1. Captain Phillips
  2. American Hustle
  3. The Wolf of Wall Street