Return of the Oscars (and the Blog)

WritingIt has been a long time. I haven’t been able to write to this blog for around two years now. And a lot has happened. I will post more about that later.

Suffice to say, however, that I did not write an Oscar post last year. The problem was that I’ve been extremely busy and last year’s attempt to even watch the movies was a dismal failure. To this day, I still haven’t had a chance to see “Moonlight.” I didn’t even get to watch the Oscars last year, so I missed the whole kerfuffle about the Best Picture award. This year was different, though, which I primarily credit to Moviepass. It made it so that it was super-easy to just go see anything that I felt like, which was primarily used to watch films that were potential Oscar-nominees. As a result, I actually had half list already watched by the time the nominees were even announced. Thank you, Moviepass.

And what a year this is going to be. This year, the Oscars have the potential to be much more interesting than usual. Going into this year’s show, there’s not a clear front-runner for Best Picture because of the way it’s voted on. While “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has been winning a lot of awards, those are through simple voting systems where whoever gets the most votes wins. But for those who don’t know, the Academy’s system is different. They use a preferential voting system where voters submit a list of movies they want to win, with a first choice, second choice, and so on. The first choices are all counted up until one film gets 50 percent plus one vote. If no movie gets this amount, then the movie with the least amount of first choice votes is eliminated and those ballots’ second choice is promoted to first. This continues until that 50 percent plus one vote is achieved.

This is important because while many people have loved “Three Billboards,” there’s been a very vocal group that has absolutely hated it. I won’t go into why here since it’s been analyzed in more depth elsewhere. But that hate could affect the vote quite drastically. Many believe that this is why “La La Land” did not win last year despite early reports (not because it really was a piece crap) and Best Picture instead went to “Moonlight.” The same thing has the potential to happen this year, which is why some people believe that even “Get Out” might have the legs to win, because it wasn’t just well-liked but highly respected, which will likely put it high on several people’s lists.

So I’m going to do the best I can to analyze this, but take it with a grain of salt because I’m actually rather unsure about some movies’ chances. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out on March 4th. As usual, except for last year, I will be live tweeting the Oscars, so follow me now.

Best Picture

My pick: Phantom Thread”

What will probably win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Why: I’m actually going to stick with what many believe would be the front-runner anyway since I think that, despite the vocal minority that really hates it, it’s still got the legs to take this one. But if it were up to me, I would give it to “Phantom Thread,” which in reality has no chance of winning. Admittedly, I’m a little biased as I’ve been a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan since “Magnolia.” It’s such a great movie, from Daniel Day-frickin’-Lewis to the great score and interesting costumes, something I’m not always that big on noticing. With great performances throughout and great atmosphere, it’s a shame that this film is going to be overlooked by the Academy.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

My pick: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Who will probably win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Why: Fairly often, when an actor, especially a woman, wears prosthetics to look completely different, they’re the ones that will win. However, Gary Oldman puts in such a great performance as Winston Churchill that he’s probably the shoe-in for this one. He works so well with the prosthetics and makeup, but changes his voice and movement so dramatically that most of the time you can’t even tell it’s him. Maybe just a couple of times around the eyes. He becomes Winston Churchill and is very deserving of this one.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

My pick: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)

Who will probably win: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Why: Frances McDormand has been consistently recognized and for good reason. She’s a great actress and puts in a great performance. But if I had the choice, it would be Sally Hawkins. With her character being a mute, she has to go through the whole movie without speaking. Yes, the main character in this film doesn’t speak the whole time and has to emote and use sign language to communicate and act. This is not an easy thing to do and really elevates her performance to the top for me.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

My pick: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)

Who will probably win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Why: This is a hard one. Two nominees from the same movie, a last minute replacement, one from an obscure film, and one who just puts in a very touching performance. I would say that Sam Rockwell is a safe bet on winning because he’s been talked about a lot. When there’s discussion of a performance, that’s a good indication. But Willem Dafoe puts in a performance for a character that’s quite complex and layered for a supporting role. As the sometimes gruff manager of a motel in “The Florida Project,” he also shows that he does care about people and he has much more subtlety and nuance to this performance than I feel some of the others do.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

My pick: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)

Who will probably win: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)

Why: Allison Janney is really good as LaVona Harding. She’s able to be funny and sinister at the same time. And she’s gotten a lot of buzz for this role. But my preference would be Laurie Metcalf. In this role, she plays a funny but touching and identifiable role as a mother trying to hold onto her family as they grow-up and start to leave the nest, something she really doesn’t want. But she keeps it together for their sake even though inside she’s breaking. It’s a great performance that doesn’t need to be in your face to make an impact on the film.

Best Achievement in Directing

My pick: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water)

Who will probably win: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water)

Why: I know I ranted about the Academy not recognizing Paul Thomas Anderson, who has a nomination for “Phantom Thread,” but just for directing, this one should go to Guillermo Del Toro, another director who hasn’t been recognized by the Academy until now but deserves it because, even though he makes genre films, still makes beautiful movies that have a very distinct style. In my opinion, based solely on directing, Del Toro has the edge this year.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

My pick: Get Out

Who will probably win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Why: My favorite category, this is another difficult one. The likely front-runner is “Three Billboards,” but it’s got some stiff competition. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Get Out” take this one just because it probably won’t take the other awards it’s nominated for and people want to make sure it gets some recognition, although it’s not the only reason because it’s just really good with a different and surprising story and respect for doing something new in the horror genre. However, this could be the same story with “The Big Sick,” which, while good, wasn’t great in my own opinion. I know a lot of people are upset that this is the only award that “The Big Sick” is nominated for, which might give it more votes, but still probably won’t take this one.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

My pick: Call Me By Your Name

Who will probably win: Call Me By Your Name

Why: If it wasn’t for the other nominees in the other categories that “Call Me By Your Name” is nominated for, it would have a lot more legs and likely sweep the awards. In fact, “Call Me By Your Name” is a very close second for me for Best Picture behind “Phantom Thread.” Which is what makes it so unfortunate. But compared to the others in this category, if “Call Me By Your Name” doesn’t take it, something is seriously rotten in the Academy. The writing is just that good.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

My pick: Coco

Who will probably win: Coco

Why: The fact that “The Boss Baby” was nominated for this one is further evidence that the Academy has no idea what they’re doing when it comes to animated movies (“Loving Vincent” was debatable since the entire film uses rotoscope animation; do think that should count as animation?). But “Coco” is pretty damn good, and is definitely worth it. “Coco” is the best film Pixar has produced since “Finding Nemo.” They’ve spent plenty of time in the wilderness producing disappointment after disappointment, but with “Coco” they’ve managed to hit it out of the park again and get back on top.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

My pick: The Square

Who will probably win: The Square

Why: Many feel that Ruben Östlund was snubbed a couple years ago with “Force Majeure.” This year he’s back with “The Square” and got that nomination. It’s definitely an interesting and odd film with a sense of humor. But most important to its or any film nominated in this category is accessibility. Did people even see it? “The Square” likely has the edge on this one. The other nominees have their good aspects, too. “The Insult” was interesting to finally see a film come out of the Middle East that has nothing to do with Israel. At the same time, I have to admit that I wasn’t really wowed by any of the films in this category this year, and I usually enjoy this one for the chance to see films produced outside of the Hollywood shroud. A bit disappointed overall.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

My pick: The Shape of Water

Who will probably win: Mudbound

Why: I have a feeling this award is going to be a victim of politics. Don’t get me wrong. Rachel Morrison does a great job bringing some dull scenery to life and framing the shots to produce specific reactions and feelings from the audience. But on the whole, I found “Mudbound” a little disappointing. Maybe my expectations were a little too high. Personally, I would give this to “The Shape of Water.” Dan Laustsen had a difficult job, bringing Del Toro’s artistic vision to life and going through different environments, not to mention the distinct use of color.

Best Achievement in Editing

My pick: I, Tonya

Who will probably win: Dunkirk

Why: A lot of people liked “Dunkirk” but I was rather “meh” about it. But this is the kind of film that the Academy tends to eat up and editing together Christopher Nolan’s vision of jumping back and forth through time couldn’t have been easy. But I felt that the way “I, Tonya” is edited together is probably one of the most interesting aspects of the film and would’ve likely fallen flat on its face for failing to pull off that triple axel (see what I did there?). As such, “I, Tonya” really deserves this one.

Best Achievement in Production Design

My pick: “The Shape of Water

Who will probably win: Dunkirk

Why: The sets for the “The Shape of Water” are just so interesting. The environments practically become another character in the movie. But, like I said, “Dunkirk” is the kind of movie the Academy eats up, and war movies tend to have an edge when it comes to the more technical awards.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

My pick: Phantom Thread

Who will probably win: Phantom Thread

Why: Come on! “Phantom Thread” is about the costumes! If it goes to another film, especially “Beauty and the Beast” (Ugh! That was such a piece of crap and a downright insult to the animated film), something has gone seriously wrong.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

My pick: Darkest Hour

Who will probably win: Darkest Hour

Why: As I mentioned earlier, Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill is phenomenal, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the great hair and makeup work. Oldman looks absolutely nothing like Churchill in real life, and the fact that they pulled it off to make him into Churchill is no small feat.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

My pick: Phantom Thread”

Who will probably win: Phantom Thread

Why: The score for “Phantom Thread” is so good, not to mention unique when compared to the other nominees in this category. It sticks with you and haunts you. You definitely notice it without it distracting you from the rest of the movie. The other nominees in this category are frankly a bit mediocre when compared to “Phantom Thread.”

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

My pick: “Remember Me” from Coco

Who will probably win: “Remember Me” from Coco

Why: “Remember Me” has been consistently discussed and for good reason. It’s introduced as a grand and even arrogant song until we later learn that it’s supposed to be sung quietly and was very personal. It has an impact. I also like “The Mystery of Love” from “Call Me By Your Name,” but “Remember Me” definitely has the edge here.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

My pick: Baby Driver

Who will probably win: Dunkirk

Why: Like I said earlier, war movies tend to have the edge when it comes to the technical awards, but especially when it comes to sound. However, the sound mixing pretty much makes “Baby Driver,” even if it is mostly music.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

My pick: The Shape of Water

Who will probably win: Dunkirk

Why: Like the Sound Mixing award, this will likely go to the war movie “Dunkirk”. But the sound editing (which is the creation of sounds, whereas sound mixing is editing in the sound into the movie; yes, it’s confusing) for “The Shape of Water” is unique, particularly when it comes to creating the sounds for the creature. This uniqueness and artistry really deserves the recognition, although I doubt it will get it.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

My pick: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Who will probably win: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Why: Everyone has a soft spot for Star Wars. It’s the scifi/fantasy franchise of our childhood. But if I had to pick, I would give the award to “Guardians” because of the sheer artistry and creativity involved. Creating something unique with visual effects is important, and in this case they literally created worlds, something that should not be overlooked.

Best Documentary, Feature

My pick: Icarus

Who will probably win: Visages Villages (Faces Places)

Why: “Icarus” is different from your normal documentary. It appears like it was intended to be a different film, something more akin to “Super Size Me,” where the filmmaker was going to document his attempt at doping and competing, but the movie quickly morphs into more of a thriller where it seems that people are genuinely in danger after exposing alleged government-ordered doping in Russia. Even though, like the Foreign Language category, accessibility tends to be the name of the game, another aspect seems to be how it makes the audience feel. Fairly often, tense documentaries don’t get the win and it usually goes to something that gives more of a warm and fuzzy feeling. That would be “Faces Places,” which is really quite good if not at the top of the list for me. “Faces Places” is a very artsy picture that has a sense of humor, something very much missing from the other nominees, which likely makes the film more accessible to a general audience.

Best Documentary, Short Subject

My pick: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Who will probably win: Heaven is a Traffic Jam of the 405

Why: Again, accessibility is the name of the game, and this one is available to watch online. It’s an interesting story and doesn’t have the darkness and seriousness present in the other nominees. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its down parts, but on the whole, it’s accessible not just in being able to watch it but keeping the audience open to it and not so guarded.

Best Short Film, Animated

My pick: Garden Party

Who will probably win: Lou

Why: “Garden Party” was the most interesting of the nominees in this category, following a group of amphibians around a house and garden as you start to notice that something isn’t quite right here, leading to a mystery. The animation quality is amazing. At first, I seriously thought it wasn’t animated, the quality is that high, and having studied computer animation in college, I can tell you that a lot of effort went into this. However, as I said the academy tends to not know what it’s doing with animation, and this will probably go the cutesy Pixar entry “Lou.” Because Pixar.

Best Short Film, Live Action

My pick: The Eleven O’Clock

Who will probably win: The Eleven O’Clock

Why: Of the nominees for Best Live Action Short, “The Eleven O’Clock” is the only one that goes for humor and doesn’t have an underlying message to it. As the saying goes, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” (often attributed to Edmund Kean). The fact that they went for comedy, comedy that almost seems to be an homage to Abbott and Costello at times, they took a huge risk and pulled it off making a genuinely funny short film.

And that pretty much sums it up. We’ll see how this plays out tomorrow.

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The Oscars Strike Back

WritingAnother year, another awards season. It’s that time to make the Oscar picks. This year’s awards have been dogged by controversy, most notably about the lack of diversity. I have my opinions on the #OscarSoWhite issue (yes, I think there is a problem with diversity in the awards, but I think the real issue goes a little deeper and is more complicated than that), but that won’t affect my picks for the awards. Unlike in previous years, I have actually managed to see EVERY…SINGLE…FILM, including the shorts, so I feel informed and won’t be leaving anything out of my consideration. Go me! Interestingly, this year the picks are not as clear as they’ve been the last couple of years, with no obvious frontrunners in the various categories with a couple of exceptions, which made this analysis much more challenging than usual. But challenging is good.

As usual, I will be live tweeting the 2016 Oscars, so be sure to follow me and we’ll see how I accurate my predictions are together.

Best Picture
My pick: “Room”
What will probably win: “The Big Short”
Why: Despite what you may have heard, “The Revenant” is probably not going to win this one. It’s a film that has left people very divided between it being a really good film and being an egofest. When it comes down to it, “Room” is easily the best of the bunch. It’s moving, it’s heartbreaking, raw, visceral, and all-in-all a really heavy film. But if a movie can feel that heavy, you know they did something very right. It can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, but it is sooo good. However, “The Big Short” is the likely winner. Personally, I was a bit underwhelmed by it, but it taps into a lot of the anger circulating through society right now at Wall Street, making it very timely. But I don’t see this as the kind of film that will stand the test of time, and will remain a popular product of its own time only.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Matt Damon (“The Martian”)
Who will probably win: Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”)
Why: DiCaprio probably has the best chance of winning this Oscar, but for the wrong reasons. A win for this one would be more for his overall body of work and to make up for being snubbed in the past. While he was good in “The Revenant,” it wasn’t a standout performance and I thought he’s done much better work in the past. Ultimately, among the nominees, Matt Damon is the most deserving. He manages to play a character that is incredibly smart and resourceful and supremely likable. You can’t help but root for him throughout the movie. Even if the end of the movie turned into “Darkstar,” he turns in a great, lovable performance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Brie Larson (“Room”)
Who will probably win: Brie Larson (“Room”)
Why: I found a lot of the picks for this category surprisingly underwhelming this year. But the standout by far is Brie Larson. A relative newcomer to the movie game, she not only plays her role so well, but shows an incredible range within the single movie, moving from being strong to having a breakdown. This is Larson’s award to lose.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”)
Who will probably win: Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”)
Why: Tom Hardy has been turning in some great performances lately. A lot of them. And he seems to be showing up in everything. But he is almost unrecognizable in “The Revenant,” not only for the make-up but also the way he acts and speaks. At first, I wasn’t sure if that was him. However, again, this is Stallone’s award to lose. Not only is this more for a lifetime of work (and the symbolic passing of the Rocky torch to Michael B. Jordan), but there’s likely some guilt going through the academy over the #OscarSoWhite controversy, and this is one way that some voters may feel they are making this better for the lack of minority actors or black films nominated. Kind of misses the point, guys.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”)
Who will probably win: Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”)
Why: Jennifer Jason Leigh is awesome in “The Hateful Eight.” I’ve heard it said that some actors like the role of the bad guy because it can be fun to play, and Leigh was clearly having a ton of fun with it. Being a small woman trapped in a cabin with eight men, and she is the one you’re afraid of, partly because you’re not sure what her game is, and it’s a great achievement and immensely enjoyable to watch. However, the award will likely go to Alicia Vikander, who has only recently come to the forefront of films, but done it so fast that she’s getting starring roles in everything. She was okay in “The Danish Girl,” a film that, like “The Big Short,” I found a bit underwhelming, but she was also great in “Ex Machina.” As a matter of fact, she probably should have been nominated for “Ex Machina” instead, as that was, in my opinion, a much stronger and more interesting performance.

Best Achievement in Directing
My pick: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”)
Who will probably win: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”)
Why: Abrahamson has, without a doubt, the strongest film nominated this year. I’m not saying the actors were hard to work with, but there is a thing among directors that the most difficult subjects to work with are children and animals. “Room” is told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy, who also puts in a Hell of a performance. Come to think of it, why didn’t Jacob Tremblay get an Oscar nod?

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
My pick: “Ex Machina”
Who will probably win: “Straight Outta Compton”
Why: “Ex Machina” is one of those movies that are just fascinating to watch. Told with a minimal cast and mostly dialogue (some eavesdropped), the movie goes into romance and philosophy, particularly what does it mean to be human. It’s very intelligent film. The award will probably go to “Straight Outta Compton,” a movie that, while good, also follows a very rigid and traditional plot structure with few risks and probably has an edge simply because of the guilty vote regarding the #OscarSoWhite controversy. Again, Academy, you’re missing the point.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
My pick: “Room”
Who will probably win: “The Big Short”
Why: Put simply, “Room” is a brilliant piece of film-making. The screenplay is incredibly solid, which isn’t surprising given that it was written by Emma Donoghue, the author of the book on which the movie is based. When you have the original author adapting their own book, you’ll usually get something that thoroughly captures the source material. However, “The Big Short” strikes more of a nerve with society as it stands now and addresses a topic that is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, which gives it an edge in this category.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
My pick: O Menino e o Mundo (Boy and the World)
Who will probably win: Inside Out
Why: As usual, the Academy will remain baffled about what to actually do with animated films. “Boy and the World” is one of those films that is absolutely beautiful, not only with a fascinating art style, but characters that convey and make the audience feel strong emotions without ever saying a word. Yes, this film has no dialogue (what little you hear is actually nonsense; it’s similar to how the adults in Peanuts cartoon all sound like they swallowed oboes). However, Disney has usually bought…er, I mean makes solid movies. Actually, the dead giveaway here is that “Inside Out” has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. When a “specialty” film like an animated feature or a foreign language film is also nominated in another category as well, it’s usually a shoe-in.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
My pick: Saul fia (Son of Saul)
Who will probably win: Saul fia (Son of Saul)
Why: Of the films nominated in this category, “Son of Saul” is undoubtedly the most powerful. Following a member of the Sonderkommando (Jews who worked in the crematoriums, destroying the bodies of other Jews sent to the gas chamber during the Holocaust), this film is shot in one of the most uncomfortable and at the same time brilliant styles I’ve seen in recent memory. The entire movie is shot following Saul in close-up and with few edits (think of “Birdman”). The whole movie! Not only is it an extraordinarily intimate view of the central character, but it also becomes extremely claustrophobic, putting the audience ill at ease. It’s an extremely risky choice for the filmmakers, but one that pays off and makes the film incredibly effective.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
My pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Who will probably win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Why: Cinematography usually awards films shot in black and white (not an easy feat, despite what you might think) or interesting choices with camera angle and sweeping camera work. But with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” you get a film that had to be an absolute nightmare for the cinematographers with the numerous car chases and action sequences. It was a challenge that the cinematographers took on and managed to accomplish brilliantly, shooting an incredibly fun and energetic movie.

Best Achievement in Editing
My pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Who will probably win: The Big Short
Why: Putting together shots that had to have been so difficult to film and editing them together so as to maintain the energy and pace had to be equally difficult, but was done fantastically. However, the award will likely go to “The Big Short” due to the quirkiness and humor involved with the editing process.

Best Achievement in Production Design
My pick: “The Martian
Who will probably win: “The Martian
Why: Most of the other nominees in this category portray locations that would exist in the today’s world (possible exception to “Mad Max: Fury Road”). But “The Martian” had to create a believable planet, a harsh unforgiving environment, as well as habitats and interplanetary ships. That makes “The Martian” stand out from all the other nominees in this category.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: “The Revenant
Who will probably win: “The Danish Girl
Why: This one is often unpredictable, not to mention kind of weird (think of the American Express Gold Card dress from several years ago). “The Revenant” uses costumes that actually add to the idea that this is taking place in a harsh and savage environment and adds to the atmosphere greatly. However, “The Danish Girl” likely has the edge for the selection of period costumes, which seem to have an edge in most years.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared)
Who will probably win: “The Revenant
Why: Again, a difficult category to predict, and this one is kind of a toss up. “The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” does a great and very convincing job of aging Robert Gustafsson back and forth as we explore his life. Plus, I’m kind of a sucker for Swedish films. However, I’m not sure how many people actually saw this movie, an important factor in a lot of these awards. So, “The Revenant” has an edge in this category, if nothing else than for Tom Hardy’s makeup (to be honest, I didn’t realize that was Tom Hardy at first, which is a combination of the makeup and his acting ability).

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
My pick: “The Hateful Eight
Who will probably win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Why: The score for “The Hateful Eight” is just plain fun, and adds greatly to the atmosphere, fun, and energy of each scene. However, John Williams “Star Wars” score is so iconic that I can’t count out the Academy resorting to nostalgia in selecting “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for this award.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
My pick: Til It Happens to You from “The Hunting Ground
Who will probably win: Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey
Why: The universe hates me. I have no faith in humanity. Whatever the reason, somehow Earned It is going to win so we will be forced to say, “The Academy Award-winning ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’” despite the fact that Til It Happen to You is just straight-up a far superior song. People suck…

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
My pick: The Martian
Who will probably win: The Martian
Why: This one got weird this year. Usually, some kind of military or war movie gets nominated for the sound awards and is guaranteed to win. This did not happen this year, which forced me to really think about where this award would go. Editing together the sounds for “The Martian” was crucial to adding to the harsh atmosphere (or lack thereof, as the case may be). Without that sound, “The Martian” would not have been anywhere near as effective as it was.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
My pick: The Martian
Who will probably win: The Martian
Why: See above. While “Sicario” is nominated in this category and is close to being a war movie, the sound seemed a little too overdone, which gives “The Martian” the edge.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
My pick: Ex Machina
Who will probably win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Why: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is all about the big, grand, in-your-face special effects, so you can’t miss them. However, “Ex Machina” goes for subtlety. While the visual effects are quite obvious, they are so good that they manage to blend into the background and feel normal, which is far more effective when contributing to the art of film-making.

Best Documentary, Feature
My pick: The Look of Silence
Who will probably win: Amy
Why: The Act of Killing” was undeservedly snubbed when the Oscar went to “Twenty Feet from Stardom” a couple of years ago. In Joshua Oppenheimer’s followup “The Look of Silence,” he creates an incredibly powerful film following a man as he confronts the men who killed his brother during the Indonesian genocide. It’s the Academy’s opportunity to correct a wrong. However, the award will likely go to “Amy,” primarily because Amy Winehouse was far more well known and the Academy tends to vote for documentaries about show business most of the time.

Best Documentary, Short Subject
My pick: Last Day of Freedom
Who will probably win: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Why: It’s kind of ironic when you think about it: A short subject documentary about the making of a nearly 10-hour film, and it’s probably going to win because, like “Amy,” it is about a filmmaker and film-making. However, “Last Day of Freedom” was a far superior and important documentary. A rotoscope animation (think “A Scanner Darkly”) but with pencil drawings, giving it a much more stylized look, the film is the story told by Bill Babbitt of his brother’s war experience, crime, and eventual execution. A far more artistic film with an actual message relevant to today’s society.

Best Short Film, Animated
My pick: Mi ne mozhem zhit bez kosmosa (We Can’t Live Without Cosmos)
Who will probably win: Sanjay’s Super Team
Why: “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” is beautiful and heartbreaking. While it has a simple art style and no dialogue, the film shows the friendship of two cosmonauts in training, until tragedy strikes. It is funny and moving at the same time. However, “Sanjay’s Super Team” is a Disney/Pixar film, so it’s never a good idea to bet against them.

Best Short Film, Live Action
My pick: Shok
Who will probably win: Stutterer
Why: Set during the Kosovo war, “Shok” tells the story of two young boys’ friendship as it is tested. This is not a happy tale, but it is as effective as a solid punch to the gut. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When a film can make you feel something that strongly, you know you’ve found something really good. The problem is that the inferior “Stutterer” has gotten more publicity. I was a stutterer growing up, and this film does not accurately portray my experience (admittedly, by the time I reached the main character’s age, I had mostly grown out of it, but even now I have the occasional stutter). This made the movie far less identifiable for me, but it is still probably going to win.

There you have it. If you’re actually reading this and made it through the whole post, you’re a better man than I. Even I couldn’t get through it in one sitting.

Book Review: Deep Blue

Deep BlueDeep Blue by Brian Auspice
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Tuesday has been postponed until next Tuesday, but Wednesday is still on for this Thursday.”

This, in a nutshell, is Deep Blue by Brian Auspice, a surrealist entry in the New Bizarro Authors Series, a special group of books that publishes untested authors to see how they do on the market. Deep Blue is one of those gems that, without the NBAS, may never have seen the light of day because it is so surreal that it may go over a lot of readers’ heads.

You have a devil that lives in the fridge, a machine that must be “fed” every night, characters that change dimensions to 2D, men-in-cans, and faceless taxi drivers just to name a few elements in this book, and, yes, it all does tie together. This book is like a fever dream after smoking an incredibly exotic herb, and I loved every page of it. Admittedly, this review may not be entirely objective because I’m a total sucker for surrealist works, but it really is that good.

It reminds me a great deal of a NBAS book from a couple years ago called Kitten by G. Arthur Brown, which actually makes sense because Kevin L. Donihe accepted both of them for the NBAS. I’m detecting a pattern here. It’s difficult to really say much about what the book is about without giving anything away because things are tied so closely together that to describe one element out of context would make no sense at all. There are even “puzzles” of sorts to solve, like the machine that speaks only in binary, and it is actually saying something if you take the time to translate it.

Suffice to say that the book does have a point. While very short, I recommend that the reader not rush through it. Deep Blue is a steak that must be eaten slowly to enjoy the intricate flavors of each bite, not a McDonald’s hamburger that must be wolfed down before you can taste anything for fear that if it touches your tongue it will trigger a gag reflex so powerful that it would make Linda Blair jealous.

I can’t find much fault with this book personally. Even from a technical perspective, it’s sublimely produced. So this book is highly recommended but with a warning: This book will challenge you. It is not a brain candy type book nor is it the easiest of reads, but it is rewarding for the time and effort that you put into it.

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Book Review: SuperGhost

SuperGhostSuperGhost by Scott Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever had the experience where you feel sensation or pain in a limb that you no longer have, a phenomenon known as phantom limb? Me neither, primarily because I’ve never lost a limb, but that’s beside the point.

SuperGhost by Scott Cole is based on this phenomenon, putting forth the idea that a phantom limb is really just that: A phantom. The ghost of a severed limb lives on connected to the rest of the body. But what if a mad scientist devised a way to remove the phantom limb? A spiritual amputation, as it were. Then, what if said mad scientist decided to use the phantom limbs to create a ghostly Frankenstein’s monster to destroy the world? MUAHAHAHA!… Oops, got a little carried away there. Sorry.

SuperGhost is part of the New Bizarro Authors Series, where new authors who haven’t had a book published get a chance to prove that they have the chops. And Cole has the chops. First, Cole takes a somewhat unusual approach to his bizarro book, setting it in the “real” world, or a close facsimile. The world is identifiable and entirely believable and could very well be our own world. That is, until a giant ghost made of severed phantom limbs goes rampaging through the city. The characters are well developed, especially give the small space Cole has to work with. It was surprising how the characters could feel so fleshed out in such a short book. And the characters are likable. Heck, even the mad scientist villain is likable. It would have been interesting to see how much more developed he could be in a longer book. As they say, audiences will hate a good villain but love a great one.

It’s both accurate and unfair to compare this book to “Ghostbusters.” The comparisons are obvious, especially given the overall humorous tone of the book. But Cole adds more to it than just a “Ghostbusters” vibe. Comparisons could be made to lots of other sources, such as “Frankenstein,” but they are mashed and stitched together in Cole’s own unique way, creating his own Frankenstein’s monster of literary tones. But it’s all fun. In fact, if I was to describe SuperGhost in one word, it would be “fun.”

Unfortunately, while Cole does an admirable job with the short space he has, I would have liked to have seen this story written in a longer form. It’s a story that feels like it was meant for something bigger, and that it had to be trimmed down to make it fit with the maximum word allowance for a NBAS book. Still, SuperGhost is definitely a lot of fun and worth the short time it takes to read.

SuperGhost by Scott Cole earns earns 4 severed limbs out of five.

Book Review: Pax Titanus

Pax TitanusPax Titanus by Tom Lucas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Titanus is a Veritassian, an alien that is ten feet tall, has four arms, can only speak the truth, and can grow and shrink any part of his body at will. ANY part (being that this is a bizarro book, I’ll leave that bit up to your imagination). When his son is “kidnapped,” the kidnappers force him to enter a galactic gladiatorial contest featuring lots of weird aliens that could only spring from the mind of a deranged lunatic.

Tom Lucas’ Pax Titanus tells this story and tells it well. Then again, this book isn’t for those looking for a terribly in-depth story. The real feature of this book is the increasing amounts of alien carnage and detailed fight scenes to sate the reader’s inner blood lust. The story is more there to move the action along.

The characters are quirky, from Titanus’ inability to tell a lie to his wife (who’s a squid) communicating by secreting emotional ooze based on what she’s feeling. Right? Right. The book is the usual short length for an entry in the New Bizarro Authors Series. In this case, that works well. Lucas is forced to economize and doesn’t waste any time on extraneous details. He focuses on what’s important and gets to the point, which prevents the reader from screaming, “Get to the point!”

Graphic, violent, and simple, Pax Titanus still holds charm and does have a surprise ending. While this type of book isn’t always my cup of tea, it was still a fun read that kept my attention and does make the inner child squeal with joy at the copious amounts of mindless violence. Or is that just me? My inner child might be a little disturbed.

If I have a main complaint, it’s that this book could have used another pass the editor. Basic mechanical mistakes bug me enormously and are a pet peeve, and I have to knock the book down a little for that.

An enjoyable and short read that reminds one of a summer action flick, Pax Titanus definitely scratches a certain itch, although admittedly it may not be an itch that everyone has. If you like excessive amounts of literary violence not counting those brutal writers’ conferences, then Pax Titanusis definitely worth your time.

Pax Titanus by Tom Lucas earns 4 out of 5 bludgeoned skulls.