Category Archives: Movie Reviews

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.

And the 2015 Oscars Should Go To…

WritingAnother year has come and gone. I’m doing a repeat of my previous years’ projects in which I endeavor to watch every single Oscar-nominated movie in every category. Last year, I was able to write full reviews for each movie. This year, due to extenuating circumstances, I lacked the time to write full-length reviews (I had the flu, plus my mother has been in the hospital). However, I have still watched as many movies as possible and will cover the possible winners in brief here. As with previous years, there were some movies that I simply could not see. This year, I missed three films: “The Salt of the Earth” (nominated for Best Documentary), “Wild Tales” (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film), and “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” (nominated for Best Original Song). And, as usual, for those categories, I’m simply going to ignore those films, which may or may not skew the results. We’ll see.

I will be live tweeting the Academy Awards, so follow me now.

Best Picture
My pick: “Boyhood”
What will probably win: “Boyhood”
Why: Word of mouth began to spread around the release of “Boyhood” because of the magnitude of the project, filming with the same actors over 12 years. But this movie was released during summer, not the typical prestige season of autumn and winter when studios are trying to get people to talk about their movies. And people were still talking about it. “Boyhood” is a film with staying power. If a film tried to ride solely on the gimmick of being filmed over such a long time, it wouldn’t have that. However, this film told a touching story of a family and shows how they evolve as individuals and in their relationships to one another over the years. Often, if you don’t relate to all of the characters all the time, at least at some point you can relate to at least one of the characters and say “Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel/felt.” “Boyhood” was a great film and the producers deserve this award for what they’ve achieved.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”)
Who will probably win: Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”)
Why: While there’s a potential for upset, the big buzz is around Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking, which is something to behold. If you watch older and newer videos of Professor Hawking, Eddie Redmayne has every subtle movement and gesture down pat, and manages to convey emotions through the tiniest movement, even just his eyes. This takes tremendous skill. While there did seem to be some buzz about Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in “The Imitation Game,” much deserved though it was, it has been more recently overshadowed by talk of other performances and by Cumberbatch’s interview blunder, which came at quite possibly the worst possible time during awards season.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”)
Who will probably win: Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”)
Why: This was a hard category for me to decide on this year, primarily because while I found the nominated performances quite good, something about each one didn’t quite click completely right. But if you want a front runner, it would be Julianne Moore. Now, in this case, I’m a little biased against this performance. Having watched my grandfather suffer through Alzheimer’s, I didn’t completely believe Moore’s performance because it didn’t match entirely with my personal experience. Still, the role she plays is touching and memorable, no pun intended. Of the five nominated performances, this one would be my pick.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”)
Who will probably win: J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”)
Why: The old saying goes that audiences will hate a good villain, but love a great one. And Simmons portrays a great villain in “Whiplash.” As a tyrannical music teacher, you hate him and his abuse of his students, and yet part of you knows that he’s pushing them to be their best in the way he knows how. Among the performances in this category, Simmons by far stands out. Hopefully, he won’t throw a chair at anyone’s head if there’s an upset.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”)
Who will probably win: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”)
Why: Arquette’s performance in “Boyhood” is really the only one in this category that people won’t shut up about, but with good reason. Not only did she stick with the role for 12 years, but she really put in a great performance throughout the entire process and shows an evolving, relatable character. This one I’m most comfortable saying is a lock.

Best Achievement in Directing
My pick: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”)
Who will probably win: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)
Why: Finally, we get a divergence where I will probably disagree with the Academy’s choice. This one I’m not entirely sure about, and it could go either way. Iñárritu should win. “Birdman” is a marvel to watch, driven heavily by excellent directing and some clever editing. But Linklater may have the edge just because of the sheer scope of filming “Boyhood.” While Linklater certainly does an admirable job in the director’s chair, “Boyhood” felt like it was more heavily producer driven. Admittedly, Linklater fills both roles, but this is the Director award, so I’m sticking with my personal pick of Iñárritu.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
My pick: “Birdman”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: This one is almost a three-way tie for me between “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Boyhood,” and “Birdman.” I would ultimately pick “Birdman” because the screenplay feels more unique and leaves a lot to the imagination. I will not be at all disappointed if “The Grand Budapest Hotel” wins, and I’ll admit that I have a weakness for Wes Anderson’s films, but “Birdman’s” screenplay feels more edgy and demands your attention.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
My pick: “Inherent Vice”
Who will probably win: “The Imitation Game”
Why: “Inherent Vice” likely doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning, but I like Paul Thomas Anderson’s work and he did a commendable job attempting to adapt a book that doesn’t lend itself all that well to the big screen. Just the fact that he had the guts to try to adapt Pynchon deserves some points, even if it felt clunky at times. But “The Imitation Game” is a much more accessible film with a sturdier screenplay, giving it the popular edge.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
My pick: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
Who will probably win: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Why: I’ll admit that I have a weakness for Studio Ghibli films, but “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” while having a beautiful story, is also visually fascinating to watch. The art style is enchanting, but the story may not be the most accessible to some audiences. Don’t get me wrong. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was an excellent film and was possibly better than the first one, but for a truly magical film, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is the correct answer.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
My pick: “Tangerines (Mandariinid)”
Who will probably win: “Ida”
Why: This is where it gets tricky because I was unable to see one of the nominees (“Wild Tales”). In addition, the nominees in this category make me wonder if Hollywood needs Prozac or something, because these films are so depressing. Then again, the four I saw are from Russia, Georgia/Estonia, Poland, and western Africa, so not the happiest of places. My particular favorite was the Georgian/Estonian film, “Tangerines.” It tells a defined and concise story set during the War in Abkhazia. With well-defined characters and the story of a war told on a small scale, it’s a well-made film. The winner, however, will probably be “Ida.” You know that when a foreign language film receives nominations in categories other than the Best Foreign Language film category, the Academy will take notice. Unfortunately, I did not particularly like “Ida.” Not only is it bleak, but the character changes seem too convenient and happen solely to move the plot along. Not a fan of this one.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
My pick: “Birdman”
Who will probably win: “Birdman”
Why: Likely a lock for Cinematography, “Birdman” is well deserving of this award. The camerawork is amazing. With the lengthy shots, movements, and very precise framing, it is a technical wonder and the camera takes the audience from their seat to being a participant walking around the set and observing everything going on.

Best Achievement in Editing
My pick: “Boyhood”
Who will probably win: “Boyhood”
Why: Taking 12 years of footage and editing them together as the actors evolve into a cohesive story is no easy task, but this was accomplished with great success in “Boyhood.” In fact, due to the nature of the film’s production, editing would have become so crucial that a poor job could have completely destroyed the film. But make no mistake, it was done and done well.

Best Achievement in Production Design
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: While the sets of several of the nominees are interesting to watch, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” creates a delicate mix of grandeur, humility, and style. In creating a fictional hotel (among other settings), artistic stylizing and imagination are combine with technical prowess to create a borderline fantastical but ultimately believable setting.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: Similar to production design, the costumes are loosely based on actually uniforms and clothing but then artistically changed to create a fictional but believable setting. Most of what I said above for Production Design applies here.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: “Foxcatcher”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: This one is difficult. My vote is for “Foxcatcher” because of the way they disguised the actors and made them look like the actual people their parts were based on to make a film based on a true story. Admittedly, this wasn’t entirely makeup, and I have to give props to the actors, especially Steve Carell who is unrecognizable not just because of the makeup but the way he loses himself in the character. However, the award will likely go to a film slightly more accessible to a larger audience, that being “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
My pick: “The Theory of Everything”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: The musical score for “The Theory of Everything” adds greatly to the emotional states of achievement and loss, and creates an atmosphere befitting the grandeur of Stephen Hawking’s endeavors. However, again, I feel the award will likely go to “The Grand Budapest Hotel” simply on the grounds of accessibility.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
My pick: Everything is Awesome from “The Lego Movie”
Who will probably win: Glory from “Selma”
Why: Just for comedy and its satirical value, Everything is Awesome is…well, awesome! However, Glory from “Selma” is the likely winner, and I expect it to be influenced heavily by those angry that the film received only two Oscar nominations and wanting to ensure that it wins at least this one.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
My pick: “Interstellar”
Who will probably win: “American Sniper”
Why: Sound editing was crucial to “Interstellar” in creating these alien worlds and environments, which requires artistic talent and not simple sound mimicry. However, this award more often than not seems to go to war movies, hence “American Sniper’s” likely win.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
My pick: “Whiplash”
Who will probably win: “American Sniper”
Why: If “Whiplash” doesn’t get this award, it will be an absolute travesty. The film is so dependent on its precise sound mixing and would have fallen flat on its face otherwise. And yet, there are times during the film that you just want to close your eyes and listen to it rather than watch it, because the sound mixing is that good. However, again, war movies seem to have an advantage in the sound categories, and I’m not entirely confident that the Academy knows what it’s doing with these technical awards.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
My pick: “Interstellar”
Who will probably win: “Interstellar”
Why: First, “Interstellar” had a lot of buzz behind it. Secondly, the visual effects are used to convincingly create alien environments that could theoretically exist. It’s fantastical and yet the visual effects artists use restraint to make sure it’s believable, something that was crucial to this film’s success.

Best Documentary, Feature
My pick: “Citizenfour”
Who will probably win: “Finding Vivian Maier”
Why: If ever there was a film everyone needs to see, it would be “Citizenfour.” Filmed mostly in a Hong Kong hotel room, Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald interviewed Edward Snowden before and during the process of the NSA’s spying activity coming to light. It is an issue that seems to have been buried under other stories since it first broke and is an important reminder of what is happening in the United States and around the world. However, over the last couple of years, Hollywood has gravitated to more of the feel-good documentary, of which “Finding Vivian Maier” would be the most qualified to fit the bill.

And that’s it. We’ve made it through another year. Congratulations if you’re still reading this!

And the 2014 Oscars Should Go To…

WritingHere we go again. I’ve done a repeat of my project last year and watched nearly every feature-length film in every category, and reviewed them. The only film I have been unable to see is “The Missing Picture,” one of the foreign language films. So for that category, I’m simply going to ignore it, which may or may not skew the result. We’ll see.

My reviews were quick and dirty jobs. If I do this again, I will space them out a little more and give myself more time. I’ve only had at best about 30 minutes to bang each one out, so they didn’t go into great depth which I would have liked to do. Check my “Movie Reviews” section to see my individual reviews for each movie.

And one final reminder that I will be live tweeting the Academy Awards, so follow me now. I’m told that I can be funny when I want to be.

And without further adieu:

Best Picture
My pick: “12 Years a Slave”
What will probably win: “12 Years a Slave”
Why: This was an incredibly powerful and socially important film. Like another “Schindler’s List,” it depicts a dark chapter in U.S. history and doesn’t let us forget. It grips us by the shirt collar and doesn’t let go. Difficult to watch, but important to do so, this was clearly the best film nominated in this category, I’m sure it will take home the gold.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Who will probably win: Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Why: McConaughey will probably take it because of how he ruined his body and his health to play this role, but that would be overlooking the incredible acting job he did here. He showed major talent to really get into the head of a real life man and portray him in an accessible way that makes him identifiable and at times likeable even if he can be an ass. So, I predict that the Academy and I will be on the same page but for different reasons.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)
Who will probably win: Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)
Why: Once again, I predict the Academy and I to be on the same page. Blanchett turned in one of the greatest performances of her career, even if I didn’t like the movie itself that much. It’s easy to see why so much buzz is surrounding her, and she seems to be a shoe-in for this award.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”)
Who will probably win: Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Why: This one is close for me. It’s so easy to see why Jared Leto would win this award, and I would not complain at all if he did, giving an incredibly powerful and touching performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” But for me, newcomer Barkhad Abdi is just slightly, barely ahead on this one. He was so good, and unexpectedly so, in “Captain Phillips,” playing the perfect unpredictable villain. Sadly, it’s highly unlikely that he will win this award, but I will not complain if Leto takes it.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: June Squibb (“Nebraska”)
Who will probably win: Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”)
Why: June Squibb was hilarious in “Nebraska” and manages to portray a character that is shocking but is also so endearing that we can’t help but love her. However, Lupita Nyong’o will probably win because of the incredibly strong performance she gives as the abused slave Patsey, a touching and sympathetic role that makes her integral to the film.

Best Achievement in Directing
My pick: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Who will probably win: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Why: When McQueen decided to pick up and adapt a relatively unknown account of slave life in the southern plantations, people must have thought he was out of his mind. But what he has given us is an incredibly moving experience that stays with us long after the film is over. From getting the best out of his actors, to incredibly blocked camera shots, and intense drama, Steve McQueen created a superb film that will leave a lasting legacy.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
My pick: “Her”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: “American Hustle” has huge buzz surrounding it, even if it really wasn’t that good of a film. But for me, “Her” has the edge for telling such an amazing and insightful story as we examine a pure relationship as it develops and grows while the individual participants grow.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
My pick: “12 Years a Slave”
Who will probably win: “12 Years a Slave”
Why: Having been adapted from a book, “12 Years a Slave” tells one of the most compelling stories we see nominated in this category. While there is some buzz surrounding “Before Midnight,” which has a great screenplay even if it’s depressing, “12 Years a Slave” tells the better and more important story.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
My pick: “The Wind Rises”
Who will probably win: “Frozen”
Why: I have a pretty low opinion of Hollywood when it comes to how they treat animated films, so I expect a heavy sheep response and for “Frozen” to win. But for me, “The Wind Rises” is hands down the best picture in this category. It’s a beautiful if mildly controversial film, and it is also supposedly Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature-length movie, and it would be wonderful to see him go out on a high note.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
My pick: “The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)”
Who will probably win: “The Hunt (Jagten)”
Why: For me, “The Great Beauty,” aside from simply being a beautiful film, is also the most complex one nominated in this category. It makes the audience think, and it also makes us want to see the film more than once to peel back its layers and look deeper. However, “The Hunt” tells a more accessible if intense story, and the film is also more accessible through Netflix at this time. Having a film readily available usually increases the likelihood that it will win.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: Simply put, “Gravity” has some of the most impressive cinematography in this category this year. From the zero gravity environments, including making the camera feel like it’s floating in zero gravity, to the combination with visual effects and the use of 3D, this film is a feast for the eyes.

Best Achievement in Editing
My pick: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: Despite its issues, the editing in “Dallas Buyers Club” is still done very well to tell the story within the confines of the film effectively, even though it peters out near the end. The editing is also good in “American Hustle” and may be the best part of the film, but it doesn’t tell the story we get in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Still this is one award that I would not complain about going to the otherwise mediocre “Hustle.”

Best Achievement in Production Design
My pick: “The Great Gatsby”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: Even though I didn’t like the film, “The Great Gatsby” had some amazingly designed sets that showed great imagination. However, “American Hustle” was more contemporary and reflected an era that many seem to be nostalgic for at this time, which likely gives it the edge in this category.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: “The Invisible Woman”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: Like the Production Design category, “The Invisible Woman” was a period piece and required the costuming to go along with it, needing enormous work to bring the Victorian clothing styles to life. Like the Production Design category, “American Hustle” reflects an era many are nostalgic for, especially when it comes to clothing, which again likely gives it the edge.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”
Who will probably win: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Why: In “Dallas Buyers Club” makeup was most notably used to transform Jared Leto into Rayon, and as I mentioned in that review, he is almost unrecognizable and yet looks convincing. However, what impressed me the most was “Bad Grandpa” because the makeup not only needed to fool the camera, but it needed to fool people in real life as well, and it did that job amazingly well.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: The soundtrack in “Gravity” is simple, and yet it’s compelling. It fits the scenes so well, and it does what it’s supposed to do: it’s noticeable when you need and want to notice it, but it doesn’t pull you out and demand that you notice it over the events onscreen.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
My pick: Let It Go from “Frozen”
Who will probably win: Let It Go from “Frozen”
Why: While I wasn’t a huge fan of the film, I will admit that Let It Go is a very catchy song that sticks with you. It’s also been marketed so heavily that it’s pretty much another shoe-in for this award.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: It wasn’t just the visuals but the sounds that needed to be created that makes the film so immersive. “Gravity” pulled this off very well, especially since it occurs in space and it’s difficult for sound to really travel, making the character of it completely different.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: Which brings us to the Sound Mixing. Adding the sound into the movie tracks had to be done with extreme care in “Gravity” in order to keep it believable. Too much would seem out of place in an airless environment. Too little and there’s nothing to hear which would bore the audience. In “Gravity,” the sound team found the perfect mix and edited it into the movie nearly perfectly.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: The visual effects were integral in making “Gravity” as good and visually stunning a movie as it was. Without the quality of the visual effects, the illusion of zero gravity would not be as effective and the movie would have fallen apart.

Best Documentary, Feature
My pick: “The Act of Killing”
Who will probably win: “The Square”
Why: “The Act of Killing,” while disturbing, is one of those movie that hits you and then doesn’t take its fist away. It stays with you long after it’s done. However, it may have been too dark and disturbing (and from what I understand, not as widely seen), so the award will likely go to something following more contemporary events like “The Square,” which is also more accessible being available on Netflix.

And if you’re reading this, you’re a monster for making it to the end of this article. Even I couldn’t make it this far. Congratulations!

Movie Review: American Hustle

American HustleTitle: “American Hustle”

Director: David O. Russell

Writers: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

If one film has been grossly overrated this year, I’m sorry to say that it’s “American Hustle.” Based loosely on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, this film follows two con artists played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams as they are forced to set up an elaborate sting operation by the FBI.

The acting is excellent. Christian Bale does a great job and gained 50 pounds for this role, pulling a reverse of what he did in “The Machinist.” I actually worry about him. If he keeps doing this, he’s going to develop some major health problems. Bradley Cooper plays the loose canon FBI agent blackmailing the con artists, and while we kind of like him at first, his character becomes a real ass as the movie progresses. Amy Adams is the other con artist and love interest, and she plays the role impeccably, although I’ve seen her in better roles. Jennifer Lawrence is great as another loose canon, playing Christian Bale’s character’s unpredictable wife.

The directing is great, per David O. Russell’s usual, and he gets some great performances and interesting camera shots that keep you watching the screen. The editing, while seeming a bit off at first, actually turns out great, and becomes an integral part of this film. There’s also some really good ’70s music throughout the movie.

So why the mediocre rating? The film has great acting, great directing, interesting editing, great music,…and yet something went wrong somewhere. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but something about this film didn’t gel. All those great parts of the movie were like beautifully painted puzzle pieces that don’t fit together. They didn’t mesh well, and the movie winds up being far less than the sum of its parts.

I can’t tell you how disappointing this was. After hearing the buzz built up about this movie, and then seeing it, and seeing all of these great aspects to it, to be left at the end of the movie saying, “Meh,” was a real letdown. I’m convince that the buzz was from people who payed attention only to the movie’s individual parts, and failed to see the forest for the trees.

This movie is okay, but that’s really it. While it has some great parts, those parts don’t fit together to create a fully working machine. The film as a whole is rather mediocre, which is a real shame.

“American Hustle” earns 3 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: Captain Phillips

Captain PhillipsTitle: “Captain Phillips”

Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Billy Ray

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In 2009, the Maersk Alabama, a large cargo ship, was hijacked by Somali pirates while traveling around the Horn of Africa. After getting some money off the ship, they took Captain Richard Phillips hostage aboard the Alabama’s lifeboat, which led to a lengthy stand off with the U.S. military, eventually resulting in his rescue.

Based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, “Captain Phillips” is an intense thriller based on the true story of this hijacking. It manages to be suspenseful even though we know the ending already, which seems to be a problem with some films lately.

The acting is done well. Tom Hanks turns in his usually good performance, although his accent, while possibly accurate as I’ve never actually heard the real Richard Phillips speak, gets annoying after a while. The real breakout star of this film is Barkhad Abdi, who plays Abduwali Muse, the leader of the pirates. Wow, where has this guy been hiding? He manages to be authorative, friendly, and creepy all at the same time, as though we think we can tell what he’s thinking but we’re not quite sure. While this might be a bad thing for an actor in other roles, it was spot on here. We’re scared of him because he seems unpredictable, and he makes a great villain. Abdi is destined to become a star if he stays in this industry.

The movie is tightly cut. Having read part of the book, I can tell you that a lot is cut from it for this movie, but a lot needed to be cut. We’re not bogged down with tiny details of ship operations or Phillips’ background, but we don’t need to be. We see what we need to see for the sake of this story and this movie.

If I have any further complaints, it’s that the pace can be uneven. While the film is tightly edited, the film’s pace can alternate between intensity and boring lulls. I don’t expect there to be intense action all the time and I understand the need to give the audience a breather now and then, but sometimes the difference seems too far apart. Fortunately, this isn’t that prevalent a problem and only happens in a couple of instances. The film also starts out kind slow, but if you stick with it, you’ll get your thrill ride.

I understand that there’s been some controversy regarding the accuracy of this film. I’m not going to try to pass judgment on its accuracy, and I’m only trying to examine the merits of this film on its own. Most films based on true events are dramatized fairly heavily, but I will also say that the accusations came out of the New York Post, so…yeah…we might want to take that with a big grain of salt.

“Captain Phillips” is an intense thrill ride that will satisfy with a tight story. If nothing else, it has brought the talent of Barkhad Abdi to public attention, and I look forward to seeing his work in the future.

“Captain Phillips” earns 4 out of 5 stars.