Tag Archives: movie review

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.

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.

Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers ClubTitle: “Dallas Buyers Club”

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ron Woodroof is a Texas cowboy who has old school views until he is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. This is 1985, so treatments were still being sought out at this time. After finding himself unable to get the potentially life-saving drug AZT (although this drug has a number of problems of its own), he crosses the border into Mexico and meets a doctor who can give him access to large amounts of this and other life-saving medications that can improve the lives of AIDS patients but are not available in the U.S. due to a lack of FDA approval. So he begins bringing the drugs over the border and forms the Dallas Buyers Club, where people pay for membership but get the drugs for free, with the idea of skirting prescription drug laws, which doesn’t necessarily work well legally as he finds out.

In what could be considered a potential followup to last year’s Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague,” “Dallas Buyers Club” is based on a true story from this era about how the AIDS epidemic was handled and how large pharmaceutical corporations tried to cash in on ineffective treatments. It’s a story that was touched on the aforementioned documentary but explored in more detail here.

The main things that carries this film is the acting. First, Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof as a bit of an arrogant ass. However, I heard some people who knew the real Ron Woodroof when he was alive and they said that, well, he really was kind of an ass. McConaughey practically ruined his health for this role, dropping 47 pounds and being seen having trouble standing on his own. That takes commitment, even if he’s not the first person to do this. But the sacrifice paid off. McConaughey played the role so well and he looks so different. Secondly, Jared Leto plays the role of Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS who befriends the homophobic Woodroof. Again, Leto reportedly lost 30 pounds for this role, and under all the makeup, I actually wasn’t sure it was him when I first saw him. He loses himself in the role and makes it incredibly believable.

Story-wise, this film tells a solid story, although at times it’s a little confusing. We’re not always sure how much time is really passing between scenes, which is likely due to some editing trouble. However, when you’re dealing with people who have a limited amount of time left, as well as drug trials and the like, knowing the timing of events is important. The story can occasionally drag, and I didn’t like the way the film ended before an actual resolution was found. It basically ends at one point and we’re told the eventual outcome through a screen card that simply tells us what happened. Kind of a fail there. It was like they didn’t have the budget or desire to keep the story going.

With incredible performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto and a solid true story, “Dallas Buyers Club” is a great film that should be watched to study how one of the great plagues of our time was handled so poorly. However, the film gets bogged down by questionable editing and a poor ending that detract from the film’s overall effect. I still like the film a lot, but with reservations.

“Dallas Buyers Club” earns 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie Review: Gravity

GravityTitle: “Gravity”

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In the interest of full disclosure and to make sure that people fully understand my take on this movie, I need to mention that I saw the 2D version of this film, not the 3D version. I’ll explain in a moment why that’s important.

“Gravity” is a disaster film that follows one person for most of the movie. Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a medical engineer and rookie astronaut sent into space to install a new instrument to a satellite. When a satellite is destroyed, the debris sets off a chain reaction the showers their orbit with high-velocity debris, severely damaging their shuttle and equipment, leaving one person dead, and Ryan and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) stranded. Thus begins a desperate attempt to try to return to Earth safely as everything seems to go wrong.

To start, the cinematography is brilliant. But this is also why I wanted to mention that I didn’t see the 3D version. Right from an opening shot of a loose screw floating towards the screen, it is very obvious that this film is intended to be watched in 3D, but it can be distracting when watching it in 2D. Now, even in 2D, this film is stunning, even dizzying, so I can imagine that motion sickness is a major problem with the 3D film. But it can actually feel like you’re floating in a zero gravity environment with the combination of cinematography and visual effects.

As for the acting, the fact that Sandra Bullock is alone on screen for most of the movie is a difficult task, and one that she takes on and nails amazingly well. It feels like we’re watching a rookie astronaut desperate to get back to Earth. And she’s fantastic. It’s honestly stunning that it’s taken this long for her to get this meaty a role in this strong a film.

Admittedly, it’s not completely perfect, mostly when you look at the technical aspects. There are some odd things, such as the way Sandra Bullock’s hair doesn’t float quite right, or the fact that the space stations would not be orbiting that close together. That’s the science geek in me talking, but I’m sure that someone who knows more about this could nitpick it for you. Also, by the end, the story disasters get a little excessive. In a story where everything that can go wrong does, it can start to get annoying and a little unbelievable, and we want to say, “We get the point already!” Oddly, it was another Sandra Bullock movie, Speed, that had this problem as well.

However, what we get is still an intense film, with great visual effects, cinematography, and incredible acting. This is an awesome achievement. It’s a shame that this film will likely get labeled by some people as “science fiction” rather than “drama.” This is a great film that should be seen by everyone.

I also want to add that, to add a new dimension to this movie, a short film, Aningaaq, has been released and is available to watch online at the link. It depicts the other side of the radio conversation that Ryan Stone has one point during the movie.

“Gravity” earns 4.5 out of 5 stars.