Tag Archives: oscars

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!

Oscar Project 2014

By my black hand, the dead shall rise!Yeah, I’m not that great at coming up with project titles…

 Anyway, last year, I had a fun little project. When the 2013 Oscar nominations were announced, I decided to try and see every nominated movie in every category before the actual awards ceremony, including documentaries and foreign films. In fact, I only missed one film, “The Gatekeepers,” which was one of the documentaries and didn’t win anyway (that honor went to “Searching for Sugar Man”). The Academy Awards are an interesting animal. It’s often considered “the big one” in terms of film awards and has some semblance of dignity.

The Academy Award nominations for 2014 have been announced. Last year, I posted quick one paragraph reviews of each movie to my Facebook and Google Plus pages, then summed up my opinions for each category in a blog post. This year, I will do the whole thing but on this blog with longer reviews, although even if I only have one paragraph of material to post, I’ll still post it. They will likely not be in a particular order, but simply as I watch them. I mean, I’ll do my best to group them, but given the criss-crossing between categories, trying to put reviews of movies in the main categories in any order would be somewhat meaningless.

Well, there’s a lot to watch, so I better get cracking.

Update Jan. 25: I’m making such good progress on my Oscar project (sans posting reviews which I’ll start doing in groups within the next couple of days) that I’m thinking of deliberately exposing myself to some of the worst films of 2013 for your amusement. That’s right. I’m going to watch and review every movie nominated for a Razzie. Stay tuned.

Update Feb. 19: I spoke too soon. I’m trying to do too much other stuff right now, and if I try to review all these Razzie nominees, I’ll drive myself nuts for more reasons than just the bad movies. So I’m dropping the Razzie addition. However, I’m making fantastic progress on the Oscar movies and am almost done watching them. The reviews have been trickling out, but the flood gates will open a little wider shortly. I might even finish this weekend.

Reflection on 2013 and Goals for 2014

ThumbnailWell, 2013 is nearly wrapped up with a nice little bow, in the bag, and on its way out the door. It’s been a mixed year. 2012 was a year that sucked pretty hard. I can’t say that about 2013. It’s been a year of ups and downs, some really good moments and some really bad moments.

I got married this year. That’s a big plus. I never managed to write my reflections on the wedding as I’d intended. I think the whole thing was so big that it got a little overwhelming when I sat down to try and write about it (yes, I did actually try to write about it, but never finished it; some photos and eventually video posted to my Facebook page will probably need to suffice; no, I haven’t posted any video yet, that’s forthcoming). It’s been a year of change. Our marriage has provided some ups and downs, but that’s mostly due to us adjusting to living life together rather than alone, which is something that we’ve both been used to. But the future stretches out before us, and walking that path together will in no way be bad.

On the negative side, I’ve continued to struggle to find regular work again. I’ve also lost some family and friends along the way. I didn’t achieve some of the resolutions I had set out for myself at the beginning of the year, such as my writing or fitness resolutions. And that’s why I’m taking a different approach to 2014. In intend to make 2014 a year full of positive changes and self-improvement, because if I don’t work to make myself better, who will? In that vein, I have decided on only one resolution:

I will not be setting resolutions for 2014.

In my mind, when we say we have New Year’s resolutions, they are things like “watch less television” or “eat healthier.” I’ve never felt that things like this need to wait for an arbitrary date. If you want to do it, then why not start now? There’s no reason to wait.

While I feel the same way about goals, I’ve been thinking a lot about them over the last couple of days, so by coincidence, I will be doing something a little different for the new year. Instead of general resolutions, I have decided to set specific goals to meet for 2014, using actual numbers and dates to meet wherever I can. My New Year’s Goals for 2014 are as follows, along with subgoals to help reach the major goals:

  1. Lose 50 pounds, with the first 30 pounds lost by my birthday in March; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Walk at least 30 minutes every day;
    • Drink at least two juices made with our juicer every day as a meal replacement;
    • Stop eating out and make as much food as possible at home from scratch;
    • Bring my blood pressure down so that my diastolic pressure is below 80.
  2. Have something that I feel ready to edit or send out for consideration by July, even if it’s just a short story; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Write a minimum of one hour every day, with a goal of 1500 words per day, but more if I can;
    • Continue the book reviews on this blog, but expand into movie and television reviews (open up a little);
    • Write a non-review blog post at least once per week, if nothing else than to keep the writing wheels greased.
  3. Have regular work again by the end of January.
  4. Read 52 books during the year (that’s one book per week).
  5. Complete my backlog of review books and write reviews, even short review, for all books which I have already provided ratings for by the end of 2014.
  6. Start clearing out my storage unit and admit what I’m not actually going to use or keep; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Donate old furniture that we won’t be using ever by the end of January;
    • Begin clearing out and selling old video games which I genuinely won’t ever play; have it sorted and some sold before my birthday.
  7. Practice handling my personal anxieties better; to accomplish this, I will:
    • Don’t be afraid to be an asshole; in other words, be more assertive and don’t be so concerned about feelings and opinions in business dealings if I know I’m right.

And because not all goals should be serious and we need to have a little fun:

  • Have watched, rated and/or reviewed a total of 2000 movies on my Flixster account by the end of the year (the current number is at 1825).
  • Due the same Oscar project I did in 2013, which is to watch and write mini-reviews of every Oscar-nominated movie in every category, then write a summary blog post of my personal picks before the actual awards ceremony.

By creating goals instead of resolutions, it feels that I am actually setting measurable and achievable changes to accomplish, and it feels more solid and less nebulous. Still, it’s still entirely up to me and there’s not much in the way of consequences if I don’t achieve them other than heavy self-criticism, but I still feel that setting these goals at least feels more concrete and creates a way that I can measure my progress.

I’ll probably check back in during the course of the year, especially with my goal of a regular blog post per week. In the meantime, goodbye and good night to 2013, and welcome to the future of 2014, which will soon be the present and then the past.

Happy New Year, everyone!

And the 2013 Oscars Should Go To…

WritingI like movies. I don’t know what it is about them that enchants people so much, but every year I take on a personal project of watching all the Oscar-nominated movies. The Academy Awards are about the only awards show that I pay any attention to. Not just in the Best Picture category, but every movie, including documentaries and foreign language films. This year I’ve succeeded in seeing all the movies except the documentary “The Gatekeepers” and a bunch of the short subjects. If you follow me on Facebook or Google+, you will know that I’ve been providing mini-reviews for all of them up to now. So in the tradition of Siskel and Ebert, I present to you my Oscar picks, followed by the ones I think will actually win, and a short reason why.

A reminder that I’ll be live tweeting (likely snarkily) the Oscars tomorrow night. You can follow me on my Twitter page.

Best Picture
My pick: “Life of Pi”
What will probably win: “Argo”
Why: The big three contenders in this category seem to be “Argo,” “Life of Pi,” and “Lincoln.” “Lincoln” is probably not going to take the award because there are enough issues with it to make it a really viable contender, and it’s a Spielberg film which, with few exception, tend to get snubbed. “Argo” is a historic film that ties closely to recent current events and is very will made. It’s a close tie with me between “Argo” and “Life of Pi,” but “Life of Pi” gets an edge because it’s a little more timeless and conveys a deeper meaning about life and the nature of story.

Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln”
Who will probably win: Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln”
Why: Daniel Day-Lewis is easily one of the greatest living actors around today. He loses himself in roles and plays so many of them so differently that, even with the same face, he is a totally different person in each movie, and I think the Academy recognizes this. Close seconds are Bradley Cooper, who was a total surprise at how good he was in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Joaquin Phoenix for “The Master.”

Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Emmanuelle Riva for “Amour”
Who will probably win: Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty” or Naomi Watts for “The Impossible”
Why: Emmanuelle Riva’s role in “Amour,” while personally difficult to watch due to recently seeing my grandfather degrade before he finally passed, was so spot on that she really deserves the award. However, her portrayal may be a little too on-the-nose for some, and Jessica Chastain has already been recognized for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Due to my lack of faith in the Academy’s decision-making, though, Naomi Watts is likely a serious contender because she’s an attractive woman who’s made to look very sick and unattractive, which has swayed the Academy in the past.

Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: Robert De Niro for “Silver Linings Playbook”
Who will probably win: Alan Arkin for “Argo”
Why: Robert De Niro was really, really good as a gambling addicted father with a bipolar son, who has no idea how to handle the situation but tries the best he can while dealing with his own issues. It’s an onion of a performance, with the obvious on the surface but more layers as you peel it back. Granted, Alan Arkin is not a bad choice, but the thing is that we’ve seen him in this role before. It’s kind of like watching Alan Arkin play Alan Arkin.

Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables”
Who will probably win: Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables”
Why: While there’s been some minor buzz about the other candidates in this category, no one has been able to shut up about Anne Hathaway, but not without good reason. She really is so good in her small role in “Les Misérables” that you practically forget that anyone else has been nominated in this category.

My pick: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”
Who will probably win: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi”
Why: “Silver Linings Playbook” is a really good movie, and Russell manages to get great performances out of every actor in the movie, and it’s not that easy a feat to get that level of quality out of so many people in one film. Ang Lee is again not a bad choice, but it’s much more limited in scope in that it’s far more dependent on visual effects, which is why that one is not a personal pick.

Best Original Screenplay
My pick: “Moonrise Kingdom”
What will probably win: “Zero Dark Thirty”
Why: “Moonrise Kingdom” is an adorable movie with a crisp screenplay of slightly different tightly-related plot thread which tie together really well. Plus, I just really like Wes Anderson’s movies. “Zero Dark Thirty” will probably take it for writing the depiction of an actual and significant event that has potential global ramifications. It will be awarded more for taking on the task of telling this story rather than the actual storytelling itself.

Best Adapted Screenplay
My pick: “Life of Pi”
What will probably win: “Life of Pi”
Why: “Life of Pi” plays out and tells its story very well. It’s also a movie that people have been waiting to be made for quite some time because the book is cherished by so many. This one is a shoe-in, and I’ll be very surprised to see another movie take this award.

Animated Feature Film
My pick: “Paranorman”
What will probably win: Either “Brave” or “Wreck-It Ralph”
Why: “Paranorman” has a dangerous script. It’s not one of those animated movies that plays it safe. It also has a very interesting art style when it comes to character design and settings. It’s more challenging but worth the reward. However, this award is probably going to something Disney-based, like “Brave,” which has stunning visuals but very uneven plot and characters, or “Wreck-It Ralph,” which is getting a lot more buzz than I expected and wasn’t bad but was very dependent on the nostalgia factor for classic video games. Take that nostalgia away, and it’s a supremely average movie.

Foreign Language Film
My pick: “No”
What will probably win: “Amour”
Why: “No” was a surprisingly compelling film and based on actual events. “Kon-Tiki” was as well, but “No” edges it out personally for genuine tension as opposed to melodrama. However, give the number of “mainstream” nominations it’s gotten, “Amour” is likely a lock for this category.

My pick: “Life of Pi”
What will probably win: “Life of Pi”
Why: The cinematography award tends to get closely tied to the other awards, but “Life of Pi” really does have some great camerawork. Filming in difficult conditions, which in this case is mostly on or underwater, is a tough thing to do. Of the bunch, it really is the best in this category.

My pick: “Argo”
What will probably win: “Argo”
Why: Editing is a hard thing to judge unless you know what goes into it. Argo is edited and cut so sublimely that it builds some great tension, especially in the final moments of the film. The quick cuts are at just the right moments and really add to the experience in this movie.

Production Design
My pick: “Anna Karenina”
What will probably win: “Les Misérables”
Why: The production set for “Anna Karenina” was truly brilliant. The whole movie essentially plays out in the world’s largest transforming theater which was a strange design choice but also makes it fascinating to watch. The award will probably go to “Les Misérables,” which won’t be disappointing because the production design was also quite good, but was also a little more normal and didn’t quite reach the artistic level that “Anna Karenina” had.

Costume Design
My pick: “Anna Karenina”
What will probably win: “Anna Karenina”
Why: Like the production design, the costuming is very good. It fits the time period nicely and reflects a flashy real-world grandeur of a noble class. Most of the other nominees, while the costuming was appropriate to the film, used more drab and average costumes, with the exception of “Mirror Mirror” which is so over-the-top that it’s distracting.

Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
What will probably win: “Les Misérables”
Why: “The Hobbit” is much more of an achievement, per se, than the other films in this category. It goes more extreme but is still loosely believable. The award will probably go to something a little more mainstream like “Les Misérables” which has decent hair and makeup but not much transformation except for some aging of characters or for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.

Original Score
My pick: “Anna Karenina”
What will probably win: “Anna Karenina”
Why: The music in “Anna Karenina” is character unto itself, both grandiose and subtle in different scenes. I can say that it will probably win because the music is so much more obvious in this movie than in the others, and I actually had to think rather hard to remember the music from the other nominees.

Original Song
My pick: “Life of Pi”
What will probably win: “Life of Pi”
Why: Again, this one is a bit unpredictable. “Life of Pi” seems obvious, but when you put it up against “Les Misérables,” it’s hard to tell. However, I give “Life of Pi” the edge just because most of the music has been heard from the play before, and what was added was frankly unnecessary.

Sound Mixing
My pick: “Life of Pi”
What will probably win: “Life of Pi”
Why: The sound in “Life of Pi” is something that is very necessary to tell the story, especially with proper animal sounds, weather sounds, and the like, and it’s done extremely well and adds enormously to the experience. I think it has the edge in this category because this movie depends so heavily on its technical aspects to achieve it’s goal, and it does so quite well.

Sound Editing
My pick: “Argo”
What will probably win: “Argo”
Why: It’s hard to tell if “Life of Pi” has a shot, but I think “Argo” is the better movie in this category and will probably be recognized for it. The ability to edit through multiple conversation at the same time help the audience to focus, and is a necessary component to the story in “Argo.” Plus, I anticipate the Editing award to go to “Argo” as well.

Visual Effects
My pick: “The Avengers”
What will probably win: “Life of Pi”
Why: “The Avengers” was just plain cool and had some great visual effects, even though it’s cartoony when necessary. “Life of Pi” will probably take this award because it’s more mainstream. Don’t get me wrong. The visuals in “Life of Pi” are very good, even with some mistakes. But a personal favorite is still “The Avengers.”

Documentary Feature Film
My pick: “Searching for Sugar Man”
What will probably win: “Searching for Sugar Man”
Why: Again, I didn’t see “The Gatekeepers” so I could be wrong here, but “Searching for Sugar Man” is unique among the nominees for being a more uplifting and feel-good documentary rather than telling of tragedy and suffering. It’s also the only one in this category that achieved some actual financial success, which means it was popular and gives it an edge.