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Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Final Predictions for the 2016 Academy Award Winners


BEST PICTURE: The Revenant
BEST DIRECTOR: Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant)
BEST ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson (Room)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Charles Randolph & Adam McKay (The Big Short)



Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Picture


- Bridge of Spies
- Brooklyn
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Room
- Spotlight
- The Big Short
- The Revenant
- The Martian


Creed is the seventh installment in the Rocky franchise from director Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan- the duo behind the great Indie film Fruitvale Station. The film is basically a re-telling of the original Rocky, yet done through today's modern lens. Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of the late, great Apollo Creed. Unlike Rocky Balboa, Adonnis comes from great wealth thanks to his father. Yet he still walks around with a chip on his shoulder (again, thanks to his father). He moves to Philadelphia and convinces Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him to become a great fighter and to make his own name.

Creed is electric and it sparkles thanks to Coogler and Jordan. The cinematography is spectacular and the camera moves with grace and beauty. But most importantly, you become invested in Adonnis' journey thanks to Jordan's charisma and Coogler's script based upon Aaron Covington's drafts. It's the time of film that you can't help but fall in love with, and it's a shame that Warner Bros. didn't realize what kind of film they had on their hands until it was too late in the Oscar game. If the studio's believed in Creed like they should have from the get go, then Creed would have a butt load more nominations that it actually received.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The 15 Best Films of 2015

15) Dope
Written & Directed By: Rick Famuyiwa
Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, & Kiersey Clemons.
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: Dope is the journey of Malcolm (Moore) and his two friends Jib (Revolori) and Diggy (Clemons) and their struggle of getting out of the slums of Los Angeles. The three high school kids are extremely bright and are looking to escape their circumstances by getting into college, until a bag of cocaine comes into their possession. Dope is all about the labels the world places upon you and what you can do escape those labels and be the person you want to become. While the tone does vary wildly between drama and humor, the performances of the cast, the amazing 90's hip hop soundtrack (plus the handful of original songs created for this film by Pharrell, and the performances of all the young actors make this film worth watching, As of this writing you can stream Dope for free on Netflix, and you should do.

14) Sisters
Directed By: Jason Moore
Starring: Tina Fey & Amy Poehler
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: No film made me laugh as much in 2015 as Sisters did. I laughed harder at Trainwreck, but more consistency at Sisters. (The other big comedy of 2015 was Spy, and that movie was chuckle-worthy at best). I was dragged to see this movie thanks to my friends being big babies and not wanting to see The Force Awakens on its opening day weekend, but I'm glad I was dragged. The movie is non-stop laughs, and Fey and Poehler are a delight as always (well, except Baby Mama, but that's another story). The film brings in a lot of current and former SNL alums, some of television's funniest people, and gives Ike Barinholtz his break-through performance. If you like to laugh, check out Sisters.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Actor


- Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
- Matt Damon (The Martian)
- Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
- Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
- Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

WHO SHOULD BE HERE: Johnny Depp (Black Mass)

If Creed had campaign properly then Michael B. Jordan would be here as well, but I want to spend this section discussing Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Whitey Bulger in Black MassDespite the film being a huge disappointed and a wasted opportunity, Depp does a phenomenal job playing the menace that Whitey Bulger was.  Bulger terrorized Boston, and basically under the FBI’s blessing as well, and Depp just oozed evil. He was able to be charming when he needed to be, but Whitey Bulger ran Boston with an Iron First, and the guy who previously was nominated for an Oscar while dressing up like a flamboyant Keith Richards was able to effective turn around and be the bad guy.


Monday, February 22, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Supporting Actress


- Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
- Rooney Mara (Carol)
- Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
- Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
- Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

WHO SHOULD BE HERE: Daisy Ridley (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens)

I was not as big on The Force Awakens as the vast majority of the country was since I felt like much of the film was just a rehash of Episode IV. However, the film did have plenty of redeeming qualities, including everything new and original this go around. One of those new and original aspects was Finn and Rey. While they were mainly an amalgam of characters in the original trilogy, they were still their own, unique thing. That in turn made them the best part of Episode VII. Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of Rey was particular exciting as we got to see a female protagonist actually have some agency and be a bad ass. Ridley brought instant likeability to Rey while also convincing you of her journey towards being this new trilogies version of Luke Skywalker.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

How Bridge of Spies Shows The Ending Stages of Steven Spielberg's Career

When all is said and done, Steven Spielberg might be known as America's greatest director of all time. Classics such as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial are some of the greatest films ever and near and dear to many people's hearts. Spielberg has shown a great knack for story structure and story telling, and he's had the opportunity to be great over several genres. Yet as he comes off his 32rd directorial motion picture and as he enters his fifth decade of movie making, I am not so sure Spielberg should be making movies anymore, and each new movie he makes tarnishes his legacy that much more. It doesn't diminish his past accomplishments, but it does diminish the way people like me think of him and respect him. That's why I watch a good film like Bridge of Spies and not ever want to see another Steven Spielberg movie again.

As a millennial, Spielberg isn't making movies for me anymore. He's making movies for my 60 year old parents and Oscar voters. I'm sure some of that has to do with Spielberg's age (he turned 69 last December), yet 70 year old George Miller just made Mad Max: Fury Road so that can't be all of it. I just think Spielberg lost whatever edge he had to begin with, and isn't in the same creative mind space that he has occupied for the last 40 years. His last five films have been: Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin, and Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. His last good movie was 2005's Munich- which is now over a decade old. Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, and War Horse are films meant for an elderly generation, and Tintin and Crystal Skull are films that 30-years-ago Spielberg would have made classics, yet fell flat (really flat with Crystal Skull). Whatever sense of adventure he had that made films like Raiders and Jurassic Park great is completely gone, and whatever eye he had for drama seems to appeal to a generation that's dying out. I don't mean to be ageist when it comes to film making- people like my parents and grandparents need to be able to enjoy films- but if you can't appeal to younger moviegoers as well then those films will be lost by the wayside.

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Supporting Actor


- Christian Bale (The Big Short)
- Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
- Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
- Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
- Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

WHO SHOULD BE HERE: Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)

You can maybe make an legitimate argument that the reason for #OscarsSoWhite is because Creed led a horrible Oscar campaign and Straight Outta Compton really wasn’t that good of a movie. However, there is no good excuse for why Idris Elba (or even Jason Mitchell who plays Easy-E in Compton, aren’t here) Obviously Compton ran an Oscar campaign considering the other nods it got, and I find it hard to believe Netflix didn’t run a fierce campaign for Beasts (Netflix even ran the film in traditional theaters just so it was Oscar eligible).

in Beasts of No Nation, Idris Elba plays The Commandant, a warlord in a fictionalized war-town African country that leads a group of very young boys into battles. Elba’s charisma that inspires his “troops” also sucks you into and engages you throughout the entire film. He’s a despicable man and does horrendous things (both to the opposition and to his own soldiers), yet you’re never not entertained. Elba gave one of the best acting performances of the year (even his fellow actors thought so) and it’s a damn shame The Academy didn’t recognize it.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Original Screenplay


- Bridge of Spies (Matt Chairman & The Coen Brothers)
- Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
- Inside Out (Pete Docter, et. al)
- Spotlight (Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy)
- Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff)

SHOULD BE HERE: Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman)

In an era where Hollywood is making pictures based upon already existing name brands, the contenders that have a legitimate stake at being a snub in this category is deep. People love Mad Max: Fury Road and I would champion for films like The Hateful Eight, Creed, and Dope. However, one of my favorite films of the year is Anomalisa. A lot of the success of the film is through the final direction by Kaufman and the use of only three voices in the film, but even without that, Kaufman wrote a brilliant script about a man struggling to deal with the banalities of life. I think it's an incredible script and has several little nuances to it that I didn't realize until after I started thinking of the film days later.


Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Actress


- Cate Blanchett (Carol)
- Brie Larson (Room)
- Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
- Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
- Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

WHO SHOULD BE HERE: Queen Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)

For the first time since I can remember, the female nomination pool is crazy deep and the male nomination pool is pretty shallow. Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) had to wade in the Best Supporting Actress pool just to earn a nomination. However, the one person who really got screwed over was Charlize Theron. Despite not having her name in the title, Theron’s Furiosa is the star of the film and almost entirely the reason (outside of George Miller’s incredible vision) the film is as excellent as it is.Theron is great at everything she touches (well, maybe not this Snow White nonsense) and considering how many other nominations Mad Max: Fury Road received, I'm surprised all acting nods got left out in the dust. 


Thursday, February 18, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Director


- Lenny Abrahamson (Room)
- Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant)
- Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
- Adam McKay (The Big Short)
- George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

SHOULD BE HERE: Ryan Coogler (Creed)

Ryan Coogler took a franchise that was dead in the water, and turned it into a (semi) fresh story that not only pleased the Rocky faithful, but also casual fans like myself and my wife who have seen one Rocky film between the two of us. It was expertly directed (I mean, that first fight scene alone should have forced Coogler on this list) well-acted, and told a tight and entraining story that pleased all. Ryan Coogler doesn’t deserve an Oscar nomination because he’s black, he deserved a nomination because he directed the hell out of Creed.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2016 Oscar Preview: Best Adapted Screenplay


- The Big Short (Adam McKay & Charles Randolph)
- Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
- Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
- The Martian (Drew Goddard)
- Room (Emma Donoghue)

SHOULD BE HERE: Steve Job (Aaron Sorkin)

I completely understand why Steve Jobs received a "meh" response from America. It was the third movie released about Apple's co-founder since 2011 and the overt three-act, playwright, Sorkin-esque style of the film is initially jarring. But I found the style fascinating and bold in all the right ways.

Steve Jobs is a non-traditional biopic that explores Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) relationship with the most important people in his life throughout three separate product launches in his career. Each product launch (Macintosh in 1984, NeXT's "Cube" in 1988, and the iMac in 1998) not only explores Jobs' vision of technology, but the culmination of his life and the people in it. Of course Steve Jobs never had multiple heart-to-heart's and arguments with all of these people at the separate product launches, but it was a clever and interesting device in order to tell the life story of Steve Jobs. Certainly knowing the structure of film going into it helped me like the structure (and the film as a whole) more, but I thought Sorkin (and his dialogue) created an excellent script.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Where Does The Danish Girl Fall On The King's Speech Spectrum?

Last year I wrote about The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything and where it fell on The King’s Speech Spectrum. The King’s Speech Spectrum is a ratings spectrum for prestige British period piece movies about extraordinary events or people that seemingly only get made to win Academy Awards. On the lower end of the spectrum is the spectrum’s name sake, The King’s Speech. It is a dull, uninteresting movie that appeals solely to the elderly and those who remember the events depicted in the film. On the high end of the spectrum is The Imitation Game, a well-made period piece that’s engaging for people of all ages and creates themes and messages that are still applicable to current times.

The Danish Girl is a 2015 film directed by Tom Hooper and stars Eddie Redmayne (two key figures to force The Danish Girl to fit on the spectrum) and Alicia Vikander. It follows the relationship between the painter Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Vikander) as Einar goes through a transgender exploration which will eventually lead him to be the first person to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio and the Extremely Weak Best Actor Oscar Race

Back in October I wrote about Leonardo DiCaprio's career failing to play the Oscar game and how he wasn't going to win an Academy Award for his work in The Revenant. Since the writing of that post, Leo won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award for Best Actor, and it would be nothing short of a colossal upset if he didn't win the Academy Award for Best Actor as well. I am glad to be proven wrong, and nothing would make me happier than to have one of my favorite actors finally earn an Academy Award. At the same time, it sucks that Leo will finally earn his first award for one of his worst roles. DiCaprio was in The Revenant because as Chris Connolly once said in a Grantland video, "Leo makes your dreams come true". He helps difficult projects like The Revenant get made, but I didn't think he was terribly good in it. That's why it will be bittersweet when he finally wins the Academy Award in a few weeks. At least when Martin Scorsese won his first Academy Award it was still for one of his best films (The Departed), but when Leo wins his first Oscar, it will be for a performance that probably doesn't make his career Top 10.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Extremely Well Made and Incredibly Boring: My Review of The Revenant

I struggle with The Revenant. Not in the sense that it was a purposefully tough movie to watch, but I struggle with it in the sense of trying to respect it on a rational level while despising it on an emotional level. Now I fully admit that I wanted to dislike the movie coming into it, but there are plenty of movies that I’ve only watched solely because they were nominated for Oscars and the quality of the film made me change my mind. Unfortunately, The Revenant was not one of those films. 

But that being said, my feeling of the film and your feeling of this film from watching the trailers won’t be changed by seeing the film. To me, the film looked like a journey that I did not want to experience, and I was correct in my assumption. I know people who couldn’t wait to see this film, and it’s one of their all-time favorites. Ultimately, it will not matter what I write in the rest of this review, because how you feel going into the film based upon the trailers and TV spots you’ve seen is basically how you will feel coming out.

Nonetheless, you cannot deny the masterful and technical achievement it took to get this picture made despite what your opinions of the film are. I do not think that having an arduous shoot is a good enough reason to give a film Academy Awards, but there are a plethora of aspects to this film that are technical masterpieces and worth studying in film classrooms for decades to come. Yet it is extremely difficult to respect something you dislike so much.