2015 Oscar Predictions

Over the years, I’ve gone as low as 9 for 24, up to a career best last year of picking 17 of 24 (71%). The Oscars are a cruel mistress. Just when you think, “Yeah! I got this,” Crash comes along and wins Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich and Capote everyone else, Sandra Bullock beats out Carey Mulligan for Best Actress, or Million Dollar Baby dominates over all contenders. So here’s my attempt to tell the Academy I know who should or will win.

Best Picture: Birdman

Best Director: Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Best Actor: Michael Keaton for Birdman

Best Actress: Julianne Moore for Still Alice

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood

Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle for Whiplash

Best Original Screenplay: Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman

Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Foreign Film: Ida

Best Documentary Feature: Citizenfour

Best Documentary Short Subject: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Best Short Film – Animated: Feast

Best Short Film – Live Action: The Phone Call

Best Production Design: Adam Stockhausen & Anna Pinnock for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design: Milena Canonero for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Make-up/Hair: Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou & David White for Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Film Editing: Sandra Adair for Boyhood

Best Visual Effects: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett & Erik Winquist for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best Sound Editing: Richard King for Interstellar

Best Sound Mixing: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins & Thomas Curley for Whiplash
*this is the end scene, sooooo Spoiler Alert!*

Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson for The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song: “Glory” from Selma; Music & Lyrics by John Legend & Common

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Jupiter Ascending: Review

Jupiter Ascending

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending.

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending.

3 stars

Written & Directed by Andy & Lana Wachowski; Starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne

The Wachowskis really need Warner Brothers to tell them no. Or at least rein them in. Because ever since The Matrix, they’ve been, at best, too scattered and in their own way. Speed Racer aside, of course, that’s a highly underrated film.

Jupiter Ascending, as a film, tries to be too much. There’s too much going on that the great film it should be, and could be, becomes lost amid the overly convoluted universe the Wachowskis attempt to build. The potential to be a great, THE great sci-fi film is there, it’s right within reach. But that doesn’t wholly prevent the film being enjoyable. I still had fun watching it. It certainly wasn’t the mess it was made out to be. It was just a little… muddled

The Wachowskis build a universe with its own rules and operates fully abiding by said rules. And as long as you, the viewer, accept that, not expecting it to play by another universe’s rules, then you’ll walk away mostly satisfied. The problem is that the whole thing feels rushed. They crammed way too much into the film that it everything that should have been fleshed out gets glossed over, and before you have a chance to contemplate it, the film has moved onto something else for you to get confused by.

Tatum has done well to prove himself as a not terrible actor. He flexed his comedy muscles in the 21 Jump Street films with surprisingly good results, then flirted with awards season recognition in Foxcatcher, despite not quite sticking the landing, granted that’s through no fault of his own, the film kinda sucks. He handles the unique-ness of the sci-fi world extremely well, diving into the character to really sell the story. He really tries, to his credit.

That credit can be given to everyone else. From Kunis, Bean, Redmayne and the rest of the cast, to visual effects team, the cinematographer, everyone. It’s a pure exercise in “Best with what they’re given.” Maybe not Redmayne, I don’t know what he was going for with that voice he affected. Just a loud whisper

The problem is 100% the Wachowskis. They’re afforded too much creative freedom and too much money by Warner Brothers, and it feels like they’ve let it go to their heads. They’ve still got the ideas, but they need help focusing those ideas to be more concise. This is one instance where I think studio interference would actually be a good thing.

All that said… I’d still definitely recommend this film to sci-fi fans. Worth it if you find yourself with a few hours to kill on a lazy weekend afternoon and this pops up on Netflix.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service

4.5 stars

Directed by Matthew Vaughn; Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn; Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egarton & Samuel L. Jackson.

The Vaughn/Goldman team has produced some of the more fascinating films of the past decade, including Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. And much like their previous collaboration on a Mark Millar book, Kick-Ass, Kingsman effectively lives inside the rules of the genre, but moves around inside those rules to explore them and poke a little fun at them (Kick-Ass with superheroes, Kingsman with spies). Bourne and Bauer created a new era of the spy film, but Kingsman takes those modern influences and applies them to the classic era Bond. All of which get shout-outs in the film.

Firth enters full action hero mode, which is unusual territory for him, but he excels at it like he made a wrong career turn somewhere. Granted that wrong turn led to him being one of the most celebrated dramatic actors of the past 20 years, so it’s not necessarily a “wrong” turn. But the climactic action sequence featuring Firth is such a beautifully choreographed piece of action, it should take its rightful place as among the best executed in modern film-making.

The supporting cast of Michael Caine, Jack Davenport and Mark Strong help build the world of classic hero vs. villain with a suave swagger and just a hint of cockiness. All that builds a wonderful foil for Jackson’s delightfully grandiose supervillain to play against. He has just as much fun in the role that everyone seems to have creating this world.

Egarton, a relative newcomer, perfectly handles himself against the who’s who he’s been cast against, and is ultimately the driver of the wink and nod to the genre. His Eggsy is recruited to the Kingsmen, and put through the ropes at James Bond Hogwarts (spy training school). It provides a fun answer to the question “Seriously, where do THEY get THAT training?” Egarton presents a new school approach to an old school character type, and creates a great, layered character in the process.

What I like most about Vaughn is that he closes out the film with a satisfactory ending, but definitely teases that there is more story to tell. It is exactly what we talk about “leave them wanting more.” I’m definitely hoping this can take off as a franchise.

I know it’s only February, and the competition isn’t very stiff, but Kingsman so far leads the pack as best film of the year (so far) and while I can’t speak to the quality of the rest of 2015’s releases, I’d imagine this will stick near the top of the list by the end of the year. Definitely don’t miss this film.

The Best Picture Nominees [Reviews]

The Oscar Nominations were announced a few weeks ago, and I’ve finally had a chance to catch the few I still hadn’t seen. I’ll break down each of the major contenders and my thoughts on them. I’ll just go right down the list, in alphabetical order.

American Sniper

American SniperNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, Best Adapted Screenplay- Jason Hall, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing.

The problem I have with this film, besides Clint Eastwood’s trappings as a very mediocre filmmaker, is that he just kind of skims over everything. Like a pebble skipping on a pond, he glides just above the surface, dropping down to hit on an important thing every so often, but never really diving into the meat of the story until it hits the end of its run, but by then it has lost too much momentum to really make a splash. You’re left with the sense that there’s more to tell, and probably in the hands of a more nuanced filmmaker would have heard a better story.

But to Bradley Cooper’s credit, and despite Eastwood’s restrictions, he’s able to pull a deep, resonant performance of a man plagued by the horrors of war. There was one scene where a fellow soldier is praising him as a hero, and doing so in front of Kyle’s (Cooper) son, and the little that Cooper does in that scene speaks volumes. Cooper’s performance really deserved a better film.

Predicted Wins: 0 wins. If it does win, it will be for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, but it’s up against Interstellar and Birdman.

Birdman

Birdman OscarsNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone, Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Best  Original Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

There was a theme in my favourite films of the year, and in my Oscar predictions (which will go up in full on Saturday the 21st), and that’s me siding with riskier material. The ones don’t follow the well-worn path to Oscar, and still turn out great and leading the pack.

Iñárritu’s direction is fantastic as he leads us down into a self-referential world of what it is to be an actor, that knows full well what it’s doing, has complete control of what it is doing, but never slides too far into overt parody.

Keaton masterfully anchors the cast, but never runs away with it, allowing his supporting cast room to fully develop and be their own entity and find their own voices. He leans on them, without using them as a crutch to bolster his own performance, and that brings out the best in everyone involved.

That fucking jazz score, though. What the hell?

Predicted wins: 1 win for sure, and that’s Keaton. The film has stiff competition in every category, going head-to-head with Boyhood.

Boyhood

Boyhood OscarsNominated For: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: Ethan Hawke, Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Best Director: Richard Linklater, Best Original Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Best Editing.

Linklater is filmmaker who can say a lot when he says next to nothing. There’s no profound statement to be made here. There’s no hook to grab you. It’s just the story of this kid growing up. It’s not dissimilar to his breakout film Dazed & Confused (my all time favourite film) in that respect. What he does is, at the same time, present a wide focus of a narrow scope. We’re seeing Mason grow up, and we’re given this 12 year window into his life, but we’re not seeing big dramatic contrived events. It’s just this kid, and his experiences on how he becomes who he is as an adult.

It’s a film that speaks to the things that shape who we are. Boyhood flows very smoothly, never doing a harsh cut to the next stage in Mason’s life. Linklater opts to not caption each year, rather let the events clue you in to what’s happening, which pulls you into the story.

Predicted wins: 5 of its 6 nominations. This will be the big winner this year. Only Ethan Hawke will keep it from being a clean sweep, but he’s up against J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Hardly Hawke’s fault.

The Imitation Game

Main Quad_AW_[26611] Grand BudapestNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actress: Keira Knightly, Best Director: Morten Tyldum, Best Adapted Screenplay: Graham Moore, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

There are two films that I would knock out of contention right away, and this is one of them. It’s a very well made film, don’t get me wrong, and I liked it. I really did. But it’s just so by the numbers. The stock bio-pic is just so well-worn at this point. Sure it’s a well made film with fantastic performances. But really that’s all it has going for it.

Cumberbatch and Knightly give fantastic performances as Alan Turing and Joan Clarke, respectively. Matthew Goode and Mark Strong are just as noteworthy in their supporting roles. They just can’t get me over on this one as a whole piece of cinema. There’s just a sense of laziness to it.

Predicted Wins: 1 for Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s not the best in any of its categories, but that’s its strongest category.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Imitation Game OscarsNominated For: Best Picture, Best Director: Wes Anderson, Best Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hair Best Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

Anderson’s a director who is teetering dangerously close to falling off the Tim Burton cliff into self-parody. What saves him is that he’s actually just really fucking good (unlike Burton). The beauty of this film certainly overpowers the omnipresent quirk factor. And the beauty of this film is more than just the aesthetic. Everything comes together to work so well together to make a really great film.

I have spoken out against this film, but that primarily has to do with that first statement. I worry how long Anderson can maintain. He’s already starting to wear on me. I dislike having to begrudgingly say that it’s a good film, which circles back around to fueling a bit of animosity towards it. But it is, in fact, a well oiled machine of a film where the amount of things right with it is only eclipsed by the amount of things not wrong with it. The cast is precise, to the point that I could imagine this as an expertly rehearsed stage play and not even know the difference.

Predicted wins: I don’t seeing it picking up more than 2 of its 9 nominations, and that would Production Design and Costume Design. It could be a spoiler for Cinematography.

Selma

SelmaNominated For: Best Picture, Best Original Song: “Glory” by John Legend and Common

It would be easy to dismiss this as a by-the-numbers bio-pic, which I addressed in my entry for The Imitation Game, but I’ll leave that for people who haven’t actually seen the film.

Gone from Selma are the sweeping parallels between what happens in the narrative timeframe and the flashbacks to the subjects youth. Gone is trying to dissect the person to view them in the grand scheme of things. What we are given is an examination of a pivotal moment in a pivotal era of American history, and the pivotal man behind the moment. A more intimate think piece on the civil rights movement. It doesn’t attempt to deify or demonize it’s subject. It just wants to examine that moment in time and let us, the audience, sit with it. To the film’s credit, despite the existence of true heroes and villains in the film, it refrains from condescending finger-wagging.

Should it have been nominated for more awards? Certainly. Can I go through each category it should have been nominated in and replace a less worthy nominee with Selma? Certainly. But here we are.

Predicted wins: 1 for Best Original Song. It may be a consolation win for getting screwed over, but its chances for Best Picture are weak.

The Theory of Everything

Theory of EverythingNominated For: Best Picture, Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, Best Actress: Felicity Jones, Best Adapted Screenplay: Anthony McCarten, Best Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson

It speaks volumes when I could copy past a review, change a few names, and no one would notice.

That said: Everything I wrote for The Imitation Game, just change a few names.

To be fair, I would have made that joke had Theory of Everything come first and Imitation Game second. But the alphabet being what it is…

Predicted wins: 1 for Best Original Score. Redmayne is Keaton’s biggest competition, but Keaton’s slowly pulling ahead into a comfortable lead.

Whiplash

Whiplash OscarsNominated For:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing

Whiplash would be nothing without the powerful performances by Miles Teller and Simmons and wonderful script Chazelle provides them. Chazelle makes several sloppy directorial decisions that definitely hinder it from being an overall stronger contender, and is certainly the weaker of the 8 Best Picture nominees. But the examination of artistic passion and how that’s brought out in the two men and the stark contrast in their approaches really drive the film home. You can read my full review here.

Predicted wins: Definitely 1 for J.K. Simmons. He’s a lock. I wouldn’t be surprised if it picks up Sound Mixing, for that final scene.

Best Films of 2014

These are my favourite movies of the year. As per usual, it’s based on what I’ve seen. So if a movie you liked isn’t on the list, I either haven’t seen it yet, or I didn’t think it was as good as you did. Note on the “Honourable Mentions” areas, those aren’t ranked. It just goes “This one guy was the best actor, but these other two turned out performances of note, too.”

TOP 10 FILMS OF THE YEAR:

Honourable mentions: The One I Love, Nightcrawler, Locke, Begin Again, This is Where I Leave You

  1. Birdman – There’s so much right with this film, that it’s so difficult to find something wrong with it. Michael Keaton gives a powerfully personal performance that’s as manic as it is brilliant. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s careful crafting of the film, with the help of his cinematographer, create a frantic atmosphere, even during the more intimate scenes.
  2. Gone Girl – I’ve long been a fan of David Fincher. There’s a quiet tension he builds, layer by layer, throughout the film that is right on the brink of boiling over, then explodes into another layer that keeps you right there with it. It’s one of the few films that made me utter an audible “Holy shit” once the credits rolled. Affleck’s renaissance has been a slower burn than the McConaughssance, but has been just as, if not more, fascinating.
  3. Whiplash – Despite aesthetic flaws and Damien Chazelle’s rookie mistakes behind the lens, his script delivers an engrossing film about passion and drive. Simmons and Teller each play to both of those notions, and are perfect counter points for each other. Highlighting the extremes different personalities will go to for what they love.
  4. Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s beautiful examination of growing up could have easily been overshadowed by the gimmick of shooting it over the course of 12 years, but it ends up working in the film’s favour. Because we get these short snippets each year, we’re given a whole story and wide scope of Mason’s journey from childhood to adulthood, but without the over-sentimentality that plagues coming-of-age dramas.
  5. Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson has such a meticulous eye and ear for characters that he fits everyone together like an intricate game of Tetris. The ensemble is magnificently anchored by Joaquin Phoenix, who brings a sense of reservation to an oddball character, which helps build the world of a 1940s film noir set in 1970, carefully bridging the worlds of the old-school squares and the new age hippies.
  6. The Theory of Everything – I was admittedly unimpressed with the trailer. It just looked like another stock bio-pic, not really offering much. But the film pleasantly surprised me with the strong performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and the script deftly maneuvering between Hawking’s professional development and personal relationships, and how his fight with ALS affected both. And much like Boyhood, it narrowly dodges being overly saccharine in its depiction of the man’s life.
  7. How to Train Your Dragon 2 – 2010 was a turning point in animated films. It marked Pixar’s last year as the gold standard Toy Story 3. It was Disney’s return to greatness with Tangled. And it was the year that other studios finally started clearing that bar set by Pixar in animation. And no animated film was better that year than How to Train Your Dragon. HTTYD2 continues that grand tradition of being exquisitely animated and fully utilizing the capabilities of the technology by creating a fully engrossing and beautifully drawn world. The icing on the cake is an emotional, well written story that doesn’t pander to the audience.
  8. Chef – Where Michael Keaton was able to bring a personal touch to his performance in Birdman, Jon Favreau does the same as writer/director/star of Chef. While on its own, it’s an incredibly fun film that brings Favreau back to his small-scale roots after going big-budget studio for the first to Iron Man flicks, there’s a real sense of him working out his frustrations of being under a studio’s thumb. We as an audience are left with a film that’s a treat to watch and enjoy.
  9. Snowpiercer – A true rainbow coalition of production. A joint Korean/Czech production based on a French graphic novel with a predominantly American and British cast. It’s a well choreographed and shot action film that cuts deep into the post-apocalyptic sci-fi standard of last men standing. The contemplations on life after the world ends are quiet and thoughtful, mixed with explosive action sequences that make it a thoroughly enjoyable film.
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy – It’s just a tight, well done film. It has a lot of fun with its premise and characters, and James Gunn goes to town. Embracing the weirdness was this film’s strength, and everyone was on board. That’s the only way it was going to work. And it did. They fold you into the world they’ve created and you’re with the characters for the ride.

Best Action Films (non-comic/superhero):

  1. Snowpiercer
  2. The Raid 2
  3. Edge of Tomorrow

Best Comic/Superhero:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Captain America: Winter Soldier
  3. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Comedy:

  1. Chef
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. St. Vincent

Best Sci-Fi:

  1. Interstellar
  2. Edge of Tomorrow
  3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated:

  1. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  2. The LEGO Movie

5 Worst Films of the Year (Absolute worst is #1)

  1. Trans4mers: Age of Extinction
  2. A Million Ways to Die in the West
  3. 300: Rise of an Empire
  4. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  5. Lucy

Best Actor

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
  2. Tom Hardy in Locke

Best Actress:

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Honourable Mentions

  1. Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
  2. Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins


Best Supporting Actor:

JK Simmons in Whiplash

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Edward Norton in Birdman
  2. Ethan Hawke in Boyhood


Best Supporting Actress:

Emma Stone in Birdman

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
  2. Naomi Watts in St. Vincent

Best Ensemble Cast:


Guardians of the Galaxy


Honourable Mentions:

  1. Snowpiercer
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel


Best Director:

Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman

Honourable Mentions:

  1. David Fincher for Gone Girl
  2. Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Best Screenplay:

Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo for Birdman
  2. Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl

Best Cinematography:

Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Robert D. Yeoman for The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Kyung-pyo Hong for Snowpiercer

Best Score:

Jóhann Jóhannsson for The Theory of Everything

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Hans Zimmer for Interstellar
  2. Trent Reznor for Gone Girl

Best Song:

“Yellow Flicker Beat” by Lorde and Joel Little for Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Honourable Mentions:

  1. “Glory” by John Legend and Common for Selma
  2. “Everything Is AWESOME!!!” by Tegan & Sara, The Lonely Island and Mark Mothersbaugh for The LEGO Movie
Video

My Year in Films 2014 (video)

This is the start of more videos. In addition to weekly written reviews, I’ll be posting video reviews, too. This was just a montage “year in review” video. Enjoy.

Whiplash: Review

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons

Whiplash

5 Stars

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser and Melissa Benoist; Written & Directed by Damien Chazelle

J.K Simmons’ powerfully intense performance proves that the parts of a film can overcome their sum whole.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle remakes his own 2013 short as a full length feature, and it’s easy to see that while it’s not his first time behind the lens, it’s certainly tackling a large-scale project, even if it is familiar territory. Every decision he makes with the camera is predictable, from the long one shots, to the rapid cuts, to the shakey-cam, distant angles. It comes across as a comprehensive study in film-making 101. I’m not asking for him to change the game, but it would be nice if he took the training wheels off.

Where Chazelle excels, however, was in his exceptional screenplay. He builds this beautiful Yin-Yang relationship between Teller’s Andrew and Simmons’ Fletcher. Both are incredibly passionate about what they do, and are looking to achieve the same goal, but their approaches counter-act each other which leads to a climactic explosion of drum playing that leads to the exquisitely executed final scene that showcases not only Simmons & Teller’s abilities as actors, but Chazelle’s ability as a filmmaker. It makes the viewer wonder where Chazelle of the last 10 minutes was during the previous 90.

Teller is a difficult actor to pin down. He launched his career with art house flair Rabbit Hole, then ran through the young actor motions of party flick, teen romance, YA future-world. He never presented as the breakout star, but he was definitely entertaining on another level than his fellow cast-mates, and showed a lot of promise. Whiplash is where that promise comes to fruition. He puts a lot of heart into Andrew. You see the drive and determination in his eyes. He masterfully masks the pain of forsaking a personal relationship for his ambitions. He’s soulful at all the right moments.

But Simmons. J.K. Simmons is in another world, on another planet with his brutal and intense performance as Terrance Fletcher, Andrew’s instructor. Simmons plays Fletcher with bi-polar swings from loud, big and angry to soft, reserved and almost friendly. He exudes an air of superiority without coming across as annoyingly arrogant. He truly believes in what he’s doing and that it’s the right way to do it. There’s no hint of smugness, just bull-headed passion. If I had to handicap the Oscars, he’s the runaway leader for Supporting Actor.

Whiplash firmly plants itself as one of the must-see films of the year, despite the aesthetic flaws. A strong script and brilliantly realized performances carry it to one of the top films of the year.