Oscar Predictions

February 27, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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I know I am not cutting it quite as close as last year but I am still coming in right under the wire. To be honest, this was not a great year for film, in my opinion, with no films really moving me on the level of recent years. So it’s hard to feel much investment in tomorrow’s outcome but, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:

Best Picture

Should be:  The Big Short.  But only by a hair because of it’s innovative structure.  I would also be happy with “Room” but it has no chance of winning.

Will be:  Revenant.  I think this film is going sweep the night.  If it doesn’t win here, then “Spotlight” will likely take it.

Best Director

Should be:  Adam McKay for The Big Short.  Again, if nothing else, just for the fact that this unexpected director (known for the likes of “Anchorman” and “Stepbrothers”) could produce such an unexpectedly entertaining and insightful film.  I would still be thrilled if Lenny Abrahamson got it for “Room;” the performances he got out of his actors was amazing.

Will be:  AlejandrIñárritu for Revenant.   Almost certainly.  And it isn’t not deserved.  The scope of that film was daunting.  I cannot imagine what a logistical nightmare it must have been to shoot.

Lead Actress

Should be:  Brie Larson in Room or Cate Blanchett in Carol.  Cate is always amazing and she does a remarkable job here, but she has done this level of work before.  Larson is a newcomer and, while I don’t know that her performance was as nuanced as Cate’s, it was filled with raw emotion. So, I’d give the Oscar to her.

Will be: Brie Larson in Room or Cate Blanchett in Carol.. No question.  Charlotte Rampling also had a strong nuanced performance but I think few people saw her film and I think her response to #OscarSoWhite probably hurt her chances.

Lead Actor

Should be:  Leonardo DiCaprio for Revenant. This is finally his year and, frankly, he has earned it with his best performance in 20 years. Bryan Cranston was great fun chewing up the scenery in “Trumbo” but he doesn’t even come close and nobody else does either.

Will be:  Leo.   Without a doubt.  He easiest prediction of the night.

Supporting Actress

Should be:  Rooney Mara in Carol.  To me, this one is clear.  She gave an amazing, nuanced performance that rivaled Blanchette’s, which is saying something.

Will be: I honestly have no idea but, if I were to guess, I’d say  Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs.  This was not a great film and this may be the token win of the night for them.  Although, the same could be said of Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl.”  But, Hollywood loves showy performances and Winslet’s was showier.

Supporting Actor

Should be:  Christian Bale in The Big Short.  I don’t feel strongly about this.  He was fine but not superb.  Mark Rylance also gave a nice, understated performance in “Bridge of Spies.” I mean, nobody in this category can even hold a candle to JK Simmons’s performance from last year.

Will be:  Sylvester Stallone in Creed. Almost definitely.  This is the sentimental Oscar.  He isn’t a great actor but he is a beloved one and he does some of his best work here.

Adapted Screenplay

Should be: The Big Short.  For the reasons I have mentioned.

Will be:  The Martian.  It was a good movie but it was a great book.  The adaptation was fine but it will win mostly because of it’s popularity.  And everyone loves Matt Damon.

Original Screenplay

Should be:  Ex Machina.  This film should really really win.  It’s the only Oscar it has a chance at and it was a truly fantastic film.  Frankly, I think Vikander should have been nominated in this role rather than in “The Danish Girl.”

Will be:  Spotlight. Almost for sure.  “Straight Outta Compton” could steal it but I doubt it.  It depends on how guilty the Academy voters feel about the whole #OscarSoWhite thing.

Best Animated Feature

Should be:  Inside Out.  This is a tough call for me because I loved “Anomalisa” but I think what Pixar is currently doing with children’s films is a minor miracle and this one is the best to date.

Will be:  Inside out.  Easy Peasy.

Best Foreign Language Film

Should be:  I have not seen any of them, so I cannot say.

Will be:  Son of Saul.  It appears to have the momentum.  Though, “Mustang” has some buzz as well.

Cinematography

Should be:  Mad Max: Fury Road. The best reboot of a film series that I can remember (including “Star Wars”). An absolute visual feast.

Will be:  Revenant.  “Mad Max” could steal it but I think this will get caught up in the “Revenant” sweep.

Best Documentary

Should be:  The Look of Silence. This sequel to “The Act of Killing” (2013) is almost as astonishing and revelatory as that one.

Will be:  Amy.  I found this documentary to be exploitative but, ironically, I think it is sympathy for Winehouse that will drive this film to the win.

 

Where to Invade Next

February 22, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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In some ways, I think that Michael Moore is the Ron Jeremy of documentarians. He just makes liberal porn that we all watch because we enjoy seeing him be a big dick that sticks it to people. And fair enough. To that end, you won’t be disappointed here. Moore takes his camera all over Europe (and a few other cursory places) and examines what other countries do better than we do. As he looks at school lunches, vacation time, access to education, treatment of prisoners, gender equality and a host of other issues, his central message seems to be that America created the ethos that these great ideas were built upon but that we have somehow lost our way. As is typical Moore, the film is sometimes funny, sometime poignant, sometimes insightful and sometimes downright silly. As with any good propagandist, Moore leads his interviewees exactly where he wants them to go. He lobs softball questions designed to highlight how amazing they are and then he looks shocked for the camera, as though he had no idea what the answers would be. This is the stuff that infuriates conservatives about Moore and rightly so. There is so often an air of righteous disingenuousness about him. The problem with his approach is that you can’t help but wonder what part of the story he isn’t telling. On the surface, he is absolutely right, of course. We should treat our children and our students and our workers and our criminals and ourselves so much better than we do. We probably would be happier and healthier if we vacations liked the Italians and ate like the French and worked like the Germans. But can we do everyone one of those things and are there any hidden costs? Moore claims each of these ideas for the U.S. as though it were just that simple, as though we will all collectively wake up and start demanding these things from our government. But the problem with porn is that it’s all artifice. You’ve just spent 2 hours in a fantasy world and nothing has changed. When it’s over, you stumble back out int0 the light and are forced to face the depressing world exactly as it is.

Boy & The World

February 22, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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“Boy & The World” is halfway to an almost perfect film. Originally released in 2014, this Brazilian movie has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars and it’s easy to see why. Drawn almost entirely in what appears to be colored pencils and chalk, it is like nothing I have seen before. Stick figures inhabit a largely empty canvas, with most of the scenes occurring against a stark white backdrop. The end result is that the color that does appear on screen is riotous and explosive. Coupled with an amazing, thumping soundtrack, the film is a sheer, visceral joy. Yet, as perfect as that part of the film is, it stumbles when it comes to the story line. There is no real dialogue in the film at all (only a few lines of what appear to be an indecipherable dialect), leaving the entire meaning of the story to be gleaned from the pantomime of the characters. This isn’t necessarily a problem. The animated French film “The Illusionist” from 2010 did it brilliantly (you can read my brief review here by scrolling down the page). Yet, that film had a very traditional and discernible story arc. This one does not. A boy and his family live in an idyllic jungle but his father must leave for the city. The boy then goes on a fantastical and allegorical journey to find him. His journey takes him through some provocative and truly beautiful images but it is never quite clear what we are seeing. Later, when the film takes a decisively political bent, it becomes much clearer that we are seeing social commentary about class, war, deforestation, fascism, and a host of other social ills. But, while clearer, this section feels like a hammer to the head; all of the lyrical magic of the earlier film are erased. This movie was so lovely in so many ways. If it can just told a simply story with those images and that music, it would have been close to perfect.

Deadpool

February 16, 2016 at 9:56 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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From the opening credits, you know this is no Christopher Reeves movie and superheroes have come a long way, baby. Even our icons of idealized heroism now reflect how jaded we have become. They also reflect how self-aware we are in the internet age; we now live our lives as though we were actors performing for a perpetual audience (and, indeed, many of us are). And “Deadpool” is the perfect barometer of all of that. Hedonistic, cynical, casually violent and utterly self-involved, Deadpool is the hero we seem to want. We don’t trust “good guys” because we suspect they are all hiding something; we now trust those who are crass, unfiltered and without nuance and, hence, “Deadpool” has become the highest grossing February movie of all time. Ryan Reynolds (“Green Lantern,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) is perfectly cast as the titular hero/mass murderer. He has shown an ability to play nuanced characters (“Adventureland”) but is really at home being the smart-ass and this films rests entirely on that performance. With the exception of a delightful Leslie Uggams as his blind, coke-addicted roommate, nobody else plays any character of any real consequence. Morena Baccarin (TV’s “Homeland” and “Gotham”) plays the tough as nails girlfriend but that role could have gone to anyone, as could every other role. The film works because of Reynolds and the razor sharp dialogue. True to the comic, Deadpool continually breaks the 4th wall, talking to the audience with snarky, clever asides, during which he references everything from other comic characters, Reynolds’s other films, current events, popular actors, and the list goes on. Many of these jokes land squarely with an audience that’s in-the-know, though so many come flying at you that you’re likely to miss some (yes, that was a reference to Jared from Subway). To that end, the film does exactly what it is trying to achieve: it is riotously funny, clever, shocking, cartoonishly violent and stuffed with a surprising number of masturbation jokes. If that is your type of movie, you will love it. If not, then you won’t.

 

Hail, Caesar!

February 11, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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It’s hard to argue with the brilliance of Joel and Ethan Coen. Their collective genius is behind such films as “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Blood Simple,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”… (and the list goes on). Yet, for all of that, they do have their missteps. They have proven themselves to be masters at dark, nihilistic, taut dramas (see above) and they have also shown that they can have a keen eye for ridiculous, laugh-out-loud comedy (see also the above). But sometimes their humor (which can be described as a bit wacky on its best days) can sometimes stray into the outright silly; silly, in fact, to the point of inconsequential.  Perhaps their best work, as in “Blood Simple” or “Fargo” is darkness with a bite. Here, however, there is neither any darkness or any real bite. They do stray into some light commentary about the film industry, following one’s passions, etc. But it is all so light, it evaporates without even being noticed. Instead, this film tries to be good-natured fun, with an extra helping of goofy, just to make sure you chuckle. And, like most of the Coens’ other goofier works (“Burn Before Reading,” “The Lady Killers”), this one just leaves no lasting impression. It was mildly funny in parts and even really funny a few times (relative unknown, Alden Ehrenreich, is a real scene stealer) but it never once left me wanting more. By the time the credits rolled, my mind was already on to other things. That may be par for the course for most directors but, when it’s the Coens, one can’t help but be disappointed.

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