Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 January 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 4 of 11

3 Nominations
  • Cinematography: Roger Deakins (Unbroken, Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, The Reader, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn't There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Kundun, Fargo, The Shawshank Redemption)
  • Original Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything)
  • Sound Editing
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Victor Garber, Raoul Trujillo, Julia Cesar Cedillo, Bernardo Saracino, Maximiliano Hernandez, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Edgar Arreola, Rio Alexander

I tried to stop hating this movie, but every time I think more about it I hate it more. It's exciting to watch, with many good performances, but what this message has to say about violence, about torture, about war, about international action, and about the violence perpetrated by our government is (to my mind) reprehensible. Still, I am glad that Jóhann Jóhannson got a nomination here. His score is interesting and creepy and metallic, and I am glad the Academy is recognizing scores like this. Roger Deakins' photography is gorgeous, as always; one day he will finally shoot a movie that people can really get behind and he can win an Oscar. This is thirteenth nomination. He's never won. But we might ask ourselves, as Judith Butler does in Frames of War, "As we watch a video or see an image, what kind of solicitation is at work? Are we being invited to take aim? Are we conscripted into the trajectory of the bullet or missile?" It is clear to me, as Butler says a little later, "that such visual and conceptual frames are ways of building and destroying populations as objects of knowledge and targets of war, and that such frames are the means through which social norms are relayed and made effective." Sicario celebrates violence, torture, and USAmerican exceptionalism far too much for me to have enjoyed watching it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #51 out of 62

Steve Jobs
2 Nominations
  • Actor: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
  • Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader, Little Children, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Iris, Titanic, Sense and Sensibility)
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Fassbender, Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Sarah Snook, Perla Haney-Jardine, Makenzie Moss

Steve Jobs! I never wrote about this movie; I kept meaning to, but I just never got around to it, I guess. The thing is I really liked it. I thought it worked very well in its own way, and I loved the performances – Fassbender and Winslet, but also Katherine Waterston and Michael Stuhlbarg. Jobs is a fascinating figure, and the movie peels him apart and demonstrates how personal life and career (for a creative type) are so intertwined. I am not sure I know why people disliked this movie as much as they did, but I will say that it's structure is really stagey. It is as though Steve Jobs was a stage play that somehow found its way to the big screen, but Aaron Sorkin didn't seem to bother to update it so that it would work for film. This is mitigated somewhat by Danny Boyle, but no one could make this screenplay less of a stage play. It's embedded in the structure itself. Each of the film's three acts takes place in basically the same location, and we begin each of the acts by jumping forward in time many years so that the audience spends the first couple of minutes of the act figuring out when we are and what has happened in the interim. And then we watch what happens with Jobs in the minutes leading up to a new product-launch. One of these happens at the end of each act. At one point in the film, Jobs complains that "It’s like 5 minutes before every launch everyone goes to a bar, gets drunk and tells me what they really think." This isn't so much a line that describes how Jobs is feeling as a line that describes how Sorkin's screenplay works. That's exactly what happens in the film. Still, in many ways this is an interesting history of the technological advancement of the last 30 years and some of the people who made that happen, and, as I said, I loved the acting.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Supporting Actress
My Rating: #20 out of 62

Inside Out
2 Nominations
  • Original Screenplay: Pete Docter (Up, WALL·E, Toy Story), Ronnie del Carmen, Josh Cooley, & Meg LeFauve
  • Animated Feature
Director: Pete Docter
Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paula Poundstone, Bobby Moynihan, Josh Cooley, John Ratzenberger, Rashida Jones

This is a really sweet children's movie, or, I guess, a movie for adolescents. It didn't really feel aimed at someone like me, so I have to say that I was sometimes bored in it. It was a little too cutesy and generic for me – the image above is a great example of the CandyLand way the film is designed. But everyone seemed to really like this movie, and I expect it to win the Oscar for Animated Feature. As much as filmmakers have tried to shift the perceptions of people toward animated film, most people still seem to see animated film as made for children (perhaps I include myself in "most people", as well). Inside Out strikes me as definitely not a film for adults, but adults have seemed to enjoy it, so I guess my initial impression is incorrect. I've linked above to where I have written a little about this, so I won't belabor the point, but I just never bought into the geography of the world inside the little girl's brain. It seemed at all times to be arbitrary, that is, the writers, at any given moment, would have been able to fix the problem – let the train leave just a little later and take Joy and Sadness back to central command, or whatever it is called, or let Joy and Sadness jump into the little memory chute that sends memories back up to HQ like Rob Lowe's shirt getting caught in that pneumatic tube in Tommy Boy. And a few times the writers did just adjust the rules of this brain-world whenever they wanted – the sequence where Bing Bong helps Joy escape the area of the little girl's brain where things are forgotten forever might pose a few questions for us such as: why can't the writers just make the wall of that place just a little lower? and: If that location means that things are forgotten forever, how is it that one is able to leave that place at all?
Will Win: Animated Feature
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #38 out of 62

Ex Machina
2 Nominations
  • Original Screenplay: Alex Garland
  • Visual Effects
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson

I was definitely into Ex Machina, and I wrote a meditation on what I see as the important depths of the film's amazing screenplay, that I recommend you read if you've seen the movie. I am really happy about these two nominations – I don't think it can win an Oscar in either category, but Alex Garland has written a couple of great screenplays in his career so far: 28 Days Later... and Sunshine, a personal favorite. He deserves this nomination and deserves to be more widely recognized for his work. Obviously Gleeson, Isaac, and Vikander are all having a great year, too, so that's excellent. If only there were an Oscar category for choreography: I want to nominate the dance sequence in Ex Machina for an Oscar (even if it would lose to Cinderella). In any case, if you haven't seen Ex Machina, you really must. It's an exciting, deep thriller.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #24 out of 62

29 January 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 3 of 11

4 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Lenny Abrahamson
  • Actress: Brie Larson
  • Adapted Screenplay: Emma Donoghue
Director: Abrahamson
Cast: Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers, Wendy Crewson, William H. Macy

I was telling two colleagues about this movie last night and they both started to get tears in their eyes and said that they didn't know if they'd be able to handle it. I liked Room and it's well made. The way the film works, however, is (especially considering its subject matter) a kind of sentimental business, and so I think I liked it less than I might have had the director taken a more hard-hitting approach. Because the film is partially about seeing the world for the first time and the sort of wonders that the material world holds, Room also works in a through-the-eyes-of-a-child Steven-Spielberg kind of way. This perspective is something the Academy (and most everyone, actually) really loves. The world is magical and beautiful, even though sometimes really horrific things happen. This is not my view of the world, and I guess this is what I mean by sentimental vs. hard-hitting. In any case, the acting in Room is superb. Larson (who had her breakout three years ago with a film called Short Term 12), Tremblay, and Allen are aces, and the film is very moving.
Will Win: Actress
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #29 out of 62

The Danish Girl
4 Nominations
  • Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
  • Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander
  • Production Design: Eve Stewart (Les Misérables, The King's Speech, Topsy-Turvy) & Michael Standish
  • Costume Design: Paco Delgado (Les Misérables)
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Redmayne, Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch

I surprised myself by really liking The Danish Girl. I think mostly because as much as the film is about gender, it is about confusion and mystery surrounding gender. The acting in this film, too, is quite excellent, and I (who was very skeptical of his showy performance in the tepid Theory of Everything) thought Eddie Redmayne was just wonderful in The Danish Girl. The film still has many problems – it is too long, too weepy, the cinematography almost never makes any sense, and the film (rather conspicuously) seems to ignore sex – but the acting is great, Alicia Vikander is lovable in the extreme, the costumes are exquisite, and the score is lovely. Vikander's nomination in the supporting category is a total fraud – she might even have more screentime than Redmayne, and you come away from the film almost feeling like she might be the eponymous Danish girl – but I'd say that that makes her win more likely, not less. This is especially true because she was memorably stunning in another of this year's nominated movies: Ex Machina.
Will Win: Supporting Actress
Could Win: Production Design, Costume Design
My Rating: #28 out of 62

3 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actress: Saoirse Ronan (Atonement)
  • Adapted Screenplay: Nick Hornby (An Education)
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Emma Lowe, Maeve McGrath, Fiona Glascott, Eileen O'Higgins, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora-Jane Noone, Samantha Munro, Jessica Paré, Emma Lowe

This is a beautiful film. When I recommend it to anyone, I keep reminding people that it is a small film. This is a romantic drama, a story of immigration and coming of age, and it isn't a deep film about the soul or about politics or about world affairs. That is to say, Brooklyn is not at all self important. It knows what it is and simply goes about being itself. Because of this, I fell in love with Brooklyn and fell deeply in love with its characters and their performers. Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson are so wonderful in this film, and they are a joy to watch. This kind of simple, beautiful character portrayal doesn't often get as much awards press as this film is getting, and I find Brooklyn to be a delightful anomaly. Julie Walters, I should add, is completely charming. Prepare to fall in love. Side note on Domhnall Gleeson: Is he having the best 2015 of anyone? My friend Tom mentioned this to me a day or two ago and I feel like he is exactly correct. With plum roles in Brooklyn, Ex Machina, The Force Awakens, and what I suspect will be eventual Best-Picture-winner The Revenant, Bill Weasley has surely arrived in Hollywood as a dependable and excellent character actor.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Actress, Adapted Screenplay
My Rating: #21 out of 62

The Hateful Eight
3 Nominations
  • Supporting Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh
  • Cinematography: Robert Richardson (Django Unchained, Hugo, Inglorious Basterds, The Aviator, Snow Falling on Cedars, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon)
  • Original Score: Ennio Morricone (Malèna, Bugsy, The Untouchables, The Mission, Days of Heaven)
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Channing Tatum, Dana Gourrier

Ennio Morricone has never won an Oscar, and I say that it is time. So does Harvey Weinstein – in fact, he was saying that back when Morricone was nominated for Malèna fifteen years ago. But let's talk about Tarantino's movie. It is a very Tarantino movie, perhaps the most Tarantino of all Tarantino movies, in the sense that it is distilled. Nine people stuck in a cabin  threatening one another and eventually killing each other. The Hateful Eight is, of course, too long – all of his movies are too long – and this is because The Hateful Eight is also in love with its own cleverness. In truth, all of this is sort of fine. I rather enjoyed the movie. I like all the actors and I had a fairly good time. (Walton Goggins, by the way, is the standout performer here.) But one does have the feeling that Tarantino sort of missed a couple of boats with this movie. At one point, Hateful Eight feels like it might become a mystery film, akin to And Then There Were None, but Tarantino consistently abandons generic conventions, opting instead for his own generic brand. But what is that? What is the Tarantino genre? I know what the style looks like – bloody, pitiless, comic, witty, clever – but what kinds of stories are these? I guess they're Westerns; The Hateful Eight is obviously set in the "west". But I can't help feeling that if Tarantino had been clearer himself about the conventions of the story he was telling, the film would've been better. A last note on black actors and #oscarssowhite: how come no one has brought up Samuel L. Jackson's name as one of the black actors that got snubbed by the Academy? He is the star of this film, but literally no one has mentioned him in this context as far as I can tell. Isn't that a little odd?
Will Win: Original Score
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #26 out of 62

26 January 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 2 of 11

Bridge of Spies
6 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Original Screenplay: Ethan Coen (True Grit, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Fargo), Joel Coen (True Grit, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Fargo) & Matt Charman
  • Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
  • Original Score: Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks, Skyfall, WALL·E, The Good German, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Finding Nemo, Road to Perdition, American Beauty, Unstrung Heroes, Little Women, The Shawshank Redemption)
  • Production Design: Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel, 12 Years a Slave), Rena DeAngelo & Bernard Henrich
  • Sound Mixing
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Rylance, Amy Ryan, Sebastian Koch, Austin Sowell, Will Rogers, Scott Shepherd, Mikhail Gorevoy, Alan Alda

First of all, this was an original screenplay? Bridge of Spies is incoherently stuffed full of so much stuff that I would have bet $100 it was an adaptation of some absurd novel. Huh. Oh well. I thought this movie was pretty boring and unsuspenseful, and had a long conversation about it here. But I am a Spielberg hater and everyone knows it, so I guess this shouldn't deter you if you usually like him. Still, the Best Picture nomination is a kind of strange stand-out here. The Academy obviously liked the movie (a screenplay nomination is a big deal), but they ignored Bridge of Spies' director, its lead actor, and its photographer Janusz Kaminski, so it didn't like the movie that much. Thomas Newman deserves his nomination here (his twelfth). He has never won an Oscar and, once again, will not win this year. It's starting to be a very notable situation. I keep hoping he'll write the score for a movie that people can really get behind. I expect almost all of the Academy's love for this film to have evaporated by February 28th. No Oscars for this movie.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #56 out of 61

6 Nominations
  • Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Elizabeth: the Golden Age, I'm Not There., Notes on a Scandal, The Aviator, Elizabeth)
  • Adapted Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy
  • Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
  • Cinematography: Ed Lachman (Far from Heaven)
  • Original Score: Carter Burwell
  • Costume Design: Sandy Powell (Cinderella, Hugo, The Tempest, The Young Victoria, Mrs Henderson Presents, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine, The Wings of the Dove, Orlando)
Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Blanchett, Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith

I didn't write my own review of this because everyone seemed to like it so much and I was sort of soft on it. Besides, Carol is gorgeous – beautifully designed, beautifully acted, exquisitely costumed – and the script is really tight and lovely. For me, though, something was off. I wanted something else from Carol, and the more I think about it the more I just felt sort of weirded out by the idea of "true love" or the idea of these two women being in love. I just didn't buy this relationship as fully as I wanted to buy it. As I puzzle this out, what I've come to believe is that the character of Carol is really much more like the main character in Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley than Todd Haynes (and Cate Blanchett) would like us to believe. If this is so, then Carol herself is not really to be trusted – her actions should be more mysterious. We should be spending much of our time puzzling her out from the perspective of the Therese character. Instead, the film doesn't see Carol as a problematic; Haynes presents her straightforwardly as a woman who knows herself well and is beaten down (but unbroken) by a constraining, difficult society. I wanted more complexity here.
Will Win: Costume Design
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #31 out of 61

The Big Short
5 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Adam McKay
  • Adapted Screenplay: Charles Randolph
  • Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (American Hustle, The Fighter)
  • Film Editing: Hank Corwin
Director: McKay
Cast: Bale, Steve Carrell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Marisa Tomei, Adepero Oduye, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, John Magaro, Melissa Leo, Billy Magnussen, Max Greenfield

I started off thinking this movie was smug and more flash than substance. In a lot of ways the movie stayed smug, flashy, and insubstantial, but I came around to the way it was working as the movie progressed and really began to enjoy myself. The direction and screenplay are the most fascinating thing about this movie. They both really are excellent: the film takes a Brechtian tack toward its subject matter, addressing its audience directly, historicizing its narrative, teaching us about its difficult subject matter, and then asking us to get emotional not about characters so much as information. It's an extraordinary choice, and McKay commits to this fully. His commitment pays off and The Big Short works marvelously. It's funny and hard hitting and analytical. As I said, it maintains its rather smug tone for most of its running time (Brad Pitt's character is the lone voice of earnestness), but this doesn't seem to have bothered most audiences, and The Big Short surprised everyone by winning the big prize at the Producers Guild Awards on January 23rd. I expect it to win Adapted Screenplay for sure, but support for this movie may swell even more by the time we get to late February, and it may take home Picture and Director, too.
Will Win: Adapted Screenplay
Could Win: Director
My Rating: #13 out of 61

Star Wars: Episode VII - the Force Awakens
5 Nominations
  • Film Editing: Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey
  • Original Score: John Williams (The Book Thief, Lincoln, War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin, Munich, Memoirs of a Geisha, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Catch Me If You Can, Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Patriot, Angela's Ashes, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Sleepers, Nixon, Sabrina, Schindler's List, JFK, Home Alone, Born on the Fourth of July, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Accidental Tourist, Empire of the Sun, The Witches of Eastwick, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The River, Return of the Jedi, E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, The Towering Inferno, Tom Sawyer, Cinderella Liberty, Images, The Poseidon Adventure, Fiddler on the Roof, The Reivers, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Valley of the Dolls)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Harrison Ford, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong'o, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels

This was cool, if completely predictable. But the thing is is that The Force Awakens is predictable in all the right ways, in ways that work to tell us that the world makes a kind of sense, that things are getting better, that our memories matter, that dad is looking out for us, that each of us has a heroine hiding inside us waiting to come out and kick the ass of the evil corporation/religion that doesn't care about people's lives and is seeking to destroy everyone in the world. So if The Force Awakens delivers exactly what it is meant to deliver and nothing more, it is hard to fault anyone for that. Anything more ambitious wouldn't have worked to please crowds as much as this film has. And for the record, five nominations is a ton for a Star Wars movie these days and even a Star Trek movie. The prequels to the original trilogy only ever got five nominations total, but then, they sucked, so that makes sense. John Williams has received his umpteenth Oscar nomination for this score, and I have to admit that the score is serviceable and interesting, though it doesn't really manage to transcend the original Star Wars material in too many ways – and not nearly as much as Ludwig Göransson's Creed score does with the original Rocky material.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Film Editing, Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
My Rating: #27 out of 61

22 January 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 1 of 11

Every year in the weeks leading up the Academy Awards ceremony, I post my thoughts on all of the nominees, although I exempt myself from the documentaries because I don't really like documentaries all that much. For me that means 47 films this year (3 fewer than last year). I said that 2015 was even stranger than 2014, but it seems to me that the 2016 awards seem somehow even more strange. Many people are complaining that the Oscars are too white (they are – more on this soon). But because my favorite thing about all of this movie hubbub is the surprises, I am still blogging this Oscar season, even though I wasn't a fan of a lot of the movies the Academy loved.

A while ago I did post an elaborate set of reasons for why I still pay attention to the Oscars, I want to amend this in light of a philosophy I developed regarding the foreign language films:

I hear a lot of complaints about which films should have been nominated, which films were passed over and "snubbed", etc. (I myself still plan to complain about Beasts of No Nation and Creed not getting enough nominations.) But here's what I will say: if there are movies that you loved that you are sad didn't get nominated, comfort yourself by reminding yourself that you've already seen those movies! Use the Academy, instead, to draw your attention to movies you haven't seen. For the folks who saw Carol and loved Carol, you already know that you loved Carol. Let the Oscars direct you toward a hidden gem that you haven't seen yet. I've already, for example, been completely surprised by the Animated Feature nominee Boy & the World, which I found absolutely magical, and also by Kenneth Branagh's really charming Cinderella, which I expected to be Disney fluff (it is, but it is charming fluff). Even when the Academy creates a mess, they're still going to point us toward some great movies.

Finally, and I say this every year, but most of the films in my top ten for the year were passed over (White God, Beasts of No Nation, Saint Laurent), but most of them scored a nomination or two (Son of Saul, Mustang, Youth, 45 Years) and two were nominated for Best Picture (The Revenant and Spotlight). In any case, this is a bizarre year, and I am excited for what is going to happen.

If the nominee has been nominated for Oscars previously, he or she will be listed next to his/her name in parentheses).

This year's nominees:

The Revenant
12 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman or the Unexpected Value of Ignorance, Babel)
  • Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street, Blood Diamond, The Aviator, What's Eating Gilbert Grape)
  • Supporting Actor: Tom Hardy
  • Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman or the Unexpected Value of Ignorance, Gravity, The Tree of Life, Children of Men, The New World, Sleepy Hollow, A Little Princess)
  • Film Editing: Stephen Mirrione (Babel, Traffic)
  • Production Design: Jack Fisk (There Will Be Blood) & Hamish Purdy
  • Costume Design: Jacqueline West (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Quills)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Iñárritu
Cast: DiCaprio, Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Duane Howard, Arthur Redcloud, Melaw Nakehk'o, Fabrice Adde, Lukas Haas

I loved this movie. I loved it for so many reasons, but primarily for all of its Malickian choices, which make it feel derivative at times, but also such a great tribute to the master. I am surprised at how well the Academy likes this movie, though. It's artistry is certainly front and center, but that doesn't always matter for the voters. In any case, I am delighted that the Academy likes it so well. Huge congratulations, too, are in order for Iñárritu, who has made a story about revenge and some kind of generic triumph of human will into a movie about violence and colonialism and masculinity, and about the thoughtless extermination of American native peoples. The Revenant beautifully brings together strains from many of Iñârritu's earlier films, and he's made a simply gorgeous movie. ...And right now it's looking like it's going to win everything. If he does win director, it will be the first time a director has won twice in a row since Joseph L. Mankiewicz won back-to-back Oscars in 1950 and 1951. I am not really a huge Leo fan, and I don't think he ever really does much in this movie, but I expect him to win. Lubezki also seems poised to win his third Oscar in a row. In many ways this is a big studio creation filled with big contributors, and honoring it means honoring the big studios for the kinds of things they can occasionally churn out. It's hard for me to feel mad about that, though, when I loved the movie as much as I did.
Will Win: Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing
Could Win: Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling
My Rating: #8 out of 58

Mad Max: Fury Road
10 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: George Miller
  • Cinematography: John Seale (Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Rain Man, Witness)
  • Film Editing: Margaret Sixel
  • Production Design: Colin Gibson & Lisa Thompson
  • Costume Design: Jenny Beavan (The King's Speech, Gosford Park, Anna and the King, Sense and Sensibility, The Remains of the Day, Howards End, Maurice, A Room with a View, The Bostonians)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Miller
Cast: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Melissa Jaffer

I was not into this movie, and I continue to be surprised by everyone's absolute love for it. The success of this film should indicate to us all that the popular voice at the Academy is still being heard loud and clear (we saw this last year with American Sniper's popularity with Oscar); fanboy culture is completely mainstream, in case you hadn't noticed. I expect it to win most of the below-the-line stuff here, and I could say that it probably deserves a lot of them, too. The look of the film is unique and very cool. It might be worth noticing, in passing, that although Leonardo DiCaprio is probably going to win an Oscar for an action-hero performance in The Revenant, Charlize Theron's similar action-hero performance in this movie got basically no buzz at all. Not even at the Golden Globes.
Will Win: Production Design, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling
Could Win: Cinematography, Film Editing
My Rating: #49 out of 58

The Martian
7 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actor: Matt Damon (Invictus, Good Will Hunting)
  • Adapted Screenplay: Drew Goddard
  • Production Design: Arthur Max (American Gangster, Gladiator) & Celia Bobak (The Phantom of the Opera)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover

I've started to dislike this movie more now that it has gotten so many nominations. In truth, it isn't terrible; it's just so annoyingly smug. I would say that its seven nominations seem a bit inflated here, too, but I had singled out The Martian's gorgeous production design in my own review of the movie, and the film really does look very cool technically. As for Matt Damon, we should all be embarrassed that this has happened. He didn't get nominated for The Talented Mr. Ripley or The Bourne Supremacy or even that old Oscar bait nonsense The Legend of Bagger Vance, but we'll throw him a nomination for The Martian?! People be crazy.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #38 out of 58

6 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Tom McCarthy
  • Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy (Up) & Josh Singer
  • Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher, The Kids Are All Right)
  • Supporting Actress: Rachel McAdams
  • Film Editing: Tom McArdle
Director: McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Ruffalo, McAdams, Brian D'Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Len Cariou

This is my favorite of the Best Picture nominees, and one of my favorite films of the year. It probably shouldn't be, because it is a mostly conventional potboiler that is set in a newsroom, and it's about doing detective work and figuring something out that in fact we all already know about, but I didn't mind one bit. In fact, I just was with it the whole time. It helps that the acting is great and it's about big, big issues about which I care a great deal. At one time this was the frontrunner for Best Picture, and it is still clearly in the big top five, but I think upon reflection Spotlight can start to feel more and more underwhelming next to the larger-than-life grandeur of The Revenant, Mad Max, and The Martian. I think we're looking at one Oscar only.
Will Win: Original Screenplay
Could Win: Picture, Film Editing

16 January 2016

2015 in Review

~ ~
1. Son of Saul
2. White God
3. Youth
4. Mustang
5. Straight outta Compton
6. Spotlight
7. Beasts of No Nation
8. 45 Years
9. The Revenant
10. The Tribe
11. Anomalisa
12. Mediterranea

~ ~
13. Timbuktu
14. Saint Laurent
15. Creed
16. The Big Short
17. Dope
18. Clouds of Sils Maria
19. The Second Mother
20. Boy & the World
21. Girlhood
22. Tangerines (Mandariinid)
23. Z for Zachariah
24. Steve Jobs
25. Brooklyn
Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Mistress America
Far from Men 

~ ~
Ex Machina
Goodnight Mommy
The Hateful Eight
Star Wars: Episode VII - the Force Awakens
The Danish Girl
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

While We're Young
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Voices
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Theeb (Wolf)

~ ~
Sand Dollars

The End of the Tour
Inside Out

The Martian
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Love & Mercy
Jurassic World

When Marnie Was There
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared 

The Assassin (刺客聶隱娘)
The Cut
Queen of Earth
We Are Your Friends
Labyrinth of Lies 
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Good Dinosaur
Bone Tomahawk
The Walk

~ ~
Mad Max: Fury Road
Black Sea

The 10 Year Plan

~ ~
Bridge of Spies
The Scorch Trials
The Riot Club


~ ~
Lost River

~ ~
Fifty Shades of Grey
The Boy Next Door

14 January 2016

Very Quick Phoenix Review

I wanted Phoenix to have more tension in it. It was supposed to be a suspense film, but as it was, it just didn't feel like much of one. I was really invested in the characters, but I was never quite sure what the stakes were. Perhaps it is unfair to say so, but I liked Petzold's prior film Barbara so much better.

11 January 2016

Bryan Breaks Down The Martian's Golden Globe Win

Bryan: Bigger miscarriage of justice: Steve Avery or The Martian winning best comedy? Ok, maybe that was too soon.
Aaron: Haha. Too soon?? Too flippant, maybe, but I don't mind. Fuck The Martian. But the Golden Globes are so stupid anyway.
Bryan: Seriously.
Aaron: They're just a bunch of starfuckers. Is The Martian even a comedy? Shut the fuck up.
Bryan: But doesn't this mean The Martian basically has to get a Best Picture nod? ... I fear for this nation.
Aaron: No it does not. I mean, it might anyway, but I don't think it's a sure thing at all. This is a very odd year. But The Martian is not showing up a lot with the guilds. I honestly think Sicario has a better shot at Best Picture than The Martian.

Bryan: I'm for The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials over The Martian.
Aaron: Hahaha. I don't think I am. But I would vote for Insurgent over The Martian.
Bryan: I would definitely be for Maze Runner 1 over The Martian; that's not even a question.
Aaron: I love Maze Runner 1. But Maze Runner 2 is kinda dumb. Zombies??
Bryan: Yeah.... but I really wanted to see how those characters developed.
Aaron: Which? Are we still talking about The Maze Runner? This is the longest any two adult males have ever talked about The Maze Runner.
Bryan: True – Did you notice the dude spinning poi in The Maze Runner 1? Festival aesthetics. Just sayin'.
Aaron: Totally. Maze Runner 1 was great. That hybrid-robot-brain thing was the tits.
Bryan: The main dude was really enthralling when he ran too.

Aaron: Seriously. I love a film with running people. This is why I like those Divergent movies too. Just keep running, small children!
Bryan: Watch it again. He's really good at looking back with intensity as shit explodes behind him without breaking stride.
Aaron: Hahaha. I don't believe I'll be watching it again. Anyway, there's a third film on its way: I'll watch that.

Bryan: I did see a play once, and I'd read the play, and the play was stupid. But when they staged it – this stupid existential dialogue – they just had two main characters running around in a circle the whole time... and it was in a group of one-acts that were all existential dialogues. But the fact that they were running really made that one stand out. I see an essay: "The Hustling Body in Performance".
Aaron: THE HUSTLING BODY! I love it. Did you actually see #2?
Bryan: Yeah, haha. I actually watched it last night

Aaron: I think the whole Haha! What you didn't know is: This was a test too! thing is out of control. But I liked Giancarlo Esposito.
Bryan: Oh for sure... he was great. I think they should have been put in another maze in 2 – like in Taken 2, where the premise is literally the same as Taken. Or Hunger Games. 
Aaron: I know! I needed them to be in a new maze too. Instead there was that pseudo-maze sideways-building thing. Which was not a maze.
Bryan: They could have done more with the sideways building. Did they have to pay a royalty to Inception?
Aaron: Haha.
Bryan: At least the art director.

 Run, Dylan O'Brien! Just. Keep. Running.

10 January 2016

Jeremy Irvine and Jack O'Connell Are Not the Same Person

Jeremy Irvine and Jack O'Connell are apparently not the same person.
This one is Jeremy Irvine
This one is Jack O'Connell
I kept thinking they were. And throughout the whole time I was watching Yann Demange's Northern Ireland military thriller '71. I thought I was watching Jeremy Irvine. But I was not. That was Jack O'Connell.

Jeremy Irvine was the guy from Steven Spielberg's (pretty awful) War Horse, and he was the main character in Roland Emmerich's much maligned film Stonewall from earlier this summer that no one saw. (This probably wasn't Jeremy Irvine's fault, per se, but he became a kind of symbol for "young white gay man" taking center stage and therefore pushing to the side the people who did the real work at Stonewall.) In any case, poor Jeremy Irvine really can't catch a break, even though as far as I can tell he is a pretty fine actor. In fact, it's a little hard to feel sorry for someone who is that good looking. I expect he'll make something soon that will redeem his career. Surely he can't make only stinkers.

Shirtless Irvine
Shirtless O'Connell
You can see why I might be confused.

Both men were, in fact, born less than two months apart in the summer of 1990, and both have played leads in big Hollywood films, but neither has really made a name for himself as an actor. And both are also English: O'Connell was born in Derbyshire and Irvine in Cambridgeshire.

But the guy in '71 is Jack O'Connell. He was also the guy in Angelina Jolie's Oscar-bait/Oscar-fail Unbroken. But don't let Unbroken fool you; Jack O'Connell is a very good actor. He got great reviews for a prison drama called Starred Up, and he is great in '71.

'71, in general, is pretty damn great. I was expecting something a bit more sentimental, a bit less hard hitting, but Yann Demange keeps his film so that it is always saying what he means it to say, and he outlines the army's lack of care for its footsoldiers. It's a tough little movie, despite what might seem to be a sentimental idea behind it. What's even better is that the film has enough reversals – it's full of them, in fact – that it kept me on my toes for most of its runtime. It's also unsparingly violent and politically smart.

I've had this movie on top of my DVD player for a month and a half, easily, and I've just now gotten round to watching it. I wasn't expecting much, but it constantly surprised me, and I was absolutely sold by the time we got to act three. Jack O'Connell, too, really ought to be an actor we're all watching. He is a really fascinating performer.

One gripe: Demange adds two extra endings onto the first ending of his film – not sure why he did this, unless he was trying to convince me that I actually was watching War Horse again – but I think we can expect his work only to get better and tougher.

08 January 2016

Enter Pursued by a Bear

Alejandro González Iñárritu's The Revenant is titled like a horror movie, but it isn't one. It also isn't exactly an action/adventure movie either. Stylistically, it's something like a cross between Terrence Malick's Tree of Life and The New World with Joe Carnahan's The Grey. (Since I'm mentioning films that I love, this is me telling you that I loved The Revenant.) If The Revenant looks like a Malick movie (it's shot by the great Emmanuel Lubezki) and is plotted like a survival or disaster film, the story of The Revenant is revenge. And revenge is one of my absolute favorite things.

The film is contemplative and very slow at times – a couple exiting the theatre with me wondered Why did they show so much of the scenery? – focusing on the world inhabited by these eighteenth-century colonialists. This slowness and contemplation makes the film gorgeous, of course, but it is also what the film is about to a large extent, the way violence exists on the surface of a world that is beautiful. The natural world itself is also incredibly violent – particularly in the snow-covered mountains and icy waters the men are traversing. Perhaps I am reading this into the film, but the film's violence, shocking though it is at times, and often extremely brutal, is also beautiful. In this way, it seemed to me that for Iñárritu, the natural world and then men and women who are a part of it are all violent, and all capable of beauty, even when they are violent. (This seems to me a larger theme in Iñárritu's work – think back to that incredible shot of the blood bubbling on the Teppan grill in Amores Perros.)

The Revenant – like the director's non-Birdman films – is also very interested in worlds colliding, in different languages (there are at least three in the film, including extended sequences in Pawnee), in the problems that are bred out of miscommunication, and in the inhumanity that accompanies racism. Like all of Iñárritu's films, The Revenant is also interested in magic, in powers and abilities that don't seem to make sense through scientific explanation. This makes the film seem both improbable and also constantly wondrous. I spent much of the movie with my jaw dropped, shocked at the images onscreen. In the film's first act, Leonardo DiCaprio is brutally mauled by a bear: His throat is torn open, his back ripped to shreds. And from this, he comes back. That he continues to survive despite absurdly harsh weather conditions, three different groups of people who wish to kill him, and the terrifying wildlife of the Americas, is both improbable and amazing to watch.

But The Revenant doesn't have the quality of absurdity that might accompany the jumps and explosions in a James Bond film or something from the Mission: Impossible series. Instead, one wonders about the man's existence itself. Is he dead? Is he a spirit? A ghost? A zombie? Can he be killed at all? Is there some earth-magic that is keeping this man's shell alive so that he can execute justice on his enemy?

Alternating wild action sequences and vicious, violent fights with slow consideration of rivers, waterfalls, sky, and even fire, The Revenant is a kind of superb meditation on everything. What does it mean to be racist out in the middle of nowhere when humans should be working together to survive? What does it mean to get revenge in the middle of nowhere, completely outside of society? What are barbarism and civilization? What is humanity's limit? What are the limits of the human body?

The Revenant is perfectly directed. It is gorgeously scored by Ryuichi Sakamoto (it's my favorite score of the year, and of course it is ineligible for the Oscar because the Music branch is insanely twisted). The movie is impeccably shot and edited; it is no exaggeration to say that Lubezki might and probably should win his third consecutive Oscar.) And it is superbly acted – Domnhall Gleeson's work is particularly great, providing exactly what is needed in DiCaprio's most emotional sequences, and I thought Will Poulter was exceptional as well, but all of the performances are excellent.

The Revenant is certainly not for everyone, but I loved it.

04 January 2016

Best Actress 2015

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actresses who I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.


REGINA CASÉ, Que Horas Ela Volta? (The Second Mother)

JULIETTE BINOCHE, Clouds of Sils Maria



Also loved:
Ronit Elkabetz, Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem (גט - המשפט של ויויאן אמסלם)
Brie Larson, Room
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Lily Tomlin, Grandma
Karidja Touré, Bande de Filles (Girlhood)

Apologies to:
Blythe Danner (I'll See You in My Dreams) and Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl), whose films I have not yet seen but will see soon.


02 January 2016

Best Actor 2015

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actors who I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.

GÉZA RÖHRIG, Saul Fia (Son of Saul)

ABRAHAM ATTAH, Beasts of No Nation


EDDIE REDMAYNE, The Danish Girl 

Also loved:
Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Alexander Fehling, Im Labyrinth des Schweigens (Labyrinth of Lies)
Michael B. Jordan, Creed
Viggo Mortensen, Loin des Hommes (Far from Men)
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Apologies to:
Tom Hardy (Legend), and Al Pacino (Manglehorn), whose films I have not yet seen but will see soon.

My Best Actor Picks from past years (2004-2014)

01 January 2016

Best Supporting Actress 2015

My top choices in the order I would place them on my Academy ballot if I were allowed to vote. In other words, this is my top five, but I acknowledge that this list is already influenced by awards buzz, and the actresses whom I think would theoretically benefit the most from my vote are at the top.



KRISTEN STEWART, Clouds of Sils Maria



Also loved:
Joan Allen, Room
Helena Bonham Carter, Suffragette
Adepero Oduye, The Big Short
Katherine Waterston, Steve Jobs

My Best Supporting Actress Picks from past years (2004-2014)