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Monthly Archives: February 2016

The 88th Annual Academy Awards . . . What an Awkward Day!?!

Chris Rock

It was a lovely day for some and a not-so lovely day for others at the 88th Annual Academy Awards Sunday night as attempts at correcting the #OscarsSoWhite scandal became a source of humor. No, there were no actors of color for the Oscar this year, but the issue wasn’t swept under the rug either.

First let’s deal with the awards.

Spotlight was the surprise winner for Best Picture. The true story of The Boston Globe’s attempts to unearth the priest sexual abuse scandal from a decade ago won only two awards, for Best Picture and for Best Original Screenplay, but in the top category it toppled the expected winner, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. Meanwhile Iñárritu took away the prize for Best Director becoming the first since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950 to win two consecutive awards in that category – Iñárritu won last year for Birdman. The Mexican-born director spoke passionately about eliminating the barriers of color and diversity as the band tried to play him off before giving up and letting him speak.

Three of the acting winners were no surprise. After six nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won Best Actor for his performance as a fur trapper in The Revenant and turned most of his speech into a plight for the preservation of the environment.

Over in the Best Actress category, newcomer Brie Larson won for playing a woman who spends seven years locked in a tool shed by a sicko in the drama Room.

In the supporting race, Dutch actress Alicia Vikander expectedly took home the award for playing 20s artist Gerda Wegener who endures her husband’s search for sexual identity and then a very risky sex change operation in the period drama The Danish Girl.

Yet, the surprise was English actor Mark Rylance who won the Best Supporting Actor prize for playing American communist Rudolph Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. It was an award that was expected to go to Sylvester Stallone for his seventh go-around as Rocky Balboa in Creed, or as host Chris Rock dubbed it “Black Rocky.” Rylance is only the second actor to win an Oscar in a film directed by Steven Spielberg after Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln three years ago.

Backstage the actor was asked about the uncomfortable moment when his name was announced. Presenter Patricia Arquette said “Mark R . . .” and then paused, causing many to think that the winner was co-nominee Mark Ruffalo. Rylance said he had gotten use to it since the same thing happened at the BAFTA awards a few weeks ago.

The rest was a lovely day for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which swept most of the technical and artistic awards, winning six including Makeup, Production Design, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Effect Editing and Sound Mixing. Preventing its clean sweep was the sci-fi epic Ex Machina which picked up the award for Best Visual Effects and The Revenant which picked up the award for Best Cinematography.

On the musical side, Sam Smith received and the Best  Original Song Oscar for “The Writings on the Wall” from the lastest James Bond adventure Spectre.  The singer, who is openly gay, used his speech to bring attention to the LGBT community.  And in a touching moment, the Oscar for Best Original Score went to the legendary Ennio Morricone who won his first competitive Oscar at the age of 87 for Tarantino’s The Hateful EightThe Italian composer has been working in the movie business since 1959.

And yet, the winners had to take a backseat to the elephant in the room. The Academy, having been criticized for its lack of diversity among African-Americans, has been at the center of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy for the past month, leading Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to make changes in the Academy’s by-laws that are suppose to make it more diverse and inclusive.

On this, the show took a sometimes light-hearted, sometimes heart-felt attempt to address the issue.  The producers of the show sought to include African Americans as presenters and performers clearly in an effort to show that they understood the problem. Did it help? Sort of. It might have been easy for The Academy to sweep the controversy under the rug, but in spending the entire night nervously trying to overturn the problem, their efforts felt both admirable and a little desperate.

Host Chris Rock turned the issue into his entire opening monologue. Putting the controversy into perspective he questioned why this year’s Oscars had to be the one with the controversy. “Why this Oscars? It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means that this whole no-black-nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times.” Then he reasoned that in the 1960s it wasn’t an issue “Because we had real things to protest at the time.” Taking a stab at the celebrity protesters, he singled out Will Smith: “It’s not fair that Will (Smith) was not nominated for ‘Concussion’. It’s also not fair that Will was paid twenty million for ‘Wild Wild West’”

The controversy brought Rock a wealth of material, from small jokes – returning from a commercial break and quipping “We’re black” – to larger jokes such as placing black actors in some of the nominated films, like Whoopi Goldberg mocking nervous QVC pitchman Jennifer Lawrence in Joy and then placing himself in The Martian. Some jokes worked while others, including an awkward appearance by Stacy Dash – who recently called for the elimination of Black History Month – fell flat. Later, a serious moment came from Vice President Joe Biden who called for an end to the rape scandals at America’s universities. Biden made an attempt to pound the podium but left everyone asking “Why are you even here?”

Overall Chris Rock did a fine job smoothing over what could have been a very awkward evening. While most of his jokes ebbed in the direction of the controversy, others were aimed at making the night more relaxed. Taking a cue from Ellen two years ago, who got pizza for the people in the audience, Rock helped his daughter’s Girl Scout troop by selling cookies and raising $65,000.

Very few of the speeches were all that memorable. Most were a list of names that led into whatever issue was on the winner’s mind at the moment. The most creative was Costume Design winner Jenny Beavan who concluded her speech by reasoning that if we don’t take care of our planet, we’re in danger of making the world of Mad Max a reality.

The producers this year, thankfully, moved away from trying to make the old dinosaur young and hip – they had other issues to deal with. One issue was how to stop winners from running down a list of names during their speech thereby boring the audience and inevitably forgetting to thank important people. This was done by a ticker at the bottom of the screen. Whenever a winner was headed to the stage, the television audience was given a scroll of people that the winner would like to thank. Did it shorten the show? Not a bit.

So, how will this year’s Oscars go down in the history books? Let’s be realistic, take away the controversy and you won’t have much to talk about once the excitement has died down. It was memorable this week. A month from now it will have slipped quietly from your mind. What will be left? Hopefully an industry that will open the doors to diversity, that will make changes to its methods.  But let’s be realistic, this is Hollywood.  It will pay lip service to the diversity issue then slip very quickly back into the same old pattern.  We’ll have new problems to address.  See you next year.

 
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Posted by on 02/29/2016 in Blog

 

My Annual (and fairly confident) Oscar Predictions

Tag Best Picture 

OscarNomineesBestPicture

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

From the moment that it was named as a nominee, and even for sometime before that, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant has stood apart from the pack. This bitter cold epic about a fur tracker who is mauled by a bear (twice), then left for dead, then watches his son murdered before his very eyes, then is forced to drag his broken body hundreds of miles across the snowy wilderness, then forced to confront his son’s killer is filmmaking of the highest order. It’s a tough, brutal epic so uncompromising that makes you feel ashamed of your petty first-world problems.

In that way, it makes the other seven nominees feel like they’re standing one step back. I’ve been on the wagon that The Revenant is the clear winner for months, and I still believe it. However, recent pundits have pulled its chances down a bit. The Revenant may be the best film among the nominees, but the pre-awards are starting to give others a slight boost. Dispatch with the hangers-on: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Brooklyn are off the table, they don’t have a snowball’s chance here. And the sleeper Room will settle for being rewarded in the Best Actress category. That leaves Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s sobering drama about the Boston’s Globe’s investigation into the Catholic priest abuse scandal, and The Big Short, Adam McCay’s oddball comedy about the housing crisis. While Spotlight is respectable and just has the feel of an Oscar winner, The Big Short has won The Producer’s Guild Awards, voted on by the same people who vote for the Oscar. So there’s that.

Yet, after watching and studying The Oscars for 25 years, I have to go with my gut. Something about The Revenant feels right. I could waffle back and forth about films about newspapers, spies, road warriors, mars, captivity, the housing crisis, and the Irish romance; for the second year in a row, the top prize goes to Iñárritu and his crew. I just know it.

Winner: The Revenant
Darkhorse: Spotlight

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Tag Best Director

Lenny Abramson for Room | Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant | Tom McCarthy for Spotlight | Adam McCay for The Big Short | George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road

Here’s diversity for you: Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican-born director won the Oscar last year for Birdman and is poised to win again for The Revenant. Take that Spike Lee!

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Tag Best Actor

OscarNomineesBestActor

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo | Matt Damon in The Martian | Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant | Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs | Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

It’s time. After five previous nominations, it’s time to reward Leonardo DiCaprio. And if you’ve seen the film, you know why. Few actors took the beating that Leo did in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, as a fur trapper who survives a brutal bear attack and treks miles and miles across the Dakota wilderness to get back to civilization. It is possible that, given what he goes through, DiCaprio may have played the toughest character of any actor this year. This one is so clear that I can’t even see a darkhorse.

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Darkhorse: none

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Tag And the Other Races copy

OscarNomineesBestActress

Cate Blancett in Carol | Brie Larson in Room | Jennifer Lawrence in Joy | Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn | Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years

The understandable knee-jerk reaction here is to set your sights on Jennifer Lawrence. She’s an Oscar favorite and one of the best actors of her generation. Early predictions tended to point in her direction, but Joy, in which she plays a real-life woman whose burst of inventiveness gives the world The Miracle Mop, has received a lukewarm reception from just about everyone. It’s hard to call her a darkhorse, but her chances for a second Best Actress Oscar stands down from the new kid in town.

Brie Larson is a star in the making, and her chances lie in the fact that she not only gave a great performance but seems to be cleaning up in the pre-Oscar awards, most crucially the Screen Actor’s Guild Award which is voted on by the same people who vote in this category. Larson is the star of the moment. She made waves two years ago with the indie drama Short Term 12 that cinemaphiles are still talking about. This year she proved that is was no fluke. In Room, she plays Joyce, a woman forced to spend seven years in captivity, locked away in a tool shed by a sicko and eventually giving birth to a son. But the story isn’t about the machinations of captivity (spoiler alert), it’s about the long-term psychological state of a person who has escaped from such circumstances who must now work to rebuild their lives in a larger world that they no longer know. Larson could easily have ridden this performance on anguish alone but it’s the internal struggle that propels her to move out of the darkness and into the light for her son. It’s a great performance and I’ll be happy if, and when, she wins.

The Winner: Brie Larson in Room.
The Darkhorse: Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.
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Tag Best Supporting Actor

OscarNomineesBestSupportingActor

Christian Bale in The Big Short | Tom Hardy in The Revenant | Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies | Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight | Sylvester Stallone in Creed

It is reasonable to assume that Sylvester Stallone’s lock on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year comes packaged in heaps of nostalgia. I won’t disagree, but I will say that it’s not without reason. Stallone brings Rocky back around for the seventh time but it never feels tired. He plays Rocky as a man who has experienced the loss of those he loves and faces a future with few new opportunities. That, in many ways, is how we met him 40 years ago but now he’s older and wiser and we see a man facing the bitter reality of the adamant of time as he faces a battle with cancer, and attempting to train a hungry young fighter who faces the same temptations that he himself once experienced.

40 years ago, Stallone was nominated for Best Actor for this role but he lost out to Peter Finch for Network for no other reason than that the man died a month before the ceremony. That may have been for the best because the passage of time has given us a chance to appreciate what this character has meant to the legacy of American film. It’s not just a wagon of nostalgia; this Oscar is for Stallone in the single best performance of his career.

The Winner: Sylvester Stallone in Creed
The Darkhorse: None

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Tag Best Supporting Actress

OscarNomineesBestSupportingActress

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

Throughout this Oscar season, I have run up and down this category believing, at one time or another, that all had the potential to be frontrunners (except Rachel McAdams whose nomination is really for the ensemble, not the performance). As the ceremony draws closer, it has narrowed down to Oscar veteran Kate Winslet (her seventh nomination) and the new kid, Danish actress Alicia Vikander. Winslet seemed to have been the frontrunner after winning the Golden Globe, but then Vikander won The Screen Actor’s Guild Award, which is selected by the same voters who vote for the Oscar.

Winslet was at the heart of Steve Jobs, playing the computer genius’ long-suffering head of marketing and showed a mastery of Aaron Sorkin’s tricky dialogue. Yet, the more emotionally full-filling role went to Vikander who not only suffers being a woman in the 1920s struggling to build herself as an artist but also dealing with the emotional turmoil of being married to a man who faces a confusion of his gender. Both are hard-working performances, but I think the new kid has the edge.

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Tag And the Other Races

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies | Ex Machina | Inside Out | Spotlight | Straight Outta Compton

It may seem a bit ‘on the nose’ to give a writing award to a screenplay about writers, but anyone who has seen Spotlight knows what a tricky piece of work this is. In dealing with the journalists of the Boston Globe who broke open the priest abuse scandals ten years ago, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s script doesn’t exploit the material but focuses on the long-term effects of the victims and the machinations that kept the church wrapped up in a protective cocoon of deception and collusion. It’s a brilliant script and it deserves to be rewarded.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short | Brooklyn | Carol | The Martian | Room

This is part of the reason that I think that The Revenant will win Best Picture, because the three best films in that category are all going to win something. Revenent will Best Picture; Spotlight will win Best Original Screenplay; and Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s bizarre and comedic script for The Big Short about the housing scandal will win here. Yet, if the voters are in a generous mood, there may be a surprise with Emma Donoghue’s emotionally satisfying Room.

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Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa | Boy & the World | Inside Out | Shaun the Sheep | When Marnie Was There

Like Best Picture, there isn’t a slacker in the bunch here. All are worthy but I think Pixar’s comeback feature Inside Out was the most explosively creative (not to mention, the best) film of the year.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia) | Mustang (France) | Son of Saul (Hungary) | Theeb (Jordan) | A War (Denmark)

I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen any of the Foreign Language Film nominees this year so I’ll got with the frontrunner, Son of Saul from Hungary.
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Best Original Song

“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey | “Dahealia” from The Weekend | “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction | “Simple Song #3” from Youth | “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground | “The Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre

None of the six nominees this year is really anything to write home about, so it falls to massive celebrity to pick a winner. The presence of Lady Gaga for her anti-rape ballad “Til It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground is not the best work she’s ever done but it is likely to be seen as the most important. The Oscar goes to the cause, not the song itself.
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Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies | Carol | The Hateful Eight | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

John Williams goes into the history books by receiving his fiftieth nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he now has more Oscar nominations then any living person. It is also likely to be his last – he came out of retirement to write it. Yet, oddly enough, it may be the most underwhelming score of the entire series. Meanwhile Ennio Morricone crafted a wonderfully ominous Hell-bound score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Morricone and Tarantino were at odds on the set, so that will make for a very interesting Oscar speech.
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Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant

With the exception of The Danish Girl, most of these films take place outdoors against harsh and unyielding elements. Yet, the only one that really stands out are Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson’s work creating the Dante-like world of Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Cinematography

Carol | The Hateful Eight | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Sicario

As with Best Production Design, these nominees – with the exception of Carol – take place mostly outdoors. All are worthy but this one goes the Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant. If he wins, it will be his third in a row after Gravity and Birdman.
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Best Costume Design

Carol | Cinderella | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant

Double nominee Sandy Powell is the architect behind both Carol and Cinderella. While a win for Cinderella wouldn’t surprise me, I have a feeling that the voters in this branch are going to want to reward Carol somewhere and this may be their one win of the night.
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Best Make-Up and Hairstyling

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant

Pretty slim stock here. Scares and beards make up the work on The Revenant while The 100 Year-Old Man is simply age work. That leaves the award in the hands of Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Film Editing

The Big Short | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Spotlight | Star Wars: Force Awakens

My heart immediately goes out to Star Wars for this one, but I must concede that the tradition of this category is that whatever wins Best Picture, usually wins Best Editing. The Revenant is a possibility but if they break to tradition, I see this one going to Margaret Sixel (wife of director George Miller) for Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my heart, this award goes to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but in reality I can’t remember where it broke any new ground. That mantel belongs to the work done by Mark William Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris and Andrew Whitehurt for Ex Machina . . . which would happen in a perfect world. One more for Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Sound Editing

Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies
| Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I will concede to anyone who tells me that Mad Max: Fury Road will walk away with these awards. But in my deepest heart, wanting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens get something, I’m going to take a chance and declare it the winner.
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Best Documentary Feature

Amy | Cartel Land | The Look of Silence | What Happened Miss Simone? | Winter On Fire: The Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

The most stunning and achingly sad film of the year was Amy about the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. It was moving, it was beautiful and it deserves an Oscar.
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Best Documentary Short

Body Team 12 | Chau – Beyond the Lines | Claude Lanzmann: Specters of Shoah | A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness | The Last Day of Freedom

The film-lover in me is automatically drawn to Claude Lanzmann, about the groundbreaking filmmaker who made the holocaust documentary Shoah 30 years ago. But A Girl in the River, the story of a girl faced with and Honor Killing in a small village seems a more likely choice.
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Best Live Action Short Film

Ave Maria | Day One | Everything Will Be Okay | Shok (Friends) | Stutterer

I am lucky enough to have seen all of this year’s nominees for Live Action Short film and in a pack that includes a lot of downers, my favorite is the most light-hearted, Stutterer, the story of a loner with a debilitating speech impediment who is faced with meeting the woman with whom he has been carrying on an online romance.  Yet, I suspect that the voters are going to gravitate toward the darkest of the nominees, Shok the pitch black story of two childhood friends growing up in Kosovo during the war.

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Best Live Action Short Film

Bear Story | Prologue | Sanjay’s Super Team | We Can’t Live Without Cosmos | The World of Tomorrow

My favorite nominee here is We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, the touching story of the friendship between two Russian cosmonauts, and there are signs that this may be the darkhorse.  But I think the voters will be more dazzled by The World of Tomorrow, a bizarre line-drawn short about a 5 year-old girl who meets and ancestor from 227 years in the future.  The story behind the short is even more interesting than the film itself.  The director Don Hertzfeldt recorded the sounds of his niece Winona Mae playing in her bedroom and built a story around them.

 
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Posted by on 02/28/2016 in Blog

 

Year of the Stallion

Stallone

Barring a major upset Sunday night, it is pretty much agreed by everyone that Sylvester Stallone will have an Oscar to show off on Monday morning.  Not just any old Oscar mind you, it will be an award for playing one of the most iconic characters in movie history for almost half a century, an adulation not only of his performance in Creed but of what Stallone brought to the movie landscape through the sad-eyed loner that the actor now dubs “my imaginary friend.”

For those of us who were raised in the last third of the 20th century, Rocky is something of a fairy tale character.  Like Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones or Inspector Clouseau or Christopher Reeve’s Superman, he’s part of the tapestry of our movie mythology.  The others have experiences we can only imagine, but Rocky lives in the terra firma of our imaginations, and for those of us who grew up being picked last for everything, he made our struggle not so isolating.  He made it okay to be an outsider.

Sylvester Stallone has always seemed like an outsider.  His career has more downs than ups – it is fashionable to make fun of it, to see it as a long series of wasted talent. Yet is easy to forget the uphill climb he made to even get noticed. Way back when, when he was just a wet-behind-the-ears up-and-coming actor, Stallone took a chance. Over one weekend, he pounded out a beautiful screenplay about a nobody who accidentally gets a chance at a one-in-a-million shot. Rocky was his own story, and when he took it to the studio, everyone fell in love with the script but nobody wanted him for the title role. They wanted tested talent like Ryan O’Neal or Nick Nolte. Today it seems impossible that anyone else might have embodied the role, but back then he might have seemed easy to dismiss. He didn’t exactly look like a matinee idol. He was a droopy-eyed, sad-looking fellow who spoke with a long drawl and didn’t seem to possess a great deal of brain power.

Yet, Stallone was adamant that this was the role he was born to play – he saw in this character, an element that others could not. He saw the vulnerability, the seething ambition and the tender heart of this kid who just needed a break (some of us could relate).

Rocky Balboa was the balance board for Stallone’s career. It is impossible to imagine where he might have gone without that success. Yet, the movie became an international phenomenon, a cultural icon that, against-all-odds, was awarded the Best Picture of 1976 by The Academy  against extreme heavy-hitters like All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Network. Looking back now, it would seem that Rocky was the right movie at the right time. This was 1976, just on the heels of the humiliation of Vietnam and Watergate and the feeling that America was rupturing as it approached its 200th birthday. We wanted something to feel good about, and it turned out that Rocky was the perfect symbol of our times. America, in many ways, was like Rocky in that we felt a sense of wasted potential, that time had passed us by; that we needed one more shot to prove ourselves.

Stallone did not win an Oscar for Rocky, either for acting nor for his beautiful script, but he achieved something else, an immortality that no single award could ever match. Where he went from there is where his story gets a little sticky.

Somewhere along the way, it began to fall apart. Success can often calcify talent, and Sylvester Stallone’s great early potential was overturned by a long series of easy paychecks. Like Burt Reynolds and Eddie Murphy, Stallone began taking work that did not match his potential. Yes, he became the biggest star in the world, but by the 1990s what did he have to show for it? Rhinestone? Stop or My Mom Will Shoot? Lock Up? Over the Top? Was this the byproduct of Rocky’s success? Even the Rocky series itself became a laughing stock when The Italian Stallion went to Russia to fight The Soviet Superman. If you ever want to see a living example of life imitating art, watch the first half of Rocky III when you see Rocky’s career after winning the Heavyweight championship from Apollo Creed. Rocky has everything in the world, but it is all built on sand, on taking set-ups and easy matches. Rocky lets his ego get the better of him and he loses the thing that helped him rise to the top. Many accused Stallone of doing the same thing. Yes, the box office was there, but what was it founded on?

Yet, it has always seemed that at the lowest points in his career, Stallone returns to his beloved creation and reminds us what a good actor he could be.  At a low point in 2005, he began work on revitalizing Rocky once again with beautifully-made Rocky Balboa, a movie nobody initially wanted to make.  And yet, like the original, this movie shocked the world.  It was a return to form for Stallone and his creation as he took a chance by taking away the heart and soul of Rocky – his beloved Adrian who in the movie had passed away from cancer.  The image of Rocky seated in a folding chair at a cemetery talking to her headstone could have rung with bad laughs, but in following the hard-fought journey of The Italian Stallion, the message was that grief was his toughest competitor.  The movie proved that Stallone is best when he’s passionate about what he’s writing.  When his heart is in the project, we get Rocky.  When it isn’t, we get Rhinestone.

Passion is at the very heart of the movie the seems to encapsulate the best aspects of what he can do as a performer, and the movie that will win him the Oscar Sunday night.  Creed, I believe, is the peak of his career, a beautiful sequel that moves The Stallion off-center in favor of a young up-and-coming fighter Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Apollo, fighting to find his own identity in the shadow of a father who has been lionized by history.  And yet, even though Rocky’s story remains at the film’s edges, it never feels like an intrusion.

Directed by Ryan Coogler, Creed finds Rocky facing the inevitability of his own mortality.  He still misses Adrian – of course he does – but he’s a man whose breadth of experience are weighing down on him.  He’s older, wiser, and worse he’s alone.  Not only is Adrian gone but so is Paulie.  What Stallone brings to this performance is his life experience, the undeniable fact of aging, the undeniable fact of his loneliness.

The performance comes from his guts and what startles us is how far he’s willing to let himself go.  When he realizes that he’s looking at the son of Apollo Creed, we can almost feel the avuncular instinct welling up inside him, a knee-jerk need to want to protect this kid who has suddenly dropped into his life.  Rocky’s whole life has been a series of temptations that he can see being laid out before young Donnie.  He doesn’t want to see him fall into that trap.  And yet, while he encourages the kid to never give up, the kid is shocked that Rocky has given up on his own fight.  Refusing to get treatment for cancer due to what Adrian went through, Rocky is resigned to his own fate, but Donnie won’t hear of it.  Both are struggling, and both have to do the climbing to beat the odds.

In Creed, Stallone allows an upfront vulnerability that he has never allowed in any other role.  You would be hard-pressed to find another actor more comfortable inside the skin of a character that he himself created.  And for Creed it was a risk.  He put down the pen and allowed a new director and a new screenwriter to take Rocky’s story in a new direction.  It’s a brave move because it has resulted in the best performance of Stallone’s career.  Ryan Cooglar and his co-screenwriter Aaron Covington wrote a beautiful new chapter. There are themes to be explored not just about determination but about battling this thing called life and making decisions that will chart the course of destiny.  For Stallone, he’s finally come home again and in his hands, an Oscar.  He can finally say “I did it.”

 
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Posted by on 02/27/2016 in Blog

 

Movie of the Day: Casablanca (1943)

1943-Casablanca

Casablanca is routinely hailed as one of the greatest films ever made but it was just another movie to those made it – one of 200 pictures that Warner Brothers released in 1942. In the decade before television, the major studios had a movie a week to get out and with that schedule one movie was just as important as another. Casablanca was not expected make much money even though the cast was first rate: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. It doesn’t comfortably fit a genre, the plot is too complicated to put into a 30-second ad and, in the maelstrom of World War II, movies about the events overseas were a tough sell unless they presented John Wayne or Gary Cooper blasting the Axis powers back to the Stone Age.

Yet, Casablanca did find an audience. When it was released late in 1942 it quickly found audiences lined up around the block to see it. Part of its appeal I think was the timeliness of the subject. This was a time when Hitler’s armies were spreading across Europe and making themselves frighteningly unpredictable. That uncertainty is present in the film. There is a desperation that is always present just beneath the surface of the film, the pervasive dread of the Nazi death grip on the world. After the war, they would become the favorite villains of the movies, seen more for their uniforms and for their universal disdain then their beliefs, but here, with the terror still present in the world, their omnipresence is far more poignant.

The movie takes place in the tiny village of Casablanca in Northern Morocco, one of the last French-occupied countries not in the grip of the Nazis.  As the movie opens, it has become a human traffic jam of refugees trying to get money and transport to Lisbon where they can catch a plane to America – or at least out of the Nazi’s reach.  Few opportunities arise to book such a passage so many find themselves stranded in Casablanca for days, weeks and even months.

At the epicenter of this chaos is Casablanca’s most popular nightspot, Rick’s Café American, run by Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a man who remains steadfast at staying out of personal or political affairs.  He lives by a code: “I stick my neck out for no one.”

One day Rick is given an order by police chief Louis Renault (Claude Rains) that a man wanted by the Reich is on his way to Casablanca, and Rick is to make sure that he stays there. The man, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), escaped a concentration camp and is now a major figure in the French resistance. His passage to Lisbon would be detrimental to the Reich. Rick isn’t interested but to humor Renault, he agrees.

What Rick doesn’t know is that Lazlo is currently married to Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), a woman that left him standing alone on a rainy train platform some years earlier with a Dear John letter soaking in his hand.  This single, devastating gesture is the reason that Rick has retreated into the desert.  He has held a deep resentment for years, so naturally, this reopens old wounds as Victor and Ilsa enter Rick’s club. He is thunderstruck when he sees her, his face is a mask of shock and emotional turmoil. Later, trying to drown his sorrows in a bottle of booze, he laments “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

What Rick has written off as a mean spirited act of betrayal actually has a legitimate explanation.  That puts Rick and Ilsa in an interesting quandary.  She loves Rick and can’t bear to hurt him again, but she loves Lazlo and knows that he needs her more than ever.  The ultimate decision then becomes what is the right thing to do for the greater good?

Bergman’s performance as the emotionally confused Ilsa is due in part to the fact that during filming she was never told which man she was going to end up with. She twists and turns with confused emotions and we never see her leaning one way or the other. When Rick tells her in the end that she is getting on the plane with Lazlo, her face reveals confusion as she tries to comprehend it. The moment is very real. If she knew how the movie was going to end, I don’t think that the subtleties of her performance would come out the way they do.

Bogart, known at this point for his cold tough-guy roles, showed a sensitive side here and hereafter flourished as a leading man. As Rick, he is cold to those who come looking for a favor but in Ilsa’s eyes, he simply melts. This was a side of Bogart that was new to audiences, and it changed his image for the rest of his career. This was his best performance so naturally he lost the Oscar to an unworthy contender – Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine (heard of it? . . . didn’t think so). Bogart would win the Oscar for 1951’s The African Queen – continuing the academy’s strange habit (after Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Gable in It Happened One Night) of giving Oscars to Hollywood tough guys for sensitive pussycat roles.

The movie is loaded with great characters – most are crooked, few are honest. The movie doesn’t supply any stock villains. Only one, a Nazi called Strasser, and I think having only one significant Nazi present in the film is a good idea. The fear and dread that befalls the characters in Casablanca is made more effective by the fact that we do not see them. Everyone knows about the terror of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs, everyone knows that by 1942, they held the world under their thumb and just knowing that gives the film a certain urgency. Their evil presence is simply felt.

I greatly admire the screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch for their restraint. It must have been tempting to present the Nazis dominating the screen but the presence of too many might have lessened the credibility that Lazlo could escape. Also, it must have been so tempting in a movie with this much star power and this much emotion to supply an ending that would find Rick and Ilsa in each other’s arms. That would have been a mistake. Rick’s change of heart is the most important aspect of the film. He realizes that he must let her go in the interest of the greater good, that Lazlo, off on his mission, needs her now more than ever. The script allows the characters to follow their hearts rather than some kind of crowd-pleasing convention. It took nerve to allow the characters to find the courage of their convictions, that the cause of stopping the Nazis is far more important because they realize that their personal petty problems just “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

 
 

The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animated

Over the weekend, I attended a screening of this year’s Oscar nominated animated and live action shorts on a program put together by ShortsTV. Here’s what was included:

Sanjay

Sanjay’s Super Team
★★★
Pixar’s accompanying short for The Good Dinosaur was this sweet, but not exactly deep confection about a little Indian boy Sanjay who would rather watch his favorite cartoon show than pray next to his father. His father tries to rectify that situation but Sanjay grows bored and imagines the Hindu gods as superheroes. The joy here is the style. While the real world is 3D computer animation, Sanjay’s action fantasies revert back to a colorful style of 2D. While it’s fun to look at, the short doesn’t really reveal a purpose. It’s just entertainment, but we expect more from Pixar than that.

WorldofTomorrow

The World of Tomorrow
★★★
If you just see the film on its own, then it might be a little frustrating that this bizarre pencil-drawn short is this year’s frontrunner. But if you know the backstory, then it makes more sense. The story involves a five-year old girl named Emily who is visited by one of her ancestors from 227 years in the future who shows her what the world of tomorrow will look like. The story moves from comedy the melancholy at a pace that, admittedly, is tough to keep up with. The backstory is far more endearing: The director Don Hertzfeldt recorded the sounds of his niece Winona Mae playing in her bedroom and built a story around them. It is her natural sounds that provide Emily’s lines.

Bear Story

Bear’s Story
★★★
This is a beautifully crafted short that tells the story of a bear that works as a tinkerer and spends his down standing on a corner telling his tragic story via a clockwork box with a crank on its side. It seems that some time ago, Mr. Bear’s family was taken away to the circus and never returned. While it is lovely to look at, I found it a bit too melancholy for my taste and the ending never really resolves anything.

Prologue

Prologue
★★★½
Of all the films here, this is the only age-appropriate short film in the bunch due to full male nudity and graphic violence – and at only 5 minutes, it’s also the shortest.  This film opens with a shot of hundreds of used pencils followed by a stack of paper. Director Richard Williams’ film is visually composed entirely of that stack of drawings, and is really stunning as a recreation of an incident in the Spartan-Athenian wars from 2,000 years ago.  It’s also quite bloody.

WhyWeNeedtheCosmos

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
★★★★
My favorite short out of the bunch is probably the simplest, a wordless, hand-drawn tale of two Russian friends – designated by the numbers 1203 and 1204 – who grow up with the shared dream of becoming cosmonauts. We follow them through their training and spend time with them as they dream of floating out in space together. Then something happens which I won’t reveal but I’ll just say that it leads to an ending that put a tear in my eye.

 
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Posted by on 02/25/2016 in Blog

 

The Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action

Over the weekend, I attended a screening of this year’s Oscar nominated animated and live action shorts on a program put together by ShortsTV. Here’s what was included:

AveMaria

Ave Maria
★★★
Since a majority of this year’s nominees for Best Live Action Short are downers, it was nice that the program started with something light. Ave Maria is a light-hearted co-production from France, Germany and Palestine about a group of French nuns on the West Bank who find their lives temporarily disrupted when a Jewish family crashes their car into their statue of the The Virgin Mary. It’s sundown on the Shabbitz so the father can’t drive or use the phone, and worse the nuns can call a cab because they’ve taken a vow of silence. The center of the story is about bonding in the face of potential crisis. It’s a good lesson, and while I enjoyed this short, I found it only a minor entertainment.

Shok

Shok (Friends)
★★★½
Ave Maria was good padding for this intensely dark true story from Kosovo about two friends Petit and Oki who grew up during the war in the 1990s. The film deals with the world they are growing up in, where they and their families are constantly bullied by Serbian soldiers. But the glue to this film is the relationship between the two boys, which is more convincing than most Hollywood love stories. Yet, as I say, this one is the darkest of all the nominees.

EverythingWillBeOkay

Everything Will be Okay (Alles wird gut)
★★★
Probably the most involving of this year’s Live Action Short nominees, this German entry concerns a divorced father on weekend visitation with this young daughter. The day doesn’t seem all that unusual; he takes her to the toy story and then to the air, but then she begins to piece together that he has a plan to break the law. The director Patrick Vollrath does a smart thing here by keeping the viewer with the child so that the father’s machinations roll out slowly. The achingly emotional climax is not what we expect, but it’s overturned by the fact that the movie just ends. There is a resolution that is just left hanging. Maybe the budget ran out.

Stutterer

Stutterer
★★★★
My favorite short out of the whole bunch is this sweet-hearted confection from Ireland about a lonely typographer who has trouble dating due to a stutter so severe that he has taught himself sign language. He’s been carrying on an online iRomance for the past six months but hasn’t told his internet paramour about his problem. Worse, she wants to meet him. Where this lovely film goes I won’t say, but it’s delightful. It makes you wish that the Hollywood rom-com could be this sweet and happy.

DayOne

Day One
★★★½
The best written of all of the nominees is this tough drama about an interpreter in on her first day in Afghanistan who finds herself forced to deliver the baby of the wife of a terrorist bomb maker. I won’t spoil the massive complications that spring up both physically and culturally but the script keeps raising the stakes. I don’t think this could ever be a feature, but I wish most features were this intense. Also, kudos go to Layla Aliza for her performance as the interpreter. I hope to see more of her.

 
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Posted by on 02/24/2016 in Blog

 

The Armchair Critic’s (fairly accurate) Oscar Predictions

Tag Best Picture 

OscarNomineesBestPicture

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

From the moment that it was named as a nominee, and even for sometime before that, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant has stood apart from the pack. This bitter cold epic about a fur tracker who is mauled by a bear (twice), then left for dead, then watches his son murdered before his very eyes, then is forced to drag his broken body hundreds of miles across the snowy wilderness, then forced to confront his son’s killer is filmmaking of the highest order. It’s a tough, brutal epic so uncompromising that makes you feel ashamed of your petty first-world problems.

In that way, it makes the other seven nominees feel like they’re standing one step back. I’ve been on the wagon that The Revenant is the clear winner for months, and I still believe it. However, recent pundits have pulled its chances down a bit. The Revenant may be the best film among the nominees, but the pre-awards are starting to give others a slight boost. Dispatch with the hangers-on: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Brooklyn are off the table, they don’t have a snowball’s chance here. And the sleeper Room will settle for being rewarded in the Best Actress category. That leaves Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s sobering drama about the Boston’s Globe’s investigation into the Catholic priest abuse scandal, and The Big Short, Adam McCay’s oddball comedy about the housing crisis. While Spotlight is respectable and just has the feel of an Oscar winner, The Big Short has won The Producer’s Guild Awards, voted on by the same people who vote for the Oscar. So there’s that.

Yet, after watching and studying The Oscars for 25 years, I have to go with my gut. Something about The Revenant feels right. I could waffle back and forth about films about newspapers, spies, road warriors, mars, captivity, the housing crisis, and the Irish romance; for the second year in a row, the top prize goes to Iñárritu and his crew. I just know it.

Winner: The Revenant
Darkhorse: Spotlight

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Tag Best Director

Lenny Abramson for Room | Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant | Tom McCarthy for Spotlight | Adam McCay for The Big Short | George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road

Here’s diversity for you: Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican-born director won the Oscar last year for Birdman and is poised to win again for The Revenant. Take that Spike Lee!

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Tag Best Actor

OscarNomineesBestActor

Bryan Cranston in Trumbo | Matt Damon in The Martian | Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant | Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs | Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

It’s time. After five previous nominations, it’s time to reward Leonardo DiCaprio. And if you’ve seen the film, you know why. Few actors took the beating that Leo did in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, as a fur trapper who survives a brutal bear attack and treks miles and miles across the Dakota wilderness to get back to civilization. It is possible that, given what he goes through, DiCaprio may have played the toughest character of any actor this year. This one is so clear that I can’t even see a darkhorse.

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Darkhorse: none

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Tag And the Other Races copy

OscarNomineesBestActress

Cate Blancett in Carol | Brie Larson in Room | Jennifer Lawrence in Joy | Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn | Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years

The understandable knee-jerk reaction here is to set your sights on Jennifer Lawrence. She’s an Oscar favorite and one of the best actors of her generation. Early predictions tended to point in her direction, but Joy, in which she plays a real-life woman whose burst of inventiveness gives the world The Miracle Mop, has received a lukewarm reception from just about everyone. It’s hard to call her a darkhorse, but her chances for a second Best Actress Oscar stands down from the new kid in town.

Brie Larson is a star in the making, and her chances lie in the fact that she not only gave a great performance but seems to be cleaning up in the pre-Oscar awards, most crucially the Screen Actor’s Guild Award which is voted on by the same people who vote in this category. Larson is the star of the moment. She made waves two years ago with the indie drama Short Term 12 that cinemaphiles are still talking about. This year she proved that is was no fluke. In Room, she plays Joyce, a woman forced to spend seven years in captivity, locked away in a tool shed by a sicko and eventually giving birth to a son. But the story isn’t about the machinations of captivity (spoiler alert), it’s about the long-term psychological state of a person who has escaped from such circumstances who must now work to rebuild their lives in a larger world that they no longer know. Larson could easily have ridden this performance on anguish alone but it’s the internal struggle that propels her to move out of the darkness and into the light for her son. It’s a great performance and I’ll be happy if, and when, she wins.

The Winner: Brie Larson in Room.
The Darkhorse: Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.
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Tag Best Supporting Actor

OscarNomineesBestSupportingActor

Christian Bale in The Big Short | Tom Hardy in The Revenant | Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies | Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight | Sylvester Stallone in Creed

It is reasonable to assume that Sylvester Stallone’s lock on the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year comes packaged in heaps of nostalgia. I won’t disagree, but I will say that it’s not without reason. Stallone brings Rocky back around for the seventh time but it never feels tired. He plays Rocky as a man who has experienced the loss of those he loves and faces a future with few new opportunities. That, in many ways, is how we met him 40 years ago but now he’s older and wiser and we see a man facing the bitter reality of the adamant of time as he faces a battle with cancer, and attempting to train a hungry young fighter who faces the same temptations that he himself once experienced.

40 years ago, Stallone was nominated for Best Actor for this role but he lost out to Peter Finch for Network for no other reason than that the man died a month before the ceremony. That may have been for the best because the passage of time has given us a chance to appreciate what this character has meant to the legacy of American film. It’s not just a wagon of nostalgia; this Oscar is for Stallone in the single best performance of his career.

The Winner: Sylvester Stallone in Creed
The Darkhorse: None

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Tag Best Supporting Actress

OscarNomineesBestSupportingActress

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

Throughout this Oscar season, I have run up and down this category believing, at one time or another, that all had the potential to be frontrunners (except Rachel McAdams whose nomination is really for the ensemble, not the performance). As the ceremony draws closer, it has narrowed down to Oscar veteran Kate Winslet (her seventh nomination) and the new kid, Danish actress Alicia Vikander. Winslet seemed to have been the frontrunner after winning the Golden Globe, but then Vikander won The Screen Actor’s Guild Award, which is selected by the same voters who vote for the Oscar.

Winslet was at the heart of Steve Jobs, playing the computer genius’ long-suffering head of marketing and showed a mastery of Aaron Sorkin’s tricky dialogue. Yet, the more emotionally full-filling role went to Vikander who not only suffers being a woman in the 1920s struggling to build herself as an artist but also dealing with the emotional turmoil of being married to a man who faces a confusion of his gender. Both are hard-working performances, but I think the new kid has the edge.

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Tag And the Other Races

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies | Ex Machina | Inside Out | Spotlight | Straight Outta Compton

It may seem a bit ‘on the nose’ to give a writing award to a screenplay about writers, but anyone who has seen Spotlight knows what a tricky piece of work this is. In dealing with the journalists of the Boston Globe who broke open the priest abuse scandals ten years ago, Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s script doesn’t exploit the material but focuses on the long-term effects of the victims and the machinations that kept the church wrapped up in a protective cocoon of deception and collusion. It’s a brilliant script and it deserves to be rewarded.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short | Brooklyn | Carol | The Martian | Room

This is part of the reason that I think that The Revenant will win Best Picture, because the three best films in that category are all going to win something. Revenent will Best Picture; Spotlight will win Best Original Screenplay; and Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s bizarre and comedic script for The Big Short about the housing scandal will win here. Yet, if the voters are in a generous mood, there may be a surprise with Emma Donoghue’s emotionally satisfying Room.

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Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa | Boy & the World | Inside Out | Shaun the Sheep | When Marnie Was There

Like Best Picture, there isn’t a slacker in the bunch here. All are worthy but I think Pixar’s comeback feature Inside Out was the most explosively creative (not to mention, the best) film of the year.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia) | Mustang (France) | Son of Saul (Hungary) | Theeb (Jordan) | A War (Denmark)

I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen any of the Foreign Language Film nominees this year so I’ll got with the frontrunner, Son of Saul from Hungary.
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Best Original Song

“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey | “Dahealia” from The Weekend | “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction | “Simple Song #3” from Youth | “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground | “The Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre

None of the six nominees this year is really anything to write home about, so it falls to massive celebrity to pick a winner. The presence of Lady Gaga for her anti-rape ballad “Til It Happens to You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground is not the best work she’s ever done but it is likely to be seen as the most important. The Oscar goes to the cause, not the song itself.
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Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies | Carol | The Hateful Eight | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

John Williams goes into the history books by receiving his fiftieth nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he now has more Oscar nominations then any living person. It is also likely to be his last – he came out of retirement to write it. Yet, oddly enough, it may be the most underwhelming score of the entire series. Meanwhile Ennio Morricone crafted a wonderfully ominous Hell-bound score for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Morricone and Tarantino were at odds on the set, so that will make for a very interesting Oscar speech.
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Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant

With the exception of The Danish Girl, most of these films take place outdoors against harsh and unyielding elements. Yet, the only one that really stands out are Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson’s work creating the Dante-like world of Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Cinematography

Carol | The Hateful Eight | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Sicario

As with Best Production Design, these nominees – with the exception of Carol – take place mostly outdoors. All are worthy but this one goes the Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant. If he wins, it will be his third in a row after Gravity and Birdman.
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Best Costume Design

Carol | Cinderella | The Danish Girl | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant

Double nominee Sandy Powell is the architect behind both Carol and Cinderella. While a win for Cinderella wouldn’t surprise me, I have a feeling that the voters in this branch are going to want to reward Carol somewhere and this may be their one win of the night.
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Best Make-Up and Hairstyling

The 100 Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant

Pretty slim stock here. Scares and beards make up the work on The Revenant while The 100 Year-Old Man is simply age work. That leaves the award in the hands of Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Film Editing

The Big Short | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Revenant | Spotlight | Star Wars: Force Awakens

My heart immediately goes out to Star Wars for this one, but I must concede that the tradition of this category is that whatever wins Best Picture, usually wins Best Editing. The Revenant is a possibility but if they break to tradition, I see this one going to Margaret Sixel (wife of director George Miller) for Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina | Mad Max: Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my heart, this award goes to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but in reality I can’t remember where it broke any new ground. That mantel belongs to the work done by Mark William Ardington, Sara Bennett, Paul Norris and Andrew Whitehurt for Ex Machina . . . which would happen in a perfect world. One more for Mad Max: Fury Road.
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Best Sound Editing

Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Sicario | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies
| Mad Max Fury Road | The Martian | The Revenant | Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I will concede to anyone who tells me that Mad Max: Fury Road will walk away with these awards. But in my deepest heart, wanting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens get something, I’m going to take a chance and declare it the winner.
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Best Documentary Feature

Amy | Cartel Land | The Look of Silence | What Happened Miss Simone? | Winter On Fire: The Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

The most stunning and achingly sad film of the year was Amy about the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse. It was moving, it was beautiful and it deserves an Oscar.
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Best Documentary Short

Body Team 12 | Chau – Beyond the Lines | Claude Lanzmann: Specters of Shoah | A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness | The Last Day of Freedom

The film-lover in me is automatically drawn to Claude Lanzmann, about the groundbreaking filmmaker who made the holocaust documentary Shoah 30 years ago. But A Girl in the River, the story of a girl faced with and Honor Killing in a small village seems a more likely choice.
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Best Live Action Short Film

Ave Maria | Day One | Everything Will Be Okay | Shok (Friends) | Stutterer

I am lucky enough to have seen all of this year’s nominees for Live Action Short film and in a pack that includes a lot of downers, my favorite is the most light-hearted, Stutterer, the story of a loner with a debilitating speech impediment who is faced with meeting the woman with whom he has been carrying on an online romance.  Yet, I suspect that the voters are going to gravitate toward the darkest of the nominees, Shok the pitch black story of two childhood friends growing up in Kosovo during the war.

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Best Live Action Short Film

Bear Story | Prologue | Sanjay’s Super Team | We Can’t Live Without Cosmos | The World of Tomorrow

My favorite nominee here is We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, the touching story of the friendship between two Russian cosmonauts, and there are signs that this may be the darkhorse.  But I think the voters will be more dazzled by The World of Tomorrow, a bizarre line-drawn short about a 5 year-old girl who meets and ancestor from 227 years in the future.  The story behind the short is even more interesting than the film itself.  The director Don Hertzfeldt recorded the sounds of his niece Winona Mae playing in her bedroom and built a story around them.

 

 
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Posted by on 02/23/2016 in Blog