Oscars 2016: Predictions

Flooded with schoolwork, but still want to offer my (brief) predictions and wishes!

Best Picture

Will Win: The Revenant 

Should Win: Room 

Best Actor

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant

Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant 

Best Actress

Will Win: Brie Larson for Room

Should Win: Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn

Best Director: 

Will Win: Alejandro Iñárritu for The Revenant

Should Win: Alejandro Iñárritu for The Revenant

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone for Creed

Should Win: Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs

Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight

Best Animated Film

Will Win: Inside Out

Should Win: Inside Out

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: The Big Short

Should Win: Room

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Spotlight

Should Win: Ex Machina

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Son of Saul

Should Win: Son of Saul 

Golden Globes 2016: Predictions

This year has brought a wealth of artistic achievements. This overabundance in prestige has made it hard to predict winners, there are no clear front-runner in most categories. I’m happy that this year’s film industry has been so prolific that all the films in each category stand squarely together. So, I am going to do something different. I will just name my personal picks for the winner and occasionally offer (in bold) what will win. Although, it all seems to be very up in the air.

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Best Motion Picture, Drama
Nominees: Carol; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Revenant; Room; Spotlight

My Win: Room

In my Top 10 of 2015 posts, I cited room as an uplifting cinematic journey. The amount of talent from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay overwhelms the small space that confines them. Room is unfortunately a familiar horror story, we hear it in the news all the time. Yet the film transcends despair and basks in the glorious light of love and family. Room is universal, we can all imagine ourselves in that situation and it offers questions about how we would cope or what would it be like to see the world we’re so used to for the first time. While I feel Room deserves to win, the nail-biting investigative drama Spotlight will likely take home the prize.

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Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Nominees: The Big Short; Joy; The Martian; Spy; Trainwreck

My Win: The Martian

A lot of times the comedy award is really a prestigious film with some comedic elements. Thus, I believe The Martian will take home the prize usurping actual comedies Spy and Trainwreck. The humor served The Martian well, transforming a Cast Away in space into a light-hearted and even fun adventure. Joy was a sloppy mess, but The Big Short also has a neck-and-neck chance to take home the prize.

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Best Actor, Motion Picture Drama
Nominees:
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo); Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant); Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs); Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl); Will Smith (Concussion)

My Win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Surprisingly, this has not been a strong year for the actor category. (Finally some meaty roles for the women instead!) Perhaps this will work in Leo’s favor when the Oscars role around. Finally, the question to “What does Leo have to do to win an Oscar?” may be answered. Apparently it’s eating raw bison liver and rumors of being raped by a bear. DiCaprio should and will most likely take home the prize, his only competition at this point being Bryan Cranston for Trumbo.

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Best Actress, Motion Picture Drama
Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol); Brie Larson (Room); Rooney Mara (Carol); Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn); Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

My Win: Saoirse Ronan

The toughest category this year is Best Actress, perhaps the ripple effect of cries for better female parts. (Although there are no WOC…)  There is stiff competition, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett do their usual best in Carol, but may split the vote. Alicia Vikander was the bright spot and soul of The Danish Girl, which ultimately proved to be hollow and offensive. It is hard to choose between Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, for both delivered equally on par stunning performances. However, I feel Ronan edges Larson out slightly.

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Best Actor, Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short); Steve Carell (The Big Short); Matt Damon (The Martian); Al Pacino (Danny Collins); Mark Ruffalo (Infinitely Polar Bear)

My Win: Matt Damon

Al Pacino is my favorite actor and I’m glad to see him nominated for Danny Collins, some of his best work in years in a surprisingly sweet and heartfelt film. But The Martian overshadows all of these performances, and Matt Damon will likely take home the prize for shouldering the bulk of the film all by his lonesome. Without Damon the film may not have worked.

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Best Actress, Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Nominees: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy); Melissa McCarthy (Spy); Amy Schumer (Trainwreck); Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van); Lily Tomlin (Grandma)

My Win: Amy Schumer

Jennifer Lawrence was fantastic in Joy, but it’s nothing new from her other David O. Russell work. Likely, Amy Schumer will continue to ride her wave of success and pick up a trophy for her self-written role Trainwreck. She truly owned this role. Schumer is one of the finest comedians today, giving well-needed critiques of the divisiveness and narrow-minded notions of gender roles of our current society.

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Best Supporting Actor, Motion Picture
Nominees:
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy); Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation); Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies); Michael Shannon (99 Homes); Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

My Win: Paul Dano

I will admit I have only seen two of these performances, Stallone and Mark Rylance. In my opinion, Walton Goggins should be up here for The Hateful Eight and Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight. However, I have heard that Paul Dano, a longtime phenomenal supporting character actor that deserves some recognition, gives the performance of his career as Brian Wilson.

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Best Supporting Actress, Motion Picture
Nominees: Jane Fonda (Youth); Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight); Helen Mirren (Trumbo); Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina); Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

My Win: Alicia Vikander

The true competition is between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alicia Vikander. Jennifer Jason Leigh was incredible as Daisy. She was willing to nakedly expose her ugliness and hatred, while also providing some of the film’s greatest moments and laughs. However, Alicia Vikander was truly otherworldly as Ava. Keep in mind that Vikander is doing those movements herself, employing ballet techniques to move as if she truly is a robot. There is no CGI trickery involved with that. Vikander gives one of the most stunning portrayals of artificial life-a human playing a robot playacting as human-ever seen on film.

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Best Director
Nominees: Todd Haynes (Carol); Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant); Tom McCarthy (Spotlight); George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road); Ridley Scott (The Martian)

My Win: George Miller

Okay, feel free to crucify me now. I didn’t like Mad Max: Fury Road. However, obviously I recognize the impeccable craftsmanship and vision that went behind the film, almost unprecedented. George Miller’s vision surpasses most of his peers in this category. His toughest competition is Haynes and Iñárritu, both of whom could possibly take home the prize. But Mad Max will likely race to the finish.

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Best Animated Feature Film
Nominees: Anomalisa; The Good Dinosaur; Inside Out; The Peanuts Movie; Shaun the Sheep Movie

My Win: Inside Out

Inside Out‘s toughest competition is Kaufman’s Anomalisa. But the universal Pixar masterpiece is likely to take home the award. As I’ve said in my Top 10 of the year, Inside Out is a creative and poignant work of art that transcends age, time and gender.

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Best Screenplay
Nominees: Emma Donoghue (Room); Thomas McCarthy & Josh Singer (Spotlight); Adam McKay & Charles Randolph (The Big Short); Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs); Quentin  Tarantino (The Hateful Eight)

My Win: Emma Donoghue

This is yet another tough category. Tarantino’s latest has too many flaws to be rewarded. Sorkin does an incredible job with Steve Jobs (although I feel it was better suited for theater…) but his work from The Social Network likely overshadows another chance to win right now. For me, Room was a book that seemed unadaptable, especially with its five-year-old first person narrator. But Donoghue expertly adapts her work.

ALSO: Crossing my fingers for Jon Hamm in Mad Men and Oscar Isaac in Show Me a Hero!

Top 10: 2015 Movies

2015 was one of the best years for film in a long time. It treated us to a diverse set of female stories, smaller films that made big waves, and the long-awaited return to a galaxy far, far away. These are my personal picks for the Top 10 movies of 2015.

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1. Brooklyn

I reviewed Brooklyn already for the blog, which you can see here. In short, it is my number one of the year because of its poetic and tender examination of what it means to leave home, led by an incredible performance from Saoirse Ronan. The sweeping, gorgeous film-making evokes classic Hollywood, as if Brooklyn stepped out from the very era it depicts

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2. Ex Machina

Taking my review from ScreenqueensEx Machina is one of the most daring, original and creative films of the year and one of the finest sci-fi films ever made. The film uses incredible practical effects and minimal CGI to craft a haunting realism. The gorgeous mountain exteriors and clinical futuristic interiors swiftly juxtapose the themes of nature vs. technology. The twist and turns of the story will leave you breathless and electrified. Ex Machina is a small film, almost like a play with its four-member cast, with big ideas. Ex Machina deftly explores the questions of ‘what is humanity? Is it merely the confines of our body or does it lie within the mind? Does the mind have a gender? Can societal gender roles extend to intelligent life?’ And, most importantly, it has Oscar Isaac disco dancing.

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3. Son of Saul

Son of Saul is one of the finest achievements in cinema history, a top contender for Best Foreign Film and should be in the running for Best Picture as well. Son of Saul, (similar to, yet with some differences from Steve Buscemi’s fantastic The Grey Zone) journeys literally alongside, filmed from the shoulders or thirty inches near the head, of a concentration camp inmate named Saul. Saul discovers the body of his son and takes the risk of going out to bury his body properly. Director László Nemes makes the brilliant choices to shoot in film and in 35mm (a square). These choices craft a claustrophobic, overwhelming and intense experience and situates the viewer directly alongside the main character’s heart wrenching journey. Son of Saul, like its subject matter, is incredibly grim and intense. Yet it has a harsh beauty that makes for a riveting and personal piece of cinema.

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4. Room

Told from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy, the novel of Room seemed virtually unadaptable. Yet the author Emma Donahuge turns out a brilliant screenplay, led by director Lenny Abrahamson and the incredible performances of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Larson has rightfully been stirring up Oscar buzz for her work, but Tremblay also deserves to be recognized. The talented a young actor to gives a mature and nuanced performance. Room is both harrowing and hopeful, taking a grim subject (too familiar from our own world) and turning it into an uplifting cinematic journey.

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5. Inside Out

I also reviewed this for the blog, which you can read here. Inside Out is a universal story that touches across generations, exploring the painful and beautiful nature of growing up. Inside Out examines not only the often conflicting emotions that you go through, but also what you must leave behind in order to move forward. Inside Out manages to carve a deep and poignant place in your heart, its emotional gravitas buoyed by the infectious humor from the colorful characters. Amy Poehler, Lewis Black and Phyllis Smith give phenomenal voice performance that expertly embody the emotions they portray. And personally, I can’t even watch this movie without crying the entire time. Inside Out is destined to become a childhood Pixar classic for years to come.

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6. Spotlight

Spotlight is this generation’s All the President’s Men, portraying the excitement, pain, fear, anger and elation that is the whirlwind of investigative journalism. Spotlight follows the true-life story of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, journalists who uncover corruption and sexual abuse within the Catholic church. (For more on that subject, I highly recommend the documentary Deliver Us from Evil) The cast is fantastic, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Broadway’s Brian D’Arcy James, and particularly standing out is Mark Ruffalo. He deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Spotlight captures the old-school ethos of investigative writing, journalists who care about exposing the truth, rather than today’s culture of click-baiting, and the integrity of writers will do anything in their power to get it.

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7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s true! The hype surrounding Star Wars lives up, and the franchise has been redeemed from sins of prequel past. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nostalgia negotiating with itself at its best, and in my opinion blows Jurassic World out of the water. (And you can take the fake-looking Mosasaurus with you) The Force Awakens is a joyous thrill-ride from start to finish,  one that dutifully honors its predecessor (even if it’s virtually the same as a A New Hope…) It is also absolutely wonderful to have the cast of newcomers be two POC and a woman and all equally well-written characters. John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac have infectious energies that seem to make you even more excited than you already are to be watching the film. For such a popular franchise to have these achievements and serve a fantastic story (sadly, it is a feat in Hollywood today for them to do this…) makes the return to the beloved galaxy all the more sweeter.

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8. The Walk

The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, was absolutely breathtaking in IMAX 3D, likely the best I’ve ever seen in that format. Based on the real life story and subject of the documentary Man on Wire, Philippe Petit walked across the World Trade Center on a tight rope. The 3D format and Zemeckis’ adventurous camerawork truly puts you on the tightrope alongside him. My palms were sweating the entire time! It’s an effervescent tale, jubilant in energy yet also serving as a beautiful tribute to the towers itself. No doubt the horror of 9/11 is still on one’s mind when viewing, as it always is conjured whenever we see images of the towers.  The Walk, especially in the last few tender lines, celebrates the towers’ beauty. The film manages to bring some light to the darkness that has shadowed that imagery for so long.

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9. Meadowland

Meadowland is a searing portrait of the grief after losing a child. Although this subject has been explored time and time again with films such as Rabbit Hole and Cake, Meadowland takes it further. It explores just how far the physical and emotional tolls on someone can go. Meadowland’s structure is a series of vignettes, small and fractured glimpses into the characters’ shattered lives. Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson and captivating as the broken parents and Meadowland is as raw and searing as their wounds.

10. Slow West

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The colors of the expanse pale blue skies and bright yellow grass pop and sparkle under John Maclean’s direction. This gorgeous Western manages to deftly balance the tenderness of young love, nuanced characters, splashy violent shootouts and absurdities. Slow West is the typical story of a journey across the wilderness on a quest told in an atypical way. Slow West brings a touch of whimsy that is not often seen in the genre, a refreshing and original western that shows the beauty and allure of days in the Old West.

Honorable Mentions: Carol, Legend, The Martian, Tangerine, Trainwreck

I have not seen The Hateful Eight, Anamolisa, The Revenant, or The Danish Girl.

Inside Out: Growing Up With Pixar

The bittersweet and inevitable farewell to childhood has been a prominent theme in studio Pixar’s work for decades. Most notably, the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. Inside Out elevates this theme, tackling it in the studio’s most mature way yet. This sparkling animated feature sets a new bar not only for the studio, but for inventive and creative originality expressed through the medium of film. Inside Out is Pixar’s ultimate manifesto on that painful bridge we all must cross from child to adult.

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Pixar is known for tugging on our heartstrings, the most tender spots in life’s journey that can immediately make us weep. (The first 10 minutes of Up. That’s all you need to say, really.) One of those important spots? Growing up.

Monster’s Inc. tackles this through the relationship of the adorable giggly Boo and her John Goodman quasi-yeti Sully, who she affectionately calls “Kitty”. Boo eventually reaches a point where she must say goodbye to her fuzzy friend. Boo is sad that her playmate is leaving, but she doesn’t fully grasp the finality of this farewell. But monsters Sully and Mike do. “Go ahead. Go grow up.” Mike tells Boo as he ushers her to the door. Their playtime is over. Eventually Boo will grow older and there will be no more Kitty or monsters in the closet. The melancholy of their goodbye is negated in the end though, when Mike rebuilds Boo’s door. Sully enters, off-screen we hear Boo recognize her Kitty. While their whimsical trysts may be over, at least Sully can still visit.

Finding Nemo deals with that tough first leap, when children have that itch to move on from their ‘baby’ pastimes and habits to go out on their own.This is tough for our protagonist, Marlin. Marlin is an overanxious helicopter parent, constantly fretting and overprotective over his son. (So much so that he even wants Nemo to play in the baby playground).

But Marlin behaves this way because he is still scarred from the death of his wife and other children. He wants to shelter and keep Nemo out of harm’s way for as long as possible. After the long journey of finding Nemo is over, Marlin learns to accept that painful transition for parents, the time that comes to let your child go experience the world without you there to hold their hand (or fin). “Go have an adventure!” Marlin yells at Nemo before he goes off to school. “Goodbye son.” He softly whispers.

The most congruent to Inside Out’s themes lies in the Toy Story trilogy. Likely the most painful and outright stab in the heart that confronts adolescence’s transition. When She Loved Me. Cue. the. tears. All I need to hear is the first bars of that song and I’m already crying. Adults and teenagers alike know very well why this scene hurts so much. We recall how easily we abandoned some of our toys as children. The doll we once lovingly toted around everywhere now sits untouched high on a shelf.

(Warning: watch at your own risk)

Toy Story 3 was nostalgic for many audiences, released 15 years after the original. For many audience members, they were children at the time of the original’s release and were now about to go to college. The ending elegantly touched that nerve that was ever so raw. Andy, now a young man ready to head off to college, passes the torch by giving a young girl named Bonnie his once beloved playmates. Andy has the recollection of how much he loved them, and though he is reluctant to give away his favorite toy Woody, he knows that, and so do the toys, that his wonder years with them are over.

Pixar repeatedly paints an eloquent picture of growing up, but Inside Out is the only time it is done differently. In past Pixar films, the child matures while our main characters are on the sidelines observing them. Sully and Mike mourn for their goodbye to Boo. Marlin feels bittersweet now that Nemo can now swim in his own current.  Woody, Buzz, and the toys are saddened in their farewell to their beloved friend, but knowing in that it is time to move on. The passing time with Jessie’s owner is seen through her eyes. We feel the pain of these characters, acknowledge it and recognize it in ourselves.

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Inside Out turns the subtext seen again and again in Pixar’s previous films into the actual text of the film. Pixar continues to confront how much a childhood ending hurts, but this time as it is actually ending. We saw in Toy Story‘s Andy how he was nostalgic about his past and giving his childhood icons, and the era itself, away. But he reflects on this as a young man that has already crossed the bridge to adulthood. For Riley, that far away childhood is right here and now, and it is slowly slipping out of her fingers. Inside Out shows how that nostalgia Andy experienced is born. Out of sadness and joy.

The one solvent in our pain for our characters’ ruptured relationships is that we get to see them continue living in their world, either with lessons learned or with new owners. This is completely severed in Inside Out, and makes for a much more heartbreaking and poignant revelation.

(Major spoilers if you wish to avoid)

Bing Bong is a “pink cotton candy nougat-filled elephant-cat hybrid” that cries candy. He is Riley’s old imaginary friend. We see flashback scenes of her interacting with the lovable creature, playing music, running around, and their favorite pastime of riding in a pretend rocket. When Bing Bong and Joy get trapped in a dark abyss, Bing Bong sacrifices himself on the rocket ride to the top so that Joy can escape, survive, and help Riley. The moral of this absolutely heartbreaking moment? To move forward as healthy adults, we must set aside some childish things. Bing Bong serves as a mashup of Jessie, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Sully from Monster’s Inc., who all demonstrated that beloved childhood playthings eventually lose an active place in our hearts. But for Bing Bong, which sets Inside Out apart, there is no going back. Once Bing Bong is in the abyss, he will fade from Riley’s memory forever. And while it is heartbreaking, adults know full and well just how true this is.

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The moral of Inside Out‘s story is what Joy must learn. Throughout the film Joy is unhappy with Sadness for touching Riley’s memory and imprinting sadness on them. Joy stubbornly wants nothing for Riley except happiness, which she has mainly had for the entirety of her 11 years on Earth. For much of our childhoods, (those fortunate to grow up with happy ones) this is very true. Happiness and joy really is our dictator. Of course there are bad days for children, but none that rip through you as much as when you’re older.

After Riley moves she grows to miss her home for much of what is stood for, the comfort and security of being little. Soon she realizes that there is no going back and this hurts. In the climatic scene, Riley opens up and tells the truth about her sadness after moving. She and her parents share an emotional hug. Riley’s core memories become tinged with both sadness and joy, for now those memories are not in the distant past. The way Joy watches these memories up on a projector-like screen evokes how we watch childhood movies of days past. Riley can reflect on these times with happiness, but now that she is growing older and they become farther away, she reflects on them with sadness as well. We see Riley playing with her family and friends as a toddler and young child. Those times are bittersweet, for you miss them and are grateful that you had them. Sadness and joy co-exist.

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Growing up is getting further away from those times where you could play all day, so carefree and simple. Riley is confronted with this for the first time, and we follow that journey ever so closely. Closer than Pixar ever has before. Pixar no longer hides behind other characters, they dive right into the person experiencing this journey. This makes for an exquiste and aching portrait of that journey that goes where no Pixar film has gone before. While the themes of Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo are resonant for those older, Inside Out hits them home at the highest level. But Inside Out is still so fun that watching it makes you feel like a child again. It makes it all the more poignant for the sheer beauty in how it expresses the longing for those simple times, as well as the reflection on the exquisite pain of growing up.