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 

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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.

Brooklyn: A Poetic Past

Films about immigration are imbued with a heaviness, from the epic family saga The Godfather Part II (1974) to the recent and aptly titled, The Immigrant (2013). In these, immigrating and assimilating is depicted as an enormous hurdle, a transition from a dark world to an even darker one. A transition that requires great strength to get to the light of the American Dream. Brooklyn (2015) is quite a different immigration tale. Eilis, a young woman brilliantly played by Saoirse Ronan, feels trapped in her small Irish town and makes the leap to New York City in the 1950s. Her struggles to assimilate are much more lighthearted and heartwarming, oftentimes played for genuine laughs.

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After arriving, Eilis deals with immense homesickness, but things turn around when she starts dating a young Italian man named Tony. Circumstances eventually lead to her return to Ireland, where she finds herself unwillingly trapped and left to question whether she should stay or return to New York. John Crowley finely depicts Elis’ feelings of isolation and longing for home, such as the scenes of sheer joy when she receives a letter from home. Crowley makes Ellis’ struggle relevant and deeply felt for contemporary audiences, even though we are used to messaging someone with the click of a button.

Cinematographer Yves Belanger (Dallas Buyers Club and Wild) , production designer Francois Seguin and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux bring the 1950s world to life through the period clothes and surroundings. New York and Ireland both have vibrant and beautiful colors of their own, such as the bright greens of the rolling Irish hills or the eclectic rainbow of a day at the beach on Coney Island. This vivacity creates two beautifully distinct worlds and halves of Ellis’ heart. Her arc is signaled formally by the gradual brightness of her costumes, such as her green bathing suit and yellow dress, personifying the comfort and pride she begins to feel as a New York City woman. When she returns to Ireland, her lively clothes contrast the drab ones of her friends.

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Aside from the 1950s diegetic setting, the film feels ripped out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, a rare and refreshing commodity for a 2015 film. Eilis and Tony’s courtship is dutifully mannered and romantic, yet completely authentic. There is no ulterior motive for his affection and no evil schemes or cynical antagonist threatening to break them apart. It is no coincidence the pair see Singing in the Rain together, for Brooklyn feels just as timeless and endearing. Brooklyn has an aura of timelessness, an innocence and universal charm found in the very era the film recreates. Nick Hornby’s screenplay navigates wholesome comedic vignettes with tender ethos to create a richly textured and poetic period drama that is sweet without being saccharine.

Top 10: Child Performances

Can children, with little life experience as adults, reach the same heights of incredible performances as their older peers? Does their optimism and lack of self- consciousness leave them open for expressing themselves without fear? (Something that adult actors need to achieve to succeed.) These child performances prove that some children are just as capable as delivering incredible performances as adults.

1. Henry Thomas (Age 11) – E.T.

To make E.T. work, you needed a young actor who could form a connection with the animatronic puppet, to make the world believe E.T. was a living thing. Steven Spielberg is known for his ability to get great performances out of children (Drew Barrymore of course, also for E.T. and others in this list) Henry Thomas is able to create Elliot’s loneliness that transforms when he establishes such a heartfelt and passionate bond with his friend. Look at his incredible audition tape (auditions are not easy, even for adults. The reader usually doesn’t give you much emotion to feedback on. You have to muster the relationship/reactions yourself.)

2. River Phoenix (Age 15) – Stand By Me

River Phoenix was an actor taken from us far too soon. The depth shown in his early performances shows what he would have accomplished as an adult actor. He seemed wise beyond his years in his role as Chris Chambers, the boy unable to escape his label as a rebel. He portrayed insecurities and complexities with an adult-like wisdom, something very rare in a child actor.

3. Christian Bale  (Age 13) – Empire of the Sun 

Again proving his penchant for finding and working with child actors, Steven Spielberg discovered Christian Bale, one of the finest actors of our generation. Young Christian Bale carries this near three-hour movie, often having to act alone. Jamie goes from a young enthusiastic (but spoiled) boy, to a shell-shocked young man scarred by war. In his childhood performance, we can see the seeds of what an incredible actor he’d become as an adult.

4. Jode Foster (Age 12) – Taxi Driver

Jodie Foster, even at her young age, already had over 30 credits behind her, far more than even some of her adult contemporaries. It’s quite hard to believe she’s only 12 years old in this film. But she is indeed a young girl, a girl who is filled with both an adult-like world-weary cynicism and youthful vitality.While Taxi Driver has some hardcore material for a young kid, (she is, after all, playing a prostitute) Jodie Foster displays an almost uncomfortable acute understanding of her character Iris. Jodie Foster certainly more than holds her own with Robert De Niro.

5. Jamie Bell (Age 14) – Billy Elliot

For the title role of Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell brought his exceptional acting skills as well as dance skills for the confused and sensitive character. He truly captures the tough boy with a gift, the simmering anger of someone who just wants to break free.

6. Haley Joel Osment (Age 12) – A.I. Artificial Intelligence 

As with other Steven Spielberg films, the job of the young actor is to carry the film. But not only does Haley Joel Osment (also known for his fantastic performance in The Sixth Sense) have to be the lead, but he also has a complex role in the film. He has to pretend to be a robot, a young boy playing a machine who comes grapples with human feelings, wanting to be something he is not. To understand and portray those abstract thoughts shows his talent at such a young age.

7. Saoirse Ronan (Age 12) – Atonement

Briony quickly becomes a character you love to hate, but Saoirse Ronan brings a powerful strength to Briony. Though she seems dreamy with wide-eyed innocence, Saorise gives Briony a fierce, calculating, and intimidating essence. Saoirse brings to life a dedicated but fanciful young girl who perseveres without knowing the consequences of her actions.

8. Natalie Portman (Age 11) – Leon: The Professional 

Like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Natalie Portman takes on a mature role with equally mature material. (there’s even a bit of pedophiliac sexual tension between Leon and her character…seen in the cut scene below) Left an orphan after her parents are killed, she is raging, she is wild, she is dark. This is a role with material that is far beyond most children’s understanding, but somehow at her young age Natalie Portman is able to create a fully realized young girl with a lot of demons inside.

9. Tatum O’Neal (Age 9)  – Paper Moon

Tatum O’Neal plays a tough cookie in the Depression-era film, winning an Oscar for this role. She was nominated for Best Supporting, but really she is the lead actress. With her searing glares but inner broken spirit, and fantastic banter and chemistry with her real-life dad (Ryan O’Neal), she is deserving. (But yes, so was Linda Blair who was also nominated against her that year…) It breaks my heart to know what Ryan and Tatum O’Neal’s relationship was really like.

10. Hailee Steinfeld (Age 14) – True Grit

Haliee Steinfeld managed to bring strength and feistiness that Mattie Ross deserves with a rich undercurrent of vulnerability. A child trying so hard to grow up and be an adult for the sake of avenging her father. What is most impressive is that she completely holds her own against her famous co-stars, just look at this scene below with Jeff Bridges as an example. She doesn’t fade into the background, she stands out loud and proud.