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January 2014

Saving Mr. Banks

Movie: Saving Mr. Banks
What it’s up for: Music (score)

This will come as no surprise, but I loved this movie. I laughed. I cried. I immediately watched Mary Poppins. I’m not sure how accurate the movie was to real events, but they had one of P.L. Traver’s biographers as well as Richard Sherman help with consultation. I loved it for what it was.

I’m not sure how you would categorize this movie. I guess it’s considered a drama but it’s not really that dramatic. I’m guessing most people would find it boring. It’s completely a character piece following the life of P.L. Travers around the time she was negotiating with the Disney Company about the creation of Mary Poppins. If you are a fan of Mary Poppins, you will probably like this movie. There are all sorts of little connections made throughout the film between what is happening on-screen and what happens in the movie they are trying to create. Those little details are what made it a moving film for me. There’s plenty there to tug the heartstrings. I think that the movie was fantastically structured with an almost painful attention to detail in the script and screenplay. Almost everything that was said or done was significant in some way and connected to something else that happened or would happen in the film. Not to mention, it was BEAUTIFULLY shot.

The actors were all fantastic. Emma Thompson had such quiet appeal as the principled Ms. Travers. As her character grows through the Mary Poppins process and as we learn more about her personal history, you grow in a desire to see her happy and redeemed. Tom Hanks was stellar as Walt Disney – an undeniably intimidating role to play. He was still a little too Tom Hanksy for me, but I thought he did a great job. From the biographies and writings I’ve read about the real Walt, he seemed to portray him rather accurately. Colin Farrell is the unsung hero of this movie as Ms. Travers’ father. He plays a loving, imaginative, alcoholic father who (at least in the movie) inspired much of who Ms. Travers came to be. Playing absolutely lovable and fabulous supporting roles are Paul Giamatti (as Ralph, Ms. Travers’ limo driver) and Melanie Paxson (as Dolly, Walt’s secretary). Both of them add significant things to the movie and provide some great comedic relief.

Now for the score. I love love LOVE Thomas Newman. He has done so much and I don’t think he’s recognized enough. He is apparently the most nominated living composer to have never won an Oscar (according to Wikipedia). It is a charming and engaging score. I remember noticing it’s significance while I was watching the movie, which is always a good sign. I’m personally rooting for Newman this year.

Predictions
I’m honestly not sure. I still need to see a couple of the movies in this category, but I think Newman has a shot. He’s up against some other big names though. It would be a nice nod from the Academy, for both him and the movie, if he wins.

 

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Visual Effects

Movie: Star Trek Into Darkness
What it’s up for: Visual effects

I don’t care what you say, I love the new Star Trek movies. I like the old ones too, don’t worry. The visual effects were great, of course, but there’s nothing groundbreaking to say about them. Strangely enough, we’re at that place in CGI where it takes something amazing to make visual effects really stand out.  As for plot, I enjoyed it a lot. I was removed from the internet at the time I watched it so I had no clue about certain important plot points. Watching movies WITHOUT knowing all about the plot through the internet is how it’s supposed to be. That’s how you can recognize the full effect of a screenplay. That being said, since I knew nothing about the plot beforehand, I loved all the twists and surprises.

 

Movie: Iron Man 3
What it’s up for: Visual effects

Not gonna lie, the Iron Men are my least favorite of the Marvel movies. As I went in to the theater to watch number 3, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t seen number 2. Good thing that didn’t really matter. There were too many things going on in this movie. I don’t even remember half of them but I do remember being overwhelmed while simultaneously thinking “Was getting Pepper Potts out of most of her clothes really necessary?” (Superhero films are definitely aimed at a certain demographic.) It did add a lot to the Avengers storyline as a whole, though. I like that. The visual effects were great, which at this point just means that there weren’t any obvious moments where things looked terrible.

 

Movie: The Lone Ranger
What it’s up for: Makeup, visual effects

I know that I’m probably the only one, but I really enjoyed The Lone Ranger. I watched it for what it was, without focusing on comparisons, and I thought it was enjoyable and very funny. The plot was intriguing enough to keep my attention during a midnight showing after a very long day of work. I jumped in my seat a couple of times, laughed out loud, and had just the right amount of tension that left me wondering how things would turn out. The makeup jobs on Johnny Depp and others were very good and complemented the costuming well. The visual effects were great. I think it’s harder to create believable CGI in a recognizable environment (like the desert of Earth) versus the creation of a completely foreign environment or completely foreign characters. These kind of effects are often way less flashy and get less attention than fantasy effects. It’s good to see those efforts recognized.

Predictions
Gravity pretty much has visual effects in the bag. I’d rank the rest (from most to least unique) in this order: Smaug, Star Trek, Lone Ranger, Iron Man 3.

(I’ll discuss the makeup category later.)

Prisoners

Movie: Prisoners
What it’s up for: Cinematography

It’s Thanksgiving and two families are having dinner together. Their two young girls go out to get something from the other house without their older siblings and suddenly disappear. What follows is a somewhat chaotic but visually beautiful portrayal of the attempts to find them.

The plot of the movie is sound with lots of moments that keep you interested and keep you guessing. I was hooked from beginning to end. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal play the central characters of father and cop, respectively. Gyllenhaal in particular played a well-imagined deadly-serious detective with a perfect record. He made you feel like there was more to his story than what was being told on-screen. (Unfortunately, any back story he has is just left to the imagination.)

The cinematography is just plain gorgeous. The lighting, camera angles, use of filters…everything was just wonderfully crafted from the first minute of the film. I would hate to see it lose to Gravity simply because it’s a great example of classically good cinematography.

I don’t have much else to say. The cinematography definitely was the crowning glory. The movie holds its own, for sure, but there was a lot of opportunity for more plot clarity and character development that they should have taken advantage of. The writing and editing were the weakest elements of the film, in my opinion. The cinematography actually helped push the story along more than the actual dialogue in certain parts. It was not a waste of time, but it wasn’t above average.

Prediction
Can’t say just yet, since I’ve only seen two films in the category.

Frozen

Movie: Frozen
What it’s up for: Best Animated Feature, Music (Original Song)

Disclaimer: I take Disney movies very seriously.

I got to see Frozen with my sisters which was awesome and appropriate. Frozen, if you don’t know already, follows the story of two princesses in a land called Arendelle. The movie begins with Elsa, the older sister, being crowned queen. However, she is hiding a mysterious power over ice and snow from everyone – including her sister Anna.

Spoilers will truly ruin this movie for you if you haven’t seen it yet, so I will avoid them as much as possible.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of Frozen. It doesn’t matter where I go, if there are kids around and I mention Frozen, suddenly someone will start singing about snowmen or letting it go. It helps that it was basically the only kid movie in theaters through the holiday season. Now, I’m not saying that’s WHY it has almost beat The Lion King in box office stats, but it’s definitely a factor.

I…liked Frozen. I didn’t love it. For the first half of the movie, I felt this uncomfortable confusion over what was happening. For example, there’s a love song that Anna and Hans sing that seems like it’s supposed to be taken seriously at first but it’s not. Fortunately during this first half, I was distracted by several “Arrested Development” references, which was AMAZING. About halfway through, things turned around for me due to Olaf the snowman. The hilarious choice to make Olaf more of a background character who makes random comments that everyone ignores made a huge difference in the tone of the film. It definitely appealed to the YouTube/Instagram video/Vine generation’s sense of comedic timing.

There were good morals and lessons throughout for both characters, but those were pretty predictable. I keep comparing it to Wreck It Ralph and although there were more twists in Frozen, the overall emotion of Ralph was stronger because you didn’t know HOW they were going to solve the problems in Ralph’s world. That’s probably just me, though. My biggest issue was the lack of character development for Elsa and Kristoff. They are both VERY important characters who are not given much screen time to learn about what’s going on with them.

sort of SPOILERS START

The other thing that bugs me is that everyone keeps talking about how nice it is that the focus of the princesses is not on finding a prince but on learning the importance of familial love. I counted the other day, and out of the current official 11 Disney princesses, only 2 (or arguably 3) focus on finding a significant other. (Snow White and Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty. Ariel is the other arguable one but her original focus is on wanting to experience land life, so I don’t think she counts.) The other 9 (8) princesses find true love on their way to something else. Not to mention, familial love is a huge part of 7 of 11 princess stories (Merida, Tiana, Pocahontas, Mulan, Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel). NOT TO MENTION, focusing on the love between the princess and one of her family members as the cure to a curse is the EXACT theme of Brave. And if we add Anna and Elsa to the list of princesses, Anna would be added to the list of looking for true love in the form of a man, since she sings a whole song about it in the beginning of the movie.

SPOILERS END

I need to see the movie again. I think I’d like it more now after knowing what I’m walking in to. The soundtrack is amazing and it’ll totally be a political move if “Let It Go” doesn’t win best song.

Predictions

Animated Feature Film: Definitely.

Best song: Very possible.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Movie: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
What it’s up for: Sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects

Oh, Hobbit. Dear, sweet, Hobbit.

I guess I should just start off talking about how amazing the visual effects were. They were quite astounding. Smaug himself is the big-ticket item in this category. When he pulled himself up out of that pile of gold, I reacted with a hand to my mouth and a slight gasp of amazement. That being said, the whole Smaug thing dragged on rather long, but it looked amazing while it lasted. The other particular special effect concept that I found myself mentally commenting on was all the choreography. The fact that most of the fighting scenes were probably 90% CGI means that, yes, choreography may not be the proper term for it. However, someone had to come up with those ideas (he jabs here, then that orc flips and stabs with his sword etcetcetc) in the first place, right? The whole scene down the river was great. Evidence of the thorough and fantastic job done in that sequence was given with the verbal reactions by the audience I was with. Good movie-making…no, good STORYTELLING is defined by getting the audience to react to something that is not real as if it were real.

Let’s see, besides the special effects, what can I say….For it being what it is (without focusing on comparison to the books or to LOTR), the movie was fine. It was intriguing and mostly kept you interested. Besides the dragon scene dragging on far too long, the only other complaint I have with the pace of the film was how erratic things felt, particularly in the last half of the movie, as we jumped back and forth between three different storylines. Gandalf’s whole bit just doesn’t mesh well with the others’ since they only vaguely connect. I still don’t understand why they had to add the whole weird white Orc story arc. It seems excessive. However, I liked the addition of the love interest between Kili and Tauriel. I know, I know, I’m such a GIRL. I don’t care. It was cute and kept me interested in staying through the slow parts of the film.

The sound mixing  and sound editing were fine, as most CGI heavy films are. The stronger of the two, I think is the editing because there were so many types of sounds they needed to create. This was felt strongest during the dragon scenes with the thousands of coins and pieces of treasure that would move at any given moment. Well, I guess that would also fall under mixing. Most fantasy movies have to have a strong combination of the two to be effective and Smaug certainly did.

Predictions

Sound mixing: Probably not

Sound editing: Probably not

Visual effects: Probably will lose to Gravity but it definitely deserved the nomination

Captain Phillips

Movie: Captain Phillips
What it’s up for: Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

I purposefully avoided knowing anything about the real story of Captain Phillips before going to see the film. I only knew that he was still alive. I’m not sure how different the movie would come across to someone who knows the story well, but I’d imagine that either way, it is a gripping tale.

Tom Hanks is one of the greats, hands down. What struck me about him particularly in Captain Phillips, though, was that he sincerely seemed like your average, blue-collar, working man. From the very beginning of the movie, his dialogue didn’t seem scripted. It came naturally. I’m sure that part of this had to do with the fantastic script that he was given, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better. There were definitely some sort of politics in play for him to not get a Best Actor nomination.

Not to be ignored is supporting actor Barkhad Abdi, who  plays Muse, the captain of the pirates. He says more significant things with his eyes in many parts of the film than he does with his mouth. You see his character change as things go from good to bad for him and his crew. Again, he benefits from a great script but he also adds to it with some great acting through body language.

The screenplay is fantastic because it is simple but effective. It allowed for some significant character development  for a lot of the minor roles as well as the major characters. That combined with virtually flawless film editing. sound editing and mixing, and cinematography let you SEE what the words don’t say, while keeping the dialogue short and sweet. There are subtle nuances and connections throughout the film achieved by a combination of these factors. From the simplicity of the opening credits to the unspoken realization that one of the pirates is around the same age as Phillip’s own son, there are things that you realize or figure out throughout the story that bring depth and life to an already emotional and tense story line.

My absolute favorite things about this movie are the character development and the last five minutes. The character development of the minor characters is almost more important than the main characters. By the end of the film, you feel things for the pirates because of who they’ve become right in front of you. You get to see where they come from and the circumstances that led to the hostile takeover of the ship. (Whether or not that description is accurate is not something that I think is significant in this context. For the film adaptation of actual events, the background information is creative and vital to how the audience is meant to view the pirates.) I really appreciated the fact that the story didn’t just focus on the pirates as the “bad guys” who had no depth. The development of some of the tanker’s crew members brings more depth to how the events play out as well. You get to see how vulnerable this giant tanker was to one skiff and how little there was to help the crew members defend themselves. These satellite characters around Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi help develop the importance of what’s happening and amplify the actions of these two men.

The last five minutes of the film are breathtaking. I don’t want to spoil it so I won’t go into too much detail. The use of score, editing, cinematography, and acting all play a significant role in how powerful this moment is. It’s hard to describe, actually. It was during this five minutes, though, that Tom Hanks proved his ultimate worth as an actor. It’s what started Oscar buzz for him around this film. The more I read about it, the more I am impressed by it. What a shame. Matthew McConaughey is the black sheep on that list of best actors. He’d better impress me for me to be convinced that he should be there instead of Tom Hanks.

Predictions:

Supporting actor: Doubtful

Best picture: Possible but I would be surprised if it did

Film editing: Not sure yet. I’m guessing it’s in the top two though.

Sound mixing: Possible

Sound editing: Doubtful

Writing (Adapted screenplay): Doubtful

Gravity

Movie: Gravity
What it’s up for: Leading Actress, Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Music (score), Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

A mesmerizing experience. That sums up Gravity. And I’m pretty sure that’s what all the ads said too. This isn’t a movie I would buy and watch over and over again. It’s a movie to experience on a big screen, preferably in 3-D.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are part of a mission to update the Hubble telescope. While they are up there, a tragedy occurs and their space shuttle is destroyed, leaving them stranded in space. The goal from then on is to find a way back to Earth.

I love Alfonso Cuaron as a director. The Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite Harry Potter movie because of his visualization. Children of Men is still one of the most powerful and technically fascinating movies I’ve ever seen. I was familiar with his style going into the film and I think that helped me get a lot more out of it than I would have otherwise.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Early in the movie, Clooney lets himself drift off into space in order for Bullock to survive. It’s not an especially emotional moment because his character wasn’t extensively developed. However, it’s a moment that plays an important role in the character development of Bullock’s character Ryan, who the movie is really about. By this point we’ve learned that her young daughter had died at some point in her past and now her only companion has left her in space. Ryan’s ability to cope with alone-ness and her eventual self-discovery provide the main depth of the film.

Along this journey, Ryan has a moment where she acknowledges that she was never taught to pray. This triggers the spiritual theme, which is something Cuaron does very well in his films. By the end, Ryan has learned to pray thanks to help from Clooney’s character and her own growth as a human.

SPOILERS END

Cuaron makes effective use of the rule of three and draws significant importance from visual cues. Details are what make this movie’s plot significant. There is a lot of silence and still shots, which in context makes sense, but I can imagine that it may cause some audiences to lose focus. There is such a focus on artistry that these moments may seem pointless. However,the cinematography is undeniably amazing. Every shot is beautiful and detailed to an unbelievable level. 3-D technology was made for movies like this, with space debris flying everywhere and close up shots of the characters. It makes it feel like you’re actually in space. The visual effects are seemingly flawless and the lighting makes everything look very real.

The sound mixing and editing are solid and significant. All of the sounds had to be created from scratch and the balance of silence and noise played an important role. I don’t remember the score being particularly memorable in and of itself, but it did help highlight the events of the film well. Production design just speaks for itself since the entire setting of every scene was created from literally nothing. It was a work of art. The film editing helped evoke emotions and keep the plot going, which is significant since there was basically only one actor throughout the entire story.

And on that note, Sandra Bullock, like usual, is fabulous. It really says something about an actor’s ability when they have to act in a vacuum. (Pun totally intended.) She had no one to play off of most of the time and had to keep the plot going with body language. That being said, her ability to act in this type of a movie is different than what it takes to act with other people. The leading actress category is a strong one this year and it’ll be quite the battle.

Predictions*

(*Until I get further along in my movie watching, these predictions are going to be pretty vague…)

Leading Actress: Unlikely

Best Picture: Unlikely

Cinematography: Possible (still need to see the rest)

Directing: Possible but I don’t think so

Film Editing: Very possible (but I still haven’t seen the rest of these either)

Music (score): Unlikely

Production Design: I honestly have no clue till I see the others

Sound Editing: Possible, but I’d vote for Smaug

Sound Mixing: Possible

Visual Effects: I’d be shocked if it didn’t win…Smaug is their biggest contender here

2014 Nominations

New year, new look, new layout. I reorganized the blog to make it easier to find old posts. Above you will find links to categories and links to years. (Feel free to ignore last year, which I am dubbing “the dark year” of the Anna in Oscarland blog). I can’t believe this is the fourth year I am attempting to watch all the Oscar nominated films. How time flies.

If you’re new to my blog, welcome! My goal is to watch all the nominated films before the Oscars air (except for the foreign films, shorts, and documentaries only because they’re usually much harder to find). Then I blog a review that is focused on the categories the movie was nominated for (or should have been nominated for). I’m no professional, just an avid movie fan.

Anyway, on to the nominations! There are a total of 32 movies nominated this year (excluding Foreign Films, Shorts, and Documentaries). Here’s the link to the official list: http://oscar.go.com/nominees

Here’s the list of movies:

  • All is Lost
  • American Hustle
  • August: Osage County
  • Before Midnight
  • Blue Jasmine
  • The Book Thief
  • Captain Phillips
  • The Croods
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Ernest & Celestine
  • Frozen
  • The Grandmaster
  • Gravity
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Her
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • The Invisible Woman
  • Iron Man 3
  • Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Lone Survivor
  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • Prisoners
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • The Wind Rises
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

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