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February 2014

Nebraska

Movie: Nebraska
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actress, Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing, Writing (Original Screenplay)

This is one of the movies I was really looking forward to watching. I like independent films and this was getting lots of good reviews. Unlike most of the movies I’ve watched this season, it was exactly what I was expecting. And it was good.

The story follows an elderly man named Woody (Bruce Dern) who wants to travel from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar sweepstake prize he believes he has won. His son David (Will Forte) decides to go with him after Woody tries several times to walk there himself. Throughout their journey, David learns more about his father and his family.

The movie is shot entirely in black and white which is very interesting and gives the whole movie an old world feel. Besides the cars, there’s nothing to indicate what decade it’s in. What really stuck out to me is that I never once saw a cell phone. The cinematography was really unique because it was in black and white. I felt like it should’ve been in higher contrast, but honestly, I don’t know enough about their method to understand the intent. Regardless, there were several scenes where the lighting looked awesome.

Bruce Dern does an amazing job as Woody, who’s only semi-aware of what’s going on around him. It’s hard to believe that he’s acting. It makes it an interesting study of how families can handle aging family members. June Squibb is HILARIOUS and adorable as Woody’s feisty wife Kate. I would absolutely love to see her win. Honestly, Will Forte also was great in his role. He played it very well with the right balance of humor and gravity. With all of these and the large number of other actors in the film, Alexander Payne did a tremendous job with staging and direction for many complex scenes. He chose to shoot wide for a lot of the film which was kind of hard to watch on a tv screen, but it made the framing look beautiful.

Finally, the screenplay was great. It was way more complex than a lot of the movies I’ve watched recently and was more traditionally structured. It was good to be able to watch a movie that wasn’t just one long dramatic event (ala Gravity or Her or Blue Jasmine….). The script was clever. The directions for shots were creative and different, but didn’t work perfectly with a small screen (since I rented it from Redbox).

In a cohort of less than astounding movies, this one stands out as one of the better ones. I am going to need to cleanse my film palate with some stupid comedies after all these dramatic and depressing Oscar films.

Predictions
Leading Actor: Doubtful but well worth the nomination

Supporting Actress: I could actually see her winning. I just the type of thing the Academy would do…and honestly, I’d pick her over the others I’ve seen.

Best Picture: No

Cinematography: Doubtful

Directing: Doubtful

Writing (Original Screenplay): Doubtful

The Grandmaster

Movie: The Grandmaster
What it’s up for: Cinematography, Costume Design

It’s hard for me to get into Kung Fu movies, not gonna lie. But, I stuck through this one and it was good.

The story follows the biography of Ip Man, the martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee. It was actually quite interesting to learn about how the Northern and Southern parts of China developed their own kung fu schools and how there are so many different types of kung fu. There was also some romance elements to it which kept me interested.

Overall, the flow feels strange just because it is just structured differently than the Hollywood styles. It’s just different – not bad, different. The plot is semi-engaging and happens in short bursts between long stretches of (awesome) kung fu scenes. The cinematography is unbelievable. They do things with water, snow, dust, and smoke to make the action sequences look amazing and the rest of the scenes look like works of art. The use of light and dark plays a major role in the intensity of the film.

The costume design is fantastic but not for the reasons you may expect. The movie takes place over the 1930s, 40s, and 50s in China and Hong Kong. The costumes are not only distinctly Chinese and beautiful but also distinctly influenced by the decade they are in. The fact that the actors could perform a lot of intense kung fu moves in some very complex and heavy-looking costumes shows how well the costumes were crafted.

It’s an interesting movie and has many intriguing characters. It looks beautiful and was very well constructed. It’s not my favorite subject matter to watch for an hour and a half, but it was good.

Predictions
Cinematography: It probably won’t. This is a tough category.

Costume Design: Probably not.

Dallas Buyers Club

Movie: Dallas Buyers Club
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Film Editing, Makeup, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Alright, alright, ALRIGHT (McConaughey impression intended) I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about Matthew McConaughey.

What a heavy, heavy film. I didn’t know much about it beforehand except that Matthew McConaughey’s character had AIDS. I didn’t know it was based on a true story. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised by the route this film took to tell the story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey). Woodroof is a Texan cowboy electrician who is diagnosed with HIV. As he struggles to cope and find out more information about his diagnosis, he finds help from a doctor in Mexico who had his license revoked in the US. When his methods begin to help Woodroof feel better, he decides that he could make some money selling these “unapproved” drugs back in Texas.

The film flows beautifully. It tells its story often without words. The film editing is brilliant and amazingly well done. Each scene builds into the others and creates a deep and engaging storyline. The lighting is also amazing and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten any recognition for cinematography. The screenplay is absolutely fabulous and takes into account the culture of cowboy Texas and the culture of the HIV/AIDS community and the strange overlap between them.

Now…for McConaughey. Ooooooh mylanta, I can’t believe how wrong I was about him. I don’t usually like admitting when I’m wrong but this time, I’m happy to. Besides the astronomical physical changes that McConaughey underwent for this role, he also transformed his personality several times throughout the movie. There were a few times where he had to pretend to be other people as he smuggled drugs into the states and also transformed Woodroof as a person from being selfish and insecure, to someone who truly cared about the well-being of others.

Jared Leto, as the transgender woman Rayon, was astounding. I don’t know how to describe this character and Leto’s transformation. It was an amazing role for the film and Rayon played a big part in the emotional impact of Woodroof’s story and the story of AIDS in general. He and Barkhad Abdi (from Captain Phillipsare leading this pack of supporting actor nominees. The makeup and hairstyling of both Leto and McConaughey were really well done, although it didn’t seem nomination worthy to me.

Overall, it was amazingly impressive. What makes it especially impressive is that it was filmed with a small budget (a mere $5.5 million) and shot in 25 days. It just goes to show that money isn’t what makes a film good, but the talent and the passion that goes into its creation.

Predictions
Best Picture: Possible

Leading Actor: I personally think that Leo is getting set up to win, but McConaughey definitely deserves the nomination.

Supporting Actor: Probable

Film Editing: This category is a tough call. I feel like DBC is unlikely to win though.

Makeup: This category is so weird this year it’s hard to say. I’m not sure why American Hustle didn’t get nominated for this actually…

Original Screenplay: I think it deserves the win just for the sheer amount of time and effort it took to get the screenplay made into a movie. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lost.

Lone Survivor

Movie: Lone Survivor
What it’s up for: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

These kind of movies are kind of hard for me to watch. It’s easy to distance yourself from World War II movies and such because those things are part of history. When movies are made about real things that have happened recently, it’s a little bit more difficult.

This movie follows the true story of a failed Navy SEALs mission in Afghanistan known as Operation Red Wings in 2005. It’s based on a book by Marcus Luttrell who was the lone survivor of that mission. A team is sent after a known leader in the Taliban but things go wrong when they’re stumbled upon by a group of goat herders.

It is very intense and emotional. It’s beautifully shot. The cinematography is amazing and it is edited together creatively. The sound mixing and editing were remarkably good. An enormous amount of research went into this movie by Peter Berg. He even got special permission to embed with a Navy SEAL team in Iraq for a month. I appreciate the fact that we get to see what the military in action can actually be like. I came out of it with new thoughts and respect for our military men and women.

There’s not much more to say on this, though. Although you feel strongly for the characters and you’re held on the edge of your seat as you wait for Luttrell to be rescued, it’s not your standard entertainment film, and that’s perfectly fine. It is what it is. It’s good and worth a watch if only to appreciate the training and strength of will that embodied these fallen soldiers.

Predictions
I don’t think it’ll win in either category, just because of the strong contenders it’s up against.

Her

Movie: Her
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Music (score), Music (song), Production Design, Original Screenplay

Why oh why is this year so WEIRD. This movie is so weird. It has its artistic merits, for sure, but I just couldn’t get on board with the plot.

Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his operating system. That’s the part that is hard to take seriously throughout this very serious dramatic film. The character development for the different human characters is fantastic. The general storyline is very strong with a good ending. But it’s hard not to giggle at certain “serious” moments when the OS (named “Samantha”) falls into relationship stereotypes with Theodore.

The overwhelming winner in this movie is the production design. The correlation between costuming, set design, and scene locations is fantastic. The movie is set in a not-so-distant future and it totally feels real. They combined footage from Shanghai and LA, along with some CGI, to make a future version of LA that seems like it could be real any day now. The number of extras – all given special attention with costuming – make the reality of the environment really sink in. Each set design is gorgeous and artistic with the touch of functionality that makes you believe that this could be your office or home. It’s hard to explain in words how seamlessly all of these elements worked together to create a really beautiful and realistic environment.

With this visual masterpiece setting the stage, the screenplay does the rest to work visual wonders and keep the story engaging. It just looks so nice throughout every scene. The script is very good and creates a moral for Theodore’s story. The choices for camera angles, cutaways, and use of voice-overs keep your brain engaged and thoughts going. The cinematography was also quite good with some great choices in lighting. All that being said, it’s very distracting during these well-structured scenes when “Samantha” decides to act like an emotional human.

The score was also great with a lot of beautiful piano pieces. The song, “The Moon Song”, was only ok. It’s just a simple folksy guitar piece that sounds nice but isn’t as dynamic as the other nominees. It does seem odd that they didn’t have Scarlett Johansson sing the song (Karen O sings it), since in the movie it’s supposed to be a song from “Samantha” (voiced by SJ) to Theodore.

All in all, it’s nice to watch. I wouldn’t pay to see it in theaters. Wait for Redbox. And be warned – there are a couple really awkward cyber-sex scenes and some bad language.

Predictions
Best Picture – Nope.

Music (score) – Unlikely. But it is nice.

Music (song) – Nope.

Production Design  – I honestly think it’s close between this and The Great Gatsby. I think Her is more creative but TGG  won the BAFTA, so, we’ll see…

Original Screenplay – Very possible. It won the Golden Globe but, you know, Woody Allen is the Academy’s darling soooo…..

The Great Gatsby

Movie: The Great Gatsby
What it’s up for: Costume Design, Production Design

I have never read The Great Gatsby. I know, I know…once you’re done gasping and such, we’ll move on, shall we?

I have never read The Great Gatsby so I had very few expectations or knowledge about what I was getting into. I was very pleasantly surprised with what I experienced. In a weak year for Oscar films, (in my opinion at this point after seeing 19 out of the 32) The Great Gatsby was both entertaining AND visually stunning.

The story of Nick Carraway’s summer of 1922 in West Egg and his adventures with Mr. Gatsby automatically lend themselves to an engaging plot. This version of the story is a modernized retelling that combines the 2010s with the 1920s in a creative and fun way. The modernization mostly happens through the use of music. Different rap, hip-hop, and modern popular music is superimposed onto scenes of flapper girls and bootleggers. And it just works. I loved it.

The costumes were amazing. There were so many costumes and so much detail involved in each and every one. They were beautiful. The overall production design was also gorgeous. They relied a lot on special effects, though, which gave them the ability to do grand things but gave it a kind of weird quality. That combined with some bad film editing and terrible sound mixing made some of the scenes kind of choppy and awkward. However, the set designs and layouts for different scenes were beautiful  and intricate and worked well with the story being told.

Leo, as Jay Gatsby, was completely endearing. Tobey Maguire, as Nick Carraway, seemed authentic and was easy to empathize with. Everyone else just blended into the background. It really wasn’t the best movie ever, but it was entertaining. Since I didn’t know what was coming, I loved the story. I especially loved the initial re-meeting between Daisy and Gatsby because they were so awkward and adorable.

Predictions
Costume Design: I think this is basically a shoo-in.

Production Design: I honestly think it’s pretty equal with Her. I could see either of them winning but I’d pick Her over TGG.

Before Midnight

Movie: Before Midnight
What it’s up for: Adapted Screenplay

I’m not even sure how to begin to talk about this film. I don’t even want to call it a “movie” because I feel like “movie” implies some sort of entertainment while “film” could talk about anything including documentaries and political propaganda. Before Midnight is neither of those things – but it has the same feel. I also didn’t realize that it was the third movie in a series when I watched it which explains SO MUCH about the way it was structured.

I understand why it was nominated for adapted screenplay. It has a unique structure that I’ve never seen before. First of all, the synopsis for this story that is scattered throughout the internet is very misleading. It seems like it’s going to be a romantic dramedy about how a couple met, using flashbacks and meet-cutes to show how their relationship has become what it is today. It is not that. It IS about a couple, but the entire movie takes place during a single afternoon and evening, without any flashbacks. The background information given is entirely through conversation (and through the prior two movies, which I didn’t know existed).

Second of all, there are 6 scenes in the entire movie. SIX. It’s total running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes. And it has SIX SCENES. I just need you to let that sink in for a moment. Add that tidbit to the fact that each scene runs almost in real-time – as in there are very few, if any, jumps in time, except between scenes. Can you visualize the pace of this movie? Yes, it brings the idea of a “slow pace” to a whole new level. I think this is writer/director Richard Linklater’s MO, but I’m not familiar with his work.

Basically what happens over these six scenes is that this couple, Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, respectively), work through an issue in their relationship. No…really. That’s what happens. What’s INCREDIBLY interesting, though, is that bits from this movie popped into my head throughout the day after I watched it. After sitting through these conversations, you begin to feel like you are friends with these two. The script is incredible. The entire impact of any moment happens because of the words that are said. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke both helped write the script, which suggests to me that some of it may have been ad-libbed or at least contributed from real conversations. It feels like a real conversation. They keep it moving forward but often link back to things said earlier in amusing or thought-provoking ways. They didn’t even use too many relationship clichés until the very end.

It honestly is not an entertaining movie. I’m not sure what the intention was for the film, but if you’re looking for entertainment, this isn’t it. It doesn’t even really provide any thought-provoking kernels of wisdom. (Although they did use the term “closet Christian” at one point, which I didn’t realize was a thing.) Celine is obnoxiously feminist and stereotypically female. She uses passive aggression and selective listening to make things harder for Jesse and that drove me CRAZY. However, I really liked how they showed them arguing. It seemed real and they spent time to talk. That is a much better thing to see than the typical entertainment versions of arguments where someone storms out after a couple minutes of yelling.

I think this film is worth watching if you want to see something different and you want to listen to a great script. It would probably help to watch the prequels (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) before you watch this one.

Predictions
I don’t think it’ll win. But I get why it was nominated.

All is Lost

Movie: All is Lost
What it’s up for: Sound editing

I am not going to waste many words on this post. If you’re thinking about renting All is Lost, save yourself the dollar and the effort and buy yourself a candy bar instead. This is by far the most boring movie I’ve seen in a long time. The only reason I sat through the whole thing is because of this blog. It’s a story about a man who gets lost at sea. And that’s it. There’s no character background or development at all. There’s no reason to care about this guy. The only reason I even understood what was happening most of the time is because I’m very well-educated in maritime survival methods. If you don’t know anything about surviving at sea, you will probably spend most of the movie confused. Also, it seems to be pretty inaccurate. Two cargo ships pass him at different points in time and he shoots up flares and everything and they don’t turn around. I KNOW that that wouldn’t happen. I’ve SEEN what happens when a large ship sees a life raft adrift at sea. And ships have to respond to flares. So, anyway, don’t watch it. The sound editing is good, but that’s mostly because there’s a lot of water and the sound effects are the ONLY thing that happens in the entire movie.

Prediction
Oh, it’s gonna lose to Gravity, let’s be real.

Blue Jasmine

Movie: Blue Jasmine
What it’s up for: Leading Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay

I am looking at this movie as a piece of art defined solely by the artistic definitions and parameters that are applied to films and cinema. I am not going to look at it based on the moralities of those involved in making it. That’s not what defines a piece of art. Bad people have been making art since art began and whether or not that art is good should be based on the qualities that define “good art” in that medium. There are plenty of articles around the internet discussing the idea of “when bad people make good art”, so Google it and let’s move on.

I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris and that was my first exposure to Woody Allen’s style. So, I went into this movie with reasonable expectations.

Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins play the two sisters Jasmine and Ginger, respectively. Jasmine has lost everything because of a financial scandal involving her husband (played by Alec Baldwin) and is moving in with Ginger to try and start a new life in San Francisco. The sisters aren’t very close – and aren’t even related (they were both adopted) – and Jasmine’s husband caused Ginger and her ex-husband to lose a lot of money. Thus, the drama is born.

The actual script – as in the words being spoken – is UNBELIEVABLY boring. There are a few great one-liners, but besides that, I couldn’t believe how much the movie just dragged on. That being said Cate Blanchett did an AMAZING job as Jasmine. I actually shed a tear for her at the end. Jasmine struggles with a mental breakdown or disability throughout the film and it is amazing to watch Cate go back and forth between lucidity and lack of understanding. Sally Hawkins is interesting as her sister and plays an unusual type of character but she’s not as memorable.

Although the script itself is boring, the way the screenplay is structured creates a really interesting and engaging flow through the film. They use flashbacks and cuts between different characters to explain what happened in the past, but they don’t do it all at once. It stretches throughout the movie, adding depth to each act. I actually really enjoyed that aspect of the film and agree that it creates a nomination-worthy screenplay, despite the weak script. (Although, honestly, I think the script was purposefully “weak” to sort of connect to what was happening in the movie. I don’t really know how to explain that thought well…I really did think it was pretty boring.)

This is not a movie I would watch over and over again. I’m glad it was only 98 minutes long. But, Cate Blanchett’s character is very memorable and different from your average leading actress role.

Predictions
Leading Actress: I think this is gonna be a close bet between Meryl and Cate.

Supporting Actress: I think Sally Hawkins is a “possible” just because the Academy has a weakness for Woody Allen

Original Screenplay: Possible…but I don’t think it deserves the win with such a boring script

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