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January 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road

Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

I, like many, scoffed at the ten nominations for Mad MaxFury Road. On the outside, it doesn’t seem to fit your standard Academy film. It seems like a post-apocalyptic version of Fast and Furious. This is a perfect example of how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

Mad Max: Fury Road tells the story of a woman named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who helps a group of female slaves escape from a mad dictator. She attempts the escape through an expansive desert, hoping to find a place of peace on the other side. As she journeys, she’s joined by Max (Tom Hardy) who is battling his own demons.

George Miller had quite the undertaking as the director. First of all, there’s virtually no dialogue. The story is built and pushed almost entirely through the action going on. Secondly, the pace of the movie stays about the same (hectic) almost the entire time. There are stunts practically every five seconds. I don’t know how many extras worked on the film (or which extras were real and which were virtual) but they were numerous. Miller pulled an amazing number of variables together to create a seamless experience. I wish I’d been able to see it in theaters for the full effect.

The cinematography was intentional, creative, and effective. It set the tone for the film. It felt like a modern version of a 1980s film – which makes sense considering this is part of the Mad Max film franchise. (Full disclosure: I’ve never seen any of the other Max films. I did quickly skim the plots of the other three on Wikipedia before watching this one, though.) It was unique and memorable. Of course, this would all mean very little if the film editing wasn’t just as good. Which it is. Everything flows well from one scene to the next. It flows so well, that you just find yourself falling into the next moment without realizing that a scene change is happening. For a movie with so much action, it would be easy to get tired of things blowing up all the time. For a movie with very little variability in pacing, it could be easy to get overwhelmed. However, the editing – combined with a narrative score (which should have been nominated) – keep you interested and engaged the entire time.

The costumes and makeup designs tell their own stories. Both are intricate and dramatic, while subtly helping to explain things. The screenplay provides little in the way of background information for the societies that are encountered in the film. The costuming helps display the state of degradation that these people have found themselves in while also helping to distinguish between different groups or types of people. The makeup brings everything full circle by providing the futuristic sense that these people are not like us.

The visual effects of the film are almost indistinguishable from the practical special effects. Although most of the scenes are simply set in the desert, there are some truly epic moments starring the visual effects. Most of the film is one huge car chase that is creatively enhanced through some CGI work. Oh, and Charlize Theron is missing an arm the whole time. I had not even realized the broad scope of the visual effects work until I had to think about it for this post. While you’re watching the movie, the CGI/greenscreen effects don’t stand out from the actors and real vehicles.

The sound editing helped create the illusion of reality almost flawlessly. For the sound mixing, I felt like there were some off moments when the vocals were mixed in. Particularly with Tom Hardy’s lines (of which there were maybe five). I’m not sure if that’s just me being picky or if they did have some dubbing issues. Everything else related to mixing seemed strong.

Production design is my last to analyze for this post because everything I could say has probably been said about any of the previous categories. The production design stands out because all the other categories are so strong. They each work together perfectly to form this immersive environment. The fact that this film stands solidly in the realm of well-crafted stories without a significant amount of dialogue is evidence of exceptional production design.

Overall, it is a great movie. It’s not my normal type of film but I enjoyed it. Something that stood out significantly to me is the fact that there were numerous times where the filmmakers had an open moment for some gratuitous nudity and they chose not to do it. There was also very little profanity. In a time where those two elements are usually crutches for filmmakers, it’s impressive to see someone make a good movie without them.

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely. Even though it’s very good.
Director  – Unlikely. Just because of the other contenders.
Cinematography – Possible….
Costume Design -I hope so! I think it’s in the top two.
Film Editing – Not sure yet.
Makeup – Possible. Old age makeup is usually the give away for this award so I’ll have to see what happens in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared first.
Production Design – Unlikely…but I think it’ll be between this and The Revenant
Sound Editing – Unlikely
Sound Mixing – Unlikely
Visual Effects – Possible

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What it’s up for: Film Editing, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Star Wars is a very emotional thing for me. Hence it taking such a long time for me to get this post finished. It’s hard to be objective about something deeply personal. But here it goes…

This movie as a whole is extremely well done. I have no issue with the plot which some have dubbed as a remake of A New Hope. It’s really not. Abrams and crew simply utilized a common storytelling technique of modeling a new story after something familiar. If they had done that more with the prequel trilogy, they would’ve done better. The plot itself is completely different and new. The only time I had a thought close to “this seems familiar” was with the whole Starkiller Base thing. That’s my only plot objection.

The film editing was brilliant because while I was watching the movie, I forgot I was watching a J.J. Abrams film. Abrams isn’t the editor, but we all know he likes to have control over how many lens flares, rotating zooms and pans etc occur during film-making. His influence on the camera-work was evident in the movie but it wasn’t distracting. Once everything was strung together, it felt new but fit well with the other Star Wars movies. It was well-paced – especially in critical moments. The transitions caused impact and helped tell the story. It was beautifully done.

Score…..I mean, it’s John Williams. It’s John Williams doing Star Wars again. The new score fits well with the old scores because he did them. The new themes transition perfectly into the old themes. It’s perfect because he is perfect.

Sound mixing and sound editing are standard nominations for sci-fi films. It was good. I can’t recall any obvious problems. I also can’t recall any obvious “wow” moments. Per usual, 4 out of 7 films nominated in these categories are nominated for both. Most likely both awards will go to the same film. (There’s always exceptions of course – the most obvious being last year’s Whiplash win for sound mixing.) It’s hard to predict these categories because unless there is some sort of obvious reason why a film would win either category (*cough*Whiplash*cough*), it’s anyone’s guess. I’d love to hear the reasoning from Academy members when they vote for these two categories.

Another standard nomination for sci-fi films is for visual effects. Every year, I’m astounded by the advances visual effects have made from the year before. TFA created beautiful effects including striking broad shots of fictional environments, seemingly realistic interactions between X-wings and water, and of course, Maz Kanata, our resident motion-capture friend. Some visual effects reels have been making the rounds on the internets for TFA, boosting everyone’s confidence in how much care and effort went into these effects. It’s hard to imagine it not winning, but The Revenant is the Academy’s golden child this year, so we’ll see.

Predictions
Film editing – Hard to say at this point. I need to see the other films.
Score –  I’m not sure yet. I haven’t heard the other scores. I want to say it’s likely, though.
Sound mixing and sound editing – I’m combining them because IF TFA wins either of these categories, I think it’ll win both. However, I don’t think it’s going to win.
Visual effects – I really want to say yes…but I think it’s unlikely. It’s too easy.

Cinderella

Movie: Cinderella
What it’s up for: Costume Design

The roll-out of Disney live-action remakes continues. As a whole, this movie is only ok. I don’t have much to say about it. Unfortunately, you can only remake the same movie so many times. The story of Cinderella has been done over and over and over again, in every format imaginable. Disney would’ve benefited more if they’d done what they did in Maleficent, which was to take a couple scenes from the cartoon and remake them line for line in the live-action version. That was the best part of Maleficent but I was disappointed that Cinderella had none.

It’s no surprise that it got nominated for costume design. The press and internet were abuzz with excitement over the costumes long before the movie even came out. The particular focus has been on the costumes of the stepmother (Cate Blanchett).  Although the costumes are beautiful and intricate, they’re pretty much standard fare for this category. There’s a good variety represented in the costume design category this year. At this point, I can’t make a confident prediction for who it might go to. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cinderella win. Fun fact: Sandy Powell has been nominated twice for costumes this year – once for Cinderella and once for Carol. That alone almost guarantees her a win for one of the movies.

Prediction
Hard to say at this point.

 

Inside Out

Movie: Inside Out
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film, Original Screenplay

Sometimes when I write these posts, especially when it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, I put the movie’s soundtrack on in the background to transport me back. As I’m doing that now for Inside Out, I realize that I’m disappointed that Michael Giacchin0 didn’t get nominated for his score composition.

Inside Out tells the story of an 11 year old girl who moves across the country from the perspective of the emotions inside her head. The primary focus of the story-telling is to provide metaphors and colorful examples of how our emotions and memories affect us as people.

Some people criticized the simplistic nature of the main plot of the film (two characters get lost and need to find their way back). However, that basic story provided the foundation that Pete Docter and company needed to explore the human subconscious and take the time to analyze what’s going on in there. We’re led to different locations in Riley’s brain and each stop allows some new facet to be brought to the surface.

The other slight controversy that came with the film (since 2015 is unofficially the year of being offended by everything) is that it was scientifically inaccurate. To that I say…it’s a cartoon. It’s meant to be relatable on a basic level. I know that as a twenty-something woman who still remembers what it was like to be an 11 year old girl, it hit me in a very real way. I started crying at the beginning and basically didn’t stop till the credits. I absolutely LOVED the fact that it explained in a simple way how sadness is an important emotion and it helps you process certain things. That’s really essential for kids to understand.

That being said, I was thrilled to see Inside Out get nominated for Original Screenplay. I had not even thought about that being a possibility since it is so rare for animated movies to get nominated for “real” categories. I have not seen any of the other movies in this category yet, but it seems like there’s some solid competition here. I doubt Inside Out will get the Oscar, but it is fantastic that the Academy recognized it with a nomination.

As for the Animated Feature Film category…let’s be real, it’s hard to beat a Pixar movie. The one interesting conundrum in this category is Anomalisa, an adult-oriented, stop-motion animated movie that has an R rating. I’m trying my hardest to track that one down.

Predictions
Original Screenplay – At this point I can’t make a solid judgment, but the liklihood is low
Animated Feature Film – Highly likely

 

2016 Nominations

Happy 2016 Oscar season everyone!

Here’s a quick review of my goals for this blog for the newbies: I will attempt to watch all movies nominated for an Oscar this year (except for the foreign films, documentaries, and shorts – because they’re usually too hard to find). After I see a film, I’ll write a review specifically focused on the categories it was nominated for. As I watch more and more of the movies, I will attempt to make predictions on who will win each Oscar, culminating in a final summary for all categories before Oscar night. I’m no film professional – just an avid fan of cinema production.

Now that business is taken care of…

This year there are 32 separate movies nominated for an Academy Award. The 5 nominated for Best Song (Fifty Shades of Grey, Racing Extinction,Youth, The Hunting Ground, and Spectre) are only nominated in that category, so those will be my last priority to watch. If I can get through the other 27 movies, I will feel completely accomplished.

Here is the link to the official list of nominations: Oscar Nominations 2016

Here is the list of the 32 movies nominated this year:

  • 45 Years
  • Anomalisa
  • Boy and the World
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Carol
  • Cinderella
  • Creed
  • Ex Machina
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • Inside Out
  • Joy
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Racing Extinction
  • Room
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • Sicario
  • Spectre
  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Steve Jobs
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared
  • The Big Short
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Hateful Eight
  • The Hunting Ground
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Trumbo
  • When Marnie Was There
  • Youth

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