Blog posts from the 2014 Oscar season

2014 Wrap-Up

What a great show. Ellen was funny, as were some of her sidekicks. The sets were beautiful. I’m SO glad they brought back the best song performances. The production team seemed a little scattered for the show and none of the actors knew how to read their teleprompters but besides that, it was good. I enjoyed the speeches and the odes to heroes. It was all around entertaining and I had a good time watching.2014 Winners

I guessed 12 out of 19 right, which happens to be the same percentage as the last time I was able to make predictions (in 2012). So, I guess what I’ll be “chasing” next year (a la Matthew McConaughey) is to predict at least 13 categories correctly. Out of the 7 I got wrong, the only ones I really disagreed with were the Original Screenplay win for Her and Alfonso’s directing win for Gravity. (Like I’ve said before, I love Alfonso Cuaron but I really would’ve liked to see Steve McQueen or Alexander Payne win.) 2 of those 7 that I got wrong, I had picked correctly for my personal choice to win (Lupita and “Let it Go”). I loved that Matthew McConaughey won best actor. The moment I saw his little preview thing I thought “You know…McConaughey might be the dark horse here.” I think that Chiwetel Ejiofor deserved it just as equally. It was a tough category this year.

So, the 2014 Oscar season is over. What a beautiful year for important films. However, I hope that this next year is going to bring back a theme of uplifting and hopeful films. I think we all could use some of that.


2014 predictions

After last year’s black hole of not being able to watch many movies or watch the Oscars live, I was hoping that this year’s group of nominees would be something special. Although they all stand out in different ways, overall I came out bored. I hate to say that, but it’s true. There weren’t many stories that really gripped me. However, there were a lot of stories that taught me new things. I learned more about the AIDS crisis, the war in Afghanistan, piracy, Disney, kung fu, and a lot about growing old. There were also A LOT of “based on a true” stories. I kind of liked that.

Alright, here’s my predictions. I got to 25 out of the 32 movies nominated this year. (Not including foreign and short films or documentaries) 25 was my goal, so I’m proud of myselfPredictions 2014

  • Best picture: I’m going with 12 Years a Slave because it was the best of the nine and I think there are enough political AND artistic reason for it to win. I wouldn’t be surprised though if American Hustle won. I would be disappointed, though.
  • Director: I’m gonna go way out on a limb and say Steve McQueen. It’s the type of thing the Academy would do.
  • Leading Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Leo won. I think not nominating Tom Hanks was the Academy’s way of setting up whoever actually wins.
  • Leading Actress: Cate Blanchett. Because they’re gonna have to give an award to Woody somehow and I don’t think he’s gonna win the screenplay.
  • Supporting Actor: Jared Leto because he deserves it slash this movies gotta win a couple things.
  • Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence because of the Academy’s current love affair with her. Not that I don’t love her. Because I do. But she shouldn’t win this time.
  • Original Screenplay: American Hustle which I don’t think should win. ANY of the other ones should win. Well, except Blue Jasmine.
  • Adapted ScreenplayCaptain Phillips. I don’t think they can just ignore Captain Phillips.
  • Cinematography: Gravity. But my selfish little indie film self liked Prisoners‘ cinematography the most.
  • Film Editing: Gravity, although I don’t think it should win.
  • Animated FeatureFrozen. Duh.
  • Original Song: “Ordinary Love” by U2. I think it’s gonna win just because it’s U2 and because Mandela just died.
  • Original ScoreGravity. Boo. Go Thomas Newman!
  • Costume DesignThe Great Gatsby because wow.
  • Makeup and Hairstyling: American Hus…oh wait, that wasn’t nominated. Uhhhh….Dallas Buyers Club, I guess.
  • Production Design: Oh, how I would love to see Her win but it’s probably gonna be Gravity.
  • Visual EffectsGravity legitimately deserves this one.
  • Sound Mixing: Gravity although I think Captain Phillips had more significant mixing.
  • Sound EditingGravity. 


Movie: Philomena
What it’s up for: Leading Actress, Best Picture, Music (score), Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

What a surprisingly joyous little film. I was all prepared for another bout of depression after seeing this but I was wrong. It’s not a happy-go-lucky, feel good film, but it is entertaining and has a good moral. There was a lot of that lacking in this year’s Oscar movies.

Philomena is an Irish gal who got pregnant as a teen in the 1950s. Her father dropped her off at a convent where they made her give up her son. He was adopted and taken away and 50 years later, Philomena finally tells someone about what happened. She and a deposed BBC journalist go on a journey together to try to find her son.

Judi Dench always surprises me, I don’t know why. I expect her to always be the same in her roles but she is an undeniably great actress. I loved her in this movie. She had just the right balance of humor and focus to make her role as Philomena stand out. Her co-star, Steve Coogan, who plays Martin the journalist, is fabulous as well. He has a tremendous sense of humor and comedic timing which enhances and doesn’t overshadow serious scenes.

The score didn’t stand out to me but the screenplay did. It was clever and well shot. They used a lot of great angles and artistic framing to set the scenes. The film relied heavily on character development and the script did it justice not only for the two main characters, but for Philomena’s missing son as well.


The whole movie was actually enjoyable to watch, which was great. It is the type of movie that reminds me why I like to go to the movie theater.

Best Picture – No

Leading Actress – No. But I’d pick her.

Score – No

Adapted Screenplay – Doubtful but I could see it making a surprise appearance

12 Years a Slave

Movie: 12 Years a Slave
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Best Picture, Costume Design, Directing, Film editing, Production Design, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

So after a long hard battle against my work schedule, I finally got to see 12 Years a Slave late last night. Much thanks to my mother for going with me. I’m glad I went to go see it. Without actually seeing this movie, I would not have the proper context to predict winners. This was by far the most well-made movie I’ve seen this year.

12 Years a Slave follows the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man in the pre-Civil War north, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. Solomon is given a new name and a new background and told that if he ever suggests the truth about his situation to anyone, he will be killed. He is passed around to various masters, all the while trying to figure out a way to get back home.

This is an incredibly difficult movie to watch. I would describe it as almost unbearably depressing. It’s difficult to face hard truths head on. Slavery is something that has existed since humanity began and has encompassed every race. It’s easy to point at the slave trade in America and elevate it above all other forms of slavery because it is so relatively recent and, dare I say, romanticized over other sins against humanity. But there are other stories in history of terrible periods of slavery. And the worst thing is that it is still going on now and we don’t acknowledge or realize what is happening. This article from Relevant Magazine popped up last week and it brings up some important stats about modern-day slavery and also has a link to an organization that is trying to help.

Recognizing the severity of the subject matter, I’m now going to move on to the film itself. The acting was phenomenal, although there were many times where I was distracted by seeing a familiar face pop up. The surprise actor of THIS film was Taran Killam, who plays one of the men who tricked Solomon out of his freedom. I love Taran on SNL and it was very distracting to see him as this old-timey gentleman since he plays hilarious Jebidiah Atkinson on Weekend Update. I knew Paul Giamatti was in this movie but his face distracted me a bit too. And my significant last distraction was Garret Dillahunt whose voice overcame his beard and made me see his character only as Burt Chance from raising hope.

Michael Fassbender played the cruel slave-owner, Edwin Epps, who owns Solomon through most of the movie. Out of all the supporting roles, his stood out as the most distinct. He played his part with a kind of manic disconnectedness from the severity of his lifestyle. One moment he’d seem completely focused and evil and the next he’d be playing around with one of the little slave girls. It was a role that required a wide range of expressiveness and emotion and he hit it all spot on. Lupita Nyong’o played Patsey, one of the other slaves working for Epps, who, unfortunately, was “favored” by the master. Her character is so completely tragic that it’s hard not to believe that she is real. This is a role that required SO MUCH of Lupita as an actor and as a person that it almost seems unjustifiable to give the Oscar to anyone else. Finally, Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Solomon, completely dominated the screen. There were many contemplative moments where Ejiofor wasn’t even talking and you could feel what was going on just through his eyes and body language. Honestly, besides Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, no other leading actor has led me to such an emotional bond with his character this year.

The strong screenplay combined with the gorgeous production design and film editing creates a pressing emotional influence throughout the film. The filming locations are gorgeous and the cinematography is nothing to ignore. Everything is set up to draw the eye in to the story but not distract from whatever is happening. The costuming is solid but not groundbreaking. With all these things, you can feel Steve McQueen‘s strong direction. The movie flows smoothly throughout the story. He specifically focuses on the people and what is happening to them. He chose to make some shots longer than normal to focus attention on something or someone. And when I say “longer than normal”, I mean MUCH longer. There are several shots of just Solomon where they linger longer than our normal sense of instant gratification would like to see. What happens, then, is that the audience is forced to contemplate over this person or situation and really think about what is happening. It digs in deep to the heart of the matter and stays there.

This is an unbelievable film that helps shed new light on an old familiar face. It is definitely worth watching once to get a new perspective on slavery and to remind us that this was and still is a problem.

Leading Actor – I think so, actually.

Supporting Actor – No

Supporting Actress – I’d pick her, but I doubt she’ll win.

Best Picture – I’m gonna go out on a limb and say YES.

Costume Design – No

Directing – Another limb. Another yes.

Film editing – No

Production Design – No

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – No

Animated Films that aren’t Frozen

I wasn’t able to see Ernest et Celestine because it’s not out in the US yet. The Wind Rises just came out last weekend but I didn’t have time this week to venture out to the only cinema that has it. Frozen‘s blog post is here. Here are the other two nominated for Best Animated Feature Film:

Movie: The Croods
 This is my second favorite of the animated feature films I was able to see. I was more than skeptical about it. It’s a movie about a family of cavemen. Little did I know that Chris Sanders (who I know best from Lilo and Stitch and The Lion King) was the driving force behind this movie. It pulls at your heartstrings and makes you laugh all at the same time.

The story follows Eep, a teenage cavegirl, as she and her family are displaced from their home and forced to adapt to a new environment in order to survive. They’re joined by Guy, who is not a caveman and has a lot of new and exciting ideas – much to the dismay of Eep’s father, Grug.

The focus of the tale is on the relationship between Eep and her father, which is a focus you don’t see very often in animated movies. It was sweet and made me tear up a couple times. The script is clever and very well-written. Each character is developed individually and given just enough attention so that you are invested in each one. I would recommend watching it, especially since it is on Netflix now.

Movie: Despicable Me 2
 Ok, I think the Despicable Me franchise is funny, clever, and appealing to a wide audience. But I just don’t understand the obsession that follows the minions around. I don’t get it.

Despicable Me 2 follows where the first one left off. Gru is now the proud father of Margo, Edith, and Agnes. He gets recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help them find  a villain who has stolen a secret lab. He partners up with an agent named Lucy and together they stake out a local mall where the villain is believed to be hiding.

It is quite funny and has a complex enough plot to keep you guessing. The real strength in this franchise is the characters. They each have one or two really dramatic qualities that make you love them. I don’t get the love of the minions though. They’re sort of funny but I mostly just don’t get them. It was cute and got a lot of attention by the masses, but it’s hurt by the fact that Frozen came out more recently and DM2 has faded into the background.

I will be shocked if Frozen doesn’t win. Really shocked. The Wind Rises might be a contender but it’s really doubtful with the groundbreaking animation and Broadway style of Frozen.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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