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Deepwater Horizon

deepwater-horizon-review

*Yes, I realize that this picture could be from any of Mark Wahlberg’s movies…*

MovieDeepwater Horizon
What it’s up for: Sound Editing, Visual Effects

This is the story of the April 2010 oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It thoroughly humanized the tragedy. Much of the focus after the incident was on how terrible it was for the environment (which it was). However, human lives were lost and loss of life should always be taken seriously. The movie as a whole was engaging and intense. I may have been sobbing almost the entire time, but I still enjoyed it.

The visual effects immerse you in a hellish landscape. You can feel the terror as the rig explodes and starts falling apart. The sound editing was complex, but not too far out of the ordinary.

This is another one where the score stood out in a strong, positive way. Gina Rodriguez (who is amazing in Jane the Virgin) did a fantastic job as one of the engineers and the only woman in any position of authority. All of the actors seemed fully committed and they added to the authenticity of the film.

Predictions
Sound Editing – Doubtful
Visual Effects – Doubtful

Captain Fantastic

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MovieCaptain Fantastic
What it’s up for: Leading Actor

Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is a father of six. He and his wife are raising their children off the grid in the forests of the Pacific Northwest (#pnwisbest). When tragedy strikes, Ben is forced to bring his children back into the world, challenging all of them to figure out what is really important.

Jiminy Christmas, this one is probably my favorite this year (of the 19 I watched). I’m a huge fan of the indie film genre, and this one had everything you could want. It should have been nominated for screenplay. The production design was beautiful as well, particularly in the scenes out in the woods.

Viggo Mortensen is INCREDIBLE in this role. Ben is completely honest with his kids at all times, and Viggo accomplishes this with a tenderness that makes you believe he loves these kids. The child actors (all six of them) were also incredible. About halfway through the movie, I realized how natural everyone seemed. It could have been a real family.

Prediction
Sadly, he won’t win this. He definitely deserved the nomination though.

 

Arrival

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Movie: Arrival
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Film Editing

Aliens come to earth. Why are they here? /synopsis

I don’t really understand why this movie got so many nominations. There’s one big moment that makes it worth watching but the first 2/3rds of the film are SO SLOW I almost quit watching. But I kept going, hoping something would happen. And it did! But it wasn’t enough to redeem the whole movie for me. My favorite thing about it is that the aliens look like cephalopods.

Arrival killed it in the sound mixing department. If the sound winners are split between two movies this year, I think mixing will go to Arrival. The sound editing was good too, but they didn’t do anything groundbreaking. Same can be said for production design and cinematography. The lighting throughout the film was effective in conveying tone, which I suppose is why the cinematography deserves a consideration. The visual effects are really what should have gotten nominated. As should the score. The complexities of the later third of the film are where the high quality of the film editing stands out.

As for the screenplay…the way the movie plays out and builds towards the ending makes it deserve this nomination. Despite it being tortuously slow in the beginning, some of those elements were necessary to make the ending as impactful as it was. It’s based on a short story called “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang and I bet that it’s very good. The story probably works better as written piece rather than a visual piece.

Jóhann Jóhannsson deserves great praise for his score! It was creative and imaginative. He and his team put a lot of effort and ingenuity into creating it.

It’s not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it deserves the prize for Best Picture or Best Director though.

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely
Director – Unlikely
Adapted Screenplay – Highly unlikely
Cinematography – Doubtful
Sound Editing – Possible
Sound Mixing – Possible. It’s probably one of the top 3.
Production Design  – Possible, but unlikely.
Film Editing – Unlikely

20th Century Women

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Movie: 20th Century Women
What it’s up for: Original Screenplay

Many of my next posts will be short and sweet considering we’ve got 4 hours until the main event!

Dorothea (Annette Bening), a single mother who grew up during the Great Depression, asks her boarders to help her  guide her son as he enters his teenage years. Julie (Elle Fanning) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig) have their own way of doing things as young, independent women living in 1979. Dorothea learns how to balance who she is with this new world of 1970s liberty.

This movie is weird. The screenplay was most likely nominated for its creative merits. And by “creative”, I mean “different than a normal movie”. It actually evokes a solid 1970s, drug-addled feel which was certainly intentional. It was a thought-provoking film, since it’s easy to compare the emerging feminist and free love movements of 1970s to what’s currently happening in the US in particular. It was weird though.

Annette Bening is actually amazing in her role. She was the most captivating part of the film. It almost felt like a Best Leading Actress performance (to earn a nomination, at least).

Prediction
Kudos for creativity, but it won’t win.

La La Land

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Movie: La La Land
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score, Original Song (x2), Production Design, Costume Design, Film Editing

I, like many, was initially put off by how many nominations this movie received. I thought it was another movie about Hollywood and the Academy was giving nominations based on relatability to their world. Thankfully, I was wrong. La La Land isn’t about the Hollywood elite. It’s simply a basic boy-meets-girl love story set in Hollywood.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a barista trying to become an actress. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a musician trying to open a jazz club. Through song and dance and banter, La La Land tells us the story of their love.

The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is unparalleled in modern cinematic pairings. They do so well together. They bring the best work out of each other. Both of them performed incredibly considering they needed to act, sing, and dance. The only strange thing is that sometimes they are so natural together that it feels awkward. Because real life is awkward. Both of them had powerful moments in the film. One of those moments for Emma Stone was when she sang Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” which is one of the two Oscar nominated songs from this movie.

The other nominated song is “City of Stars

I have very little doubt that one of these two will win the Oscar. Probably “City of Stars“, let’s be real. That’s the one Golden Globe win I’ve accidentally let myself see.

Like any good musical, the music of the songs are found throughout the story to help guide the musical themes. The score is unexpectedly unforgettable. After leaving the theater, my thought was “Well, that was ok.” But two days later, I found myself humming the music at work. It ties into the movie so well that you can’t help but hear the music when thinking about the plot.

Speaking of the plot, (man, I’m killing it on transitions today), the screenplay is phenomenal. The ultimate reason why the screenplay stands out is due to the fact that it is a song-and-dance musical. Without a good screenplay, singing and dancing is just awkward. The production design is brilliant. The movie is set in modern times, but the only way you would know that is by their phones. The obscurity of the settings, set decor, costumes, vehicles, and even the hairstyles give it a timeless quality. The costume design in particular stood out to me with Emma Stone’s outfits. The outfits suggest inspiration from different eras, while still being modern. It’s a delicate balance that I can’t explain well because I’m not a fashion person.

My absolute favorite part of the movie was the cinematography. I can’t fully express my awe towards the cinematographers in words. Imagine me doing Kermit’s muppet arms and you might get a sense of how I feel about it. The coloring and lighting changes with the mood. Whatever they did with the cameras and/or lights made some of the live backgrounds look almost like extremely high quality stage sets which allowed for the musical numbers to have that old-time musical feel from classic films. You really see this in the “A Lovely Night” tap number. (The scene that’s on all the posters.)

That tap number is also the moment where you see some of the best of the film editing. With “long shot” dance numbers, music, and singing, the editors have a lot to deal with. They pulled it off quite well. Those elements also give the sound mixers and sound editors a challenge. On those accounts, the sound was flawless. The transitions from speech to song were seamless. The necessary sound effects merged perfectly with the natural sounds.

The feel of the movie seemed somewhat familiar. It’s because Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed Whiplash, also wrote AND directed La La Land. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when someone directs AND writes the screenplay for a film, the product more often than not comes out better. Chazelle is definitely going places. This is his second big hit in the last two years. Not to mention, that Whiplash and La La Land are really his only major productions anyway. He’s come out the gate swinging. (I think that’s mixing sports metaphors but whatever.)

I’ve seen 7/9 Best Picture nominees. Unfortunately I won’t be able to see Fences or Hidden Figures. From what I’ve seen, I want to think that La La Land will win. I didn’t think so at first, but after watching more of the BP nominees, it’d be hard to beat it. Lion might be the closest contender. I liked that the movie was nostalgic to the classic films without being cynical or satirical. The ending….well, that would be a major spoiler, but the ending is what gives it a solid berth in the Best Picture category.

Predictions
Best Picture – Likely. Unless the Academy goes in a politcal statement direction. (I’m looking at you Moonlight.)
Director – I’m not too sure actually. Statistically, if it wins BP, Cazelle should win too (since it is the most nominated film). But last year is the obvious exception to that rule.
Actor – Doubt it. Sorry, darling.
Actress – Doubt it.
Original Screenplay – Possible
Cinematography – Strong yes. This is an extremely powerful category though.
Sound Editing – Possible. Arrival gives it a run here.
Sound Mixing – Possible. If it wins mixing, it’ll probably win editing.
Original Score – I so want Thomas Newman to win, but it’ll probably be either this or Lion.
Original Song (x2) – Probable. I’d pick “Audition” but it seems like it’ll go to “City of Stars
Production Design – Probable.
Costume Design – Maybe? I haven’t seen enough of the costume films to be sure. I hope so.
Film Editing – Possible. That’s also a tough category.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Movie: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
What it’s up for: Costume Design, Production Design

Does anyone else always hear the word “fantastic” in their heads with a Christopher Eccleston accent?

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them depicts one of Newt Scamander’s many adventures searching for magical creatures in the Harry Potter universe. He goes to America on a quest and ends up in New York City circa the 1920s.

This movie is fun for the Harry Potter fan. We get to see the magical community in America and how they interact with the “no-mags” (aka muggles aka non-magical persons). We get to see a bunch of new magical creatures and some familiar ones as well. It’s a bit one-dimensional and some of the characters needed better development. It’s an enjoyable story, though.

The production design of this film is structured around the 1920s. It’s a period piece, even if it is about wizards. However, there’s a certain aspect to it that suspends reality. It’s as if we’re watching an alternate reality where everything is just slightly off. Essentially, that’s what the story is so to that end, it is successful. However, there’s nothing too remarkable in the production design to make it stand out.

I could say almost the same thing about the costume design. Although there are some interesting choices in some of the designs, they look like your basic period piece choices. Maybe I’m missing something, I’m not sure. It all looked great and fit well with the production design. It just didn’t wow me.

Predictions
Production Design – Unlikely. Especially going up against La La Land.
Costume Design – Unlikely. Especially going up against….La La Land. 

Rogue One

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*Disclaimer: I don’t know who made the above image but whoever did is a genius.*

MovieRogue One
What it’s up for: Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Rogue One, the first of what will surely be many “Star Wars Story” films, tell the tale of the theft of the Death Star plans by the Rebellion against the Empire. It takes place immediately before Star Wars: A New Hope (also known as Star Wars also known as Episode IV also known as the first created Star Wars film that came out in 1977).

I’m incredibly biased when it comes to Star Wars anything. The Star Wars universe is my first love. I’ll start off by saying I enjoyed Rogue One as a film more than I enjoyed The Force Awakens. (But I also love The Force Awakens.) The story is intriguing and different from the Star Wars saga films but still feels like it fits right into the rest of the stories. It’s a darker movie than the others. I won’t spoil anything (although if you haven’t seen it by now, you probably don’t care) but I will say that it and Episode III are the only Star Wars films I wouldn’t take young children to see.

The scoring was fantastic. Michael Giacchino (whose one of my favorite composers) did a great job combining John Williams’ scores into his own interpretation. The acting was…sufficient. I feel like they may have suffered from a screenplay that had to be cut down several times. My biggest objection to the film is that the characters are provided with very little development. Some of the characters have or will get some of that from the expanded universe (comics, books, etc). However, a film shouldn’t rely on those materials to support its characters.

The visual effects are the standard sci-fi level of amazing with one exception that makes it stand out from the crowd – the special motion capture that resurrected one of my favorite characters ever: Grand Moff Tarkin. Tarkin was played by actor Peter Cushing back in 1977. Since this movie takes place immediately before Episode IV, they needed to bring Tarkin back. So, they turned to the visual effects department. I personally found some of it to be off-putting. It falls into the uncanny valley a couple of times. But the effort and technological advancement can’t be denied.

As for sound mixing, there were no perceivable flaws so I guess that’s good? It’s hard to tell nowadays. There’s so many space/sci-fi/war movies that unless something is obviously wrong, it’s hard to knock it.

Predictions
Sound Mixing – It could win this category just based on my statistics from the last few years, but after my Star Wars debacles from last year, I doubt that it will.
Visual Effects – This is an exceptionally complicated category this year. My gut says “no” though. 

Kubo and the Two Strings

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MovieKubo and the Two Strings
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film, Visual Effects

For the Animated Feature Film category, the reigning formula has been 1-2 Disney or Pixar films, 1-2 Dreamworks or stop-motion film, and 2 foreign films. That fits this year. Kubo falls into your typical stop-motion film standard, save for one crucial element – the visual effects.

Kubo and the Two Strings follows the story of Kubo as his mother tries to protect him from his malicious relatives. It’s a tale that leads Kubo to various enchanted environments and through several trials. Giving more detail will spoil some surprises.

It has a classic epic journey structure that’s predictable but in a positive way. Some things don’t make sense at first, but if you stick through it, all your questions will be answered and you’ll be left smiling. It’s severely underrated and I’d recommend it to anyone and especially to anyone with kids. It’s not a kids film per say, but there’s so many cool things about it that children would love it.

The visual effects are STUNNING. Basically, they painstakingly meshed together CGI effects and stop-motion effects to create these vast environments and characters, while maintaining the stream-lined feel of a stop-motion movie. There are water effects throughout the film that LOOK like they’re stop-motion but they’re actually CGI. It’s incredible. There was a lot of work put into these effects. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend visiting this article about what they did to accomplish this feat.

Predictions
Sadly, I don’t think Kubo will win either of these categories. It’s possible there could be an upset win here in the Animated Feature Film category, but it’s unlikely.

Visual Effects: Doctor Strange and The Jungle Book

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Movie: Doctor Strange
What it’s up for: Visual Effects

I will honestly say that I am not the best person to accurately assess the visual effects for Doctor Strange. I have some astigmatism so I tend to prefer seeing movies in 2D over 3D. My astigmatism also led me to be completely tripped out by the distortion effects in this film. (I’m glad I didn’t see it in 3D. It wouldn’t have gone well.) However, the visual effects are the primary focal point of Doctor Strange and it’s easy enough to perceive why.

Doctor Strange is based off the Marvel comics character by the same name. This film is Steven Strange’s origin story. Strange, a highly skilled surgeon, injures his hands in an accident and must learn to cope with life outside the hospital. In his search for meaning and healing, he discovers a realm of sorcery and finds a power within himself that he never imagined.

This is a Marvel movie. It’s good. It’s quite good. I, personally, didn’t like it as much as some of the other films, but there’s no denying its quality. The story line is intriguing. The characters are complex and interesting. But the effects are what makes this movie stand out. Part of the sorcery in the film includes creating alternate realities and opening portals to new areas. The result is basically what would happen if you filmed a movie through a kaleidoscope. It’s amazing to watch. All the CGI effects were seamless and impressive. However, it pales in comparison to the innovative effects in The Jungle Book and Kubo and the Two Strings (which is getting its own post).

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MovieThe Jungle Book
What it’s up for: Visual Effects

When they first announced the concept for this movie – live action with motion capture animals – I, like many, was quite confused on how it would play out. Little did we know how WELL it would work.

The Jungle Book is….The Jungle Book. It is the live-action adaptation of the Disney animated feature. It does include some additional elements from the book. It is not simply a shot-for-shot remake. In fact, although it keeps much of the plot from the cartoon (as well as some musical elements), the story ventures far enough away from the original to keep you engaged and guessing what will happen next. I absolutely loved it. It is my favorite of the live-action remakes so far. It was better than Cinderella and immensely better than Maleficent. I think they finally figured out that if they change the plot around too much, people won’t like the film. This one has just the right balance.

Now, for the effects: SWEET MOTHER OF MONKEY MILK. Sorry for the lack of professionalism but seriously…it’s like they trained real animals to talk and act. The evolution of the animation of fur and hair has really reached its peak. I was blown away by how real everything looked – animals and environment alike. Neel Sethi (Mowgli) was the only one on set for most of the filming of this movie. He acted by himself to imaginary animals in an imaginary environment on a green screen set. He should get a special award just for that. He also did a great job as an actor.

Predictions
Having seen 4 out of 5 of the Visual Effects movies at this point, I’m going to have to go with The Jungle Book.

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