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Moonlight

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MovieMoonlight
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Film Editing

Moonlight tells the story of a poor boy named Chiron growing up in Miami who is discovering who he is compared to who others expect him to be. He struggles to find purpose and meaning as he grows up, hoping to find where he belongs.

First and foremost, I have to criticize the cinematography and film editing. Half of the movie is out of focus. Literally. I’m not sure what happened there. I assume it must be some sort of artistic choice that represents the difficulty of discerning who you are as you grow up…or something. However, it makes the movie almost unwatchable. I had to close my eyes a few times because the distortion was messing with my head. Outside of that, the lighting and framing are creative and effective…when you can see it. But, the score is great. It’s eclectic and also helps with some of the exposition.

Mahershala Ali gives a great performance, however, he’s in less than 1/3 of the film. He’s not the first actor/actress to get nominated for a role that has a short screentime. That practice isn’t something I fully understand. Although he did great, I felt like he didn’t have enough time to make an impact. What was more impactful was how Trevante Rhodes channeled Ali’s characteristics as he played adult Chiron.

Naomie Harris blew her performance out of the water. She played Chiron’s drug addict mother who grows and changes just like Chiron. She was incredible and impressive in her range and depth of performance.

I can’t say much about the screenplay because this one is also achingly slow. Fortunately, it’s also the shortest of the movies. There are few conflict/resolution plot points in the film. It’s basically one big conflict, which is Chiron discovering himself. I understand that that’s the point, but not enough happens in the movie to even track his growth. *Spoiler alert* It also ends with no resolution which is frustrating after such a slow film.

Barry Jenkins wrote and directed Moonlight which leads me to believe he was going in a Boyhood or Terrence Malick direction with the film. If that’s the case, kudos and well done. If that’s not the case, then it’s just a slow film without an engaging plot. Perhaps he was just trying to portray realism. I get that filmmakers like to do that and those are the movies that get nominated for awards. But it’s just so depressing.

Predictions
Best Picture – Doubtful
Director – Doubtful
Supporting Actor –  Probable
Supporting Actress – Highly possible
Adapted Screenplay – Unlikely…I think
Cinematography – I doubt it
Original Score – Nope
Film Editing – Doubtful

 

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Lion

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MovieLion
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score

Five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets separated from his family and finds himself in Calcutta. Through a series of events, he gets adopted by a family in Australia, taking him even farther away from the family he knows is still out there. As an adult, Saroo (Dev Patel) decides to try and find his way back to them.

Although Lion also sticks to the theme of slow progressing plot lines, it diverges from the rest by having the slow part at the end of the film. Yes, I’m talking about Dev Patel‘s entire role. There’s a reason I chose a picture of Sunny Pawar for this post. He did an amazing job and deserves some sort of award recognition for being awesome. Dev Patel’s good looks couldn’t sway me to get on board with what felt like four hours of Dev looking at maps. The fault of this lies on the screenplay. The first half of the film is brilliant in this department, but the second half falls short. The cinematography was beautiful throughout.

Nicole Kidman was great. She had a specific monologue that, I would guess, led to her nomination. Will she be given an Oscar in the one category that is predominantly non-white actresses? We’ll see.

I remember noticing the score while watching the film and wondering if it had been nominated for an Oscar. It was beautiful and perfectly aligned to the story.

Predictions
Best Picture – I think this one might take it
Supporting Actor – I think it’s highly likely but I would hope not
Supporting Actress – Unlikely…I think
Adapted Screenplay – Probable
Cinematography – Possible
Original Score – I don’t think anything can – or should – beat La La Land

 

 

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

The Martian

Movie: The Martian
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Everyone probably knows the basic premise of The Martian by now. Basically, an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets stranded on Mars and everyone tries to get him back. I don’t say that cynically or tongue-in-cheek. The end result of this storyline is a fun and engaging adventure with a fantastic ensemble cast.

The production design worked perfectly. Space movies have been done many times and it’s easy to get stuck in a space movie rut when it comes to design. This one, however, felt natural and realistic. It felt like something that could be happening in this day and age, not in the future. The modern take on the design is accentuated by an artful, semi-futuristic attention to detail. The interior scenes were the most intriguing to me. There’s a consistency and flow to each location that keeps everything connected.

The adapted screenplay meshed well with the overall design to create that sense of authentic reality. The timeline for the movie spans over several years but the screenplay seamlessly transitions across time without kitschy tropes or over-used transitions. The progress of the story was well-paced without being too predictable. They avoid the awkwardness of Watney talking to himself by having him do “daily logs”. My one technical objection was to some over-the-shoulder POV camera angles (primarily near the beginning) that ruined some of the illusion of Watney being stranded alone on Mars.

The script was clever and concise and integrated the talents of the cast involved. There were a couple minor exceptions to that involving Watney and Jeff Daniel’s character (NASA administrator Sanders) where a few of their “one-liners” seemed forced. I can’t understand how that happened when much of the rest of the script smoothly incorporates humor without feeling contrived. I loved the variety of characters and the choice of actors. The threat with using that many well-known actors is for characters to feel unnecessary. Each character played an important role and each actor filled those roles well. They worked well together and each contributed to the story. My favorite moment is a scene where Sean Bean and some of the others discuss a plan called “Elrond”. If you don’t know why that’s funny, look up “Sean Bean” and “Lord of the Rings”.

Matt Damon‘s character, Mark Watney, is the centerpiece of this ensemble. After Watney is left on Mars, he must figure out how to survive and let Earth know that he’s still alive. Damon makes these terrible events amusing and makes talking to yourself seem normal. For about 80% of the movie, Damon is his typical charming self. The 20% where the walls break down and you see what’s really going on for Watney are what make his performance Oscar-worthy.

The sound editing was high class. Space movies always require a significant amount of sound creation and foleying. The sound editing was flawless, as far as I can recall. Everything felt natural and there weren’t any abrupt moments caused by sound.

The visual effects were perfect. Like I’ve said about everything else, the film felt real. The spaceship scenes were the most complex with gravity effects and the integration of the sets into outer space. Mars was convincing. It was all just good. Visual effects are somewhat difficult to examine nowadays. The only times they aren’t good are if there are some glaring problems (like The Revenant‘s fur rendering issues).

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely
Leading Actor – Unlikely
Adapted Screenplay – Possibly
Production Design – Possibly
Sound Editing – Possibly
Sound Mixing – It’ll get both sound categories or neither
Visual Effects – Unlikely

The Big Short

Movie: The Big Short
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing

I can’t remember the last time anger made me cry. It may never have happened before. Halfway through The Big Short, my anger grew so great it could only release itself through tears.

This movie tells the bleeping true story of a handful of people in the financial world who figured out that the housing market would collapse in 2008. The movie takes some creative liberties when telling the story for efficiency and effect, but the basic stories are true. Greed, stupidity, and arrogance created an unending vortex of doom for everyone.

Deadpool may be making waves for breaking the fourth wall, but guess what? The Big Short did it first (this year). One of the main goals for this adapted screenplay is to educate the general public about what happened in 2008 as well as explain some of the legal and financial mumbo jumbo people tend to just throw at us. One of the ways they accomplish this in the film is by bringing in random celebrities (like Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain) to explain certain terms (like CDOs and tranches). Not to mention, the narrator of the film is Ryan Gosling’s character, Jared Vennett, and he and many other characters have moments where they face the audience and explain something. Breaking the fourth wall can be difficult to execute smoothly but the screenwriters and actors pulled it off perfectly.

Beyond the fourth wall, the screenplay itself is just phenomenal. Several different narratives come together in the film to create the overarching story. Some of them connect to the others and some of them don’t. However, they all fit together without causing any confusion and build upon one another to explain the technicalities of the situations that unfold.

The movie had some of the oddest film editing choices I’ve ever seen. There were intentional continuity errors throughout the film. At least, I assume they were intentional because there were a number of them and I doubt the Academy would nominate a film for film editing if it had made so many errors. Almost every time the camera angle changed, the film would jump back a few seconds within the scene. For now, I’ll go on believing in some reasoning behind those choices. Besides that, the editing kept an effective hectic flow throughout the film, creating a sense of urgency and dread for what was coming. It easily went back and forth between the cameos and the story. It played a significant role in making sure the different narratives were distinct but part of the larger picture.

Adam McKay not only directed the film, but he also co-wrote the screenplay. He had a clear intention in his head of how he wanted this movie to go. How clear that was to everyone else is up for debate. I appreciated the quirkiness of the film. At the very least, his monumental task of directing a huge ensemble of main characters succeeded beyond doubt. All the actors did a fantastic job and played off each other perfectly. Christian Baleironically enough, got the supporting actor nomination. He was the only character not to interact with any of the other main characters in this ensemble film. His character, Michael Burry, a real player in this financial drama, is an anti-social former doctor with a love of heavy metal music. I didn’t really understand the music thing until I got in my car after the movie and the only music I wanted to listen to, in my anger, was hardcore screamo. Bale did a great job, but I think any one of the other actors (Steve Carell in particular) could have gotten the nomination.

The film is amazing, if only as a tool to teach people about the economy. I learned much from watching it (although Arrested Development Season 4 prepared me well for the subject matter so I knew a little bit already). There’s a warning at the end that tells us that the economy is set to create another housing bubble with the banks and financial institutions creating the same problems under different names. They do it all in the name of greed. Really though, please go watch this movie if you haven’t already. It’ll be at Redbox on March 15th.

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely
Supporting Actor – Possible but I doubt it
Director – Possibly
Film Editing – Unlikely
Adapted Screenplay – Possible but I doubt it

Brooklyn

Movie: Brooklyn
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actress, Adapted Screenplay

It’s nice for there to be a feel-good movie thrown in with all the severe subject matter that usually comes with Oscar nominations.

Brooklyn is the adaptation of a novel by the same name written by Irish novelist Colm Tóibín. In the early 1950s, an Irish girl named Eilis ( Saoirse Ronan) leaves Ireland to live in America. She moves into a boarding house in Brooklyn, New York, finds a job, and finds love. Things get complicated and she has to choose between her life in America and her Irish roots.

The story is sold as a romance, where Eilis has to choose between two loves. It’s a misleading description. Although there are multiple men in her life, that is not the focus of the story nor the overall theme. Eilis’ story fits right into the other “girl power” movies in this year’s batch of Oscar nominees. The real focus is on Eilis making a life for herself and figuring out who she is and what’s important to her.

The adapted screenplay was clever and creative, but refreshingly simple. The basic storyline was combined with some interesting camera work, including several extended close-ups (which seem to be all the rage this year), to create a realistic feel to the flow of the film. There’s a fun, repetitive storytelling technique present in the screenplay that seems like a result of the original story coming from a novel. The overall effect brings a lovely and somewhat timeless quality to the film, despite being a period piece. The absolute best moments of the film, particularly from the screenwriting perspective, were the dinners Eilis shared with her fellow boarders in Mrs. Kehoe’s dining room. These scenes were the perfect combination of clever script-writing and simple but effective scene direction. I was thrilled to learn that the BBC is working on a television series based on Mrs. K and the boarding house.

Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis and does so beautifully. Asking actors to create characters with minimal dialogue seems to be another thing that’s all the rage this year (to go along with those extended close-ups). Much of Ronan’s screentime is spent silent or with short, quipped dialogue. With that, though, she portrays the innocence and complexity of a young, female immigrant of the 1950s. She makes Eilis seem real. I’m pretty sure I’ve said that about a couple other actors this year…. I suppose the effect of all this silence is that the nominees as a whole seem more real, because real life isn’t scripted.

The beautiful, emotional Brooklyn deserves its Best Picture nomination. As someone with a family history filled with Irish and Italian immigrants, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. My only complaint was that the ending felt incomplete. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it was the script or if something was cut out, but I felt like I didn’t have enough closure with the characters.

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely
Leading Actress – Unlikely
Adapted Screenplay – Possibly. This category is hard to tell even though I’ve seen 4 out of 5.

Room

Movie: Room
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay

As with most of the Oscar movies every year, I knew little about the plot of Room. I will admit, there were several moments where I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. However, the power and impact of the movie prevented that from distracting me too much.

Room is the adaptation of a novel by the same name that tells the story of a little boy and his mother’s captivity and eventual escape from the mother’s kidnapper. It is told from Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) perspective. All he’s ever known is “room” (the shed he and his ma [Brie Larson] are being kept in) and he believes that to be all there is to the world.

The best adapted screenplays happen when the original authors contribute to the adaptation. Emma Donoghue, the original author, retains sole credit for the writing of this movie’s screenplay. Although the pacing felt slightly odd at times (primarily in the second half) and Jack’s narration could have been cut down a bit, the quality of the story remains evident. The movie is shot beautifully. The shots effectively set up scenes so that even if Jack is not narrating, you’re still seeing things through his eyes. They don’t present everything from Jack’s perspective (Ma gets her own touching moments when you get to see her heart), but the weight of the story is held by him.

Which leads me to mention the FANTASTIC performance given by Jacob Tremblay. He was seven when they filmed. He memorized lines and was directed in blocking, but there was some improvisation during filming as well. If I hadn’t read a couple interviews, I would’ve assumed that the entirety of his performance was improv’d – in a good way! He came off naturally and seemed like he wasn’t being coached too much. There were several scenes where he and Brie would carry on a conversation and they would keep the shot focused on him alone. That showcased his ability since there was no clever editing to keep the scene going – he wasn’t just spouting one line at a time. He carried those scenes all on his own.

And then there’s Brie Larson. What a gut punch. That’s the first term that comes to mind. I’d like to talk to any moms who’ve seen this movie and find out how emotional it was for them. It was emotional enough for me just witnessing the events unfold through this story. The emotion came entirely from Brie, even though the story was being told (mostly) from Jacob. When Jack would talk to Ma and she would just look at him, you could feel what was being unsaid. We see Ma protecting Jack from the truth and then adjusting her own thinking to help him cope with reality. She’s brave and self-sacrificing. I find that writing about this movie now, I’m thinking of Ma as a real person.

Both Brie and Jacob clearly benefited from some exceptional direction by Lenny Abrahamson. He chose to shoot the film chronologically (when most movies jump around for production efficiency) in order to accommodate their seven-year old leading actor. Directing a child actor in any role is a task, much less one that takes up so much screen time. Not only did he tackle that momentous task, but he also worked with Donoghue for an extended period of time on the screenplay. And then there’s Brie Larson. Good actors are good actors, but they’re made great with great directors. I have no doubt that Brie contributed a significant amount to the direction of her character. However, Abrahamson brought together a child actor, an untested screenwriter, and a leading actress who is not the main character, into an intriguing and heart-wrenching story that deserves its Best Picture nomination.

Predictions
Best Picture – I would not be surprised if this one ended up in the top two. I don’t think it will win but I’d be glad to be wrong.
Director – Abrahamson earned his spot in this category, but he has a hard fight against Iñárritu.
Leading Actress – Likely. I’m gonna say likely. Maybe even very likely.
Adapted Screenplay – I’m not sure on this category yet. I need to see a couple more of these movies.

 

The Imitation Game

Movie: The Imitation Game
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Film Editing, Score, Production Design, Adapted Screenplay

This movie is not at all what it seems to be in the trailers. It’s not a war movie. It’s not even really a character drama. It’s more like a political statement for the UK.

The Imitation Game follows the true story of mathematics prodigy Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a team of geniuses who attempt to break the unbreakable Enigma coding machine of the Nazis during World War II.

I’ve never been a Benedict Cumberbatch fangirl and I’ve never fully understood his mass appeal. However, this is the most nuanced performance I’ve seen him do and I was impressed. Turing’s social inabilities paired with what seems to be OCD create a unique personality that needed to be paired with intentional, abnormal body language. Cumberbatch pulled it off brilliantly.

In contrast, I’ve always been fond of Kiera Knightley, who plays the character of the “unlikely woman” who joins the code-breaking team. I was more fascinated by her character in this movie than any of her previous roles. She tends to be the same person in everything she does (which is still good and enjoyable to watch). In this movie, however, she brings her game to a new level. The hair/makeup folks did a great job with her in particular. Since she wasn’t just one of secretaries, they made sure her appearance was a little more haphazard than the well-put-together typists.

This movie is more about gay rights than anything else. They try to hide it but are so intentional in how they try to hide it, that it makes it seem all the more obvious. Because of that, the plot is too convoluted. You’re left not knowing what exactly you’re supposed to focus on. One moment, you’re fully engrossed in defeating Hitler, and the next you’re thrown back in time to learn more about Turing. If the movie had been solely focused as a character drama and not lauded as a war movie, it would have been less confusing.

In general, the movie is well-constructed. The director in particular did a great job working with different timelines (a trend this year it seems) and many different characters. The screenplay was good but not the best I’ve seen this year. It flowed beautifully but lacked a thorough script. (Example: Not once did they even try to explain how their code-breaking machine worked, even in the vaguest sense.) The production design was typical for a WWII film and I don’t really understand why it was nominated. The film editing was nothing out of the ordinary, but was well done.

Alexandre Desplat was nominated twice for score this year. Once here and once for Budapest. His score for Imitation is good, but it doesn’t connect the plot well enough to be a truly impactful score.

Predictions

I’m just going to keep this simple and say that on a case by case basis, I think it’s unlikely that The Imitation Game will win in any of these categories. However, it also seems unlikely that the Academy would let a movie that Hollywood is championing as a gay rights film to go without an award.

 

The Theory of Everything

Movie: The Theory of Everything
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Score, Adapted Screenplay

So, lo and behold, I moved across the country over the last couple weeks, so I am suddenly pressed for time and my last few posts are going to be much shorter than average.

The Theory of Everything is the story of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his first wife, Jane (Felicity Jones). The film tells the story of Hawking’s burgeoning career and the onset of his ALS through the lens of this relationship.

This movie is gorgeous from beginning to end. It’s one of the most beautiful screenplays I’ve ever seen. It’s colorful and well-paced. In a story that focuses so much on interpersonal relationships, you might expect it to lull at times. Theory has no such problem. The screenplay works brilliantly with the score which tugs at your heartstrings and helps tell a complicated story that has so many ups and downs.

Eddie Redmayne wins this category for me, hands down. I was rooting hard for Steve Carell but Redmayne IS Stephen Hawking. Hawking himself gave Redmayne only the highest compliments on his performance and gave the crew special permission to use his trademark synthesizer voice. (What surprises me about that is that the entirety of the movie is one tear-jerker scene after another and I did not expect Hawking to be so forthcoming with praise about a movie that accentuates so many of his physical and emotional weaknesses.) I should really start adding GIFs or something to my blog posts because I feel like my awe of Redmayne can only be expressed through gestures.

Felicity Jones is one of my new favorite actresses. She had to go through every possible emotion in this film and did so with aplomb. The movie is based on the real-life Jane Hawking’s autobiography and her character is just as much the main character as Stephan. Jones’ grace and confidence fill the screen. She says more with body language than many actresses do with words.

This movie does a great job of separating its story from the perceived persona and accolades of Stephan Hawking and simply tells a realistic tale about the difficulties of relationships.

Predictions

Best Picture – It may very well win this. I think TheoryBoyhood, and Birdman are the top three in this category.

Leading Actor  – Yes. I really do think he’ll win.

Leading Actress – Unlikely, but well-nominated

Score – Very likely

Adapted Screenplay – Probable, but it’s hard to say. This is a strong category.

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