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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

 

Manchester by the Sea

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MovieManchester by the Sea
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) becomes the legal guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother’s death. He’s forced to face his own demons as he figures out what the future will look like for him and Patrick.

Manchester suffers slightly from the 2016 slow-plot epidemic, but much less so than the other nominees. The acting makes up for it. Casey Affleck is incredible as a troubled and haunted man whose just trying to deal with life. Lucas Hedges definitely deserved his nomination for playing Affleck’s nephew. I’ve been impressed by the “child” actors this year. Michelle Williams comes out swinging at a specific and important part of the film and I would love to see her win this year.

You can tell the difference in direction quality between this and Lion. And again, my favorite thing happens – the writer and director are the same person! Kenneth Lonergan does an almost perfect job directing his fantastic screenplay. There is that slowness but again, his direction towards his actors makes the film a good watch.

I really did enjoy this one and would recommend it if you’re looking for a good Redbox night. It’s not a happy go lucky movie (few Oscar films are), but it’s worth watching.

Predictions
Best Picture – Highly unlikely
Director – Possible, but I doubt it
Actor  – Highly probable (unless politics come into play)
Supporting Actor –  Unlikely
Supporting Actress – Possible! (But again…politics….)
Original Screenplay – Possible

Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water

Movie: Hell or High Water
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Film Editing

A modern day, cops and robbers Western, Hell and High Water tells the tale of two brothers who go on a bank robbing spree. Why do they do this, you ask? Well, I won’t tell you because the revelation of their intentions is part of the greatness of the screenplay. (Yes, I know it tells you on IMDB, but if you don’t know it makes it better. Trust me.)

I actually really enjoyed this movie. It’s one of the few Best Picture nominees that is interesting throughout the entire story. It does keep with this year’s theme, though, and moves a bit slowly at times. However, the slow points are also the points of exposition and they help build the story from one discovery to the next. The screenplay is fascinating. Remember how I said I liked symbolism? Throughout the movie, their bank robberies are juxtaposed with images of small town poverty and malicious greed. It’s actually quite brilliant. The film editing was high quality but nothing too spectacular.

Jeff Bridges gets the nomination for supporting actor in this film. He plays the stereotypical ornery old sheriff, but with a few interesting twists of character. His character, Marcus, develops smoothly throughout the film into a performance that deserves the nomination. Ben Foster and Chris Pine also deserve recognition for their performances as the brothers.

Prediction
Best Picture – Doubtful
Supporting Actor – Doubtful
Original Screenplay – Possible
Film Editing – Probably not

 

Hacksaw Ridge

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MovieHacksaw Ridge
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Film Editing

In World War II, conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) wants to serve and honor his country by joining the Army and becoming a medic. Met with obstacles from every side, he pursues this goal and ends up a hero. (Not a spoiler because this is a true story.)

I enjoyed this film the most out of the seven Best Picture nominees I watched. As with most Mel Gibson movies, there was some religious symbolism helping to guide the story along. I love symbolism/metaphoric storytelling, religious or otherwise. There was a lot going on in this movie and I think Gibson did a great job.

Andrew Garfield was fantastic and captured the real Desmond Doss pretty accurately. You can feel his determination, desperation, and fear at all the right times. Andrew Garfield with a southern accent does throw me off a bit, though.

War films often tend to be nominated for one or both sound categories. There’s not a whole lot I can say for Hacksaw Ridge in these categories other than it must have been challenging.

The film editing was quite well done and was crucial to the story-telling. With a lot of chaos and explosions in the final battle, it was necessary to have a good editor.

Predictions
Best Picture – Nope
Director – Hollywood give an Oscar to Mel Gibson at this point in time? To that I say “ha!” and “no”.
Actor – Unlikely
Sound Editing – Unlikely
Sound Mixing – Unlikely
Film Editing – Unlikely

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

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.

Bridge of Spies

Movie: Bridge of Spies
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing

Continuing the theme of simple yet satisfying stories, I present Bridge of Spies. I certainly don’t mean simple in any sort of patronizing way. It’s just hard to get things wrong with Tom Hanks and the Cold War.

Bridge of Spies relays a true story of Jim Donovan, a civilian lawyer (Tom Hanks) who is called upon to defend an accused Soviet spy. Then the government requests his assistance in negotiating a prisoner exchange with Russia.

Mark Rylance is marvelous as the accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. He’s solidly my choice for the Supporting Actor win. His lines are stoic and concise but he delivers them with this sense of hidden emotion. There’s a feeling of innocence around him which creates a desire to see him stay well. Despite his position in the story, you’re never really given a chance to dislike him. His character is surprisingly lovable. This works well with the film since much of the story’s focus stays on the idea of human rights and the position the United States holds in giving people those rights.

The original screenplay is solid and virtually flawless. It smoothly flows through each scenario. The script works brilliantly with what’s happening on screen. Each scene is set up with intention and a focus on the overall theme. That being said, there’s a certain…tameness about it that keeps me from rating it higher than some of the other screenplays this year.

The production design team’s monumental achievement shines in the scenes that occur in Berlin. They re-create a Berlin in the middle of building the Berlin wall, when East Berlin is still trying to create its identity as a communist nation. The effect is convincing, to say the least. The overall design of the film keeps things consistent and in perspective, which creates the feeling that you are with Donovan in all the events that occur.

Thomas Newman wrote the score for this film. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may recall my post for Newman two years ago regarding Saving Mr. Banks. Everyone’s all over the internet bothering people about Leonardo DiCaprio deserving an Oscar. MEANWHILE IN THE LAND OF MUSIC, Thomas Newman remains the most nominated living composer to have never won an Oscar. He’s been nominated for 13 Oscars, which makes Leo’s 6 nominations seem like nothing. The score for Bridge of Spies is gorgeous, moving, and helpful to the story. JUST LIKE EVERYTHING HE’S EVER DONE. I really want to see him win this year. #oscarfornewman

And then there’s sound mixing. There was nothing wrong with it. It overcame the obstacles of having multiple languages, lots of dialogue, and war scenes without causing confusion. All in all, it was successful. More successful than The Revenant…..(no, I will never get over it).

Predictions
Best Picture – No
Supporting Actor – I hope so. It might be possible.
Original Screenplay – Doubtful
Production Design – Doubtful
Score – Please please please……..but I have a bad feeling he won’t win.
Sound Mixing – Doubtful

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 Revenant

Movie: The Revenant
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who gets left for dead in the wilderness of the 1820s by his team. Glass’ grim determination for revenge drives him to use all the survival skills he possesses to try and get back to their fort. As a whole, the film is engaging and enjoyable. From a technical standpoint, there were certain things I just could not get past. We’ll start with the positives though.

Leonardo DiCaprio completely sells his forsaken character. He commits himself fully physically and emotionally. This is another nomination for a role with little dialogue. Even though he rarely speaks, he effectively communicates his story through his actions. However, it seems that DiCaprio had little to work with when it came to his character’s story. We are given virtually no background information or character development for Glass. In spite of that, DiCaprio creates a character that bonds with the audience and creates an emotional connection.

Similarly, Tom Hardy‘s character, John Fitzgerald, the antagonist of the film, makes himself known and hated fairly quickly despite having minimal character development. His strong character has a believable authenticity that makes him seem like he’s actually from the 1820s. The one thing that causes his character to suffer was not his fault. You could not understand half of what he said. I spent a significant amount of time lost when he was talking due to some terrible sound mixing (which I’ll get into more later).

The gorgeous cinematography captured the elements perfectly and drove the story along. They used natural light almost exclusively throughout the entire shooting process resulting in surprisingly clear and realistic shots. Lubezki is just a genius. Combine the painstaking cinematography with the unique film editing and you have a wilderness film that feels kind of like a Terrance Malick piece. There are certain scenes where Glass’ perception of reality shifts into dreams and hallucinations. There’s no transition into these stages. They just happen. Consequently there are moments where you have no idea what’s going on until it’s over. It takes nothing away from the story. It’s simply odd.

The production design also helps communicate Glass’ reality and strongly frames the impact of nature on our lost hero. The crew works with the elements in order to explain the story. That aspect was beautiful. The artificial locations (the fort, Native camps) felt authentic and kept the illusion of the historical aspect of the film intact.

The makeup and hairstyling team had an insane amount of work for this film. The makeup artists in particular had to create a number of flesh wounds and injuries for various characters as well as Native American body art. The costume design team created authentic (I assume) and intricate costumes. Each costume had a number of different elements to it.

I like Alejandro Iñárritu as a director. He made some bold choices with this film. They shot chronologically to make the experiences feel more authentic. This caused major budget problems for them when the snow melted at the end of shooting, forcing them to fly to Argentina to finish. He effectively directed several silent characters and characters speaking different languages. Overall, he did a great job. However, there were some minor issues that he had some control over that he should have resolved. Which leads me to…

The ridiculously awful sound mixing. The sound editing (creation of sounds for the film) was perfectly fine. Superb even. Elements of the mixing were good too, particularly with the incorporation of natural sounds into stereo. However, the biggest issue of the whole film has to do with dialogue. Half the time, you can’t hear the dialogue that’s in English. AND THEN a significant amount of the Native dialogue had to be redubbed after filming so the words don’t match the actors’ mouths. Iñárritu (supposedly) thought the latter wouldn’t matter because people would be focused on the subtitles. Mixing the dialogue into the background noises should have been given more of an effort. It’s possible that due to the time constraints of their post-production process, they just neglected it. I guess the Academy ignored that glaring issue when they nominated The Revenant for sound mixing.

Lastly, the visual effects. I know the whole motion-capture-bear thing has become a high-toned and fancy to-do in the technical circles. Yes, the technology is impressive. However, the end result for the bear and almost all the other animals leaves much to be desired. They all looked fake. Hair is hard to animate, but look at the recent Planet of the Apes films and you know it’s possible to create realistic looking animals. I think this may have been another area that suffered due to their time constraints. The real star of the effects team is whoever was in charge of the practical effects. So…many…fake dead animals. So…much…blood and guts. Seriously, this movie had significantly more gore than The Hateful Eight.

Predictions
Best Picture – Probable but there might be a dark horse that takes the main prize
Leading Actor – I mean…if they don’t, there will be rioting
Supporting Actor – Possible
Director  – Highly likely
Cinematography – Highly likely
Costume Design – Unsure…
Film Editing – Unlikely
Makeup and Hairstyling – Highly likely
Production Design – Unlikely
Sound Editing – Unlikely
Sound Mixing – Please, lord, no
Visual Effects – Unlikely

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