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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

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.

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

Sicario

Movie: Sicario
What it’s up for: Cinematography, Score, Sound Editing

Sicario is a story about an FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who joins a team working to hunt down the leader of a drug cartel. At least, that’s what IMDB says. What actually happens in the movie is much more complicated.

The main focus of this film is to showcase the effects of Mexican drug cartel wars on both sides of the border. The story is action packed and interesting. However, there’s a decent amount of important information that is left unexplained throughout the story. I spent a significant amount of time confused. Benicio del Toro was by far the strongest actor and had the best character. The story they built around him specifically made the film interesting. Sadly, Emily Blunt was the weakest point. In her defense, she didn’t have much of a screenplay to work with. It was enjoyable as a whole, but not one of my favorites this year.

The cinematography has a fantastic feel to it. There’s some amazing lighting throughout the film. They do an excellent job showcasing nature to help tell the story. There’s some odd stuff with fake night vision that I didn’t like, but the creativity of it might appeal to the Academy.

The score sets the mood without overwhelming. It’s good, but not terribly impactful. Meanwhile, the sound editing is crucial to a crime drama like this and the editors did a great job.

Predictions
Cinematography: Highly unlikely
Score: Possible, but I doubt it
Sound editing: Unlikely

Mad Max: Fury Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ida

Movie: Ida
What it’s up for: Cinematography, Foreign Language Film

This is an absolutely lovely and unique film. It’s on Netflix, and since almost all of you have Netflix, I highly recommend taking the mere 82 minutes to watch it.

Ida is set in 1960s Poland and follows a young nun as she learns about her family history. She learns that she’s Jewish from her aunt and finds out that her parents were killed during the war. Ida and her aunt go on a journey to find out the truth and what follows is a beautifully shot film highlighting Ida’s internal struggle between her heritage and who she is inside.

The cinematography in this film is so good to watch. It’s shot in black and white and in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Most of the time, the actors take up only 1/6th to 1/4th of the screen, allowing for some of the best framing I’ve ever seen. It’s gorgeous and it works so well with the dark themes that underscore the whole film.

Prediction

I think it’s unlikely to win cinematography, but because it was nominated there, I think it probably will win best foreign film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Director, Film Editing, Makeup, Score, Production Design, Original Screenplay

This is currently my favorite movie of the year. Well, my favorite movies of the Oscar nominees. Over the past couple of years, I’ve grown to be a big fan of Wes Anderson, but The Grand Budapest Hotel brings his work to a whole new level.

The primary story of this film depicts the foibles of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, after one of his wealthy patrons dies and he is accused of her murder. The story is told by his lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), as he aids and abets Gustave’s flee from the police and search for justice.

I was surprised when I heard that a Wes Anderson movie was nominated for Best Picture. Now, after watching, I understand why. It’s not just a comical flaunt through an nontraditional landscape. The movie takes place over three different timelines: a girl reading a book (The Grand Budapest Hotel) at the grave site of the author, the author recording a commentary of how he was inspired to write the book (with flashbacks), and the story itself. The inspiration for the entire story came from writings by Stefan Zweig and throughout the film, particularly during timelines 1 and 2, you could feel a depth to what was happening as if it had been real. (Let it be known, that I did not know about Zweig before watching the movie.) Zweig seems like a terribly interesting person and I may very well be looking him up at the library soon.

Wes Anderson both directed and wrote the screenplay, in his usual fashion. His direction of the cast keeps things moving at a rapid pace without losing the audience. The script is witty and cerebral without being overbearing. (And here I will mention that Ralph Fiennes steals the show completely with his fabulous delivery and execution of a well-written screenplay. The brilliant way he and Tony Revolori interact throughout the movie should be noted as well: they are a dynamic duo who make each other better with their performance.) The overall production design is as unique as it can be but I was surprised that it was nominated for this category too, since it feels pretty similar to most of Anderson’s other works. The cinematography (by Robert Yeoman, Anderson’s go-to cinematographer) is so gorgeous and intriguing to watch. The beginning of the film uses a fisheye lens in some creative ways that really stood out for me. The use of models for special effects is fun to watch in modern films and Yeoman and Anderson utilize them so well. They also use three different aspect ratios (one for each timeline) which keeps you on your toes. Wrapping up the creative, out-of-the-box crew is the film editor, Barney Pilling. Pilling has quite a job with the rhythmic flow of the acting and synchronizing that with the fitting Alexandre Desplat score. He accomplishes it well and the effect of all these elements combined is fantastic.

Now to makeup and costume design. The costumes do a great job of accentuating the production design. They also help tell a story in a semi-fictional world that also reflects back to a reality that existed between the world wars. The makeup is fine and good but nothing spectacular…with one exception: Tilda Swinton plays the old lady that dies and her makeup was so outrageous that I had absolutely no idea it was her until the credits.

I highly recommend Budapest. It’s uplifting, fun, and thoughtful. Go get it from Redbox and enjoy the show.

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