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Manchester by the Sea

manchesterbythesea_trailer

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

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

Captain Fantastic

hero_captain-fantastic-2016

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.

 

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 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

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.

American Sniper

Movie: American Sniper
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper follows the real life story of Chris Kyle, a sniper with the US Navy SEALS who did four tours in the Iraq War. The film shows Kyle’s work overseas and his attempts to balance a life of war with his life at home. That’s probably the shortest synopsis ever but I don’t want to reveal too much for those who don’t know his story and don’t want spoilers. I found this article from USA Today quite interesting and a great addendum to the movie.

Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle, but I don’t think that that is his greatest accomplishment regarding this film. Yes, he gained 40 pounds of muscle. Yes, he trained with ex-military, including a sniper who served with Kyle. But Bradley Cooper was also one of the producers and dedicated to telling Kyle’s story accurately and with respect.  He was one of the original backers and sought for the best through the different stages of production the film went through. That being said, he did a fantastic job as an actor. Chris Kyle’s wife helped him with his character development and was more than pleased with the final product. That’s probably the best commendation a role like this can get. I’m realizing more and more this year that I have a subconscious bias towards actors. Not in a bad way, per say, but in that a film is made or broken for me based on the production of the film, not the acting. Very few actors WOW me. I can fully appreciate the sincere effort that Cooper put in to this character, though, and that alone makes me believe that he deserves his nomination.

The screenplay is good, but a little choppy at times as it goes back and forth between state-side life and Iraq life. It does a great job at conveying an overall heaviness to the story – like a burden they’re sharing with the audience. It opens your eyes to the difficulty of choosing to take a life in order to save a life (or multiple lives). They don’t over-glorify or idealize the military or war, which is refreshing for a “war movie”. You can tell the writers were intentional with the script. The film editing accentuates the screenplay well. It does a fantastic job of helping clarify what’s going on without making it look fake. (There was one special effects snafu that still bugs me – a missile hitting a building in the distance a little too quickly – but that’s probably not the film editor’s fault.)

Sound editing and sound mixing are crucial to war movies and are often recognized for that effort. American Sniper is no different. The team’s biggest accomplishment is during a scene where Kyle’s unit gets trapped in a firefight during a sandstorm. It is one of the most dramatic scenes of the entire movie and is made more powerful by IMAX speaker systems where you can hear the sand swirling around you as bullets fly past.

American Sniper is a character study. In that regard, it accomplishes much more than you would typically see from a war movie. It humanizes and reveals much more about a military that – to the vast majority – is often seen as a distant and somewhat fictional entity.

Predictions

Best Picture –  Unlikely

Leading Actor – As of now, I’d say it’s unlikely…however the Academy does love Bradley Cooper.

Adapted Screenplay – Unlikely…but that is based solely on my bias towards the Academy since I haven’t seen any of the other films in this category yet.

Film Editing – Can’t tell yet.

Sound Editing – Unlikely

Sound Mixing – More likely than sound editing but since they usually give both to the same movie (particularly in the last few years), I still think the sounds will go to one of the more fiction-y films.

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