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La La Land

lalaland

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.

Joy

Movie: Joy
What it’s up for: Leading Actress

David O. Russell lays out his intentions for Joy from the beginning. As the introductory text states, it draws inspiration from strong women everywhere, but most notably from Joy Mangano. Joy’s story is a rags to riches tale – a struggling single mother who invents a new type of mop which launches a career as an inventor. This is not technically a biopic, as Russell wanted to create a fictional version of Joy that could communicate an overarching theme.

Although the film is enjoyable, Jennifer Lawrence truly is the saving grace. Through a somewhat awkward and bumpy script, Lawrence keeps the story going by subtly showing us Joy’s growth as a person. This role feels slightly different than previous roles for Lawrence. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s different though. She creates Joy’s persona convincingly and with great emotion. However, nothing spectacular happened that made her acting stand-out. She is a great actress and this role was simply par for the course.

The story, despite the bumpiness, is impactful and significant. Joy’s relatable struggles keep you rooting for her and crying for her when things don’t work out. It’s worth a watch if only for the moment when Joy finally lands in a successful place and she uses that success to help others. That message – helping those who are struggling if you have the resources – is one our society needs to hear more often. I would recommend Joy if you’re looking for inspiration, encouragement, or just a good pick-me-up.

Predictions
Leading Actress – Really unlikely

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 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.

Gone Girl

Movie: Gone Girl
What it’s up for: Leading Actress

I cannot remember the last time I was so frustrated throughout the entire extent of a movie. Not that Gone Girl is a bad movie, per se. In fact, I enjoyed the mystery and suspense of most of it. It’s just one of those movies where you SO BADLY want to see a character get justice and things just don’t happen as you expect.

Gone Girl tells the story of a missing woman (Rosamund Pike) from multiple perspectives. Her husband (Ben Affleck) quickly becomes the main suspect and he and his sister try their best to prove his innocence.

I feel like I might be one of the last people to see this movie, so this post will be written with several SPOILERS because that may be the only way to fully discuss Rosamund Pike’s performance.

Before I get to Rosamund, let’s talk about the rest of the movie. The story itself in interesting and keeps you involved. It makes you want to know how the story will end, regardless of the fact that the screenplay itself is not great. It has a weird flow because it has to bounce back and forth between several different timelines. That method has been successfully used in other films but there’s something off here. It could just be that the supporting characters are frustratingly useless. There is a surprise appearance from none other than Boy Meets World’s Minkus (Lee Norris) which I found to be sufficiently distracting from the otherwise shallow performances of the police. It may have been intentional to have the police act  not act but it was incredibly difficult to watch.

Also, I just want to mention the audio: The score (particularly during flashbacks to Nick and Amy’s earlier relationship stages) comes off as unbelievably grating and is accentuated by the fact that the sound mixing is terrible. That kind of thing is unforgivable in my mind. I know I’m no sound mixer, but if you can notice bad sound mixing, something probably could’ve been fixed.

Alright, Rosamund Pike. She definitely deserved this nomination primarily for the present day timeline in the movie. Her flashback timeline was awkward to watch, but that may be due to the bad sound mixing. She just seemed flat and non-expressive. That gets completely put aside though when we get the meat of the mystery of Amy’s disappearance. She becomes this character that you HATE so much because of her manipulation of Nick and the other men from her life. Her character spends a significant amount of time being an actor herself. She goes through multiple different personalities and characters with various people. Once her true self is revealed to the audience, watching her pretend to be this innocent, victimized woman drove me CRAZY! That’s a good sign for a great actor. If not for the TERRIBLE ending, I may actually like this movie solely because of her performance.

Prediction

Doubtful but it is a wide open category this year

Philomena

Movie: Philomena
What it’s up for: Leading Actress, Best Picture, Music (score), Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

What a surprisingly joyous little film. I was all prepared for another bout of depression after seeing this but I was wrong. It’s not a happy-go-lucky, feel good film, but it is entertaining and has a good moral. There was a lot of that lacking in this year’s Oscar movies.

Philomena is an Irish gal who got pregnant as a teen in the 1950s. Her father dropped her off at a convent where they made her give up her son. He was adopted and taken away and 50 years later, Philomena finally tells someone about what happened. She and a deposed BBC journalist go on a journey together to try to find her son.

Judi Dench always surprises me, I don’t know why. I expect her to always be the same in her roles but she is an undeniably great actress. I loved her in this movie. She had just the right balance of humor and focus to make her role as Philomena stand out. Her co-star, Steve Coogan, who plays Martin the journalist, is fabulous as well. He has a tremendous sense of humor and comedic timing which enhances and doesn’t overshadow serious scenes.

The score didn’t stand out to me but the screenplay did. It was clever and well shot. They used a lot of great angles and artistic framing to set the scenes. The film relied heavily on character development and the script did it justice not only for the two main characters, but for Philomena’s missing son as well.

 

The whole movie was actually enjoyable to watch, which was great. It is the type of movie that reminds me why I like to go to the movie theater.

Predictions
Best Picture – No

Leading Actress – No. But I’d pick her.

Score – No

Adapted Screenplay – Doubtful but I could see it making a surprise appearance

Blue Jasmine

Movie: Blue Jasmine
What it’s up for: Leading Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay

I am looking at this movie as a piece of art defined solely by the artistic definitions and parameters that are applied to films and cinema. I am not going to look at it based on the moralities of those involved in making it. That’s not what defines a piece of art. Bad people have been making art since art began and whether or not that art is good should be based on the qualities that define “good art” in that medium. There are plenty of articles around the internet discussing the idea of “when bad people make good art”, so Google it and let’s move on.

I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris and that was my first exposure to Woody Allen’s style. So, I went into this movie with reasonable expectations.

Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins play the two sisters Jasmine and Ginger, respectively. Jasmine has lost everything because of a financial scandal involving her husband (played by Alec Baldwin) and is moving in with Ginger to try and start a new life in San Francisco. The sisters aren’t very close – and aren’t even related (they were both adopted) – and Jasmine’s husband caused Ginger and her ex-husband to lose a lot of money. Thus, the drama is born.

The actual script – as in the words being spoken – is UNBELIEVABLY boring. There are a few great one-liners, but besides that, I couldn’t believe how much the movie just dragged on. That being said Cate Blanchett did an AMAZING job as Jasmine. I actually shed a tear for her at the end. Jasmine struggles with a mental breakdown or disability throughout the film and it is amazing to watch Cate go back and forth between lucidity and lack of understanding. Sally Hawkins is interesting as her sister and plays an unusual type of character but she’s not as memorable.

Although the script itself is boring, the way the screenplay is structured creates a really interesting and engaging flow through the film. They use flashbacks and cuts between different characters to explain what happened in the past, but they don’t do it all at once. It stretches throughout the movie, adding depth to each act. I actually really enjoyed that aspect of the film and agree that it creates a nomination-worthy screenplay, despite the weak script. (Although, honestly, I think the script was purposefully “weak” to sort of connect to what was happening in the movie. I don’t really know how to explain that thought well…I really did think it was pretty boring.)

This is not a movie I would watch over and over again. I’m glad it was only 98 minutes long. But, Cate Blanchett’s character is very memorable and different from your average leading actress role.

Predictions
Leading Actress: I think this is gonna be a close bet between Meryl and Cate.

Supporting Actress: I think Sally Hawkins is a “possible” just because the Academy has a weakness for Woody Allen

Original Screenplay: Possible…but I don’t think it deserves the win with such a boring script

August: Osage County

Movie: August: Osage County
What it’s up for: Actress, Supporting Actress

I walked into the theater for this movie with my parents and the rest of the crowd was made up of people older than them. That set off a little warning bell in my head about what was to come. It was not quite what I expected, but it was an intriguing and enjoyable experience through a moment in the life of the most dysfunctional family you will ever find.

August: Osage County is based on a play about a scattered family that comes together after the death of the patriarch. There’s not a lot more plot synopsis I can give without giving away some awesome twists. It is a tragically interesting series of events that culminates in a fantastic ending. That being said, this movie isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s Ya-Ya Sisterhood-esque: a family drama that probably appeals more to women than to men. The older crowd (and those who appreciate the slow and steady flow of plays and movies based on plays) will find it easier to sit through since there’s not a lot of action. HOWEVER, if you enjoy thought-provoking and complex plots (plus some stellar cinematography), this movie might be for you.

All of the actors and actresses in this film really hold their own and then more. Every role has and important part to play and none more so that Meryl Streep‘s leading role as the matriarch of this family, Violet Weston. Meryl is Meryl. She was absolutely riveting. Julia Roberts plays her daughter, Barbara, who is tasked with the majority of the burden of taking care of all the loose ends after her father dies. She does a fantastic job with this role which evolves throughout the film to slowly create the understanding between herself and the audience that she is more like her mother than she thinks. While they both did solid, fantastic jobs, I don’t think either one stretched too far out of their normal acting comfort zones.

The relationship between these two characters is technically the primary focus of the film. However, there are complications and dramas between all the other members of the family that all work together to create the perfect storm of familial chaos. It is unexpectedly amusing…in a tragic kind of way. The other members of the cast should not be ignored: Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale are completely engaging in their roles as Meryl’s sister and brother-in-law. Juliette Lewis plays another daughter and gives one of  the most satisfyingly heart-breaking performances of the bunch. One of my personal favorites was Misty Upham who plays the Native American caretaker for the racist Violet Weston. Ms. Upham’s role was small but important and she did quite a good job. And the SURPRISE actor that showed up in this film is (drumroll please)…Benedict Cumberbatch! Yeah, I may have let out an audible “WHAT?!” in the theater when he showed up on the screen. He also did a fantastic job as the socially awkward son of Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale’s characters.

The cinematography was beautiful and you could see how it originated as a play. The script was good and authentic, although a little choppy at times. The overall flow of the film was very interesting since it all happens over a fairly short time span. The best scene is the climax of the film at the family dinner after the funeral. That’s where you see the full impact of the complex script and screenplay. Overall, I enjoyed it and I’d watch it again.

Predictions
Leading Actress: Oh, Meryl’s a solid “probable”. I almost want to give a definitive “yes” but I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine or Philomena yet and the love for Sandra Bullock in Gravity should not be ignored.

Supporting Actress: Julia Roberts is probably a probable. I need to finish watching these films as well.

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