original screenplay

The Lobster


Movie: The Lobster
What it’s up for: Original Screenplay

In the future, being single is illegal. Singles are gathered and sent to a hotel where they live for 45 days and try to find a suitable partner to spend their life with. If they don’t, they get turned into an animal of their choice.

Guys, guys, guys this movie is so GOOD. It so good just because of how interesting the plot is. It does that thing where you don’t get all the background information at once. It slowly reveals what’s going on over time. I love that. It’s a quirky, indie European film.

The screenplay is just amazing. It’s clever and unique. It tells the story well. There’s great use of things happening in the background that help you understand what’s going on in the film. For example, at one point, our characters are in the woods and random animals will just walk behind them. Those are the people who got turned into animals. We see a camel and a flamingo and many other animals that don’t belong in the woods.

The movie takes a satirical look at relationships that’s refreshing yet convicting. The couples are matched based on a common interest or similar physical trait. They call it being “well suited”. The whole thing is one well-written farce and it’s fantastic. 



Manchester by the Sea


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.

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


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.

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


20th Century Women


Movie: 20th Century Women
What it’s up for: Original Screenplay

Many of my next posts will be short and sweet considering we’ve got 4 hours until the main event!

Dorothea (Annette Bening), a single mother who grew up during the Great Depression, asks her boarders to help her  guide her son as he enters his teenage years. Julie (Elle Fanning) and Abbie (Greta Gerwig) have their own way of doing things as young, independent women living in 1979. Dorothea learns how to balance who she is with this new world of 1970s liberty.

This movie is weird. The screenplay was most likely nominated for its creative merits. And by “creative”, I mean “different than a normal movie”. It actually evokes a solid 1970s, drug-addled feel which was certainly intentional. It was a thought-provoking film, since it’s easy to compare the emerging feminist and free love movements of 1970s to what’s currently happening in the US in particular. It was weird though.

Annette Bening is actually amazing in her role. She was the most captivating part of the film. It almost felt like a Best Leading Actress performance (to earn a nomination, at least).

Kudos for creativity, but it won’t win.

La La Land


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.

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.

Straight Outta Compton

Movie: Straight Outta Compton
What it’s up for: Original Screenplay, Visual Effects

Straight Outta Compton tells the tale of the rise of hip-hop group N.W.A. in the late 80s/early 90s. As someone who knew nothing about rap, hip-hop, or the histories of either, this was an educational experience for me.

As a whole, the movie is solid. It is well-crafted, well-written, and well-executed. The original screenplay flows elegantly through the story, providing just enough detail for people like me to know what’s happening, but not so much that it waters down the script. The actors used what they were given convincingly. The scenes were set up beautifully and helped communicate what was happening. It created all the emotions you could hope for in a well-written story.

The visual effects are virtually invisible (which is, of course, a good thing). I had to search for what exactly was done in the visual effects realm to realize what they had accomplished. Most of the effects were to create crowds or to assist in making scenes look dated. It was well done, but I’m not sure it deserved the nomination. Meanwhile, the production designers should have been nominated for their monumental efforts in this film. They incorporated symbolic uses of color and light. They transformed locations into their early 90s counterparts. It was just gorgeous.

Original Screenplay – I actually think it might win this one.
Visual Effects – Really unlikely


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).

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

Ex Machina

Movie: Ex Machina
What it’s up for: Original Screenplay, Visual Effects

Artificial Intelligence movies tend to be relatively predictable. That proves true in Ex Machina but only to a certain extent.

Ex Machina tells the story of an employee of a tech company (essentially a fictional version of Google) named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins the opportunity to spend a week at the estate of the CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Nathan’s real intention for Caleb is for him to be a Turing test for Nathan’s new A.I. technology. Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander), a humanoid robot, and he and Nathan work together to test the authenticity of her intelligence.

Before I even mention the nominated categories for this film, I have to make a note on behalf of Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. Oscar Isaac’s character might be one of my favorite characters from any movie this year. Isaac creates the feel of the film all on his own. There’s something completely engrossing about Nathan. He’s eccentric and affable yet threatening at the same time. Isaac pulls it off so well. Vikander’s triumph comes from the fact that she plays a robot with whom the screenwriters needed the audience to make an emotional connection. She acts in a bodysuit the entire time in order to become Ava. This required the extra effort to speak and move as a highly advanced robot, not as a human. Her acting and the visual effects combine into a believable and realistic A.I..

Those visual effects for Ava turned Vikander’s bodysuit into segments that were completely see-through with visible mechanical components. The effort that went into this process is monumental. They did not use greenscreens. They did not use motion-capture. They used a bunch of processes that I don’t understand. The effect is incredible. After a bit of time passes, you forget that she’s fake.

The original screenplay for this film truly shines. The clever script mixes perfectly with gorgeous scene structures. Although there is an element of predictability to the story, it is engaging enough that it doesn’t matter.You still want to find out what happens. They bring in emotion, urgency, and mystery at just the right times. The exterior scenes on this fictional estate are breathtaking and create a striking symbolic contrast with the interior scenes in Nathan’s house. The production designers deserve some recognition for their efforts as well.

Original Screenplay – Unlikely, but well-deserved
Visual Effects – Unlikely


Movie: Spotlight
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing

Movies often allow us the perfect escape from everyday life. Sometimes they shine light on reality.

Spotlight tells the true story of the investigative journalists from the Boston Globe who reported on and exposed the systematic abuse from Catholic priests and the cover-ups around them. Through a series of events, the Spotlight team uncovers more and more information about what had been happening in the Boston archdiocese over several decades. Their efforts culminate in a series of articles released in 2002 that rattled Boston and the world.

The film focuses almost exclusively on the reporters and their process. It’s not a smear campaign against the Catholic church. In fact, there are several times in the film where characters explicitly specify the differences between their faith as Catholics and the flawed system that led to the widespread abuse by the Catholic priests. The story is as much about the importance of investigative journalism as it is on the abuse scandal itself.

Mark Ruffalo is a friggen genius. He’s a chameleon. He probably should have won supporting actor last year. He definitely deserves the nomination again this year. He plays Mike Rezendes, one of the journalists on the Spotlight team and the writer of the initial article published in the Globe. Ruffalo does such a fantastic job turning himself into Rezendes that I needed to watch interviews with Ruffalo to make sure he didn’t have the distinctive facial and speech characteristics of Rezendes in real life. When you watch interviews with the real Rezendes, you can see how completely Ruffalo transformed. Beyond just the physical transformation, Ruffalo’s intensity and vulnerability throughout the story make his character seem real. He seems as if he’s actually discovering these things in real time and reacts as such. It probably helps that Ruffalo has a Catholic background. This subject matter may have been quite personal for him.

Meanwhile, I have no idea why Rachel McAdams got nominated for supporting actress. She did great as Sacha Pfeiffer, another one of the Spotlight journalists. However, her performance was forgettable. It felt no different than most of her other roles. I kept waiting for that moment when she would earn the nomination – since sometimes the turning point comes in a single scene rather than the performance as a whole. That moment never came.

The direction by Tom McCarthy was solid. It helped that he also co-wrote the original screenplay. I love it when filmmakers play both those roles. The pace of the film was constant and urgent the entire time without feeling draining. Conversations between characters happened naturally and authentically. There was amazing intentional symbolism, foreshadowing, and repeating themes communicated through scene locations and framing. This also plays into the film editing which was smooth and kept the symbolism flowing from one scene to the next. It plays out almost like a mystery, even though everyone knows what happens. The audience makes discoveries along with the characters as they peel back layer after layer of information.

If this movie only accomplishes one thing, I hope it drives home the need for investigative journalists. I didn’t understand the need for them until I saw this. Often what we see on TV or in film regarding journalists is an intensely fictionalized caricature of people who don’t really do much…except maybe cause problems for Spider-man. Internet journalism is ruining the integrity of journalism as a whole and promoting poor research and poor quality stories. Journalists can do things others can’t. They should be appreciated.

Best Picture – Unlikely
Director – Unlikely
Supporting Actor – Possible
Supporting Actress – Highly doubtful
Film Editing – Doubtful
Original Screenplay – Probable…it makes the most logical sense to win

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