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Inside Out

Movie: Inside Out
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film, Original Screenplay

Sometimes when I write these posts, especially when it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, I put the movie’s soundtrack on in the background to transport me back. As I’m doing that now for Inside Out, I realize that I’m disappointed that Michael Giacchin0 didn’t get nominated for his score composition.

Inside Out tells the story of an 11 year old girl who moves across the country from the perspective of the emotions inside her head. The primary focus of the story-telling is to provide metaphors and colorful examples of how our emotions and memories affect us as people.

Some people criticized the simplistic nature of the main plot of the film (two characters get lost and need to find their way back). However, that basic story provided the foundation that Pete Docter and company needed to explore the human subconscious and take the time to analyze what’s going on in there. We’re led to different locations in Riley’s brain and each stop allows some new facet to be brought to the surface.

The other slight controversy that came with the film (since 2015 is unofficially the year of being offended by everything) is that it was scientifically inaccurate. To that I say…it’s a cartoon. It’s meant to be relatable on a basic level. I know that as a twenty-something woman who still remembers what it was like to be an 11 year old girl, it hit me in a very real way. I started crying at the beginning and basically didn’t stop till the credits. I absolutely LOVED the fact that it explained in a simple way how sadness is an important emotion and it helps you process certain things. That’s really essential for kids to understand.

That being said, I was thrilled to see Inside Out get nominated for Original Screenplay. I had not even thought about that being a possibility since it is so rare for animated movies to get nominated for “real” categories. I have not seen any of the other movies in this category yet, but it seems like there’s some solid competition here. I doubt Inside Out will get the Oscar, but it is fantastic that the Academy recognized it with a nomination.

As for the Animated Feature Film category…let’s be real, it’s hard to beat a Pixar movie. The one interesting conundrum in this category is Anomalisa, an adult-oriented, stop-motion animated movie that has an R rating. I’m trying my hardest to track that one down.

Predictions
Original Screenplay – At this point I can’t make a solid judgment, but the liklihood is low
Animated Feature Film – Highly likely

 

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Nightcrawler

Movie: Nightcrawler
What it’s up for: Original Screenplay

What a weird, yet fascinating little film. Weird. Very weird.

Nightcrawler is the term used for freelance videographers who follow police scanners at night, looking for the next breaking stories to sell to the news stations…apparently. Jake Gyllenhaal plays an out-of-work young man in LA who discovers this line of work and begins to make a living off of it. As his career begins to grow, he begins to take more and more risks, creating a dark and twisted story.

This is by far the best character I have ever seen from Jake Gyllenhaal. He is unbelievable in this film. His character, Lou, has some sort of social disorder and from moment to moment, you can’t tell when he’s lying and when he’s being real.

As for the screenplay, it builds and twists and grows into a fascinating, yet awkward, morality tale. The script is one of the most complex scripts I’ve ever witnessed. As a whole, the movie flows somewhat awkwardly. It’s sluggish through the beginning but ramps up fantastically to an explosive third act. Specifically as an original screenplay, it excels. It’s one of the most original story-lines I’ve witnessed in a long time.

A completely unsung hero here is James Newton Howard’s score! I’m a sucker for JNH anyway, but the score really supported and complemented the action going on the film. As standalone musical pieces, they’re beautiful anyway.

Prediction

This is  an amazingly powerful category this year and I think Nightcrawler is the odd man out. There’s no way it’ll win.

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.

Boyhood

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

Boyhood’s plot is exactly that – a boy’s boyhood.

I have some strong feelings about this movie.

1) The production technique of this movie is groundbreaking and surreal. Filming an average of three days a year over twelve years with the same cast, Richard Linklater accomplishes something historic and unimaginably difficult as a director through this film. The film editing works well with Linklater’s style. It’s artsy but realistic. The transitions between time periods are only made known through hairstyle changes and the emergence of new technology. That could be distracting at times as you’re trying to figure out how much time has passed, but it’s an interesting and seemless journey through the 2000s/early 2010s.

2) The script is horrendous. Words can’t even describe how miserably difficult it is to follow the dialogue. The screenplay as a whole is fine. It undoubtedly got nominated because of the whole shot-over-12-years thing.

3) Patricia Arquette has an understated role that builds throughout the film as the mother of the main character, Mason. You don’t really understand why she got nominated until her very last scene which is made more impactful because of her earlier subtlety.

4) The overall theme of the movie is surprisingly hopeless. Only one character is left at the end with any tangible semblance of hope, and it’s not even the main character. As someone who works with teens, it is unbelievably disheartening to see parental disengagement, unhindered and rationalized teen alcohol/drug abuse, and a moral to the story that life is meaningless. I understand that my moral compass points in a different direction than a lot of people’s, but outside of the basic inappropriate behavior, what bothered me the most is the underlying belief that nothing matters. Is that Linklater’s view of real life? How sad is that? Do we really want to live in a world where that is the primary belief?

5) Last but not least, Ethan Hawke. I want to say that his performance might be my favorite thing about the movie. He plays Patricia Arquette’s ex-husband and the father of Mason and his sister. *slight SPOILER ALERT* When the movie starts out, he seems to be the typical loser ex-husband/estranged father character that you see so often in stories. He develops into something much deeper and greater than that and his character shines a light on the reality of everyone else’s lives. Linklater’s choice for this character is his best accomplishment.*end SPOILER*

Watching a boy grow up on film is astounding. Watching it for two and a half hours while the secondary characters struggle through their lines is…difficult. There was not a lot of good acting in the film outside of Arquette and Hawke and there was A LOT of really bad acting. If it had been a movie that was shot like a normal movie, it wouldn’t even be getting a second glance by anyone.

Predictions

Best Picture: No

Supporting Actor: Unlikely but I’m not sure at this point

Supporting Actress: Possible

Director: Unlikely

Film Editing: Unlikely

Original Screenplay: Doubtful

 

Foxcatcher

Movie: Foxcatcher
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, Makeup, Original Screenplay

Foxcatcher is a movie based on the story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his relationships with his older brother David (Mark Ruffalo) and John du Pont (Steve Carell), a rich benefactor for the USA wrestling team. Mark tries to make a name for himself apart from his brother by taking du Pont on as a coach and financial backer for his training.

All in all, this is an unremarkable movie – with the exception of one thing: Steve freaking Carell. This movie is worth seeing JUST for his performance. I’ve seen 3 of the 5 movies that were nominated for best actor and I would pick him right now. His Oscar-worthiness comes from the fact that John du Pont is completely different from any character he has ever played. There is a dark, brooding nature to du Pont that Carell captures perfectly. He is menacing without any obvious reason for it. He’s that guy that you feel creeped out by but can’t exactly figure out why. Carell has played serious roles before, but none that have completely transformed him. A large part of that credit goes to the makeup department. Their nomination was not unwarranted. They did excellent work not only with Carell but also with Ruffalo and Tatum.

Speaking of Mark Ruffalo, he also did an excellent job but, to me, didn’t seem any more remarkable than some of his other roles. It felt like his role was meant to be expanded. He and Channing both altered their physical and vocal performances to match the unique athleticism that comes from being a wrestler. That being said, I thought Channing Tatum did an amazing job and created a character that was farther out of his wheelhouse than Mark Ruffalo. I wouldn’t nominate him for a supporting actor Oscar, but I thought his transformation was more memorable than Ruffalo.

Bennett Miller’s directing had its moments, for sure. There’s no doubt that the actors’ success was due to his direction. With the amount of unspoken tension and conflict inherent between different characters, their development was dependent on positioning, body language, and camera work. That being said, most of the cinematography was bland. There were some beautiful shots of landscapes but it came off as typical. There was also a big anachronism that could’ve been easily avoided. (Hotel room doors with card key entrances in the late 80s/early 90s? Although that’s when the transition began, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that most hotels had transitioned to key cards.) What’s funny is that the last time I noticed a big anachronism in a movie was in Bennett Miller’s previous Oscar nominee Moneyball… 

The screenplay was only ok. I wasn’t impressed by the script as a whole. I often felt confused about the goals of the characters and the point of certain aspects of the movie. The pace stayed the same throughout almost the whole film and as a whole, it was rather boring. Since I did not know the full story of the Schultz brothers and their relationship with du Pont, I kept waiting for conflict in the plot and kept being disappointed because *SPOILER ALERT* the real conflict didn’t come until the very end. I did read Mark Schultz’ complaints about the movie before I went to see it, but I felt like his objections were unwarranted. It did not come across as if Mark actually looked up to du Pont as a mentor, nor was there any suggestion of Mark being emotionally fragile or weak.

The movie was good but not great. The winning aspect was definitely Steve Carell. It would be interesting to watch it again knowing how it ends to see if that makes the story more intriguing.

Predictions
Leading Actor: Probable but I have a hard time convincing myself that the Academy would actually give Steve Carell an Oscar. I think he deserves it though.

Supporting Actor: Unlikely

Director: Unlikely

Makeup: Very possible! Although the sheer amount of makeup required for Guardians of the Galaxy makes it quite the contender.

Original Screenplay: Unlikely. There are much stronger candidates in this category.

Birdman

Movie: Birdman (Or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Director, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Screenplay

Let’s start this year off with a bang, shall we? Warning: This one’s gonna be a little long due to the sheer number of nominations.

From the moment I saw that Birdman had a secondary title (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), I knew things were going to be interesting. The movie follows former-blockbuster-actor-turned-Broadway-play-writer Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) as he and his cast and crew are preparing for the opening of their play. Riggan struggles with his identity as an actor who is known so prominently as a cinema superhero but wants to create art at a different level. As preparations progress, one of the actors has an accident and is replaced by Mike (Edward Norton) who has already made a name for himself in the stage acting world.

I will say that when I watch movies, I tend to focus on the technical aspects more than the actors. Therefore, in my opinion, I thought that the cinematography was the most outstanding characteristic of the movie. About five or ten minutes into the movie, I realized something – almost the entire movie is one “continuous” shot. (I put continuous in quotation marks because it looks like it was all shot in one smooth stroke but is in fact accomplished through some very clever transitions.) It is THE most unique cinematography and directing choice I have ever experienced. I had thought that the burden of that kind of filming was on the editor, but my father (who is a videography professional) told me that what it really takes is an amazing director to accomplish continuous shots and seamless transitions. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is a Mexican director who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Seeing as the screenplay and direction go hand-in-hand, you can see how Iñárritu being at the helm of both helped create a smooth and astounding end product. On top of the breath-taking effect of an almost two-hour long continuous shot, the rest of the cinematography aspects were also unique and beautiful. The use of camera angles and lighting in particular were memorable, including several ways of using mirrors that I had never seen before.

The nominations for sound editing and sound mixing I don’t particularly understand considering all the movies that came out this year that required the creation of lots of new sounds and difficult soundscapes. There were quite a few special effects that required some good editing. The rest of the movie was almost devoid of background noise except for the score which was entirely composed of just music from a drum set. The score was disqualified from consideration by the Academy, but their reasoning doesn’t make much sense. The drum score keeps the plot moving at a hurried pace that accentuates what’s happening on-screen exactly how a good score should. I was thoroughly expecting a nomination.

Ok, on to acting. Out of the three nominated for Oscars (Keaton, Stone, Norton), Keaton stood out to me the most. The fact that he basically IS Riggan (as in, former superhero turned artsy), it brings his performance to a whole new level. The specific comment I wrote in my notebook after seeing the movie regarding his acting was “Holy crap”. I’ve only seen one other of the leading actor nominees so far, so it’s hard to tell how he compares to the others at this point.. Stone and Norton were excellent but they didn’t wow me in the same way. Emma Stone (as Riggan’s recovering drug addict daughter) in particular was her typical amazing self…but emphasis on “typical”. Meanwhile, Zach Galifianakis was so unique that I didn’t even realize it was him at first! Sure, it wasn’t “best supporting actor” material, but he still deserves some recognition.

The film as a whole is thought-provoking and unique. It criticizes critics and puts the audience into the viewpoint of an actor. It opened my eyes to some new thoughts and perspectives. The greatest guilt trip given by the film is that “people” only want explosions from their on-screen stories, not art. That criticism immediately made it Oscar fodder so I’m not surprised that it got so much attention from the Academy.

One last comment….SPOILER ALERT:

Riggan kills himself at the end after reaching a very low point and it is frightening reminder of Robin Williams’ tragic death this past year. It is quite the coincidence.

Predictions
*As this is my first post and one of the first movies I saw this year in many of the categories it’s been nominated for, I’m not posting my predictions yet. Stay tuned…

Nebraska

Movie: Nebraska
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actress, Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing, Writing (Original Screenplay)

This is one of the movies I was really looking forward to watching. I like independent films and this was getting lots of good reviews. Unlike most of the movies I’ve watched this season, it was exactly what I was expecting. And it was good.

The story follows an elderly man named Woody (Bruce Dern) who wants to travel from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar sweepstake prize he believes he has won. His son David (Will Forte) decides to go with him after Woody tries several times to walk there himself. Throughout their journey, David learns more about his father and his family.

The movie is shot entirely in black and white which is very interesting and gives the whole movie an old world feel. Besides the cars, there’s nothing to indicate what decade it’s in. What really stuck out to me is that I never once saw a cell phone. The cinematography was really unique because it was in black and white. I felt like it should’ve been in higher contrast, but honestly, I don’t know enough about their method to understand the intent. Regardless, there were several scenes where the lighting looked awesome.

Bruce Dern does an amazing job as Woody, who’s only semi-aware of what’s going on around him. It’s hard to believe that he’s acting. It makes it an interesting study of how families can handle aging family members. June Squibb is HILARIOUS and adorable as Woody’s feisty wife Kate. I would absolutely love to see her win. Honestly, Will Forte also was great in his role. He played it very well with the right balance of humor and gravity. With all of these and the large number of other actors in the film, Alexander Payne did a tremendous job with staging and direction for many complex scenes. He chose to shoot wide for a lot of the film which was kind of hard to watch on a tv screen, but it made the framing look beautiful.

Finally, the screenplay was great. It was way more complex than a lot of the movies I’ve watched recently and was more traditionally structured. It was good to be able to watch a movie that wasn’t just one long dramatic event (ala Gravity or Her or Blue Jasmine….). The script was clever. The directions for shots were creative and different, but didn’t work perfectly with a small screen (since I rented it from Redbox).

In a cohort of less than astounding movies, this one stands out as one of the better ones. I am going to need to cleanse my film palate with some stupid comedies after all these dramatic and depressing Oscar films.

Predictions
Leading Actor: Doubtful but well worth the nomination

Supporting Actress: I could actually see her winning. I just the type of thing the Academy would do…and honestly, I’d pick her over the others I’ve seen.

Best Picture: No

Cinematography: Doubtful

Directing: Doubtful

Writing (Original Screenplay): Doubtful

Dallas Buyers Club

Movie: Dallas Buyers Club
What it’s up for: Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Film Editing, Makeup, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Alright, alright, ALRIGHT (McConaughey impression intended) I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about Matthew McConaughey.

What a heavy, heavy film. I didn’t know much about it beforehand except that Matthew McConaughey’s character had AIDS. I didn’t know it was based on a true story. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised by the route this film took to tell the story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey). Woodroof is a Texan cowboy electrician who is diagnosed with HIV. As he struggles to cope and find out more information about his diagnosis, he finds help from a doctor in Mexico who had his license revoked in the US. When his methods begin to help Woodroof feel better, he decides that he could make some money selling these “unapproved” drugs back in Texas.

The film flows beautifully. It tells its story often without words. The film editing is brilliant and amazingly well done. Each scene builds into the others and creates a deep and engaging storyline. The lighting is also amazing and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten any recognition for cinematography. The screenplay is absolutely fabulous and takes into account the culture of cowboy Texas and the culture of the HIV/AIDS community and the strange overlap between them.

Now…for McConaughey. Ooooooh mylanta, I can’t believe how wrong I was about him. I don’t usually like admitting when I’m wrong but this time, I’m happy to. Besides the astronomical physical changes that McConaughey underwent for this role, he also transformed his personality several times throughout the movie. There were a few times where he had to pretend to be other people as he smuggled drugs into the states and also transformed Woodroof as a person from being selfish and insecure, to someone who truly cared about the well-being of others.

Jared Leto, as the transgender woman Rayon, was astounding. I don’t know how to describe this character and Leto’s transformation. It was an amazing role for the film and Rayon played a big part in the emotional impact of Woodroof’s story and the story of AIDS in general. He and Barkhad Abdi (from Captain Phillipsare leading this pack of supporting actor nominees. The makeup and hairstyling of both Leto and McConaughey were really well done, although it didn’t seem nomination worthy to me.

Overall, it was amazingly impressive. What makes it especially impressive is that it was filmed with a small budget (a mere $5.5 million) and shot in 25 days. It just goes to show that money isn’t what makes a film good, but the talent and the passion that goes into its creation.

Predictions
Best Picture: Possible

Leading Actor: I personally think that Leo is getting set up to win, but McConaughey definitely deserves the nomination.

Supporting Actor: Probable

Film Editing: This category is a tough call. I feel like DBC is unlikely to win though.

Makeup: This category is so weird this year it’s hard to say. I’m not sure why American Hustle didn’t get nominated for this actually…

Original Screenplay: I think it deserves the win just for the sheer amount of time and effort it took to get the screenplay made into a movie. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it lost.

Her

Movie: Her
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Music (score), Music (song), Production Design, Original Screenplay

Why oh why is this year so WEIRD. This movie is so weird. It has its artistic merits, for sure, but I just couldn’t get on board with the plot.

Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with his operating system. That’s the part that is hard to take seriously throughout this very serious dramatic film. The character development for the different human characters is fantastic. The general storyline is very strong with a good ending. But it’s hard not to giggle at certain “serious” moments when the OS (named “Samantha”) falls into relationship stereotypes with Theodore.

The overwhelming winner in this movie is the production design. The correlation between costuming, set design, and scene locations is fantastic. The movie is set in a not-so-distant future and it totally feels real. They combined footage from Shanghai and LA, along with some CGI, to make a future version of LA that seems like it could be real any day now. The number of extras – all given special attention with costuming – make the reality of the environment really sink in. Each set design is gorgeous and artistic with the touch of functionality that makes you believe that this could be your office or home. It’s hard to explain in words how seamlessly all of these elements worked together to create a really beautiful and realistic environment.

With this visual masterpiece setting the stage, the screenplay does the rest to work visual wonders and keep the story engaging. It just looks so nice throughout every scene. The script is very good and creates a moral for Theodore’s story. The choices for camera angles, cutaways, and use of voice-overs keep your brain engaged and thoughts going. The cinematography was also quite good with some great choices in lighting. All that being said, it’s very distracting during these well-structured scenes when “Samantha” decides to act like an emotional human.

The score was also great with a lot of beautiful piano pieces. The song, “The Moon Song”, was only ok. It’s just a simple folksy guitar piece that sounds nice but isn’t as dynamic as the other nominees. It does seem odd that they didn’t have Scarlett Johansson sing the song (Karen O sings it), since in the movie it’s supposed to be a song from “Samantha” (voiced by SJ) to Theodore.

All in all, it’s nice to watch. I wouldn’t pay to see it in theaters. Wait for Redbox. And be warned – there are a couple really awkward cyber-sex scenes and some bad language.

Predictions
Best Picture – Nope.

Music (score) – Unlikely. But it is nice.

Music (song) – Nope.

Production Design  – I honestly think it’s close between this and The Great Gatsby. I think Her is more creative but TGG  won the BAFTA, so, we’ll see…

Original Screenplay – Very possible. It won the Golden Globe but, you know, Woody Allen is the Academy’s darling soooo…..

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