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Passengers

passengers4

Movie: Passengers
What it’s up for: Original Score, Production Design

Space movie! But it’s a different kind of space movie. A passenger vessel, on its way to a colony planet encounters an asteroid field causing one of its passengers (Chris Pratt) to come out of hypersleep (or whatever type of sleep they call it, I can’t remember) decades too early. Alone and lonely on the ship, he decides to wake up one of the other passengers (Jennifer Lawrence) even though it means she will also be condemned to spending the rest of her life on the ship.

I actually really enjoyed this one. It’s one of the few happy films in the roster. It might seem cheesy to some, but I thought it was fun and exciting.

Score – two words: Thomas Newman. If you’ve been following my blog at all, you know how I feel about Thomas Newman. He’s the most nominated living composer to never win an Oscar. He deserves one. Unfortunately, this year is probably not his year.

The production design is about the same as any space movie. However, that is a high quality standard. It was beautiful, particularly the space effects.

I love it. Go watch it.

Moonlight

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MovieMoonlight
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Film Editing

Moonlight tells the story of a poor boy named Chiron growing up in Miami who is discovering who he is compared to who others expect him to be. He struggles to find purpose and meaning as he grows up, hoping to find where he belongs.

First and foremost, I have to criticize the cinematography and film editing. Half of the movie is out of focus. Literally. I’m not sure what happened there. I assume it must be some sort of artistic choice that represents the difficulty of discerning who you are as you grow up…or something. However, it makes the movie almost unwatchable. I had to close my eyes a few times because the distortion was messing with my head. Outside of that, the lighting and framing are creative and effective…when you can see it. But, the score is great. It’s eclectic and also helps with some of the exposition.

Mahershala Ali gives a great performance, however, he’s in less than 1/3 of the film. He’s not the first actor/actress to get nominated for a role that has a short screentime. That practice isn’t something I fully understand. Although he did great, I felt like he didn’t have enough time to make an impact. What was more impactful was how Trevante Rhodes channeled Ali’s characteristics as he played adult Chiron.

Naomie Harris blew her performance out of the water. She played Chiron’s drug addict mother who grows and changes just like Chiron. She was incredible and impressive in her range and depth of performance.

I can’t say much about the screenplay because this one is also achingly slow. Fortunately, it’s also the shortest of the movies. There are few conflict/resolution plot points in the film. It’s basically one big conflict, which is Chiron discovering himself. I understand that that’s the point, but not enough happens in the movie to even track his growth. *Spoiler alert* It also ends with no resolution which is frustrating after such a slow film.

Barry Jenkins wrote and directed Moonlight which leads me to believe he was going in a Boyhood or Terrence Malick direction with the film. If that’s the case, kudos and well done. If that’s not the case, then it’s just a slow film without an engaging plot. Perhaps he was just trying to portray realism. I get that filmmakers like to do that and those are the movies that get nominated for awards. But it’s just so depressing.

Predictions
Best Picture – Doubtful
Director – Doubtful
Supporting Actor –  Probable
Supporting Actress – Highly possible
Adapted Screenplay – Unlikely…I think
Cinematography – I doubt it
Original Score – Nope
Film Editing – Doubtful

 

Lion

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MovieLion
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score

Five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets separated from his family and finds himself in Calcutta. Through a series of events, he gets adopted by a family in Australia, taking him even farther away from the family he knows is still out there. As an adult, Saroo (Dev Patel) decides to try and find his way back to them.

Although Lion also sticks to the theme of slow progressing plot lines, it diverges from the rest by having the slow part at the end of the film. Yes, I’m talking about Dev Patel‘s entire role. There’s a reason I chose a picture of Sunny Pawar for this post. He did an amazing job and deserves some sort of award recognition for being awesome. Dev Patel’s good looks couldn’t sway me to get on board with what felt like four hours of Dev looking at maps. The fault of this lies on the screenplay. The first half of the film is brilliant in this department, but the second half falls short. The cinematography was beautiful throughout.

Nicole Kidman was great. She had a specific monologue that, I would guess, led to her nomination. Will she be given an Oscar in the one category that is predominantly non-white actresses? We’ll see.

I remember noticing the score while watching the film and wondering if it had been nominated for an Oscar. It was beautiful and perfectly aligned to the story.

Predictions
Best Picture – I think this one might take it
Supporting Actor – I think it’s highly likely but I would hope not
Supporting Actress – Unlikely…I think
Adapted Screenplay – Probable
Cinematography – Possible
Original Score – I don’t think anything can – or should – beat La La Land

 

 

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.

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).

Predictions
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

Sicario

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What it’s up for: Film Editing, Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

Star Wars is a very emotional thing for me. Hence it taking such a long time for me to get this post finished. It’s hard to be objective about something deeply personal. But here it goes…

This movie as a whole is extremely well done. I have no issue with the plot which some have dubbed as a remake of A New Hope. It’s really not. Abrams and crew simply utilized a common storytelling technique of modeling a new story after something familiar. If they had done that more with the prequel trilogy, they would’ve done better. The plot itself is completely different and new. The only time I had a thought close to “this seems familiar” was with the whole Starkiller Base thing. That’s my only plot objection.

The film editing was brilliant because while I was watching the movie, I forgot I was watching a J.J. Abrams film. Abrams isn’t the editor, but we all know he likes to have control over how many lens flares, rotating zooms and pans etc occur during film-making. His influence on the camera-work was evident in the movie but it wasn’t distracting. Once everything was strung together, it felt new but fit well with the other Star Wars movies. It was well-paced – especially in critical moments. The transitions caused impact and helped tell the story. It was beautifully done.

Score…..I mean, it’s John Williams. It’s John Williams doing Star Wars again. The new score fits well with the old scores because he did them. The new themes transition perfectly into the old themes. It’s perfect because he is perfect.

Sound mixing and sound editing are standard nominations for sci-fi films. It was good. I can’t recall any obvious problems. I also can’t recall any obvious “wow” moments. Per usual, 4 out of 7 films nominated in these categories are nominated for both. Most likely both awards will go to the same film. (There’s always exceptions of course – the most obvious being last year’s Whiplash win for sound mixing.) It’s hard to predict these categories because unless there is some sort of obvious reason why a film would win either category (*cough*Whiplash*cough*), it’s anyone’s guess. I’d love to hear the reasoning from Academy members when they vote for these two categories.

Another standard nomination for sci-fi films is for visual effects. Every year, I’m astounded by the advances visual effects have made from the year before. TFA created beautiful effects including striking broad shots of fictional environments, seemingly realistic interactions between X-wings and water, and of course, Maz Kanata, our resident motion-capture friend. Some visual effects reels have been making the rounds on the internets for TFA, boosting everyone’s confidence in how much care and effort went into these effects. It’s hard to imagine it not winning, but The Revenant is the Academy’s golden child this year, so we’ll see.

Predictions
Film editing – Hard to say at this point. I need to see the other films.
Score –  I’m not sure yet. I haven’t heard the other scores. I want to say it’s likely, though.
Sound mixing and sound editing – I’m combining them because IF TFA wins either of these categories, I think it’ll win both. However, I don’t think it’s going to win.
Visual effects – I really want to say yes…but I think it’s unlikely. It’s too easy.

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.

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