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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.

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Animated Feature Films: Moana and Zootopia

The reality is that the Animated Feature Film category is going to come down to these two. This is a difficult one to predict.

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Movie: Moana
What it’s up forAnimated Feature Film, Original Song

I was late to the Moana game and didn’t see it until January. Once I saw it, I immediately understood what all the fuss has been about. People have called it the best movie Disney has ever made. I’m not sure I would go that far, but it does have a pure storytelling perfection that has been lacking in recent years.

The basic plot is that Moana, the daughter of the village chief, sets out on an adventure to restore the heart of Tafiti, the Mother Goddess, in order to restore balance to the world. I don’t want to mention more than that because the less you know the better.

I would vote for Moana for Animated Feature Film. The story has a classic fairy-tale structure to it but provides enough unpredictability for it to fully engage the audience. It’s funny at just the right moments (I love Hei Hei. I don’t even care what you say.) and addresses some deep emotions without going overboard. It’s hard to describe the simple joy this movie brought me when I saw it.

The music is ridiculously catchy. It’s the best music from a Disney movie since The Lion King. Yes, I said it. Lin-Manuel Miranda did a great job providing his unique touch while still keeping to a classic Disney sound thanks to his partnership with Mark Mancina.

The song that Moana is nominated for is “How Far I’ll Go”. Here’s the video:

Now for the other Disney movie nominated:

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MovieZootopia
What it’s up for: Animated Feature Film

Zootopia is awesome. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on Netflix so go watch it. It’s clever and meaningful and in an entirely different category from Moana. It’s difficult to accurately compare the two because the genres are so different. Animated Features get lumped into this single category, but every animated film is not the same as every other animated film. They appeal to different audiences just like live-action films.

Zootopia follows Judy Hopps, a small-town bunny, who wants to be a police officer in the big city of Zootopia. She works her way into the ranks and immediately discovers the challenge of being the first bunny cop on the force.

The film addresses racism, police/civilian relationships, discrimination based on demographics, and stereotypes. This is done with very little subtlety. The heavy-handedness of the message is the one complaint I have with the film. It wasn’t so extreme as to ruin the movie, but certain parts broke the fourth wall a bit too much. This is especially true because it came out during a busy period of civil unrest in the US over police brutality. (It took two years to make Zootopia, so the timing of the release was more coincidental than intentional.) However, the messages are good ones that are made more accessible to kids because of the animated film format. I’m completely on board with being able to talk to kids more about stereotyping using the predators and prey of Zootopia to help drive the point home.

Overall, Zootopia is entertaining and well-made. If the subject matter of the movie had been something less relevant, however, I don’t think it would’ve been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. It would’ve fallen into the same category as Finding DoryMonsters University, and The Lego Movie (I’m still sore about that one) – movies that were GOOD but not good enough for an Oscar nod.

Predictions
It could go one of two ways – either the Academy votes for the movie with a message or they intentionally vote for Moana because they don’t want to seem like they’re just voting for a movie with a message. I’ll make a final decision eventually. I believe Moana is the better film overall.

Nominations for Best Song

I didn’t watch any of these films, but here are the songs nominated this year, for your listening pleasure:

“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction

“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey

(WARNING: Explicit content)

“Simple Song #3” from Youth

“Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre

 

Prediction
Shooting off the cuff, I feel like Lady Gaga and company might win this one for “Til It Happens to You”.

The Lego Movie

Movie: The Lego Movie
What it’s up for: Song….and not best animated feature film

Yes, I’m committing an entire blog post to this because I’m still annoyed.

It won the BAFTA, for crying out loud. The Brits love The Lego Movie more than Americans?! I don’t understand.

I think what got it squeezed out by the foreign films is that the first two-thirds of the movie are mostly filled with ridiculous things. HOWEVER, once Will Ferrell shows up, the movie gets brought to a whole new level. Throughout the movie there’s all sorts of significant moments that mean more than your basic, child-oriented animation film.

As for “Everything is Awesome”…you know how it goes. I don’t need to post the video. I would LOVE to see this win. But let’s be real…if Selma doesn’t win something, there will be mass outrage.

Begin Again

Movie: Begin Again
What it’s up for: Original Song “Lost Stars”

My favorite part of forcing myself to watch all the Oscar nominated movies is discovering wonderful independent movies that I otherwise wouldn’t have watched.

This was not one of them.

Begin Again tells the story of a washed up music producer (Mark Ruffalo) and a down-on-her-luck song writer (Kiera Knightley). They endeavor to create an album in New York City without any funding in order to prove to a music label that they’re worth investing in.

My favorite thing about this movie is that Adam Levine basically makes fun of his own music. I’ve never been a big fan of Adam Levine’s style anyway, so that aspect was pretty entertaining. Cee Lo shows up a couple of times too and I always enjoy watching him be himself.

Also, there is a special place in my heart for James Corden. Alright, I admit it…I love him. Ever since he showed up in my life as Craig in Doctor Who, I have loved him. I will love him forever and any production he is in is made better by his presence.

I really wanted to like this movie but the plot is weak, the screenplay is overly simplistic, and the music is agonizingly melancholy. The song nominated, “Lost Stars” I don’t really like either, but that’s mostly because of my previously mentioned distaste for Adam Levine. So, this is mostly a worthless post. It’s also worthless because the song from Selma is pretty much a guaranteed win.

Prediction

Song: Unlikely

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…..

Frozen

Movie: Frozen
What it’s up for: Best Animated Feature, Music (Original Song)

Disclaimer: I take Disney movies very seriously.

I got to see Frozen with my sisters which was awesome and appropriate. Frozen, if you don’t know already, follows the story of two princesses in a land called Arendelle. The movie begins with Elsa, the older sister, being crowned queen. However, she is hiding a mysterious power over ice and snow from everyone – including her sister Anna.

Spoilers will truly ruin this movie for you if you haven’t seen it yet, so I will avoid them as much as possible.

It’s hard to ignore the presence of Frozen. It doesn’t matter where I go, if there are kids around and I mention Frozen, suddenly someone will start singing about snowmen or letting it go. It helps that it was basically the only kid movie in theaters through the holiday season. Now, I’m not saying that’s WHY it has almost beat The Lion King in box office stats, but it’s definitely a factor.

I…liked Frozen. I didn’t love it. For the first half of the movie, I felt this uncomfortable confusion over what was happening. For example, there’s a love song that Anna and Hans sing that seems like it’s supposed to be taken seriously at first but it’s not. Fortunately during this first half, I was distracted by several “Arrested Development” references, which was AMAZING. About halfway through, things turned around for me due to Olaf the snowman. The hilarious choice to make Olaf more of a background character who makes random comments that everyone ignores made a huge difference in the tone of the film. It definitely appealed to the YouTube/Instagram video/Vine generation’s sense of comedic timing.

There were good morals and lessons throughout for both characters, but those were pretty predictable. I keep comparing it to Wreck It Ralph and although there were more twists in Frozen, the overall emotion of Ralph was stronger because you didn’t know HOW they were going to solve the problems in Ralph’s world. That’s probably just me, though. My biggest issue was the lack of character development for Elsa and Kristoff. They are both VERY important characters who are not given much screen time to learn about what’s going on with them.

sort of SPOILERS START

The other thing that bugs me is that everyone keeps talking about how nice it is that the focus of the princesses is not on finding a prince but on learning the importance of familial love. I counted the other day, and out of the current official 11 Disney princesses, only 2 (or arguably 3) focus on finding a significant other. (Snow White and Aurora aka Sleeping Beauty. Ariel is the other arguable one but her original focus is on wanting to experience land life, so I don’t think she counts.) The other 9 (8) princesses find true love on their way to something else. Not to mention, familial love is a huge part of 7 of 11 princess stories (Merida, Tiana, Pocahontas, Mulan, Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel). NOT TO MENTION, focusing on the love between the princess and one of her family members as the cure to a curse is the EXACT theme of Brave. And if we add Anna and Elsa to the list of princesses, Anna would be added to the list of looking for true love in the form of a man, since she sings a whole song about it in the beginning of the movie.

SPOILERS END

I need to see the movie again. I think I’d like it more now after knowing what I’m walking in to. The soundtrack is amazing and it’ll totally be a political move if “Let It Go” doesn’t win best song.

Predictions

Animated Feature Film: Definitely.

Best song: Very possible.

Visual Effects and other things

Visual Effects

Alright, so I’ve only seen two of these movies: The Avengers and Prometheus.

The Avengers was great. Loved it. Storyline was clever. Visual effects were good. But they were so…average. It’s weird that we’re at a place where computer generated visual effects are average, but there it is.

Prometheus was a surprisingly painful movie to watch. There were no plot transitions from scene to scene or even any good editing transitions. I was totally confused by basically everything from start to finish. However, the visual effects were AMAZING. I’d definitely pick Prometheus over The Avengers.

Random other things

I also saw Mirror Mirror which was up for costume design. Yes, great costumes. Nuf said.

Last but not least, I saw half of Ted, I am ashamed to say. I honestly don’t remember the song it was nominated for because I fell asleep halfway through it.

UGH. I feel so distraught over the fact that not only have I seen so few movies this year, but also that I don’t get to watch the Oscars tonight. It’s not my year.

Rio and The Muppets

Movie: The Muppets
What it’s up for: Best Original Song – “Man or Muppet”

I love the Muppets. I loved this movie. It was clever and Muppety and had a great set of cameo appearances. If you haven’t seen it, the basic premise is that the Muppets aren’t famous anymore but the Muppet/human brothers Walter (the Muppet) and Gary (Jason Segel) set out to save the Muppet theater and make them famous again. It is so cute, especially with Jason Segel and Amy Adams as a couple. My FAVORITE cameo was the one that happens during this song. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it is HILARIOUS (if you’re a Big Bang Theory fan, like I am). This one is going to be really entertaining to watch during the Oscars, assuming that they will be performing the nominated songs per usual.

The song isn’t that complex but it’s funny. It’s written as satire more than as a real song. I’m not sure how that concept plays into whether or not it’s better than a “real” song.

Movie: Rio
What it’s up for: Best Original Song – “Real in Rio”

It is a DIRTY ROTTEN SHAME that this movie wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. DIRTY ROTTEN SHAME!!! Especially in a year with no real Disney films. Rio was cute, well-written, clever, and had superb animation. The casting choices really made the film. Jesse Eisenberg as the main character Blu – a neurotic, domesticated macaw that was raised in frigid Minnesota and winds up on a grand adventure through Rio; Anne Hatheway as Jewel – the female macaw native to Rio that teaches Blu how to be a real bird; Tracy Morgan as Luis – the slobbery bull-dog companion; AND Jamie Foxx and Will.I.Am as Nico and Pedro – the hilarious avian sidekicks. I came out of the movie amused and surprised at how well it was done.

Anyway, the song – “Real in Rio”. It’s much more musically complex than “Man or Muppet”. Will.I.Am even has his moment near the end. It’s pretty great. I don’t want to root against a Disney nominee, but it probably should win.

Prediction
Technically, it should probably be “Real in Rio”. It’s a more original and complex composition.

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