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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

 

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Manchester by the Sea

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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.

Predictions
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

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

 

 

Hell or High Water

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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.

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

 

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

Creed

Movie: Creed
What it’s up for: Supporting Actor

I was somewhat skeptical of some of the hype surrounding Michael B. Jordan and this film. I’ve seen the other Rocky movies. I enjoyed them. I thought this one was going to be a sad remake like so many others have been. I’m quite happy to be wrong.

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) quits his comfortable financial job to pursue his love of boxing. When the local gyms won’t train him, he seeks out the council of his father’s friend and boxing rival, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Although he tries to make a name for himself on his own, soon people find out that he’s the son of Apollo Creed and it propels him on an accelerated track to prove himself as a boxer.

The movie warms your heart in a surprising way. The screenwriters did a great job with the script, even if the screenplay as a whole was rather standard. It’s well-paced and clever. They don’t box anyone into stereotypes. (No pun intended.) The characters are given full freedom to be unique people. The story is predictable but fun.

Michael B. Jordan was fantastic and probably should have gotten an Oscar nomination for his role. He performs well as an athlete and delivers his lines with humor and feeling. The end of the film truly shows the full scope of his acting ability. As the love child of Apollo and the product of the foster care system, Adonis’ identity isn’t fully formed even as an adult. He wants to find a place to fit and for someone to believe in him. Enter Rocky Balboa.

Sylvester Stallone hits you right in your emotions. (No pun intended.) There are several opportunities throughout the film for Stallone to show off his depth and range. He’s convincing and lovable. He puts so much heart into this role and you really feel it in this film. All his friends and loved ones have moved on without him. He feels alone in the world. Then here comes Adonis to give him some purpose again. It’s adorable and heart-wrenching.

It’s a great film. Simple but effective. The type of thing that gives you hope that not all movies will depress you. It gives you hope for positive outcomes in life. It gives you hope to keep on fighting. (Pun intended.)

Predictions
Supporting Actor – Possibly…but I have a different favorite for this category

 

 

The Revenant

Movie: The Revenant
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects

The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who gets left for dead in the wilderness of the 1820s by his team. Glass’ grim determination for revenge drives him to use all the survival skills he possesses to try and get back to their fort. As a whole, the film is engaging and enjoyable. From a technical standpoint, there were certain things I just could not get past. We’ll start with the positives though.

Leonardo DiCaprio completely sells his forsaken character. He commits himself fully physically and emotionally. This is another nomination for a role with little dialogue. Even though he rarely speaks, he effectively communicates his story through his actions. However, it seems that DiCaprio had little to work with when it came to his character’s story. We are given virtually no background information or character development for Glass. In spite of that, DiCaprio creates a character that bonds with the audience and creates an emotional connection.

Similarly, Tom Hardy‘s character, John Fitzgerald, the antagonist of the film, makes himself known and hated fairly quickly despite having minimal character development. His strong character has a believable authenticity that makes him seem like he’s actually from the 1820s. The one thing that causes his character to suffer was not his fault. You could not understand half of what he said. I spent a significant amount of time lost when he was talking due to some terrible sound mixing (which I’ll get into more later).

The gorgeous cinematography captured the elements perfectly and drove the story along. They used natural light almost exclusively throughout the entire shooting process resulting in surprisingly clear and realistic shots. Lubezki is just a genius. Combine the painstaking cinematography with the unique film editing and you have a wilderness film that feels kind of like a Terrance Malick piece. There are certain scenes where Glass’ perception of reality shifts into dreams and hallucinations. There’s no transition into these stages. They just happen. Consequently there are moments where you have no idea what’s going on until it’s over. It takes nothing away from the story. It’s simply odd.

The production design also helps communicate Glass’ reality and strongly frames the impact of nature on our lost hero. The crew works with the elements in order to explain the story. That aspect was beautiful. The artificial locations (the fort, Native camps) felt authentic and kept the illusion of the historical aspect of the film intact.

The makeup and hairstyling team had an insane amount of work for this film. The makeup artists in particular had to create a number of flesh wounds and injuries for various characters as well as Native American body art. The costume design team created authentic (I assume) and intricate costumes. Each costume had a number of different elements to it.

I like Alejandro Iñárritu as a director. He made some bold choices with this film. They shot chronologically to make the experiences feel more authentic. This caused major budget problems for them when the snow melted at the end of shooting, forcing them to fly to Argentina to finish. He effectively directed several silent characters and characters speaking different languages. Overall, he did a great job. However, there were some minor issues that he had some control over that he should have resolved. Which leads me to…

The ridiculously awful sound mixing. The sound editing (creation of sounds for the film) was perfectly fine. Superb even. Elements of the mixing were good too, particularly with the incorporation of natural sounds into stereo. However, the biggest issue of the whole film has to do with dialogue. Half the time, you can’t hear the dialogue that’s in English. AND THEN a significant amount of the Native dialogue had to be redubbed after filming so the words don’t match the actors’ mouths. Iñárritu (supposedly) thought the latter wouldn’t matter because people would be focused on the subtitles. Mixing the dialogue into the background noises should have been given more of an effort. It’s possible that due to the time constraints of their post-production process, they just neglected it. I guess the Academy ignored that glaring issue when they nominated The Revenant for sound mixing.

Lastly, the visual effects. I know the whole motion-capture-bear thing has become a high-toned and fancy to-do in the technical circles. Yes, the technology is impressive. However, the end result for the bear and almost all the other animals leaves much to be desired. They all looked fake. Hair is hard to animate, but look at the recent Planet of the Apes films and you know it’s possible to create realistic looking animals. I think this may have been another area that suffered due to their time constraints. The real star of the effects team is whoever was in charge of the practical effects. So…many…fake dead animals. So…much…blood and guts. Seriously, this movie had significantly more gore than The Hateful Eight.

Predictions
Best Picture – Probable but there might be a dark horse that takes the main prize
Leading Actor – I mean…if they don’t, there will be rioting
Supporting Actor – Possible
Director  – Highly likely
Cinematography – Highly likely
Costume Design – Unsure…
Film Editing – Unlikely
Makeup and Hairstyling – Highly likely
Production Design – Unlikely
Sound Editing – Unlikely
Sound Mixing – Please, lord, no
Visual Effects – Unlikely

The Big Short

Movie: The Big Short
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing

I can’t remember the last time anger made me cry. It may never have happened before. Halfway through The Big Short, my anger grew so great it could only release itself through tears.

This movie tells the bleeping true story of a handful of people in the financial world who figured out that the housing market would collapse in 2008. The movie takes some creative liberties when telling the story for efficiency and effect, but the basic stories are true. Greed, stupidity, and arrogance created an unending vortex of doom for everyone.

Deadpool may be making waves for breaking the fourth wall, but guess what? The Big Short did it first (this year). One of the main goals for this adapted screenplay is to educate the general public about what happened in 2008 as well as explain some of the legal and financial mumbo jumbo people tend to just throw at us. One of the ways they accomplish this in the film is by bringing in random celebrities (like Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain) to explain certain terms (like CDOs and tranches). Not to mention, the narrator of the film is Ryan Gosling’s character, Jared Vennett, and he and many other characters have moments where they face the audience and explain something. Breaking the fourth wall can be difficult to execute smoothly but the screenwriters and actors pulled it off perfectly.

Beyond the fourth wall, the screenplay itself is just phenomenal. Several different narratives come together in the film to create the overarching story. Some of them connect to the others and some of them don’t. However, they all fit together without causing any confusion and build upon one another to explain the technicalities of the situations that unfold.

The movie had some of the oddest film editing choices I’ve ever seen. There were intentional continuity errors throughout the film. At least, I assume they were intentional because there were a number of them and I doubt the Academy would nominate a film for film editing if it had made so many errors. Almost every time the camera angle changed, the film would jump back a few seconds within the scene. For now, I’ll go on believing in some reasoning behind those choices. Besides that, the editing kept an effective hectic flow throughout the film, creating a sense of urgency and dread for what was coming. It easily went back and forth between the cameos and the story. It played a significant role in making sure the different narratives were distinct but part of the larger picture.

Adam McKay not only directed the film, but he also co-wrote the screenplay. He had a clear intention in his head of how he wanted this movie to go. How clear that was to everyone else is up for debate. I appreciated the quirkiness of the film. At the very least, his monumental task of directing a huge ensemble of main characters succeeded beyond doubt. All the actors did a fantastic job and played off each other perfectly. Christian Baleironically enough, got the supporting actor nomination. He was the only character not to interact with any of the other main characters in this ensemble film. His character, Michael Burry, a real player in this financial drama, is an anti-social former doctor with a love of heavy metal music. I didn’t really understand the music thing until I got in my car after the movie and the only music I wanted to listen to, in my anger, was hardcore screamo. Bale did a great job, but I think any one of the other actors (Steve Carell in particular) could have gotten the nomination.

The film is amazing, if only as a tool to teach people about the economy. I learned much from watching it (although Arrested Development Season 4 prepared me well for the subject matter so I knew a little bit already). There’s a warning at the end that tells us that the economy is set to create another housing bubble with the banks and financial institutions creating the same problems under different names. They do it all in the name of greed. Really though, please go watch this movie if you haven’t already. It’ll be at Redbox on March 15th.

Predictions
Best Picture – Unlikely
Supporting Actor – Possible but I doubt it
Director – Possibly
Film Editing – Unlikely
Adapted Screenplay – Possible but I doubt it

Spotlight

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.

Predictions
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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