Friday, February 20, 2015

2015 Oscar Predictions

It's becoming less and less of a surprise to see who takes Oscar home after watching the Globes, the SAGs, the Critics' Choice and the BAFTAs, but it's still my favorite night of the year! Grab some tasty hors d'oeuvres, open a nice bottle of Malbec, print off some Oscar Bingo playing cards and you can pretend like you're watching with Pam and me!

In case you missed them, click on the films to read my reviews! Happy Oscars!

Best Picture
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Should Win - Boyhood. Shot over the course of 11 years, this is perhaps the most unique concept ever for a film. It reminds us that the seemingly ordinary things that make up your day-to-day life can truly be extraordinary. Solid performances, genuine moments, spot-on casting, inventive cinematography, need I continue? It's in the bag for me.

Will Win - Boyhood. The only one that has a chance at stealing is "Birdman," but I have my fingers crossed that it's too fantastical for the Academy.


Best Actor
Steve "Michael Scott" Carell - "Foxcatcher"
Bradley "hubba" Cooper - "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch - "The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton - "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne - "The Theory of Everything"

Should Win - Eddie Redmayne. He's young, yes, and Oscar likes to wait until actors have put in their time (with a few exceptions.) The care that Redmayne takes in honoring this role as Stephen Hawking is beautiful. He charms us, keeps his humor throughout the film and undergoes an incredible physical transformation right before our very eyes. Patience is a virtue Eddie, your time will come.

Will Win - Michael Keaton. The industry loves a comeback. Especially one as solid as Keaton's. His performance in "Birdman" was Oscar nomination-worthy, but I'm not convinced he should take the statue home for it. I don't call the shots though. This one is his.


Best Actress
Marion "out of nowhere" Cotillard - "Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones - "The Theory of Everything"
Julianne Moore - "Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike - "Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon - "Wild"

Should Win - Reese Witherspoon. Let me explain. I love Julianne Moore just as much as the next person, but she should have won for any of her previous 4 nominations, and not necessarily this one. Witherspoon on the other hand, didn't necessarily deserve it for "Walk the Line" (call it an easy competition year) but does deserve it for her fearless portrayal of Cheryl Strayed as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. A performance hasn't moved me like this in quite sometime.

Will Win - Julianne Moore. Oscar doesn't care if you deserve it or not. If you put in your due diligence, you're likely to finally be rewarded. Moore was wonderful in "Still Alice," but she is wonderful in everything. I won't complain about this one.


Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall - "The Judge"
Ethan Hawke - "Boyhood"
Edward Norton - "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo - "Foxcatcher"
J.K. "biceps" Simmons - "Whiplash"

Should Win - This is tough. Ethan - no - Mark - wait - Edward -  It's nearly impossible trying to choose who should win. With the exception of "The Judge" (which I haven't seen) these men nail their supporting roles. Ethan's natural, easygoing paternal figure versus Ed's cocky, off-the-wall actor, against Mark's thoughtful, heartbreaking brotherly love - not to mention J.K. "biceps" Simmons as an abusive music professor... This is what it's all about! All of these are truly deserving of Oscar gold.

Will Win - J.K. Simmons. Oscar loves when a character actor shines, and this is J.K.'s year. He brings the ferocity, frightens the living daylights out of his pupils and sparks genuine disgust from the audience. This film will be his legacy.


Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette - "Boyhood"
Laura Dern - "Wild"
Keira Knightley - "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone - "Birdman"
Meryl "best ever" Streep - "Into the Woods"

Should Win - Patricia Arquette. It's almost impossible to tell that she's acting, which is the sign of a good actor. Pat wears the role of a struggling mom beautifully. We grow with her, transform with her, fight with her, cry with her - we develop such an emotional bond to the characters in "Boyhood" over 12 years, and her journey is probably the most relatable.

Will Win - Patricia Arquette. Moms everywhere sympathize with Pat's character. Shout out to Laura Dern, who also plays a beautiful mom character. These ladies struck a cord with me.

Best Director
Alejandro Inarritu - "Birdman"
Richard Linklater - "Boyhood"
Bennett Miller - "Foxcatcher"
Wes Anderson - "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Morten Tyldum - "The Imitation Game"

Should Win - Richard Linklater. This ingenious premise for a film is unmatched in my book. Linklater's concept and execution are incomparable.

Will Win - Richard Linklater. Again, the ball could land in Inarritu's court, but Oscar recognizes cinematic brilliance when it comes around, and with "Boyhood," Linklater has created just that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

American Sniper

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Sam Jaeger
Director: Clint Eastwood
Rating: R

Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes

This film demands to be discussed. Clearly there have been mixed responses about the movie - is it pro war? Is Michael Moore speaking out against it just to hear himself talk? But anyone who watches Clint Eastwood's latest masterpiece can agree that it's incredibly moving. Saying it's a powerful film is a severe understatement. You've all seen the trailer. Just prepare for about 2 hours of that same level of intensity. Even the closing credits were played sans music - everyone was silent leaving the theatre. This film is a painful and powerful reminder of those brave enough to serve our country. I'm thankful for those people, and don't think to recognize them often enough. (On a personal note, Cooper gained about 35 pounds for this role, and though he's never made my "list," after seeing him as such a beefcake, all I can say is YUM.)

"American Sniper" is based off Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's autobiography. Cooper fearlessly portrays this American hero. You don't see a trace of the man who charmed us in "The Hangover" or cracked us up in "Wedding Crashers" here. Cooper sheds his Hollywood playboy image and gives the best performance of his career. We meet Kyle as a child, when he first shoots a gun with his dad and comes to his brother's defense in a playground fight. Though his heart was after the Rodeo, his drive and patriotism soon led him into the Armed Forces, where he endured intense training to become a Navy SEAL, and ultimately the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.
Chris Kyle and Bradley Cooper
Photo Courtesy PopCultureBlog - Dallas News
Sienna Miller plays his beautiful and tortured wife Taya, who marries him before his first tour, and sticks with him and their two kids during all four of his tours, approximately 1,000 days in Iraq. The emotional strain on their marriage builds each time he returns home. It seems he feels more comfortable in war, making a pit stop at a bar before he goes home to his family. He admits he feels he could do and should do more for his country, while his wife argues that it's time to let someone else try.

Many scenes will make you squirm, most notably one with a power drill. The sandstorm scene makes it nearly impossible to see anything and you zone out, a clear indicator that Kyle has also zoned out and is ready to return home for good. There is a nice balance of romance/home life and action, but once the action scenes get going, they're almost sensory overload.

Why Clint Eastwood wasn't nominated for Best Director is beyond me. An old curmudgeon he might be (and I would know, as one of his co-stars), he's one of the best directors of our time. And in this role, Bradley Cooper has created his legacy.

Whiplash

Starring: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Director: Damien Chazelle
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Rating: R


This movie is intense. It reminded me of (dare I say) "Center Stage" or even a touch of "Black Swan" - when an artist is so dedicated to their craft things start getting weird. However, this wasn't the story of an artist's self-torture, it portrays the hellacious torture on behalf of an instructor. J.K. Simmons isn't JK-ing around in this role. As esteemed music professor Fletcher, when he isn't beefing up in the gym, he's clearly trying to think of ways to ruin his students' lives. He should be honored for Best Actor at the very least, but it's safe to say he'll no longer be recognized as a character actor or that dude from the Farmers Insurance commercials. Newcomer Miles Teller is brilliant. It's difficult to tell whether he is an actor who can drum or a drummer who can act, because he kicks ass at both.

Mad guns yo!
There's not a lot of exposition here - you dive right in, which is a good thing. You don't need a lot of background to know that Andrew (Teller) is in his first year at a music conservatory school. He clearly has the drive and talent behind the drum set, even pushing himself so hard that his hands bleed like ballerinas feet do during pointe. Watching him bandage his hands and prepare his sticks is not unlike how a dancer prepares her shoes and her body.

Blood-stained cymbols and sweat-soaked T-shirts all become the norm once he joins Fletcher's advanced band class. Though Andrew appears to have gained his trust and approval, Fletcher's physical and emotional abuse soon becomes the tipping point. Andrew even flees the scene of a disastrous car wreck with a concussion so as to not miss a band competition. We truly can't tell whether Fletcher's inhumane treatment of his students is really just a genuine desire for them to push themselves to be the best, or if he is bitter from his own failures and is just a miserable person.

Paul Reiser (love Mad About You!) is the only other semi-recognizable face, besides "Glee" fans, who will be happy (?) to see the return of Riley. This film builds, as a symphony does, with an incredible climax, though you kind of zone out during it instead of get any real closure. I like a good amount of resolution. Instead, you can be happy that Andrew just leaves it all out onstage.

Should this win Best Picture? No. Am I glad it got recognized for being different with its plot, lighting choices, cinematography and performances? Yes. This is definitely not like most movies and for that I applaud it. This film will make your anxiety levels rise, and you'll especially appreciate it if you're into music. This will be a great soundtrack, though Simmons' and Teller's performances really take center stage.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

50 Shades of Grey

Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Eloise Mumford
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Rating: R

The key to finding this movie remotely enjoyable is to set the bar low. Chances are, you've already formed an opinion about this film - maybe you read the book; maybe you've read all three; you had some issues with the casting; you're disgusted; you're intrigued... I went in with very low expectations. The book was underwhelming and the newcomer actors seemed to have very big shoes to fill. Suffice it to say, considering the material they had to work with, I thought the transition from page to screen was the best it possibly could have been.

Graduate student Anastasia Steele meets billionaire CEO Christian Grey. Something awakens inside both of them, a contract to become his submissive is presented and various sexcapades ensue. This is not one you want to watch with your parents. In fact, if lady full frontals, ass shots and bondage makes you squirm, you may want to sit this one out entirely. The sex scenes weren't as explicit as the book presented them, but you definitely get your fill.

The casting seemed to be a heated point of debate among the masses, but I enjoyed the fact that they were both newbies, and they each made the characters more likable and more human. Dakota Johnson (Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson's offspring) brought a beautiful dimension to the character of Anastasia. This was a raw, conflicted and emotional performance. Jamie Dornan on the other hand - NOT my type until I heard him speak and witnessed his presence onscreen. You can feel the tension and their chemistry. Kudos to the casting department for sticking by these two.

Should you see 50 Shades? Maybe. If you enjoyed the book, you may be disappointed in the film because it is different, but it's truly for the better. Let this film fulfill your curiosity. It is engaging, even if you try to resist.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Foxcatcher

Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Bennett Miller
Rating: R

Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes

I was so intrigued by this tragic, true story. Not to mention Steve Carell in a role like I had never seen him; my darling Ruffalo as a kind and nurturing soul; and easy on the eyes Tatum (need I say more?), but unfortunately, I was over this film before it even started. The first 10 minutes have very little dialogue. In fact, the entire movie doesn't have enough dialogue. If you know anything about this story (or read Mark Schultz's memoir), you know how it ends before it begins. There wasn't enough driving plot progression for me to really care what happened along the way.
Steve Carell and John du Pont
Photo courtesy Yahoo
Tatum and Ruffalo play brothers Mark and David Schultz, who are Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestlers. The former, a disturbed soul, the latter, his primary caretaker since they were young. Ruffalo and Tatum's chemistry is genuine, particularly the hotel scene where Mark binges 12 pounds worth of food and cries in David's arms. It's chilling. The most chilling of all however, is Carell's portrayal of John du Pont, of one of America's wealthiest families. He is slimy, off, not all there. After offering to house and train Mark at his Foxcatcher estate, David cleverly wonders "yeah, but what's in it for him?" I was under the impression that living with du Pont ultimately drove Mark to be so tormented, when in fact there were several problems there to begin with - living with him just encouraged them.

Contrary to what he has told Mark, we soon come to realize that du Pont is not a wrestling coach. He in fact knows very little about the sport. It's as if the wrestling team he has taken under his wing are his friends, companions, even family. It's sad really, when he admits that his wealthy mother paid other kids to hang out with him when he was young.

Carell and Ruffalo are getting all the glory for this film, and rightfully so, but this was the most heartfelt and unforced I've ever seen Tatum. Blink and you'll miss Vanessa Redgrave, look twice and you'll barely catch a glimpse of Sienna Miller (her second supporting wife role this season.) The cinematography choices didn't advance the plot, they just slowed it down and made me twiddle my thumbs. If the idea of this film intrigues you like it did me, just save it for a rental. It was fine. It just went on for too long.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Birdman

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Rating: R

Finally, this movie was re-released into the theatres. I had been dying to see what all the hype was about. After a wildly erratic 2 hours, I decided I may have set the bar too high. This somewhat autobiographical film (for Keaton) is worth seeing once, but for me, that was plenty. The all-star cast is on point - Ed, Naomi and Zach are sensational outstanding support - but the star of the show is clearly Keaton, who portrays has-been action star Riggan Thomson. The film focuses on a play he has written, directed and starred in to secure his "comeback," though at the end, we're left with very little closure as to whether he "came back" or really went anywhere. My fear of birds also didn't make this easy to enjoy.

Birds. Just, no.
Complaints aside, I couldn't have been more in love with the setting: a Broadway theatre in NYC. Riggan's play is in its final nights of previews, and if one star isn't dropping out, one is freaking out, and one is even experimenting with being a lesbian. I imagine the writers decided every "good" film should have some girl-on-girl action, though it was literally just thrown in for shock value. (I'm sure every male in the audience would disagree with me.) We're first introduced to Riggan's mental instability when he admits that just from using his mind, he made a light fall on one of the less-talented actors, so that he would be forced to replace him. Admissions like these coupled with conversations he has with his Birdman identity reveal that Riggan is in fact quite not well.

Ed Norton always gives 110%, and as method actor Mike, he is no exception here. His constant attention to Riggan's daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and her "amazing" ass did wear on me; she's clearly 98 pounds in this film. Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis break from their traditional roles and shine as a "I finally made it to Broadway!" starlet and Riggan's straight-faced, no jokes attorney, respectively.

One of the more genuine and powerful scenes is between Riggan and a theatre critic, Tabitha Dickinson. These 5 minutes, along with Riggan's heart-to-heart with ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) will secure him the Oscar (though it shouldn't be so political! Redmayne for the win!) The second half of the film is far more fantastical than the first - something that I didn't see coming in quite this amount. Riggan's underwear sprint through Times Square is likely to be one of the more memorable scenes from the movie. Unfortunately, the film didn't make a lasting impression on me.