Category Archives: List

Notes on the 2017 Oscars

Best Picture

I went 6 for 9 on viewing and reviewing Best Picture nominees this year (hoping to catch up with Hacksaw sometime this month) but based on what I’ve seen, the Academy made some excellent picks for the top prize this time around. With a record-tying 14 nominations, the Academy clearly went gaga for La La and as it’s also my #1 film from last year, this may a rare instance where my favorite movie of a given year also wins Best Picture (perhaps the first time since The Hurt Locker in 2010). If I had to pick a potential upset, I’d look to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight but it has a very small sliver of a chance to overcome La La Land‘s dominance.

Update – I was able to see Hacksaw Ridge recently and aside from some well-staged combat scenes, I couldn’t find very much to like about it. Outside of the sound categories, it doesn’t seem that Hacksaw will walk home with much else on Sunday night anyway.

My Prediction: La La Land
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: Midnight Special

Best Director

  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  • Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  • Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

As with Picture, I see this going towards La La Land by way of its visionary director Damien Chazelle who, at 32 years old, would be the youngest director to ever win the award. Chazelle was previously nominated for his fierce breakout Whiplash (which, incidentally, was my favorite film of 2014) and with this victory, he should have enough industry sway and creative control to keep making more great movies for the foreseeable future. Outside chances would again go to Moonlight via Barry Jenkins, who would become the first African-American to ever win the category.

My Prediction: Damien Chazelle
My Vote: Damien Chazelle
Overlooked: David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water)

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

The prospect of La La Land winning the Big Five (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay) runs into its biggest obstacle here, as both Affleck and Washington have a considerable lead on Gosling at this point. My personal pick would have to go to Affleck, whose wounded performance gives Manchester its poignant core, but two-time winner Washington does equally great work in his feature Fences. While I don’t think Gosling deserves to win among this particular field, he’s been a top-tier actor for some time now (he should have won when he was nominated 10 years ago for his role in Half Nelson) and I don’t doubt that an Oscar will be in his future as long as he remains smart about the work that he chooses.

Update – In the past couple weeks, this race has gotten even tighter and it’s now ostensibly a coin-flip between Affleck and Washington. My prediction remains with Affleck on the basis of his numerous wins over awards season but don’t be surprised if Washington pulls the upset.

My Prediction: Casey Affleck
My Vote: Casey Affleck
Overlooked: Colin Farrell (The Lobster)

Best Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Ruth Negga – Loving
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma Stone – La La Land
  • Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

I’m sadly ignorant on this group, as I’ve only seen two of the five nominated performances at my time of writing this, but all signs point to Emma Stone riding the La La train to victory. Huppert won the Golden Globe for her icy performance in Elle but she doesn’t seem likely to repeat here. Meryl Streep scores her 20th (!) nomination this year, making her the most nominated performer in Academy history and a reliable nominee for pretty much any year in which she chooses to act in a film.

Update – Since my original post, I have had a chance to catch up with the other three films this category. My preference would still be with Stone but Portman would be my runner-up, as she absolutely disappears into her role as Jackie Kennedy and pulls off yet another brilliant performance.

My Prediction: Emma Stone
My Vote: Emma Stone
Overlooked: Krisha Fairchild (Krisha)

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel – Lion
  • Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

My Prediction: Mahershala Ali
My Vote: Mahershala Ali
Overlooked: Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman – Lion
  • Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

My Prediction: Viola Davis
My Vote: Viola Davis
Overlooked: Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys)

Plenty of great stuff in the supporting categories this year but the standouts for me (and likely the Academy) are Ali for his empathetic turn in Moonlight and Davis for her knockout role in Fences (she was nominated and should have won Supporting Actress in 2009 for her work in Doubt). I’m glad to see the young Lucas Hedges get recognition for his breakout role in Manchester and while Michael Shannon was loads of scene-chewing fun in Nocturnal Animals, I actually prefer Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s work in the same film. Naomie Harris did excellent work in Moonlight and could upset Davis come award night, while I might give Williams the edge to both of them if she potentially had more screen time in Manchester.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
  • La La Land – Damien Chazelle
  • The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou
  • Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
  • 20th Century Women – Mike Mills

My Prediction: Manchester by the Sea
My Vote: Hell or High Water
Overlooked: Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival – Eric Heisserer from Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
  • Fences – August Wilson from Fences
  • Hidden Figures – Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi from Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Lion – Luke Davies from A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose
  • Moonlight – Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney

My Prediction: Moonlight
My Vote: Moonlight
Overlooked: Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Taika Waititi

Best Animated Feature Film

My Prediction: Zootopia
My Vote: Moana
Overlooked: Sausage Party

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Land of Mine
  • A Man Called Ove
  • The Salesman
  • Tanna
  • Toni Erdmann

My Prediction: Toni Erdmann
My Vote:
Overlooked: The Handmaiden

Best Documentary – Feature

  • Fire at Sea
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J.: Made in America
  • 13th

My Prediction: O.J.: Made in America
My Vote: O.J.: Made in America
Overlooked: Weiner

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • Extremis
  • 4.1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

My Prediction: The White Helmets
My Vote:
Overlooked:

Best Live Action Short Film

  • Ennemis intérieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

My Prediction: Timecode
My Vote:
Overlooked:

Best Animated Short Film

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

My Prediction: Piper
My Vote: Borrowed Time
Overlooked: Inner Workings

Best Original Score

  • Jackie – Mica Levi
  • La La Land – Justin Hurwitz
  • Lion – Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
  • Moonlight – Nicholas Britell
  • Passengers – Thomas Newman

My Prediction: La La Land
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: Krisha – Brian McOmber

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls
  • “City of Stars” from La La Land
  • “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story
  • “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

My Prediction: “City of Stars”
My Vote: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”
Overlooked: “Up” (or any) from Sing Street

Best Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

My Prediction: Hacksaw Ridge
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: Silence

Best Sound Mixing

My Prediction: Hacksaw Ridge
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: Captain America: Civil War

Best Production Design

  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

My Prediction: La La Land
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: The Witch

Best Cinematography

  • Arrival – Bradford Young
  • La La Land – Linus Sandgren
  • Lion – Greig Fraser
  • Moonlight – James Laxton
  • Silence – Rodrigo Prieto

My Prediction: La La Land
My Vote: Silence
Overlooked: The Neon Demon – Natasha Braier

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

My Prediction: Star Trek Beyond
My Vote: Star Trek Beyond
Overlooked: Nocturnal Animals

Best Costume Design

  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

My Prediction: La La Land
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: Love & Friendship

Best Film Editing

  • Arrival – Joe Walker
  • Hacksaw Ridge – John Gilbert
  • Hell or High Water – Jake Roberts
  • La La Land – Tom Cross
  • Moonlight – Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

My Prediction: La La Land
My Vote: La La Land
Overlooked: Sully

Best Visual Effects

My Prediction: Doctor Strange
My Vote: The Jungle Book
Overlooked: Arrival

Enjoy the show!

My Top Movies of 2016

Honorable Mention: O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America

I don’t often include “honorable mentions” on these lists but I made an exception because this behemoth of a documentary has popped up on many year-end lists and after viewing it myself, I can see why. The reason for the asterisk centers around O.J.: Made In America‘s concurrent status as both a feature film and a television series, as it originally aired in five episodes as part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series but has also been screened at film festivals and is currently the frontrunner for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. Since my viewing experience took place over a number of weeks and was separated by the five segments, I personally regard it as a series but regardless of how you see it or what medium you consider it apart of, it is a riveting and vital document.

10. Moana

Moana

Disney made headlines late last year by becoming the first studio to earn $7 billion worldwide at the box office (with help from their subsidiaries Marvel and Pixar) but it was a product of their own Animation Studios that struck a bigger chord with me than anything else that they produced. Featuring a host of winning original tunes and some of the most stunning computer animation I’ve ever seen, Moana does just about as much right as an animated musical can do. Breaking from the tradition of Disney’s “Princess” cycle, the film takes a cue from its bold protagonist and carves out a new path that feels fresher and more forward-thinking than some of the studio’s more recent efforts.

9. Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

This feature by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan could be considered my “Revenant” pick for this year, as it was a film that was more of a cinematic endurance test than a traditionally good time out at the movies. While the brutality of The Revenant (which, coincidentally, was in my #9 spot last year) hinges on the elemental struggle its main character has with his surroundings, Manchester by the Sea brings that same level of turmoil and applies it to the emotional state of its lead. Casey Affleck will likely be taking home Oscar gold later this month for his thorny and insular but nonetheless brilliant performance as a man paralyzed by grief.

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

New Zealand director Taika Waititi keeps cranking out the hits with this effortlessly charming and relentlessly funny tale of a mismatched pair who get lost in the wilderness and unwittingly become targets of a national manhunt. “Quirky” is a word that often gets thrown around with negative connotations when describing comedies but Hunt for the Wilderpeople is loaded with all sorts of peculiar touches that make it stand with distinction above lazier efforts in the genre. Sam Neill is at his grizzled best playing a perpetually cantankerous adoptive father and newcomer Julian Dennison brings an abundance of charisma to a character that could have been irritating had a lesser actor filled the role.

7. Weiner

Weiner

In a year that culminated with a presidential election marred by controversy and scandal, Weiner gave us a first-hand account of just how quickly a campaign run can crash and burn in spectacular fashion. Most documentarians would kill to have the access that directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg had when they followed disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner during his unsuccessful bid for New York mayor and the duo squeeze every last bit of cringe-worthy comedy and bitter tragedy from the circumstances. It’s not often that you’ll find a documentary so raw that the cameraperson literally asks “why are you letting me film this?” to its subject while filming.

6. Midnight Special

Midnight Special

2016 saw the release of two films by the abundantly talented director Jeff Nichols (I still have to catch up with his Oscar-nominated biopic Loving) but this superb sci-fi throwback/road movie has gone largely unrecognized during awards season. Midnight Special opens with one of the year’s most captivating examples of visual storytelling and never lets its foot off of the proverbial gas pedal throughout its running time. The always dependable Michael Shannon, now a five-time collaborator with Nichols, does career-best work as a father struggling to protect his son amid unparalleled circumstances and he’s amply aided by a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver.

5. Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

The modern Western is a genre that’s been on the rise as of late and outstanding films like Hell or High Water are a great example of how the themes of honor and justice from classic Western fare can still be relavent today. The post-recession desperation that permeates this archetypal cops and robbers tale gives it an added layer of relavence and significance that I wasn’t expecting going into the movie. Aided by sure-handed direction from Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie and a snappy script by Taylor Sheridan, this is one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers that I stumbled upon last year and I hope even more people give it a chance now that it’s available to rent.

4. Krisha

Krisha

Krisha announces its intentions early from its opening shot; the stark close-up of its titular character captures her in an unflinching gaze with the audience as if she is studying us as much as we are studying her. This stunning debut by Trey Edward Shults is about as personal as filmmaking can get, as he captures the messy details of an estranged mother trying to reconcile with her family on Thanksgiving with such acuity that it’s hard to imagine he’s not drawing from his own life experiences. Along with the spot-on storytelling, lead actress Krisha Fairchild gives an immensely powerful performance that’s devoid of vanity and layered with shattering humanity.

3. Moonlight

Moonlight

It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes Moonlight such an extraordinary piece of filmmaking; on the surface, it’s a modest coming-of-age tale about a boy coming to terms with his race and sexuality across three periods in his life. Perhaps, then, it’s not about the “what” but rather the “how” that matters most as writer/director Barry Jenkins finds uncommon levels of empathy and eloquence to weave into the fibers of his understated narrative. Three different actors all do excellent work playing the main character at different ages but the soulful performance from Mahershala Ali in the film’s first segment resonates through each of the subsequent chapters.

2. The Lobster

The Lobster

It starts with a pitch like something from a Charlie Kaufman movie: in a dystopian future, all single people are gathered up and given 45 days to find a suitable life partner or else they will be transformed into an animal of their choosing. Yorgos Lanthimos’ pitch-black comedy (and surprisingly heartfelt romance) The Lobster works so well because even though the characters find themselves in a patently ridiculous scenario, their motivations and compulsions remain completely relatable. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz have an unbeatable chemistry that seems to come out of nowhere and elevate the tenderness amid the absurdity and the cynicism.

1. La La Land

La La Land

The experience of watching Damien Chazelle’s original musical on the big screen was akin to having a skilled neurosurgeon probe various sectors of the pleasure center of my brain consecutively for two hours. In more non-clinical terms, I was absolutely enchanted by everything that La La Land had to offer not only as a love letter to classic musicals but also as a modern relationship movie that taps so thoroughly into the hopes and dreams of its main characters. I would argue that this film is more poignant and thoughtful than people seem to be giving it credit for but even if you just take it in as pure spectacle, the first-rate music and the undeniable creative vision from Chazelle should be enough to please anyone.

My Top 10 Horror Movies of the Past 10 Years

10. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2
By far the most underrated of the three Insidious films, this sequel delivers more scares than the original while also remaining a true companion piece to it with narrative reveals that compliment the predecessor perfectly.

9. Sinister

Sinister
Few horror movies look pure darkness in the face as unflinchingly as Sinister, which uses a home video aesthetic to depict horrifying acts of violence that threaten to drive its protagonist (played by Ethan Hawke) over the edge.

8. It Follows

It Follows
David Robert Mitchell crafts a brilliantly simple conceit — what if an STD actually presented itself spontaneously in human form? — for this creepy thriller with loads of stylish throwback touches and a killer soundtrack by Disasterpeace.

7. The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil
Other entries on this list have clear influences from horror cinema of the ’70s and ’80s but with its slow burn narrative and faithful lo-fi palette, The House of the Devil truly feels like it comes from an entirely different era altogether.

6. You’re Next

You're Next
This subversive take on the home invasion sub-genre has plenty of clever plot twists to keep audiences on their toes and the kind of all-out gory spectacles that you might otherwise find in some of Wes Craven’s best work.

5. The Orphanage

The Orphanage
Borrowing from some of the visual cues that made executive producer Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth such a resounding success, Spanish director J. A. Bayona puts his unique spin on this ghost story about a mother’s journey to return to her son.

4. The Babadook

The Babadook
Drawing influence from both traditional gothic horror and classic silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, this bone-chilling fable creates a terrifying new creature in its titular character that feeds off the grief of a struggling single mother (played flawlessly by Essie Davis).

3. Goodnight Mommy

Goodnight Mommy
Featuring the creepiest cinematic twins this side of The Shining, Goodnight Mommy is an Austrian import that takes a case of mistaken identity to disturbing and unnerving extremes that will stay with viewers long after the chilling final shot.

2. Black Swan

Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky incorporated bits of psychological terror around the edges of his drug opus Requiem for a Dream and he puts that dread at the forefront of this dark tale about violent obsession and the endless pursuit of perfection.

1. Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In
A Swedish vampire movie may not seem to be the most conventional pick for best horror films of the past 10 years but not only does it have more than enough frightening moments to qualify, it also has outstanding performances and a poignant love story that’s sure to draw in horror purists everywhere.

Notes on the 2016 Oscars

Oscars 2016

Best Picture

This year, the Academy has again put forth a confusingly arbitrary number of 8 nominations for Best Picture (doesn’t 10 make more sense?) and we seem to have a three-way tie between The Big Short, The Revenant and Spotlight. These films seemed to divide any sense of critical consensus this awards season by each taking top honors through various channels (The Big Short took the PGA, The Revenant took the BAFTA, Spotlight took the NSFCA). Despite this split, The Revenant still looks poised to take home the top prize and though I would prefer Room to win above it, Alejandro Iñárritu’s singular survival tale remains my second favorite of the nominees and a fine selection for Best Picture.

My Prediction: The Revenant
My Vote: Room
Overlooked: Inside Out, Anomalisa

Best Director

  • Adam McKay – The Big Short
  • George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
  • Lenny Abrahamson – Room
  • Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Iñárritu is a clear favorite for a consecutive win here after last year’s Birdman, which would make him the first director in 66 years with back-to-back wins in the category. Though I am seemingly the only human alive who didn’t care much for Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller deserves ample praise for his terrifically twisted sense of world-building and his frantically paced action sequences. My preference would still be towards Abrahamson for Room: he’s not the showiest storyteller out there but the emotional integrity that he shows to the story and his characters is worthy of recognition. And how Adam McKay was nominated over the likes of Scott and Spielberg is something that I will ponder over all night.

My Prediction: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
My Vote: Lenny Abrahamson
Overlooked: Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen (Inside Out)

Best Actor

  • Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
  • Matt Damon – The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

It’s finally Leo’s year. Sure, it may not be the best performance of his laudable career but the Academy has a long history of handing out overdue awards and it helps that this year’s field is relatively soft compared to previous years. Much has been made of the brutal shooting conditions of The Revenant and how they affected its actors but there’s more to DiCaprio’s towering work in the film than the suffering that he and his character endured. It’s a completely believable portrait of a man fighting valiantly against the elements and it’s a comforting sign that the night’s surest bet is also such a deserving pick.

My Prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio
My Vote: Leonardo DiCaprio
Overlooked: Michael B. Jordan (Creed)

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett – Carol
  • Brie Larson – Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

Another lock here and for good reason: there’s no doubt in my mind that Brie Larson gave the year’s best performance in Room. As a young mother of a 5-year-old boy living under unimaginable circumstances, she gives a heartbreaking and unforgettable performance of staggering empathy and overwhelming conviction. The rest of the field is equally impressive and Charlotte Rampling would likely be my runner-up choice here for her astounding work in 45 Years as a conflicted wife in a 45-year marriage that isn’t as stable as it seems to be. Though I didn’t see Joy, it’s worth mentioning that this is Jennifer Lawrence’s third nomination in 4 years and she’s 25 years old. Just let that sink in.

My Prediction: Brie Larson
My Vote: Brie Larson
Overlooked: Emily Blunt (Sicario)

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale – The Big Short
  • Tom Hardy – The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone – Creed

My Prediction: Sylvester Stallone
My Vote: Tom Hardy
Overlooked: Bencio Del Toro (Sicario)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

My Prediction: Alicia Vikander
My Vote: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Overlooked: Elizabeth Banks (Love & Mercy)

Both of these categories offer an element of surprise but going off of recent momentum, Stallone and Vikander seem to be the smartest selections. While I didn’t see The Danish Girl, Stallone does add a good bit of heart as his seventh portrayal of the Rocky character in Creed. My personal picks would go to Tom Hardy, who gave some solid dimension to his sneering villain character in The Revenant, and to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who had to actively suppress abject horror while watching her co-star obliterate a priceless antique guitar in The Hateful Eight.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
  • Ex Machina – Alex Garland
  • Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen
  • Spotlight – Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
  • Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus

My Prediction: Spotlight
My Vote: Inside Out
Overlooked: While We’re Young – Noah Baumbach

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short – Adam McKay and Charles Randolph from The Big Short by Michael Lewis
  • Brooklyn – Nick Hornby from Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
  • Carol – Phyllis Nagy from The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Martian – Drew Goddard from The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Room – Emma Donoghue from Room by Emma Donoghue

My Prediction: The Big Short
My Vote: Room
Overlooked: Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman

The screenplay categories have long been a personal favorite of mine and while the nominees are strong overall, it seems that the Academy will settle on two less-than-deserving scripts this year. Spotlight is a responsible and competent piece of screenwriting that nonetheless offers little surprise and The Big Short comes up woefully short in the way of laughs or insight in regard to its subject material. Much of what made my two favorite films of last year (Inside Out and Room) great comes down to their writing and I know that I’ll still be crossing my fingers for them tonight when the envelopes are being opened.

Best Animated Feature Film

  • Anomalisa
  • Boy & the World
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • When Marnie Was There

My Prediction: Inside Out
My Vote: Inside Out
Overlooked: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • Mustang
  • Son of Saul
  • Theeb
  • A War

My Prediction: Son of Saul
My Vote:
Overlooked: Goodnight Mommy

Best Documentary – Feature

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

My Prediction: Amy
My Vote: The Look of Silence
Overlooked: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • Body Team 12
  • Chau, Beyond the Lines
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  • Last Day of Freedom

My Prediction: Body Team 12
My Vote:
Overlooked:

Best Live Action Short Film

  • Ave Maria
  • Day One
  • Everything Will Be Okay
  • Shok
  • Stutterer

My Prediction: Ave Maria
My Vote: Shok
Overlooked:

Best Animated Short Film

  • Bear Story
  • Prologue
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow

My Prediction: Sanjay’s Super Team
My Vote: World of Tomorrow
Overlooked:

Best Original Score

  • Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman
  • Carol – Carter Burwell
  • The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
  • Sicario – Jóhann Jóhannsson
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – John Williams

My Prediction: The Hateful Eight
My Vote: Carol
Overlooked: It Follows – Richard Vreeland

Best Original Song

  • “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
  • “Simple Song #3” from Youth
  • “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
  • “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre

My Prediction: “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
My Vote: “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
Overlooked: “See You Again” from Furious 7

Best Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Vote: Mad Max: Fury Road
Overlooked: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Best Sound Mixing

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Vote: Mad Max: Fury Road
Overlooked: Love & Mercy

Best Production Design

  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Vote: Mad Max: Fury Road
Overlooked: Crimson Peak

Best Cinematography

  • Carol – Ed Lachman
  • The Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson
  • Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
  • The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Sicario – Roger Deakins

My Prediction: The Revenant
My Vote: The Revenant
Overlooked: Victoria – Sturla Brandth Grøvlen

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Vote: Mad Max: Fury Road
Overlooked: The Hateful Eight

Best Costume Design

  • Carol
  • Cinderella
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Vote: Mad Max: Fury Road
Overlooked: Brooklyn

Best Film Editing

  • The Big Short – Hank Corwin
  • Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
  • The Revenant – Stephen Mirrione
  • Spotlight – Tom McArdle
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey

My Prediction: Mad Max: Fury Road
My Vote: Mad Max: Fury Road
Overlooked: While We’re Young

Best Visual Effects

  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

My Prediction: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
My Vote: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Overlooked: The Walk

Enjoy the show!

My Top Movies of 2015

10. What We Do In The Shadows

What We Do In The Shadows

This horror-comedy drew influence from two already heavily saturated markets (mockmentaries and vampire movies) and against all odds, still managed to find new aspects to lampoon. By taking three, centuries-old vampires and placing them in a present day New Zealand flat, directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi craft a hilarious variation on MTV’s Real World for ancient bloodsuckers. What We Do In The Shadows made me laugh more than any other movie that I saw last year and at the end of the day, that has to count for something.

9. The Revenant

The Revenant

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s vast, cinematic Western proved once again that an auteur’s vision can still trump budget concerns and grueling production demands. From the opening, breathtaking Native American pelt raid to the film’s enigmatic final shot, he commands our attention at every step in the journey. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy give two of the most dedicated performances you’ll ever see and Emmanuel Lubezki’s camerawork has never been better. Awards buzz has recently triggered a cynical wave of backlash but through it all, The Revenant remains a vital and unflinching work.

8. Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy

For a movie with such a drawn-out and troubled production history, Love & Mercy came together better than most could have ever expected. Even more impressive, this bifurcated Brian Wilson biopic was directed by Bill Pohlad, known as a producer on a number of recent successful films but only credited as a director one other time for 1990’s little seen Old Explorers. Paul Dano, John Cusack and particularly Elizabeth Banks all give career-best performances and there’s a sort of undeniably magic to hearing the Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys music recreated in the studio so beautifully.

7. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

They just keep getting better. Tom Cruise returns for his fifth outing as indestructible IMF agent Ethan Hunt in a series that is still finding new ways to devise thrilling daredevil scenarios for the star to endure. You may go in expecting first-rate action sequences from director Christopher McQuarrie, of which this film contains about four or five that will not disappoint, but the biggest surprise is the knockout performance by newcomer Rebecca Ferguson. When Cruise does inevitably throw in the towel (and I am dreading that day), Ferguson proves that she’s a viable candidate to take the reins on the Mission: Impossible franchise.

6. Goodnight Mommy

Goodnight Mommy

Twin actors Elias and Lukas Schwarz give convincingly creepy performances in this unnerving horror import from Austria, which tells the story of two sons whose mother begins to act strangely after a cosmetic facial operation. Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala display a chilly patience with their material and remind us that sustained dread is much more effective than the jump scare conventions that are so prevalent in the genre. The film’s final image had me wincing away in terror and really, how much more authentic an endorsement can there be for a horror movie?

5. While We’re Young

While We're Young

How were we lucky enough to get not just one but two great Noah Baumbach movies released in the same year? While Mistress America playfully revisits the themes established in Baumbach’s masterful Frances Ha, While We’re Young feels like its wiser and more world-weary counterpart. It’s an inter-generational comedy with plenty of laughs but also plenty to say about how we define ourselves amongst shifting societal expectations. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts do great work as a husband and wife seeking their own identities as individuals and as a married couple.

4. Phoenix

Phoenix

The word “Hitchcockian” gets thrown around too often when people describe thrillers but when one feels like this much of a direct, spiritual companion to Vertigo, it seems apt. Set in post-Holocaust Berlin, Phoenix is a gripping, mistaken identity tale of loss and resurgence played with intimate intensity by leads Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld. Director Christian Petzold finds all the right beats of irony and melancholy in the dialogue and the film’s haunting conclusion, which actually gave me chills, is note-perfect and one that I expect will stay with me for some time.

3. Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Leave it to mastermind Charlie Kaufman to again create another brazenly, original work of genius that seems to come further out of left field than any of his previous accomplishments. He teams up with co-director Duke Johnson to create a stop motion movie like no other, one that dwells on the painful realities of life and actually feels like a tempered reflection of our imperfect world. Darkly funny and quietly heartbreaking in equal measure, Anomalisa may prove to be too dispiriting for some but I found it to be an insightful and touching portrait of loneliness.

2. Room

Room

A work of unparalleled emotional power, Room is best experienced with as little foreknowledge of the material as possible. Saying that it’s a harrowing study of the unshakable bond between mother and child should give the uninitiated a sense of story’s surface but the movie’s concealed strength lies in director Lenny Abrahamson’s ability to delicately dissect layers of sentiment with a special focus on groundedness and honesty. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give two of the year’s best performances as they capture all of the nuances of the mother-son relationship with effortless chemistry.

1. Inside Out

Inside Out

In what may be Pixar’s finest film, director Pete Docter culls the qualities of the studio’s best and fashions an emotionally profound work of art about the value of empathy and acceptance of grief. Inside Out is a brilliant force of sheer creativity, a movie that expertly balances matters of the head and the heart while also appealing to both with light touches of good-natured humor throughout. It taps into universal human truths in such a pure and succinct way that it feels destined to become a timeless piece of animation that may outlast just about everything else in its category.

Notes on the 2015 Oscars

Oscars 2015

Best Picture

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

So here we are, on the day of the 87th Academy Awards, and the Best Picture category is not entirely locked up. Frankly, it’s a great feeling. It seems that it’s come down to the two “B” movies: Birdman and Boyhood. Between the two, my preference would be with Boyhood, but I would truly be happy with either film taking home the award. They’re both audacious and creative original works, both the kinds of movies that filmmakers should strive to make in the future. In the end, I do think the Academy will favor the pure spectacle of Boyhood and award it Best Picture.

My Prediction: Boyhood
My Vote: Whiplash
Overlooked: Gone Girl

Best Director

  • Birdman, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • Boyhood, Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
  • The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum

While I’d be happy about either Birdman or Boyhood taking home Best Picture, Best Director simply must go to Linklater. He’s had a sensational career and his 12 year dedication to Boyhood absolutely needs to be recognized this year. The rest of the nominees are worthy, with the exception of  Morten Tyldum for his muddled and disorganized biopic The Imitation Game. While Ava DuVernay’s snub has been widely publicized, it’s worth mentioning one more time just how much more qualified she is than Tyldum in this category.

My Prediction: Richard Linklater
My Vote: Richard Linklater
Overlooked: Ava DuVernay (Selma)

Best Actor

  • Steve Carell in Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton in Birdman
  • Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Of the major categories, this one is up in the air more than any other. Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking is great and likely to earn him the Oscar but I still get the sense that Keaton or Cumberbatch could pull an upset. I feel that Carell and Cooper, who took on daring and transformative roles, might have a better chance most other years but this year’s field of Actor nominees is particularly competitive.

My Prediction: Eddie Redmayne
My Vote: Michael Keaton
Overlooked: Miles Teller (Whiplash)

Best Actress

  • Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore in Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Unfortunately, I only had a chance to see two of these five movies (Girl, Theory) , so it’s a difficult category for me to discuss in depth. Still, it seems that Moore is a lock for Still Alice, which still hasn’t opened in any theaters around me. I’m pleasantly surprised to see Pike nominated for such a multifaceted and haunting role, certainly one of my favorites from last year. Jones did a fine job but I wouldn’t exactly call it Best Actress quality work.

My Prediction: Julianne Moore
My Vote: Rosamund Pike
Overlooked: Scarett Johansson (Under the Skin)

Supporting Actor

  • Robert Duvall in The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
  • Edward Norton in Birdman
  • Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

J.K. Simmons has done good work for years as a character actor but his performance in Whiplash is undeniably electric and there’s little doubt that he’ll take home the trophy. If it weren’t for Simmons, I would love to see Norton win for his memorably haughty performance as Mike Shiner in Birdman. Ruffalo is a nice addition but the nominations for Duvall and Hawke feel somewhat arbitrary.

My Prediction: J.K. Simmons
My Vote: J.K. Simmons
Overlooked: Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
  • Laura Dern in Wild
  • Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone in Birdman
  • Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

This one seems to be Arquette’s to lose, although Stone has a long shot for her terrific work in Birdman. She may not win this year but if she continues to choose roles this good, I imagine she’ll have an Oscar still in her future. This is Streep’s 19th nomination, so at this point, it’s safe to say that she can expect to be nominated any year that she chooses to be in a film.

My Prediction: Patricia Arquette
My Vote: Emma Stone
Overlooked: Elizabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip)

Here’s my rundown of the “non-major” categories:

Best Animated Film

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

My Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2
My Vote: – [I didn’t see any nominees] Overlooked: The Lego Movie

Best Cinematography

  • BirdmanEmmanuel Lubezki
  • The Grand Budapest HotelRobert Yeoman
  • Ida, Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
  • Mr. Turner, Dick Pope
  • Unbroken, Roger Deakins

My Prediction: Emmanuel Lubezki
My Vote: Emmanuel Lubezki
Overlooked: Nicolas Bolduc (Enemy)

Best Documentary Feature

  • CitizenFour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

My Prediction: CitizenFour
My Vote: CitizenFour
Overlooked: Life Itself

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Ida (Poland)
  • Leviathan (Russia)
  • Tangerines (Estonia)
  • Timbuktu (Mauritania)
  • Wild Tales (Argentina)

My Prediction: Ida
My Vote: Ida
Overlooked: Force Majeure

Best Original Score

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat
  • The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat
  • Interstellar, Hans Zimmer
  • Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon
  • The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson

My Prediction: The Theory of Everything
My Vote: Interstellar
Overlooked: Antonio Sánchez (Birdman)

Best Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie
  • “Glory” from Selma
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

My Prediction: “Glory”
My Vote: “Everything Is Awesome”
Overlooked: “Yellow Flicker Beat,” Lorde

Best Visual Effects

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

My Prediction: Interstellar
My Vote: Interstellar
Overlooked: Snowpiercer

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • American Sniper, written by Jason Hall
  • The Imitation Game, written by Graham Moore
  • Inherent Vice, written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Theory of Everything, screenplay by Anthony McCarten
  • Whiplash, written by Damien Chazelle

My Prediction: The Imitation Game
My Vote: Whiplash
Overlooked: Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)

Best Original Screenplay

  • Birdman, written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
  • Boyhoodwritten by Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcherwritten by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotelscreenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • Nightcrawler, written by Dan Gilroy

My Prediction: Birdman
My Vote: Birdman
Overlooked: The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

My Top Movies of 2014

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is at it again with yet another highly stylized and highly entertaining piece of filmmaking. While his previous film Moonrise Kingdom was more intimate and smaller in scale, Hotel finds Anderson at his most grandiose, leading a stellar cast throughout various time periods (cleverly represented in aspect ratio changes) and set pieces that feel more intricate as the film progresses. This is a fun, old-fashioned caper with a brisk pace and a smart balance of whimsy and melancholy.

9. The Babadook

The Babadook

If I’m being honest, most horror movies just don’t scare me and I feel I have to give ample credit to those that do. The Babadook was a genuinely frightening experience for me, which I attribute most to my level of engagement in the story and the level of investment that I felt with the characters. Instead of going for jump scares and cheap thrills, director Jennifer Kent instead builds up an uncommon amount of dread and creepiness that kept me glued to my seat.

8. Mistaken For Strangers

Mistaken For Strangers

A bit of a bias here: I do love The National, the band that is the focus of this rock-doc, but I think even people who has never heard their music will still find plenty to enjoy. It serves as a video diary for the band’s 2010 world tour but also functions as a relationship study between lead singer Matt and his brother Tom, who directs the film during his time as a roadie for the band. Strangers is packed with an awkward brand of humor that’s right up my alley but it also delivered a heartfelt ending that I found to be surprisingly moving.

7. The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

I doubt there was a bigger surprise this year than The Lego Movie: what good things could we really expect from another film based on a toy franchise? What surprised me most is how co-directors and screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were able to take the themes of creativity/practicality and individuality/conformity that are inherent in Lego building and translate them to a story that’s this funny and this insightful. The visual style here is also exceptional, which employs unique computer animation techniques to give it the feel of a stop-motion animated movie.

6. Enemy

Enemy

Jake Gyllenhaal starred in two great films last year and while Nightcrawler may feature a more memorable performance, Enemy has stuck with me more with each repeated viewing. It’s an engrossing and often times bizarre mystery tale that actually deserves the David Lynch comparisons that are applied too often to other films in its genre. Rather than giving tangible clues or contrived resolutions, director Denis Villeneuve instead guides us through a psychologically satisfying portrait of a man at odds with himself.

5. Boyhood

Boyhood

2014 saw the completion of Richard Linklater’s 12-year production that may just be one of the daring experiments ever attempted in American cinema. Given its background, Boyhood was destined to achieve notoriety since its inception but the biggest surprise is how small the movie feels in comparison to the scope of its narrative. By focusing on the seemingly insignificant moments of life, Linklater creates an organic and wholly unique portrait of American life that is effortlessly engaging and memorable.

4. Gone Girl

Gone Girl

David Fincher’s ruthless and faithful screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel was the cinematic equivalent of a car crash that you just can’t ignore. Fincher dug deep into the well of depravity to bring forth this cold and calculated masterpiece, which also doubles as the most awkward date movie of the year. Rosamund Pike gives one of the year’s very best performances in a turn of jaw-dropping audacity, intensity and nuance, while Ben Affleck proves that he’s capable of a delivering a memorable performance when the material is just right.

3. Life Itself

Life Itself

The Roger Ebert memoir Life Itself is a tribute to one of the most iconic and prolific American film critics of all time. If it isn’t obvious by now, Ebert is a huge inspiration to me personally (the name of this blog is a reference to one of the many books that he wrote) and it was a joy to see his life commemorated so purely on screen. Whether you’re completely unfamiliar with his work or a big fan like I am, this documentary is well worth your time.

2. Selma

Selma

While many of last year’s biopics came across as timid or short-sighted, Selma stood tall. This is a masterful work of focus and confidence from director Ava DuVernay about the Selma to Montgomery marches during the 1960s. What surprised me most about this film is how even-handed the narrative is throughout, especially during scenes of protest and violence. Even more refreshing is the passionate performance by David Oyelowo, which truly captures the essence of Martin Luther King, Jr. without veering into a glorified impression of him.

1. Whiplash

Whiplash

The most electrifying film of the year takes all of the student-teacher cliches that you may expect and gleefully throws them out the window. Featuring two spellbinding performances by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Whiplash is the most feverishly intense movie about music performance that I’ve ever seen. Like a drummer gradually speeding up a snare roll (as heard during the film’s title sequence), it builds with an uncompromising level of power and precision to a finale that left me shaken and speechless.