I’ve had a few hours since I heard the Oscar nominations, so you’d think they would sit better with me, but, really, they don’t. But, after all these years of following the Oscars, I have to say this: I’ve stopped being surprised. Still, I will refrain from sharing any direct quotes that came out of my mouth at 5:38am this morning when the names of the nominees were read through my television. And not just because the President of the Academy doesn’t even know how to pronounce the name of the man who won the Oscar for Best Director at her own ceremony last year. But I digress. Here are my (filtered) thoughts of what went on this morning:
–The Revenant (a movie I hated) leads the nominations with 12, further proving that the 94% white, 77% male Academy gets the movie that’s right up their alley to be the front-runner. No Carol (gay movie made by an openly gay director) and no Straight Outta Compton (black movie by a black director) in the Best Picture race, two movies that many considered to be in the running—and received many critical awards leading up to the nominations. The Academy had the option to nominate 10 films, but they only went with 8. The proverbial “steak-eaters” have had their way yet again.
-Another indication of The Revenant’s front-runner status is the inclusion of Tom Hardy in the Best Supporting Actor field, to the exclusion of Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation. While Hardy is a fine actor, I feel his performance in The Revenant was far inferior to his other work and to ignore Elba (who is black and considered one of Hollywood’s best actors) is a true Oscar embarrassment.
-Some good news, however, is that some were feeling Spotlight was losing steam in the Best Picture race when it missed out on a nomination by the Editors Guild last week. Popular theory is that editing nominations go hand-in-hand with Best Picture, meaning you cannot win Picture if you don’t have an Editing nod. Well, Spotlight pulled through this morning with an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, so it’s still in the race.
-A big, if not the biggest, surprise of the morning was the exclusion of Ridley Scott from the Best Director list for The Martian. Replacing him was Lenny Abramson for Room. This pretty much certifies that The Martian is out of contention for Best Picture. I am happy for Abramson, though. What a moment.
-Best Picture thoughts: Other than the obvious snubs of Carol and Straight Outta Compton, I’m happy to see Room get in here. Bridge of Spies and The Revenant are classic Academy pictures (read: boring). I’m rooting loudly for Mad Max: Fury Road to win, but the race will be between Spotlight, The Big Short and Revenant with, sadly, Revenant most likely pulling the win. Look at Brad Pitt, garnering yet another nomination as a producer. He produced 12 Years a Slave (and won) and now he produced The Big Short (and could win). Too bad that guy’s not good at anything.
-This marks Roger Deakins’s 13th nomination for Best Cinematography (this year for Sicario). He has never won. And guess what? He probably won’t again this year. Why? Because he’s up against the guy who did The Revenant. And guess who that is? The same guy who’s beaten him THE LAST TWO YEARS, Emmanuel Lubezki (who won for Gravity and Birdman). And you thought your luck was bad because you didn’t win Powerball.
-And that terrible Sam Smith song from Spectre got nominated? Really? At least now I know when I can go for my dessert break during the telecast.
-What am I happy about? I’m happy about the nominations that, in my mind, were truly deserving: Brie Larson, Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Son of Saul, Mad Max: Fury Road and Carter Burwell.
-But what really sticks in my craw is this: my favorite movie of the year, Carol, got 6 nominations overall: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score. But no Director and no Best Picture. And yet Brooklyn, for example, which did get a Best Picture nomination, only scored 3 nominations: Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and the coveted Best Picture slot. Why? I’m not going to go on and on about this, but just let me say I’m drastically disappointed. Carol has been on multiple critics lists, it garnered rave reviews, beginning with the Cannes Film Festival, where it bowled over the crowds, and it has won multiple awards. I am shocked, stunned and saddened to see the Academy fail to include it and am forced to wonder why. Someone on my Twitter feed may have summed it up perfectly: “Though CAROL’s omission tells us ugly things about what the Academy requires to embrace queer narratives. Tragedy. Death. Hopelessness.” I’ll leave it at that.
-Finally, Alan Rickman died, so who cares about Oscar today.
We barely have time to catch our breath from last night’s not-so-engaging Golden Globes before the Oscar nominations are announced on Thursday. That leaves just three full days to digest what happened at the Globes before we descend into a full-blown Oscar frenzy for the next month and a half. Are you ready?
So, without missing a beat, I present my best guesses as to who will be fielding calls from their publicists bright and early Thursday morning—my official predictions for who will be nominated for the 88th Academy Awards, to be announced this Thursday, January 14:
(all nominees in alphabetical order)
BEST PICTURE: The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
Straight Outta Compton
Alejandro G. Inarritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
Adam McKay – The Big Short
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian
If you look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s last few roles, it clearly shows a willingness—nay, an eagerness—to bite off seemingly overwhelming amounts of meat off the proverbial acting bone and throw himself into his performances, from the dark and tortured J. Edgar (2011), to the campy and violent Django Unchained (2012), to the overindulgent The Great Gatsby (2013) to the physical and manic The Wolf of Wall Street. And now, in his current movie, The Revenant, DiCaprio goes even further, allowing himself, guided by director/writer Alejandro G. Iñárritu, to be the main player in a revenge/survival film set in the 1820s in the frozen wilderness, where he gets mauled by a bear, left for dead and forced to overcome everything from hypothermia, Indian raids and the fact that he’s literally in the middle of nowhere and on the brink of death with no food, no water and no protection to not only survive but exact revenge on those who left him for dead and killed his son. DiCaprio certainly has made an effort lately to choose a certain meaty type of role, that is for sure—one that, no doubt, challenges him as an actor and fulfills him professionally and perhaps even personally.
It’s hard to imagine a quiet Quentin Tarantino movie. The seminal writer/director is known for his talky, loud and ultra-violent masterworks of unique cinematic vision and, with each one, his legend and following grow larger. His last film, 2012’s Django Unchained, was a no-holds-barred, explosive, over-the-top and somewhat cathartic examination of the roots of racism in the United States—a broad subject, to be sure. A Tarantino movie can always be counted on to be many things: violent, dialogue and character-driven and somewhat political. What a Tarantino movie usually is not is small, slow and ultra-calculated. Which makes his new film The Hateful Eight different in so many ways. Not always better, but oh so delightfully different. click here to keep reading The Hateful Eight »
So I’ve got a real challenge here. How do I convince anyone to go out and see yet another movie set during the Holocaust? Especially one that’s set in Auschwitz. In 1944. And it’s brutal, horrific, graphic, and numbing?
Simple. Just tell them how brilliant it is.
The debut film from Hungarian director/writer László Nemes, Son of Saul, is not an easy watch. I had to prepare myself for the viewing. But, once I was ready, I experienced a visual and emotional journey unlike anything I’d ever witnessed on film. Nemes’ style and narrative structure for this film is absolutely staggering, for what he shows and what he doesn’t show—and yet all it still tells.
I refuse to tell you too much, because I insist that, if you love cinema, if you love any kind of filmmaking with a sense of space and point of view and style and narrative skill, you must see Son of Saul and I don’t want to ruin the experience for you.
But, then again, there is the subject matter. All the cinematic style and skill aside, Nemes tells an incredibly personal story set against the most horrific backdrop in human history—and he does it with such intimacy yet distance, it’s impossible for me to describe. There is no other way than to experience this film for yourself—and you will feel it in your bones, if you do—and the fact that there is such art here mixed with such story, it’s truly an epic achievement.
And, on top of all of that, there’s the performance of Hungarian actor Geza Rohrig, which is one of the most haunting and intense performances you will see all year, if ever. His face carries so much of this film, and, with it, our emotions. It is a performance that stays with you.
As does this film. I know a brutal Holocaust movie isn’t for everyone—and, again, I do need to emphasize the graphic, intense nature of this film—but, please hear me when I say this: Son of Saul needs to be seen, both for its artistry and for its chillingly emotional storytelling. There is no other film this year like it.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to review Star Wars: The Force Awakens because, honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to check my emotions enough to articulate intelligent expressions of, well, anything, let alone objective criticisms of it as an artistic piece of cinema. See, I consider myself a full-fledged member of the Star Wars Generation—one of the heartily mocked masses who grew up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, during the run of the original Star Wars trilogy, Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983), and, thusly, anything Star Wars is not only sentimental, but downright soul-enveloping.
And, you have to understand, we’ve been burned once already. Back in 1999, the first of the “prequels,” Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released, leading to much excitement and anticipation, followed by two more terrible prequels, sorrow, disappointment and heartache. We suffered through those three torturous prequels that had none of the spirit, sense of adventure, fun or humor of the original trilogy, they were merely hollow shells—pretty to look at but empty inside—and we cried digital tears for years, never really getting over it (say the words “Jar Jar” to some of us and you’re liable to get punched—or worse). click here to keep reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens »
As I sit here pondering what to say about director Tom Hooper’s new movie The Danish Girl, I feel I’m truly at a loss. The film itself is really quite exquisite. The two stars, Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, are equally excellent, and all the production elements are outstanding, particularly the score by Alexandre Desplat and the cinematography by Danny Cohen. So why, then, do I struggle with words? Maybe it’s because the movie was TOO well made. All I can remember were the performances, how it looked and how it sounded. I can’t remember anything about how it made me feel. Because, I think, the answer is: not much. click here to keep reading The Danish Girl »
I so wanted to avoid the whole “we are a nation of immigrants” approach to my discussion of Brooklyn, the new film from director John Crowley, starring Saoirse Ronan, but I’ve realized it’s impossible. Brooklyn is a movie about America, more than any movie in a long time has been, in that it’s about the immigrant experience and there is just no dancing around the fact that immigrants are the fabric of this nation, and this story is a colorful thread that represents so much of who we all are and where so many of us come from.
All that being said, despite its charm, universal appeal and terrific, heart-tugging performance from Ronan, who makes the most of her first adult starring role, Brooklyn somehow still disappoints, as what begins as a portrait of courage and determination winds up being just another predictable Hollywood romance. click here to keep reading Brooklyn »
I’m still deciding if it’s a good or bad thing to be 45. On the one hand, I seem to be in the prime demographic now, which means everybody is marketing to me. On the other hand, I seem to be in the prime demographic now, which means everybody is marketing to me. Everywhere I go, every shop, restaurant, waiting room, elevator, casino, even dentist office is playing my generation’s music. Songs from my childhood are being used to sell everything from shoes to cars to hemorrhoid cream. Television shows and movies from when I was a kid are being “rebooted.” Even toys I played with are being made into movies. It’s gotten so weird, I’m half expecting someone to announce a Shrinky Dinks musical. I know this will all pass, but, for now, it feels rampant and feels just so…cheap. And easy.
So it’s understandable that I’m more than slightly panicked about the new Star Wars movie—and I’m nervous that it feels like Disney has ruined it before it’s even begun. Maybe it’s me, but there’s just something about R2-D2 Mac n Cheese and Darth Vader mascara that feels just a bit like overkill.
Which is why I was more than a bit skeptical about another Rocky movie. I’d had just about enough of my precious cinema memories vandalized for one year, thank you. I wasn’t about to hand over more cash to the Hollywood pop culture re-hash machine for the sake of selling nostalgia. click here to keep reading Creed »
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