Thursday, December 11, 2014

GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS 2014!

In some ways, the Globes surprised me quite a bit, and in others, they couldn't be more predictable! With four real life biopics heading the drama category, you could only help but see that coming. But in the comedy category there are a lot of surprises: a movie up for best comedy that I'd only barely heard of, and a few nominees that I'd completely forgotten about. Without further ado, let's see how accurate I was in the actual Golden Globe nominations: (in red are those I didn't include on my predictions) 

DRAMA:
  • Boyhood 
  • Foxcatcher (totally forgot about how many critics loved this movie, I was surprised to see it knock off other contenders like Whiplash and Gone Girl)
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
ACTRESS:
  • 
Jennifer Aniston- Cake (I forgot about Aniston too! She just picked up a SAG nom too, imagine Rachel Green and Michael Scott up for an Oscar the same year!)
  • Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore- Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon- Wild
ACTOR:
  • 
Steve Carell- Foxcatcher
  • Benedict Cumberbatch- The Imitation Game
  • Jake Gyllenhaal- Nightcrawler
  • David Oyelowo- Selma
  • Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything
COMEDY/MUSICAL:
  • Birdman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Into the Woods
  • Pride (where did this movie come from?! I remember reading about and that it got good reviews, but with no other nods here it seems an odd choice!)
  • St. Vincent (I underestimated the awards power of this movie, what with it getting two noms here and SAG nod for Naomi Watts)
BEST ACTRESS:
  • Amy Adams- Big Eyes (for whatever reason they put Adams and Christoph Waltz, her leading man, in the comedy field, when IMDb says Big Eyes is a drama)
  • Emily Blunt- Into the Woods
  • Helen Mirren- The Hundred-Foot Journey (from the trailers this movie looks like one of those comfort food films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
  • Julianne Moore- Maps to the Stars (I'd never even HEARD of this movie, which IMDb also classifies as a drama! But good for Moore scoring double nominations)
  • Quvenzhané Wallis- Annie
BEST ACTOR:
  • 
Ralph Fiennes- The Grand Budapest Hotel (I love Fiennes but I counted him out at the last minute in favor of Chadwick Boseman, whose Get On Up was shutout!)
  • Michael Keaton- Birdman
  • Bill Murray- St. Vincent
  • Joaquin Phoenix- Inherent Vice
  • Christoph Waltz- Big Eyes
ANIMATED: (this must've been a good enough year for this field to expand to five!)
  • Big Hero 6
  • The Book of Life
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • The Lego Movie
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
  • 
Patricia Arquette- Boyhood
  • Jessica Chastain- A Most Violent Year
  • Keira Knightley- The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone- Birdman
  • Meryl Streep- Into the Woods
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
  • Robert Duvall- The Judge (I should've played it safe with Duvall, who got a SAG nod, but reviews for The Judge were so bad I thought he wouldn't even be considered!)
  • Ethan Hawke- Boyhood
  • 
Edward Norton- Birdman
  • Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons- Whiplash
BEST DIRECTOR:
  • 
Wes Anderson- The Grand Budapest Hotel (very glad to see Anderson in this race, who's up for his first ever Golden Globes here!)
  • Ava DuVernay- Selma (props are due to the first black woman in this category!)
  • David Fincher- Gone Girl (this movie's up for a respectable three nominations, but its exclusion in best drama was a little surprising)
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu- Birdman
  • Richard Linklater- Boyhood
SCREENPLAY:
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Gone Girl
  • Birdman
  • Boyhood (I was super wrong with this category! I didn't expect Boyhood to get a nomination here because the movie isn't really focused with words as it is with actions)
  • The Imitation Game
Total correct: 38/55 nominations!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

GOLDEN GLOBE PREDICTIONS 2014!

Along with endless Christmas music, the one thing you can always count on in December is awards season being there for you, and the Golden Globe nominations come out tomorrow! Even though it had a summer release, Richard Linklater's coming of age epic Boyhood is starting to become the frontrunner for Best Picture! Others, in the acting categories, include Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette. I'm throwing a few surprises and hopefuls in there, just for the sake of spicing up the selection, because I can already tell that the biopic will once again be reigning this Oscar season, with everyone from MLK to Stephen Hawking getting a treatment.

DRAMA:
  • Boyhood (very happy that this is getting such big traction) 
  • Gone Girl (thought it was released a little earlier than its competition, this is a safe bet)
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Selma
ACTOR:
  • Benedict Cumberbatch- The Imitation Game (Cumberbatch and Redmayne need their own category: best British actor playing a very smart, real person in an Oscar-bait film)
  • Eddie Redmayne- The Theory of Everything
  • Steve Carell- Foxcatcher
  • David Oyelowo- Selma
  • Jake Gyllenhaal- Nightcrawler (he's an underdog, but he's gotten such raves)
ACTRESS:
  • Felicity Jones- The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore- Still Alice (the movie I hear avoids typical disease-film cliches, and she is supposed to stellar)
  • Reese Witherspoon- Wild
  • Rosamund Pike- Gone Girl
  • Amy Adams- Big Eyes (being last year's winner in the comedy category, expect a return)
COMEDY/MUSICAL:
  • Into the Woods
  • Birdman
  • Inherent Vice
  • Get On Up (like Ray, it's hard to not give awards to famous musician biopics!)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson's quirky comedies usually get recognition)
ACTOR:
  • Michael Keaton- Birdman 
  • Joaquin Phoenix- Inherent Vice (even though he hates these sort of things, just from the trailer Phoenix looks like he's flexing great comedy chops)
  • Chadwick Boseman- Get On Up
  • Bill Murray- St. Vincent
  • Chris Pratt- Guardians of the Galaxy (this one is the hopeful! Pratt's had such an incredible year with this film and Lego Movie, and I'd love to see the Foreign Press show him some love)
ACTRESS:
  • Quvenzhane Wallis- Annie 
  • Emma Stone- Magic in the Moonlight (this category is a little harder to predict, that's why you'll see Stone in Knightley here, when there best chances are actually in the supporting actress category)
  • Emily Blunt- Into the Woods
  • Keira Knightley- Begin Again
  • Jenny Slate- Obvious Child (like last year when Greta Gerwig was up for this award for Frances Ha, Slate's acclaimed indie could get her on the shortlist)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
  • Patricia Arquette- Boyhood (though I'd give Arquette the edge, it should be a JLaw v. Lupita type-race like last year for this prize against Jessica Chastain)
  • Emma Stone- Birdman
  • Jessica Chastain- A Most Violent Year
  • Keira Knightley- The Imitation Game
  • Meryl Streep- Into the Woods (Meryl Streep is alive? Let's nominate her again)
SUPPORTING ACTOR:
  • J.K. Simmons- Whiplash
  • Edward Norton- Birdman (even though Simmons is the presumed favorite, he's been picking up a lot of critic's awards)
  • Ethan Hawke- Boyhood
  • Tom Wilkinson- Selma
  • Mark Ruffalo- Foxcatcher (Channing Tatum and Steve Carell could also get a nomination in the actor category for this film, but with not too much competition in this race, Ruffalo is a cinch)
ANIMATED: (I have a feeling the Globes will stick to three nominees like last year)
  • Big Hero 6
  • The Lego Movie (I will say right now that if this doesn't win the Oscar I will be upset)
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
DIRECTOR:
  • Richard Linklater- Boyhood (Linklater is the frontrunner; his only competition could be Innaritu)
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu- Birdman
  • Morten Tyldum- The Imitation Game
  • Angelina Jolie- Unbroken (the other strong female director here that could have a chance is Ava DuVernay for Selma, but I think the Globes will want to reward Angie since she's switching chairs as a director)
  • David Fincher- Gone Girl
SCREENPLAY:
  • The Lego Movie (this has surprisingly been getting a lot of original screenplay awards, and I'm not complaining! The one-liners are what make this movie so great)
  • Birdman
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Inherent Vice (this is probably the frontrunner here, and maybe this will finally get Paul Thomas Anderson an Oscar!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY- PART 1

Fortunately I got to see a good handful of movies over the Thanksgiving break, Oscar contenders Whiplash and Birdman, and ginormous blockbusters that I normally would have seen opening day, Interstellar and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1. It killed me not being able to see these two films that I've heard so much buzz and conversation about. Acknowledging these facts, and the truth that I am late to these reviews, here is my review of Mockingjay, and later, will do a joint review with my friend Aaron Haynes on Interstellar because...I'm not sure I understand it completely.

There were fewer movies this year that I was more hyped about than Mockingjay Part 1. Perhaps it is filling that young adult adaptation space that I crave, but I just can't get enough of this series, talking about it, watching those great propaganda trailers released earlier this year. What I love is that they don't really need to market these gargantuan blockbusters because the fans already have the midnight release date saved in their iPhones...but they do it anyway! What I do not like however, is being played for a sap. We get the ploy, studio execs. You did this with Harry Potter, Twilight, and you're going to do it with the Divergent series. When each half a movie makes half a billion it's better than one finale of a movie making somewhere in the range of $800 million.

With this in mind, I'd heard people disregard it because they were just trying to milk the franchise for all it was worth, there was no action, and it was slow. I will agree with one of those statements, but I have to say I had a great time with the penultimate installment in this series. Shortly after the events of Catching Fire, Part 1, while slow at times, never bored me for an instant. Even though Josh Hutchinson's Peeta is absent (for a reason), the weight Jennifer Lawrence carries is reason enough to see this. Lawrence gets better with every turn, and this film the gamut runs from emotional to furious to victorious to defeated. I love the scene where Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Heavensbee asks her to act in a propaganda film, and she gives the flattest delivery possible. But when the cameras capture her in the real world, when a disaster has just struck, Lawrence shows Katniss' true moxie and spirit, and that footage is used.

The haters are right: there are no actual Hunger Games in this Hunger Games. It's really a film about politics when it boils down to it. Katniss is starting a revolution with her district...ring any bells, 99%-ers? And while it does cut off just as you're ready to charge into battle with District 12, Mockingjay Part 1 fades to black. But ultimately, though I am no sucker, I'm happy to have any chance to visit Panem again, and don't mind waiting another 365 days for the next one.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Sunday, November 30, 2014

REVIEW: WHIPLASH

As of the publication of this post, no one has gotten more Oscar buzz for acting this year than J.K. Simmons as Fletcher in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. Based on his short film that Simmons also starred in, billed only as "Band Teacher," Chazelle expanded his work into a full length feature, and let me say the results paid off handsomely. Whiplash is not only one of 2014's best offerings, but seeing it assured me that Simmons will indeed be walking up to that podium come February.

The movie shows Andrew (Miles Teller) practicing on his drum kit quite well, only to be interrupted by Terrence Fletcher, who passively aggressively lets Andrew know he's interested in him. Fletcher is the (in)famous music conductor of Shaffer Conservatory, a prestigious college Andrew's been accepted into, what he calls the best music school in America. Initially showing kindness and even warmth toward Andrew, auditioning him and nurturing him into his band, Andrew is excited to play in front of Fletcher. However, after the conductor berates an obese student, he has the band play a new number, "Whiplash," and begins his abusive relationship with Andrew, minutely critiquing him at first, and then savagely screaming and degrading him in front of his peers.

Unfortunately, I related to this movie a great deal. I had a drama teacher at my high school, let's call him Mr. X, who, although much milder than Fletcher, would scream, yell and insult me and my fellow techies/cast members during the rehearsal of our plays and in class. Mr. X had a reputation for being a nasty fellow, but no one ever said anything, because he produced college-level plays. I can see so much of Mr. X in Fletcher, who justifies his behavior and "refuses to apologize." These are the worst type of real-life monsters, abusive, aggressive teachers who never realize that there is an alternative approach to getting something done without belittling the people underneath you.

But Whiplash also made me think: would the plays be as good if Mr. X told us we were doing a "good job," a phrase Fletcher says is the worst two words of the English language? After acting in a college play where the director was sympathetic and kind towards her actors, I can see it can be done. But Whiplash has you wonder: would the all-time greats be where they were if they didn't experience suffering like Andrew, whose hands frequently bleed after his drumming sessions? Fletcher says his methods are vile because in the end he wants to produce a great artist, and is that what it takes?

The movie thoroughly intrigued me with difficult questions like these. The film itself has great style, the lightning quick editing, of course the jazzy soundtrack, and those two leading performances that the film relies on. My one critique is Chazelle choosing not to go even further into the lives of Andrew and Fletcher, developing their characters even more. Teller gives his best performance yet as the quiet, unassuming Andrew, and you can see him turning more and more into Fletcher as his instructor's abuse and insults seep into him. And Simmons of course, is the focus of your attention. You know you're going to cringe at whatever collection of disgusting words he structures into an insult next, but you can't stop watching him. It's an intense, furious and layered performance, and you just have to wonder what happened in the lives of a Fletcher or a Mr. X to make them who they are. Even though Whiplash raises more questions than answers, there's no question you should prioritize it as the first movie to see this awards season.

Rating: 3/4 stars

Thursday, November 27, 2014

REVIEW: BIRDMAN

I just watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 yesterday, and I have to say it is the polar opposite of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman or (The Virtue of Ignorance). Despite the pretentiously long name (just pick one or the other!) Birdman is the movie with the Hollywood cast that's very Broadway, very independent, and very...alive. Of course, anyone who has seen it knows that Michael Keaton's Riggan berates a critic, saying that he takes risks being an actor, but what does she have to lose? This in effect makes this movie critic proof...but Inarritu and his brilliant cast need not worry, this movie is fantastic, and will surely pick up a trophy or two come Oscar time.

Mid-life crises, putting on troubled plays, family dysfunction are all themes here that have been explored to death in other movies, but Birdman has a way of taking them, flipping them on their head and analyzing them in a way that feels fresh and electric. The closest thing I can say it is comparable to is Hitchcock's Rope, merely because they share the same trick of making it look like their film has been accomplished in one take. However, in Rope, it was done like a play, all in one setting. The camera, manned by Emmanuel Lubezki, fresh off his Gravity Oscar win, tracks Inarritu's colorful cast of actors playing actors through fights, physical and emotional, scenes crackling with thoughtful, contemplative dialogue and the deterioration of Riggan's mind, as he copes with trying to separate himself from the titular character he gave up playing in the 90s.

Something else the cameras pick up is some first rate acting. Michael Keaton is dynamic as Riggan, successfully pulling off a balancing act of a man well into his midlife crisis, trying to reconcile things with his just-out-of-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), deal with demanding theater actor Mike (Edward Norton) and have his play go smoothly as he plows through previews to opening night. Coming off acting in my first play, it is no easy feat getting a production together, and add on hundreds of tiny burdens and you get what Riggan is going through. Norton and Stone excel in fully fleshed out roles that suit their strengths, and this is easily Stone's most mature role to date. Norton is perfect as egomaniacal Mike, but he does have a heart and shows it, telling Stone he wishes he could see New York through her eyes again. He's bitter, jaded, but still shows undeniable love for his craft, and that's where he can truly only be comfortable. The scenes these two share display the film's best chemistry, though Amy Ryan as Riggan's ex-wife comes close in her scenes.

Altogether, no one here is really wasted except Galifianakis, whose comic chops aren't really brought to light except for one memorable moment where he mispronounces a very famous director's name. But even he serves a role in this highly stylized, drum-scored extravaganza. It's meta and highly self-referential, and there are some parts I watched that I have yet to understand, and might get on a repeat viewing. Regardless, it's something alternative to the sequels that have plagued the cinemas lately (Mockingjay Part 1 is still really good BTW to the eight people who haven't seen it), and a shot of adrenaline that's bizarre, funny, sad, and reflective of entertainment in general, and serves as great entertainment itself.

Rating: 3.5/4 stars

Sunday, November 16, 2014

CLASSIC REVIEW: SCHINDLER'S LIST

As a part of my First Year Seminar, I had to watch Steven Spielberg's masterpiece Schindler's List and write an essay of it. I watched and reviewed The Reader as well this year, but looking into the film as the paper required me to, I found it fairly innaccurate of its depiction of the aftermath of the Holocaust. But this is an important film, an essential film every college-age person should see to inform them of the Holocaust. Aside from this, the acting, script, score, direction and cinematography aren't bad either. Without further ado, here's my paper/review of the film: (kind of spoiler alert, but everyone casually familiar with the movie already knows how it ends)

"As a movie buff, it is unavoidable in the discussion of great cinema to not talk about Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s film regarding the heroic actions of Oskar Schindler during the Holocaust. Ranked among the finest motion pictures of all time, the movie not only daunted me by its time duration and prestige, but its reputation as one of the saddest, most emotional films ever made. With all this in mind I eagerly pressed play, and was not disappointed by the cinematic triumph Spielberg brought to us over two decades ago now.

The true-to-life story is as follows: Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) comes and establishes an enamelware business near the Krakow Ghetto in World War II Nazi Germany. Despite being a Nazi party member himself, Schindler gets Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley in a very subtle, emotionally stifled role), a Jewish man to gain relationships in the community. The two strike up a partnership early on, and Stern is loyal to Schindler. He hires Jewish workers because they are cheap labor, and profits largely from this advantage. Because these Jews assist in creating the enamelware that helps creates valuable metals for the war, they are saved from having to go to the camps because their skills are “essential” to the war.

Things are going relatively well for Schindler, until ruthless SS Amon Goeth (a despicable Ralph Fiennes) comes to overlook the building of a concentration camp. Once this camp is completed, Goeth orders a liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, killing and deporting many Jews to the camps, thus getting rid of much of Schindler’s employees. Schindler, never the fool, uses the immense amount of money he has made to bribe Goeth into creating a sub-camp for his employees. Later, Goeth is ordered to ship the last of the Jews in his camp to Auschwitz. Schindler recognizes not only the blow to his business this will bring, but begins to truly see the horror of the Nazis, and bribes Goeth handsomely into letting his workers be shipped to a bullet factory he plans on creating back in his hometown. He then creates his list—a list containing the names of the people he wishes to transfer to the new bullet producing plant.

After another bribe to an Auschwitz officer after the delivery of a train carrying the women went wrong, Schindler successfully employs his workers, showing them a great deal more of kindness and respect in his bullet factory, (where he does not really produce ammunition but rather buys from more established brands). As Germany surrenders, Schindler convinces the SS guards to go home, and, along with Stern who he’d saved earlier in the film from deportation, the Jews he has saved show enormous gratitude towards him, and he reluctantly accepts, wishing he had been able to save more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

REVIEW: GONE GIRL

"No, don't stop! I haven't seen it yet!"
"Shhhhhh... lalalalalalala I'm not listening, I'm not listening!"
"AHHHP! AHHP AHHP AHHP! Don't say another word, you will not ruin this for me!"

All of the above are common phrases you will hear when you begin to try to talk about David Fincher's latest film Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn's ubiquitous, bestselling novel of 2012. I couldn't go anywhere on vacation without seeing a copy of it in a tourist's hands, that sable cover with wisps of a woman's hair taunting me to come and pick it up. It's length alone intimidated me. So when I heard critics and people online saying "How can you NOT have heard of all the plot twists?" I just cupped my hands over my uncultured hears and pressed the red X at the top of the window. I was not having this movie ruined for me.

And thats why I'm sympathetic with you, the reader, who may be going through my exact same plight. But even if you're not at all familiar with Flynn's source material, I'm betting you're pretty familiar with Ben Affleck, who's gonna be playing Aquaman or something like that in a couple of years. Critics of Affleck were pretty much silenced after Argo picked up a trio of Oscars, and the film's director David Fincher is one of the most respected in the industry. Together, with an admittedly odd cast featuring Madea, Barney Stinson and...Rosamund Pike (?) they actually create what is easily one of the best movies of the year and another Affleck movie which will surely get some Academy Awards love come later this year.

Get your speech ready
I poke fun at the cast for their less than serious dramatic past, but my goodness everyone comes to play, especially Pike as the titular gone girl, and it's no spoiler to anyone to say that she will be receiving an Oscar nomination for this role, if not already the clear frontrunner of the year. Affleck is quietly furious, being subtle where he could be over-the-top. Let it go on record that I didn't mind Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but I'm pretty sure everyone will agree this is Tyler Perry's finest work onscreen thus far as Affleck's big-time lawyer. Harris has a much smaller role for someone getting third billing, and he's my only beef with the movie. Harris is great, and I can't wait to see him host the Oscars this year, but he's just too likable to fill the shoes of someone as creepy as Desi Collings. Not to say he was bad, perhaps just a little miscast.

You probably know the basic, spoiler-free plot summary by now: Nick's (Affleck) wife Amy goes missing, and he's the one suspected of murdering her. The plot doesn't reinvent the wheel (will, not til the second half at least) but what makes this so wickedly entertaining is Fincher's touch. He has the perfect eye for lighting, the film, like The Social Network  and "House of Cards" is the spot-on level of darkness, lending the film a noir tone. It never takes itself too seriously, there's always some black humor sprinkled throughout, because that's what you need to do to cope with something of this magnitude. Fincher's attitude towards the media is scathing but real: Nancy Grace certainly gets a send-up in the movie and I couldn't be happier, maybe she'll take it down a notch or two now. His fingerprints are all over it, and you don't need a wisecracking detective to figure that out.

If Boyhood was the beginning of Oscar movies in 2014, Gone Girl is surely the beginning of Oscar season. I was enchanted the whole way, completely boggled by some aspects of the film, and overall thoroughly impressed. Don't expect Gone Girl to vanish come awards season.

Rating: 4/4 stars