Tag Archives: Academy Award

The Revenant (2016)

7 Jan

Nature is cruel. At its most basic level, the humanity expressed in The Revenant seems to be designed to accomplish one thing and one thing only: survive at all costs. The film, directed by Oscar-winning Alejandro Inarritu, is a 150-minute long examination on brutish, dog-eat-dog survival with impeccable visceral and cinematic detail.

Set in early 1800’s, a group of trappers lead by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) are making their way through the wintery Montana landscape with a load of valuable pelts. Among the party are Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an experienced mountain man with tribal ties to local Native Americans, his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a short tempered man with a particular disdain for natives. It’s clear right off the bat that these are hardened men in desperate times. In what may be one of the greatest opening battle sequences of all time, the group is ambushed by an Arikara hunting tribe, leaving multiple deaths on both sides. Desperate for supplies, the group must now travel through the snowy wilderness towards a nearby outpost, all the while trying to survive the threats from the harsh elements, native american hunters, wild animals, and each other.

Shot beautifully by veteran cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, Birdman), The Revenant is becomes more breathtaking and visually complex with each passing moment. Like fellow Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of MenGravity), Inarritu seems to have become fond of the long-shot, utilizing Lubezki camerawork to create a fully immersive and naturalistic narrative experience. By avoiding as much CGI as possible, the cast and crew painstakingly suffered through a lengthy, 9-month production phase where some allegedly ate, slept, and lived like their character counterparts for months on end.  DiCaprio said some scenes were “some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.” Aledegy, The Revenant far exceeded and nearly doubled its production budget.

All this dedication from the cast crew does payoff, with the end result being an absolutely brutal and realistic look into nature’s dark side. Inarritu is no stranger to suffering, with many of his previous films (21 Grams and Biutiful in particular) focusing in on the emotional impact of human sorrow. But in The Revenant, that suffering becomes more physical, intimate, and raw as we accompany one character’s journey to seek revenge after enduring hellish depths of physical and emotional pain. Inarritu knows how to foster incredible performances from his actors (DiCaprio is great as always, but Tom Hardy truly puts on a show), that, when combined with visual elements, create a compelling and rich story. At its core, it’s a man vs nature survival story, but The Revenant does show off a deeper, even spiritual side of the hellish nature.

Bottom Line: Expertly-directed with incredible attention to detail, The Revenant is a visceral, immensely rewarding, and near-spiritual experience, while still somehow equally as harrowing, ruthless and painful. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: Nihilistic wilderness survival of The Grey (2011) + savage violence and brutality from Game of Thrones 

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OSCAR 2015 PREDICTIONS

22 Feb

Another year, another round.

Best Picture: will win – Boyhood / should win – Boyhood (suck it Birdman)
Best Director: will win – Richard Linklater / should win – Richard Linklater
Best Actor: will win – Michael Keaton / should win – Steve Carell (but really Jake Gyllenhaal)
Best Actress: will win – Julianne Moore / should win – Rosamund Pike
Best Sup. Actor: will win – JK Simmons / should win – JK Simmons
Best Sup. Actress: will win – Patricia Arquette / should win – Patricia Arquette
Best Animated: will win – How 2 train ur dragon 2 / should win – Princess Kaguya
Best Documentary: will win – Citizenfour / should win – Virunga (but really Overnighters)
Best Foreign Film: will win – Ida / should win – Wild Tales
Best Adapted Screenplay: will win – Theory of Everything / should win – Whiplash (but really Gone Girl)
Best Original Screenplay: will win – Grand Budapest / should win – Birdman
Best Editing: will win – American Sniper / should win – Whiplash
Best Cinematography: will win – Birdman / should win – Birdman
Best Score: will win – Grand Budapest / should win – Interstellar (but really Gone Girl or better yet: Under The Skin. I can dream can’t I?)
Best Visual Effects: will win – Interstellar / should win – Interstellar
Best Hair/Makeup: will win – Foxcatcher / should win – Foxcatcher
Best Production Design: will win – Grand Budapest / should win – Grand Budapest
Best Costumes: will win – Mr. Turner / should win – Grand Budapest
Best Sound Editing: will win – American Sniper / should win – Interstellar
Best Sound Mixing: will win – Interstellar / should win – Whiplash

A Most Violent Year (2014)

20 Jan

Director and screenwriter J.C. Chandor reaches auteur status with his latest drama featuring outstanding performances from Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and (should have been nominee) Oscar Isaac as a business couple facing increasing pressures during a desperate property purchase. The film marks Chandor’s third feature following 2013’s excellent survival drama All Is Lost

The year is 1981, and crime rates in New York City have just reached an all-time high. Our protagonist Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), is the proud owner of a Standard Oil branch and he is about to close on a very important piece of property that would connect and open up his business in a new part of town. Violent attacks on Abel’s oil trucks are becoming more and more common as he is reaching a settlement with the previous property owners, creating doubt and an uneasy tension between his business’ financial investors. Adding to the mix is the local District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), who has a serious determination to prosecute Standard Oil for fraud.

A Most Violent Year is a fantastic film that deeply examines one’s determination to make it to the top. In a brilliant character display, Chandor gives his audience a detailed look at the complex frustrations that make his characters tic while under enormous amounts of stress. It’s a brilliantly written piece as well with many unexpected moments that do not distract from the overall narrative. Isaac, (who proved himself a serious dramatic actor worth keeping an eye on in last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis) returns in full force here with one of the year’s best performances. Jessica Chastain’s role is equally as impressive (a complete snub at this year’s Oscar Nominations) as Abel’s mysterious and calculating wife Anna who is in charge of the administration and financial side of Standard Oil.

As an introspective character piece that still manages to be grippingly tense, A Most Violent Year is one of 2014’s best films because of Chandler’s superb craftsmanship and his commitment to telling complex adult fare reminiscent of early Scorsese or Coppola. The fact that this film didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination still has me perplexed.

Rating – 8/10 

Similar to: Mean Streets (1973), The French Connection (1971), Margin Call (2011) 

 

Foxcatcher (2014)

20 Jan

“Coach is the father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on athlete’s life.” These words, uttered by John du Pont (Steve Carell) in the drama Foxcatcherecho with a slightly sinister tone in the minds of Olympic athletes Mark and Dave Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, respectively).  The film follows the story of these two brothers, who both took home Olympic gold medals for the US Wrestling Team, as they encounter the enigmatic figure of du Pont, a millionaire wrestling fan and self-described patriot. Mark, who has long been struggling in the shadow of his older brother’s athletic achievements, is persuaded by du Pont to come and train on his private family-fun Foxcatcher Farms, in order to better prepare for the upcoming World’s Tournament and 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games. “I want to see America gain her roots back” du Pont says, as one of his many motivating monologues to help Mark reach another Olympic gold. Mark makes an agreement to train on Foxcatcher Farms under du Pont’s specific conditions, while Dave declines the invitation in order to spend more time with his wife and children. This creates an uneasy tension between the three characters, which ultimately escalates into one of the most bizarre true stories in recent sports history.

Directed by Bennet Miller, Foxcatcher is a deeply felt character-driven drama of an inexplicably strange relationship between coach and athlete. The film was originally slated for a 2013 awards-season run, but was ultimately shelved for late 2014 due to an over-crowded awards season. Oscar contender Steve Carell (who does a complete 180 here in a play against his typical comedic types) gives a frightfully convincing portrayal of the millionaire bird aficionado. A shoe-in for this year’s Best Actor in a Leading Role, Carell is meticulously good, nailing both the mannerisms and speech patterns of the late du Pont (go watch the real du Pont’s speaking videos afterwards, and you will be in awe). For the entire running time you can tell there is something off about his character, and his increasingly off-kilter behavior grows more bizarre with each minute onscreen.  Another well known comedy actor, Channing Tatum, also plays against type in a serious dramatic role. His performance is a bit more subtle than the eccentric Carell, but he effectively brings out the full physicality and explosive nature of competitive wrestling. And we can’t forget about Mark Ruffalo.  The long underrated actor gets his chance to shine more than once, and  100% deserves his Best Supporting Actor nom (though it’s looking likely the Oscar will go to JK Simmons at this point).

I haven’t been a huge of a fan of Miller’s work as the Academy, (both his previous films Moneyball and Capote were also Best Picture nominees) but I do think Foxcatcher is without a doubt his best film yet. The film showcases what Miller does best by taking nuanced and vulnerable characters and having them interact in unusual and explosive ways. Unfortunately, its 134 minute running time feels a little too lengthy and the action is often drawn out between ineffective long shots; shave off 20 minutes or so and you would have a near dramatic masterpiece. As it stands however, Foxcatcher is a solid film boasting some of the year’s best acting work, and will serve as a highlight and strong contender in this year’s awards season.

Rating – 7/10 

Similar to: There Will Be Blood (2007), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), The Master (2011) 

Boyhood (2014)

23 Sep

Also known as “Richard Linklater‘s 12-year Project”, Boyhood follows a young boy through his childhood form ages 6-18. Linklater literally spent a few weeks every year shooting the film one scene at a time, using the same cast of actors. This incredible test of patience enables audiences to see characters literally mature and grow years before their eyes in a few hours.

The passage of time itself becomes a recurring theme in Boyhood. We see new friendships form, develop and dissolve; hair grows out and gets cut and dyed. Linklater pays particular attention to the little details which also clue us in as to what year the story takes place in (most notably, the clever use of soundtracks – featuring everyone from Soulja Boy to Arcade Fire). A child sitting at an older-model Mac playing oregon trail lets us know we are somewhere in the early 2000’s. Later, the same child is stealing a lawn sign that reads MCCAIN/PALIN in order to appease his liberal father. Ellar Coltrane plays our star boy Mason, and though his acting skills understandably are a bit rough at first, he quickly finds his unique voice and character. Mason’s sister Sam (played by here Lorelai Linklater) is also great, and Supporting work is provided by the always-excellent Ethan Hawke, and an Oscar-worthy performance by Patricia Arquette.

Rather than adding extra melodrama or building up to some heart-stopping climax, Linklater finds pleasure in the little things, and lets the simple beauty and heartbreak of life speak for itself. The result is a sort of memory montage of various defining moments experienced in the life of a child turning into a man.There is a pure truth-ness to the film that Linklater really expands upon. When viewed in it’s entirety, watching boyhood is an incredibly nostalgic, moving, and overall rewarding experience.

Rating – 10/10 

Similar films: Before Midnight, The Tree of Life, The Squid and the Whale

 

Animal Kingdom (2010)

7 Aug

With an ensemble cast of Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, and Guy Pearce, and stellar screenwriting and direction by Daivid Michod,  Animal Kingdom is a terribly underrated indie gem which stands out as one of the best films to emerge from Australia in recent times.  Part coming-of-age story, part crime-thriller, the film documents the life of a 17-year-old boy who is trying to fit in to an elusive but colorful family with a criminal past.

After the sudden death of a particular family member, the Cody family decides to take up arms and start a vendetta with the local law enforcement. What unfolds is an unpredictable and captivating series of events that set a new standard for the domestic crime drama. Animal Kingdom’s greatest strength is in it’s rich characterization. Though Jacki Weaver got the Oscar nomination, Ben Medelsohn gives the performance of his career, creating the elusive and multilayered “Pope” Cody.

While it lacks the depth of films like The Godfather or City of GodI thoroughly enjoyed this film and director David Michod really knows how to create effective tension that drives the story without missing a beat.

Rating: 8/10

Similar to: L.A. Confidential, Training Day, The Town

The Way Way Back (2013)

7 Jul

Water parks and fireworks have long been staple of every American kid’s typical summertime, and these two elements provide the background for this rather typical indie drama. The Way Way Back tells the story of one introverted boy named Duncan and his eventual coming to terms with others around him, especially his mother’s divorce.

The film marks the directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the writing duo known for their Oscar-winning screenplay to 2012’s The Descendants, and the similarities are evident between the two films. Both are character-driven dramas about parental figures who are out-of-touch with their children, both films display instances of awkward youth romances, both films are shot on these exotic sea-side locations that upper-class white families can afford.  Overall, it seemed to me that this was just a copy+paste of the exact formula that won these directors an Academy Award. Which is all fine and dandy, except I didn’t really enjoy The Descendants that much in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, The Way Way Back is a very enjoyable, family-friendly movie.  The ensemble cast, (featuring Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janey, and the ever-entertaining Sam Rockwell) is great and the story, while predictable and irrational, is fast-paced and heartfelt. Most impressively, the film wraps things up at a neat and clean 103 minutes. It’s even got a good amount of smart, witty humor.

The main issue here is that the characters (with the exception of Rockwell’s and Rudolph’s) felt fake and overused, playing off of cliche’s we have all seen a billion times before. The film was made by two amateur directors, and boy – it shows, especially with the children.  Acting heavyweights like Carrell and Janey can hold their own and create bearable chemistry, but the scenes featuring two children flirting with each other (and there was by far too much of that) felt so awkward and forced into a trope that I literally had to close my eyes.

The one bright beam of light here that makes the film enjoyable was Sam Rockwell, who delivers his lines so well that even at their cheesiest (“You need to learn how to create your own path”) are a welcoming relief to the lackluster script.

What Faxon and Rash need to realize is that in a character-driven film like this, characters must take priority over everything else and should be developed into authentic and memorable individuals (think Little Miss Sunshine, The Squid and the Whale, The Ice Storm, or any David O. Russel or P.T. Anderson film) and not simply used as cookie-cutter plot devices.

 

Rating 5/10

Similar to: The Descendants, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Moneyball