Oscars Best Picture Nominations 2017

unknownIt has taken me a while, but I have finally been able to see all nine of the films nominated for best picture this year. Before I begin my brief, NO SPOILER reviews for each, let me give some general impressions. First, this is an outstanding batch of films. As a group, it might be the best overall nominees I have ever seen. In any other year, each film could be a winner. Second, the variations in types of movies is impressive. Some are arthouse films like Moonlight but then there are car chases like Hell or High Water, then La La Land is a musical, and let us not forget the scifi awesomeness of Arrival. There is something here for everyone. Third, as a whole, the films are less graphic and more normal. Although some of the films earned their R rating, none of them are needlessly gratuitous (I’m looking at you 2014) and some, like Hidden Figures, could be on the Hallmark Channel tonight unedited. If you liked movies, this is your year.

Later this week I will post about the themes of the movies and who I think the likely winners might be. I am listing them here in alphabetical order.

Arrival

Science fiction is at its best when it uses the template to ask big questions. That is exactly what this movie does–it asks big questions. The first five minutes of the movie are more important than you might think, so pay attention. I loved Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner together, but didn’t care for the stereotyping negative portrayal of the military. It borrows a lot of plot devices from other films, like Contact, Close Encounters, The Day the Earth Stood Still and so on, but it does in a super awesome way.

Chances of Winning: More likely that aliens land this week. Oscar hates scifi.

Fences

This movie is a play. I don’t mean that it is adapted from a play, but it is a play. I think there are only about four sets, with the majority of the movie taking place in the backyard. The strength of the film is the acting. Every single actor in this movie should win an Oscar.  Every. Single. One. You watch the movie, and you’re thinking it is primarily social commentary on Black families who migrated north in the 1950s. But as you watch, you realize that is only backstory. This is really a story about any family with a hard personality, played superbly by Denzel Washington as the husband/father, who is at the same time both beloved and hated. This is the movie you’ll be talking about three days after you saw it.

Chances of Winning: Slim. Probably a strike-out.

Hacksaw Ridge

I learned after watching this film that my grandfather was at Okinawa. I am glad I didn’t know that before, because I would have watched it differently. The movie primarily focuses upon that battle, but it asks bigger questions about religious liberty, war, and the machinations of the military. I really loved this movie and find it an amazing counter-type of what you’d expect from a war movie. Somehow it finds a way to honor everyone. Vince Vaughn was outstanding. The one weird part I didn’t care for was the almost racist portrayal of the Japanese at the end of the film. It didn’t fit and seemed oddly self-serving.

Chances of Winning: Average. War movies have a a tough go at awards, then there is the Mel Gibson factor. 

Hell or High Water

This movie looks, feels, smells, and acts just like West Texas. It is the anomaly of the group, though. If this were the SAT’s, then this movie would be the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other.” Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are so fun and amazing in the movie that they make up for a plot that you can see coming from the opening credits. You’ll like this movie if you like No Country For Old Men, Fargo, and Bonnie and Clyde. It’s kind of the same idea.

Chances of Winning: None. Dare I say, “Not a chance in hell.” 

Hidden Figures

How much do I like this movie? I think it should be shown to every fourth grade student in America. Seriously, it inspires, teaches, rebukes, and entertains all at the same time. I know that racism and prejudice is the backdrop of the film, but as a father of daughters, I love the aspect of the movie that encourages girls that they can do science and math and achieve great things. This movie also has the best line of any film in years. “At NASA we all pee the same color. Yellow.” The problem with this film is that it forces a romance that is unnecessary and loses narrative focus by trying to cover too much.

Chances of Winning: Astronomically small.

La La Land

If you like dreamy-eyed musicals, this is your movie. To say that La La Land is dreamy is not an exaggeration. I literally can’t tell if the whole thing is a dream sequence or not, and I am still debating as to how the end fit everything. The way the characters dress, the cars they drive, the way they speak, everything about the movie screams that it is an out-of-place jumble of Hollywood from about the 1920’s until the present time. The music in the movie is good, but not outstanding, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful but the rest of the cast is either flat or non-existent, the editing is sloppy, and the sound mixing is awkward. But the dialogue and screenplay–that is off the charts.

Chances of Winning: Likely. For proof, see Birdman.

Lion

This is my favorite movie you’ll probably never watch. I particularly enjoyed the little boy who played the main character. He is the one who should have been nominated for best actor. The scenery is sunny and the cinematography is worth the price of the ticket. The film lags at times with lots of close up shots of Saroo, the main character, looking into the camera or wistfully away trying to figure out who he is. That didn’t work for me so much, but the overall story is so strong I can forgive that. The dialogue is tight, efficient, and meaningful. Nothing is wasted. This is the one you’ll be tempted to skip. Don’t.

Chances of Winning: Average. This is the film most likely to ‘roar’ an upset.

Manchester By The Sea

In my opinion, this was the worst movie of the batch. It is not an awful movie en toto, but it is the least deserving of these nine. The movie has major problems. The abuse of the flashback is one. The flashbacks come so fast to explain major plot moments that it is difficult to tell what is present and what is past. I could have gotten beyond that, but I can’t get by the characters in the movie. It feels like the makers of this movie decided their goal was to make a movie about the biggest jerks in the world going through a major grief crisis. It didn’t work for me.

Chances of Winning: Marginal. The Academy sometimes likes movies like this because they are edgy. 

Moonlight

I have to confess something. I can’t tell if Moonlight is brilliant commentary on the contemporary pressures of people living in ethnic communities in large cities or if it is just one cliche after another. I am being serious. It is either one or the other. I am, at present, leaning toward the latter rather than the former. It feels like cliche that wants to be pretentious. That doesn’t mean the film is not important, but it feels like too much. Poverty. Check. Inner city. Check. Confused sexuality. Check. Personality disorder. Check. Bullying. Check. Abusive family. Check. Crack mom. Check. Drug dealer. Check. Prison. Check. Gangster motifs. Check. It just feels like a little much for me.

Chances of Winning: Average. It all depends on how Oscar answers the “social commentary or cliche” question.

Thanks for reading my summaries. Be on the look out for Oscar predictions tomorrow.

2015 OSCAR BEST PICTURE NOMINATIONS: THEMES AND THOUGHTS

Yesterday I blogged my overview of the best picture nominations, and you can CLICK HERE to read those.  Here are some thoughts I have about the nominations as a group.

best-pic_3166072kThought One:  This is the year of the troubled genius.  The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything both feature brilliant scientists.  Alan Turing (brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Imitation) and Stephen Hawking (equally brilliantly portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in Theory) both are super-duper-smart but also have troubles.  Hawking’s trouble is the motor-neuron disease while Turing’s is his antisocial, asperger-like behavior.

These are the obvious ones, but not the only ones.  Chris Kyle, the main character in American Sniper, is in the same category.  He is the ‘best’ sniper in American history, but he also suffers from guilt, PTSD, and a very exaggerated sense of duty.  Martin Luther King is the genius orator and leader of the Civil Rights movement in Selma, but his marriage and personal life is in tatters.  Andrew Neiman is a brilliant drummer in Whiplash, but he is unable to live any kind of meaningful life other than to consistently take the verbal whipping of his abusive music teacher.  The actors in each of these roles, Bradley Cooper, David Oyelowo, and Miles Teller do wonderful work tapping into that complexity.

Thought Two:  Words.  None of these, really, are wordy films.  Budapest and Selma are the wordiest, but Sniper, Imitation, Theory, and Whiplash amaze me with how much they communicate without words.  This is also true of Foxcatcher, which should have been listed instead of Birdman.  I hated Birdman.  I bet the entire screenplay for Foxcatcher is only about five pages single spaced.

Thought Three Boyhood and American Sniper have more in common than you might think.  These two films are about as different as night and day in terms of what you see, but they both cover the same period of time and they are both anchored in the Texas experience.  Kyle grew up in Texas and it was a tough, Texas childhood and early adolescence that lead him to join the military.  It was a unique Texas testosterone that fueled his view of duty, guns, violence, and family.

In Boyhood we see Mason grow up in a different Texas.  He is led by his mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke) to go on a voyage of self-discovery and self-obsession.  He plants yard signs for Obama in Houston with his dad, slackers around Austin, and becomes an artist in San Marcos.

Of special interest in this comparison, remember when Mason’s grandfather gives him the shotgun for his birthday?  Maybe Mason’s grandparents hung out with Chris Kyle’s parents?

Their lives are so different, but it is altogether possible that if these were real tellings, Mason might have been at Pedernales Falls State Park with his father when maybe Chris Kyle was there with his wife and kids.  More pointedly, it might not be too much of a stretch to think that Kyle, when he was a rodeo professional, might have been a possible love interest for Mason’s mom.

Seriously.  These two movies overlap in so many ways, but they portray two different Americas, two different kinds of Texas.

Thought Four:  Thankfully, the nominations this year are not as sex-laden as last year.  I wonder if Hollywood has realized that they went too far last year with The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Her, and Dallas Buyers Club.  You can read last years reviews to see how I felt about those, but for now it is proper to acknowledge how ‘unsexual’ the 2015 movies are.  The only one that comes close to anything graphic is The Grand Budapest Hotel, and that is more ‘yuck’ factor than anything else.

Why is that? It could be that the last three winners have been The Artist, Argo, and 12 Years A Slave.  None of those were overtly sexual.  Sure, 12 Years has nudity, but it is not sexual.  It portrays the ugly exploitation of slavery.

Thought Five:  Not much to say except, this years Oscars is about as male-centric lily white as one can imagine.  Diversity has been kicked to the curb.  Consider this piece (Click Here) from the L. A. Times.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the films.  Tomorrow, if time allows me, I will blog my predictions as to who will win the major awards.

image from telegraph.co.uk

2015 OSCAR BEST PICTURE OVERVIEW

As is my custom, I watch all of the films that are nominated for best picture.  It is a good practice for me, because I enjoy movies and sometimes I see great films that I otherwise would have never known about.  A good example is last year’s Nebraska.  This blog post is a quick review for each.  I will make some predictions for winners in the major categories in a separate blog later this week, as well as a blog about some of the themes and key concepts I noticed with Oscar’s nomination.oscars-2014-logo-slice

I’ll go ahead and say now that none of these are child safe films, but Selma, Imitation, and The Theory of Everything are safe for teens.  The Grand Budapest Hotel has a lot of crassness in it.  American Sniper is profane, violent and disturbing.  Whiplash and Birdman are vulgar.  In general, however, the movies this year are decidedly less explicit than were last year.

So here we go with the overview, in alphabetical order.

American Sniper

So much has been written about the politics of this movie that it is hard to separate it as a film, as art, apart from the politics.  I actually feeling like the director, Clint Eastwood, was making an anti-war film with this as the main character becomes less of a person and more of a machine the longer he is involved in the war.  The movie seems to me, in a very real way, to be an attempt to portray the horrible situation of the war for the soldiers we ask to serve, for the people in the countries we operate, and for the families of loved ones back home.

As a film, American Sniper is outstanding.  It stands toe to toe with the rich tradition of Hollywood war movies, and this is indeed a war movie.  Eastwood does a masterful job of telling the story through visuals, and also through what is not said.  Bradley Cooper proves with this film that he deserves to be ranked among the best actors in Hollywood.  I liked this movie, and see why it was nominated.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I hated this movie.  There is not a single character in this movie I liked.  I can’t understand why Michael Keaton is nominated for best actor, and I can’t see why Emma Stone is nominated for best supporting actress.  Just about any college sophomore could portray Emma’s entitled, self-absorbed, and loathsome daughter and Keaton looks like something from community theater.  Seriously.  Ed Norton is a good actor, but he is stuck in a horrible film.  The only reason this movie was nominated was because it is about actors, directors, Hollywood and New York, and Oscar loves movies about movies and actors. There is no way Birdman can win.  No way.  If it does, I will write a strongly worded letter to someone.

Boyhood

I have a problem with Boyhood.  I like the movie, and it tugs at my heartstrings because it was practically filmed in my backyard, but there is such a strong line of fatalism in the movie that it is hard to really get behind.  Linklater is truly one of the greatest directors this side of Spielberg, and I admire what they did with the twelve year vision for the movie.  The problem is that the movie lacks the elements necessary for a great story, in other words, there is really no plot.  The aforementioned fatalism, combined with a nearly three hour length, and I just don’t think it can, or should, win best picture.

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is very good.  Cumberbatch is outstanding, and so is Knightley and the supporting cast.  At times the dialogue, for me, though, doesn’t match the level of the acting or the plot, yet that is not enough to ruin it.  I highly recommend the film as both a bit of history–wartime history and social history–and as a look at actors excelling in their craft.

Selma

What is great about Selma is the living history of many of those involved in the events, as well as the acting of David Oyelowo.  I cannot believe he didn’t get nominated for best actor–seriously, that was the greatest snub of the year.  By the end of the film Oyelowo had me convinced that he was Martin Luther King, Jr. There are two great flaws, though, with Selma.

One, the rest of the acting doesn’t measure up.  Whoever played Coretta Scott King needed some acting lessons.  It was sad, truly sad, to watch her alongside Oyelowo, with him in all his glory and then her lost as a goose.  Even Oprah Winfrey, as wonderful as she is in her small part, can’t keep this movie from drowning in a sea of under performers.

The other problem with Selma is the direction of the movie.  It doesn’t know if it wants to be, as its name tells us, a biopic of the events of Selma during the struggle for civil rights or if it wants to be a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Because of this, it divides its time in uneven ways that takes away from a complete picture of either. Because of these inconsistencies, I just don’t think it should win, although I understand why it was nominated.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

If Birdman is the worst movie in this list, The Grand Budapest Hotel is just a notch better. Let me rephrase that.  It is not that the Grand Budapest is a horrible film, it is that it simply doesn’t belong in the same breath with these other wonderful films.  The only saving grace of Budapest is that the acting is top notch, and the dialogue is crisply written.  The problem here is the convoluted, twisted, and contrived plot.  The movie just makes no sense, even as a satire.

The Theory of Everything

Theory is really a love story.  If you look closely in the credits you will learn it is based off the memoir of Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane.  As a love story, it falls short of reaching the heights it needs to in order to capture the viewers heart.  When the credits roll I think less of Stephen and Jane than I did when the movie began, and feel that they both behaved rather selfishly, as it pertains to love and affection.  I probably shouldn’t feel this way, but that is where the movie leaves me.

In addition to that, the movie is difficult to follow chronologically.  If one did not pay attention to the cars, hairstyles, and clothing it is easy to fall under the misconception that the entire first hour and half of the movie are supposed to happen in 1963, which they don’t, but there is no way of knowing that, really.  I don’t know if it is a side effect of the same problem, or if it is a different one, but it was also hard to follow the significance of Hawking’s academic career, ideas, theories, and such.  It very much felt like those making the movie only knew Hawking was a brilliant physicist who didn’t believe in God, but they didn’t really know what it was he actually postulated.  In fact, the most lucid explanation of his work comes not from him, but from Jane at dinner in a weird, and mocking, usage of peas and potatoes.

Now, these issues aside, the cinematography was amazing.  The uses of color in different moods produces a vivid viewing experience that is beautiful to behold.  And the acting!  Oh dear, Redmayne is unparalleled in his portrayal of Hawking, and Felicity Jones is every bit his equal as Jane Wilde.

Overall, I really liked the film and highly recommend it.

Whiplash

This is probably the best movie that has no shot at winning.  Yeah, think about that statement for a moment.  Whiplash is a very good movie, with superior acting–Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are fantastic on screen together, and I love how the movie moves along with very little dialogue.  It is sad, but I don’t think this movie can win because of its art house feel, yet it deserves a fair hearing. The great thing about Whiplash is that everyone can relate, in someway, to the plot of the story–the kid who gets pushed really hard, and that pushing almost breaks him apart, and in the process he has to choose what kind of person he is going to become.  Whiplash captures this essence of growing up in a way most coming of age stories miss altogether.

Plus, the music is great.  If they’d had CD’s of the soundtrack in the theater lobby, I would have bought one right there.

oscar image from collider.com