Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sundance with Abe: Mississippi Grind

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn are both superb as gamblers in "Mississippi Grind," one of the top films I saw this year at Sundance. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Movie with Abe: Above and Beyond


Above and Beyond
Directed by Roberta Grossman
Released January 30, 2015

I often start my reviews of documentaries by considering what type of nonfiction film it is and what its desired goal or impact may be. In the case of “Above and Beyond,” listed on IMDB as belonging to the documentary, adventure, and history genres, it’s a showcase of an unknown history of a crucial part of the foundation of Israel, which as a country in under seventy years could spawn thousands of documentaries about a number of issues. This film, however, pertains only to one incredible piece of its past – the wild and unbelievable beginnings of the Israeli air force.

There isn’t much need for introduction in this film, which presents interviews with a number of American World War II pilots who detail their enthusiasm at covertly flying planes leftover from the war to Israel to help create an air force that was all but impossible to put together. These old men gleefully discuss the excitement and sheer recklessness of flying a small plane overseas for eleven hours with no certainty that they would make it to their destinations and little knowledge of what might await them when they arrived. More than anything, it’s an incredible story, and it’s a treat to see these endearing veterans fondly recall the brave and heroic actions they were undertaking.

Any film about Israel is sure to create controversy simply because that seems to be the nature of the region, yet this one is so deeply rooted in the past and mostly disconnected from any intense conflicts. The state of affairs, including the expiration of the British Mandate of Palestine and the impending attack on the new state by surrounding Arab nations, is detailed as background, and the American interviewees explain how they took part by offering aid and their own expertise to help tip the scales in the direction of the decided underdog.

There is a certain sense of nostalgia that pervades “Above and Beyond,” where those who had just finished fighting a war decided to fight for someone that didn’t inherently relate to them and to invest in an enterprise that no one would imagine could be successful. It’s an inspiring and energizing story, and the simplicity with which this team seems to have pulled off some daring feats is simply astonishing. This is a documentary that’s educational, fun, and highly uplifting, well worth watching for anyone who deems its premise even mildly interesting.

B+

Sundance with Abe: I Am Michael

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


There was just something I didn't find authentic or believable about "I Am Michael," starring James Franco as the editor of a gay magazine who turns into a religious zealot. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: The Bronze

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


I was pleasantly surprised by the first film I saw at Sundance, "The Bronze," which was smarter than it seemed and actually pretty funny. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: 99 Homes

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


"99 Homes" was one of the most effective and powerful films I saw at Sundance featuring excellent performances from Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sundance with Abe: The Overnight

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


"The Overnight," starring Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, and Jason Schwartzman was one of the funniest and weirdest films I saw at Sundance. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: James White

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


Christopher Abbott, a frequent face at Sundance, stars in NEXT selection "James White," which is a strong showcase for an affecting story. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: Sleeping with Other People

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


The comedy "Sleeping with Other People," starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, was one of my favorite films at Sundance. Definitely a must-see! Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: Slow West

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


Kodi Smit-McPhee and Michael Fassbender are solid in "Slow West," New Zealand-UK coproduction that feels like a typical western, occasionally involving and sometimes less so. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: Nasty Baby

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


Sebastian Silva's "Nasty Baby," starring Kristen Wiig, is an odd but fairly effective film that falters midway through when it unwisely changes direction. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sundance with Abe: Western

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


I'd rank this documentary, "Western," towards the bottom of my list from the selection I saw this year. Its portrait of a Texas border town and its Mexican sister city is mildly interested but hardly gripping. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sundance with Abe: The Games Maker

I'm delighted to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the third time this year. I spent 5 days in Park City, Utah, seeing as many movies as I could. Most of my reviews and other coverage will be going up on Shockya.com, so I'll be posting links to them here.


My first review is one of the Sundance Kids feature, "The Games Maker," which is an entertaining and creative look at one child's fascination with games. Click here to read the review on Shockya.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Final SAG Winner Predictions


There isn’t much to anticipate here that won’t be reflected by the Oscars, as opposed to last year, since just three of the nominees – Jake Gyllenhaal, Jennifer Aniston, and Naomi Watts – won’t be contending there. The real question is whether Eddie Redmayne can defeat Michael Keaton, who could easily win with this branch, and if “Birdman” can eclipse its competition, mainly “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” in the Best Ensemble race. If Moore, Simmons, or Arquette loses, that’s a bigger deal, but I don’t see that happening in any of the three cases.

I may or may not tune in to part of the broadcast online before an evening screening at Sundance. Enjoy final predictions below (TV here), and offer your thoughts in the comments!

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Birdman

Saturday, January 24, 2015

New York Jewish Film Festival Spotlight: Felix and Meira

I’m excited to cover a few selections from the 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 14th-29th.


Felix and Meira
Directed by Maxime Giroux
Screening January 29 at 3:30pm and 9pm

Films like “Fill the Void” and “Gett” that have recently presented observance in a way that doesn’t find its characters grappling with it are hardly the model for the closing night selection for this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival. “Felix and Meira” is a movie that embraces running from the trappings of what feels hopelessly familiar and permanent, as a Hasidic wife, Meira, played by Hadas Yaron, star of “Fill the Void,” struggles with the banality of her life. Félix, who comes from a wholly different world, meets her at just the right time to help her escape, though it’s hardly that easy. This exploration of two people desperately seeking for a change from the universes in which they exist is an engaging and involving journey featuring strong performances form Yaron and Martin Dubreuil in a love story that ultimately isn’t sure where it wants to go but has plenty of interesting places to stop along the way.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie with Abe: Cake


Cake
Directed by Daniel Barnz
Released January 23, 2015

Now here’s a film that many will hear about and few will actually see. Jennifer Aniston has transformed herself from “Friends” star to true actress with a performance that earned her Golden Globe and SAG nominations and the right to be taken seriously. The film surrounding her, on the other hand, is a far less decisively great film, one that includes elements of a much stronger movie and ultimately can’t quite decide where it wants to go. While it lasts, it’s interesting, but it’s hard to know what the sum total of the experience is supposed to indicate about human interaction.

Aniston stars as Claire, a woman afflicted with chronic pain who has clearly had some physically and figuratively scarring life event that has drained whatever happiness she might have been able to feel completely out of her system. Claire is gruff and impolite, and wears the experience of her unending enormous discomfort on her face, which sits there just as presently and consistently as her scars. She chews out members of her support group for feeling too much emotion, and her closest relationship is with her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who gives much of herself to ensure the well-being of her employer.

Claire opens up after the suicide of her friend Nina (Anna Kendrick), which inexplicably prompts Claire to meet her husband Roy (Sam Worthington) and begin to connect with him on a deeply personal level. Humanizing Claire is no small feat, and Aniston manages to do so while still staying committed to her crude and brutal outlook on life. Worthington, who usually stars in action movies, is an odd but relatively effective choice to play Roy, purposely designed with little personality and an open attitude to this strange woman suddenly present in his life. It’s Kendrick whose performance is truly unforgettable as a cruel and haunting hallucinated version of Nina who torments Claire in solitary moments and unsubtly pushes her to consider ending her life too. Felicity Huffman, Chris Messina, and Britt Robertson shine in small roles as well.

The overall experience of “Cake” is a discombobulated one, an eager attempt at showing what true constant pain is like and the effect that it has on a person. Claire works as a central figure because she is stubborn and unflinching, and having Aniston play the part only makes it more effective. Images of a teary Aniston paired with articles about her being snubbed by Oscar voters are cheaply chosen and don’t do the performance justice. Aniston is obviously destined for more than poorly-reviewed romantic comedies, and as a showcase for her work, this is a decent vehicle, but otherwise it’s an unfinished product that isn’t nearly as strong as its main part.

C+

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New York Jewish Film Festival Spotlight: Natan

I’m excited to cover a few selections from the 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 14th-29th.


Natan
Directed by David Cairns
Screening January 28 at 3:15pm and 8:45pm

This incisive documentary shines a light on the life of Bernard Natan, the man behind Pathé studios, whose rich film history continues to be an influence on cinema today. What is revealed is a story of influence akin to many other film greats who have gone on to be remembered positively warped by efforts of those motivated by anti-Semitism and industry competition to malign Natan, a soldier in the French army in World War I, exposing an alleged resumé of pornography and a whole slew of other attacks. This is an important tribute to Natan’s legacy and his career, but it’s far from an inspirational or uplifting showcase of any of his successes.

New York Jewish Film Festival Spotlight: Forbidden Films

I’m excited to cover a few selections from the 24th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 14th-29th.


Forbidden Films
Directed by Felix Moeller
Screening January 22 at 3:15pm and January 25 at 3:30pm

This documentary is all about film, specifically all of the propaganda films that made up German cinema in the 1930s and 1940s, many of which remain banned today. This is a detailed examination of what propaganda is and whether it should be shown and seen for educational and cultural purposes. The types of films, such as anti-British, anti-French, anti-Semitic, and a number of others, are featured, and brief clips of each illustrate exactly what their content was. Looking at these films is only part of this film’s greater conversation, which polls moviegoers and intellectuals alike about the dangers of showing those films that require context in order to be appreciated and not disseminate and further spread hate. The enthusiasm that Hitler and Goebbels had for film is conveyed as is the influential nature of the medium. No clear consensus emerges, but a handful of knowledgeable and man-on-the-street opinions prove very thought-provoking in this enlightening and informative documentary.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Ensemble Cast


The competition: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything

For your information: “Birdman” has three performers nominated plus one of its stars nominated for another film. “Boyhood,” “The Imitation Game,” and “The Theory of Everything” each have two, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has none, which is not an impediment to winning. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” triumphed over “Birdman” for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, and “Boyhood” beat the other two films for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Who should win: All pretty decent choices, but it needs to be “Birdman.”

Who will win: It’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” against Birdman, which I think SAG voters will prefer.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


The competition: Patricia Arquette’s protective mother (Boyhood),), Keira Knightley’s bright math whiz (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone’s angst-filled daughter (Birdman), Meryl Streep’s charismatic witch (Into the Woods), and Naomi Watts’ pregnant prostitute (St. Vincent).

For your information: Meryl Streep has a formidable history here – nine previous film nominations and one previous TV bid, which she won, along with a film award for “Doubt” in 2008. Watts has two previous film nominations, for “21 Grams” and “The Impossible,” and Arquette contended three times for “Medium.” Arquette, Knightley, and Stone are all nominated as part of their ensembles, and Watts is nominated as part of the “Birdman” cast. Arquette won the Golden Globe, though Watts wasn’t nominated there.

Who should win: Stone

Who will win: It should still be Arquette.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie with Abe: Water and Power

Water and Power
Directed by Richard Montoya
Released January 20, 2015

There are some films that take their concepts more literally than others. Director Richard Montoya’s is a look at the inner workings of East Los Angeles and how the city itself functions from the bottom to the top. Water and power are not the most valuable and important resources, however, but actual people, one a state senator and the other an LAPD cop, brothers whose father, an employee of the city’s Department of Water and Power of Los Angeles, gave them those unique nicknames. It’s certainly a gritty look at the underbelly of the city and a dark vision of how business and justice are accomplished on the streets.

Water and Power are introduced as characters in a story told by the film’s narrator, portrayed by Emilio Rivera, who stuck around “Sons of Anarchy” for most of its lifetime as Mayan leader Marcos Alvarez. Art form and poetry are emphasized in the way that he regales the audience with this tale, which initially seems like a fable and gradually becomes more lifelike and literal, as Water and Power are referred by their monikers by all the players in their lives.

“Water and Power” beats along to a furious drum in a picture of Los Angeles in tune with “Nightcrawler,” assuming that the city lives and breathes depravity just beneath the surface. Water and Power are so deeply entrenched in their communities that nearly everyone knows them, and when things fall apart for the brothers, they’re left to fend for themselves as the city’s most dangerous enforcers on both sides of the law set their sights on holding these two accountable for the series of events they have wrought.

As characters, Water and Power are undeniably interesting. Water is best compared to Nathan Petrelli from “Heroes,” a well-dressed, smooth-talking politician who has managed to rise above his meager upbringing. Nicholas Gonzalez’s Power, on the other hand, is a hot-tempered street cop whose emotions definitely get the better of him and who doesn’t have the foresight to understand the gravity of his situation until it’s too late. The film is stolen by an actor known for chewing scenery, Clancy Brown, who delivers his most memorable turn since “Carnivale” as an influential magnate in a position to turn things around for the brothers. There’s plenty of intrigue to be found in this film, but its grim, brutal starkness doesn’t make it very accessible.

B-

Monday, January 19, 2015

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


The competition: Robert Duvall’s murder suspect (The Judge), Ethan Hawke’s frequent father (Boyhood), Edward Norton’s eccentric thespian (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo’s wrestling champion (Foxcatcher), and J.K. Simmons’ tyrannical teacher (Whiplash).

For your information: Duvall has been nominated for three film roles and two TV roles, and he won once, in 1998, for “A Civil Action.” Ruffalo is a double nominee this year, also contending for TV movie “The Normal Heart,” and he was previously nominated in this category in 2010 for “The Kids Are All Right.” Norton and Simmons are contending for the first time individually. Hawke and Boyhood are also nominated as part of their ensembles. This list is the exact same as the Golden Globes, where Simmons prevailed.

Who should win: I still haven’t seen Duvall, but my vote is either Norton or Simmons.

Who will win: I’ll go with frontrunner Simmons.

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actress in a Leading Role


The competition: Jennifer Aniston’s pain-riddled survivor (Cake), Felicity Jones’ loyal wife (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted intellectual (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike’s missing wife (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon’s hardened hiker (Wild).

For your information: Moore has been nominated five times before for film work, and won once for her TV movie portrayal of Sarah Palin in “Game Change.” Witherspoon won in 2005 for “Walk the Line” and this is her first nomination since. Aniston was nominated twice for “Friends.” This is the first nomination for both Jones and Pike. Jones is the only one also nominated as part of her ensemble. These five women were all nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, where Moore won.

Who should win: All excellent choices – probably Witherspoon or Jones if I had to pick right now.

Who will win: I think Moore has this in the bag.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SAG Winner Predictions: Best Actor in a Leading Role



The competition: Steve Carell’s oddball billionaire (Foxcatcher), Benedict Cumberbatch’s antisocial mathematician (The Imitation Game), Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy news hound (Nightcrawler), Michael Keaton’s aging actor (Birdman), and Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything).

For your information: Only Gyllenhaal has been nominated before for his film work, in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain.” Carell received six TV nods for “The Office” but never won. Keaton was nominated for miniseries “The Company” in 2007. Cumberbatch is a double nominee this year, also contending for “Sherlock: His Last Vow.” Redmayne is a first-time individual acting nominee. Everyone but Gyllenhaal is also nominated as part of their ensemble. Keaton and Redmayne won Golden Globes for their performances this year.

Who should win: Redmayne or Cumberbatch

Who will win: I think it’s Redmayne, though Keaton could soar ahead if he wins this.

Movie with Abe: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn
Released August 1, 2014

If there’s one movie that critical and public audiences seemed to love just as much this year, it’s this one. In its continued quest for entertainment if not world domination, Marvel broke out from its typical comic book movies to offer something that’s very much in the same wheelhouse yet on a whole different level, appealing to younger audiences and slightly more mature crowds at the same time. “Guardians of the Galaxy” certainly is something, but in striving to be so many things at once, it ends up being a decidedly entertaining and utterly unapologetic mess.

Chris Pratt broke out as this year’s everyman with his voicing of the hero in “The Lego Movie,” and, based on word of mouth about this film, it seemed he had done the same thing here. While his profile is certainly boosted by a beloved performance, he’s playing the polar opposite of that character. Peter Quill is a lying, mostly morally bankrupt individual interested only in what benefits him directly, though of course that’s bound to change over the course of the film. Quill, devious and devilish as he is, turns out to be the perfect figurehead for a ragtag band of criminals guilted into trying to save the universe from being conquered by an excessively evil bad guy.

Pratt, who is beyond amazing on “Parks and Recreation,” is a fun choice to bring Quill to life, and he’s surrounded by a strong cast who, more than anything, is having a good time. Zoe Saldana continues to take on roles that find her playing a brightly-colored alien of some sort, and, with this and “Avatar,” she’s proven that she’s exceptionally skilled at it. Bradley Cooper infuses a whole lot of personality as the foul-mouthed Rocket, a 360-degree switch from “American Sniper,” and he steals many of his scenes. Vin Diesel and Dave Bautista round out this random bunch with their appropriately gruff demeanors leading to a certain amount of hilarity.

Overall, “Guardians of the Galaxy” isn’t serious enough to be a true action film, and it fluctuates between being a full-out comedy and something more dramatic without any sort of consistency. It’s not meant to be a knockout intellectual film, but there are moments in which it seems to possess an above-average amount of braininess that, if meted out more evenly, could have produced a more seamless and unforgettable blockbuster. Still, it’s fun, and I can only imagine how many sequels are already in the works.

B-

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Movie with Abe: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6
Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams
Released November 7, 2014

I didn’t rush to see this film when it came out, and only decided that I should in fact go see it when I realized that I had seen all the other major animated films of the year. It’s a shame my interest wasn’t piqued earlier since this is a strong and highly entertaining film in the style of all of the great Pixar and Disney films produced over the past few decades and years. “Big Hero 6” adds to the mix by infusing technology, culture, and a spirit of adventure into its particular plot.

Set in an astonishing amalgam of San Francisco and Tokyo designed to envelop the rich technological states of the two cities, “Big Hero 6” opens with a robot fight in which one heavyweight champion uses his creation to destroy his opponents. Young starry-eyed Hiro shows up to compete and quickly loses, but offers up money for a rematch in which his stealthily-designed robot annihilates the defending champion. Hiro is quickly plucked from a dangerous situation involving the angry owner of the defeated robot by his older brother Tadashi. We soon learn that Hiro is a young genius who hasn’t exactly been putting his great mind to work in the way that he should.

Before long, Hiro is introduced to Tadashi’s work, which involves the Baymax, a robot companion designed to serve as a health monitor. Certain events lead to villainy that in turn requires Hiro to assemble a team of tech enthusiasts with their own particular areas of expertise, transforming this more tender family story into an all-out action movie with extreme geek appeal. What’s cool is the positive, exciting way in which technology and creativity are spotlighted and emphasized in this film, seen as the ultimate goals and achievements.

“Big Hero 6” employs some great voices, including James Cromwell, Alan Tyduk, Maya Rudolph, Abraham Benrubi, Damon Wayans Jr., Scott Adsit, and the incomparable T.J. Miller, but where it really shines is with its characters. Hiro is a fantastic protagonist, and Tadashi, along with his classmates Fred, Gogo, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon, embodies such a stellar notion of the human spirit and a love for science that it’s impossible not to like them. And that’s not even considering Baymax, a robot for the ages who doesn’t let a lack of personality get in the way of being loveable. This is a fun, cool movie, and easily one of the best animated films of the year.

B+

Friday, January 16, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Book of Life

The Book of Life
Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Released October 17, 2014

I remember seeing previews for “Despicable Me” a few years ago that seemed to indicate two very different movies – one a grand monument-involving comedy about a truly despicable villain, and the other a more intimate and less mature story of one fiendish foe and his less ambitious aims. “The Book of Life,” one of this year’s top animated films, feels at times like two films, and that’s a credit to its interesting and unique outlook on the world, telling a mythological fairy tale wrapped up in a far more standard kid’s movie.

“The Book of Life” begins with the arrival of a few juvenile delinquents to a museum, and one particularly plucky tour guide who decides that she wants to make an impact on these snot-nosed teenagers who come ready with a bad attitude. It doesn’t take long for her to begin regaling them with a glorious story of two deities fighting for control of different versions of the Mexican afterlife, one a festive paradise and the other a solemn purgatory. As is often the case, it’s a wager that tempts them into switching places. At the center of that wager are two eager young men, Manolo and Joaquin, rivals since childhood for the affections of the alluring Maria.

“The Book of Life” is a more sophisticated story than it needs to be, which is a great thing and helps to make it an involving experience. Manolo longs to pursue his musical interests while his father pushes him towards the family career of being a bullfighter. Joaquin goes off to become a legendary hero, and returns to his hometown to woo Maria with his impressive resume and reputation. Manolo is the more naturally sweet, and Maria, to her credit, doesn’t let either man off the hook, keeping them both on their toes and performing to the best of their abilities to win her over.

“The Book of Life” jumps seamlessly from a present-day narrative beginning to the distant past and then into an entirely separate realm as Manolo is forced to deal with death early on the Day of the Dead. There is some wonderful mythology at play here, showcasing a part of Mexican culture that is rarely seen in American film. What’s most fantastic is this film’s music, including original songs “The Apology Song” and “I Love You Too Much.” Like Manolo, this film has heart, which is a real treat to experience.

B+

Movie with Abe: The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls
Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
Released September 26, 2014

You’d think at a certain point that it would be hard to create a universe about some kind of creatures or society existing just outside the normal human realm that would seem both original and compelling. Yet one of this year’s top animated films has done just that with the Boxtrolls, a group of trolls who dart around the fake English city of Cheesebridge wearing boxes, hunted by the cheese-obsessed human population that sees them as a vicious threat to be quashed lest they endanger the livelihood and stability of all that is good in the name of cheese.

The presence of a people such as the Boxtrolls inherently demands that they have some sort of interaction with the human race, and the way in which that is done in this film is clever and endearing. One paternal Boxtroll calls out for “Eggs” repeatedly at the start of the film, and eventually finds a smiling human baby who has been outfitted with a box carton that says “eggs.” Soon, the baby grows into a boy whose perception of the world is severely warped by the fact that he believes that, like those with whom he spends all his time, he is a Boxtroll.

There is much be said for the messages of diversity and tolerance that this film promotes, and that’s long been a hallmark of animated films, to find a creative way to show difference as it might manifest itself in a more undeniable way than just skin color, shape, or size. It’s a less artsy companion piece to last year’s Oscar-nominated “Ernest and Celestine,” which dispelled long-held fable myths about bears and mice. This film also amps up the human despicability factor as the Boxtroll-hunters are downright evil and those meant to seem less deplorable are merely self-obsessed and impossibly ignorant.

This film, based on Alan Snow’s novel “Here Be Monsters,” strongly employs a few choice talent to voice its characters. Ben Kingsley is the scenery-chewing Archibald Snatcher, whose name just about gives away his purpose in life. Jared Harris is Lord Portley-Rind, who is so blinded by his haughty nature that he can’t see that his life is filled with nothing but pompousness and cheese. The animation is great, and all elements of the film come together to create something more polished and resounding than might have been expected given the film’s premise.

B+

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oscar Nominees: Best Picture


My predictions: 8/8, though I predicted ten
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to me that we have eight nominees, especially for archival and historical purposes. But there’s nothing to be done about that. I predicted all of these nominees but I don’t think that “American Sniper” and “Whiplash” necessarily count since I thought “Gone Girl” and “Nightcrawler” would get in ahead of them. Those two films flatlined with one nomination each, actress and screenplay, respectively, effectively taking them out of the awards conversation for this year. “American Sniper” and “Whiplash,” however, made it in late despite missing out on a few key pieces of the awards race, and Clint Eastwood’s DGA nod couldn’t secure him a director nomination today. The most strange and puzzling thing is the inclusion of “Selma,” which clearly missed out in every race where it could have contended except for Best Original Song, and then ended up with a nomination here. It’s hard to find statistics, but the three closest examples I can think of are “A Serious Man,” nominated only for Best Original Screenplay, “The Blind Side,” nominated only for Best Actress, which it won, and “War Horse,” which earned six nominations in total but none for anything major. One of the year’s best films didn’t have the best director, screenplay, acting, or even anything technical other than a song. Maybe no one saw it and they just voted for it anyway, but it’s clear that it’s a movie of the moment and not necessarily a true Best Picture. The big snub here is “Foxcatcher” considering the fact that it did score for director and screenplay. At the head of the pack are “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with nine nominations, followed by “The Imitation Game” with eight, “Boyhood” and “American Sniper” with six, “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash” with five, and, of course, “Selma” with two. More thoughts to come!

My current bet to win: I’m sticking with Boyhood.

Oscar Nominees: Best Director


My predictions: 3/5, picking DuVernay and Chazelle over Miller and Tyldum
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Two years ago, this category was nuts, and I think everyone was expecting something crazy this year. What we got wasn’t actually all that surprising, save for one thing of course. Three of the choices made by both the Globes and SAG – Inarritu, Linklater, and Anderson – made the cut, as did another DGA selection, Tyldum. Globe nominee Ava DuVernay and DGA pick Clint Eastwood got their films fast-tracked to the Best Picture race without being recognized here. Globe nominee David Fincher got dumped entirely, as his film ended up with just one nomination, for Best Actress, after seeming locked for a few races. Somehow, Bennett Miller, who was only ever nominated once before, in 2005 for “Capote,” stole the last spot and pulled off the same feat that Fincher did at the Globes, earning bids for director and screenplay without a corresponding Best Picture nod. This is the first time that has happened since before the Oscar system switched to have more than five Best Picture nominees, effectively killing the “lone director” trend. While it’s interesting that it happened again, it doesn’t make much sense, since you’d think something so well-directed would be considered one of the ten best films of the year. I also didn’t love the film, and I would have preferred to see something else. Based on how well it performed in other categories, it’s strange not to see Damien Chazelle take this last spot for “Whiplash.” Inarritu and Miller are the only returning nominees, and it’s good to see Anderson finally recognized, even if it’s not for the right film. Tyldum, who was an AFT Award finalist two years ago for “Headhunters,” a great movie, managed to catch up to his film, which was running rampant without him, a fate that befell James Marsh, whose “The Theory of Everything” did very well but left him behind. There will surely be more to say about this race later.

My current bet to win: Since DuVernay isn’t nominated, this is a fight between Inarritu and Linklater that I think the latter will emerge victorious.

Oscar Nominees: Short Films

I’ve been predicting these categories for a few years now knowing little to nothing about them, and this year I scored 9/15. I’ve had the chance to screen all of the nominees the past few years, and I hope to do the same this year. Since I’ve only seen one of the animated shorts at this point (“Feast” played before “Big Hero 6”) and nothing else, I’ll wait to offer commentary until them. All images below are from Oscar.com.

Best Documentary Short Film


My predictions: 3/5
The nominees: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Joanna, Our Curse, The Reaper, White Earth
The frontrunner: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Best Live Action Short Film


My predictions: 4/5
The nominees: Aya, Boogaloo and Graham, Butter Lamp, Parvaneh, The Phone Call
The frontrunner: The Phone Call

Best Animated Short Film


My predictions: 2/5
The nominees: The Bigger Picture, The Dam Keeper, Feast, Me and My Moulton, A Single Life
The frontrunner: Me and My Moulton

Oscar Nominees: Best Documentary


My predictions: 1/5, picking only “Citizenfour”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Citizenfour, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Virunga

This category seems to love offering up monumental snubs, and there’s no bigger one than “Life Itself,” which I so hoped would be here but sort of knew would never make it. I’m surprised that “Jodorowsky’s Dune” didn’t make the cut. Honestly, I’ve seen just one of these, and it’s the one that I would have chosen not to nominate because it’s not a technical feat, merely a series of interviews with a fascinating subject. “Finding Vivian Maier” is on DVD and I think “Virunga” is on Netflix, so those shouldn’t be hard to see. I’m already RSVPd to a screening for next month of “The Salt of the Earth,” which had a qualifying release at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas a while back but isn’t slated for release again until March 27th. “Last Days of Vietnam” is probably the hardest to track down since it isn’t slated for a DVD release until late April and I don’t think it’s playing anywhere anymore. More on this category if I can actually find some of the films!

My current bet to win: No clue given these nominees. I’ll stick with Citizenfour for now, but I’m sure that will change.

Oscar Nominees: Best Foreign Film


My predictions: 4/5, picking “Force Majeure” over “Tangerines”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Ida (Poland), Leviathan (Russia), Tangerines (Estonia), Timbktu (Mauritania), Wild Tales (Argentina)

I did pretty well in this category despite having only seen three of the films. “Ida” and “Leviathan” two of the Golden Globe nominees ported over to this category, and I bet on the wrong third one, “Force Majeure,” which I didn’t particularly like, over “Tangerines,” which I haven’t seen. “Timbuktu” and “Wild Tales” I’ve heard a lot about, and I’ll hope to be able to screen them before the Oscars to offer more commentary! Congratulations to Mauritania and Estonia for their first-ever nominations in this category.

My current bet to win: Because it made it this far, Timbuktu.

Oscar Nominees: Best Animated Feature


My predictions: 4/5, picking “The Lego Movie” and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

And now we have what is surely the biggest overall surprise to any prognosticator – “The Lego Movie,” which was a buzzed-about hit from when it came out at the beginning of the year – gets snubbed to make room for Oscar’s annual requirement of foreign film recognition. I’m pleased to see “Song of the Sea” but not at the expense of everything being awesome, and I never got around to seeing “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” which I’ll now try to do. I’m happy about “Big Hero 6” and unsurprised about Golden Globe winner “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” My review of “The Boxtrolls” will be up soon, and I liked it, and I just wish that “The Book of Life” could have been here too. This is a year where a ten-wide field would have been just fine.

My current bet to win: With “The Lego Movie” out of the way, I think that How to Train Your Dragon 2 may be able to overtake “Big Hero 6.”

Oscar Nominees: Best Visual Effects


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Interstellar”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, X-Men: Days of Future Past

So much for statistics. J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson would have gone 6 for 6 if “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” hadn’t been snubbed, and, strangely enough, it was nominated for Best Sound Editing. This is the first time that Captain America and X-Men have heard their names called, and I actually made a mistake in my predictions which would probably have changed my fifth pick to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” since I now see that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was nominated here in 2011. “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Interstellar,” the only films nominated elsewhere, round out the category. I haven’t see the latest Apes and X-Men films.

My current bet to win: I’m still going to say Interstellar.

Oscar Nominees: Best Makeup and Hairstyling


My predictions: 3/3
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy

And here it is, my only 100% category this year, which had only three nominees. Still, I’m pretty excited, especially because transforming Steve Carell, beautifying the many members of the Grand Budapest ensemble, and everything that went into so many characters in the galaxy all deserve to be recognized. Though there weren’t any random contenders on the finalist list, it’s a relief to see some deserving choices honored.

My current bet to win: I think Foxcatcher is the frontrunner.

Oscar Nominees: Best Sound Editing


My predictions: 4/5, picking “Fury” and “Whiplash” over “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” and “Unbroken”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Unbroken

This category looks (or sounds) a whole lot like the Best Sound race, with “Whiplash” swapped out for “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” It’s perplexing both because “Whiplash” seems like it definitely should have been here, and this marks the only nomination for the final chapter of the Peter Jackson trilogy, which got surprisingly snubbed for Best Visual Effects. The rest of the list is pretty standard and I’m all good with it.

My current bet to win: I’ll pick American Sniper to get recognized here over “Interstellar.”

Oscar Nominees: Best Sound


My predictions: 3/5, picking “Fury” and “Into the Woods” over “American Sniper” and “Whiplash”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken, Whiplash

This is actually a pretty great list, though I’m surprised that “Into the Woods” didn’t make the cut and I think “Fury” deserved to be here. That said, “Whiplash” is a cool choice, “American Sniper” makes sense, “Birdman” and “Interstellar” absolutely, and “Unbroken” has a lot going for it as well.

My current bet to win: I’ll say Interstellar with very little confidence.

Oscar Nominees: Best Original Song


My predictions: 3/5, missing the songs from “Begin Again” and “Beyond the Lights”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: “Lost Stars” (Begin Again), “Grateful” (Beyond the Lights), “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me), “Everything is Awesome” (The Lego Movie), “Glory” (Selma)

This list actually makes a lot of sense: it has three films that are music-focused and two that were supposed to do well with overall nominations today and tanked almost completely. I’m thrilled to see “Begin Again” represented, and I haven’t seen “Beyond the Lights” or “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” but I like both songs. Golden Globe winner “Glory,” which defies historical tradition as it ends up being the only song to translate from that list here, is a welcome inclusion, as is “Everything is Awesome,” which is definitely not how everyone involved with “The Lego Movie” is feeling today. I would have loved to see “Opportunity” from “Annie” here, but I’m not too disappointed.

My current bet to win: I think Glory can still do it.

Oscar Nominees: Best Original Score


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “The Imitation Game” and “Interstellar”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything

My predictions here weren’t terrific, but I’m not too surprised by the nominees. Three selections from the Golden Globes – Best Picture nominees “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” and tech-honored “Interstellar” – are here, joined by “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which was nominated everywhere. I need to listen to the soundtrack again since I don’t remember finding it as charming as “Moonrise Kingdom” from a few years ago. I also need to tune back in to “Mr. Turner,” which I saw a long time ago and interestingly ended up here (it’s also composer Gary Yershon’s first nomination, so it’s not as if he’s a known quantity). Alexandre Desplat, after amassing six nominations in the past nine years, finally pulled off the feat of becoming a double nominee, contending for both “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game,” contending against previous winner Hans Zimmer, who earns his tenth nod this year, and two newbies.

My current bet to win: Now I’m thinking that Golden Globe pick The Theory of Everything will score here too.

Oscar Nominees: Best Film Editing


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Boyhood” and “The Imitation Game”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Whiplash

This category actually contains the biggest and gravest snub, in my opinion. “Birdman” should have been here as it was the most swiftly and furiously cut film of the year, and it’s really a shame that it’s not. “American Sniper” does not need to be here, and “Whiplash” is a fun choice even if I don’t think it deserves this spot either. I won’t argue the merits of Oscar voters’ other three favorite films that made the cut here. In many ways, this seemed like the likely Best Director list, with Inarritu obviously plugged in somewhere.

My current bet to win: It may be “The Imitation Game” or “Whiplash,” but I think Boyhood will get it.

Oscar Nominees: Best Costume Design


My predictions: 1/5, picking only “Into the Woods”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Maleficent, Mr. Turner

Oops. Sadly, this wasn’t the only time I got 1/5 this year, but it’s certainly lamentable. Oscar voters didn’t nominate “Belle,” “Fury,” or “Exodus: Gods and Kings” at all, and they decided somewhat puzzlingly that “The Imitation Game” didn’t belong here. I wouldn’t have ceded its spot to “Maleficent,” but that’s just me. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a given and “Mr. Turner” is a solid choice, and I’m actually really excited about “Inherent Vice,” which I think is a great pick here.

My current bet to win: Give it to Into the Woods, even though a couple of the other nominees would be pretty fun.

Oscar Nominees: Best Art Direction


My predictions: 4/5, picking “Fury” over “The Imitation Game”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Mr. Turner

No big disappointments for me, since it was actually one of my best technical categories. I guess Oscar voters didn’t like “Fury,” which I had predicted to show up a few places. Instead, they’re endorsing two of their overall favorites which are certainly nice to look at – “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game” – and three others film that earned only technical nods (aside from Meryl Streep) – “Interstellar” (which I’m so happy is here), “Into the Woods,” and “Mr. Turner.” I don’t have too much more to say about this one right now

My current bet to win: I think Into the Woods can pull it off but I’m not sure.

Oscar Nominees: Best Cinematography


My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Birdman” and “Ida”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Mr. Turner, Unbroken

I’m upset that “Interstellar,” which so deserved to be here, didn’t make the cut, but at least it contends for five other awards. It’s hard for me to accept that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is finally getting recognized for everything that most of Wes Andesron’s previous films should have been recognized for. The cinematography is familiar but definitely great. “Ida” I don’t have much of a problem with since its script didn’t make the cut, which is a relief. “Mr. Turner” managed to show up in four technical categories and “Unbroken” in three, so good for two films that were actually pretty good but didn’t land this awards season as they should have. Ah, and if only “A Most Violent Year” could have been here – go see it and tell me it shouldn’t.

My current bet to win: It’s a tough one – maybe Unbroken?

Oscar Nominees: Best Adapted Screenplay


My predictions: 3/5, picking “Gone Girl” and “Wild” over “Inherent Vice” and “Whiplash”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

I suspected that “Wild,” one of my favorite contenders in this category, would likely be overtaken by “Whiplash” despite its last-minute category change, but I predicted against it anyway. As expected, “American Sniper” surged to join “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” but one of the biggest surprises of the day is the snub of “Gone Girl,” which ended up with exactly one nomination, for Best Actress. Instead, we have “Inherent Vice,” which also contends for Best Costume Design, which is admittedly a great if highly bizarre script. This is a solid category but there’s plenty missing, and “American Sniper” certainly doesn’t need to be here. All but “Inherent Vice” are nominated for Best Picture.

My current bet to win: I think The Imitation Game has it but I’m not certain.

Oscar Nominees: Best Original Screenplay


My predictions: 4/5, picking “A Most Violent Year” over “Foxcatcher”
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler

It’s my own fault for picking “A Most Violent Year,” which didn’t get anything today, but I don’t think I would have picked “Foxcatcher” because I knew that it might not make it all the way for Best Picture (though I did not see its Best Director bid coming, not that it makes much sense). “Nightcrawler” is recognized only here after it failed to pick up steam the way that “American Sniper” and “Whiplash” did, and it joins the three big Best Picture contenders, “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” A decent list, though I assure you mine will be more interesting.

My current bet to win: It won the Golden Globe, and I think Birdman can also triumph here.

Oscar Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


My predictions: 3/5, picking Chastain and Russo over Dern and Streep
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

I don’t know why I bet against Meryl Streep – she just earned her nineteenth nomination, and for a film that performed pretty poorly, earned additional bids only for art direction and costume design. This category wasn’t confident with its fifth choices at the Globes and SAG and therefore decided to throw a contender back into the ring who seemed like she had been passed over a while ago, Laura Dern. She was good but I wish that the film had shown up in other more deserving places like Best Original Screenplay or even Best Picture. I’m sad that Jessica Chastain isn’t here even though I wasn’t in love with her performance, but because that makes another awesome movie that’s so Oscar-friendly that ends up being entirely shut out. I’m ecstatic about Stone, not that there was really any risk of her not being here, and Arquette and Knightley are fine too. Knightley and Stone’s films lead with nine nominations each.

My current bet to win: Why wouldn’t it be Arquette?

Oscar Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


My predictions: 4/5, picking Ahmed over Duvall
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Who needs different list when you can reuse the same one over and over? I guess I have to see Duvall’s film, which is on DVD in less than two weeks, to really see whether he deserves it. There’s nothing unexpected about this list, mainly because there was no strong enough fifth contender to overtake Duvall. Simmons finally gets some company as his film scores five bids, including Best Picture, while Ruffalo’s film also got five but not in the same way (keep reading for more!). Hawke and Norton are sitting pretty with six and nine nominations for their respective films.

My current bet to win: Especially with the support of his film behind him, Simmons can do it.

Oscar Nominees: Best Actress in a Leading Role


My predictions: 4/5, picking Aniston over Cotillard
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

It happens every year that at least one actress who gets Globe and SAG nominations and seems like a sure thing misses out, and it’s so interesting to me that Marion Cotillard, who was a victim of that two years ago, did it this year to Jennifer Aniston. Their roles aren’t that far apart, interestingly, and I don’t feel too strongly about either one, though I think Cotillard deserved a nomination more for “Rust and Bone” in 2012. Jones is sitting pretty with her film’s five nominations, while Moore is representing her film solo. Unexpectedly, Pike is doing the same thing since her film didn’t seem to land with voters. Witherspoon’s film got snubbed for Best Adapted Screenplay but she got a nice gift in its place: costar Laura Dern is nominated too. This race I’ve had the least problem with from the start, and my list doesn’t look all that different.

My current bet to win: Cotillard has already won, so stick with Moore to win.

Oscar Nominees: Best Actor in a Leading Role


My predictions: 4/5, picking Oyelowo over Keaton
My ballot: Come back in February!
The nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Even though the Michael Keaton snub didn’t happen, I’m happy that I was able to predict that both Steve Carell and Bradley Cooper would make it in over the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes, and Timothy Spall. This lineup comes at the expense of David Oyelowo, one of the stronger actors of this bunch whose performance was good, but his film ended up with a paltry two nominations, one for Best Song and one for Best Picture. An interesting fact about this category is that there’s only one returning nominee, and it’s third consecutive nomination. Puzzlingly, that’s Bradley Cooper. Who would have expected Anyway, this is a pretty good list even if it doesn’t match up entirely with what I’ll pick next month. Even “Foxcatcher” performed well in a sense today (more on that later), so these films are all in decent shape.

My current bet to win: I think Redmayne is still out front ahead of Keaton.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Final Oscar Predictions


Well, here we are. In a way, I don’t feel as invested in this year’s race, which is somewhat strange since I’ve actually seen just about everything already. It’s exciting to know the contenders, but I also feel like most of the films I didn’t love, even I did like a lot of them. I do think that, in many ways, this is the most interesting awards season we’ve seen in a while because there’s such a diversity of contenders and inconsistencies.

Now I am predicting a bunch of shocking inclusions and snubs that are probably foolish. Many chose Damien Chazelle for directing “Whiplash,” so I won’t count that. But Michael Keaton not getting nominated for Best Actor is a big risk, and including Riz Ahmed and Rene Russo without star Gyllenhaal is equally mind-boggling. I’m also secretly hoping that both “Interstellar” and “A Most Violent Year,” which (spoiler alert) will rank in my top five films of the year, show up in some big and unexpected places. I just hope we’re rewarding good and solid films.

As with the last two years, I’ll be on the West Coast when the nominations are announced (in fact, I’m in flight right now). Not being a totally crazy person, I’m not going to be getting up at 5:30am but I will start blogging, category by category, at around 8:30am PST. Check back every half hour for analysis of each category, and let’s hope for some great picks! Click on category headings for full predictions in each race. Chime in below with your thoughts and predictions, and check back tomorrow for plenty of reactions!

No guts, no glory predictions:
Steve Carell opens up the Best Actor race by going supporting
Naomi Watts for Best Supporting Actress for “Birdman”
Oscar Isaac for Best Actor for “A Most Violent Year” (if only!)

Best Picture
American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Nightcrawler
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Best Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
David Oyelowo (Selma)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Rene Russo (Nightcrawler)
Emma Stone (Birdman)

Best Original Screenplay
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Most Violent Year
Nightcrawler

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Wild

Best Cinematography
Birdman
Ida
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
The Theory of Everything

Best Art Direction
Fury
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Best Costume Design
Belle
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Fury
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods

Best Film Editing
Birdman
Boyhood
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Interstellar

Best Original Score
Fury
Gone Girl
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
A Most Violent Year

Best Original Song
“Opportunity” (Annie)
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me)
“Everything is Awesome” (The Lego Movie)
“Mercy Is” (Noah)
“Glory” (Selma)

Best Sound Birdman
Fury
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Unbroken

Best Sound Editing
American Sniper
Birdman
Fury
Interstellar
Whiplash

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Visual Effects
Godzilla
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Best Animated Feature
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
Song of the Sea

Best Documentary Short Film
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
The Lion’s Mouth Opens
One Child
Our Curse

Best Animated Short Film
Coda
Duet
Feast
Me and My Moulton
Symphony No. 42

Best Live Action Short Film
Aya
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
Carry On
The Phone Call

Best Documentary
The Case Against 8
Citizenfour
Citizen Koch
Jodorowsky’s Dune
Life Itself

Best Foreign Language Film
Force Majeure
Ida
Leviathan
Timbuktu
Wild Tales

Oscar Predictions: Best Picture

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.


Last year’s nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

This year’s locks: Boyhood, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Very likely: Selma

Possible: Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, American Sniper, Whiplash, Foxcatcher, Into the Woods

Unlikely: Unbroken, Interstellar, Wild

The rundown: We’re at an interesting point right now, and technically only about half of this slate is secure. Usually, it’s easy to tell who would be at the head of the pack if there were only five nominees. The first four - Boyhood, Birdman, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything - are set, but it’s looking like The Grand Budapest Hotel has overtaken Selma for the fifth slot. It’s possible that “Selma” will stumble because so many groups just didn’t see it, but most organizations that did seem to like it. Next up are a number of contenders that haven’t been omnipresent but should still make a play: Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, American Sniper, and Whiplash all got a big boost from the PGA Awards after missing out on the top races with the Golden Globes and SAG, and “American Sniper” even earned a DGA nod. Can they displace a Golden Globe Best Picture nominee also recognized for a PGA Award, Foxcatcher, or another big Globe film, Into the Woods? Or will Unbroken finally break through? I’m hoping that either Interstellar or Wild can join the list since they’ve both been recognized for certain elements only but deserve to be honored here. I am predicting ten nominees even though that hasn’t been the case the past few years.

One possible crazy scenario: The extremely popular Guardians of the Galaxy scores this big nomination.

Forecasted winner: It looks like Boyhood, but who knows?

Oscar Predictions: Best Director

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.


Last year’s nominees: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

This year’s locks: Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

Very likely: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Possible: Ava DuVernay (Selma), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Unlikely: Angelina Jolie (Unbroken), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything), Christopher Nolan (Interstellar)

The rundown: Two years ago, this category went crazy, matching up 2/5 with the Globe and DGA lists and resulting in some serious snubs. This year, there are only three directors that have been recognized across the board, and those are Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), and, somewhat surprisingly, Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel). Anderson is vulnerable, sure, but he seems to be incredibly strong. Ava DuVernay (Selma) saw her film miss out on yet another guild when DGA snubbed her yesterday, but I think she’ll be able to make it. I was surprised that David Fincher (Gone Girl) didn’t make the cut with DGA, but he was snubbed by Oscar after DGA endorsed “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” so he’s officially fallen out of my predictions. It’s probably smart for me to bet on DGA inclusions Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), but I’m endorsing Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) instead since he feels like a Benh Zeitlin-type nominee who could really peak at the end of this awards race. Angelina Jolie (Unbroken), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything), and Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) should have showed up already and they barely have, so count them out. I’m not at all secure in these predictions, but I do think that whatever this list looks like, it won’t be what we what all expect.

One possible crazy scenario: Support for Rob Marshall (Into the Woods) shows up from out of nowhere.

Forecasted winner: I think this is Linklater’s to lose unless DuVernay really gains momentum.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Oscar Predictions: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

This year, Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th. I’ll be offering detailed predictions in most of the major categories, saving some of the biggest categories for last.


Last year’s nominees: Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyongo, Julia Roberts, June Squibb

This year’s locks: Patricia Arquette, Emma Stone, Keira Knightley

Very likely: Jessica Chastain

Possible: Meryl Streep, Naomi Watts, Laura Dern

Unlikely: Carrie Coon, Tilda Swinton

The rundown: I bet against Meryl Streep last year in the lead actress category when she had been nominated by both the Golden Globes and SAG, and this year the same this has happened and once again I’m predicting that Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) won’t make the cut. Recognizing that I’m probably wrong, I do think that her film won’t do too well with Oscar voters and that she might lose out as a result. We have our locks in this race - Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Emma Stone (Birdman), and Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) – whose films are all poised to do very well in a number of categories on Thursday morning. Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), who film I wish was going to do better, missed out on a SAG bid but seems pretty set for an Oscar nod. Naomi Watts (St. Vincent) took her SAG spot, but I can’t imagine that she’ll translate that into an Oscar nomination. Laura Dern (Wild) hasn’t been recognized by enough groups and I don’t think her film will be entirely warmly received. Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) was always on people’s lists but I think she’d be peaking too late. Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) would be an eclectic choice, particularly because Swinton was nominated and won once before, but for a far more normative role in “Michael Clayton.” I’m betting instead on Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), who scored with BAFTA and should benefit from strong feelings towards her dark and disturbing film.

One possible crazy scenario: We’ll hear Naomi Watts (Birdman) called for a different film than SAG selected, though it’s technically the better performance of the two.

Forecasted winner: I think it will be Arquette.