TOP 10 FILMS OF 2015

10. The Revenant (dir. Alejandro G. Inarritu)

TOP 10 REVENANT

The most grotesque film of the year, in that it’s both beautiful and revolting at the same time. While I don’t agree with all the awards hype surrounding Leo’s powerfully realistic screams of pain, director Inarritu and cinematographer Lubezski succeed in bringing a fairly hollow and often repetitive screenplay to thrilling life with groundbreaking visuals.

 

9. 45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh)

TOP 10 45 YEARS

Running an incredibly tight 95 minutes, Andrew Haigh’s (HBO’s Looking) 45 Years unfolds more like a blackbox stage production than a film. Using several long takes and two-person shots (as opposed to close-ups), we get to see Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay’s wounded married couple actually play off of each other. Rampling and Courtenany deliver two of the best and most meticulous performances of the year that give a seemingly dull premise, life or death stakes.

 

8. Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)

TOP 10 BROOKLYN

The trailers for Brooklyn were misleading. They made the film seem like some sappy tween take on the Irish immigrant story when actually Brooklyn is the farthest thing from that. While it doesn’t sugar coat the grittiness of the immigrant’s journey, it doesn’t get bogged down with cynicism either. Sairose Ronan and Emory Cohen give incredibly empathetic performances that completely reel you in. Brookyln is very pretty and optimistic little film. My mom would love this.

 

7. Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

TOP 10 ROOM

Another film that manages to be warm without ever being sentimental, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room is an incredibly overwhelming experience. As Joy, Brie Larson solidifies herself as one of the best actors working in the industry and nine-year-old Jacob Tremblay is equally impressive as Joy’s son. This is the type of film that could have easily sank into Lifetime Original Movie territory, but Abrahamson is wise to never make it exploitative or ever make it about Joy’s psychopathic abductor. Instead Abrahamson opted to make a film about the strongest bond of all, between a parent and their child.

 

6. Sicario (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

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Agonizingly suspenseful and flawlessly crafted, Sicario is a powerful exploration of the United States involvement in the ongoing Cartel wars. Featuring riveting performances and Roger Deakins cinematography, Sicario is a morally ambiguous descent into hell.

 

5. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)

TOP 10 MAD MAX

George Miller has created what is hands down one of the greatest action films ever made. What’s most impressive, is how he’s able to build characters and a universe through the action sequences. With only a combined ten minutes or so of non-action sequences, Mad Max: Fury Road is a grand operatic spectacle that uses stunning and outrageous imagery to tell it’s story. It’s where art and entertainment meet for a drunken night and have wild unprotected sex. Prepare to get fucked.

 

4. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

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Todd Haynes completely transports you to the 1950s in this tender and cerebral love story between a married woman and a naïve shopgirl trying to come to terms with her sexuality. Many period films set in the 1950s look like the 1950s, but very rarely do they feel like they were actually made in the 1950s. Carol is kind of like Frank Capra’s Blue is the Warmest Color.

 

3. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

TOP 10 LOOK OF SILENCE

Joshua Oppenheimer’s perfectly shot, gut-wrenching companion piece to 2013’s The Act of Killing is far and away the best documentary feature of 2015. While The Act of Killing focused on the Indonesian death squad leaders of the 1960s, The Look of Silence focuses on the victims and their families struggling to accept and forgive the atrocities that were committed against them. Not nearly as provocative as The Act of Killing but much more emotionally reasonant. This is an extremely intelligent documentary that carefully and thoroughly examines the country’s politics and the human condition without falling into the tired clichés that plague most documentaries being made today.

 

2. Son of Saul (dir. Lazlo Nemes)

TOP 10 SON OF SAUL

More of a character study than a Holocaust film, the soul crushingly bleak Son of Saul follows a jewish man in Auschwitz, Saul, who has completely lost his mind. Saul is a sonderkommando, which were jewish prisoners granted special privileges in exchange for leading other jews into gas chambers. While cleaning up “the showers”, Saul discovers a teenage boy barely clinging onto life that he believes is his son, giving him something to live for.

Impressively shot on aspect ratio 1.37:1, which is like a vertical rectangle, the camera hangs on Saul like a hawk the entire 107 minute runtime. We don’t see much, and pretty much everything in the background is out of focus. We hear the screams though. The Nazis angrily shouting, the prisoners begging for mercy, the sound of fingernails frantically scraping on the gas chamber doors, ect. It’s a revolutionary film in terms of technical filmmaking, but it’s an unfathomably difficult watch.

 

1. Anomalisa (dir. Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman)

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As much as I loved Inside Out, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s stop-motion animated study of narcissism and depression blew it out of the fucking water. One of the most wholly unique movie-going experiences I’ve ever had in my life, Anomalisa creates two painfully realistic characters desperate to find solace in each other. Completely free of any easy Hollywood cliches, Kaufman’s completely crowd-funded Anomalisa is both funny and thought provoking. In a world where Star Wars and Marvel merchandise rule all, a film getting released as unique and honest as Anomalisa is a miracle.

 

Honorable Mention

Amy
Cartel Land
The End of Tour
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
It Follows
James White
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Mommy
Spotlight

 

OTHER MENTIONS:

 

BEST DIRECTOR

TOP 10 GEORGE MILLER

GEORGE MILLER for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Honorable Mentions:

TODD HAYNES for CAROL
ALEJANDRO G. INARRITU for THE REVENANT
DUKE JOHNSON and CHARLIE KAUFMAN for ANOMALISA
LAZLO NEMES for SON OF SAUL

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

TOP 10 CHARLOTTE RAMPLING

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING for 45 YEARS

Honorable Mentions:

CATE BLANCHETT for CAROL
BRIE LARSON for ROOM
ROONEY MARA for CAROL
SAIROSE RONAN for BROOKLYN

 

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

TOP 10 TOM COURTENAY

TOM COURTENAY for 45 YEARS

Honorable Mentions:

CHRISTOPHER ABBOT for JAMES WHITE
MICHAEL FASSBENDER for STEVE JOBS
BEN MENDOLSOHN for MISSISSIPPI GRIND
GEZA ROHRIG for SON OF SAUL

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOP 10 CYNTHIA NIXON

CYNTHIA NIXON for JAMES WHITE

Honorable Mentions:

MARION COTILLARD for MACBETH
JANE FONDA for YOUTH
JENNIFER JASON LEIGH for THE HATEFUL EIGHT
ALICIA VIKANDER for EX MACHINA

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

TOP 10 JACOB TREMBLAY

JACOB TREMBLAY for ROOM

Honorable Mentions:

STEVE CARREL for THE BIG SHORT
IDRIS ELBA for BEASTS OF NO NATION
TOM HARDY for THE REVENANT
MARK RYLANCE for BRIDGE OF SPIES

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

TOP 10 BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

ANOMALISA – Charlie Kaufman

Honorable Mentions:

BROOKLYN – Nick Hornby
CAROL – Phyllis Nagy
THE END OF THE TOUR – David Margulies
ROOM – Emma Donaghue

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

TOP 10 BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

INSIDE OUT – Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LaFauve and Josh Cooley

Honorable Mentions:

THE HATEFUL EIGHT – Quentin Tarantino
IT FOLLOWS – David Robert Mitchell
JAMES WHITE – Josh Mond
SPOTLIGHT – Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

THE REVENANT

EMMANUEL LUBEZKI for  THE REVENANT

Honorable Mentions:

ROGER DEAKINS for SICARIO
MATYAS ERDELY for SON OF SAUL
ROBERT RICHARDSON for THE HATEFUL EIGHT
JOHN SEALE for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

 

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

TOP 10 BEST ENSEMBLE

SPOTLIGHT

Honorable Mentions:

THE BIG SHORT
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
STEVE JOBS
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lie in Their Graves

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My hatred for the miserable works of director/writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu knew no possible bounds until Birdman‘s release in 2014 sweeping me off my feet not only with how lightly funny (though still sobering) it was and with how well it utilized its cinematic techniques to put us into the mindset of its lead character. Since the apparent variable was Emmanuel Lubezki’s kinetic and warm camerawork, I was quite looking forward to The Revenant coming back as a one-two punch for Inarritu’s first worthwhile moment since his debut with Amores Perros, the only post-Pulp Fiction mosaic narrative to my mind that I can stand. And moreso, I ready to call Lubezki, certainly the most famous cinematographer today and almost certainly the best in the business, to be the best damn thing to happen to Inarritu.

Well, after seeing The Revenant, well, I still think Lubezki was the best thing to happen to Inarritu, but I don’t think he’s the grace Inarritu needs. For The Revenant is a phenomenally made picture, not only on account of Lubezki’s reliably beautiful cinematography. It’s easy to put it down as super color graded and redundant since Lubezki already has the superior The New World under his belt – both The Revenant and The New World take from the same leaf of featuring the wonderful world of nature as the subject of a gigantic tone poem, though The Revenant is like a lazy Werner Herzog nihilism bootleg covering it in snow and visually color correcting its central misery all to blue. And it’s not even the best part of the movie, though it looks so fucking gorgeous.

Because the ambient sound of the movie really makes one shivering in the theater down to one’s spine. It’s a chilly mix, with ghosts of tree rustlings, powerful surrounding winds, and even making the labored breath of our lead Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) feel absolutely unsettling and threatened at once. It’s maybe the closest the movie gets to actually making us feel as helpless as Glass is once he is mauled by a furious mother bear during his stint guiding a fur trapping company led by Capt. Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson), making sure to also kill the bear that kills him. His breath and the air surrounding his lips and escaping is the best measure we have to both tell Glass’ resilience to his imminent death and to how close he is to that edge. He is so adamant to his will to live that one of the men left behind in charge of sticking around to give him a proper burial, the odious John Fitzgerald (an out of fucking control Tom Hardy) decides that its necessary to kill Glass quick lest the Native Americans who recently attacked their camp catch up to him and the young and innocuous Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Also Glass’s half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who clearly objects to this and finds his way into Fitzgerald’s knife in front of Glass’ eyes. Fitzgerald leaves Glass half-buried in the snow and runs along with Bridger, who is unaware until later of Fitz’s poor treatment of Glass and totally unaware of Hawk’s murder, to catch up Capt. Henry and the other men.

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Glass however doesn’t die. And his true story of survival (though heavily diluted in this movie in every aspect right down to the existence of Glass’ son that I don’t even think it was necessary to mention this) begins proper with him crawling his way out of the hole, settled on catching up with the men who left him behind. And it stops there to because from there on, as much as Inarritu and DiCaprio discuss in interviews about the movie being so much about survival – hell, they outright brag about how it informs their hardcore manner of shooting for real scenarios for DiCaprio to suffer through! – any and all possibility of the movie feelings like survival is a primary theme is outright stifled by the amount of misery and agony that fills up the screen. And it fills it up to parodic manner, from baby cubs searching for a mother we know to be dead to tangents leading to Native American characters wantonly murdered or raped, and this misery fills every space of the movie’s two and a half hour runtime. And that’s right, it’s two and a half hours of this and inches barely in its plot, by indulging in these noble native tangeants, having Glass continuously hallucinate his long-dead wife, and even trying as best as it can to humanize and relate to whatever Hardy is stumbling over. It even drowns out the other major motivating factor of Glass’ quest – his desire for vengeance towards Fitzgerald for his son. Unlike the concept of survival, which pops in with repetitively Malickian flashback entries occasionally, vengeance takes the biggest back seat until the film remembers it and literally plasters “JOHN FITZGERALD KILLED MY SON” all on the screen.

The human element to drive this story and make it emotionally credible at least doesn’t cut it either unfortunately or I’d probably be less bothered by its retread to miserablism. Hardy is getting praise that just perplexes as the guy who seems completely anachronistic to 1820 stumbling and mumbling around in a performance that feels like an impression of Jeff Bridges going through the worst high of his life. It’s the first Hardy performance I have seen that I can call bad, but it’s so entertainingly intense that I may be willing to lean it to the so-bad-it’s-good territory. The rest of the cast is so inert as to be considered non-entities, they don’t have the task of pulling the story the way that Hardy and DiCaprio do, and oh my god, DiCaprio really wants that Oscar by playing to the whole “physically demanding” more than anything else in this movie. DiCaprio’s presence is maybe the biggest thing that pushes this movie into misery porn rather than the inspiring and heavy tale that Inarritu begs we read it as and that comes a lot from his willingness to turn The Revenant a display of great big moments of action like him creating a fire and eating and vomiting a real bison liver (reminding me not only of Laurence Olivier’s famous “Why don’t you try acting” exchange to Dustin Hoffman, but also of Jackie Chan eating real peppers for a stunt in Project A 2 in character for film, a medium that does not transmit taste or smell) than him taking smaller moments to inform on how he is feeling beyond “Oh my god, this sucks but I’m pushing through it”. That’s not DiCaprio’s fault – it’s hard to evolve as a character when the only two points in your arc are “Do I wanna kill Fitzgerald?” and “Fuck yes, I do” and little to no tough decisions are made by Glass from that point on. But it means the role is not as complex in its communication of the psychology or emotional state of Glass as people hope and while DiCaprio undoubtedly goes out of his way to meet up with it and then some, I end up resenting the complete certainty that because stunts like this are what grabs Oscars by them balls (unless he had began the movie with “Hi, I’m Hugh Glass and THIS IS JACKASS”), it is the role he is going to receive his Oscar for.

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I hate that I don’t have much more to say beyond this movie looks and sounds so incredible, but leaves me so empty, but such is how it is when I have a movie like The Revenant on my hands that absolutely does not connect with me on any level despite its technical excellence. It is very polished in presentation, but doesn’t carry any weight or gravity into the scenario. Nothing Hardy can do hides the fact that we’re meant to find him contemptible despite his appeals to survivalism, nothing DiCaprio can do offsets how little he has to say in the space of Glass’ vengeance (and that’s not just referring to his sparse English dialogue. I’d assume most of you know I prefer those type of roles). But is totally Inarritu and co-writer Mark L. Smith’s fault for having this sort of potential tale and just going back to Inarritu’s old ways of focusing on abuse and suffering without bothering to truly communicate in his film the transcendent means of it. Just leaves you to work it out yourself if you maybe feel like it.

156 minutes of this and I’m not sure I feel anything except the pain of my eyes rolling to sleep.

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Let’s (Not) Ride

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I feel really bad for Tim Story as a director. Not too bad, since when one looks at his grosses, he’s arguably the most financially successful black filmmaker in the business – even if he doesn’t get as much spotlight on him as Tyler Perry or Spike Lee. But it’s clear that ever since his enjoyable low-key breakout of Barbershop, he’s been working with material he very clearly does not have any possible use for – from two of the most maligned superhero films of all time facilitating a cinematic legacy of the Fantastic Four as the most movie-cursed superheroes, to French film remake turned Queen Latifah vehicle, to a Steve Harvey relationship advice book (though Story and cast and crew were able to turn the last one around and get the last laugh… until suddenly a sequel got attached).

Story has never been a poor filmmaker but he’s never had material like Barbershop that allowed him to really stretch out his skills and tell the sort of stories he wants to tell. Since his initial success, it has always been critically-maligned and box-office dominating material. If he were a little more skilled, maybe he’d be able to salvage the critical reception of the film but he’s not writing those scripts except for the only one that pretty much worked (Think Like a Man, the Steve Harvey one).

Now, if you’re expecting that to be the prelude of a sudden change in the winds, I’m going to let you down slowly. There is no possible way a movie that functions half as Ice Cube-Kevin Hart vehicle and half as another in a long line of Lethal Weapon remakes was possibly going to be the sudden chance for glory that Story was looking for at all. But credit where credit is due, despite not being particularly “good”, Ride Along is a movie that gets to sidle alongside Barbershop and Think Like a Man as one of his “not-bad” films.

Ride Along

Ride Along‘s boilerplate template as a buddy cop film plops the role of Ben Barber into Hart’s hands, a security guard awaiting his acceptance into the Atlanta Police Academy. The day he receives word that he’s going to be enrolling, it’s exactly the sort of validation to a better life that he needed to push him into proposing to his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumptor). Less enthusiastic about this opportunity is Angela’s boyfriend, James (Cube), who is exactly the sort of idealised cop Ben looks to becoming like – loose-cannon, dogged pursuit of leads, fixed scowl on the face, boss threatening to take away his badge and gun, the standard for “doesn’t play by the rules”.

So, James offers to bring Ben into a ride along for a day while he and his partners are particularly in the middle of an intense investigation a local gangster arms dealer named Omar. The hope is that the events of the day will prove to intimidate Ben enough to have him quit his pursuit of police work and have Ben feel unworthy of being a part of James’ family probably as a cherry on top.

Obviously, since you can map out these cliches on a map, you can figure that later on in the film Ben showcases some kind of out of the box skill (largely based on his enthusiastic video gaming hobby) that helps in identifying and capturing Omar. It’s hard to figure out how that “skill” is not just Ben not getting his jaw blown off while he yammers continuously to people he should not be yammering to, but something works because of Ben and I’m not shocking anybody by acknowledging the complete predictability of the script drafted by Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi. The script is not a boon to the film, even if it’s not dysfunctional.

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Of course, the things that work about Ride Along most seem to be divided by who is dedicated to adding what to the film. Story as director is apparently 100% concerned with framing and pacing the script itself as an action film, downright to making most of the scenes just either counting down ’til we meet Omar or the next shootout action scene. Hart as an actor, in the middle of the whole world’s “Kevin Hart Is the Funniest Man in the World” phase (which I wish I were present for when we voted that because I’d have something to say) when the movie was released in 2014, can not possibly find a way to fit his talkative energy into an action movie. But hey, it’s a good thing buddy cop films demand comedy. Comedy demanding of chemistry from its two leads, which Cube is game for as an extreme foil to Ben’s naivete by being the angriest sonofabitch in the film the only way Ice Cube can be expected to be the angriest sonofabitch. In James and Ben’s anti-chemistry from James’ obvious disgust towards Ben as a person getting in their way is the only possible thing that could keep Ride Along from being generic.

Still, the rest of the movie can’t hold water in that realm. It avoids sinking, but there has been a hundred Ride Alongs made since 1987, the fact that we have another just been released a week ago that dislodged Star Wars from the weekend throne means its going to be a continuous game until maybe the end of cinema as people continue to buy into it. Ride Along barely does anything to distinguish itself amongst the white noise of the buddy cop genre, opting to play it safe without making any huge twists against it or imbuing any possible personality. It’s the most inert ride it could possibly be. And so continues the legend of Tim Story and his misfortunate run of films, miles to go before another Barbershop

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5 MOST OVERRATED MOVIES OF 2015

2015 was an amazing year for cinema, but some of these movies didn’t live up to their potential and made my head and soul hurt.

5. Ex Machina

EX MACHINA

There are a handful of truly breathtaking sequences in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and it’s very well edited and shot, but I found myself without anything to really care about. This is a movie as cold and soulless as the research facility it’s set in and while I’m usually a fan of films that opt to approach it’s audience from an intellectual perspective rather than a pure emotional one, Ex Machina really doesn’t have much to say that hasn’t been said in a million other science-fiction movies. Oscar Issac and Alicia Vikander elevate the film to a degree with their powerful performances, but Domnhall Gleeson is a bore playing yet another awkward hipster. He’s played the same goddamn character in Frank, Black Mirror, Brooklyn and now this, and quite frankly I’ve had it.

4. Tangerine

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It’s impressive Tangerine was shot solely on an iPhone, but there really isn’t anything gripping or remarkable about the story of a ignorant, drug-addled transgendered prostitute seeking revenge on her pimp (the always solid James Ransone) for fucking a new bitch he broke in and a middle-Eastern cabbie cruising the streets for tranny dick to gobble down. There are a couple of good performances and honest moments, but Tangerine seems to rely on campy humor that just come to fruition. It aims to be a quirky social commentary in the vain of Spring Breakers, but ends up being more like a very special episode of South Beach Tow.

3. Bridge of Spies

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When the dust settles years from now, Bridge of Spies might be remembered as Steven Spielberg’s most boring film. Not only is it dull, but it also manages to be ham-fisted and corny at the same time. When the film isn’t indoors in the midst of a jargon-heavy conversation, characters are busy not being genuine. Tom Hanks plays the flawless happy all-American white protagonist that saves the day. I hate these types of protagonists because they aren’t realistic and they also make me feel pretty shitty about myself. Human beings make mistakes, and protagonists’ flaws are what make them accessible and relatable to viewers. Speaking of not being able to relate to characters, Tom Hanks’ wife played by the great Amy Ryan serves only as a cheerleader to Hanks. She’s there to add helpful quips like “You’re a great man!” and “You know what’s best.” Spielberg is usually a pretty progressive filmmaker so it’s odd his only female character is a one-dimensional homebody. The only saving grace of the film is an outstanding Mark Rylance as a Soviet Spy on trial. It’s amazing he was able to give such a restrained and complex performance in such a by-the-numbers Hollywood movie.

2. Phoenix

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Here’s a film that every critic was ravenously eating the butthole of for some reason, a thriller set in post-WWII Germany named Phoenix. Nelly (Nina Hoss) survives Auschwitz, but her face is severely disfigured. After a radical facial reconstruction operation (which seems most likely impossible for 1945), she’s virtually unrecognizable. Not even her husband recognizes her (which is bullshit, you’d recognize the woman to whom you’re married), who tries to rope her into a scam to get his wife’s (which he doesn’t know is her) life insurance money. More centered around misogyny than anti-Semitism, Phoenix is a slow burn in the worst possible way. While I fully support a feminist story about the struggle of women in post-Nazi Germany, the movie does so with wooden characters that are impossible to empathize with. None of the characters are three-dimensional, and the male characters only serve as abusers to women. It’s relentlessly depressing and seems almost gratuitous after a while. While the cinematography, direction and writing are wholly unimpressive, lead actress Nina Hoss is absolutely riveting. It’s a shame her performance is completely wasted on a film that is unable to meet her half way.

1. The Martian

NASA Journey to Mars and “The Martian"

Actor Matt Damon, who stars as NASA Astronaut Mark Watney in the film “The Martian,” smiles after having made his hand prints in cement at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Yard, while Mars Science Lab Project Manager Jim Erickson, left, and NASA Astronaut Drew Feustel look on, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at the JPL in Pasadena, California.

This is the one I’m going to get the most shit for, but to be honest I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut.  So cheesy it could clog your arteries, Ridley Scott’s survival story centers around a smug Matt Damon farming his way back to Earth with the help of a bunch of white dudes who can’t stop patting each other on the back. This is the kind of limp-dicked, schmaltzy bullshit I’d expect from the Damon/Clooney “movies have the power to inspire, you have the power to act” bland collective. Technically, the movie looks wonderful and Ridley Scott does a fine job directing it, but the screenplay is so predictable and emotionally false that dazzling effects can’t save it. It’s a by-the-numbers survival story with the emotional complexity of a Kodak commercial. It’s fodder for the masses, and they’ll just love all them dang ABBA jokes. Get it?! Cause ABBA was a band from a time much different than our own! HAHAHAHAHA! Somebody pass the arsenic.

Charlie’s a Doll

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The first most obvious thing about Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s collective effort in Anomalisa is the aesthetic of the thing, the fact that it is an animated film made with stop-motion 3-D printed puppet animation. That is the first thing you face about the movie and there is never a point where the movie shakes that animated factor out from your mind (at a lot of times, it plays with it), even with the fact that this is the most grounded and unfantastical piece of writing Kaufman has probably ever written in his life. There is no frivolous little movie-breaking twist, there is no meta-commentary, there is simply a story of one human being (turned into two human beings in the middle of the story) based on a stageplay written by Kaufman – with much of the stage performance being heavily driven by sound and voice rather than other components of theatrical presentation. That we suddenly have a visual element to Kaufman’s story is somewhat reserving (and indeed Kaufman at first had been against the idea of having the movie be animated) and that it happens to be animated would seem to some cynical folks like a gimmick, but it turns out to be entirely rewarding and aptly applied to the character(s) and what they’re doing and thinking, undoubtedly thanks to co-director Johnson’s background with animation in the adult swim stop-motion series Moral Orel.

That (s) comes from how I really don’t know if we’re meant to enter any character save for the one we spend the most time with, Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis, one of the three-member cast returning from the stage production), a customer service representative (or former one) who happens to be well-revered in the field thanks to his writing on the matter and is on a business trip to Cincinnati to give a seminar on the subject that he has been granted authorial authority. The fact that Stone is a guru on interacting with people is a kind of irony because Stone is maybe the least personable protagonist Kaufman has ever written.

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Stone is indeed has absolutely no happiness in him whatsoever and the first thing Kaufman and Johnson dedicate themselves to is having the audience recognize themselves in the same seat of Stone’s anxiety and inability to connect with the world around him – for one, by having the entire design and color palette of the movie be weak and faded and washed away from the grays of Stone’s hair to the barely beige walls of the hotel he stays at during his seminar visit. The other way comes strictly from the manner of making the film a stop-motion puppet feature and how those puppets are created – the very visible and unobstructed seams on the puppet faces makes all the humans feel fake and masked alongside the inhuman smoothness of the plastic that constructs them. The next most obvious point is from Thewlis’ agonized voice for Stone, giving him a state of constant fatigue from being saddened and disappointed with the world around him. Thewlis subscribes to making Stone so contagiously miserable that we have to sit inside his skin for the 90 minutes and feel down with him. But most effective of all of these choices to make Stone feel alone and the world be seen through his eyes is by having Tom Noonan reprise his roles in Anomalisa.

All of them. Pretty much every human being encountered in Anomalisa – from a taxi driver to Stone’s own wife and son – save for Stone and one more individual is voiced by Noonan to give them all the feeling of no true personality and just being one amorphous thing called society that Stone has to interact with (short of spoiling the movie, there is a school of thought that Stone suffers from a certain mental disorder – pay attention to the name of the hotel he stays at). Noonan keeps this anonymity up while still distinguishing at least the functions of each of his roles, making his subtle ability to portray a universal range of “the same person” unfairly the best in show, even in a small cast as brilliant as this one.

So we spend a good 30 minutes with Stone in this completely empty and hollow world of identity-less beings and then suddenly he finds himself meeting a girl named Lisa, happening to follow her based on the sound of her voice, provided by Jennifer Jason Leigh. So, like the title jokes, she is in fact an anomaly in his world and he finds her worth spending time with enough that he wants to make her one of his many clumsy extramarital flings. After one of the most mature sex scenes I’ve ever seen portrayed in a film, animated or otherwise, with a complete anatomical understanding of the realistic droops or hangs of bodies and lack of necessity to make the characters seem particularly attractive but dedication to keeping the sense of sound and movement natural and unfiltered, Stone decides that Lisa is definitely the one he needs to be with and is ready to throw everything out the window to have her remain in his life.

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Kaufman is not the sort of guy to write Manic Pixie Dream Girl stories, we’ve seen that with Being John Malkovich and we’ve seen that with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and we’ll see it here. Before we even get to their sex scene, we know Lisa is nothing special: in fact, she might in fact be less than average and Leigh gives a wonderful performance that exudes individuality and lust for life to separate her from Stone’s moroseness and Noonan’s background voice without taking away from how frankly dumb Lisa seems to be. The movie may take Stone’s side on his depression towards the world; it does not agree with Stone that his infidelity is his potential salvation from it, though. That means it’s only a matter of time before watching this collapse and seeing if Stone is ready to pick up the pieces or Lisa pick herself from how essentially used she is.

And that means recognizing that our two distinctive characters are not that great to spend time, even time as little as 90 minutes. Anomalisa is not an easy or breezy film to get through and doesn’t really leave any place for us to stand on Stone and Lisa’s relationship. One is the sort of pathetic middle-aged man that we’ve seen in many many films well before Kaufman even started writing and the other is an albeit innocent imbecile with not much personality but assumed to have personality in her. We’re meant to see the former as the protagonist but we can’t root for him, while the latter is barely allowed to be seen as anywhere near interesting lest the film actually betray itself (though, admittedly, Kaufman gives Lisa an unexpected show of growth in the very last scene that actually had me leave the film with a big smile on my face).

I can’t say Kaufman has grown as much of a filmmaker until I see him do another movie without a co-director (it seems like Johnson has done a lot more of the practical work, him being the one with an actual background in animation), but I can say that in spite of Anomalisa not really connecting with me on a human level as much as I would have liked to (same as Synecdoche, New York, this time the problem not being the attachment Kaufman holds on his characters, but instead the distance he holds them at), it is a one-of-a-kind movie that I’d call essential viewing for a cinephile. It’s very rare to see a movie THIS grounded in the concept of emotions and humans in the real world be allowed to be animated, without any of the story exactly demanding an animated presentation (the only other movies I can think of doing this are Grave of the Fireflies and maybe When the Wind Blows, though the latter started as a comic already), and yet Kaufman and Johnson make it matter, make the artificiality of the animation give so much definition to the emotional and psychological state the characters are in that I couldn’t possibly imagine the movie being anywhere near as effective as it is (though I understand the stage production had the sex scene being staged as the two actors standing far apart and simply making noises… I’m intrigued by this). In a world of animation that dedicates itself these days to making animated films mandate certain necessities (even if the year hasn’t really been that weak for animation honestly), Anomalisa tears that apart and that truly makes it an anomaly.

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The Place Beyond the Metaphor

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Charlie Kaufman is one of the most intelligent and witty screenwriters in the business today. There is no possible way to get around that. He’s full of logic-twisting and grandiose ideas that never fall apart despite the threat of fragility from complexity. And when his drafts are helmed as features by the likes of Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, the movies they end up becoming are limitless spans of emotion and thought given visual heft and thematic gravity. And that’s largely because of how well Kaufman cleans up by the time his scripts for Being John MalkovichAdaptation., and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind move to production. He’s too damn amazing as a writer.

As a director is another story, though. Here we have his directorial debut of Synecdoche, New York, which premiered to much anticipation (including my own, though I was also mixed with trepidation when I heard about it) in the 2008 Festival du Cannes and the most miraculous thing about it is how it doesn’t entirely fail as a movie, but it doesn’t appear to concern itself with much except being another great big lens at Kaufman’s life, with the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman giving one of my favorite performances of his career as the Kaufman surrogate in the story, and throwing aside any possibility for commentary about Kaufman’s life with just a fascination with death.

This sort of self-reflection, right down to having one of the final notes being the death of an in-text representation of Kaufman’s ego, was already done to brilliant degree 6 years prior to Synecdoche when he transformed what was meant to be an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief into a surprisingly powerful meta-story with Spike Jonze’s AdaptationAnd Synecdoche doesn’t bring anything new in the movie that supersedes that movie’s commentary (I even frankly prefer Cage’s manic and impressive dual portrayal of the Kaufman twins as ids, though Hoffman’s visual awareness of Cotard’s physical deterioration and delicate handling of the character as both human and symbol brilliant) – indeed, the fact that Synecdoche feels necessary to revisit Kaufman’s life so redundantly feels honestly egotistical. Add to that the naval-gazing manner of having Kaufman himself direct his own script about himself leading a character based on himself who later on directs a character based on the character and it gets me less enthused by the film’s repetitions, which is only one of many – the most notable the recurrence of funeral scenes to go with the funereal manner of the picture’s certainty that everything is such a toilet flush to death.

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Even before the plot truly kicks off its bold concept of theatre director Caden Cotard’s (Hoffman) project growing an impossibly large and working copy of Manhattan within a magically expansive warehouse in the Theatre District, Cotard is already suffering from one after another of physical ailments that look not at all unpleasant and is having trouble communicating with his young daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) about the concept of disease or even that one has blood inside his or her body, to the chagrin of Caden’s fellow-artist wife Adele (Catherine Keener). Indeed, that proves to be one of several things that lead Adele and Olive to leave briefly on a trip to Germany that proves to be interminable and leaves Caden completely alone and alienated in his work.

And so Caden, certain he is going to die soon and with nothing to be tied to otherwise, puts the whole of himself into his project of building an entire city in the theater and watches as the little plot details pop up on their own in both his own life (namely affairs he has with women throughout) and in the play itself, no matter how hard Caden tries to control everything. And as Caden focuses on the play, the rest of the life he thinks he doesn’t have zooms right past as before he knows it, he ends up seeing his daughter grown up, his wife is dead, and time just keeps melting along with the rest of the meta elements.

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I know that it reads like unpacking the narrative is remarkably complicated, but it’s not (I’m largely just trying to avoid major spoilers, since this is still a Kaufman screenplay). The truth in Kaufman’s direction comes in the fact that despite all it’s branches, the theme is clear and present, and that’s largely because Kaufman isn’t as sophisticated a director as Jonze or Gondry to really twist the movie around and force the audience to unpack things on their own. Does it have some pretty unforgettable images? Honestly, yes, moments within the film are gems of beauty like when the now adult Olive (Robin Weigert) has a flower tattoo whose petals fall off, but everything is painted as a giant sign for us to recognize and associate with Kaufman’s thoughts on death and it’s not as rewarding an experience as I would have had if the movie were as insistent on the audience’s participation like Mulholland Dr.

This also means that Kaufman’s usage of his way-too-overqualified ensemble – from Weigert to Keener to Dianne Wiest to Jennifer Jason Leigh to Emily Watson to Samantha Morton – reduces a lot of them to just fitting in the movie as another set of symbols rather than full personalities. Hoffman’s able to break from it, though Kaufman obviously gives Caden a lot more love than usual, Tom Noonan gets to play with his character a lot more (he and Leigh are certainly the funniest in show), and Michelle Williams gets to break hard enough into her anger to make her absence matter and be felt (but again that just leads right back into Kaufman’s obsession with himself since the character ends up being another of Caden’s affairs).

If this closed-off self-examination seems somewhat alienating, it’s not entirely impenetrable thanks to Hoffman’s emotional output and Jon Brion’s tiny minimalist score telling us everything about the emotional mapping that the cast and crew are too tied up to allow. There is at least something at the core of Synecdoche, New York to walk out with and it’s not a disaster, but it wears everything it is about early on before turning slowly into tone poem by the ending beats (I admit I actually admire the how it carries itself to its inevitable conclusion) and is a lot more self-satisfied with its miseries that it doesn’t allow itself to open up to any other facets of humanity except life sucks and then we die. Maybe that’s what Gondry and Jonze have that Kaufman didn’t, a genuinely joviality and humor that doesn’t distill Kaufman’s insights, just makes them easier to go down.

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STinG’s Last-Minute Predictions for Nominations in the 88th Academy Awards (w/ dem reactive revisions now)

Tomorrow morning, the Oscar nominees are announced and so I just wanted to pipe in with my own ideas of who I think will be nominated comes that broadcast, with some sporadic commentary in some of the categories as to why I picked so and so.

And now to take stock of what I got wrong and what I got right.

THE BIG SHORT 2

BEST PICTURE

  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Carol
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight
  • Straight Outta Compton

Missing: Brooklyn
Not nominated: Carol and Straight Outta Compton
Initial prediction to win: Spotlight
My initial champion (acknowledging that I have not seen The Revenant): Mad Max: Fury Road

Straight Outta Compton‘s strength on the road has come out of nowhere so it’s almost certain to be nominated, but I don’t think it’s enough to knock Room out of memory so I’m predicting 9 nominations this year.

Turns out to be 8 nominations just like everybody except my daring ass had predicted. Straight Outta Compton‘s nomination surprises me just a bit (that DGA nomination really solidified its last-minute chances), but the dismissal of Carol outright shocks me. It seemed like an absolute lock by this point, except for Oscar not feeling the same. Such a shame that the two nomination favorites abandoned are a lesbian drama and a black biopic. Especially when the former was a better movie than most of these nominees. But hey congrats to Brooklyn!

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BEST DIRECTOR

  • Lenny Abrahamson, Room
  • Todd Haynes, Carol
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
  • Thomas McCarthy, Spotlight
  • Adam McKay, The Big Short
  • George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Ridley Scott, The Martian

Missing: Lenny Abrahamson and Adam McKay
Not Nomination: Haynes and Scott
Initial Prediction to Win: Inarritu

Initial Personal Champion (Again, not having seen The Revenant): Miller

I’d really like to pretend this is an absolute lock, but the Oscars do love Steven Spielberg and Adam McKay has a really showy bootleg-Wolf-of-Wall-Street movie.

No Best Picture nomination means absolutely no Best Director nomination for Todd Haynes, who once again goes completely ignored by the Academy while Adam McKay’s frankly bullish style surprises nobody but disappoints me and Abrahamson shoves his own way in there. Abrahamson’s work on Room was not too bad, but I’d rather have seen even Scott on this list than McKay.

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BEST ACTOR

  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Initial Prediction to Win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Initial Personal Champion (no see The Revenant or Trumbo yet): *sigh*, I guess Fassbender.

This is such a lock. This is locked completely. This is the stone-cold lock of the century of the week. There wasn’t that many leading performances to care for, anyway (Indeed I’m kind of bothered that Damon and Redmayne have got such certainty with such unimpressive performances. I did not even see Cranston or DiCaprio yet). I’m just really sad that Tom Hanks and Tom Courtenay.

What’d I tell ya? Right down to the lack of Tom *sobs* Court- *sobs* -te- *sobs* -nay *sobs*.

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BEST ACTRESS

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Initial Prediction to Win: Larson
Initial Champion (not having seen Joy yet): I don’t know even know, the four I’ve seen are all so good. I’ll just say Rampling to put an answer in, but this is a pretty great nominee set – Mara’s disappointing but unsurprising absence and Lawrence’s presence not withstanding.
If we live in a beautiful world where Rooney Mara gets in here, switch Rampling out for Mara. But I don’t think we live in such a beautiful world. Just look at that Jennifer Lawrence nomination.
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BEST SUPP. ACTOR

  • Christian Bale, The Big Short
  • Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
  • Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Missing: Hardy
Not Nominated: Elba
Initial Prediction to Win: Stallone
Initial Champion (not having seen The Revenant): Rylance

Who knows? Maybe Keaton or Jacob Tremblay can break their way into this. But I’m pretty confident.

God damn, Oscar hates Netflix THAT FUCKING MUCH. So, it’s all in all a pretty much expected slate even if we were really optimistic about Elba’s chances of nomination. But this is also starting to mirror the previous Oscar ceremony’s whole habit of feeling super-duper white in an icky fashion.

YOUTH 2

BEST SUPP. ACTRESS

  • Jane Fonda, Youth
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Missing: McAdams
Not Nominated: Fonda
Initial Prediction to Win: Winslet.
Initial Personal Champion: Sorry, Mara, but I’m going with Leigh.

If the world is beautiful and we get Mara in Lead Actress, I guess one can put Rachel McAdams in her place, but this seems almost as locked as Best Actor. Category Fraud and all – Leigh and Vikander are practically a co-leads like Mara and Fonda is more or less a glorified cameo (though she does fight to steal the entire movie away from Keitel, Weisz, and Caine).

Cool, the first slot in which I’ve seen all the nominees. No hate to Fonda, but it was pretty weird to see where when – good as she was – her one scene felt like it derailed Youth a bit for me before getting on track. She could have belonged on this list more than Vikander though (unless they had given Vikander a nomination for Ex Machina).

Straight Outta Compton

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, & Alan Wenkus – Straight Outta Compton
  • Matt Charman & Joel and Ethan Coen – Bridge of Spies
  • Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, & Meg LeFauve – Inside Out
  • Alex Garland – Ex Machina
  • Thomas McCarthy & Josh Singer – Spotlight
  • Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight

Missing: Garland
Not Nominated: Tarantino
Initial Prediction to Win: McCarthy & Singer
Personal Champion: Cooley, Docter, & LeFauve

Wow, Tarantino is out and a pleasantly surprising nomination for Ex Machina instead! Fantastic! This is the best surprise to me so far!

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BEST ADAPT. SCREENPLAY 

  • Emma Donoghue, Room
  • Drew Goddard, The Martian
  • Nick Hornby, Brooklyn
  • Adam McKay & Charles Randolph – The Big Short
  • Phyllis Nagy, Carol
  • Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs

Missing: McKay & Randolph
Not Nominated: Sorkin
Initial Prediction to Win: Goddard
Personal Champion: Nagy

Not as pleasant a surprise, but since I never even predicted a Best Picture nomination for Steve Jobs, I guess I was just really expecting it to be based on Oscar’s love for Sorkin. But now that we’ve reached a year where both Sorkin and Tarantino have had a movie out and missed writing nominations, anything can happen!

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BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • Labyrinth of Lies
  • Mustang
  • Son of Saul
  • Theeb
  • A War

Missing: Theeb
Not Nominated: Labyrinth of Lies
Initial Prediction to Win: Son of Saul
I have not seen any of these movies yet and have no champion.

Not even a fragment of a chance for The Assassin.

No Assassin like nobody’s business, but the nomination for the Jordanian Theeb gives the Arab world some representation so I can dig it a bit. Still I need to see these films… especially Son of Saul was in my Cannes-hound eye for a while.

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Anomalisa
  • Boy & the World
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • When Marnie Was There
  • The Peanuts Movie

Missing: Boy & the WorldShaun the Sheep MovieWhen Marnie Was There
Not Nominated: The Peanuts Movie
Initial Prediction to Win: Inside Out
Initial Personal Champion: Shit, I’m between Inside Out and Boy & the World.

I was way too pessimistic about the chances of the non-American, non-English pictures, but… love to The Peanuts Movie aside, this is a fantastic slate that I’m glad for. Especially to see Boy & the World and When Marnie Was There get their due.

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BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Amy
  • Best of Enemies
  • Cartel Land
  • Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Missing: What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire
Not Nominated: Best of Enemies and Going Clear
Initial Prediction to Win: Amy
I have only seen two of these, but I think The Look of Silence is unflappable and Amy is kind of ethically challenged, so is there any doubt about what I’m rooting for?

I already know how it’ll go. The Look of Silence will lose at the ceremony and I will cry.

No to the politics and especially no to the documentary that hits against a major Hollywood-based institution and played primarily on television. I don’t know why I was surprised, because in retrospect, I shouldn’t be at Going Clear‘s snub. Meh, I got no other feelings for it. The Look of Silence deserved it more than anyone.

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Roger Deakins, Sicario
  • Edward Lachman, Carol
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
  • Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight
  • John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road

Initial Prediction to Win: Deakins
Personal Champion (not having seen The Revenant): Mad Max: Fury Road

I think Oscar’s love for Spielberg may be strong enough to have Janusz Kaminski muscle the relatively unimpressive (in The Hateful Eight) Richardson out, but Kaminski wasn’t a revelation either and everybody else here is pretty damn rock solid in their spot.

What did I tell ya? WHAT DID I TELL YA? Anyway, to go along with my going with this semi-unexpected but proven to be truthful slate, even though there’s a lot of love for Lubezki’s work this year, I don’t think Oscar will be keen on streaks enough to let the dude get a third consecutive one. Deakins has lost way too many times and people are also giving huge raves for him. It may be Deakins’ year. We’ll see if I feel similar come Oscar week.

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BEST FILM EDITING

  • Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Hank Corwin – The Big Short
  • Tom McArdle – Spotlight
  • Stephen Mirrione – The Revenant
  • Pietro Scalia – The Martian
  • Margaret Sixel – Mad Max: Fury Road

Missing: Brandon and Markey
Not Nominated: Scalia
Initial Prediction: McArdle
Personal Champion (haven’t seen The Revenant): Sixel

I feel I’m really betting a bit too much against The Revenant to be comfortable (especially on Best Picture), but I’m wondering if Oscar wants those streaks again. I have a whole month to muse on this. Look, Star Wars nomination! *runs off*

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Jenny Beavan – Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Paco Delgado – The Danish Girl
  • Odile Dicks-Mireaux – Brooklyn
  • Kate Hawley – Crimson Peak
  • Sandy Powell – Carol
  • Sandy Powell – Cinderella
  • Jacqueline West – The Revenant

Missing: Beavan and West
Not Nominated: Dicks-Mireaux and Hawley
Initial Prediction and Personal Champion (not having seen The Revenant): Powell for Carol

Do I think Mad Max: Fury Road deserves a nomination here? Yes, but I think it deserves a nomination everywhere anyway. I think it deserves a nomination for fucking Guitar Guy in Best Original Song. Do I think it will get that nomination here, even if its in the visual element? No. Not with Sandy Powell double-threating and all the other lovely period works that this category has adoration for.

Man, do I love being proven wrong. I haven’t seen Crimson Peak yet so I don’t if it deserves the loss as much, but I’m glad to see Beavan up there.

HATEFUL EIGHT 2

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Carter Burwell – Carol
  • Alexandre Desplat – The Danish Girl
  • Johann Johannsson – Sicario
  • Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight
  • Thomas Newman – Bridge of Spies
  • John Williams – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Missing: Johannsson
Not Nominated: Desplat
Initial Prediction and Personal Champion: Morricone

In my dreams, Michael Giacchino is surprisingly announced tomorrow morning for Jupiter Ascending but nobody wants to admit they liked anything from that movie. Nobody except me.

Desplat’s score was my first disappointment from the man in a long time, so I have no qualms with his lack of nomination (I still dream of Giacchino). And love for both Carol and Burwell aside (they’re totally my second place here in this category), but I just can’t put down a good Morricone score, no matter what movie it’s from.

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Jack Fisk, The Revenant
  • Colin Gibson, Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Arthur Max, The Martian
  • Eve Stewart, The Danish Girl
  • Adam Stockhausen, Bridge of Spies
  • Ethan Tobman, Room

Missing: Fisk
Not Nominated: Tobman
Initial Prediction and Personal Champion (not having seen The Revenant): Gibson

Aw man, I thought Tobman was worth a nomination. Oh well, welcome back to the side of the nominees, Fisk, and I trust when I see the movie tomorrow, you won’t disappoint me.

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BEST HAIR AND MAKE-UP

  • Black Mass
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Mr. Holmes
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  • The Revenant

Missing: Mad Max and The Revenant 
Not Nominated: Black Mass and Mr. Holmes 
Initial Prediction: Hundred-Year-Old Man
I’ve only seen Mad Max.

Dat lock on dem locks.

Well, not as locked as I thought at all. Got damn. Well, it’s anybody’s guess.

bridge-of-spies-movie

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Mad Max: Fury Road 
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Missing: The Martian
Not Nominated: Straight Outta Compton
Initial Prediction and Personal Champion (not having seen The Revenant): Mad Max: Fury Road

I guess a music biopic doesn’t cement a Sound Mixing nomination as much as one would expect. I don’t have much of a bother out of this slate either.

REVENANT 4

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Missing: Sicario
Not Nominated: The Hateful Eight
Initial Prediction to Win: The Revenant
Personal Champion (not having seen The Revenant): Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Ok, I guess. I mean, Sicario probably belongs to be on here, but not at the loss of the chilly soundscape of The Hateful Eight, I feel.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Jurassic World
  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Missing: Ex Machina and The Revenant
Not Nominated: Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World
Initial Prediction to Win and Personal Champion (I’m sure The Revenant not being considered by me yet is a given, right?): Mad Max: Fury Road

Because bigger is better, amirite?

Wowee, I did not expect the snub for Jurassic World. It looks like the Oscars are playing a lot smarter with more subtle effects and leanings towards the ambitiously practical more than the outright CGI (though of course all of these films have some notable CGI work). And more Ex Machina nominations make me a happy man.

AND THE REST OF THE THINGS I DON’T NEARLY HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT…

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Cold One” – Ricki & the Flash
  • “Love Me Like You Do” – Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Earned It” – Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Manta Ray” – Racing Extinction
  • “See You Again” – Furious 7
  • “Simple Song #3” – Youth
  • “’Til It Happens to You” – The Hunting Ground
  • “Writing’s on the Wall” – Spectre

Missing: “Earned It”, “Manta Ray”, and “Writing’s on the Wall”
Not Nominated: “Cold One”, “See You Again” and “Love Me Like You Do”
Initial Prediction: “Writing’s on the Wall”
Personal Champion: “Simple Song #3”

So I got the wrong Fifty Shades song and good god, are we so absent of worth nominees that “Writing’s on the Wall” gets a nomination? Ick.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

  • Bear Story
  • If I Was God…
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow

Initial Prediction to Win: Sanjay’s Super Team 
Initial Champion (having not seen Cosmos or If I Was God…): World of Tomorrow

Oh boy oh boy, another Hertzfeldt nomination!

I love it when a plan comes together. Honestly, even the ones I haven’t seen look really good.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

  • Body Team 12
  • Chau, Beyond the Lines
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  • A Girl in the River – The Price of Forgiveness
  • Lady Day of Freedom
  • Minerita
  • My Enemy My Brother

Missing: Chau and Last Day of Freedom
Not Nominated: Minerita and My Enemy My Brother
Initial Prediction to Win: Last Day of Freedom or Lanzmann
I have not seen any of the nominations.

Claude Lanzmann has all the things Oscar loves – using this category to look at atrocities of history + Oscar’s penchant for loving movie history. And he needs to be given his due.

Lanzmann’s win may be seen as an unofficial honorary Oscar for his dedication to documenting the Holocaust, everything is a might touchy for Oscar, but in ’15, maybe the Academy will want to show their solidarity against racism (the huge lack of black nominees not withstanding) by letting Last Day of Freedom win.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
  • Ave Maria
  • Day One
  • Everything Will Be Okay
  • Shok
  • Stutterer

Initial Prediction to Win: Shok 
I have seen absolutely none of these and have so comments at all except…

Told ya so…

So what do YOU guys think? Accurate? Think you oughtta call bullshit on a few things. How about you guys? Do you have anything to say “told you so” to me about? Anything you doubted me where I proved my oracle skills? What are your thoughts on the slate overall? Glad? Sad? Gotta pee? Hit me up in the comments.

FILM REVIEW – THE REVENANT

THE REVENANT POSTER

The word ‘grotesque’ is the perfect word to describe Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant. It is simultaneously one of the most beautiful and one of the most disgusting films I’ve ever seen in my life. Shockingly graphic and realistic images of scalpings, guttings and bear attacks are often immediately followed by breathtakingly gorgeous and serene images of nature. It’s unnerving. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe how beautiful The Revenant is. It’s a goddamn work of art and solidifies Inarritu as one of the most important artists of our time. This is groundbreaking filmmaking.

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The story of The Revenant is relatively straight forward. A French frontier man Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) guides a group of fur traders (Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter) through the icy wilderness. When Glass gets his shit rocked by a bear, he’s left for dead and must survive on his own. Glass goes through a series of unbelievably painful and harrowing challenges. He has a series of deeply symbolic prophetic dreams. He won’t rest until he gets his revenge.

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Far and away the most unspectacular thing about The Revenant is the screenplay. Compromised of not many words, characters for the most part  speak in a way that only progresses the plot. Early scenes involving Glass telling his half-Native American son “You are my son!” over and over again get a bit silly and repetitive. All the technical aspects of The Revenant are astonishing. Innaritu’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography are far and away the best elements of the film. Using only natural light, Lubezki captures nature as this beautiful but sinister force. All of the battle sequences are tightly shot and compromised of several long-lasting single tracking shots. As an audience member, you feel like you are right in the middle of it, exhilarated beyond belief and scared out of your fucking mind. Inarritu and Lubezki’s images are powerful on their own but when supported by seamless film editing, crisp sound editing and a powerful score, they are transcendent.

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So much has been said about Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance and for good reason. For years the actor has been playing it safe with relatively straight forward performances. Here he completely pushes himself out of his comfort zone and the results are compelling. However, for as good as he is the character itself seems underwritten. We never get a feel of who exactly Glass is other than a desperate man trying to survive. The story gives him a son and a dead wife, but not much in the way of a personality. The same can not be said for Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald, who is a wholly realized villain driven by the inability to trust anyone due to past traumas. I’d argue the best performance of the film is given by Hardy, inarguably the most nuanced performance in the film. Hardy makes this character instantly unlikeable without ever going over-the-top with it. Perhaps what makes this character so hard to watch is that he doesn’t relish in being the villain. In age where charismatic and flamboyant antagonists are the norm, Hardy gives us a truly despicable prick. He hates himself and everything around him, this is a man who is incapable of enjoying anything.

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The Revenant runs two hours and thirty-eight minutes, but it never once loses your interest. It’s long and grueling, much like Glass’ journey, but you won’t soon forget it. Grade: A- 

 

Is There Life on Mars?

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In Director Ridley Scott and writer Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andrew Weir’s bestselling novel The Martian, the Ares III mission for NASA is in the middle of its month-long trip on the planet Mars when a storm arrives sooner than expected and the crew is forced to evacuate the planet. Only one member is unable to return to the ship in time for take-off, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), and when his bio-monitor reads to Cdr. Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of the mission’s crew as dead, they are forced to leave Mars immediately for the safety of the rest of the team.

That is the closest the movie comes at all to communicating any level of danger towards its characters. And it doesn’t even prove fatal for, you see, Watney’s bio-monitor was simply damaged by debris when he was caught in the storm. He’s still alive.

And thus the rest of the nearly 2 and a half hour runtime of the movie is spent with Watney considering his scenario and what is left of the Hab and getting straight to finding his way to get off and survive this space island. In an extremely breezy 2 and a half hours, by the way. The movie is not much threatening or weighty or even really full of momentum to its plot, but what Scott does do is make sure that the movie still feels kind of fun – what with the help of Damon’s extraordinarily high spirited performance as Watney (the guy is a clear distance away from Sandra Bullock’s fearful uncertainty in Gravity, another movie that’s basically space Cast Away) and Goddard giving not only Watney a bunch of hyper-Whedonesque (having previously worked with the one-line machine on The Cabin in the Woods) monologues to spit to various video diary entries but hyper-Whedon dialogue to spin around in the scenes focusing on the men and women in NASA trying to figure out a way to bring Watney home safe. Of course, the case of that self-satisfied writing, your mileage will eventually give out – but the dialogue does more than to just make characters look oh so smart and oh so witty. It also lets the movie introduce several logical games to play – from what Watney will do to communicate with the folks on Earth to how they’ll be able to pick him up on their go-round Mars. It doesn’t exactly justify stretching out a plot to the length The Martian is, but it does give it some semblance of a plot.

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It probably would have done better if it gave everybody who isn’t Watney or Lewis some semblance of characters. But hey, we can’t have everything. Even when the members of NASA and the Ares III team are played by such accomplished actors as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, and Donald Glover, I cannot think of a single distinguishing characteristic between them all and most of their appearance becomes a nuisance when it goes into either forced drama between characters like the director of NASA (Daniels) and Ares III’s mission director (Bean) or just outright tangents where Goddard really to show how much he learned from Joss Whedon by having them snark briefly while discussing the life-and-death situation of a man to talk about Tolkien references. It really shows just how useless the movie feels when it muddles around in moments like this.

But that’s fine because even when it does, Scott is really back in formidable style. It may feel like Goddard’s movie when you watch it because of how all the characters don’t really shut up (which gets in the way of making Watney feel, I don’t know, isolated? Like he’s supposed to) but the visual aspect is among the most immersive experiences I can remember having in a year where visual effects feel kind of easy to call out amongst movies like Avengers: Age of UltronJurassic WorldStar Wars: The Force Awakens, and so on. No, the truth here is that it’s hard to tell where the photographically impressive visual effects end and Arthur Max’s production design begin and vice-versa when they both are so seamlessly brought together in a bold orange Martian landscape and cold industrial tone for the NASA scenes by Darius Wolski, while editor Pietro Scalia and Scott’s choice of framing for the dialogue scenes make this craft hidden in plain sight for us. It doesn’t call attention to itself – which is a shame since it may be the best thing the movie has going for it and is the finest work Scott has done in a long while – but it lets the rest of the film feel more lived-in than its script should have earned.

And so in the end, we have a film that’s made really well as spectacle, even if it’s going to pretend it’s not that, with a lead performance of Damon that is interested strictly in keeping the crowd amused while figuring out his way around puzzles to keep himself alive. But since those very puzzles never once feel like they won’t be solved and we never get the sense, try as much as the film would, that Watney’s death is just around the corner – even when we see more than one abrupt scene of an explosion – there’s just not much more weight or immediacy to the movie than Gravity or Apollo 13. It is regrettably forgettable. The fact that it’s all but certain to be a Best Picture nominee has much to state about the state of 2015 cinema. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to enjoy in the moment, just that we won’t be taking home any of its unchallenging thoughts or scenarios after. We’ll leave them right back on the rock where we met them.

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Viewer, Beware… You’re Not in for Much…

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So, if you actually kind of cared that a Goosebumps movie existed and came out in October of last year, raise your hand.

I can swear there are only a few of you that raised your hand and not because this blog has obviously painfully low readership. It’s because Goosebumps is not really as recognizable a property as people would like to think. When R.L. Stine’s children’s horror story series was at its peak, it was in its original run of 1992-1997 with children going through school wanting to read about monsters.

Being only a month old when the series began, I was able to grow up in elementary school with those books, but now that I’ve grown to the age of 23 and all but removed them from my mind, I wouldn’t say I was jumping at the idea of a Goosebumps movie in my adult life. I may be immune to nostalgia for the most part, but I’d say even the strongest nostalgia couldn’t promise to make a property only semi-popular at a time where it could easily be drowned out by the existence of Are You Afraid of the Dark? or Tales from the Crypt for the really edgy kids to be just as successful almost two decades later. The same apathy is to be said about children today at the age I was when I was reading those books (6-10, I think I mainly read them to get a girl’s attention)… because, you see, those kids aren’t reading Goosebumps these days (or watching the tv series that aired during the same peak of its hype) nor are they missing much by not reading them.

So we’ve got two potential audiences that are still kind of a huge challenge either way you aim the production and advertising, but hey, it’s a miracle that the movie made number one at the box office the weekend that it premiered, hence why I’m writing this review right now. I wouldn’t exactly call it a financial success, but it’s not a failure either.

It just goes to show you Jack Black CAN be a marketable name.

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Because I do like to go back and think about how cool it would be to find out your girlfriend’s dad is in fact Jack Black, but alas no, the premise of the picture is on the young Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette), having moved to Madison, Delaware and within the same day being smitten by the girl next door Hannah (Odeya Rush). Hannah’s father (Black) takes an extremely misanthropic attitude to Zach and forces Hannah behind their home’s walls to alarming degree. This suspicious behavior forces Zach to make a foolhardy attempt to rescue her and, in the middle of this, he and his annoying friend Champ (Ryan Lee without explosives this time) discover the manuscripts of the Goosebumps books inside the house, revealing Black’s character to be R.L. Stine.

Unfortunately those manuscripts are more than that: they bind the actual monsters each book is based on – Slappy the Dummy (also voiced by Black), The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena, The Lawn Gnomes, et. al – within their covers and fictions, and Zach and Champ’s breaking and entering put Slappy in a damn good position to be released and thus open all the manuscripts to be unleashed into the world.

Which is actually a pretty exciting premise concocted by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, to be honest, but it’s not really as centered on Black or that tale as you might like. You see, I entered the synopsis on Cooper and Hannah’s relationship and, even when the monster mash is in full swing, the movie doesn’t ever try to switch the point of view onto Stine. It remains right onto Zach’s relationship to his new town and this girl he clearly has a crush on, only to be sidelined when the movie finds it necessary to address the werewolf chasing them in the supermarket. Much less interested in being a pretty damp and limited comedy (as somebody who really rejects the idea that children’s comedy can’t be accessible to adults, this movie really tripped over itself to be family-friendly) or in a completely unthreatening horror film (which is really sad… the previously referenced Super 8 did a fantastic job at making its characters feel in danger and that’s not even a horror movie), the movie just wants to be an adolescent romance, the one sort of movie this property needs to go out of its way to fit.

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But in truth, I’m not even sure the movie would gain much from focusing on Stine for the rest of the runtime, as much as Black is the best thing the movie ever has going for it. Jack Black occurs to me as the perfect adult actor for a children’s film – a manic energy that translates so easily into juvenilia without alienating or rejecting the aspect that’s a grown dumpy man and an ability to control between the two aspects depending on what the film asks of him (hell, even his voice work for Slappy has personality and autonomy). This time around, he’s leaned more on his adult nature by making Stine a stiffened cartoon of paranoia and suspicion without making the character feel tired in any manner. It probably speaks a lot about the strength of Black’s performance that I don’t bother registering the fact that his character is based on a real person that Black shares no attributes with as far as I have seen, yet it’s entirely plausible to me in the world of the film. But Black’s Stine isn’t enough to actively steal the film away from Minnette or Rush – performances without much character to work with beyond cookie cutter teen protagonist and love interest roles – when the script breaks its back making us look at Zach or Hannah (especially in the third act of the film where a new layer fails to make me care any more than I don’t) nor gives Black many lines to turn into worthwhile comedy or fun. And of course part of that blame could go to editor Jim May, who doesn’t do a bad job per se but every scene Black is not in (which the first act is full of) feels so much like a dearth of liveliness.

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And it’s not like the rest of the underused cast has anything to do to pep the film up as much Black tries – Jillian Bell has some worthy amount of screentime but her character is also clearly annoying by the first line she screeches at Zach, Ken Marino and Amy Ryan are only there to smile and sit like they’re part of the production design with little involvement in the actual meat of the story. Which is only a slight step below how Rob Letterman’s direction doesn’t bother distinguishing this clearly famished genre film possibility from any other high school flick (Agent Cody Banks has more personality than this… Agent Cody Banks, dammit! I can’t think about this film without thinking of Frankie Muniz!). And THAT is only a slight step below how disappointing it is that you’d think a director with background in animation and special effects would have an ability to make their CGI monsters really feel a part of the scene, and there’s moments when he kind of does (the Invisible Boy’s handprints are a really nice touch… pun unintended, what’s wrong with me?), but there’s more moments when it just can’t bother doing much except getting the vampire poodle or giant praying mantis onto the screen and call it a night.

I don’t think any atmosphere would have been lost if this movie were dumped in the middle of summer rather than the month of October. Where it could have been a some kind of spooky fun for kids, it’s just an adolescent flick that only happens to have monsters and the Goosebumps label on it. Which maybe goes back to my initial musing about who Goosebumps could possibly be made for in 2015. Maybe they knew the name doesn’t do much for the picture and maybe they thought it’d be best to make the movie as anonymous as necessary without making any Goosebumps faithful mad.

My question is where could any possible Goosebumps faithful exist to be mad about this movie? And how could anyone possibly see this movie and help it win the box-office weekend except by accident? Am I just being a dummy?

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