Posts Tagged ‘2015 oscars’

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Theory Of Everything (2014)

June 22, 2015

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
Director: James Marsh (Man On Wire)

Bottom Line: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what didn’t sit right with me about The Theory Of Everything, but I just can’t say I loved it. It’s a biopic about the relationship between renowned scientist Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde – and maybe that’s my problem. This is a movie about falling in and out of love, while Stephen’s remarkable achievements in science and his impossible fight to stay alive with ALS feel like background music. That’s not to say the story isn’t interesting or touching – the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are nothing short of remarkable – I just wanted the movie to help me understand what makes Hawking so important to scientific theory, how he defied the odds of ALS, and how he was able to author what is arguably the most notable book of science in our history despite all his physical limitations. The Theory Of Everything skims over all this, at best. What we are left with is two great performances in a mildly moving romcom about a man that is noteworthy for so many other reasons. For 2014 biopics about historic scholars, The Imitation Game is much more my speed.

Replay Value: Feels like a one and done film to me.
Sequel Potential: Biopic, so no.
Oscar Potential: Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor and the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Score, as well as Felicity Jones for Best Actress.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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The Imitation Game (2015)

May 17, 2015

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Director: Morten Tyldum (Headhunters)

Bottom Line: It was interesting timing for me to watch The Imitation Game considering I just watched director Morten Tyldum’s excellent Headhunters last week and a few weeks before that I saw Ex Machina, whose plot is largely centered around something called a Turing Test, which evaluates if a machine can exhibit intelligent behavior similar to that of a human being. I knew nothing of The Imitation Game plot prior to watching it so it was a pleasant surprise to discover it is the story of Alan Turing, a highly regarded British mathematician and cryptanalyst for whom the Turing Test was named after.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives his typical wonderful performance as Turing, a man whose awkward genius and social ineptitude isn’t that far removed Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes portrayal on his BBC series. He plays Turing with a touch less narcissism and quite a bit more vulnerability. Indeed, Turing was a homosexual in a time (the 1940s-1950s) when such a thing wasn’t just frowned upon, it was prosecutable. While the film spends time detailing his arrest for gross indecency and flashes back to his schooling as a youth and the formation of his first meaningful relationship with another boy, the majority of the film highlights his time at Bletchley Park, a British codebreaking centre, working with a team of fellow geniuses and trying to crack Enigma, a machine used by Nazi Germany to send coded military messages.

The Imitation Game is an amazing and heartbreaking story, in which one of the greatest (unknown) heroes of World War II is later vilified by his country for something we now view as socially acceptable. The film combines drama and humor exceptionally well. Turing is portrayed as a flawed, often self-centered human being, but still someone that is quite easy to root for. Cumberbatch is worthy of his Oscar nomination and Keira Knightley is also great as one of his fellow codebreakers and continues to solidify her status as what I consider to be The Next Kate Winslet.

The Imitation Game delivers on all levels with a great story and top notch acting. Alan Turing is a man whose time and contributions to our world should never be forgotten. The posthumous pardon he was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 was long overdue.

Replay Value: This is definitely a film worth watch again and probably worth owning.
Sequel Potential: N/A
Oscar Potential: Won Best Adapted Screenplay. Cumberbatch and Knightley received acting nominations, Tyldum a directing nom, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, film editing, production design, and score.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Birdman (2014)

May 3, 2015

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros, Babel)

Bottom Line: Birdman is a brilliant piece of filmmaking from director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s shot and edited in a way that makes it seem like the first two hours of the film were done entirely in one take. While the reality is a bit different, this format still required several long takes and tedious acting and timing from the film’s performers. What results is a seamless journey through a New York theater and the mind of a former Hollywood action star named Riggan – played wonderfully by Michael Keaton – as he tries to reinvent and endear himself to the masses by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway show.

While Birdman isn’t my favorite film of 2014, it’s easy to see why the Academy and critics seemed to agree that it was the best one. From a technical standpoint, they are probably right. It’s also a great character study, as Keaton’s Riggan is quite mystifying – it can be difficult to tell reality from fantasy. What is clear is his desire to break free of the character that made him famous years before, as Riggan is in constant battle with Birdman’s voice in his head. Riggan is certainly more focused on his relationship with his “celebrity” than he is with those in his own personal life. He barely notices his daughter (Stone) even though she works with him in the theater and his love affair with one of his co-stars hardly seems to register with him. This is a man that is highly self-involved. He’s too entrenched with his own demons to notice anyone else’s.

Birdman gives us great performances across the board. It’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from Keaton – by a large margin. It’s hard to imagine that Riggan could have been played by anyone else. Edward Norton gives the film’s best performance, however, as Mike Shiner, an established Broadway star that is hired at the last minute to replace one of the show’s actors after an unfortunate “accident.” Shiner is a difficult person and wastes little time in making an enemy of Riggan – suggesting changes in dialogue during his first read through and insisting on drinking real alcohol during rehearsals. Norton plays the role gleefully and provides numerous laughs in the film. The rest of the ensemble cast is sharp and everyone does well with the difficult shooting format.

I thought Birdman was a great film. It’s one that is tough to digest after one viewing and requires a bit deeper thinking, so it’s possible I could one day view it as a masterpiece. The one take style is unique and adds to the film’s wonder instead of coming across gimmicky. Keaton and Norton give stunning performances. I don’t think Birdman is for everyone – it’s a bit grimy and plenty difficult – but for serious filmgoers, it’s a clear must see.

Replay Value: Multiple viewings required.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Crushed the Oscars, winning statues for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, while being nominated in five other categories, including acting noms for Keaton, Norton, and Stone. Interestingly, Birdman did not receive a nomination in film editing, which kind of boggles my mind.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)

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Nightcrawler (2014)

April 28, 2015

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
Director: Dan Gilroy

Bottom Line: Nightcrawler is one of the best films of 2014. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a knockout performance as Louis Bloom, a sociopath that has absolutely no moral compass and will go to any length to reach his goals. In this case, the goal is to become Los Angeles’ most prominent nightcrawler – a job that requires him to listen to police scanners so he can be the first person on the scene with a video camera in order to take exclusive footage he can sell off to local news stations. And what do they want? White people in good neighborhoods – dead – and preferably killed by minorities. Or gruesome accidents. It’s a perfectly sleazy job for a seedy person like Louis Bloom. It’s amusing watching him flounder while figuring out the ropes of nightcrawling, but he’s sharp, so he quickly becomes adept at it. Of course, he needs just a little bit of help, which he gets by hiring a homeless man named Rick (Ahmed) for $30 a night to help him navigate to crime scenes. And it’s his relationship with Rick that best illustrates exactly how self-centered Louis is – this is a man that has no friends and truly cares about no one other than himself. Rene Russo checks in as the graveyard news editor for Channel 6, the company Louis exclusively sells his material to. Although it’s more subtle, she’s no less despicable than Louis – she cares more about putting out product than her own self-respect and she also appears to have no line she won’t cross for a scoop. And she’s certainly willing to air whatever Louis shoots no matter how questionable it may be. It’s a decent performance from Russo, but the character is more interesting than the acting is.

Director Dan Gilroy does a great job in his directorial debut. Watching Louis and Rick navigate the streets of L.A. really brings you into the city and almost makes it a character all of its own. He keeps Nightcrawler intriguing before reaching one of the most intensely suspenseful climaxes I’ve seen in quite some time. Nightcrawler really pulled me in from the opening scene and didn’t let me loose until the end credits. It was probably the most riveting film I saw in all of 2014. I think it’s borderline criminal that Gyllenhaal didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his acting work here. While I haven’t seen some of the nominated performances (soon!), it’s pretty clear that he does better work here than Bradley Cooper does in American Sniper. He’s creepy. He’s unsettling. He’s a sociopath to the T. It’s truly great work from Jake here.

Nightcrawler is a great film with a stunning performance from Gyllenhaal. It’s as entertaining as any film I saw in 2014 and the climax is breath-stoppingly awesome. Much like the car crashes and murders Louis films, it’s a film so grimy you just can’t take your eyes off it.

Replay Value: Seen it twice… it’s probably worth owning. I loved it, but it does lose some of its suspense the second time around.
Sequel Potential: Not the kind of film that should have a sequel.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but Gyllenhaal probably should have gotten an acting nom and I have seen Best Picture noms I liked less than this movie.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Big Hero 6 (2014)

April 1, 2015

Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung
Director: Don Hall (Winnie The Pooh), Chris Williams (Bolt)

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?”

Bottom Line: Big Hero 6 is solid animated entry from Disney that explores the world of San Fransokyo – a hybrid of the two obvious cities that is beautifully rendered here – and a group of young, genius-level student/inventors. At it’s core, it’s a film about the relationship between brothers Hiro and Tadashi, tragically cut short by a fire and explosion at a convention, but continued on through Tadashi’s invention Baymax – a loveable, inflatable robot programmed to serve as a walking, talking first aid kit and medical assistant. Watching Baymax and Hiro bond – similar to John Connor and the T-800 20 years ago – is the highlight of the film. When Hiro bands the group of inventors together to form a high-tech superhero team, things get a bit less focused and therefore less interesting. The film works better as a character study than as the superhero team origin story that it actually is. As is, I thought Big Hero 6 was a fun movie that lost a bit of steam in its climax.

Replay Value: Not the keeper I was expecting it to be.
Sequel Potential: Lots of potential for further adventures here.
Oscar Potential: Winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar – but really not even as good as The Lego Movie, which wasn’t even nominated.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Whiplash (2014)

March 30, 2015

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons,
Director: Damien Chazelle

“Can’t? When did you become a fucking expert on what I can or cannot do, you fucking weepy-willow shit sack?”

Bottom Line: My first thought concerning Whiplash was that I liked it but that I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it and my second thought was that I needed to watch it again. Immediately. For a film that doesn’t have a ton of depth for its lead characters, it still managed to pretty much blow me away. This is a story about passion and how far one is willing to go to achieve their goals. It’s a jazz-fueled version of 8 Mile with drums instead of rapping. Only better – and that’s coming from a hip-hop aficionado and Eminem fanatic that could really care less about jazz music.

Whiplash seems to be saying that greatness can be achieved if you’re willing to strive to improve despite any abuse or obstacles thrown your way. Miles Teller’s character Andrew Neimann is an aspiring drummer attending an elite music school where the top jazz ensemble is conducted by a dominating, completely unforgiving, in-your-face-and-over-the-top, totally obscene asshole named Terence Fletcher – played to absolute perfection by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher’s teaching style is 100% out of line. I really can’t imagine that a) no one on the outside knows what’s going on or b) that he could possibly get away with the abuse he constantly flings at his students. That doesn’t make it any less fun to watch though. Some of the interactions are truly horrifying, but Simmons is so good it will fill you with glee watching Fletcher terrorize these poor kids. Fletcher states that “the next Charlie Parker would never get discouraged,” but it’s a bit vague if Whiplash is advocating his teaching style as a means of reaching greatness or whether greatness can be achieved despite someone like Fletcher doing everything possible to stomp out any trace of dignity his pupils might have left. Either way, Fletcher provides a great antagonist – if not a respectable mentor – and makes the film far more enjoyable than it otherwise would be.

Whiplash is also about passion versus balance – a theme I can relate to concerning my own relationship with poker. It’s easy to imagine a life where I eat, sleep, and breathe poker and literally think of nothing else – I know I’m capable of it – but it also sounds awfully lonely. In Whiplash, Andrew Niemann chooses to devote his life to drums, at the cost of everything else: he has no friends, he tells his girlfriend that she will just get in the way of his passion, he looks down on his extended family, and even his relationship with his father – his one true ally – seems cold and distant. He might eventually gain the respect of his fellow band members, but it’s doubtful he will ever earn their fondness or support. He’s really not a very likable guy which makes rooting for him a bit difficult. I do not want to be that person – even if it means I may not reach the pinnacle of my chosen field.

Whiplash is easily one of my favorite films of 2014. J.K. Simmons is every bit deserving of the Oscar he won for his performance. Though his character is brutal and harsh, he’s also hilarious and a total joy to watch. I’m not a big Miles Teller fan, but I felt like his performance in this movie was extraordinary and highly underrated. Director Damien Chazelle deserves a ton of credit for making everything feel incredibly authentic in this film. Both lead actors look like experts – at drumming and conducting, respectively – and the editing is so crisp that each instrument is highlighted at such a precise moment that it’s clear that the filmmakers have a deep understanding of composition. Finally, Whiplash has one of the best climaxes to a film I’ve ever seen. You will literally hold your breath for 15 minutes straight.

What Whiplash lacks in character depth, it more than makes up for with amazing performances, hilarious dialogue, heart-stopping scenes, and a remarkable climax.

Replay Value: I watched it twice in a week. During my second viewing, I watched several sequences multiple times. I truly loved it.
Sequel Potential: There is more to this story, but exploring it would be a mistake, as this particular arc reaches a satisfying conclusion, and further adventures would be far less interesting.
Oscar Potential: J.K. Simmons deservedly won Best Supporting Actor; so did the editing and sound mixing teams. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Miles Teller did not get nominated and it’s difficult for me to agree that Bradley Cooper was better in American Sniper than Teller was here. Also, Damien Chazelle may have deserved more recognition for his work as director.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Gone Girl (2014)

February 17, 2015

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, Zodiac)

“Am I supposed to know my wife’s blood type?”

Bottom Line: Gone Girl is a pretty faithful adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel – a biting depiction of married life that will scare the crap out of you long before things get crazy. I always prefer reading the book first when a blockbuster novel is being adapted into a film, but in this case, I feel my enjoyment of the film may have suffered a bit since I knew everything that was going to happen – and this is a movie where the surprises probably add to one’s enjoyment. I know there were numerous what moments in the book that didn’t have the same affect on me when I saw it on screen. That being said, the film is perfectly cast and David Fincher continues to be one of the best filmmakers working today. Rosamund Pike in particular is brilliant in this movie – and the fact that she’s Oscar nominated for her role almost feels like a spoiler in itself. Gone Girl is definitely must see cinema – fans of the novel will like it and those that haven’t read the novel might even be blown away. It’s good stuff.

Note (Spoiler Alert!): Amy Elliot Dunne is the definition of an unreliable narrator, but her recollection of discovering her husband’s affair strikes me as genuine. In this memory, Amy sees her husband walking out of his bar with a college student he’s having an affair with and sees them kissing in a similar fashion to their first kiss. Rewind: I said his bar… that he (well, Amy) owns… where his sister tends bar… where everyone presumably knows him… where everyone likely knows Amy. Elsewhere in the movie, after it’s discovered that his sister’s woodshed is one of the spots where Nick and his secret lover did their business, Nick states helplessly: “we had limited options.” I’m guessing their own bar probably wasn’t one of them. This seems like a pretty big oversight by Fincher and Flynn, but perhaps it’s just Amy being Amy. Not a big deal either way, but something I couldn’t help but notice.

Replay Value: Knowing the twists made it less enjoyable for me. Take away the wow factor and it’s still a good movie, but not mind-blowing.
Sequel Potential: None
Oscar Potential: Best Actress nomination for Pike. Kind of surprised to see the lack of nominations as I enjoyed it considerably more than some of the Best Picture nominees.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Must See/Excellent)