Monday, January 23, 2017

Final Oscar Nomination Predictions

The big morning is finally upon us. Ladies and gentleman, here are my final predictions for Nomination Morning tomorrow at about 8:18 a.m.. You can watch them on Good Morning America or stream them on,, or on any of their social media platforms.

Best Picture:
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

Best Director:
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Pablo Larrain, Jackie
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

I think Pablo Larrain will surprise given the foreign contingent within the Directors branch (Lenny Abrahamson for Room, Pedro Almodovar for Talk To Her, Michael Haneke for Amour, etc.). Also, he had Neruda and The Club out last year to likely help his cause. 

Best Actor:
Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress:
Amy Adams, Arrival
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

This is the toughest one to predict. I think Adams, Portman, and Stone are safe while Streep is pretty safe. But Huppert won the Golden Globe while Emily Blunt scored a SAG and BAFTA nomination and is on the cusp of her first Oscar nomination. Also, Hidden Figures is peaking at the right moment so Taraji P. Henson could surprise. Who knows.

Best Supporting Actor:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell Or High Water
Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea
Dev Patel, Lion

I still believe Lucas Hedges gets in but he is still a very vulnerable five. They loved Room last year yet they didn't nominate Jacob Tremblay. So they have a weird stigma against nominating young actors. If he doesn't get in, it'll be Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Best Supporting Actress:
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea

Same five as the Golden Globe and SAG.

Best Original Screenplay:
Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic
Taylor Sheridan, Hell Or High Water
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder, Hidden Figures
Luke Davies, Lion
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals

Best Film Editing:
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

Best Cinematography:
La La Land

Best Costume Design:
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land

Best Production Design:
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Handmaiden
La La Land

Best Original Song:
"Audition" from La La Land
"City Of Stars" from La La Land
"Drive It Like You Stole It" from Sing Street
"How Far I'll Go" from Moana
"Runnin'" from Hidden Figures

Best Original Score:
La La Land

Best Sound Editing:
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Sound Mixing:
Hacksaw Ridge
The Jungle Book
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Visual Effects:
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo And The Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:
Florence Foster Jenkins
A Man Called Ove

Best Animated Feature:
Kubo And The Two Strings
My Life As A Zucchini
The Red Turtle

Best Documentary Feature:
I Am Not Your Negro
O.J.: Made In America

Best Foreign Language Film:
Land Of Mine (Denmark)
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
The Salesman (Iran)
Tanna (Australia)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Best Animated Short Film:
Blind Vaysha
Inner Workings
Sous Tes Doigts

Best Documentary Short Film:
Joe's Violin
The Mute's House
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Live Action Short Film:
Nocturne In Black
The Rifle, The Jackal, The Wolf And The Boy
Sing (Mandenki)
The Way Of Tea

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"20th Century Women" Is An Insightful Delight

  Even though 20th Century Women is set in the past, by the time it was over, it got me to reflect on my current present. It got me thinking about how those around me feel the need to fill an invisible void in my own life. The characters also talk about what may await them in the future which is also something I have pondered. So 20th Century Women carries a lot of insightful humanism along with its moments of joy and wit.

  Set in Santa Barbara back in 1979, 20th Century Women follows the story of a single mother named Dorothea played by Annette Bening who lives with her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and tries to figure out ways to guide him into the real world. By doing so, she has two generations of women: Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a tenant in their home who works as a photographer, and Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie's rebellious classmate, give him their own forms of guidance as they all explore love and freedom.

  The film has a fitting title because this film belongs to the women. Annette Bening delivers another winning performance in impressive career as Dorothea, weaving in layers of magnetic warmth and contradictory reclusiveness. She appears all laid back and open yet she'll suddenly pull away when she lights and hoists a cigarette, calmly saying "You don't know what I'm feeling." Elle Fanning is a standout as the promiscuous Julie who always feels like she has everything and everyone figured out at her young age even though she's slightly oblivious to the feelings of those around her.

   As amazing as those two were, though, the MVP was Greta Gerwig who had a revelatory year with Jackie and this. As Abbie, a punk rock photographer who is also a cervical cancer survivor, Gerwig flawlessly acts as a bridge between the two generations of women, showcasing childlike abandon and wise yet hardcore femininity. I also really liked Lucas Jade Zumann who holds his own against his experienced female co-stars. He provides immense likability and I look forward to seeing where his career goes in the future.

   The humanism that these characters possess is thanks in large part to writer/director Mike Mills. Much like with his previous feature, Beginners which won Christopher Plummer his overdue Oscar, Mills has shown a knack for inducing cinephilic flare into a humanistic story. The editing and some of the writing is very snappy. Sometimes it'll be fast paced while other times, the film will cut to shots of a newborn baby, TV footage from the 60's or 70's, or a moving sketch to help create a rather philosophical tone. The snappy editing makes the film appear rather aimless. But the film still has an aim for character driven storytelling and it succeeds thanks to the actors and the way their characters were written.

   So in spite of its seemingly aimless nature, 20th Century Women is still a delight to watch thanks to the terrific performances as well as its 70's nostalgia. It might not be perfect but it is a perfect demonstration of life and its imperfections.

Grade: B

Friday, January 20, 2017

M. Night Shyamalan's Latest Is 'Split' Down The Middle

M. Night Shyamalan has become famous for his use of twist endings and having a slight career slump up until 2015 when he had a return to form with The Visit. But one big mystery involving his latest picture Split is whether or not this is a continuation of his return to form. Well the twist, sort of.

Split follows the story of three female classmates (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) who are kidnapped by a man named Kevin with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) played by James McAvoy. Kevin has 23 personalities living inside him ranging from a reclusive OCD man named Dennis to a 9-year old boy named Hedwig to a mysterious and dangerous 24th personality known as "The Beast" that requires human sacrifice.

The film's greatest aspect lies in James McAvoy's performance. McAvoy really commits to pulling off a man with multiple personalities, making you believe him as the different personas living inside one being. The three actresses who play the kidnapped girls also do a very good job. In particular, Anya Taylor-Joy who broke out last year with The Witch. She pulls off plenty of quiet likability to her portrayal of a girl who underwent severe trauma that becomes revealed as the film progresses.

I also appreciated how the film was very character driven. There aren't many special effects or scenes of grotesque violence. Its main focus is on the girls trying to escape their prison as well as on Kevin's personalities that take over him in his day to day life. But the fact that it emphasizes so much on its actors is what makes McAvoy's portrayal so great. He has to continuously sell the frequent personality switches through facial and body tics yet he nails it.

All of that being said, though, there wasn't a whole lot of tension to be found. It goes on a lot longer than it needs to and without spoiling anything, it didn't feel like it had much of an ending. The ending drags on until it suddenly ends without much payoff. Also, don't go in expecting jump scares every few minutes. It is a very slow burn and requires plenty of patience. There are small chilling moments thanks to the screechy sound effects as well as occassionally dark cinematography that captures the unforgiving, closeted nature of the basement where the girls are being kept. But it's not too scary. So if you go see this, expect a suspenseful character study.

Overall, Split lives up to its title because it features a committed performance by James McAvoy and amazing work from the three main actresses. But it becomes brought down by its rather muddled storytelling and never ending climax. Not M. Night Shyamalan's worst but it's no The Sixth Sense either. Hopefully, he'll do a little better next time around.

Grade: C+

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Specialty Market Proposal

While it finally made its way to my local theater on Christmas Day, I was quite flustered when I had to deal with La La Land having a slow theater rollout. People that have been able to see it have been raving about it while I've waited impatiently to finally check it out myself.

But that little frustration gave me a little idea. What if more certain movies hit streaming the day they hit theaters? By certain movies, I mean films in the specialty market with smaller distributors (A24, Bleecker Street, The Orchard, etc.) that have a slow expansion. If those films were available to viewers that don't live in major cities yet still want to see them to see what the buzz they receive is about, then the studio will have reached out to a wider audience even if the film is playing in a handful of theaters. Also, if a film struggles to expand, then viewers will have seen it anyhow on streaming.

Also, it would be an interesting way to create word of mouth. For example, if I really wanted to see Loving and I was able to pay for it on Google Play since I don't live in New York or Los Angeles, then if I loved it, I would probably tell my friends to see it and they might end up seeing it when it reaches our local theater, adding to the film's box office numbers. Not only that, but viewers would be able to see new releases at a cheaper price when streaming and not have to worry about watching a leaked copy online for free. 

I love going to the movies but my biggest gripe with going to the movies is how expensive it is. An afternoon show at my local downtown theater costs about $11.50 per ticket. I can rent about 3 to 4 movies on Google Play or iTunes for that price. So why pay almost 12 bucks to go to the theater, plus food and likely gas expenses, when you can watch a new release at a cheaper price in your own home? You wouldn't have to travel or buy food. 

However, there are plenty of specialty releases that have a short life in theaters and end up in streaming pretty quickly anyhow. But streaming services like Netflix have started to get into the film distributing business, releasing films in theaters the day they start streaming. So this could be something worth thinking about.

Maybe I'm speaking out of my own frustrations of having to wait for specialty films to play near me because I don't live in New York or Los Angeles. But I do think it would be beneficial for those that can't afford to go to the movies and/or can't see it because they can't find the time or don't live in major cities.

What do you guys think? Do you think this would be beneficial for moviegoers? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How To Build A Best Picture Nominee

Typically, you need support from five major branches to win Best Picture. You need support from the Producers, the Directors, the Actors, the Writers, and the Editors. As of right now, there are four films that hit every major guild that they needed to among other below the line branches.

*PGA=Producers Guild
DGA=Directors Guild
SAG=Screen Actors Guild
WGA=Writers Guild of America
ACE=American Cinema Editors
ASC=American Society of Cinematographers
CSA=Casting Society of America
CDG=Costume Designers Guild
ADG=Art Directors Guild
CAS=Cinema Audio Society
VSE=Visual Effects Society

Here is our top 4 for Best Picture:

Moonlight: (GG Win, PGA, DGA, SAG, WGA, ACE, ASC, CSA)
Manchester By The Sea: (PGA, DGA, SAG, WGA, ACE, CSA, ADG)

These four films also made the cut for Best Film at the BAFTA Awards which do overlap with the American industry guilds. So this is our likely top 4 for Best Picture at the Oscars.

Those that hit the key guilds and are likely 5-10:

Hell Or High Water: (PGA, SAG, WGA, ACE, CSA, ADG)
Hidden Figures: (PGA, SAG, WGA, CSA, CDG, ADG)
Hacksaw Ridge: (PGA, SAG, ACE, ADG, CAS)
Fences: (PGA, SAG, WGA, ADG)
Deadpool: (PGA, WGA, ACE, CSA, VSE)

Even though Deadpool has plenty of guild support, I still have it at tenth because I do not know how the Academy is going to respond to it. 20th Century Fox is running a campaign for it, having recently released a For Your Consideration video for voters to consider it as they are filling out their ballots and the nomination process has just closed. The Producers Guild nominated it in Best Picture but they are partial to citing popular money makers (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Star Trek, etc.). Same with the Writers Guild who nominated Guardians Of The Galaxy a few years ago. Its Directors Guild nomination was for Best Debut Director for Tim Miller and its Editors Guild nomination was in Motion Picture-Comedy category and the Oscars only have one singular category. Lastly, if The Dark Knight getting snubbed showed us anything, it's that they might not be ready to honor a superhero film as one of the top films of the year.

I also didn't mention Nocturnal Animals which did very well with the BAFTA nominations despite missing Best Film. Mainly because it's had a poor guild showing, only having made the WGA, ADG, CSA, and CDG. The Writers are the only above the line guild to support it and it might be telling as to how it'll perform on Nomination Day, scoring a Screenplay nomination, a few crafts, and likely Supporting Actor for Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Anyhow, aside from the top four films in contention, here is what I'm predicting gets in for Best Picture:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

In case it's 9 or 10: Fences and Deadpool

I'm predicting an even eight just like the last two years. Hacksaw Ridge and Hell Or High Water have hit places that they need to and are masculine films that will likely to appeal to what pundits like to call the "steak eaters" a.k.a. the older white males within the Academy. Hidden Figures is having an American Sniper-type late surge, peaking at number one at the right time for two weekends in a row. So it has both industry and crowd support. While Lion is doing adequately at the box office, never discount the "Harvey Weinstein" factor. He got Silver Linings Playbook to overperform on Nomination Day, including a surprise Supporting Actress nomination for Jacki Weaver even though she wasn't given much to work with. So he can really work the Academy.

I almost included Fences but I fear that it might suffer from the stigma of "It's like a filmed play." That's the kind of reaction I've heard and read from some people. But it's catching on better than other recent stage-to-film adaptations like August: Osage County and Doubt. Those two scored around $30m domestically while Fences is at around $46m. Also, Fences scored a PGA nomination which the other two films failed to do. So I think Fences is a definite 9th.

Anyhow, those are my predictions for Best Picture. What do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 16, 2017

What Constitutes A Supporting Performance?

Category fraud is something that is continuing to run rampant through awards season. Even after last year, where Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander were controversially pushed for Supporting Actress in spite of their performances being lead roles, we still have category fraud running rampant. We even have cases that are causing debate as to whether or not they really are cases of fraud like Dev Patel in Lion and Viola Davis in Fences. Even if they are playing lead characters, there is debate in the awards blogosphere as to whether they belong in the Lead categories because of their screentime and how focused the stories are on their characters.

Then, there are more blatant cases of fraud like Hugh Grant who is getting a Supporting Actor campaign for Florence Foster Jenkins. While Meryl Streep is the title character, Hugh Grant is a co-lead. In fact, he might be more of a lead than Streep as he has more screentime and the film focuses greatly on his emotional journey and need go let his wife live out her dream. In spite of him playing the supportive husband, it doesn't mean he is a supporting actor. I'm sure those running his Supporting Actor campaign realize that and I feel they tried to use his supportive role as an excuse to justify his placement.

Compare him to Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. He only appears in the first third of the movie. But he not only supports the main character of Chiron but his absence lingers over the rest of the picture. One aspect of a supporting performance is when the actor makes the most within the constraints of his or her limited screen time.

Although the three actors playing Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) have understandably gotten a Supporting Actor campaign push. They may be playing the lead character but they're not necessarily lead actors. They're supporting the main singular narrative which is unlike Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins. Grant can't be supporting the narrative because he IS the narrative.

Another aspect of a supporting performance is when the supporting character helps set up the main narrative or inhibits the emotional arc of the main character. Take for example, Laura Linney in Nocturnal Animals. She may only have one scene. But within her one scene as the mother of Amy Adams' character, she serves as a shadow of what Adams' character doesn't want to become. Yet after Linney says "We all turn into our mothers," Adams herself slowly starts to become her. Also, because her screentime is so limited, she leaves you wanting more.

So to me, what makes a true supporting performance is one that not only supports the main narrative or the main character but one where the performer makes the most within the constraints of their limited screentime, allowing their presence to linger over the rest of the picture when they don't appear.

What do you guys think? What do you feel constitutes a supporting performance. Please be sure to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Silence" Speaks Pretty High Volumes

Martin Scorsese is the greatest director working today. He is one of the few directors working where no matter what film he does, I'm ready to buy a ticket. The fact I would see a 3 hour meditative film about religion because he did it is a huge testament to his drawing power and having seen the film, I can say it is a challenging yet rewarding film watching experience.

Silence is based on a novel by Shusaku Endo about a couple of 17th century Jesuit priests named Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel from Portugal to Japan to find their mentor Father Ferrera, played by Liam Neeson, who has abandoned his faith. As they try to find him, they attempt to spread their Christian faith in what is a rather unforgiving land with religious persecution being used on those who practice Christianity.

Religion is what plays a prominent role in the film's story and it also philosophically plays a part in the film's title. There is a scene where Father Rodrigues is trying to pray to God but asks "I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?" Do we get our answers from above by talking or from within our thoughts? In what ways do we prove our faith? Through physical, non-verbal acts or by verbally devoting our faith to those we worship? Those are the kind of questions the film asks us.

Not only that, but there are plenty of points where cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto lets the camera roll on the faces of the actors to demomstrate their conflicted faith with hardly any dialogue. There is plenty of expositional narration given but because it is heard rather sparsely throughout the picture, it is never overbearing and never feels unneeded.

As for the actors, they all do a very good job. Despite fluctuations with his Portuguese accent, Andrew Garfield does give a very raw and unflinching performance as Father Rodrigues, a priest who is constantly being pushed to the edge as he is questioning his faith and morality. Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are also effective in their supporting roles but a few standouts include a few of the Japanese actors.

One is Yosuke Kubozuka as Kijichiro, an alcoholic fisherman who abandons the Christian faith yet continuously pleas to Father Rodrigues for forgiveness. The other is Issei Ogata who plays Inuoe Masashige, a villainous inquisitor who pushes Rodrigues to abandon his faith through mental and physical torture. Even though Ogata plays a very sneery and sinister character, he is a very magnetic presence when he is on screen.

I will admit, the film is longer than it perhaps could've been. If it had been trimmed by about 20 to 25 minutes, it probably could've been perfect. But other than that, I can hardly find amy flaws with this picture.

Silence is a quiet and meditative yet ultimately rewarding film watching experience. Even if you don't undergo the physical pain they do, it'll still likely have you questioning your faith the way the characters do by the time the credits roll. Master Scorsese, you have done it again!!

Grade: A