OSCARS 2016: THE AFTERMATH

 

by Alan Yudman

Postmortem time.

How did I do?

Between “My Picks” and “My Predictions” I got them all right except for Cinematography. That noise you hear is me blowing my own horn.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

MY PICK: SPOTLIGHT

MY PREDICTION: STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

See, sometimes you should just go with what feels right. More on Spotlight later in my Best Picture recap.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

MY PICK: CAROL

MY PREDICTION: THE BIG SHORT

Like I wrote in my preview, I really “felt” Carol, but The Big Short was original and made a dull subject interesting. Also gave a nod to the fact that the film won the Producer’s Guild award.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

MY PICK: CAROL

MY PREDICTION: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Wrong and Wrong.

The Revenant was visually stunning. The way Emmanuel Lubezki conveyed intimacy and expanse, sometimes in the same shot, really made the tone of the movie work.

This was the second toughest category to predict because all five nominees were outstanding.

BEST DIRECTOR

MY PICK: George Miller

MY PREDICTION: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

Sometimes logic has to outweigh sentiment. It would have been something of a lifetime achievement award for Miller.

Gonzalez Innaritu has had this sewn up for a couple of months. That’s two in a row for the talented director.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

MY PICK: Rooney Mara

MY PREDICTION: Alicia Vikander

Mara was in the wrong category.

The pre-Oscar buzz surrounding Vikander paid off. She is very talented. Here are the movies she was in in 2015: Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Danish Girl. Great range.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

MY PICK: Mark Rylance

MY PREDCITION: Sylvester Stallone

I take no pleasure in being right.

Ok, I take all pleasure in being right.

This was the toughest category in which to be nominated. Five great performances.

Rylance is a fabulous actor and the Academy rewarded subtle greatness over bombast.

BEST ACTRESS

MY PICK: Brie Larson

MY PREDICITION: Brie Larson

If there was a no brainer this year, this was it. Even more of a sure thing than DiCaprio’s best actor win.

If she had lost it would have been a Trainwreck (see what I did there? See? Get it? No?)

BEST ACTOR

MY PICK: Michael Fassbender

MY PREDICTION: Leonardo DiCaprio

Two points here.

This was the second surest thing of the night.

The voters awarded physical transformation over a more nuanced portrayal of a cultural icon.

DiCaprio went from brooding to brooding and angry. It was an above average performance. Ok, way above average. But I would like the voters to prize acting skill as much as not eating, working out or getting fat for a role.

BEST PICTURE

MY PICK: SPOTLIGHT

MY PREDICTION: THE REVENANT

I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised by Spotlight’s win. See, sometimes the voters do get it right.

Spotlight absolutely moved me more than any other film I saw last year. Maybe in several years. I was tearing up very early in the movie and my outrage and emotional investment grew.

All the pieces of a great movie came together. Great screenplay. Subtle, yet effective directing. A fantastic cast doing outstanding work.

Well done Academy. Well done.

A couple of notes:

Congrats to Ennio Morricone on winning his first Oscar. The score for The Hateful Eight was perfect.

I would have to go back and review all the Best Song winners, but I am guessing this will be among the worst ever. Ugh. What a horrible song.

2016 OSCAR PREDICTIONS

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by Alan Yudman

Only the accountants at whoever, whoever and whatshisname know whose names are in those envelopes. But being movies are my avocation, I feel the urge to predict. So here goes. One caveat, I have not seen every movie including Room, The Danish Girl, 45 Years and Brooklyn. My picks are based on what I saw. Predictions are based on what I believe based on what I have read and heard.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

MY PICK: SPOTLIGHT

MY PREDICTION: STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

Here is where the Oscar voters try to stem the #Oscarssowhite critiques. The thing is, it is quite deserving of the honor. It is a well done piece of writing. But I cannot see anything for the SPOTLIGHT shining in my eyes.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

MY PICK: CAROL

MY PREDICTION: THE BIG SHORT

I adored CAROL. I thought it was nuanced and tight. The tone seemed perfect for the time and the subject. I felt it.

Here is where THE BIG SHORT earns its bones. It too is well done and makes boring financial blah blah interesting and entertaining.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

MY PICK: CAROL

MY PREDICTION: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Ed Lachman’s way of showing off his characters and setting a mood really established a feeling in Carol, right from the opening shot.

This is where Mad Max will get its nod. John Seale did a great job bringing George Miller’s vision to life.

BEST DIRECTOR

MY PICK: George Miller

MY PREDICTION: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

Miller basically reinvented a dead franchise and made it better than any of the preceding movies. He also wrangled all those elements in a way Michael Bay can only dream of.

But Gonzalez Innaritu has won every precursor award, including the Directors Guild award which is always predictive of the Oscar winner.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

MY PICK: Rooney Mara

MY PREDICTION: Alicia Vikander

Mara was really the lead actress in Carol, but Oscar nominating and politics being what they are she got shoved into this category. Cate Blanchett was great, but this was a coming out party for Mara.

Vikander was amazing in Ex Machina and she is getting all the buzz here.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

MY PICK: Mark Rylance

MY PREDCITION: Sylvester Stallone

The otherwise meh, Bridge of Spies was saved by Rylance’s understated but powerful performance as the spy Rudolf Abel. He should be angry he’s not getting more notice but as his character might ask, “would it help”?

Stallone has won all the pre-Oscar awards and he was very good in Creed, the best he’s been in years. Time for a lifetime achievement award.

BEST ACTRESS

MY PICK: Brie Larson

MY PREDICITION: Brie Larson

Going off my own reservation here. I only saw Carol among the nominated performances, so I am going to join the party and pick Brie Larson who is getting all the buzz.s

BEST ACTOR

MY PICK: Michael Fassbender

MY PREDICTION: Leonardo DiCaprio

Fassbender was marvelous, capturing Steve Jobs’ genius and psychosis. You admired him and hated him for the way he treated people. And Aaron Sorkin’s words flow from his mouth like butter.

There’s no denying DiCaprio was fantastic in a nearly wordless role. He’s won all the awards and he’ll win here too.

BEST PICTURE

MY PICK: SPOTLIGHT

MY PREDICTION: THE REVENANT

No movie touched me more this year than Spotlight. What could have been a dull or pompous movie was emotional and dramatic. The performances were wonderful, the writing tight and the directing perfect. Spotlight is a great film.

I like The Revenant. It was beautifully shot and hits all the right notes. I just didn’t love it as much as the Academy will. It will be two in a row for Gonzalez Innaritu.

That’s it. I won’t pick best song because they are all terrible.

We can discuss after the trophies are handed out.

 

OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORTS

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by Alan Yudman

Five animated movies. Each one better than the next. These five films are what the Oscar voters picked as the nominated Animated Shorts. I had the opportunity to watch all in one sitting this week. Here’s what I thought of each and which one could win an Oscar Sunday night.

SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM

How could you have an animated category without an entry from Pixar. The answer is, you cannot. And SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM is that movie.

Sanjay is a young boy who is bored with his father’s daily prayers, but is in love with a group of action heroes. When forced to pray with his father, Sanjay is distracted by his toys. Then in his fantasy he needs a Super Team to help defeat evil and calls on Hindu gods to save the day.

This is probably the most obvious of the nominated shorts. The message about honoring your father’s faith is clear and easily deciphered. The animation is typically well-done Pixar animation. It is not unique or ground breaking by any stretch of the imagination.

PROLOGUE

I’ll get this right out of the way. This beautiful combination of motion capture and pencil drawing was one of the most shockingly violent movies I have ever seen.

It depicts four warriors, two each from opposing tribes (or clans, it’s not clear). It begins quietly, scanning the four combatants, then escalates into fest of medieval weaponry and combat. Spears are thrust, swords are swung and arrows are loosed. And blood is spilled. Lots of it.

I suppose the quite beginning is simply a prologue to the eventual violence and the horrified reaction to it by a young girl who witnesses the carnage.

I was impressed by the technique, but far too disturbing for me.

WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COSMOS

This Russian short is funny and touching. Two cosmonauts are training for space travel. We learn they are best buds, who grew up with the same dream of traveling to the stars. They are at the top of their class and are chosen as the primary and alternate astronauts.

The launch occurs and something goes horribly wrong, and one of them is lost. The other retreats into a shell (or a space suit) and is inconsolable, much to the confusion of their trainers.

The animation is basic, yet effective. It is a well executed story about friendship, loss and hope.

WORLD OF TOMORROW

This is the most “out there” of the five films. Its simple stick figure drawings and primary colors belie its message.

Emily is a very young girl who answers a ringing phone in her home. On the other end is the future, in the person of a clone of Emily. The older clone takes the clueless child on a voyage of discovery about her own future and the future of her planet. The future is not necessarily a happy one.

The clone falls in love with a rock, a gas pump and finally a man who dies. Yeah, it is kind of dark. It is also a bit hard to follow all the detail crammed into the clone Emily’s speeches. Young Emily is unfazed and is a counterpoint with her random simplistic observations about what she sees.

This is a deep think and a lot of experts believe this is the favorite to win an Oscar.

BEAR STORY

This touching Chilean short was my favorite. An older bear tells his story through a mechanical diorama. He has wife and child, but one day the evil circus people come to their apartment house and kidnap a variety of animals, including Mr. Bear.

He is forced to perform and wonder what happened to his family. He escapes and runs back home to find his family still living in the wreck of the apartment.

Seems pretty simple, but it is a deep think. We only see the diorama play out when a young bear begs his dad for a coin to watch it. The happy family versus the tragedy of the Bear’s life.

It is also ever clear whether what we see in the diorama is true or just the fulfillment of Mr. Bear’s dream. I am fine with that. It allows the viewer to interpret it how they see fit.

It also seems to be the most beautifully animated, but it does not get hung up in its grandeur. The story and animation complement each other perfectly.

This is the movie I will be rooting for.

THE WITCH

— by Jeff Schultz

You gotta be kidding. This is the movie Stephen King says “scared the hell out of me” ? This is the movie that won Best Director at Sundance? This is the movie with an RT fresh-rated 88 %? I don’t get it, just like I didn’t get about half the dialogue since it’s spoken, softly and quickly, in archaic language in half-English accents, even as you’re straining to see what’s going on because of the (deliberately, and yes, quite beautifully) underlit and constant gloam and gloom. The movie’s deadly seriousness makes for a dirge-like 90 minutes of watching the most miserable family in the history of 17th century New England, with an unsatisfying payoff involving a hokey coven and witches on wires. (Those “flown” witches, by the way, are pretty much the only effect in the movie — it’s completely psychological.) I’ve seen at least one blogger suggest this is a feminist parable, and in fact there is a blood motif that seems linked to… well, as Donald Trump would put it, “blood coming out of [their] whatever”. Religious fervor is also in the forefront, with a father-son catechism, constant prayers, and much jerkin-rending over faith lost. So if you’re expecting scares, either cheap or earned, you’ll be disappointed.

HAIL, CAESAR!

— by Jeff Schultz

More like FAIL, Caesar. Just awful, painfully boring, rambling, pretentious and silly, laced with Marxist ideology, Catholic theology, and a vintage Hollywood cosmology the Coen Brothers visited with far more success in their 1991 BARTON FINK. It’s too desultory for madcap comedy, too superficial as a drama of ideas, and too dull to be entertaining. James Brolin tries hard to find a human being inside his role as studio production chief, but all the other characters are mere brushstrokes, largely uninteresting and not particularly likable. (Even Channing Tatum, who proves once again his myriad talents, this time as a singing/tap dancing sailor, ends up as a ludicrous plot device involving a submarine and a small dog.) The one happy exception is relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who doesn’t have much more to do than assume an “aw shucks” demeanor and look handsome, but who is the only actor in the movie (and that includes George Clooney, thanklessly and incomprehensibly clueless) with true star power. Other than Tatum’s musical number, the genre parodies — a Biblical epic, an upper crust drawing room melodrama, an Esther Williams-style water ballet — are tired and irrelevant. I will say, though, I was knocked out by the recreation of a private booth at the old Imperial Gardens on Sunset, complete with fish tank. A couple of mai tais and a Pu Pu platter in that magical space would be time far better spent than at this deadly misfire.

DEADPOOL

by Alan Yudman

DEADPOOL is not like any super hero genre movie you have ever seen. That is obvious from the first shot and through the opening credits. It may be better than any super hero movie you have ever seen. “Pool” is definitely super, but he wants no part of this “hero” nonsense. He is a former Army Ranger who is now a vigilante for hire. You pay the money, he will take care of whoever needs taking care of. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer and approached by a guy who says he can cure him and make him better than he ever was, but he as to work for their organization. While Pool (Wade Wilson is his real name) dismisses the guy initially, he eventually sees this as the only way he won’t die of cancer. So he submits to their procedure which is more like torture and his torturer is Ajax (played by Ed Skrein), a man who has undergone the procedure that activates your mutant gene (yup, X-Men). Ajax’s mutation is he cannot feel anything. In Pool, that gene is the one that fights off his cancer and allows him self-heal. Nothing can kill him. The side effect is that he looks like, well as TJ Miller’s character put it, “an avocado who had sex with an older avocado”. He’s horrific to look at. He can’t go back to his girl (Morena Baccarin), so he seeks revenge on Ajax by becoming DEADPOOL. The exposition of the origin story is cleverly executed through a series of flashbacks while DEADPOOL is hunting Ajax. It sounds lie any origin story, but the genius here is the script. It is absolutely, fantastically uproariously insane. Ryan Reynolds is perfect as DEADPOOL. His sense of humor and snarkiness are the perfect compliment to the batshit crazy dialogue. The film is hysterically self-aware. Mocking every trope while embracing them all. It makes fun of Reynolds one-time “sexiest man alive” status, his failed role as Green Lantern, all of the X-Men. No one is spared. That doesn’t mean Stan Lee didn’t approve. He has a cameo as per usual. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t want it to end. And, of course there is a post-credits scene. This is a hard R super hero movie for explicit violence, nudity and sexual situations. Yeah, that’s right. A hard R Marvel movie. Maybe the studio realizes everything cannot be sanitized or so self-serious. DEADPOOL isn’t the hero movie we want. It may be the hero movie we need.

ZOOLANDER 2

by Alan Yudman

ZOOLANDER wasn’t a “great” movie. It was fun, entertaining with a weird premise that worked because of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. ZOOLANDER 2 is not unique, and as a result it is no longer that funny. Sure, there are some funny moments, but nothing that has stuck with me. The montage intended to catch us up on where Derek is now flies by too fast to keep track. I’m not going to call this a spoiler alert because how can you spoil a rotten egg, but timing the building collapse that killed Matilda (Derek’s wife and mother of Derek Jr) about a month after 9/11 seemed an awkward decision that made me cringe a bit. Penelope Cruz is gorgeous and can do good work (Vicki Cristina Barcelona) but not here. The jokes are stale. We get it, Derek is stupid and Hansel is obsessed with sex. Even a ton of cameos from fashion designers like Tommy Hilfiger and the “Wangs” can’t save this. Even Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig seem bored. Kyle Mooney was the most entertaining, but he’s playing the young annoying hipster we’ve seen him do on Saturday Night Live. Not even watching Justin Bieber get murdered outside of Sting’s house (yes, Sting is in this too) gives you a catharsis. Not that watching anyone get shot 100 times is ever enjoyable, but it’s Bieber. Stiller should have left well enough alone. Sometimes one Zoolander is more than enough.

HAIL, CAESAR!

by Alan Yudman

I imagine during breaks from filming, the cast and crew of HAIL, CAESAR! sat around and polished their Oscars or showed off the letters congratulating them on being nominated. The talent pool is so deep here how could the movie not succeed? Joel and Ethan Coen writing and directing. Roger Deakins behind the lens. George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ralph Fiennes in front of it. Got to be a winner, right? For the most part, HAIL, CAESAR! is a winner. It’s of a time, and that time was 1950’s Hollywood. The dialogue and the pacing are throwbacks to that era. The movie was shot on film which gives it that warm old time feel. The costume design is perfect. And it mostly comes together in a pleasing way. Clooney is a big star who’s the “name” on a version of the Christ story titled “Hail, Caesar!”. He is kidnapped by a group calling itself “The Future”. I don’t want to spoil anything but they aren’t as mystical as the name might imply. But this isn’t exclusively about that kidnapping. HAIL, CAESAR! is really about one man, Brolin’s Eddie Mannix. He’s the head of physical production at Capitol Pictures and this movie is about how he keeps all the balls in the air. The kidnapping. Johansson’s character is an Esther Williams type star who is pregnant and unmarried. Can’t have that. Have to figure out what to do. There are twin sister gossip columnists (Swinton) who are badgering him for a story. There’s the threat of Commies. An owner who wants to take a cowboy star (Alden Ehrenreich) and shoehorn him into a drama role as their new leading man. Eddie is being given the hard sell by Lockheed who wants him to run the company. And he’s promised his wife (Alison Pill) to give up smoking, which he’s sorta doing and lies to her about. So Eddie has a lot on his plate. And it is his struggle to decide what to do about that Lockheed job offer that is the emotional string that attempts to tie all this together. Does it work? Sometimes. Maybe the stakes just are not high enough. I never felt fully engaged in it all. It didn’t hit me in the gut or tear at my heart. But it’s all done so well and the writing is so typically Coen Brothers that it still was thoroughly enjoyable. The little movies within the movie are great. Johansson in a water ballet. Tatum in a song and dance number (his character is tied to the kidnap plot in a way I won’t reveal). Ehrenreich (who is wonderful) in a guns blazing horseback chase. They are all feel real, like I want to see the rest of those movies too. Oh, and there is one absolutely hilarious scene where Mannix tries to get the stamp of approval for “Hail, Caesar!” from members of the clergy. The debate between a priest, a rabbi, a Eastern Orthodox priest and a reverend is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while. Robert Picardo as the rabbi steals that scene. Is this the best Coen Brothers movie? No. But it is so lovingly created and so well executed it’s hard to dislike it. Even mediocre Coen is better than most of the dreck out there.

THE REVENANT

by Alan Yudman

I hemmed and hawed. I waited and procrastinated. I finally worked up enough curiosity to see THE REVENANT. I should not have waited so long. This is what happens with me. I hear about one scene or part of a movie that I think I won’t like and I talk myself out of seeing said film. That’s really dumb. In this case it was the bear mauling scene. I mean who wants to see that, right? That is a small, but important part of the movie. And there is so much more to this wonderful story by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Mark L. Smith. Obviously it is a story of survival. It is also a story about the bond and love between a father and a son and the powerful motivation of vengeance. Leonardo Dicaprio is Hugh Glass, a scout guiding a party of fur trappers. He is accompanied by his son Wolf, a “half-breed”. His wife was killed years earlier in a raid and that just made the bond between father and son that much stronger. While scouting around their camp, Glass comes upon some bear cubs and is surprised by the mama bear who attacks and mauls him to the point of near death. His party finds him and the Captain (Domnhall Gleason) orders them to carry him along. Eventually he must be left behind with his son, and two other men Bridger (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Fitzgerald just wants to kill Glass so he can bring his pelts in and make money. Eventually he tries. First killing Wolf and then burying Glass alive. But Glass survives and his quest for vengeance is on. The movie was shot in Canada and is absolutely stunning thanks to the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki (GRAVITY, BIRDMAN, CHILDREN OF MEN) and Inarritu’s direction. Dicaprio has never been better. There isn’t a lot of dialogue and he is on his own for much of the film, but you can read the pain and determination in every wince and grunt. It is a masterpiece of what can be done without speaking a word. I’ve seen all the nominated performances except for Eddie Redmayne in THE DANISH GIRL, but I can’t imagine it is better than this. Dicaprio has won all the major awards and he will probably take home his first Oscar. Tom Hardy has a much tougher job. The Best Supporting Actor category is loaded with excellent performances from Mark Rylance, Mark Ruffalo, Sylvester Stallone and Christian Bale. But his loathsome portrayal of the bigoted and bitter Fitzgerald deserves some kind of recognition. THE REVENANT is a brutal movie that at times is very tough to watch. But watch it you must, because to ignore it for the same reasons I almost did would be a crime.

ANOMALISA

by Alan Yudman

The slightly unhinged mind of Charlie Kaufman has brought us BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. Those movies had one thing in common. The protagonist was a deeply troubled man, bordering on the edge of insanity or deep mental illness. His latest mines that same territory. ANOMALISA has one major difference. It is an animated film done with puppets. But it may be the most human story Kaufman has ever shared with us. Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is married with a child, but is not close to happy. His trip to Cincinnati gives him the opportunity to explore the possibilities with an old flame who he abandoned years before. But that goes south quickly. Eventually he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is attending the seminar he is to give. His status as a customer service expert gives him instant credibility with her and he easily woos her and draws her into his bed. This seems all pretty pedestrian but the execution is what makes it marvelous. Only three actors lend their voices to the film, Thewlis, Leigh and Tom Noonan. Noonan voices everyone but Michael and Lisa, male and female alike. That “gimmick” expresses Michael’s frustration with the blandness and boring nature of his life. Everyone sounds the same, treats him the same and has the same problems. Lisa’s unique voice immediately points out that something is different and bells go off for both Michael and the audience. She is an anomaly in the sameness of Michael’s life. There’s been a lot of buzz about a sex scene. Yes. Puppet sex. But it may be the most real portrayal of love making that you have ever scene. It’s awkward and odd and weird. Just like the real first time usually is. Duke Johnson co-directed and handled the puppetry and it is nothing short of amazing. ANOMALISA will pull at your strings and make you think.