Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My 2016 Oscars Predictions

The Oscars become boring on two occasions: when there's an obvious front runner (Titanic, LOTR), and when it's been a weak year (this year). When not many great movies are out there, there's no major competition; you just look at the numbers, check which nominees got the most pre-Oscar awards, check who might die before getting their sympathy life-time achievement honor (regardless of whether they performed an award-worthy role that year), and write your predictions. Yes, there may be a few surprises this year like any other, but the following is my 'whatever' list (just look how many technical awards I'm predicting for Mad Max):

Best Picture:

(The Big ShortBridge of SpiesBrooklynMad Max: Fury RoadThe MartianThe RevenantRoomSpotlight)

First everybody went crazy over the 'okay' Spotlight, then they flocked to the interesting The Big Short and finally, they settled on The Revenant. (Interestingly, Entertainment Weekly is still betting on The Big Short to win). Even though Iñárritu's Birdman won the big one last year, his epic wildlife-survival revenge story this year is more Oscar-fodder than any movie on the list.

But my own pick would have been different. Of the eight films, only three were on my top 10 list of the year (more undeniable proof that it was a weak year), and among those three, I would go with the only one I've already watched twice.

Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: The Revenant

Best Director:


(Adam McKay for The Big Short, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant, Lenny Abrahamson for Room, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight)

I know: how could Iñárritu win Best Director, two years in a row? (It's only happened twice  before: John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.) In addition to the fact that Best Picture and Best Director usually go hand-in-hand, I think the "OscarsSoWhite" controversy will help Iñárritu's chances as a Mexican director this year (again) ... and hurt George Miller's chances, who truly deserves the award. One look at Mad Max: Fury Road will convince anybody that pulling that movie off is directing hell, and as an 80s trailblazer (both literally and figuratively) who never got recognized, and now resuscitated the action genre, Miller should be taking home the award, no matter how tough the cold weather was for Inarritu filming The Revenant.

(Actually, the numbers are on Iñárritu's side also: he won both the Golden Globe, and the Directors Guild Award. It's hard to beat that.)

Should Win: George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road

Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant

Best Actor:

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

You probably already know I have some beef to pick with DiCaprio winning his long-awaited Oscar this year. Leo's norm is to get the crap beaten out of him in movies, likely to obliterate his boyish charm and prove his acting is more than meets the eye. That's fine. But in The Revenant, he took this act overboard by submitting himself to real torture. You can dump someone in ice water, pierce his body with skewers every three minutes, and create a snuff movie by filming his reactions to the pain ... but you wouldn't call that acting. What Leo did in The Revenant wasn't acting. You were watching the real thing.

And I hate to say this, but even though Eddie Redmayne already (IMO undeservedly, compared to Michael Keaton's turn in Birdman) won an Oscar last year, among the five nominees, he is the one who did some real acting this year. In The Danish Girl, he transforms into another person.

But go ahead. Give Leo his Oscar. Maybe from now on he'll leave us alone.

Should Win: Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant

Best Actress:

(Cate Blanchett for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn)

Pretty much a no-brainer. Brie Larson did an incredible job in Room, she's young with great a future and represents Hollywood possibilities from indie roots, and has no competition.

Should Win: Brie Larson for Room

Will Win: Brie Larson for Room

Best Supporting Actor:

(Christian Bale for The Big Short,  Tom Hardy for The Revenant, Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight, Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies, Sylvester Stallone for Creed)

Sympathy vote for Stallone, all the way: he never got an Oscar for neither for writing or acting in 1977's big winner, Rocky, and after four decades of (for better or worse) defining the action genre, he's come full circle, once again making the Rocky Balboa role interesting, at old age. We grew up and grew old with Rocky, John Rambo, and innumerable other characters that Stallone brought to life, and the interesting part is, with all of Stallone's artistic failures throughout the years, Rocky never left the ring.

But if I was to vote based on artistic merit in a current movie, Mark Rylance in Spielberg's Bridge of Spies was a true creep.

Should Win: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone for Creed

Best Supporting Actress:

(Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, Rooney Mara for Carol, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs)

Probably the only excitement-worthy category this year. Will they go old school and reward one-time Oscar winner Winslet, or go for Swedish newcomer Vikander, who seemed to be in every 2015 movie? I'll bet on Winslet, both because she was a dominating force in Steve Jobs (I wasn't sold on Vikander's role in The Danish Girl anyway), and because it's too soon for Vikander to achieve such a status. No worries - at this rate, sooner or later Vikander will get one also.

Should Win: Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs

Will Win: Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs

Best Original Screenplay:

(Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside OutSpotlight, Straight Outta Compton)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(The Big ShortBrooklynCarolThe MartianRoom)

The same logic can be applied to both screenplay category predictions: both Spotlight and The Big Short had "unmovieable" subjects that came to life with an engaging screenplay and a great ensemble cast (more so in the case of The Big Short), and both will likely go empty-handed in other categories - so they'll both earn mercy votes.

Should Win: Inside OutRoom

Will Win: SpotlightThe Big Short

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom)

During recent years, whenever there's been a documentary about singers (Searching for Sugar Man in 2012, 20 Feet from Stardom in 2013) competing against real life issues (The Gatekeepers, The Act of Killing, respectively) ... the singers have won. It seems the Academy would rather honor "one of their own", rather than create awareness on an important subject. We have the same situation again this year: Amy about Amy Winehouse, up against The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer's masterpiece sequel to his Act of Killing about the Indonesian genocide. The singer will win.

Should Win: The Look of Silence

Will Win: Amy

And for predictions in other categories:

- Best Animated Feature Film: Inside Out

- Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

- Best Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Cinematography: The Revenant

- Best Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight

(Another effort to make Oscar cool in a slow year: Give Morricone an Oscar, after he won his honorary Oscar a few years ago.)

- Best Original Song: "Til it Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground

- Best Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Visual Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road 

- Best Animated Short Film: World of Tomorrow

- Best Documentary Short Film: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

- Best Live Action Short Film: Shok

Monday, February 22, 2016

Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall (2016)

Director: Spike Lee. 93 min. Documentary.

Before the 80s came along, before his fame superseded his music, before he became (ahem) ... weird, this was the Michael Jackson we grew up with and enjoyed. Spike Lee understands there was a pre-"Thriller" era, when a huge population loved "Off the Wall" - and therefore handles this groundbreaking album with tender loving care; first introducing MJ's roots and how he rose to independence, then interviewing experts (from Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder to Pharrell Williams) to analyze every single song of that album. Another film that makes you wish the artist was still around, and still sang like that.

Mo says:

The Witch (2015)

Director: Robert Eggers. Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie. 92 min. Rated R. USA/UK/Canada/Brazil. Horror.

From Snow White to Blair Witch, witches and forests have always gone hand-in-hand to create creepy horror stories. And I don't remember any horror movie set as old as 400 years ago, so the barely understandable English dialogue adds to the other-worldly creepiness. But even though the disturbing final scene is one of the most mind-bending in recent memory, 48 hours later, I feel the movie's (intentionally) moody slow pace to reach that incredible ending was a struggle. The Witch is great only if assessed as a whole, seen in one sitting, without a single interruption.

Mo says:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Where to Invade Next (2015)

Director: Michael Moore. 120 min. Rated R. Documentary.

Through the years, we've learned to take everything Michael Moore says with a grain of salt. He exaggerates, and the entertainment his documentaries provide always need some fact-checking. But the story here is different, because this time, his war is not political. He supposedly "invades" European countries, to see what they're doing right (and deduce what we're doing wrong), and even the mellowed down version of the results, especially regarding children's education and the role of women in a society, are staggering and irrefutable. Moore proves he's a true patriot, by showing there's something seriously wrong with America.

Mo says:

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Burnt (2015)

Director: John Wells. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, Alicia Vikander, Lily James. 101 min. Rated R. Drama.

Confession: I'm not a foodie, and to be honest, I find close-ups on food and the food preparation process irritating and annoying; the concept feels superfluous and decadent. But the best food movies use food as a vehicle to illustrate a higher meaning, and Burnt, via great performances, a balanced screenplay introducing multiple complex characters, and a story 'peppered' with surprises (I had to use that word), not only demonstrates a man's destructive strive for perfection, but also shows what you sacrifice and what you don't, to achieve that perfection. Why this splendid movie failed so miserably, is beyond me.

PS: Thank you for the heads up, JZ. And I thought critics were only bad at scoring sci-fi.

PPS: Check out Sienna Miller's amazingly short but prolific career (she's Bradley Cooper's love interest here for the second time, after American Sniper), and how she's only been nominated once, for a mere Golden Globe, for a TV movie. Something's wrong here.

Mo says:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Danny Collins (2015)

Director: Dan Fogelman. Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer. 106 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama.

Based on a true story and to the tune of John Lennon's best songs, an old rock star learns 40 years late that Lennon had written him a letter. For unknown reasons, this puts him on a track to re-evaluate his life, and seek a son and family that pull every melodramatic trick in the books on him: sick beautiful grand-daughter, sick son that keeps looking better as he approaches death, à la Love Story. With some good screenplay moments (Pacino's chemistry with Bening, on-your-toes ending scene dialogue), at least you're glad Pacino is faring better than his partner-in-crime, DeNiro.

Mo says:

A War (Krigen) (2015)

Director: Tobias Lindholm. Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Tuva Novotny, Dar Salim. 115 min. Denmark. Drama/War.

The Hurt Locker. The Kill TeamAmerican Sniper. Movies that depict the ambiguity of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: troops are sent to target only a specific group of combatants, but protect the civilians (as opposed to the old days, when troops were just sent in to kill everybody). So confronted with a non-discriminating enemy, when a commander is forced to choose between keeping his own platoon alive or protecting civilians ... which does he choose? This year's Oscar-nominated movie from Denmark tries to answer that question, and the answer is as morally ambiguous as the initial setting.

Mo says:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom (2015)

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky. 102 min. UK/Ukraine/USA.

A chronicle of 93 days in 2013-2014 when the pro-Western Ukrainians assembled in their "Maidan" (all countries seem to have a government-made 'Liberty Square' where people create problems for the government), and revolted against their democratically-elected pro-East president. That's all - it's no deeper than a CNN news story. We never hear the president supporters' side, or why Yanukovich preferred Putin to the West. He was bad, and people fought him. Sorry, but documentaries have become much more sophisticated than this. Surprised it's nominated for an Oscar, while The Wolfpack, Going Clear and Listen to Me, Marlon were out there.

PS: Except for the best of them (The Look of Silence), all other of this year's Oscar-nominated documentary features (Cartel Land, Amy, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and this) are available to stream on either Netflix or Amazon Prime. Actually two (this and Miss Simone) are Netflix productions - an improvement compared to last year's Netflix-produced Oscar-nominated Al-Maidan (yep, the Liberty Square where people revolted in Egypt).

PPS: In case Netflix has developed some kind of Liberty Square-revolution obsession, there was this thing that happened in a certain Liberty/Freedom Square a few years ago ...

Mo says: