Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sorry, I Can’t Do Oscar Predictions This Year

This is just a quick post to say that there’s been a sudden and unexpected death in the family.  I’ve been helping out however I can and I won’t have an opportunity to put the thought needed into making decisions on potential Oscar winners, then formatting a post on them.

At this point I don’t know if I’ll have a post-Oscars post, or if I’ll even be watching them tonight.  We will see.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ranking the 2016 Best Picture Nominees, Plus Some Observations

I have now posted reviews for the seven of the eight films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that I would recommend. 

In regards to ranking the eight nominees I had a much easier time this year picking the best than I did last year.  The Martian was one of the most enjoyable films I had seen for quite a while.  And following after it is a clear number two – Mad Max: Fury Road.

The one nominee I did not review was Brooklyn because it wasn’t quite good enough for me to recommend.  When it comes right down to it there’s just not much depth there in either the story or the characters.  People who have read the book it is based on seem to like it more, so perhaps the director just didn’t do a good enough job conveying inner feelings well enough for the audience members who have not read the book.

Here is how I would rate the eight Best Picture nominees from best to not quite the best.  I have also included how these films are ranked according to the Rotten Tomatoes critics (RTC), the Rotten Tomatoes audiences (RTA), and the IMDB voters. 

The Martian
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies
The Big Short
The Revenant


My trend of not really aligning with any of these three groups continues.  It’s interesting to see that Brooklyn is the highest rated among critics, but towards the bottom with audiences and dead last with IMDB users.  I also found it interesting that The Revenant, one of the more picked nominees to win, is the lowest rated for both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, yet is second highest among IMDB users.  Finally, I’m amazed Mad Max: Fury Road did so poorly (relatively) with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

A few more observations now that I have seen the eight movies:

  1. Last year I wrote, ”Thankfully, the last two years have had only a single nominee longer than 2 ½ hours (The Wolf of Wall Street and Boyhood).  And also in the last two years there have been two nominees under 2 hours long (Philomena, Gravity, Whiplash, and The Grand Budapest Hotel).  Each of the last two years the remaining nominees have been just under or just over two hours long.  I hope this trend continues.”  It did.  This year only The Revenant is more than 2 ½ hours, while Brooklyn and Room are both under 2 hours long (and Mad Max: Fury Road is exactly 2 hours.)
  2. The Big Short is one of the stronger contenders for Best Picture (it won the Producers’ Guild Award for Best Film).  If it wins the Oscar it will go back to back with last year’s winner Birdman, which was the first film with comedic elements in it to win since back to back winners Shakespeare in Love (1998) and American Beauty (1999).  Maybe humor is acceptable to the Academy for a couple of years at a time, every couple of decades.
  3. The prior three years I liked all the Best Picture nominees enough to recommend them.  This year I finally had one that I felt wasn’t quite good enough to do that (Brooklyn).
  4. Last year five movies were rated R and the other three were PG-13.  The same thing happened this year.  Unlike recent years where Spielberg’s PG-13 rated film War Horse would have received an R for violence if directed by anyone else, and Nebraska received an R despite having no sex, no nudity, no violence, and two F-bombs, this year I pretty much agree with all the ratings across the board.
  5. The prior three years have seen a trend of nominees re-creating true events (Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and American Sniper.)  That continues this year with Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Spotlight, The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road.  (Just kidding on that last one.)
  6. I’m a little surprised that this year features not one, but two science fiction films with Best Picture nominations.  That hasn’t happened since 2010 with Avatar and District 9 (probably not coincidentally that was also the first modern year of more than five nominees.)  And in case you are wondering, 2014 with Her and Gravity doesn’t qualify because Gravity is not science fiction.  In fact, those four films from those two years represent almost half of all science fiction films ever nominated for Best Picture.  The others are A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars, E.T., Inception, and Her.  Fantasy has had more nominees (i.e. Toy Story 3, Benjamin Button, Crouching Tiger, etc.) and one winner – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  Even Horror has had a winner with The Silence of the Lambs.  No science fiction film has ever won Best Picture, though.  And sadly, I don’t think it’s going to happen this year, either.
  7. Three years ago Jennifer Lawrence broke a string of 27 straight years, and all but 4 years since 1970, where the Best Actress winner has done nudity during their careers.  Many of the winners appeared nude in the role that won them the Oscar.  (So much for “real actresses don’t do nudity.”)  Two years ago Cate Blanchett, who has also not appeared nude on screen, repeated Lawrence’s win.  Last year we went back to the norm with Julianne Moore winning.  This year both Lawrence and Blanchett are nominated again, and Saoirse Ronan has also not done nudity.  Only Charlotte Rampling has not been shy onscreen, and at all ages, too.
  8. Tom Hardy appeared in two of the eight nominees (Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant), and he was nominated for the latter.  Domhnall Gleeson appears in both The Revenant and Brooklyn, but did not receive a nomination.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Movie – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

After a thirty year wait Max Rockatansky returns in Mad Max: Fury Road…probably.  (More on that in a bit.)  This is a balls to the wall, completely insane action film and it blows my mind that it somehow got nominated for Best Picture.  Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s entertaining as hell.  It’s just that these kinds of movies pretty much never get Oscar nominations beyond ones for visual effects, sound, and editing.  Well, Mad Max: Fury Road (MMFR) received nominations for no less than ten Oscars, including one for director George Miller.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Movie – Bridge of Spies (2015)

What do you get when Steve Spielberg directs a film from a screenplay written by the Coen Brothers?  Bridge of Spies.  It’s a period drama (Coens) starring Tom Hanks (Spielberg) and a bunch of lesser known actors (Coens), done on a lower budget than most mainstream studio releases (Coens) about a man who is principled and steadfast (Spielberg).  The result works pretty well.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Acting Black Blogathon – Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

As you can tell from the banner above this review is part of the Acting Black Blogathon.  When I saw Dell’s explanation of this the very first film that popped into my head was Hollywood Shuffle – Robert Townsend’s biting satire of what it’s like to be a black actor in Hollywood.  And even though it was done almost 30 years ago, things have only marginally improved since then.

The movie’s framework is that a young black man named Bobby Taylor who is an aspiring actor.  We see him go for an audition, a callback, and then during filming.  Interspersed among these base scenes are ones where Townsend’s character daydreams about all the roles he’d like to play, or has bad dreams about the roles he’s afraid he might be forced to do.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Movie – Room (2015)

Room is nominated for four of the big five Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I don’t know that it will win any of them because of the flaws in the film.  Brie Larson probably has the best chance of winning because her best scenes are during the better parts of the movie.  Overall, I’m guessing this got its Best Picture nomination because of the subject matter, not because of the actual quality of the film compared to the other potential nominees.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Movie – Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight is a film about the work Boston Globe journalists did to research and expose the vast scope of child molestation and cover-up that had occurred in the Boston-area Catholic churches.  The title of the film comes from the name of the team of journalists within the Globe who would get assigned months-long investigations of important stories.  This is a good film about a tough topic.  The best thing it does is treat the subject with the respect it deserves and not try to be sensationalistic with it, even though that has caused those who want more excitement and action to label the film “boring”.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Steve’s Selections #14 – Rollerball (1975)

Steve Honeywell at 1001plus and I agreed to continue to do a monthly review of a film the other picked for us.  We did 12 in 2015 and we will do 12 more in 2016.  The second one this year is Rollerball – the original version from 1975, not the 2002 remake.  It’s also on the list of the 101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die, and I am slowly working on those entries.  I saw the remake of Rollerball back when it came to DVD and I honestly can remember nothing about it other than it had Rebecca Romijn and LL Cool J in it, so I will not be comparing/contrasting the two films in this post.

Monday, February 1, 2016

January Movie Status

In the month of January I saw 12 new films, plus I re-watched 2 more.  I also watched about 30 Oscar-nominated shorts, mostly from the 1930s.

The number of movies is low because I didn’t watch any new ones after the 10th of the month.  I just wasn’t in a movie mood, and I felt like reading instead.  I’ve gone through several books in the last week or two, including re-reading many of the Pern books.  I didn’t watch any of the additions to the IMDB list, nor any of the three remaining new Best Picture nominees I have not yet seen.

Watching the shorts came about from seeing comments on a Letterboxd list of every single thing ever nominated for an Oscar.  Someone built a YouTube list of over 500 nominated shorts that were available there.  If you are interested you can find that here.  I figured I’d do them decade by decade, but hours later I still hadn’t finished off the 1930s.  Even “shorts” can be long when you add them together.

Here are the 12 films I saw in January.  Ones I would recommend (give at least a three star rating to) are highlighted.  Note – I’m not going to list out all of the Shorts, except for one on which I want to spread the word.

Oscar (2): The Revenant (2015), The Big Short (2015)

101 Genre (4): Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978), Wild Style (1983), Rollerball (1975), Went the Day Well? (1942)

Other (5): The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition (2014), Some Kind of Beautiful (2014), Cheap Thrills (2013), Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016), Carol (2015), Viola (2012)

Re-watches (2): Twinsters (2015), The Martian (2015)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition (2014) – Like the previous Hobbit film Jackson didn’t just add in more footage, he also changed some of the scenes from the way they were in the theatrical edition, making this a different movie.  The largest change is that the dwarves and elves actually do fight each other now.   3 stars

Some Kind of Beautiful (2014) – Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba play sisters who both sleep with the same man played by Pierce Brosnan. How the heck do you make that boring? I don't know, but the director managed to do it.   2 stars

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (1978)This was on the 101 Cult Movies to Watch Before You Die list. I've noticed that the editors seemed to have wanted to have more than 101 Horror movies and so they shifted several more over onto the Cult list.  This isn't a cult movie. It's not even a "so bad it's good" movie. It's just plain bad. Bad acting, bad story, bad props/effects. It's the kind of movie where a family - camping in a friggin' RV that can leave on a moment’s notice no less - has to get attacked three nights in a row at their campsite by wild dogs before they decide maybe they should leave.   1 star

Cheap Thrills (2013)This was recommended to me a year or two ago and it finally made it to the top of my Netflix DVD queue. It wasn't worth the wait. Two guys keep getting paid money to do dares.  200 dollars to smack a stripper's ass? Count me in. 500 dollars to slug a huge bouncer? Not a chance. That's when the film lost me right there - the main character was an idiot and I didn't care what happened to him after that.  And the worst thing is is that the film is completely predictable. The dares have to keep being upped, otherwise there's no movie. Eat a dog? Chop off a body part? Gee, I WONDER where it's ultimately going to lead? I wonder what the ultimate action to get a payoff will be?  Some might argue that this film isn't intended to be real - that it's all a metaphor for the evils of capitalism or some such thing. I think that's giving the movie too much credit. The clue is in the title - watch this movie to get some cheap thrills from seeing two guys humiliate themselves and each other for money.   2 stars

Wild Style (1983) – This is ostensibly a movie about graffiti artists, but the reason to watch it now is to see performances from several early rap acts, along with some breakdancing.  IMDB labels this a documentary, but it's not. It stars non-actors, but it is a fictional story. None of them can act worth a damn, but they were cast because they did graffiti for real or they were real rappers.  One note - those expecting today's easy listening rap based on 70's R&B soft hits, may be surprised by how rap sounded before it got watered down.   2.5 stars

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016)Despite the premise of the modern day characters being traditional ones in the 1890s this actually is a continuation from the last movie that aired (or season 3, episode 3, if you prefer). I won't spoil how, though. They essentially show us what's going on just a little ways in anyway when a particular coroner appears.  This is well done, with numerous references to the written stories, but with the related changes to them to both make them more modern and just different enough to be new for the story readers.   4 stars

Rollerball (1975) – This is both on the 101 lists and it’s a Steve’s selection.  I’ll have a review and rating coming next month on the second Monday.

The Revenant (2015) – You can read my review of this Best Picture nominee here.   3.5 stars

Carol (2015) – Haynes revisits the "1950s closeted homosexual" theme he explored in Far from Heaven. The difference is that his earlier film also had other things going on, especially the potential racial romance aspect. Carol has nothing but the main story.  And that story meanders, wanders, stops, starts up again, and just generally is there, rather than having much of any build towards something. Related to this is that everything is presented very distant and antiseptic. I felt nothing between the two women, to the extent that I wondered if that was actually the point - that's it's not actually a love story but rather a rich, bored forty-something housewife who has a fling with a young, beautiful shop girl, but it means more to the young woman. In other words, a story that's been done many times with the mid-life crisis man and the young ingénue, except with a lesbian twist.  If you want to see a period lesbian romance/drama then you can do much better with Desert Hearts (1984). And for the theme of 1950s homosexuality in general you can do better with Haynes' own film Far from Heaven.   3 stars

Viola (2012)I'm at a bit of a loss on how to describe this. It's not really a film. It's more a series of loosely connected and unconnected scenes that seem to exist to show off the acting of the people on screen. And it's barely an hour long, with an abrupt ending as if they ran out of money, ideas, or both.  The highlight of Viola is something that would make an excellent ten minute short - one actress, in a bit of mischief, decides to use a scene from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night that she performs (as the character of Viola disguised as a man) with another actress to attempt to seduce the other actress to prove that deep down a strong, obvious desire from someone else is irresistible, even if there was no attraction there before. They run the same lines over and over, but they take on different meanings as the first actress gets closer to her goal of seduction.   2.5 stars

The Big Short (2015) – You can read my review of this Best Picture nominee here.   3.5 stars

Went the Day Well? (1942) – You can read my review of this 101 List film and the first of Steve’s Selections for 2016 here.   3.5 stars

Twinsters (2015) – This was a re-watch and I enjoyed it just as much the second time.  It’s streaming on Netflix Instant for anyone who wants to see it.   4.5 stars

The Martian (2015) – This was a re-watch of this Best Picture nominee and I liked it even more the second time.  You can read my review of it here.   5 stars

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011) – This is the short I wanted to emphasize.  It won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2012.  Anyone who likes books should see this.  It’s The Red Balloon for adults.  You can watch it here:    4.5 stars