Tag Archives: Brad Pitt

“ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD” Review (✫✫✫✫)

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Movies, murder, and Manson.

Long before Quentin Tarantino became a household name thanks to the likes of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Tarantino was just an ecstatic, side-eyed cinephile whose entire upbringing was brought up thanks to the movies. At 14 he wrote a parody screenplay to Burt Reynolds’ 1977 hit Smokey and the Bandit called Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit. At 15 he dropped out of high school and worked as an usher for an adult movie theater called Pussycat Theatre. Then in his 20’s, he worked for five years at a video store before going to work as a production assistant for Dolph Lundgren’s workout videos. It wouldn’t be long after until he wrote his first full-length screenplay for Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn. At nearly every corner, movies have come to define Tarantino and a part of his life. If he were any more into movies, he’d be a cinema projector and have film reels flowing through his veins.

I feel his unorthodox upbringing fuels, at least partly, his fascination behind Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, a movie that feels equally as crazy and side-wined as Tarantino’s life has been, but in many ways, also serves as a personal and heartfelt homage to the movies. Oh, and Charles Manson and his murderous cult are involved in this movie as well. If movies, murder, and the Manson family tied into one storyline doesn’t describe a Quentin Tarantino movie, then nothing ever will.

In this devilishly wacky and zany dark comedy, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a big-time TV star and his stunt double, both of which are looking for work in the dog-eat-dog world of 1960’s Hollywood. Their adventures into relevance take them everywhere in Hollywood to meet several famous celebrities, including Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Wayne Maunder, James Stacy, and Jay Sebring. All while this is going on, famed film director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move in next door to them, all while a strange man stalks them throughout the neighborhood.

How does the Manson family murders tie into this story about Hollywood hijinks and high-profile celebrities? I’m not telling you. Part of the joy of Tarantino’s screenplays is that they play against the audiences’ expectations. That’s one of his greatest strengths as a writer – the unpredictability of his stories. Who could have expected, after all, that John Travolta would die halfway through Pulp Fiction, only to be revived through a flashback much later? Who also could have expected that both Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz would be killed by the end of the second act in Django Unchained and that Django would have to spend the rest of the movie fighting a racist black man? And who also could have predicted that Inglorious Basterd’s ending would include riddling Adolf Hitler’s smarmy head full of bullet holes?

Time and time again, Tarantino has proved how he can flip expectations on the audience’s heads and deliver some of the most quirky, unusual, and shocking stories ever put on film. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is no exception. It has all of the cleverness and wit of a Tarantino screenplay, but with twice as much satire and self-awareness. How do you think this movie will play out? Now do a complete 180 and go the exact opposite direction of what you’re expecting. That is Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in a nutshell, and it’s ingenious because of it.

But it isn’t just Tarantino’s writing skills that are on full display here: it’s also his expert craftsmanship and direction. Most of his movies feature gratuitous blood and gore as a common trademark of his, with it most of the time aimed towards his male character’s genitalia. And like clockwork, this movie also features a variety of violence that has Tarantino’s stamp of approval. What’s curious is that it isn’t a prominent feature throughout the film. In fact, the gory violence is mostly absent until the third act, where Tarantino finally lets loose in his typical nutty fashion. Most of the movie even serves as a staunch critique of violence in mainstream media, how it wears at the mind and desensitizes its audience to macabre bloodshed and sickening imagery. Tarantino’s own filmography is a prime example of this, as his movies have gotten progressively more violent ever since he released Reservoir Dogs in 1992. Does that make him a hypocrite, then, to critique and examine violence and its cultural impact while celebrating and relishing in it at the same time? Possibly, but this movie doesn’t examine cultural violence like it’s an issue to solve but rather as an inevitable quality of entertainment. I appreciate Tarantino’s introspection into observing that issue, even if he isn’t exactly exempt from it.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt. Obviously, they are both incredibly talented and charismatic actors that have developed their own style and likeness similar to Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps that’s why they work so well together in this movie. Pitt succeeds in being the sly, slick, Cool Hand Luke-type character that remains level-headed and calm through all circumstances, even when they’re extraneous or unusual. DiCaprio, meanwhile, is an especially ecstatic character. It’s funny to watch him hyperventilate over the smallest of inconveniences, or damn near tear up when he’s told he should star in a spaghetti western. I like that about DiCaprio, how he can switch from such challenging roles such as Hugh Grant in The Revenant to more comedic and clumsy roles such as Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. It really demonstrates his range as an actor and shows how well he can take on an assortment of characters, no matter how different they may be.

I feel like Once Upon A Hollywood may end up being incredibly divisive, both towards the passionate fans of Tarantino’s work and those who can’t stand him and his wacky, off-beat style. To me, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood embodies Tarantino’s strongest traits as a writer and a director without veering too far into being excessive or self-indulgent. Dare I say it’s my favorite Tarantino film? I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet, but it’s definitely in my top two alongside Pulp Fiction. However you may feel about Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I can only speak for myself and how I feel about it. On that note, I will say that by the end of the movie, I was shocked, revolted, and incredibly disturbed by what I saw. I was also rolling in my seat dying of laughter. That might say more about me than it does Quentin Tarantino, but hey, that’s the movies for you.

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Oscar Predictions 2015

“The Oscars: the white BET awards.”

                                           – Chris Rock

I think we can unanimously agree that the single biggest snub the Academy made in this year’s nominations was not with a motion picture, but with entire communities. 20 white actors were nominated for their performances this year. All eight best picture nominees featured white protagonists. All the screenplay nominees are white. The only major category to have slight diversity in its nominations is best director, where it has four white directors and one Mexican. To have 42 out of those 43 nominees belonging to a single diversity is just plain sad, and shows that in its own way, we still live in a segregated society.

A strong statement, I know, but the situation warrants it. How many wonderful stories were told this year by actors, filmmakers, and storytellers of color that the Academy chose to skip over? There was no best picture nomination for Straight Outta Compton. No acting nominations for Idris Elba or Jason Mitchell in Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton. No best screenplay nomination for Ryan Coogler for Creed. No acting, directing, or writing nominations for Sicario. No best picture nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The worst part about these snubs is that it isn’t just entire communities that were disregarded: it’s that the year’s best films and performances weren’t recognized at all, period. And it’s not like the Academy’s hands were tied either: they literally had two open slots to include two more nominees for best picture, and they chose not to use them. Tell me, would it have really hurt to include Creed or Straight Outta Compton in there just to ease people’s nerves? It’s not like those pictures are undeserving, and I think people would be more excited for their nominations rather than they were for Brooklyn or Bridge of Spies.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first stupid mistake the Academy has made, and it won’t be their last either. We can only hope that with time and initiative, the Academy will be more fair and considerate of their nominations in the future. From my experience, though, they probably won’t be for quite some time.

In either case, the Oscars are still a few days away, and I still have to predict which movies are going to take home the gold. These are my predictions:

Best Picture: I’ll be honest here: I’m stumped. I’m absolutely stumped. Normally, this is one of the easiest categories to predict from the ceremony, but this year, I’m faced with three strong candidates in the running for best picture. What can I say? It’s been a close race this awards season. The Revenant won the Golden Globe and the DGA award. The Big Short won the PGA award for best feature film. Spotlight won best overall cast at the SAG awards. These accolades place each of them on equal footing in their reach for the night’s top honor. Who’s going to get it?

Considering the other accolades that it’s expected to get that night, my best guess is going to be The Revenant. Read on to find my reasoning.

Best Director: So nine times out of 10, the winner of the DGA award also wins the best directing Oscar at the Academy Awards. Call it movie science. There was only one time this decade where the DGA winner wasn’t even nominated for best director, and that was Ben Affleck for Argo in 2012. Every other winner this decade matches up with the Academy Award winner. Since this year’s DGA winner was Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu for The Revenant, he’s the most likely to win this year’s Oscar.

If he does win both best picture and best director, that will not only make him a five-time Academy Award-winner, but also the first director in film history to win best picture and directing Oscars in consecutive years. It’s an honor Inarritu deserves. The Revenant was not the most action-packed film of the year, but it is easily the most contemplative, compelling, and impactful. It would have been the best film of 2015, if it wasn’t released in January.

Best Actor: It’s already sickening enough that Johnny Depp wasn’t nominated for his mesmerizingly evil performance in Black Mass. If Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win his long overdue Oscar for The Revenant, then all it truly lost for this prestigious category.

Best Actress: Ever since Room premiered in Telluride, Brie Larson has been racking it in for her portrayal as a traumatized mother seeking peace and understanding in a new world her and her son are only beginning to adjust to. To take the honor from her now would just seem ludicrous, as she seems locked for the award after winning the Golden Globe, the Critics Choice award, and the SAG award. Brie Larson is primed and ready to receive her Oscar. Root for her come Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actor: Did you know Rocky Balboa himself never won an Academy Award? It’s true that his movie did, with the first Rocky picture taking home best picture, best director, and best film editing at the 1976 Academy Awards. But Sly Stallone himself never won an Oscar as an actor or screenwriter, despite his career taking off due to the Italian Stallion. His time has finally come. Not only was Creed one of the best pictures out of the franchise, but Stallone himself gives one of the most pure and honest performances out of any other actor from the year. Give Sly his Oscar, guys. You could argue he’s just as overdue for it as Leo is.

Best Supporting Actress: I’ve flipped-flopped a ridiculous amount of times on this category, as there are once again three deserving candidates who have good chances at taking home the award. Kate Winslet was concerned and caring as an almost sisterly figure in Steve Jobs, while Rooney Mara was equally compelling in Carol as this star-crossed 1950’s teenager who was hopelessly lost and heartbroken by her love. There’s no denying, however, the outstanding year Alicia Vikander had, who besides starring in The Danish Girl had breakout roles in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Ex Machina. To make a decision between these three actresses is nearly impossible, but since the SAG award is on Vikander’s side, I’m going with her.

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out. It’s not only the best animated film of the year, but also arguably one of the best films of the year, period. Don’t bet against it.

Best Documentary Feature: I think it’s safe to say that Amy is going to take home the award for best documentary feature. Not only has its acclaim on the late British singer Amy Winehouse’s life been top-notch, but it was also a massive financial success, grossing over $22 million at the box office, a rarity for documentary films. Now even though box office numbers have never been a good indicator on how the Academy will vote, it does accurately show the public’s reaction to a film. Since it has fared so well with American audiences, it’s doubtful that Academy voters will vote against their preferences. It’s wise to go with Amy.

Best Foreign-language Feature: Son of Saul won this year’s Golden Globe for best foreign-language feature. Since the Golden Globe winners for best foreign-language films have been mostly consistent with the Academy Award for the past five years, it would be best to bet on that one too.

Best Original Screenplay: If we’re being really picky, I think we can all agree that the best screenplay out of all of the nominees here is Pixar’s Inside Out. However, since we’ve already decided that it’s going to win best animated feature, I don’t think that would be fair to the other nominees if it won in this category too, now would it?

My bet, then, goes to Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which is not only the best live-action nominee out of the list, but also the most relevant. Sexual assault is a big problem in today’s country, and one that often gets overlooked. But McCarthy handles the subject with respect and urgency in Spotlight, ushering a call to action to end sexual violence wherever we may find it, whether it be in a neighborhood or a church pew. It is one of the most important films you could see in 2015. To not recognize it for its credibility would be an absolute sham.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Here’s the best thing I can say about The Big Short: it knows exactly what it is. It is an irreverent, funny, obscene, smirking, yet tragic adaptation of one of America’s biggest financial crises. It knows it’s based off of real events and people, and it uses that to its advantage in moments of self-awareness and quirky comedy. While it is debatable whether it is the “best” adapted screenplay of the year, it is without a doubt the most clever. For that reason, I’m going with The Big Short.

Best Film Editing: In order to correctly predict this category, you need to replace “best” with “most.” The movie with the “most” editing is The Big Short, as editor Hank Corwin cuts in between multiple perspectives, cameos, explainers, and B-roll footage that will make your head spin. Does that make his work the best out of the year, though? I would contest that it doesn’t, and I would put Spotlight in its place as the superior. While it had a steady pace and took time to build up big ideas, Spotlight followed through its story with precision and clarity. There was no wasted space in this movie, as we understood everything we needed to know at the exact moment we needed to know it. Such editing is difficult to do skillfully, and Tom McArdle balances pace excellently with this complex, sensitive story.

But I don’t think McArdle is going to get it. Corwin will for his spasm editing on The Big Short, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not much of a good thing either though.

Best Cinematography: Poor Roger Deakins. He’s been nominated for the Academy Award for best cinematography 13 times now, ever since he was nominated for The Shawshank Redemption in 1994 (Which was the year he should have won, by the way). He’s going to have to wait even longer. Sicario looked great, but the best-looking film of the year by far is The Revenant, and that’s due to the pure ambition of Emanuel Lubeski’s scope of filming, with the adding challenge of shooting completely in natural light. If he wins the Oscar this year (which he will), it will be very well-earned. Sorry Roger. You know I’ll be rooting for you next year.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: I don’t see how shaving Charlize Theron’s head and by throwing white powder on a bunch of set extras constitutes a best makeup and hairstyling nomination for Mad Max: Fury Road. Yet, that movie is so far the most popular choice for this award. Why? Because a bunch of desert maniacs spray their faces with silver paint? Yeah, that’s award-worthy.

The Revenant, in comparison, had thrusted extensive effort to make Hugh Glass look like a battered, bruised, bloodied, and stitched-up mess after he barely survived an encounter against a grizzly bear. I would like to say The Revenant is going to take home this award, but considering the legwork Mad Max already has behind it, I doubt that will be the case. Mad Max is going to win best makeup, although I hope I am wrong.

Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell has been nominated too many times for best costume design at the Academy Awards. Yes, I know her work is amazing; that doesn’t change the fact that she has become the Meryl Streep for costume design at the Oscars. This year she has not one, but two nominations: one for Carol, and another for Cinderella. It’s safe to assume that the Shakespeare In Love, The Avaitor, and The Young Victoria designer is going to win her fourth Academy Award from this ceremony. The question is for which movie? I flipped a coin, and I’m going with Cinderella. Don’t make me flip again.

Best Production Design: There’s a difference between the best production design and the most obvious production design. The best from this year was The Revenant, as its set design was not only authentic and gritty, but it was also (and this is the important part) invisible. It blended with its environment. You didn’t notice it as much as the other elements in the film, and that’s the point. It’s supposed to provide the illusion that we are in a different place without making it too obvious that that’s the case. Everything in The Revenant breathed of realism and practicality. That is why it’s the best of the year.

The most obvious is… well, duh. It’s Mad Max: Fury Road. And while I applaud the design of its cars and its scenery, it is not the most skilled art direction from the year. Mad Max made great production work and blew it up. The Revenant made great production work and sat on it, reflected on it, and let it breathe in its own space. One such work should obviously be more celebrated than the other, but since the Academy has a history of naming the most obvious production design over the quote-unquote “best”, I’m going with Mad Max: Fury Road. 

On a side note, Academy members should be frustrated at themselves for not nominating Rick Carter and Darren Gilford’s amazing work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A film hasn’t had such an effect on me since the original Star Wars. To not recognize their work with even a nomination is just plain stupid.

Best Original Song: Well, let’s start with the obvious: the fact that The Weeknd’s “Earned It” got an Oscar nomination over Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” is just plain B.S. Now that I got that out of the way, let’s focus the discussion towards music that’s actually good, shall we? Lady Gaga is undeniably a powerhouse in the music world, but what gives her song “Til It Happens To You” an edge over the competition is how engrained it is in the tragedy of sexual assault on college campuses. It’s combined beauty and sadness creates an urgency of how much of a problem it is we need to fix, and Gaga’s musical influence only doubles its chances of winning. There is a slight chance that Sam Smith can sneak in a win there for Spectre’s “Writing’s On The Wall,” but with only a Golden Globe behind it, that isn’t likely. Go for Gaga.

Best Musical Score: I’m a die-hard John Williams fan. His music is not only the greatest film scores you can listen to, but some of the greatest music, period. He won his first original score Oscar 40 years ago with Jaws, and he’s nominated again for updating his own music in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Nostalgic and beautiful as his music is, however, he won’t win this time, and he shouldn’t either. The most likely and the most deserving winner is Ennio Morricone for his unsettlingly sinister soundtrack for The Hateful Eight. His career has spanned over 60 years, writing scores for The Dollars trilogy, being first nominated for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and finally winning an honorary Oscar in 2006. It’s his year to shine. The Hateful Eight’s hauntingly ominous soundtrack still plays in my mind, just as much as Williams’ own wonderful music does.

Best Sound Editing: How do you predict the winner for the Academy Award for best sound editing? By picking the loudest, most obnoxious action picture out of the nominees, that’s how. What nominee is more loud, obnoxious, and action-packed than Mad Max: Fury Road? The answer is none of them. So that’s the one I’m going with.

Best Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road, for the same reasons as above. 

Best Visual Effects: Before I make my prediction, can I take a second to applaud all of the nominees? Year after year, the best visual effects goes to the movie with the best CGI. With this year, however, all of the nominees had a greater emphasis on practical effects as opposed to computer generated ones. Rotoscoping was used in the place of green screen for Ex Machina. Ridley Scott grew real plants to illustrate photosynthesis during The Martian. Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu filmed The Revenant in natural lighting. 90% of the stunts and visual effects of Mad Max: Fury Road were practical. J.J. Abrams built a real BB-8 droid for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This was a great year for visual effects in film, and that is because of the pioneers in the industry opting for real special effects as opposed to digitally artificial ones. A big salute to all of the nominees, as all of them have pushed the boundaries for what we could achieve visually for films this year.

Now then, predictions. I’m biased towards Star Wars: The Force Awakens for its innovation and invention, but since a Star Wars film hasn’t won an Oscar in over 30 years, I don’t expect the Academy to break the chain now. No, the award will go to Mad Max: Fury Road for its incredible stunt work and ambitious scope of destruction. I guess it pays to be a little mad after all, huh?

And finally, the dreaded short categories. I never have the opportunity to see the shorts, so I’m always completely in the dark on these nominations. I’m just going to throw out the first three titles that I see: Sanjay’s Super Team for animation, Body Team 12 for documentary, and Shok for live action. Good luck to anyone on getting these right.

And those are my predictions. I’ll see you on Oscar night when Chris Rock rips the Academy a new one. If that does happen, at least there’s one good thing that came out of #OscarsSoWhite.

– David Dunn

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An Afternoon With Alejandro Inarritu

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

– Raymond Carver

These were the words that director Alejandro Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) chose to quote at the beginning of his meticulous film Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It was also the first words that came back into my head minutes before I was to interview him.

This weekend, I had two great experiences happen to me. Firstly, getting to see Birdman, a viciously unique film that tackles it’s characters and themes with pinpoint precision: a masterwork by a master director. The second you already know. If you don’t, you didn’t read my first paragraph.

Alejandro gave myself, along with about ten other college journalists, the privilege to talk to him about his upcoming limited release. After seeing the movie, this surprised me, because there was a moment in the film where a journalist accuses the main character of injecting semen into his pores to maintain his young features. I suspect Mr. Inarritu hosts a very guarded spirit while being interviewed by the press, and I certainly don’t blame him for that if that is the case. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why Inarritu wanted to host the interview over the phone in the first place.

Anyhow, I had 20 minutes to listen to the director’s innermost thoughts, and while I only got to ask him one question, I enjoyed the experience as much as any other college journalist who participated in the call. While all of these aren’t my questions, these are the ones I found the most relevant to the film, and the ones I believed Inarritu would have preferred to be answered in the first place. So without further adieu, here is Alejandro Inarritu on the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

Question: Your film is unique, hyperactive and full of energy. How do you communicate to your cast the complex tone you’re wanting to portray?

Answer: I always try to be very specific, help them to clarify and simplify things by having a very clear objective. I think every scene has an objective, and every character has something they want to achieve in each scene. When you have cleared your objective, and to try one or two possible ways to get that done through an action verb, I think that would simplify the work not only for me, but for everybody.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while making the film? 

A: It was a very short shooting — 29 days. We rehearsed a lot before arriving to the set, so basically it was a very intense and meticulous work of precision with actors, camera and crew. Everything was designed and matched the needs of the film that was basically predecided in rehearsal.

Q: You have a big role behind your scenes in producing, writing and directing all of your films. What is it like taking on all of those jobs at once? 

A: I have been lucky to have been the producer and be involved in all of my films in a very personal way. I think there is no other way to make it. I think if you have a film that is personal, if you are doing your own film, there is no other way to not produce it, because I think it’s a part of the film. Producing means a lot of decisions that will impact your film one way or another.

Q: In the movie, Riggan Thompson is overshadowed by a superhero role he played earlier in his career. In real life, Keaton is overshadowed by his role in Tim Burton’s Batman. Is that an intentional casting decision that you made?

A: Keaton adds a lot of mental reality to the film, being an authority and one of the few persons of his work that pioneered the superhero thing. But at the same time, he has the craft and the range to play in drama and comedy, and very few actors can do that. He plays a prick in this film, and I need someone who was adorable, somebody who you can really like. He has that likeness, that likeness that was required. All of these things made him the perfect choice for it. I think he was very bold in trusting me with this role.

Q: One of the things that is particularly interesting with the film is the long take. Can you talk about why you made that visual choice?

A: I wanted the long take to make the people really feel the experience of this guy. I think it’s important for every director in every film to pick the point of view, and in this case I wanted radical point of view, and the people were in the shoes of the character to experience his emotions. I felt that was the most effective way to do that.

Q: Why did you choose to portray mental illness in a film that is at least extensively a comedy?

A: I think ego is a part of our decease as a society. I think the ego is a necessity, but I think when the ego takes over and we attach our personalities to the ego, and he domains a person absolutely without being discovered or controlled. That’s mental deceit, and I see in a way Riggan Thompson suffering from that illusion of ego that’s distorting him. He thinks he does things that he does not do, he’s in like a manic state of mind. He’s an extreme case of ego.

Q: Is that part of the commentary?

A: Everything is part of the tone of the film. That’s why it opens with a guy meditating in tidy whites.

– David Dunn

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2013

Ah yes, its that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Oscar time, where forgettable movies to get gold statues, while great movies get ignored.

Calm down, calm down, I’m just kidding. Except not really. People know that I’m openly critical about the Oscars for a number of reasons, mostly because the movies that were nominated were given those nominations by bloviating pundits and not genuine movie lovers. Don’t agree with me? Look at the following movies that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Rush. Harry Potter. The Dark Knight. Pan’s Labyrinth. Black Hawk Down. Fight Club. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rear Window. Psycho. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. 

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the majority of the motion pictures that are nominated at the Oscars, and I usually agree with their picks of who wins best picture. I absolutely love The Lord of The Rings trilogy, I love Rocky, The Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, and I uphold that Schindler’s List is the best academy-award winner for best picture of all time. Just because those movies deserved it, however, doesn’t mean those other movies don’t deserve mention, and I find it absolutely despicable that the academy snubs pictures that have made a large impact on society. I mean, everyone’s heard of Oliver! before, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, rant over.  This year is a very interesting awards race, with Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave the frontrunners for the best picture race, not to mention all of the other awards in the ceremony. I’ve already written my top ten list of the year, so I won’t bother you with the details of which I think is better. Let’s begin the predictions.

BEST PICTURE: Since Sundance of last year, 12 Years A Slave has been recieving the most steadfast buzz that lasted all throughout the year into this ceremony. While I agree that Gravity is a great frontrunner, I don’t think that consensus is going to change. Plus, look at the academy’s track record. Based off of previous data, the academy loves to give the best picture Oscar to movies based on real events and that statistically grossed less than 100 million. Not only is 12 Years based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, but it also grossed 96 million dollars. I’m sticking to my gut here. 12 Years A Slave is winning best picture. 

BEST DIRECTOR: Everyone seems convinced that Alfonso Cuaron will win the academy award for best direction with Gravity, and that especially seems the case since he won the DGA award as well. I’m not convinced, however, that he’s the most fit for this award. Gravity, of course, was science-fiction perfection, accurately capturing the physics and dangers of space so perfectly that it could have been filmed in space for all we know. Equally as difficult, however, is capturing the cruelty of the slave era in a relentless, gritty, unhinging fashion, and director Steve McQueen did that masterfully all while maintaing his decorum. I won’t be mad if Cuaron wins and McQueen loses, and to be honest, both are very deserving in this award. All I’m saying is that if Cuaron wins, it will be the equivalent of Steven Spielberg losing for Schindler’s List to Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive.

BEST ACTOR: The battle has been in between actors Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both nominated for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave.I’m going with McConaughey for three reasons. 1) Since his win at the Golden Globes, he’s had a steady winning streak in many award ceremonies, including the SAG Awards. 2) His performance was stunning, sinking into this role of an aggressive party-hard cowboy turned health advocate, and 3) He’s Matthew freakin’ McConaughey. Do I really need to give a further argument?

BEST ACTRESS: Again, this battle is between Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. There are two reasons why Bullock won’t win this year: 1) She won the academy award for best actress a few years ago for her performance in The Blind Side, and 2) I’ve never seen a best actress win for a science-fiction film in any year. So Cate Blanchett is the assumed winner. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I want every single molecule and fiber of my being to give the award to Michael Fassbender as a hateful slave driver in 12 Years A Slave. His performance was cruel, relentless and teeth-grinding all at once, and was so despicable as a villain that he surpassed Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained. He won’t win it. The dominant opinion has been swayed towards Jared Leto in his transformative performance as a transgender AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club. While I commend his bravery and his ability to slip so effectively into this role, it doesn’t change the fact that his performance didn’t shake me as much as Fassbender’s did. Fassbender played the more striking character: he’s the one that’s more deserving in the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is the only acting category where a consensus is generally already made. Besides Ejiofor, Lupita Nyongo stood out both as a character, as an actress, and as a spiritually broken slave who lost all hope at life and at happiness in 12 Years A Slave. Her performance truly broke my heart, and she deserves no less than the academy award for best supporting actress. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This battle is between writer-director David O’Russell and Spike Jonze, both responsible for their respective films American Hustle and HerBecause it takes a lot more ambition to write about a middle-aged man falling in love with a computer than it does to write a historically based crime-comedy-drama, my best is on Spike Jonze’s Her. Just because its a smarter story, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better one.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: If 12 Years A Slave is going to have any chance in the best picture race, it needs more of a push than best supporting actress. It’s going to get that extra push in this category. Not only is it among the year’s best, but it is one of the most spellbinding stories of the year, only barely straying from the original text that Solomon Northup wrote all those years ago. Not only will John Ridley win for 12 Years A Slave: he deserves it. 

BEST ANIMATED FILM: I’m one of the relative few that did not enjoy Disney’s newest feature Frozen, a story based on the “Snow Queen” fairy tale about two sisters trying to save each other in a crumbling kingdom. While the characters were fun and energetic, they were equally annoying and ditzy, especially whenever the stupid trolls were on the screen. While I’m less enthusiastic about it, however, it obviously hasn’t disappointed its mainstream audience, garnering a 90% on rotten tomatoes and a rare A+ on cinema score. There’s no question on who’s winning this: Frozen will win the best animated feature award.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: I’ll give Frozen this: it had wonderful music. It deserves no less, then, to win the academy award for best song for their brilliant track titled “Let it go.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: A few years ago, The Social Network won best original score for its energetic beats and its fluid synthesized sounds. For these reasons will Steven Price not only win the Oscar for Gravity, but deserve it because his music added tension, edginess and paranoia to Gravity’s already heart-pounding premise. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubewski lost years ago with The Tree Of Life against Robert Richardson for Hugo. The Academy will make that up to him this year for giving him the academy award for best cinematography for Gravity, although I’m still sad that Roger Deakins is getting left behind for Prisoners. 

BEST FILM EDITING: Let me say something here: great visual effects doesn’t make for great editing. Likewise, a masterful editor knows not only when to cut away from a shot, but also on how long to stay on one as well. Although Joe Walker is more that deserving to win for capturing the tragic essence of 12 Years A Slave, I believe it will go to Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger for Gravity due to its technical achievements. 

BEST SOUND EDITING: “In space, no one can hear you scream?” Yeah right. I heard a mother in mourning screaming in space for 120 minutes and I was absolutely petrified.There’s no question on which movie this award deserves to go to: Gravity. 

BEST SOUND MIXING: Gravity for the same reasons as above. 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity. End of discussion.

BEST MAKEUP: Dallas Buyers Club is going to win. If the academy dares to give the award to either Jackass: Bad Grandpa or The Lone Ranger, I’m going to invite them inside my personal port-a-potty and wait for them to realize that its the poo cocktail from Jackass 3.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: I’ve flipped sides on this one a few times now. First I thought The Great Gatsby’s flashy and colorful costumes were going to take home the award. Then I considered American Hustle for its stylish, contemporary costumes. Now, after giving it a second look, my mind is made up: 12 Years A Slave is going to win for best costume design.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: I was hesitant to name this at first, because honestly anyone can take this one home. The set pieces and designs for all of the film were spectacular in the least, ranging from the financially corrupt society that American Hustle portrayed, to the bleak, barren landscapes of 12 Years A Slave, all the way to the surreal, futuristic Stanley Kubrick-style buildings in Her. I’m ultimately going to guess that The Great Gatsby wins best production design only because it is excellent at displaying the roaring twenties as well as being the most diverse out of any other nominee. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY: This category started off controversial, leaving off one of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries Blackfish off of its list of nominees. Disregarding that, however, look at the other nominees. Out of any of the other selections, which one was talked about the most? Which one is the most controversial? Which one gave a clear, unbiased perspective of a serious issue and let the film show reality as it is?

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was praised all around for his film The Act Of Killing, a story about a former soldier revisiting his dark past and facing the truth about the lives he took long ago. It ended up taking many number one spots on many top ten lists, including Sight and Sound’s poll for best of the year. It’s no contest for me. The Act Of Killing is taking this Oscar home. 

BEST FOREIGN LANGAUGE FILM: The more I look into this category, the more I notice that The Hunt has been getting more and more buzz with moviegoers about the Oscars, and is the only nominee to be on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time (although, oddly enough, its listed for 2012 instead of 2013). Despite how praising the word of mouth has is, however, I’m convinced that it won’t win. The Great Beauty has been getting the most buzz out of any other nominee, and that buzz usually isn’t wrong. Plus, my ex-film professor loves it. That’s when you know two things: that it’s a bad movie, and that it’s going to be an Oscar-winner.

And here it is, at last, my three (least) favorite awards categories: the short films. Why do I say that? With the exception of one, I haven’t seen any of them. Nobody has seen them. Point me to one normal moviegoer who has seen any of these shorts, and I will pay him $100 to smuggle in DVD-ripped copies of them to my home theater.

Blehhhhhhh. Let’s finish this.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: The only one I’ve seen out of any of the films in any of these categories is Disney’s Get A Horse, a buoyant and clever combination of classic 1930’s Disney animation with that of today’s three-dimensional standard. I got this category right last year, but that doesn’t mean I will do it again this year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM: Cavedigger, because it has the coolest title. 

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: Helium, because I can’t breathe. 

What are your predictions? Do you think Gravity is going to take the big picture home, or am I shortchanging 12 Years too much? Comment below, let me know.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write the president of AMPAS an angry letter about why Rush wasn’t nominated for anything.

-David Dunn

Correction 2/25: On the “best production design” category, ‘American Hustle’ was inaccurately identified as being “the roaring twenties that American Hustle portrayed”. The description was intended to go towards ‘The Great Gatsby’ and has since been corrected. 

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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Over a decade of injustice and cruelty.

12 Years A Slave is quite possibly the best film of the year.

It is also the most disturbing.

Based off the 1853 autobiography of the same name, 12 Years A Slave follows the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who lives with his family and plays the violin in Saratoga, New York.

One evening, he becomes acquainted with two young gentlemen who claim to be circus performers looking to hire him for a one-night gig. When he wakes up the next morning, he is in chains, and realizes that he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery by his captors. During his years as a slave, Northup goes from one owner to the next, from a kindhearted owner named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a cruel, racist and mean-spirited pig named Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who presents the greatest trials he must face if he is ever to survive.

12 Years A Slave is a film that not only lives up to all of its built-up hype and expectations: in many ways, it exceeds them.

Its quality as a work of art is so striking and powerful that it can be compared to other historical tragedies, including The Pianistand Schindler’s List.

Director Steve McQueen, who made the morally reprehensible and eerily bleak film Shame back in 2011, redeems himself here as a filmmaker. McQueen, in collaboration with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, is not only masterful with framing his articulate, beautiful shots with 12 Years A Slave, but also brilliant with orchestrating scenes between his actors, showing us the bleak realism and truth of the slavery years in America.

Ejiofor, who portrays Northup in 12 Years A Slave is endlessly captivating. In moments where you think he might just be phoning it in, or just going along with the motions, he surprises you and releases an emotional intensity in ways no other actor has this year, not even Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o plays a young female slave in this movie so passionately that you forget she’s an actress and slip into her character’s tragedy as a human being more than you do as a movie character.

Most noticeable perhaps is Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, who is so hateful and so spiteful in this role that all of the audience’s energy, anger and frustration is focused on him and his sadistic acts. Fassbender was brilliant in his portrayal, and I sincerely hope that he at least gets an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Every other aspect of this film can be praised endlessly. The script by John Ridley, who wrote Three Kings in 1999, was endlessly emotional and captivating. The score by Hans Zimmer was quiet, humble and breathtakingly beautiful, encompassing both the truth and tragedy of Northup’s heartbreaking story.

However, let there be a strong word of caution: 12 Years A Slave will elicit violent reactions from its audiences. You will laugh. You will weep. You will grind your teeth in anger and frustration, maddened by the many years of cruelty, prejudice and barbarism that no human being should ever have to experience. But it compels you to care for the character, to reach deep down in your heart to feel what he is feeling, to experience compassion and sympathy in ways almost no other film can do, not even with Schindler’s List. 

And let this be a testament to the film’s quality: at the end of the showing, there was a white man who could be heard weeping in the back of the theater. In between his hiccups, tears and hysterical reactions, he turned toward the black viewer sitting next to him, shook her hand and after introducing himself said to her, “I’m so sorry for what my race did to your ancestors.”

That man felt a powerful feeling of guilt and shame for the things that he saw in 12 Years A Slave.

That man was me.

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