Saturday, February 21, 2015

Final Oscar Predictions: Less Accurate Than a Chimp Performing Brain Surgery

Hey, so guess who's totally screwed this year when it comes to predicting things accurately? This guy, that's who. This Oscar year has been refreshingly and excitingly chaotic, which means that picking the winners is probably going to be harder than using a helicopter to herd a bunch of drunken toddlers on roller skates. And chances are, when all's said and done, I'm going to be more like the toddler than the helicopter--we're going to slip perplexedly all over the place, and I'm probably going to cry before it's all over.

Which is shorthand for saying that this is clearly the best kind of Oscar season to have.

So we'll just do our best. It's possible that no movie wins more than a couple awards, and it's possible that the expected movies become sweepers, and it's possible that an unexpected movie or two sweeps as well. Wackiness! Wackiness everywhere!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Best of 2014, part 5: My Dream Oscar Ballot

And here's *really* the end of the 'best of' posts. Basically, I just drop this list here to sum up everything and put a bow on it for posterity. I'll just list the best in each category, in alphabetical order, sans commentary, with the winners in bold. For extra fun, I'll put an asterisk next the choices were also nominated by Oscar. As is becoming tradition, there was little overlap between my choices and the Academy's. Either I'm getting much more adventurous, or they're getting much safer (or why not both?).

Best Picture (for comparison with the Academy, I'll only list 8. Sorry The Guest/Captain America!)
The Babadook
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Stranger by the Lake
Under the Skin

Bong Joon-Ho-Snowpiercer
Ava DuVerney-Selma
Dan Gilroy-Nightcrawler
Jonathan Glazer-Under the Skin
Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu-Birdman*

Ralph Fiennes-The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal-Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton-Birdman*
Jack O'Connell-Starred Up
Dan Stevens-The Guest

Marion Cotillard-Two Days, One Night*
Essie Davis-The Babadook
Scarlett Johannson-Under the Skin
Rosamund Pike-Gone Girl*
Reese Witherspoon-Wild*

Supporting Actor
Patrick D'Assumcao-Stranger by the Lake
Chris Pine-Into the Woods
Edward Norton-Birdman*
Mark Ruffalo-Foxcatcher*
J.K. Simmons-Whiplash

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette-Boyhood*
Jillian Bell-22 Jump Street
Agata Kulesza-Ida
Emma Stone-Birdman*
Uma Thurman-Nymphomaniac

Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel*

Adapted Screenplay
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Gone Girl
Obvious Child
Under the Skin

Art Direction
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Only Lovers Left Alive

Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Inherent Vice*
Only Lovers Left Alive
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy*
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Guardians of the Galaxy*
Only Lovers Left Alive

Film Editing
Edge of Tomorrow
Under the Skin
Why Don't You Play in Hell?

The Grand Budapest Hotel*
The Guest
Under the Skin

Original Score
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Under the Skin

Sound Mixing
The Babadook
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Stranger by the Lake
Under the Skin

Sound Editing
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies*
How to Train Your Dragon 2

Original Song
"The Big House"-Muppets Most Wanted
"For the Dancing and the Dreaming"-How to Train Your Dragon 2
"Everything is Awesome"-The LEGO Movie*
"Lost Stars"-Begin Again*

There's another year done. Now I've got to get my head around the fact that 2015's been going on for quite some time. Nuts. I never really do get caught up, do I?

Best of 2014, Part 4: Craft Categories

And as quickly as it started, it receded back into the inky little holes where it stays for the ten months of the year when I'm not clogging your facebook, like a silly, verbose tidal wave. This is indeed my last major post (or last list, at any rate) until I re-emerge in 2016. Wackiness! Today, I'm going to take a look at what may be the most fun categories--and when I say 'most fun,' what I mean is 'the ones that build movies from the ground up and yet no one really talks about them.' The craft categories!

Before we dive in, here's a handy guide to each category, in case you're a little rusty.

Art Direction:  creating, designing, and building the world in which the movie takes place. Generally associated with set-building, but also stretches to conceptual aspects
Costume Design: ...The design of the costumes.
Visual Effects: Special Effects. CGI, models, etc.
Film Editing: Editing the movie: cutting in some places, lengthening in others. Generally responsible for the rhythm of a film, as well as keeping continuity and making sense of the plot.
Cinematography: In layman's terms, how pretty the movie is. Screen composition, lighting, camera techniques, etc.
Original Score: Music composed for the film itself.
Sound Mixing: Blending the four film sound elements (dialogue, sound effects, ambient noise, music) to create a coherent overall mix.
Sound Effects Editing: creating the sound elements and sound effects heard in the film.
Original Song: Songs written specifically for the film.

Let's hop to, shall we?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Best of 2014, Part 3: Directing, Screenplays

I'm going to tell you another secret: these posts aren't really about movies or lists. They're actually cruel psychological experiments to see how often I can get people to come back to this particularly traumatizing well, drinking deeply from rambling posts about movies they haven't seen. Are you reading this? If so, my master plan is working. You're in too deep. You're lost. (You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy.) (Ugh, The Babadook is creepy.)

Anyway, now that I've berated you for an appropriate length of time,  I suppose I ought to get back to writing movie lists and all that. Hopefully, today's entry will be short-ish, partly because I'm only going to do three categories, and also because it's Monday, which means I'm exhausted and I just want to stare blankly at the wall for the rest of my night. So I'll try and keep it brief so that we can all get back to staring at the wall of our choice. Today we'll be looking at the categories that (and tradition dictates that I say this) I plan to fail at later in life: directing and screenplays!

Best Director
5. Bong Joon-Ho-Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer is a glorious, lurid fever dream, but it would have been nothing but a brightly colored nightmare if it hadn't been handled with a sure hand. Bong Joon-Ho's got a vision--delirious and off-kilter as it may be--and his single-minded, manic conviction in seeing it through to the end impressive, bordering on horrifying. That it all actually works is something of a staggering achievement.

4. Ava DuVernay-Selma
Taking what can be (and normally is) a stale genre (the biopic), DuVernay injects life, purpose, and most importantly, energy into what could have been a tepid enterprise. Unwilling to lionize the man or the events, DuVernay's film pushes, scrapes, and finagles its way toward something resembling honesty, never forgetting to stare determinedly into the violence it conjures.

3. Dan Gilroy-Nightcrawler
It honestly just grosses me out that Nightcrawler is Gilroy's first film--what rookie has such effortless, confident control his first time up to bat? Nightcrawler flails forward like a bat out of hell, ensuring that the audience never once gets to stop for breath. Gilroy is absolutely merciless--every shooting, every car crash, every wild-eyed grin, and every bad haircut gets lovingly shoved into the audiences face, just as it ought to be. Gilroy aims for have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too satire, decrying the meat grinder that is contemporary news while giddily rolling around in the film's own bloodthirst impulses.

2. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu-Birdman
It's become a bit passé to applaud Innaritu's achievements in this field, but how can I not? It's certainly not the easiest thing in the world to helm a film that is made to look like it was made in one shot--nor is it the easiest thing to foster some of the best performances of the year. And yet Innaritu doesn't just manage it--he brings the whole lumbering enterprise screaming across the finish line with wit, energy, and (dare I say) pizzazz. (Ugh, pizzazz. Someone break my fingers.)

1. Jonathan Glazer-Under the Skin
And yet no one was ever going to take the top spot but Jonathan Glazer. I mentioned in the list on Sunday that Under the Skin is a purely visual exercise in narrative; this means that the director had even more to do than necessary. Given only camera set-ups, colors, and blank, unreadable faces, Glazer crafted one of the most maddening, absorbing, and fantastically wacky stories in theaters this year. And how did he do it? By being honest. By not being afraid to keep his distance and let the audience put two and two together. At any time during the film, Glazer could have condescended to us and underlined some crucial detail, or taken time to explain, but he doesn't, and that's the genius of it all--rather than being a mildly intriguing puzzle that is solved for us, Under the Skin becomes an infuriating exercise in attempting to connect dots that don't actually exist.

Honorable mention: Richard Linklater's years-long, sensitive work on Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay
5. Richard Linklater-Boyhood
Lightly written, organically conceived, naturalistic enough that it all seems like improv. Not bad.

Mom: You know what I'm realising? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced... again. Getting my masters degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what's next? Huh? It's my fucking funeral! Just go, and leave my picture!

4. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo-Birdman
Breakneck pacing, wordplay to stymie Olympic fencers, and enough pyrotechnics to gloss over some of the script's admitted weak points.
Mike Shiner: I'm drunk? Yes, I'm drunk! I'm supposed to be drunk! Why aren't you drunk? This is Carver. He left a piece of his liver on the table every time he wrote a fucking page. If I need to be drinking gin, who the fuck are you to touch my gin, man? Listen, you fucked with the period, you fucked with the plot so you could have the best lines, you leave me the fucking tools that I need! Oh, come on people, don't be so pathetic. Stop looking at the world through your cellphone screens. Have a real experience! Does anybody give a shit about truth other than me? I meant the set is fake, the bananas are fake, there's fucking nothing in this milk carton, your performance is fake. The only thing that is real on this stage is this chicken. So, I'm gonna work with the chicken.

3. Dan Gilroy-Nightcrawler
Creepy, soulless catchphrases shoe-horned into tiny little lonely lives, writ large in front of a TV camera.
Lou Bloom: What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you'd have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that's what I'm telling you, as clearly as I can.

2. Stephen Beresford-Pride
The best-written ensemble of the year--every character is well-developed and gets a chance to shine. Helps that the dialogue sings, too.
Dai: I've had a lot of new experiences during this strike. Speaking in public, standing on a picket line, And now I'm in a gay bar.
Jonathan: Well, if you don't like it, you can go home.
Dai: As a matter of fact, I do like it. Beer's a bit expensive, mind. But, really, there's only one difference between this and a bar in South Wales. The women. They're a lot more feminine in here.What I'd really like to say to you tonight is thank you. If you're one of the people that's put money in these buckets, if you've supported LGSM, then thank you, because what you've given us is more than money. It's friendship. When you're in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that's the best feeling in the world. So, thank you.

1. Wes Anderson-The Grand Budapest Hotel
Effortlessly vacillates between hilarious, heartwarming, and bittersweet. Like a wacky little pastry that you didn't know you wanted until after you'd eaten it.
M. Gustave: What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living shit out of a sniveling little runt called Pinky Bandinski, who had the gall to question my virility. Because, if there's one thing we've learned from penny dreadfuls, it's that when you find yourself in a place like this, you must never be a candy ass; you've got to prove yourself from day one. You've got to win their respect. You should take a long look at HIS ugly mug this morning.
[Takes a sip of water and laughs]
M. Gustave: He's actually become a dear friend.

Honorable mention: sparse, elegant storytelling in Ida

Best Adapted Screenplay
5. Gillian Robespierre-Obvious Child
Funny, sweet, insightful, and featuring the cutest awkward hook-up since...ever, probably.
(IMDB has basically no quotes for this one. Oh well. Rent this. It's funny.)

4. Nick Hornby-Wild
Frank with its events but generous with its emotions. Hard to make a long inner monologue pay off, but Wild pulls it off easily.
Cheryl: What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I'd done something I shouldn't have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I'd done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn't do anything differently than I had done? What if I'd actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

3. Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer-Under the Skin
An adaptation that rips the book to shreds, burns it, and congeals and oozing little nightmare from the ashes.
(There's just no point whatsoever trying to put a quote from this movie here. Like I've said a couple times before, the words are totally secondary to what's happening on the screen.)

2. Gillian Flynn-Gone Girl
It takes guts to adapt your own book for the screen. It takes even more guts to rip the thing apart and turn it into something new--a snarky, (very) black comedy that's far lighter on its feet than it has any right to be.
Nick Dunne: You fucking cunt!
Amy Dunne: I'm the cunt you married. The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like. I'm not a quitter, I'm that cunt. I killed for you; who else can say that? You think you'd be happy with a nice Midwestern girl? No way, baby! I'm it.

1. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely-Captain America: The Winter Soldier
For proving that Marvel movies don't have to be artistically starved cash-grabs: they can be complicated, intelligent, and multi-faceted, and still be a hell of a lot of fun. For showing us what comic-book adaptations should look like, without compromising either the comic book or the film's integrity.
Dr. Zola: People will fight for their freedom if people try to take it from them. But if you cause enough trouble, people will willingly give up their freedom for a more secure world.

Honorable mention: the (mostly) successful gags and silliness of 22 Jump Street

Well that's another post done. Tomorrow (or Wednesday, if we're being practical) will see the last big list day, in which I tackle all of the craft categories. Who will win best Sound Editing? Only time will tell! The suspense is killer.  What do we think? Did I really just give a Marvel movie a screenwriting award? I'm honestly a little shocked myself. We'll see if I come to regret that before too long. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Best of 2014, part 2: Acting categories

Ugh, you guys, I am so awkward when I have to praise acting. I don't know why. But I just get flustered and start tossing out adverbs willy-nilly and suddenly I'm chaining hyperbolic descriptions together like I'm trying to get a Mortal Kombat combo breaker. Since I've got approximately four hundred thousand billion things I need to be doing (that's a rough estimate), I'm going to try brevity again, and I think it could work in my favor this time. Rather than flopping around like a wordy fish at a typewriter, we'll get in, get out, and still get me out in time to go grade homework.

Today (he says, like he didn't just post something earlier this morning), we're going to pal around with some good performances (as you may have guessed from my mini-rant up there). So let's get to it! I'll include youtube videos when I can--just so you can get a little taste of what I'm blathering on about.

Best of 2014, Part 1: Top 20, Zen Awards

I have to admit something. It's a dirty secret, but I trust all of you, so here goes--but don't tell anyone. Ready? Here it is:

I love movies.

Like, a lot.

Whew. Glad that's off my chest.

In all honesty though, one of the purest, wackiest, elegant and profuse sources of joy in my life is to crawl into a dark theater, force myself through seeing the trailer for Insidious 3 for the 10th time, and then take a roller-coaster ride with a group of strangers. It's basically what I'm here for--that moment of transcendence, of being so completely and wholly transported and transformed by the experience of seeing light on a screen that I forget where I am, what I'm doing--I forget everything. I fly. And I think that's what we all do when in the presence of great movies--we fly. We giddily give the finger to the spindly little ropes tethering us to reality and fly off to find something better. And that's gorgeous. And important. And it's just impossible to believe that all of that can come from watching some light projected onto a screen that shows a story that was probably written in a cocaine-addled fever dream. But here we are. It's something that happens. And if that's not groovy, I don't know what is.

I know that I normally start these kinds of posts off with a ominously large helping of snark--and there is plenty of snark to come, I promise you--but I needed to spend a little serious-time paying love to my favorite medium. This past year of my life has been an interesting one, and full of changes. And I can't deny that some of it has been amazing and eye-opening and exciting and all that, but I also can't deny that some of it has been a bit of a slog. So how does all this connect? Well, the movies I'm about to spend entirely too much time describing helped to fill my life with joy. And that's something everyone needs.

So in interest of attempting to toss just a bit of that joy your direction, I'm here to share with you the experiences that made me giddy with weightlessness. I'll start off by doing write-ups on my top 20, and then I'll segue into my traditional Zen awards--if you've a better name, by all means please let me know. So if you can manage to drag yourself through 20 instances of me gushing over a movie you probably haven't seen, you'll be rewarded with me gushing about the strangest and silliest moments of the cinematic year that I can remember. Oh happy day! Check it all out after the jump.