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La La Land Was Bad

31 Dec
LLL d 41-42_6689.NEF

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone looking very bored in La La Land.

Wow, people really seem to love La La Land.  People love this movie so much that it was actually difficult to find a decent seat in a theater in LA the last few weekends to see it.  What’s going on here?  Why do people love La La Land? What am I missing?

Here’s the thing with me – I often find myself unable to find the suspension of disbelief necessary to properly enjoy a musical.  I am a bit of a misanthrope and I simply find it difficult to believe that humans would jump into song and dance at any moment.  This is for good reason, as I have never seen anyone jump into song and dance in my entire short life.  I have never seen song and dance routines taking place in the post office, restaurants, or on the freeway in traffic.  However, if a song and dance routine played out upon a Los Angeles freeway sounds intriguing, La La Land is the film for you.

Damien Chazelle’s brightly colored film centers on the story of Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress who works as a barista in a Warner Brothers lot cafe, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a brooding aspiring jazz musician who pays the bills by playing corny piano tunes in restaurants.  The opening scene of the movie is a song and dance routine enacted  by the bored motorists of Los Angeles.  Not only was the song forgettable and useless, but the scene bothered me for another reason.  Apparently the only freeway that Chazelle was able to shut down was the 105, which runs east to west and is located several miles south of Pico Boulevard, running west toward LAX.  Pico Boulevard is relevant here because the people in the film most likely would balk at the idea of traveling south of that street.  They are that lame and self-protective.  To see a collection of people singing and dancing atop the 105 freeway, which runs atop one of the most dangerous and deadly neighborhoods in all of Los Angeles (Westmont), is truly disturbing.  The routine ends when Mia fails to realize that traffic is moving ahead, and Sebastian, perhaps in the only realistic moment of the film, cuts her off and unwittingly gives his future lover a dirty look.

One of the themes of this film is of course love, but I think what is most important about the twist in La La Land is that it does have some cynicism within it.  If anything, this movie would have been better with even more cynicism.  There was something so boring about both Mia and Sebastian, and when you put them together, it’s like watching two pieces of toast fall in love with each other just because the other one is there.  Mia wants to be an actress (duh) and Sebastian wants to be a jazz musician (okay so why isn’t he in New York), but they both are boring and flat characters with no real motivations for doing anything.

Perhaps the most pointless scene in the film comes when Mia gets angry with Sebastian for having to tour with a band nearly nonstop.  She asks him if he likes the music that he’s playing.  Sebastian isn’t sure.  The scene then escalates over this nothingness of a conflict.  Mia is mad that Sebastian will have to keep going out of town while making a living playing music.  Who cares if he doesn’t love what he’s playing?  Who is paying the bills in this relationship?  Is Mia’s job as a barista supporting them?  It makes no sense as to why this scene would serve as the rising action of the film.  Mia is mad at Sebastian for being a responsible adult.  Horrifying.  It then gets even worse, but I will leave the rest of the details a mystery.

There are some redeeming, enjoyable scenes.  The dance scene that took place in Griffith Observatory is perhaps the most memorable.  Most others are forgettable and lacking imagination.  Throughout the film, Chazelle appears to be paying homage to the film musicals of the past, but never quite as strongly as the actual musicals originally did it.

boring-la-la-land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling look very bored here.  Appropriate!!!

La La Land also appears to have been slapped together in a short amount of time.  The choreography is very basic and both Gosling and Stone seem stiff.  The ending of the film is perhaps the only redeeming sequence and the only part that gave me some inkling of emotion.  However, I do not think many people will be satisfied with the ending.  In fact, the woman next to me let out a big shrug and exhaled deeply, like she was glad to be done with something taxing.

It did not feel as anyone in the audience was moved throughout this film.  There is a very strange disconnect between the audience and the characters of Mia and Sebastian.  Let’s face it – Mia and Sebastian are carbon copies of stereotypes of stereotypes of what women and men in LA are like.  They are self-absorbed, boring, vapid, and singularly focused on their alleged careers.  This stereotype is true for the most part – people in LA are self-obsessed.  And the ending to this film, in a way, confirms this.  This is perhaps the only redeeming moment of the film – the ending.

Overall, I give La La Land a 4.5 out of 10.  Would not watch again unless it was on TBS ten years from now and nothing else was on.

88th Annual Academy Award Predictions

28 Feb

Wow, it’s that time of year again.  Another year that neither you nor I will not be winning a gold statue and the recognition of our peers.  Another year that Hollywood will praise each other for making it into a small circle of elitism.  Another year of dresses and jewelry more expensive than what most Americans could ever own or dream of.  Another year of gift bags worth hundreds of thousands of dollars!!!

2015 was a strange year for film, one that Bret Easton Ellis calls “the worst year for American film ever”.  Tell us how you really feel!  Did you see the films?  I saw most of this year’s films, and the only Best Picture nominee I skipped is Bridge of Spies.  Quite honestly, it looked like a snoozefest and we get it, Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg are important entities.

Here are my predictions of winners, along with who I believe SHOULD WIN!!!

Best Picture

  • “The Big Short”
  • “Bridge of Spies”
  • “Brooklyn”
  • “Mad Max: Fury Road”
  • “The Martian”
  • “The Revenant”
  • “Room”
  • “Spotlight”

WILL WIN:

Spotlight.jpg

“Spotlight”.  The Best Picture category seems to swing away from the films that win for acting and directing.  For some reason, I feel like this will win Best Picture.  However, I have some criticisms of this film.  I think they were trying to make a contemporary “All the President’s Men,” and the subject matter and era simply do not fit.  How many times did we see Mark Ruffalo frantically running?  Did we need that? Why was Liev Schreiber’s character so boring?  Why was he there?

SHOULD WIN:

“The Revenant”.  This was the best film of the year.  I was captivated.  Linda Holmes of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast called it a “theater of pain”.  Honestly, if that’s what this film is, I love theaters of pain.

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”

WILL WIN:

Leonardo DiCaprio The Revenant.jpg

Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant”.  What a performance.  Leo has been nominated many times and he’s never won.  He’s played many roles and nailed all of them.  He is, quite honestly, the greatest living actor of his generation.  This was a simple performance, but it highlighted his strengths.

SHOULD WIN:

Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Revenant”.  There is no other choice for me.

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett for “Carol”
  • Brie Larson for “Room”
  • Jennifer Lawrence for “Joy”
  • Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years”
  • Saoirse Ronan for “Brooklyn”

WILL WIN:

Brie Larson Room.jpg

Brie Larson for “Room”.  Larson’s performance was simply astonishing.  This film had me captivated the entire time.  Larson was calm and complex in this role.  She deserves this.

SHOULD WIN:

Brie Larson for “Room”.  See Above.

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”

WILL WIN:

Creed.jpg

Sylvester Stallone for “Creed”.  I think Stallone will get this award as a default achievement award.  They tend to give Best Supporting Actor to older guys.  He also won the Golden Globe.

SHOULD WIN:

Tom Hardy Revenant

Tom Hardy for “The Revenant”.  Tom Hardy is a superior actor and he impresses me very time he is onscreen.  Did you see Locke?  What about Legend, where he played two very different twin brothers?  This guy is a powerhouse who deserves an award soon.

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”

WILL WIN:

Alicia Vikander The Danish Girl

Alicia Vikander for “The Danish Girl.”  Alicia has a lot of heat in her career right now, and I see her picking up this award.  She won the SAG Award as well.  I actually think her performance in Ex Machina is more worthy, but The Danish Girl was an obvious prestige film that was released during awards season on purpose.

SHOULD WIN:

Jennifer Jason Leigh for “The Hateful Eight.” If you haven’t seen her in this film, just get ready to be shocked by the transformation.  She is a little powerhouse.

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”

WILL WIN:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu for “The Revenant”.  I have a feeling that the single shot that opens this film is Best Director-worthy.  I also feel somehow that The Revenant might not win Best Picture, which means they will give Best Director to Inarrritu.

SHOULD WIN:

Adam McKay for “The Big Short.”  This was an amazing film from someone who normally does lowbrow comedy.  I was truly impressed.  I cannot wait to see more heavy subject matter from McKay.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen for “Bridge of Spies”
  • Alex Garland for “Ex Machina”
  • Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley for “Inside Out”
  • Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”
  • Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff for “Straight Outta Compton”

WILL WIN:

Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for “Spotlight”.  This is a tough call for me since the Golden Globe winner, Aaron Sorkin, was not nominated for Jobs.  Was that a snub from the Academy?  I suppose Spotlight will win here.

SHOULD WIN:

Alex Garland for “Ex Machina”.  The fact that Ex Machina was an original story blows my mind.  Ex Machina is not being talked about enough at all.  Oscar Isaac deserves a nomination for his role, and I see this film as worthy of being a Best Picture nominee.  I think it’s early 2015 release date hurt those chances.

Best Adapted Sceenplay

  • Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for “The Big Short”
  • Nick Hornby for “Brooklyn”
  • Phyllis Nagy for “Carol”
  • Drew Goddard for “The Martian”
  • Emma Donoghue for “Room”

WILL WIN:

Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for “The Big Short”.  I loved this film and since McKay won the BAFTA for Best Adapted, he’s my pick.  The script did a good job of explaining a complicated problem to normal people.

SHOULD WIN:

Drew Goddard for “The Martian”.  This film was hilarious, dramatic, gripping, and honestly, one of the most entertaining of the year.  Goddard should win for making a story about getting abandoned on Mars actually quite hilarious.

Best Animated Feature Film

  • “Anomalisa”
  • “Boy & the World”
  • “Inside Out”
  • “Shaun the Sheep Movie”
  • “When Marnie Was There”

WILL WIN:

Inside Out

“Inside Out.”  This is the clearly superior film of the year as far as animation.  There was something about Anomalisa that I kind of hated, even though I love Charlie Kaufman and consider him to be a god.

SHOULD WIN:

“Inside Out.”

I’m mostly looking forward to Chris Rock.  Enjoy tonight!

Tarantino and His Love Affair with the N Word and “Bitch” in The Hateful Eight

8 Dec
Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is now playing in theaters, and the film raises numerous questions about the director’s goals and messages intended in this work.  The film is being shown in 70 mm film, in line with Tarantino’s love of the medium, and it also stars several of Tarantino’s favorite recurring actors, including Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Samuel L. Jackson.  What I took away from this film is that Tarantino essentially wants his audience to be disgusted by the things they are amused by.  This includes the use of racially-tinged language, violence against women, and rape.  Tarantino wants us to look at ourselves in a way that he first hinted at in Inglourious Basterds.  Unlike the revenge films of Tarantino’s earlier canon, The Hateful Eight is modeled more on a mystery whodunit.

Many people are already saying that this film is racist and misogynist.  However, Tarantino’s message is exactly that our society is racist and misogynist.  The action of the film follows John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who captures Daisy Damergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), for murder.  Ruth’s intention is to take Daisy to Red Rock to be hanged for her crime, but a blizzard impedes their travels, causing the two to have to seek shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery.  We never really learn any of the details of who Daisy killed, which is key to the understanding of how Daisy is supposed to function.  Leigh plays Daisy as a disgusting, foul-mouthed wretch, and within the first few minutes of the film, Ruth elbows her in the nose, calling her a “bitch” who needs to “shut up”.  This moment should frighten the audience.  Our hero character, Ruth, may not be trustworthy in this moment, and the remainder of the film is a slow-burning mystery that is not revealed completely until the last scenes.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this film is that the audience is made to feel uncomfortable in various ways.  The most obvious way is Tarantino’s use of the word “nigger,” which appears around seventy times in this film.  It’s not simply the use of the word that is bothersome, it is the comical and drawn-out manner in which the word is uttered by several of the actors that makes it unpalatable.  Several actors pronounce the word more like “niggaaaaahhh” to place strong emphasis on what they are saying.  This choice may appear to be insensitive, but I found it very purposeful and indicative of the way that Tarantino wants his filmgoers to question the use of language.

The treatment of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is also highly effective in drawing out Tarantino’s intended messages on misogyny.  We never learn the nature of the murder that Daisy commits, nor do we really know anything about who she is, except for small hints of a colorful personality.  John Ruth intends to take her to Red Rock to be hanged, but in the interim, Ruth has no problem with striking Daisy with brute force, calling her a “bitch” each time.  The first time Ruth hits Daisy, a game is established.  The other characters use Ruth as a punching bag.

Tarantino certainly does not hate women. He is not a misogynist by any means, as we can see that from the numerous examples of strong women in his previous films – Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction, The Bride and O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill, and Shoshanna Dreyfus in Inglorious Basterds all come to mind.  Tarantino worships these women, and his characters are strong and multi-faceted.  Daisy is no different, who is strong in her own way.

Near the end of the film, the crux of  the action is revealed by a character.  Oswaldo Mulberry (Tim Roth) delivers some very critical lines about justice versus frontier justice.  When speaking to Daisy, he explains that when there is a murder and a trial takes place, followed by a hanging, that is true justice.  However, if no trial takes place and the people take control of the matter, simply hanging the accused in the town square, that is “frontier justice”.  This film is thusly more about the application of “justice” and how we apply it to the violence of today.  Is it right to simply go ahead and hang someone without knowing their intentions or the validity of their guilt?  Or is it more wise to hold a trial and act fairly?  This is the question that the audience is left to ponder, and Tarantino is making a very valid point.  Should we flay the filmmaker for his use of jarring images and offensive words?  Or is he trying to deliver a deeper message?

This is a very difficult film made by a director and writer who does not shy away from difficult subject matter.  For hardcore Tarantino fans, this film will be appreciated as a part of his canon for years to come.

Mistress America is Us; We are Mistress America

17 Aug

Brooke Cardinas

The new Noah Baumbach-directed comedy Mistress America is a hilarious reflection of our current narcissistically focused culture.  Written by Baumbach and his girlfriend Greta Gerwig, who takes a hilarious turn as the overwhelmed and thinly spread Brittany Cardinas, Mistress America is a quick-witted take on the life of a 30-year-old woman struggling to make something of herself.

We first meet Tracy, an 18-year-old Barnard student with aims of making the literary society.  She finally meets the inspiration she needs in the form of Brooke, who is due to become her stepsister when Tracy’s mother marries Brooke’s father.  After calling Brooke, the two meet up and Tracy becomes entranced by the confident and seemingly very worldly young woman who will become her stepsister.  Tracy begins researching Brooke, finding out that she moonlights as a SoulCycle instructor and schmoozes with the who’s who of New York’s creative scene, jumping onstage with bands and name-dropping people she knows.  Tracy’s fascination results with her writing a short story based on Brooke, describing her as a young woman “dragging the corpse” of her youth behind her as she tries to make something of herself.  The title of the short story lends itself to the title of the film.

Brooke’s focus for her future is an investment in a restaurant she wants to call Mom’s.  Her rich boyfriend Stavros, who never appears onscreen (lending to the possibility that he does not exist) is helping Brooke with her portion of the investment.  When Stavros pulls out of the investment, Brooke is left to scramble for $75,000.  She immediately consults a medium, who tells Brooke that she has unfinished business with someone with the initials M.C., who turns out to be Brooke’s former best friend, Mamie-Claire, who stole an idea for a flower print t-shirt from Brooke, reaping the profits, and also married Brooke’s former boyfriend, the very rich and Falstaffian Dylan.

Mistress America

The resolution of the plot comes following an extended scene in Mamie-Claire and Dylan’s modern manse in Greenwich, Connecticut, which Brooke deems as an awful place.  What is most impressive about this film is the committed performances by each actor, but most especially Greta Gerwig, who gives Brooke a boundless energy punctuated by ridiculous dialogue and wayward glances.  Lola Kirke, the younger sister of Girls actress Jemima Kirke, is capable in her role as Tracy.  Another highlight is Heather Lind as the clueless and rich Mamie-Claire, who admits to stealing Brooke’s t-shirt idea of a “hard flower” print.

The dialogue in Mistress America is nearly breathless, with each character, although especially Brooke, spouting endless gems.  At one point, Brooke, almost quite elegantly, describes how as time progresses, our wants become greater and the possibility of fulfilling those wants appears to become less likely.  Gerwig gives her character a moment of quite reflection as she stares off into the ether, saying that “all we have left is wants”.

Brooke Cardinas stands as a symbol for young women (and even some young men) who wish to do something with their lives, yet face endless challenges to getting on their feet.  Mistress America is really a portrait of the struggling millenial who hopes to one day make a living at something they love, yet continues to see that possibility shrink with each passing year.  We are all Brooke Cardinas, in some way.

Although Mistress America is out only four short months after Baumbach’s While We’re Young,  this film shows exactly the reach that he has as a director with his real-life girlfriend helping him with both the screenplay and her performance.  Alongside Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach is truly reaching his apex as a filmmaker.

Mistress America: 8.5 out of 10

Art Weingartner Lives On Forever: Rick Ducommun Dead at 62

20 Jun

Perhaps best known for playing nosy neighbor Art Wiengartner in the cult classic film The ‘Burbs, Rick Ducommun’s career started in stand up and lead to a string of supporting comedic roles in the 1980s and 1990s.  Rick Ducommun died on June 12, 2015 at the age of 62, due to complications from diabetes.  Ducommun’s performance as Art was a comedic triumph and a delight for anyone who saw The ‘Burbs.  Art Wiengartner was the perfect overzealous neighbor, inviting himself to eat at Ray Peterson’s house and sharing his theories on the new neighbors who move into the Klopeck house down the street.  Ducommun’s comedic timing was on point, especially with the delivery of his most quoted line: “Satan is good, Satan is our pal…”.

The Burbs - Art

Here is a best of compilation showing some of Art’s classic moments:

The ‘Burbs was a film favorite for me in my childhood, but Ducommun also appeared in movies like Little Monsters as the villain Snik, and as Gus, one of the bar patrons who spends his night with Phil Connors over and over again.  He also appeared as the limo driver in Blank Check.  Ducommun was also an accomplished stand up comedian, with an HBO special airing on HBO called “Rick Ducommun: Piece of Mind”.

Groundhog Day - Rick Ducommun

LITTLE MONSTERS, Rick Ducommun, Howie Mandel, 1989.

LITTLE MONSTERS, Rick Ducommun, Howie Mandel, 1989.

Rick Ducommun certainly had a huge stage presence, and he was a scene stealer in many of his roles.  His career never blew up like many of the stand-up comedians who went on to have their own sitcoms or starring film roles, but Ducommun is memorable, and I certainly count him among my comedic influences.

Pour one out for Rick Ducommun.

Going Clear and the Obvious Narcissism of L. Ron Hubbard

4 Apr

Tom Cruise Scientology Cover Photo

I just finished the new HBO documentary Going Clear, and all I can say is: my, oh my.  This terrifying documentary exposes more about Scientology than I ever knew.  What is most clear to me is that Scientology, as a whole, is a product of narcissistic abuse.  If I were to hypothesize anything about its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, it’s that he most likely qualified as someone suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder of the cerebral variety.  Hubbard, who started as a pulp fiction writer, eventually wrote Dianetics, which would become the basis of Scientology and an exploration of what Hubbard called “the modern science of mental health”.  This man made the presumption that his book could overturn centuries of development in the arena of mental health.  When that did not happen, he invented his own religion.

In the last year or so I have been in deep research mode of Narcissistic personality disorder.  The reason for this is because I was in a romantic relationship with someone who I very much believe to be a narcissist.  Within the first few minutes of this documentary, we hear excerpts of letters written about L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology by his second wife, Sara Northrup.  Sara asserted that she only married Hubbard because he had threatened suicide.  This is a very common manipulation tactic for narcissists to use in order to get their way.  She also detailed an account about how Hubbard awoke her from her sleep because she had been smiling, setting him off into a rage because he took it to mean she was thinking about another man.  After they had a daughter, Hubbard took the little girl with him and called Sara to tell her that he had chopped their daughter into tiny pieces and thrown her into a river.  It doesn’t get much more abusive than that.

Going Clear also touches on how the church’s two most famous members – John Travolta and Tom Cruise, became so involved with Scientology.  John Travolta was extremely young when he became involved, and he linked his success in acting with his involvement in Scientology.  The use of “auditing” also becomes very important in the case of Travolta, as it appears that the Church of Scientology threatens members with the release of their deepest secrets collected in such sessions.  Obviously the Church of Scientology has something pretty big on Travolta that keeps him there.

Scientology’s biggest star and supporter is Tom Cruise.  Cruise’s marriage to Nicole Kidman is a major focal point of his story in Scientology.  The documentary mentions that Nicole Kidman’s father was a prominent psychologist in Australia, which David Miscavige, the head of the Church of Scientology, viewed as a threat.  Any psychologist or mental health professional, or any person associated with a mental health professional is deemed to be a “suppressive person” by Scientology.  Scientologists therefore aim to “disconnect” from these suppressive people, of course at almost any cost. Nicole, therefore, was deemed a suppressive person, and her divorce from Cruise was apparently orchestrated by the Church of Scientology.  I have heard further rumors that Cruise’s marriage to Katie Holmes was staged and under contract, but the documentary goes no further than discussing an arranged relationship between Cruise and an actress named Nazanin Boniadi.  There were also rumors that one of the reasons why Holmes divorced Cruise was her fear of their daughter Suri becoming involved in Scientology.  Going Clear also notes that Cruise was not really involved in Scientology during his marriage to Kidman, but in recent years, he has been the absolute most treasured asset of the Church.  Cruise is one of the biggest movie stars of all time, if not the biggest, and Scientology depends on him in many ways.

Going Clear is a truly terrifying look at how Scientology is essentially the result of an egomaniac’s own desire to control others.  This documentary is one of the first looks at some of the extreme abuses allegedly committed by David Miscavige and the Church of Scientology.  Perhaps what is most revealing about the Church of Scientology is its financial value (over one billion dollars) and its real estate investment prowess.  I have driven by the Church of Scientology on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and it is a menacing sight.  A few people I know have gone inside to take the prerequisite personality tests “as a joke”.  After watching Going Clear, I can say with certainty that there is nothing funny about Scientology and its abuses of its members.

87th Annual Academy Award Predictions

22 Feb

Like sands through the hourglass, another year has passed and it’s time for Hollywood to bestow upon one another the most important awards in the world.  Make no mistake – the Academy Award, known colloquially as the “Oscar” is more important that any award ever given from one man to another.  More important that the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, or the Nobel Peace Prize, the Oscar remains the most coveted little gold man on earth.

Tonight we reflect on those who will win Oscars tonight, and those who should win Oscars (but will not because the world is unfair).

We will look at the most critical categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay.  As for the other awards, meh.

Best Picture:

American Sniper
Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole

Boyhood
Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson

The Imitation Game
Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman

Selma
Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner

The Theory of Everything
Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten

Whiplash
Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster

WILL WIN:  BIRDMAN

SHOULD WIN: BIRDMAN

I have seen all of the best picture candidates save for The Theory of Everything and Selma.  I just re-watched Birdman last night, and the film is much more nuanced and complicated than any of the other nominees.  Although I thoroughly enjoyed American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Whiplash, none of those films feel like the Best Picture of the year.  I also must say that I am in the minority of people who loathed Boyhood.

ACTOR – in a Leading Role

Steve Carell
Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper
American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch
The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eddie Redmayne
The Theory of Everything

WILL WIN: MICHAEL KEATON

SHOULD WIN: MICHAEL KEATON

Michael Keaton Birdman

Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman is amazing and multilayered.  Keaton has a history of great performances, including my personal favorites – Beetlejuice and Multiplicity.  It’s his time after putting in those dues!

ACTRESS – in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard
Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones
The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore
Still Alice

Rosamund Pike
Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon
Wild

WILL WIN: JULIANNE MOORE

SHOULD WIN: JULIANNE MOORE

Julianne Moore - Still Alice

Another actor who deserves the Oscar for her body of work is Julianne Moore.  Her performance in Still Alice is heartbreaking, honest, and necessary.  Julianne Moore is a treasure we are lucky to have.

ACTOR – in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall
The Judge

Ethan Hawke
Boyhood

Edward Norton
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo
Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons
Whiplash

WILL WIN: J.K. SIMMONS

SHOULD WIN: J.K. SIMMONS

J.K. Simmons was terrifying in Whiplash.  Simmons’ turn as a music teacher at a Julliard-level music school shows the terrifying stakes faced by his students on a daily basis.  Simmons’ abusive treatment of Miles Teller’s character is not meant to be taken lightly; this is a character whose rage will live on in film for decades to come.

WHIPLASH_03.jpg

ACTRESS – in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette
Boyhood

Laura Dern
Wild

Keira Knightley
The Imitation Game

Emma Stone
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep
Into the Woods

WILL WIN: PATRICIA ARQUETTE

SHOULD WIN: PATRICIA ARQUETTE

Patricia Arquette Boyhood

Although I was not partial to Boyhood, I can easily say that Patricia Arquette will win this award.  She deserves the Oscar not only for her body of work, but also for the effort of filming the same film for a period of twelve years.  Ms. Arquette also delivered the most critical line of the film: “I was just expecting more”.

DIRECTING

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Boyhood
Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher
Bennett Miller

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson

The Imitation Game
Morten Tyldum

WILL WIN: RICHARD LINKLATER

SHOULD WIN: ALEJANDRO G. INARRITU

I believe that Linklater will win for Boyhood due to the achievement of the film being shot over the course of twelve years.  I think Inarritu should win for the amazing performances he culled from his actors in Birdman, not to mention the multilayered aspects of the film.

WRITING – Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper
Written by Jason Hall

The Imitation Game
Written by Graham Moore

Inherent Vice
Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything
Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

Whiplash
Written by Damien Chazelle

 WILL WIN: PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON FOR INHERENT VICE

SHOULD WIN: PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON FOR INHERENT VICE

P.T. Anderson is a god who walks among men.  There is no one like him working in film today, nor will there ever be again.  All hail P.T. Anderson.

 

WRITING – Original Screenplay

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Boyhood
Written by Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher
Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler
Written by Dan Gilroy

WILL WIN: WES ANDERSON FOR THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

SHOULD WIN: ALEJANDRO INARITTU, ET AL for BIRDMAN

I think that Wes Anderson will win for best original screenplay because he doe snot have a chance at winning for Best Picture or Directing.  If I had to choose a screenplay based purely on craft, I would choose Birdman.

Fixed Air’s 86th Annual Academy Award Predictions

26 Feb

It’s that time of year again – the time in which rich, privileged actors reward each other for being privileged.  The Oscars are the ultimate pat on the back, and I will not lie, i would love a pat on the back.  In the meantime, I am no one and these oscar predictions will serve as my personal foray into the self-congratulatory Hollywood we all know and love.  I will name my predicted winner and if I think someone else should win instead, they will get a shout-out.  Only the major categories will be covered here.  Here we go…

American Hustle

BEST PICTURE
“12 Years a Slave”
“American Hustle” – Will Win
“Captain Phillips”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
“Gravity”
“Her”
“Nebraska”
“Philomena”
“The Wolf of Wall Street” – Should Win

American Hustle will likely take Best PIcture tonight, although there is some speculation that the win by “12 Years a Slave” at the Independent Spirit Awards yesterday will cause an upset.  My favorite film of the year was “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which was widely misunderstood by audiences as a carefree jaunt about drugs, money, and sex, although it was so much more than that.

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity” – Will Win
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave.”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska” – Should Win
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Cauron won the Golden Globe for Best Director, so he is likely a lock for the Oscar.  If I had to choose, Alexander Payne deserves for the subtle and comedic performances he was able to bring out in “Nebraska”.

Dallas Buyers Club

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club” – Will Win & Should Win
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Matthew McConaughey will win the Oscar tonight.  Let’s take a moment to contemplate how far the guy who got his start as David Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused” has come.  McConaughey’s performance had everything that an Oscar-worthy performance should have – drastic weight loss (or gain, in some cases), a tragic story, and a meaningful message about perseverance  and the human spirit.

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” – Will Win & Should Win
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

Cate Blanchett will win her second Oscar tonight for her turn in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine”.  Her performance as the delusional and unraveling Jasmine French, who cannot admit to being broke after her late husband’s business unraveled.  Killer performance and much deserved.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street” – Should Win
Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club” – Will Win

Jared Leto was amazing in Dallas Buyers Club, certainly, but I was more impressed with Jonah Hill’s performance as Donnie in martin Scorcese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street”.  His choice of wearing a fake toothy smile and displaying every cadence to a man who became sleazier and less trustworthy as his money grew are all indicators that Hill is here to stay as a strong character actor.

June Squibb - Nebraska

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave” – Will Win
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska” – Should Win

Lupita Nyong’o is the new Hollywood It Girl, and she will take home the Oscar on Sunday. However, if I were to choose my favorite best supporting actress turn, it would be June Squibb as the ever-dissatisfied wife of Bruce Dern’s curmudgeon in “Nebraska”.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
“The Croods”
“Despicable Me 2”
“Ernest & Celestine”
“Frozen” – Will Win
“The Wind Rises”

I have not seen any of these films but all I have heard about is “Frozen” and how good it is.  That will be my choice by default.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
“Let It Go” from “Frozen”
“The Moon Song” from “Her”
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” – Will Win

Yikes.  The Best Original Song category usually has a fair share of lame songs that do their best to pull on heart strings, but this year’s choices are especially blah.  I keep hearing about this “Let It Go” song from Frozen (performed by Idina Menzel), but if I had to choose the winner, it will probably go to U2 for “Ordinary Love”.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Before Midnight,” written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips,” screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena,” screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave,” screenplay by John Ridley – Will Win
“The Wolf of Wall Street,” screenplay by Terence Winter – Should Win

“12 Years a Slave” will likely win for Best Adapted Screenplay, although Terence Winter’s adaptation of “The Wolf of Wall Street” was a writing tour de force.  The screenplay for “The Wolf of Wall Street” was inspiring, but “12 Years a Slave” will win ultimately for the heaviness of the message of the film.

Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“American Hustle,” written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell – Will Win
“Blue Jasmine,” written by Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club,” written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
“Her,” written by Spike Jonze – Should Win
“Nebraska,” written by Bob Nelson

Even though Spike Jonze won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, I do not think he will have a chance with Academy voters, who are a bit more conservative than the Hollywood Foreign Press.  Although his screenplay for “Her” was beyond relevant to our contemporary culture and displayed the very things that are going wrong as I type this, Jonze will not win the Oscar.  I predict that Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell will win for their screenplay, which was quite good as well, but less culturally relevant.

Cash, Hoes, and Coke: Reconciling the Realness of The Wolf of Wall Street

28 Dec

People really hate this movie.  Martin Scorcese’s three-hour opus to money, drugs, and sex is The Wolf of Wall Street, and oh my, how people hate it.  I use the Fandango app to check on movie times at my favorite theaters, and some of the reviews written by moviegoers sum up the main reasons why people hate this movie:

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3

Essentially, people hate this movie because of the sex, drugs, and profanity.  Some of the anti-sex comments in these reviews are ridiculous and point to the highly puritanical views held deep within the American consciousness.  Middle America does not find amusement in the depiction of sex of any kind, even though sex is happening at all times and in all places.  Despite the nudity and depictions of threesomes, homosexual sex, and blow jobs, this movie is not simply about sex.  It’s about drugs, too.  And money.

The film follows the story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a penny stock trader who recruited a group of buffoons he knew in Queens to push crappy penny stocks on unsuspecting victims, eventually targeting the wealthiest one percent of Americans.  Although Jordan Belfort is far from a notorious financial criminal like Bernie Madoff, he certainly made some enemies at the peak of his trading scam, from the late 1980s to the early aughts, when he eventually went to prison (country club prison, natch) for a total of 22 months and received a sentence to pay $110 million in restitution.  The problem that many have with this film is the establishment of Belfort as the protagonist.  This of course stems from the assumption that the protagonist of a story must always be virtuous, which is simply not the case.  In fact, Jordan is a problematic protagonist, and the audience knows right away that his focus is money, and that he’ll go any length to get it.  We know that he’s an asshole, but guess what? He’s a likable asshole!!! This is the crux of the film, which everyone seems to have overlooked.  Not only is this film satirical, but much of its satire is found in the behaviors of Jordan himself.  This is a man so full of himself that he breaks the fourth wall to tell his own story, and what a gloriously vain story it is.  Jordan Belfort is certainly no Gordon Gekko, but, referencing that famed Clint Eastwood quote, he’s a legend in his own mind.  What Belfort is is just an ambitious blue collar kid from the Bronx, not yet knowing that swindling his clients is the only way to make real, tangible bank on Wall Street.  On his first day on Wall Street, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) provides Jordan with sleazy advice (accompanied by a Native American war chant that recurs throughout the film) to simply take money from your clients and keep it.  This is the mantra Belfort adopts, and he begins to target people who he deems to be idiots – people dumb enough to dump thousands of dollars into penny stocks that will go nowhere but down.  He is twenty-two, hungry, and willing to stop at nothing.

From Slate.com

DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort.

One of my friends found this film to be a poorly executed attempt at satire.  He found that the “choices” made by Marty and Leo were simply too much, and did not work at all.  He felt that the film glorified debauchery.  That is indeed what this film does, but the satirical aspect of what Scorcese is trying to say is easily overcome by the stunning visualizations of what money can indeed buy.  Money can buy Lamborghinis, cocaine, and hookers, in an infinite amount, and this movie contains all of that and more.

Like my friend, many are saying that Jordan is glorified throughout the film, however, there are many scenes and incidents that show how much of an asshole he really is.  The reason why the audience ends up liking him is the great irony of what society thinks of money: we hate the assholes who have it, but having it is everyone’s ultimate goal.  We all secretly want to be that kind of asshole who can fill a wastebasket with hundred dollar bills.  Jordan is both who we would never want to be and who we really want to be when we daydream of riches.  Jordan thusly represents that great paradox of contemporary society.  Conspicuous consumerism is pushed relentlessly upon Americans, even in the years following a deep recession.  Even though no one seems to have any money, and stories of loss and poverty flood the mainstream media, companies are still pushing their products, rap stars still flaunt ice and cash, and kids carry around iPads instead of books.  Capitalism is still king.

Another argument my friend makes is that none of the female characters have any depth or anything to say.  That is indeed the very point of how the women are meant to function in the film – Jordan’s wife and the other women are little more than trophies with nothing more to say or do than to spend the money their husbands earn from the work of others.  They are not meant to act as great insightful wells of knowledge.  However, Jordan’s second wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie)  appears to completely understand her role as a sexual object in Jordan’s life.  She uses her sexuality as a tool in order to get the things she wants, and she does not carry guilt about this.  Naomi embodies “pussy power” that she holds over her man, and she uses it to get whatever she wants, including those fly Gucci boots she so knowingly unzips.

As far as the drug use depicted in the film, it was hardly shocking.  Drugs are commonplace among those with money, hell, they are commonplace among those without money.  Maybe I know too much about drugs, maybe I understand all too well that women are really nothing more than tits and ass to many men, or maybe I am simply too jaded to find anything to get angry about in regard to this film.  The acting and editing was great, the script was quite good, and the message of the film is there, as long as you take your time to sift through the orgy of cocaine and hundred dollar bills left behind by Marty.  This is a film that blatantly points out the obsessively capitalist things that are morally remiss in our culture; however, in glorifying cash, hoes, and coke, Scorcese and Terrence Winter, who wrote the screenplay, are sending the message that what our culture obsesses over is not necessarily a good thing.

Una Noche: Lost Dreams of Havana’s Youth

17 Sep

Una Noche is a phenomenally well made film that explores what lies at the heart of every person – the innate desire for something more.  Directed by a friend I met while attending NYU, the film makes use of brilliant cinematography, fluid editing, and the sheer power of storytelling to bring us the tale of Elio and his twin sister Lila.  Elio (Javier Nunez Florian) works in a hotel kitchen, cooking for tourists who pass through Havana on vacation.  His twin sister Lila (Anailin de la Rua De la Torre) is his constant companion.  The two explore Havana together, running amok with other teenagers.  Early on, we learn that Lila cannot swim, which foreshadows a major event in the plot.

Elio, dissatisfied with his dead-end life in Havana, is planning to make an escape from the island to Miami with his friend and co-worker, Raul (Dariel Arrechaga).  Raul hopes to soon be reunited with his father in Miami.  Together, Elio, Lila, and Raul comprise a set of Havana youth that are privy to the disappointments and hopelessness that often accompany reality.  This film is not a fairy tale.  Una Noche, without giving too much away, is a realistic story of just how bad life can get.  This film documents desperation, and the measures that people will take to escape it.

Una Noche resonated with me on a personal level due to the fact that part of my heritage is based in Cuba.  My maternal grandfather grew up in Havana, and his family managed to make their way to New York City prior to the Cuban Revolution.  The Cuban economy would deteriorate over the next few decades, largely in part to their trade dependence with the Soviet Union.  What struck me so deeply while watching the film was how lucky I have been in my life to have not been privy to some of the things that my grandparents and their parents endured.  I’ve mostly lead a privileged life, attended private university, and worked cushy office jobs.  People like Elio, Raul, and Lila are representative of the vast majority of the world’s population.  There is a world out there that is much bigger than consumerism and folly – people are ill, starving, and fighting to live.  Una Noche is a stark reminder of just how good many people have it, but always forget out of convenience.

What Una Noche documents very well is the crumbling and tense state of Havana.  It is a place where white foreigners come to bask in the sun on the beach, but the natives, who vary in complexion from light to caramel to dark brown, are relegated to the parts of Havana that no tourist would dare venture to.   What touched me the most was how happy the children were, despite living in abject poverty in the slums of Havana.  For me, this film was as much about social issues as it is about the power of hope, and what lengths people will go to in order to change the course of their lives.

The fates that befall Elio, Lila and Raul result from an encounter Raul has with a tourist.  Once again, the power of the foreign other is what pushes the three to the brink of a life or death decision.  The opening of the film introduces the voice of an English tourist proclaiming, “this is their story, not ours”.   A poignant touch to an otherwise startling, breathless film.  This is indeed the story of those that will very rarely be told.   The young actors who played the three main characters are very naturally gifted, and they embody their characters completely.  Lucy Mulloy, in her directorial debut, proves that she is a consummate storyteller and a voice for the voiceless.

Una Noche is currently playing in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theater at 11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, and in New York City at the IFC Center, located at 323 Sixth Avenue at West Third Street.