The Return of Oscar

Here're my annual mini-reviews of Oscar nominees. (plus a few extras since I start these before nominations are released)

Hacksaw Ridge - This was one of those movies I didn't know much detail about. I knew it was a war movie and it was directed by Mel Gibson, and love him or hate him, the guy knows how to tell a solid story. But I was still pleasantly surprised to watch a much more humanizing story unfold over the typical war combat movie. It's got a ton of heart and some incredibly realistic battle scenes. It's got boy meets girl. It's got love triumphs over hate. It's worthy of a best picture nom and a fight at a win. Gibson's worthy of a director nod, as is Andrew Garfield. The entire cast is great. The only thing that threw me off a tad is Vince Vaughn being in it. His acting was great in it but for some reason his presence kept pulling me out of it and I thought to myself, there's Vince Vaughn again. Ultimately, I can look past that. Fantastic movie.

Elle - I'm not really sure where to begin with this one. Best actress nom for sure. The character is unlike any other I've seen on screen before and the story consistently had me asking, "what?" But not necessarily in a bad way. To say I enjoyed this movie makes me feel a little uneasy as it deals with some intense things that people generally don't want to see. But the film is well made enough that you do want to see it through to the end. The director is one of my favorites, so I may be a hair bias here. I guess all I can do to prepare you is say, don't expect an uplifting movie; don't watch it with your parents; and in case you don't know already, it's in French. Then buckle up for a low key intense ride.

Jackie - Natalie Portman completely transforms into Jackie O. Sort of uncanny how that, mixed with some great technical tricks, made for some really authentic seeming old footage. The way the script is structured and her level of acting, leaves very little room for anything other than her performance. It’s like an elaborate one woman show and while that part is fantastic, I don’t see very much else there. Also, I disliked the cheesy music they used.

Nocturnal Animals - Michael Shannon is just a hard ass dude in this. Loved him. The movie might deserve a second viewing. But it’s basically a psychological revenge story. A lot of people might find it to be too weird but I was into it.

Lion - A touching true story of a lost child. Dev Patel is as fantastic as he was in Slumdog, still possessing a natural way of making you like him. The child that plays his young counterpart is adorable and also gives a believable performance. Aside from one one slightly weird moment at the end that I can only assume just came from a Bollywood filmmaking style, I'd say this is a solid film from start to finish. And a funny note, this was the first movie I ever saw that two of the biggest questions are answered in the post movie notes written on the screen. And to be honest, that didn't bother me at all. It actually made me gasp a little as a final thought before the credits. Dev deserves a nomination, as does Nicole Kidman. Picture and director are equally deserving.

20th Century Women - A great cast all around with relatable characters and a heartwarming communal story. It was a real pleasure to watch this. Some really great lines and funny awkward moments that are enjoyable to be a fly on the wall for. Everything about this movie deserves nods but Annette Bening out shines the rest.

Fences - It's obvious this came from a stage play and that's not a bad thing. It's filled with incredible monologues any actor would love to perform. A real actor piece. Some of the scenes are downright astonishing and will furiously tug at your heart. Viola Davis has a scene or two in particular that I think are worth winning best actress on their own. Denzel had a lot of fun with his role and it shows. He brought a great energy to his character and did a great job directing. If you like the wordy dialogue of a great play-write and true to life dramas, then this is an A+. I loved it. Best Picture nomination.

A Monster Calls - You’ve gotta love the wildcard films up for consideration. This one tells a fairly basic core story but in a beautifully stylized way. It should do well in the the technical categories as well as screenplay. The young lead actor, while he gave a killer performance, young actors are a tough sell for nominations. This one will either do quite well this year or be overlooked altogether.

Moonlight - I didn’t think this sounded too enticing or original but the buzz has been been hot on it. 2/3 of the way in I was pleasantly surprised and really enjoying it. It was very real and had heart… until the 3rd act. And then it completely lost me. It felt forced and didn’t fit. Not that the acting was bad or anything, the script just phoned in the last act, unfortunately leaving last actor to play the older role, not much to work with. I thought the two younger versions of the character really shined. However I still have a sinking feeling, the Academy might still like the script and also the direction of this film and may still end up with noms in those categories.

Arrival - Not what you think it's going to be. This film is way more about communication, figuring things out, and well other stuff I wont spoil. What it's not so focused on is aliens. Which seems a bit off putting when you sit down to something like this, but I found it an extremely refreshing take on an alien presence story. Amy Adams will likely be nominated for this, as well as the screenplay. Deservingly so.

Hidden Figures - Great movie! Except for the love story sprinkled in there. I don't think it added anything to the movie other than some humanizing so the lead wasn't seen as just some robotic type math computer. But that same humanizing side could have been achieved in a better method. I loved the movie and every time those scenes popped in, it was like someone was stopping a ride for us all to watch a lame commercial we'd seen a million times for a product we don't need. I was even speaking the dialogue in those scenes before the actors did. It was that predictable and paint by number. I only come down on this so hard because it's such a contrast to the rest of the film, which is so entertaining and just plain delightful. All three leads could be nominated for this and had those unnecessary love story scenes not existed, I'd have said, best picture, director and screenplay. But they do exist, so I personally would not add it to those categories.

Patriot's Day - This is one of those movies that because it's based on a home land tragedy, you're generally already a bit more invested, or maybe even turned off by it. It's well made and it hits home so I was into it. I'd be interested to hear from people outside of the U.S. about their take. All the acting was great, even the terrorists were extremely convincing. Great job all around. Makes me wonder what parts were dramatized. As far as awards go, this could in some ways be seen as fuel for a fire some don't want to be involved with so for politely reasons, I'm betting it'll be snubbed at the oscars. Maybe it'll squeeze out one nom for Mark Wallberg because they're friendly with him and don't want to snub him too bad.

Rogue One - Yes. Just. Yes. What a perfect step into the new world of tie in Star Wars movies. As a Star Wars movie, it's fantastic for more reasons than I'll get into here since I try to keep these short. But it's great. Basically a war film, set in the Star Wars galaxy, telling a story of something you already knew the broad strokes to. Very cool. Though I do wish they'd kept the signature opening crawl. And Darth Vader reminds us why he's such an iconic bad ass villain. If this weren't a Star Wars movie though, would it still be as good? I think only slightly less. It stands pretty well on its own. Oscar-wise, it should kill in the technical categories and also costumes and design. It matched the originals look far better than the prequels did. And it was just awesome. I had so much fun watching it, I really need to see it again to fully review all the performances and aspects to it. The force is strong with this one.

Storks - This one was a surprise. I wasn't even planning to watch it but I watched it with my niece and ended up loving it. Really funny and often clever and imaginative with a touching story by then end. Worth a nomination for sure!

Florence Foster Jenkins - I usually enjoy the few Oscar contenders who fall into the comedic genre. Few and far between. This one didn't disappoint. It was a little slow to get going but as soon as Simon Helberg (from The Big Bang Theory) walked on screen I was purely entertained in a more classic comedic style. He made me laugh out loud a number of times with simple facial gestures and subtleties. A craft we don't see enough anymore. He was genuinely funny and it showed wonderfully. That, accompanied by the ever-returning talents of Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant made for quite the power cast. I would hope Simon gets a nom for supporting. Screenplay and editing deserve some love too. Meryl and Hugh do as well, but for them, it's probably considered sub-par work. (Yet it's still fantastic on both counts) It also tells a fascinating story of a strange sort of legend in the music industry worth learning about.

Allied - Bob Zemekis rolls out a great wartime romance with spies. What's not to love? The best part to this is I really didn't know where the story was heading. I had some ideas but I wasn't sure which way they would take it. That always makes for an enjoyable watch for me. Plus I thought the relationship between them was fun and unique. Brad Pitt will probably get a nomination along with the technical categories and possibly director.

Manchester by the Sea - I'll start by saying that I don't know the details on the Casey Affleck allegations so maybe this one might get boycotted. But at the moment, I don't know and proceeded to watch the film. It's a solid drama. Everything about it is top quality. The editing and Casey's acting were especially top notch. I would assume both and the screenplay to be nominated. His nephew may even grab a supporting nom for the ultra realistic relationship the two formed in the film. Real hard core family stuff. Loved it. It was almost uncomfortable to witness as a fly on the wall. Like when you were in the room when a friend was being yelled at by their parent. Sounds great, huh? Well it is. Great ready for a flash of some real life shit here. Great movie.

Captain Fantastic - For some reason I thought this was going to be a bit more light hearted than it was. Not a bad thing, just more intense at moments than I was ready for. Vigo will most likely get a nomination for best actor as he led a realistic seeming story that did leave me thinking. Many people talk about leaving society and living off the land and this is a pretty good depiction of what that would be like today while raising a family. I really liked it. Potentials for screenplay and a few supporting roles noms.

Loving - Some really great performances here and the true story is one worth walking in footsteps of for a couple hours but unfortunately that's all I could bear. I wanted it to be more involved than it was. All of the serious civil liberty legal fights were off camera. This is just the experience of the two people that were at the center of it. But these two stayed as distant as possible from things whenever they could. Totally understandable in reality but for the films sake, they should have followed the lawyers and lawmen more to see more of the struggle and triumph. Some of the biggest victories were revealed, literally being phoned in to them. Now I hate to say it but due to the #OscarsSoWhite issue last year, every non white contender may stand a better chance at winning things this year to put that scandal to bed. This may go that route. But actor, actress, production design and costumes are are worthy nominations.

Birth of a Nation - The director is a rapist. I don't give a shit what quality this movie is. Not supporting the guy.

La La Land - A spectacular masterpiece in the truest sense. It’s a total spectacle that'll tug at the romantic in anyone. I can’t speak higher of this. For a cinephile and musical lover, it’s perfect, for the general public, it may run about 15-20 min too long, but I’m not even sure what I’d say to cut. It’s all great. Okay, one song was just alright I suppose. Also, it’s a real Hollywood movie so if you’re the average Joe or Susie that doesn’t care much for the Hollywood scene, you may not even be that into it from the get-go. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out in other cities. But personally, I wouldn’t be mad if this won best picture this year. I know, the first thing I watch and I’m already making claims like that. Well it is what it is. Plus the director is a real chill dude. Support the guy and see it in the theater. Nominations for both leads, best picture, best director, possibly screenplay, and sweep nominations in the technical categories.

Moana - Disney hits us with another instant classic. A strong masterpiece for their collection. It’s gorgeous looking with great music and is magical as Disney can be. Really stunning visuals and incredibly lovable characters. Best animated feature? Most likely. Best picture even? It wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a really solid movie. Original song, possibly more than one. And I could even see screenplay popping in the running. As per usual, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson delivers a great performance even by voice and the Moana character is one of my favorite Disney princesses (though she’s technically not a princess, but close enough)

Sully - Unfortunately this has the overtones of a really good TV movie. And it ends with a corny one liner to really finish it off on that note. If you consider that a spoiler, I apologize. Hanks is great and nothing is particularly wrong with this movie. I did enjoy it, it’s just sort of straight forward and plain. Though it does tell a great true story from the view of a man that lived it. So sure, it’s worth watching. And maybe, just maybe, since Hanks is already a Academy favorite, he may get a nom for best actor.

The Lobster - If you’re ready for a truly surreal film, here you go. It will scratch that itch. That being said, it’s an unusual delight of strangeness that highlights actors playing odd as normal as can be. I really don’t have a lot to say about this one other than, if you want weird and slow paced, watch and enjoy, if you don’t like that, steer clear. I think this one may be too detached from the mainstream for the Academy to do anything with it but it could be a wild card.

Finding Dory - I'll start by saying Dory was my least favorite character in Finding Nemo and I had little interest in even seeing a sequel starring her. I thought nothing would be more annoying. Luckily even I'm wrong once in a great while. I thought this was such a fun and entertaining adventure story with a ton of heart. Which brings me back to, it's Pixar, what was I thinking? Dory never even annoyed me this time around and I imagine it'll be nominated for best animated feature but still lose out to fellow Disney newcomer, Moana.

Hell or High Water - a slow burn but has some decent payoffs of quick action and cool dialogue. A few nicely pulled off melancholy performances by Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and a slightly more intense one by Ben Foster. Sort of a “guys movie” but may be too slow of a burn for the rugged working class audience it seems to have been intended for. The Academy may see it like the next "No Country For Old Men" though.

Snowden - Edward Snowden is a droll guy with a monotone voice and Joseph Gordon Levitt nails that. So you want to be like, dude, put some energy into it, but really it’s on point. He does a fantastic job and the story is one every American should watch and become familiar with especially if they are not already. It’s an important part of our culture now and this is well made. Oliver Stone is said to alter his historical films a bit and I’m sure some was dramatized but I say watch it and read about it and you decide. Either way it’s a great watch. I get a weird feeling this may be overlooked mostly at the Oscars. JGL might get an actor nod but wouldn’t win.

Zootopia - I wasn’t sure what to think of this the first time I saw it. It had some way more adult themes than I expected and really pushed it. I liked it more and more as I thought about it afterwards and even on a second viewing. However I don’t see it winning. Worth a nomination without a doubt.

Kubo and the Two Strings - I dozed off multiple times and found myself thinking about other things during it. It just wasn’t able to hold me and the joked seemed like they were meant for only someone much younger than me or were just trying to hard. I also was really thrown for most of the movie as to why Charlize Theron was the voice of the monkey. It seemed so mismatched. The only saving grace to this movie was that it did have some unique elements to it that made it fun here and there and when the design of the movie was really pushed, it was top notch stunning to look at. Too bad there wasn’t more or it was enough to hold the rest of the movie. It did have some legitimately scary bad guys (or sisters) in it. I’m not saying it was bad, it wasn’t. It was good, but I think this one really is better for the kids. I feel we’ve learned how to make a good kids movie that equally satisfies the parents at this point, so I’m a bit thrown when I see one that doesn’t cater to that. Because, if you can, why not? None the less, due to lack of options, this will probably get nominated to fill up a slot on the best animated feature ballot.

2016 Honorable Mentions:

Deadpool

The Shallows

Swiss Army Man

Ordinary World

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