90th Oscar Picks and Predictions

Did this feel like an odd year for movies for anyone else? I'm not sure why it seemed so strange, but even so there were a lot of great movies to choose from this year alongside some strange ones. I got around to seeing most of the movies I wanted to prior to the big show and I feel inspired to be as spirited as Lady Bird and as badass as Mildred Hayes.

PICTURE: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Loved this movie. I must say, however, that my popular pick of the year was probably Get Out and I would ~love if that would surprise everyone

DIRECTOR: Jordan Peele - Get Out
I'll admit this is a wishful prediction but I just want him to win so bad! And I genuinely think it was the best directed. Guillermo del Toro could win, though, and he's just not my dude

ACTOR: Gary Oldman - The Darkest Hour
A very convincing performance from a longtime fav of mine

 ACTRESS: Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
What a woman.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
His speech at the Indies was so great! I'm so happy for his (almost) win

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Allison Janney - I, Tonya
It's almost a sure thing that she's coming home with the prize, but my pick would have been Laurie Metcalf for Ladybird.

FOREIGN FILM: A Fantastic Woman
SONG: "Remember Me" from Coco
SCORE: Shape of Water
ANIMATED SHORT: Negative Space (I refuse to predict Kobe Bryant's short)
LIVE SHORT: Dekalb Elementary
COSTUME DESIGN: Phantom Thread
MAKEUP: Darkest Hour

Thor (2011)

My first association with Thor came when I was just a kid. My comic-book loving brother had Marvel characters galore coating his walls and I used to stare at them with no comprehension of who they all really were. The first time I could put a name to a face, though, came from "Adventures in Babysitting" - a classic of our times - while little Sara wore a Thor helmet and mistook a car dealer for her hero.
I remember very well when this movie was released. I was working full-time at my college bookstore. There were two TVs behind our desk that would generally play ads for my school, and the occasional BYU-appropriate trailer. I watched the trailer for "Thor" over a dozen times before I saw it that summer. I pretentiously talked to my coworkers about Kenneth Branagh and how excited I was to see what the distinguished English actor/director of Henry V would bring to the table. I didn't know much then, and I don't know much now but I sure enjoyed pretending to know more about movies than my peers. I remember loving it the first time I saw it and I was very curious to see how the movie would hold up seeing it 6 years later.
Thor is the god of thunder. The son of Odin, king of Asgard, a land somewhere lost in time and space.  Once upon a time, Asgard and the Frost Giants were at war where the blue, snowy creatures wanted dominion over the nine realms, including our blessed Earth. When Asgard blew them over,  the Asgardians took their little ice trophy, the Casket of Ancient Winters.
In the present, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is about to assume the throne over his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Those same frozen creatures come and ruin his big day by trying to steal back their casket. Thor throws a whiny tantrum, thinks he’s king already, and decides to take matters into his own hands and starts up some war again with their frosty neighbors. Odin (Anthony Hopkins) realizes that Thor is acting like a child and unfit for the throne. So Thor is banished to Earth without powers or the ability to wield his hammer. Things get worse upstairs when Odin has some kind of stressed-induced heart attack and falls into his get-better “Odinsleep.” Loki takes over as king and he wants to run things a little differently. Thor meets a woman, is confronted with war again and must face his brother to save everyone from war. Or something.

This story is passable, but I don't think it's terribly strong.
It is not an easy task to melange with Norse mythology - if only because the characters are inherently uninteresting. Thor has no notable personality traits and it seems like a stretch for this distant war to come to such a front in rural New Mexico. It also seems unlikely that Thor would magically grow up and turn into a suitable king over night because he met some ~nice people and a pretty lady. I can see what they were going for, but I'm not convinced. Maybe I'm just not buying the changed-by-a-woman-I-just-met-yesterday plot device any longer. Hemsworth brings a sort of suave charm to the character that is delightful, but it feels like something is lacking in the middle in order for us to appreciate the leader he becomes.
Loki, on the other hand, was the best developed out of anyone else in the ensemble. His disturbed countenance and spark of evil are well portrayed by Hiddleston, and his deep confusion and eagerness to please no matter the cost are tragically relatable. He's compelling because of the evident inner sadness that any sibling living in shadow can understand. 

With time has brought age to the CGI and no it isn't like cheese or wine. 6 years doesn't sit well with a land exclusively built in developing technology. Asgard - while well designed and well thought-out - looks now like a video game tutorial with the audience searching for Mario to cross the treacherous Rainbow Road. It has the air of a heavenly setting, but it looks like something I would see in Hyrule, not in Norse mythology.
While the fish out of water story isn't new by any means, I do find myself highly entertained watching Chris Hemsworth down like 20 pop tarts. This whole section of the movie is fun and light and brought the best moments for the popcorn. The lovely Natalie Portman plays the storm-chasing researcher Jane Foster and she's fine, as always. I quite liked her, even if their romance feels contrived.
We’ve also got things to get us more pumped for "The Avengers"  – Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) plays a bigger role than in previous Avenger-precursors. S.H.I.E.L.D. is all over the place trying to figure out that damn hammer, stuck in the ground like Excalibur. The intrigue ever-builds for the mega-mashup coming the following year and watching these again later does lose some of that edge, but it's an entertaining film nonetheless.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) just wants to heed the plea of Uncle Sam and join the United States Army to fight Nazis in World War II. Due to his frail body, he is rejected at every enlistment camp he goes to until he is eventually recruited as part of a super-soldier experiment. As a result of the serum, Steve Rogers is transformed into Captain America - a perfect specimen in both mind and body - in the best glow-up since Princess Diaries. Captain America goes on to fight the Third Reich, take down terrorists and inspire millions of Americans to fight for what they believe in.

This movie was met with a lot of excitement as the buildup for the Avengers was going down. It was a great strategy by Marvel - all of the after-credits scenes, all of the anticipation leading up to the big meet & greet where these iconic superheroes could join forces against greater evils.

I loved being a part of the anticipation. I loved seeing the pieces come together while the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe was unfolded. Captain America was fun because it gave a precedent - a backstory to not just the hero himself but to the entire Marvel story. It was the last released before "The Avengers" but chronologically it comes far before the others. Seeing him interact with Howard Stark and watching his frozen body be uncovered by S.H.I.E.L.D. brought an "a-ha!" to tip over the filling cup of Avengers anticipation.

While watching a superhero fight Nazis provides for an interesting backdrop - a nice break from the usual New York City Skyline - I find that the sense of urgency ranks very low when we all know that the world is still okay 60 years later. Watching it again, I found it a little boring and a little slow. In fact, in many ways it feels like an extended promo for "The Avengers." The name suggests, after all, that as "the First Avenger" Captain America would set the tone for the super-group with his unfaltering sense of duty & leadership. As the last origin film released, he is deemed to be the glue that will bond them all together.

A superhero film is only as good as its villain and in this case, I am unimpressed. Perhaps I'm playing too much to my preferences but I just ~don't like Red Skull very much. Hugo Weaving plays him very menacingly with a kind of cartoonish side to his devilry. It's a trope, however, that I don't find very compelling. He's evil, of course, but his story lacks depth and emotion which prevents me from connecting to the action. Too much to ask for in a superhero movie? Perhaps. But if it wants to rank up there with "Spiderman 2" or "The Dark Knight" then certainly it's possible.
These things do not make this movie bad. It's still a better film in many ways than "Thor" or "The Incredible Hulk" (though not "Iron Man" - never "Iron Man"). Chris Evans brings an earnestness to the Captain that makes him feel like a real American hero with a heart. He has integrity and loyalty and he exudes these wonderful qualities that everyone is looking for in the super-leader of the free world. His character arc only grows in subsequent movies, but this is a great beginning to his story.

Where some other superhero movies lack focus and a contained story, "Captain America" does not falter. Director Joe Johnston ("October Sky," "Jumanji") makes it a cohesive story which plays on the war-time patriotism and includes some vibrant side characters such as the gung-ho Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), the curious scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), Captain's best friend and soldier Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), and the beautiful but serious officer Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell). These characters are all likable and add something tangible and relatable where Red Skull brings only over-exaggerated villainy. The film feels complete.

Overall, "The First Avenger" is the weakest of the Captain America films being less enjoyable the second or third time around, but it is not a bad film. It brought a great hero back to the screen and propelled him to prominence in the hearts of all watching. 7/10

This is a part of a series as Lauren takes on the MCU 2k17

10 Movies that Should Have Won Best Picture

I'm sure we'll be talking about Oscars 2k17 for a very, very long time. Poor Warren Beatty just looks at the camera like plz help me when given the wrong envelope & La La Land was announced instead of the rightful winner Moonlight. It's one of the most devastating, embarrassing and awkward moments on live tv that I've about ever seen. I had very strong opinions on both movies: I thought Moonlight was nothing special and I thought La La Land was very special. I appear to be in the minority on this, but you can fight me: I still think La La Land should have won. I don't think that Moonlight is an awful movie, I just think that there are more flaws than I'd consider for a best picture winner.

As I thought over how sad I was that the movie I wanted lost, I thought of ten other movies I wish had won in other years.

What was nominated: Forrest Gump, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, Shawshank Redemption
What won: Forrest Gump
What should have won: Shawshank Redemption

I cannot describe how strongly I feel about this. I have never been a huge fan of Forrest Gump (despite how much I like Tom Hanks) and this one tops the overrated charts for me especially when it's paired against Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction - two of the greatest films ever. I would still choose Shawshank as the number one slot for its incredible story.

What was nominated: Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Driving Miss Daisy, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot
What won: Driving Miss Daisy
What should have won: Dead Poets Society

I'm going to pull the shelf life card on this one: Driving Miss Daisy was basically forgotten the second the awards were over. Dead Poets Society is deep, emotional, and inspirational. It will be a long time more before we are forgetting Robin Williams' "seize the day" attitude that changed us all.

What was nominated: Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, Shakespeare in Love, The Thin Red Line
What won: Shakespeare In Love
What should have won: Saving Private Ryan

I also feel very strongly about how much I hate Shakespeare in Love. It's just so lame. Saving Private Ryan may be the best war movie ever made and ain't nobody watching that without crying.

What was nominated: E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Gandhi, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict
What won: Gandhi
What should have won: E.T.

Have you seen Gandhi? Did you stay awake? It's a long, long drawn-out historical epic that has a very short shelf life after the Oscars. Of the movies nominated, I would have chosen literally any of the other movies but E.T. is and always will be my very favorite Spielberg. 

What was nominated: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich
What won: Crash
What should have won: Brokeback Mountain

I feel like after Crash won people started to scrutinize the Academy a lot more because really, Crash is a solidly mediocre movie that pretty much no one cares about. There may have been a bunch of stars in it and its racially driven plot is sort of memorable but Brokeback Mountain was incredible on so many levels. Ang Lee's beautiful direction, a sweeping love story, and the unforgettable "I wish I knew how to quit you."

What was nominated: Apollo 13, Babe, Braveheart, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility
What won: Braveheart
What should have won: Apollo 13

Apollo 13 is a smart movie about a dramatic event in US History. It's an incredible story with excellent acting and writing. Braveheart is just really overrated.

What was nominated: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
What won: Birdman
What should have won: Boyhood

Twelve years. TWELVE. That's how much time and effort went into this perfectly realistic coming of age story. If nothing else, his hard work deserved a nomination but the finished product also equals the time spent. I've never been a huge fan of Birdman for no real reason. It's a good movie. Boyhood was just better.

What was nominated: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, Warhorse
What won: The Artist
What should have won: Midnight in Paris

I'm not as bitter about its Best Picture win as I am that Jean Dujardin won over George Clooney. But when all is said and done, I would watch Midnight in Paris 100 times over the Artist's single viewing.

What was nominated: The Greatest Show on Earth, High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man
What won: The Greatest Show on Earth
What should have won: Singin' in the Rain

How sad is it that Singing in the Rain wasn't even nominated? 

What was nominated: The English Patient, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine
What won: The English Patient
What should have won: Fargo

The English Patient is a good movie. Fargo is a better, more memorable movie with perfect performances from Francis McDormand and William H. Macy.

Honorable Mentions:
Citizen Kane (1941)
Psycho (1960)
The Graduate (1967)
Broadcast News (1987)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Goodfellas (1990)
The Social Network (2010)

Arrival (2016)

*major spoilers lie ahead

Denis Villeneuve, the bright director who brought us "Sicario" and "Prisoners," now delivers a mysterious alien visitation movie. He has a brilliant way of bringing a new twist to an old genre and "Arrival" is no exception.

One day on our blessed Planet Earth, 12 daunting spacecrafts appear out of thin air at 12 different cities. The lens-like obelisks just float there, taunting their viewers with the big questions: What do they want? Why are they here? Where did they come from?

The U.S. Military recruits linguistics expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to investigate and determine the giant squid-aliens' intentions. Through a series of charades and drawings, they begin to learn the beautiful loopty loop language that seemingly inks into the air as though it came out of a wizard wand. Louise explains to those who employed her (and the audience) how teaching and understanding the basics of language - things like pronouns and requests - they will eventually get to the bottom line: what's their deal.

The big story is interspersed with flashes of Banks' memories of her dying child, and a husband who left her. We are drawn in to her story and just as mystified by what haunts her. She performs her work with an air of sadness and burden but effectively connects with the aliens.

In the middle, things get chaotic. A message from the aliens is possibly misinterpreted as an attack and suddenly things start ~happening. Decisions are being made by people that are somehow important, communications are stopped (why?) and some rogue soldiers try to blow up the alien spacecraft that defies physics with a little bit of C4? A lot happens at once and I'll admit I was losing it a little then.

While everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off, Louise has a chat with our squid friends. Now, it isn't often that I am blown away by a plot twist, and maybe it's embarrassing how I didn't see it coming? But my whole opinion changed with the reveal.

Just like that, the past is the future, the present is the past, and the future is in her hands. With everything in perspective she is given the great gift of understanding and experiences the full breadth of her life in a single moment. Not only does she take charge of the alien situation at hand, but she makes decisions about herself. She chooses a life where she knows her daughter would die and somehow that's just amazing to me. She chooses the tragic, because she knew sweet moments would accompany it. How is that not empowering?

In one scene, she explains to her daughter that her name, Hannah, is a palindrome. This is also the key to the film structure. At the beginning, what we think is the past, is also the ending. It's a paradox and also very confusing but very powerful.

The acting lacked in some areas. Jeremy Renner didn't do much for me. I have never found him a very versatile or empathetic actor and he doesn't stand out in any way in this film either. He's a physicist but doesn't seem to do any physics or contribute anything at all. Forrest Whitaker also had a supporting role and seemed nothing more than a stereotype to fit.

None of that bothered me, though, with how fantastic Amy Adams was. She is a wonderfully diverse actress and this subtle, empathetic performance is one of her best. In many ways, this movie is all her. There are more close ups of her face than close examinations of the extra terrestrials; her reactions and wide eyes provide the insights we need to these other worldly visitors. The Academy sorely missed a nomination for her.

The best science fiction movies are deeply human at their core. This is a movie that gives its main character a powerful sense of free will and love and though "Arrival" struggles with some confusion in the second act the rest is so intriguing and mystifying that it doesn't matter. 8/10

Moonlight (2016)

In this intense coming of age story, "Moonlight" takes the story of Chiron in three stages. We watch him grow from "Little," a shy child neglected by his crack-addict mother, to a teenager struggling to find his sexual identity who is picked on and bullied, to a post-juvie drug dealer called "Black." Living on the streets of Miami can be hard and unforgiving. He is influenced throughout it his life by his mom Paula (Naomie Harris), a neighbor drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Kevin - with whom he shares his first kiss.

This is a small film. It's not very long. It's got a very simple plot. It's low-budget. There aren't any top-billed stars to rack in the attention. It's impossible to depict in just one film what it's like to be black (or gay, or black and gay) in America today but this attempts to provide a window on one particular experience in this character study. It's a movie that functions on observations, not words or action. 

To be honest, it's just kind of okay. I know it's been critically acclaimed but I feel like it's an emperor's new clothes type of situation. I didn't really enjoy watching it, and this isn't an uplifting story. I didn't feel moved or emotionally spent, just tired and a little bored.

Now, there were some good things.

The supporting characters leave lasting impressions despite their short screen-time. This is particularly true of Mahershala Ali. I was a big fan of his character on "House of Cards" and he stands out as the drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold role. We've seen this kind of character before, but there was something striking about his eyes and expression when Chiron confronts him about dealing drugs to his mom - you could sense his hurt and disappointment and shame in himself.

At first it bothered me that I couldn't relate to this at all but I guess that gives "Moonlight" its own unique, gritty edge. "Boyhood" similarly told a coming of age story with different splices of a boy's life displayed in sequences and while I enjoyed that more (and find it a superior movie), this film still has something honest, and raw to offer.

I'm not sure how they managed to find three actors to play Chiron with consistency but color me impressed. Unlike "Boyhood" where the same kid literally grew up on the screen, "Moonlight" features three separate actors: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. All three have the same level of shyness, wonder, and also hardness. 

However, though the three actors were consistent, the character itself just isn't anything very memorable. My qualm with his arc is that I feel like there's nothing more to his story than the summation of his interactions with others. There was hardly anything to suggest what he really thought of himself, what he thought of his life, what he loved or hated or what his hobbies were or who he really was on the inside. He's gay, he's black, he's got it rough, but who really is he?

The third act takes on a two-person narrative that, though emotional in part is weak and concludes abruptly. It feels a little unfinished, and sad with no catharsis. Chapter One's abrupt conclusion to Juan's story also feels incomplete and want of questions. 

Director Barry Jenkins' sophomore film seems like it wants to be more than it is: a simple story without a compelling hook. It's nothing to write home about.  5/10

89th Oscar Picks and Predictions

I saw almost every single summer blockbuster in theaters before our son was born and then didn't see a single nominated movie until this month. This is extremely unusual for me, as the late fall/winter movies are always my favorite. Babies change things, or whatever. Anyway, even though I only got around to seeing 6/9 movies nominated for best picture prior to now, I'm still as stoked as ever for the movie Super Bowl and all the snacks I'm going to eat.

Moonlight could sneak in here, honestly, but I still predict (and pick) this

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle - La La Land 

ACTOR: Denzel Washington - Fences
I haven't gotten around to Fences yet, and although Casey Affleck was getting the buzz for a while, I think Denzel is going to come out with his third statue. In other news, I think Tom Hanks should have been nominated for Sully.

ACTRESS: Emma Stone - La La Land
I so wish that Amy Adams would have been nominated for Arrival, but this is still my pick.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Mahershala Ali - Moonlight
A short but very impressionable performance

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Viola Davis - Fences
It's about time

ANIMATED: Zootopia
DOCUMENTARY: OJ: Made in America
MAKEUP AND HAIR: Suicide Squad
MUSIC: La La Land
SONG: "City of Stars" from La La Land
LIVE SHORT: Ennemis Intérieurs
SOUND EDITING: Hacksaw Ridge
SOUND MIXING: Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land (2016)

"Here's to the ones who dream,  foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache. Here's to the mess we make."

Since I recently had a baby, I haven't been out to the theater much. I saw this movie long after everyone else and I must admit I came into the movie expecting to love it.

And I did.

Biased or not, critically acclaimed or not, I loved every second of this movie. I won't say it's void of all flaws because that isn't true, but it's rare to experience something as sensational as this. It's the perfect blend of "Singin' in the Rain" and "Casablanca" - a treat at the movies. From the moment everyone was dancing on their cars in the opening act to the closing emotional montage in the club this was a whimsical ride.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She auditions tirelessly hoping for her big break but as each audition is interrupted by phone calls and disinterested judges, it seems as though the closest she will ever come to stardom is serving coffee to celebrities on a studio film lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is an aspiring jazz pianist. He wants nothing more than to own his own club to preserve the sanctity of jazz music.

Through a series of happenstance meetings, the two fall in love and help each other pursue their passions. They feel like they can conquer the world when they're together and for a while they do. Mia writes a one-woman play and encourages Sebastian to change the name of his future club to "Seb's" instead of "Chicken on a Stick." Their relationship is met with obstacles, however, as Sebastian gets distracted with an offer to tour with an electronic jazz band (sounds really weird but strangely works?) and misses her play that only runs for one night. It seems that as hard as they fight for their love things still work against them.

There are so many things to say about "La La Land." But it would take a long time and a very good memory to make a comprehensive list of everything that makes this movie special. Director Damien Chazelle is so attentive to the small things and his affection for the material makes it all the more lovable. It's amazing that the 31-year-old director had the confidence to take on something so big and execute it to such perfection. While there are many things to say, I have listed four things that stood out to me upon first viewing.

The film opens on a highway traffic jam. Everyone is listening to their own music in their respective cars until one girl starts singing. She comes out of the car in a bright yellow dress and begins to dance. Soon, in true musical fashion, she is joined by all of the other drivers dancing atop their cars. Of course the grandiose nature of the number is great in its own right but it's the colors that stood out the most to me. In most scenes, there are vibrant reds, blues, greens, and yellows. These bright, pure colors - shot in Cinemascope - capture the optimistic tone of the whole film and emanate passion and excitement. Even though things aren't always happy in the movie, the colors capture the optimism harbored by the main characters.

"La La Land" is a musical. In many ways, it is like all of the other musicals you and I are accustomed to with frequent (sometimes long) song and dance numbers. There's even a weird flying dream sequence kind of like those in "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain" (though this one wasn't as long and boring, in my opinion). Nevertheless, the choreography is fantastic. In one scene Mia and Sebastian are strolling down the street with a purple-lit sunset for a backdrop. Since they both *happen to bring tap shoes along with them, they engage in a delightful little tap number on and around the street bench. It's cute and silly. The choreography isn't too over-the-top nor is it too simplistic and it's one of the best scenes in the movie.

The music is equally wonderful. The piano motif that accompanies most of the major events in the film is simple and lovely as is "City of Stars," a recurring song. Other good numbers include "Another Day of Sun," "A Lovely Night" and Mia's audition "The Fools Who Dream." At first I thought Emma Stone's voice wasn't that great, but that audition scene perfectly matched her range and captured her strengths as a singer. Though they're not the strongest of singers, their talents still fit the bill.

I mean this in that the characters themselves are great but also that this film has got ~character. It's full of life and pizazz and has a spice to it that is sometimes hard to find in film. It feels fresh and hopeful. The feel of the movie along with a great cast and fun characters add depth. The characters are unique and relatable. The leads are accompanied by a good supporting cast including JK Simmons, John Legend, and Tom Everett Scott (my man from "That Thing You Do!") But this film is nothing without our two stars.

Emma Stone is a solid actress. She exudes confidence but also vulnerability. The plot mirrors Stone's own story to stardom in some ways and that's a neat lens through which to view her performance. She's delightful, likable, witty and charismatic. Gosling, too is perfect for this role bringing the perfect mix of irritable and lovable. Their chemistry brought a realism to the sweeping romance.

The bittersweet end is what turns "La La Land" from a good movie to a great one. The thing is some times things just don't work out the way you want them to. The last City of Stars montage depicts a bright future for the two if only Sebastian had done things differently. It's as if he is singing of his regret and relives the choices and pivotal moments that would have allowed them to be together. It's incredibly emotional and bittersweet, but isn't that how life is?

I know this might not be your ~thing. I've always loved musicals and maybe you hate them. But if there's a musical that's worth it, it's this one. It can restore your faith in the power of cinema. It's magical, it's heartwarming. I loved it and I think you can too. 9/10

Spotlight (2015)

In 2001 the "spotlight" team at The Boston Globe comprised of editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James). This small group of investigative reporters would usually spend over a year on stories which require extra digging, in depth analysis, or extensive research. They work together like detectives putting together puzzles and bouncing ideas off of each other while tossing a tennis ball against the wall and eating leftover pizza. These are the kinds of stories that win awards, the kinds that change the world.

They begin investigating sexual abuse trends from Catholic priests in Boston. They interview a few victims, meet with a few experts and soon what starts as a seemingly small albeit horrific issue turns into a much bigger problem. There could be as many as 87 priests in Boston alone. They see that the roots go deeper than just a few bad seeds. It's a booming psychological phenomenon that spreads from the Vatican to all across the world.

But, like any good mystery, when they start getting closer they are met with more and more obstacles to overcome. They face pushback from the church, uncooperative sources, and run-ins with lawyers. And then there is a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the spotlight reporters are pulled to work on 9/11 reports. It takes a long time for them to get the story right because they know if they don't get it ~right then it will just be buried or overlooked.

They deal with this sensitive material with kindness but also straightforwardness. Their interviews are done as any journalist would - to get to the bottom line. In one interview one of them asks "Did you ever think about telling anyone?" He responds, "Like who, a priest?" These are awful, painful stories about people who were taken advantage of and deeply affected. In the end, it gets to the reporters too. There are some striking emotional scenes where they express the unfairness of the situation and the dire need to tell the public what was going on.

Through the tenacity, the long hours, and the brilliance of this team of reporters, one of the biggest scandals was uncovered and released to the public. The last scene is so emotionally overwhelming and yet also wonderfully understated. When the story is released, the phones at Spotlight are ringing off the hook almost exclusively with victims wanting their story to be told and heard. This is important.

It's a film that ranks alongside the gold standard of journalism films, "All the President's Men." It depicts the journalistic process without glamorizing: it's tough work. Those journalists are out on the streets, going door to door, rummaging through old boxes in libraries and courthouses day in and day out. But through their rigorous work, people who were afraid can have a voice. Their story can be told.

It's a movie about a team and a team made this movie. If the Oscars were to give an award for best performance from a group, this movie would deserve it. No one actor stands out, but they all do their job and get the job done. Other performances include Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, and Liev Shreiber. The many supporting acts come together to build this masterpiece.

Perhaps even more credit is due to director Tom McCarthy who didn't glorify the abuse but didn't minimize the damage. He paced it perfectly and created an intense drama even when the audience knows the outcome. This is one of the best - if not the very best - films of the year. 10/10

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

"I would find the lock because that was the only way to extend my 8 minutes with him. Maybe I could extend them forever." This quote accurately describes what it's like to grieve. You hold onto small things and memories and ideas in hopes that the person you lost will never fade entirely. It's a journey. A death, for the surviving friends and family, is not a one-time event. It doesn't end at the funeral. It is always just there.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is an acute examination of grief. 11-year-old Oskar Schell (played by the talented Thomas Horn) lost his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks) to the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001. Now a day that lives in infamy to all Americans also lives on as a constant reminder to all those who lost family members on that tragic day.

Oskar finds a key amongst his father's old belongings a year after his death. Through a series of notes, newspaper clippings and clues he wanders around New York into the homes of several strangers (all with the last name Black - a clue) searching for answers. He goesJohn Goodman), lying about the various holidays throughout the school year to accomplish his task. He visits many people and learns many things and makes some new friends. The notion that an 11-year-old boy can wander into the homes of strangers all over New York City safely is incredulous, but some of these visits are impressionable nonetheless. His first visit with an Abby Black (Viola Davis) stands out and sets his journey off on the right emotional foot.
past his doorman (

It is widely understood and recognized that there are five stages to grief. Of course every experience is different but these stages provide a framework for what many people experience when someone they love dies. This story examines those stages through Oskar.

The day of the attacks, Thomas calls home and leaves messages on the answering machine. Oskar was the only one who heard them and he hides under the bed and lies when his mom asks him about it. He later rips out the answering machine and hides it somewhere and says "it was like it never happened."

Oskar yells at his mom (Sandra Bullock) in a fury and says he wishes it were her in the building.

When he meets the mysterious renter living in his grandma's basement (Max von Sydow), he explains his story to him as quickly as he can get the words out. "And I don't know a single thing that I didn't know when I started! It's these times I miss my dad more than ever even if this whole thing is to stop missing him at all! It hurts too much." He would do anything to stop missing his dad - to have the pain go away, and so he obsesses over this fool's errand to do something about it.

Oskar throws a big box of keys in a flurry and runs along a bright red wall. He begins to realize that their search may be futile, and then he listens to those messages again and cries."

In one of the few scenes Oskar shares with his mom, they sit together on the bed and cry together. They (finally) connect with each other and share memories and ~talk. It is the beginning of the road to acceptance.
Director Stephen Daldry is no stranger to stories centered around tragic events ("The Reader" happens during the Holocaust). Though a good storyteller, this movie doesn't leave a hopeful or happy impression, but a depressed one.

This movie is hard to watch. No one wants to know, remember, or feel what it feels like to lose someone. For those who did lose someone at 9/11, I'm so sorry. No film or story can provide the catharsis for such a tragedy and in many ways this film is far too simplistic to make the attempt. Over 4,000 people died that day, and yet these contrived stories try to help us feel happy about the one person who made peace. Those real-life people didn't have a puzzle to solve, they have a family member who is gone. Sometimes it all feels too forced and manipulative with an unclear picture at the end for what the ~point is.

While an interesting analysis on grief with two good performances from Von Sydow and Horn, the film is empty of any solid resolution. 5/10

Hugo (2011)

I remember hearing that Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed) was directing a movie called Hugo, rated PG. To say I was skeptical was an understatement. Exiting the theater, however, I had the distinct feeling that I now understood the gangster director better than I ever did watching Gangs of New York. Among many other things, Hugo's magic is found in the apparent affection Scorsese had for this creation.
The story follows a boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). The 12-year-old orphan is depicted in tattered clothes, disheveled hair and a perpetually dirty nose. Following after his late father (Jude Law), he runs the clocks in the railway station - though to do so while avoiding the station's constable (Sacha Baren Cohen), intent on sending him to the orphanage, is not easy. He doesn't say much at first, but his eyes tell a story of their own. His passion lies in the old automaton that his father left him and he stresses and thieves to get it working again. With the help of his new friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz, straight outta Kickass), they fix the automaton just enough for it to draw them a picture - a picture that leads them back to the famed film director Georges Melies.
It's based off the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. By itself, the story is lovely, but it's even more magical when seeing it connect to Scorsese on a personal level. In an interview, Scorsese has said that he identified with the young Hugo's lonely voyeuristic upbringing. As a young boy, Scorsese was very ill with asthma and spent much of his time indoors at the movie theater. In many a sense, it's semi-autobiographical. But Scorsese isn't just Hugo, he's also Melies. An inventor and filmmaker, Melies was instrumental in early film and in special effects. Small films like A Trip to the Moon and The Impossible Voyage are still remarkable and iconic. Scorsese filmed this film in 3D and it's beautiful. The opening shot zooming over Paris is striking, bright, and impressively detailed. 

This is largely a movie about movies. What film lover doesn't love that? Hugo's sad eyes light up when he goes to the pictures. The dawning of the cinematic world is unfolded before the children's eyes (and our own). It celebrates movies by reflecting back on where we've been and paying tribute to those we owe so much. It paints a beautiful picture of the power that film has on us. Because through movies, we can see our dreams. 

Beyond that, the story itself is deeply emotional. Sir Ben Kingsley plays Monsieur Melies himself. There are some incredibly touching scenes of him lamenting the loss of his work and the decline of his career. He cries at the thought of his films being melted and destroyed and his life's work unseen and unappreciated. These scenes are some of the best in the film.

All the elements blend together for a perfect love letter to the movies we all love and hold dear. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz model our own discovery and longing for adventure while we get to learn about the story played by the veteran actors. Beside Kingsley, Christopher Lee delivers an exemplary supporting performance.

Despite its PG rating, it appeals more to adults in a family friendly way. I can't say I would have appreciated it as much as a child than I do as an adult. Either way it's wonderful to see this other side of Martin Scorsese through this beautiful tale. 9/10

Blade Runner (1982)

It's funny watching old sci-fi movies in the Year Of Our Lord 2016 to see how far off we predicted the future. "Back to the Future II" brought flying cars and hover boards to 2015. "Fahrenheit 451" banned books, and the jury is still out on whether a nuclear apocalypse will be here in 2029 as predicted by "Terminator." "Blade Runner" zooms in on dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, which looks like an overpopulated, gothic Tokyo/Hong Kong hybrid where cars zoom through the sky. The phones may still belong in the '90s, but this fictitious future for America depicts a moody, dark ambiance that has given this cult classic its well-deserved recognition as a pilot for sci fi movies.
In this universe, the Tyrell Corporation manufactures genetically engineered "replicants" that are visually indistinguishable from humans. Their use on Earth has been banned so they work, instead, on outer colonies as slaves. Certain cops known as "Blade Runners" dispose of rogue replicants loose on earth. Harrison Ford plays ex-Blade Runner Rick Deckard come out of retirement to hunt down four replicants on the loose.
The source material, "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" poses some fascinating questions about what it really means to be human. The film noir elements and examination on morality and science make the film go beyond skin deep. It's an action film interwoven with symbolism and ambiguity and while you might not "get it" on first viewing (or fifth) it is applause worthy.
These human questions on our existence - our rights, our abilities - are the driving force that make "Blade Runner" a revelation when the rest of the movie falls short. Unfortunately, the flaws outweigh the beauty. It seems that behind all of this ambiguity and thoughtfulness, the "why" is missing. These replicants have returned to Earth to seek their maker and extend their meager 4-year life span and yet it seems of the utmost importance that they be terminated. They kill some, yes. But there is no looming apocalypse, no maniacal killing sprees, no imminent threat to human existence besides those within the Tyrell Corporation. So, why kill the replicants? Now, there are arguments that the real villain is actually Deckard, not the replicants, and I subscribe to this theory. I find it the most fascinating conclusion, but I also find the lack of clarity frustrating. It is possible to create complex, ambiguous metaphors in film with more careful crafting of the narrative.
Harrison Ford plays no Han Solo in his interpretation of Deckard. I'd go so far as to say he was miscast in this role. It's no secret that there were issues with the casting as well as disagreements between Ford and director Ridley Scott. However it's unfortunate how bored Ford seems in the role (and don't get me started on that awful voice-over in the theatrical cut). Ford is at his best when he can be charming, likable, and funny. Perhaps I'm biased by selecting someone like Bruce Willis or a young Tom Cruise because I have seen the future of their sci-fi movies like "12 Monkeys" or "Minority Report." Deckard's character is intriguing, especially if you consider that he could also be a replicant. This is the most compelling facet of the plot, however vaguely it may be alluded to. It's unfortunate this character wasn't better interpreted.As it goes with so many of these stories, our protagonist falls in love with a replicant (played by Sean Young). She doesn't know she is a replicant until Deckard tells her. While she wrestles with this reality of her existence, Deckard forces himself upon her. Now, there are arguments for Deckard helping her "come to terms" with her existence, but I cannot see anything in this scene other than rape. It is the most awkward kiss I've ever witnessed on a screen, Deckard is incredibly disagreeable as a character, and how can we just look past the fact that he raped her?? Did everyone else watch the same movie as me? If there weren't enough other things to dislike, this scene alone would turn me off.
The character that does stand out is the replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). His character shows the emotional complexity that I would hope from a layered movie like this. The final scene between him and Deckard is the best scene in the movie. I cared far more about the outcome of his character than I did of Deckard. Darryl Hannah as Pris was also good.
The other star of the movie is, of course, director Ridley Scott. Now famous for "Gladiator," "Black Hawk Down," and others, he was then known just for his work on "Alien." He had a magnificent vision for this neo-noir resulting in SEVEN different versions of his work. S-e-v-e-n. He worked tirelessly to perfect the film without studio restrictions and preferences. I admire his tenacity and his vision for this work of art.
I watched the theatrical cut, the director's cut, and the final cut. My first impressions of "Blade Runner" (all pretty negative) stemmed from the theatrical cut which has a lot of flaws, including the hokey ending and that terrible, terrible voice-over. The Final Cut certainly is a vast improvement and I felt like I ~understood "Blade Runner" better from watching it. This version also hints more at Deckard being a replicant himself with the weird unicorn sequence. Scott himself has said that Deckard is a replicant though it isn't overtly stated in the film, and this is the most fascinating arc of all, in my eyes. Perhaps this year's "Blade Runner 2049" will shed more light on this subject once and for all.
While I enjoyed the Final Cut better, "Blade Runner" still doesn't do it for me. It belongs in a museum with its important place in history, but a mere glance will do. It's really slow and the dialogue and narrative don't live up to its potential.
There are a few key things viewers should know about this film before watching. First of all, it's really slow, and the dialogue does not live up to its potential. As far as its place on the Top 100, I believe "Aliens" and "Terminator 2" are far superior sci-fi films. 4/10
Other Notes:
Directed by Ridley Scott
Nominated for 2 Academy Awards for  Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects
Ranked #97 in AFI's Top 100 Years... 100 Films in 2008

Unforgiven (1992)

Twenty-four years after the release of “Unforgiven,” Clint Eastwood is widely recognized as a decorated director, actor, and producer. He’s also a familiar Oscar contender for movies like “Mystic River,” Million Dollar Baby,” “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “American Sniper.” To older audiences, he is The Man with No Name of the 60’s spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry of the violent cop movies in the 70’s and 80’s. Clint Eastwood is a cultural icon.
“Unforgiven” is the hinge. It’s the springboard. It connects the famed cowboy of the mid 20th century to the award-winning artist of the 21st. And it’s brilliant that not only is this film an artistic masterpiece, it’s a Western.
Eastwood directs and stars in the story of William Munny, famed for his cold-blooded murders of the past and now a repentant widower raising two children. He’s left his life of thievery and violence for hog farming, though it’s apparent the profession doesn’t suit him well.
The crux of the plot centers around events occurring in 1800’s Big Whiskey, Wyoming. A reward is out to kill two cowboys who disfigured prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Levine) after a lenient sentencing from local sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman). Munny is approached by the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) to bring him out of retirement and partner up for one last ride. There are other characters along the road including Munny’s old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and gunfighter English Bob (Richard Harris). But everything else is a side story. The film specifically zeroes in on Munny and Little Bill.
After watching it twice, what resonated with me the most may seem surprising. Certainly the sombre tone and the epic final showdown are noteworthy, as is the layered yet subtle performance of Clint EastwoodNo, it was the actual title of the movie that seemed to pack the biggest punch. It’s the four-syllable word: Unforgiven.
Forgiveness is a noticeable theme woven in the different storylines. The women refuse to forgive the cowboys. Little Bill refuses to forgive English Bob. Though Munny was forgiven by his late wife, he couldn’t forgive himself. It’s as though he tried to believe his wife by honoring her request to abandon his life of cruelty and violence. But when push came to shove, he quickly and naturally fell back into a routine of killing and living without remorse: the guilt that haunted and overshadowed him eventually overpowered him.
In fact, there are no real heroes in “Unforgiven.” There are certainly villains. Gene Hackman, who today is far-too underrated, won an Oscar for his performance as the twisted sheriff. We want him to die, but it’s still bittersweet when it’s at the expense of Munny’s ultimate betrayal of his vow to change. It seems unfair that Munny should live for killing while Logan died for not. But this is very thing that juxtaposes Munny’s final decision to kill Little Bill and sealed Munny’s fate as a damned, unforgiven soul.
This depth sets “Unforgiven” apart from most other Westerns. It’s a Western that can be honored and remembered because it isn’t about the violence and the gunslinging (though there’s plenty of violence to be had). It’s about complex characters with hopes, fears, and hearts. The cinematography of bleak grays and browns beautifully contributes to the dark tale. I was swept by the overall mood and caught up in deeper thoughts about morality and humanity. Can we be forgiven? Do we prevent ourselves from finding forgiveness? Do people change? 9/10
Other notes:Directed by Clint Eastwood
Won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Eastwood), Best Supporting Actor (Hackman), and Best Film Editing (Joel Cox). Nominated for Best Actor (Eastwood), Original Screenplay (David Webb Peoples), Cinematography (Jack N. Green), Sound, and Art Direction
Ranked #98 in AFI’s Top 100 Years… 100 Films list in 1998, #68 in 2008.

88th Oscar Predictions and Picks

PICTURE: Spotlight
It's a journalism movie. Of course this is my pick. But in all honesty, I think Room was my favorite movie of the year.

DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy - Spotlight

ACTOR: Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
It's about time for Leonardo, and the internet agrees with me

ACTRESS: Brie Larson - Room
No movie affected me more than this, and her performance was phenomenal

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sylvester Stallone - Creed
This is my prediction, however, I want Mark Ruffalo to win and he was the best, imho

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
She was so elegant and was the best part of this movie.

ANIMATED: Inside Out
COSTUME: The Revenant
FILM EDITING: The Revenant
FOREIGN: Son of Saul
MUSIC: Carol
SONG: "Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey
ANIMATED SHORT: Can't Live Without Cosmos
LIVE SHORT: Stutterer
SOUND MIXING: The Revenant
VISUAL EFFECTS: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is largely a movie about food. It tries to romanticize the kitchen but sadly can’t quite get the audience to get emotional over their dinner like “Ratatouille” or “Babette’s Feast” can. The story of an Indian family opening a restaurant across the street from the French restaurant owned by Madame Mallory - a very, well, chauvinistic French chef stuck in her Frenchiness - tells of intertwining culture and overcoming bias. It is as familiar as it is stereotypical. A re-told story, however, rarely means a bad movie for me. A re-told story with one-note characters and boring, surface-y conflict does.

Helen Mirren and Om Puri are the veteran actors of the ensemble and also the most enjoyable thing to watch on-screen. The casting choice for Madame Mallory is interesting, of course, in that Mirren is not actually French. The weight of Mallory’s domineering character, however, would not have been the same were a lesser-known French actress cast in her stead. Mirren established herself as a regal presence worthy of respect in her Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in “The Queen.” In “The Hundred-Foot Journey” Papa Kadam even addresses her at one point by saying, “You sit up there like a queen” to point out her self-satisfied, controlling, and entitled demeanor. To help establish Madame Mallory’s character as the standoffish and insensitive neighbor to the Kadam family, the choice to cast Helen Mirren – a well-established, automatic attention-grabbing actress, as well as offering a stark contrast to Puri – was only appropriate.

Likewise, the choice to cast Om Puri was well suited (though perhaps more obvious due to being an Indian actor). He has a great ability to play off the characters around him – particularly Madame Mallory. In one scene, when Madame Mallory grows upset at the loud Indian music, Puri nonchalantly tosses the tablecloth and calmly thanks her for barging into their home. In response to her condescending behavior, he promptly turns the music back up and starts dancing joyfully. This shows pride in his culture and feisty defiance to mistreatment. Their early scenes show the cultural difference with amusing conflict, but unfortunately these scenes are few.

These two performances are great and show an interesting side to the convergence and celebration of culture in the way I wish the food or the story had been able to. I'm sure this theme could have been better illustrated were these two talented actors given more time to interact and carry the story instead of allowing the younger actors and struggling plot filled with clichés to dominate. Manish Dayal plays Papa Kadam's son - the cooking prodigy who goes on to advance his career in other fancy Frenchy restaurants - and Charlotte le Bon plays the sous-chef of Madame Mallory's restaurant. The attempts at a romantic side-story seem half-hearted and unbelievable and both characters seem devoid of passion. It seems the son, Hassan, is the protagonist, but his character is underdeveloped and without much dramatic arc. I was left unsatisfied.
It's a tale as old as time where you know the end as soon as the beginning ensues. But "The Hundred-Foot Journey" brings nothing new to an old story. Any element with potential to enthrall is thrown in with laziness: the humor is brief and mediocre; the story takes no risks. Each actor's talent seems wasted and each potential conflict comes without tension. Of course, mediocre feel-good movies have their place. Nothing particular, though, stands out enough to make me remember it or desire to watch it again.

Ultimately, everything about the movie felt hollow. With Lasse Hallström as director, I expected "Chocolat" 2.0 and with Oprah as an executive producer, I expected something sentimental with a high probability of soap and cheese. I will admit, the time spent watching wasn't unpleasant. I just hoped that a movie with any kind of food subtext would leave me craving and hungry rather than checking my watch. 4/10